Brinkmann Balance turntable
Everyone's got their prejudices, and mine are against turntables with box-like plinths and big slabs of undamped acrylic. I have no problem with either in models that cost a few grand or less, but once you get into high-priced terrain, less plinth and less acrylic usually yields better performance. Generally, though, all a plinth gets you is a vibrating surface to transmit or store and release energy. Who needs that? If your high-performance 'table has a plinth, you need to heroically damp it the way SME does in its Model 30, and the way Rockport did in its System III Sirius.
Like my Simon Yorke S7, Brinkmann's Balance is about as plinthless a turntable as you'll find, which is what attracted me when I first laid eyes on it at the Kempinski Hotel show in Frankfurt some years ago. Importer Lawrence Blair delivered a mass-loaded Balance 'table ($12,900) fitted with a Brinkmann 10.5 tonearm ($3500) and Brinkmann'a EMT-based moving-coil cartridge ($2500). It's a ready-to-play system, which is how I mostly listened to it, but I did substitute first the Lyra Titan, then van den Hul Condor cartridges well into the review because I was familiar with their sound, and because the cartridge used is bound to have an enormous effect on any system's overall performance. Because the Balance doesn't have a suspension, Blair suggests using a Harmonic Resolution Systems HRS M3 isolation base ($2200), which is custom-designed for the Balance and features a split granite platform to isolate the motor from the platter/bearing assembly.
Atop the HRS M3 sits the massive Balance turntable, whose vestigial ovoid plinth is CNC-machined from a single piece of 40mm-thick Dural, the hardest aluminum available, according to the designer, Helmut Brinkmann. The oversized platter, 3¼" tall and weighing 44 lbs, is made of an aluminum-lead-copper alloy said to achieve extremely effective damping. The platter surface is a plate of elastomer-bonded crystal glass. An integral record clamp screws into the spindle. Mechanical energy created at the stylus/groove interface drains down from the record to the platter surface, then into the platter itself, where the derived mechanical impedances of the various materials prevent it from flowing back up to the vinyl. A massive, raised, round armboard platform of Dural, also attached to the plinth, features a stainless-steel ring whose only function is to look good.
The platter is driven by a thin O-ring that rides in a groove machined into the platter's circumference. The outboard AC motor, which sits on an isolated platform on the HRS M3 base, is a brushless, dual-phase design powered via a power supply that processes the push-pull motor phases to load the platter with a precisely defined amount of rotating energy said to optimize dynamic performance. Mr. Brinkmann says that failure to optimize the drive energy is what causes some heavy turntables to suffer from dynamic compression. The platter's speed is adjustable and can run at precisely 33.3rpm and 45rpm. An optional vacuum-tubebased motor drive is available for $2700. The platter's speed is selected via a handsome circular module connected via a metal conduit protruding from the motor housing.
The Balance's unique heated bearing allows it to deliver optimum performance immediately on startup instead of needing a warmup period. Optimizing and maintaining a fixed operating temperature also means that the machining tolerances can be kept extremely low. The bearing itself has dual bushings, a hardened steel axle, a 30mm, a thrust plate of hardened Teflon, and an integral oil reservoir.
While Brinkmann can supply a blank armboard, and almost any tonearm can be used with the Balance, I've reviewed it with Brinkmann's own 10.5 model, a Breuer-like gimbaled-bearing design. (An updated version of the original Swiss-made Breuer arm is apparently still being made.) The 10.5 features an armtube the designer described as a "high-speed, double-concentric, ceramic-plated, self-damping transmission device" and as "a heavily anodized (about 100µm), thin-walled aluminum tube that is "fast, stiff, and light." Only beryllium or diamond would more quickly evacuate energy through the arm base, Mr. Brinkmann assured me. Antiskating is applied via a system of threaded magnetic screw and ring. The vertical tracking angle (VTA) is adjustable, though not on the fly. The Balance's armboard clamping mechanism permits quick and easy switching of arms, and a single screw adjustment allows an arm's effective length to be easily varied during setup.
In short, the Brinkmann Balance has been designed for the music lover who just wants to play records and enjoy music without fuss (once, of course, the cartridge has been properly aligned). The system, including the EMT cartridge substantially modified by Brinkmann, has been carefully tuned, but I found that other cartridges worked equally well, as long as I choose those whose sonic characteristics complemented the 'table's.
I was told (allow for German/English translation interference) that the tubed power supply "uses mainly the vacuum in the tubes and magnetic forces for its special way of cleaning out the mains noises." According to Helmut Brinkmann, there are two sources of power-line noise: external noise from amplifiers, computers, and other power supplies, and internal noise from the solid-state power supply's own rectifier stage switching. Fast rectifiers raise the frequency of the noise but don't entirely eliminate it. Tube rectifiers work like "super-fast, super-soft-recovery rectifiers," according to Mr. Brinkmann, who added that the transformers in the tube-driven supply, unlike those associated with solid-state rectification, can't be peak overloaded and thus effectively remove outside line noise. The vacuum inside the tubes, he claims, isolates the AC and DC circuits, so the power comes through the vacuum and not through the power signal cables. Hmm . . .
Brinkmann understands why one might be skeptical about this explanation of how a tubed power supply driving a motor, turning a pulley, and spinning a platter via a rubber belt might result in a sound different from that from a solid-state supplyespecially because he claims the former has a "tubier" sound. But he stands by it, claiming that the energy chain that drives the stylus can have such an effect. Hmm . . .
Setting up the Balance and aligning the cartridge took very little time, thanks to the elegance of the 'table and tonearm designs and the precision quality of build. Brinkmann's modified EMT cartridge is a medium-compliance, low-output design (0.21mV/cm/s) featuring a van den Hul stylus profile. It differs notably from other EMT cartridges I've used in having a solid-aluminum mounting structure in place of the standard plastic one. Its greater intrinsic mechanical rigidity and ability to rigidly mate with the headshell seemed major improvements over the stock model.
The solid-state power supply, including both the motor drive and the bearing-heater circuitry, remains plugged in at all times. To use the tubed supply, one disconnects the multipin, colleted motor cable from the main unit and connects it to the tube unit. Flip a switch on the power supply's rear, wait a minute or two for the tubes to heat up, and when the red LEDs on the speed selector light up, you're ready to play vinyl.
Everything about the Brinkmann Balancethe industrial design, the jewel-like build quality, the fit'n'finish, the feelmarks it as a world-class turntable design. Only a few 'tables I've encountered belong in the Brinkmann's league, and even then, there's something about the Balance's physical appearance, feel, and cosmetic elegance that sets it apart.