Brinkmann Audio Nyquist D/A processor

What? Johnny-come-lately turntable manufacturer Brinkmann Audio now makes a DAC? Are they desperate? What sampling rates does it support—162/3, 331/3, 45, and 78? I guess the vinyl resurgence is over! Why else would Brinkmann make a DAC?

If that's what you're thinking, consider that Helmut Brinkmann began designing, manufacturing, and marketing electronics well before he made the first of the turntables for which his company is best known in the US.

The Nyquist is a thoroughly (almost) modern streaming DAC and headphone amplifier in a surprisingly small case, its compactness partly due to its outboard power supply. It's named for Harry Nyquist (1889–1976), the Swedish-born American electronics engineer who wrote such papers as "Certain Factors Affecting Telegraph Speed" (1924) and its nail-biter sequel, "Certain Topics in Telegraph Transmission Theory" (1928). Also named for him is the "Nyquist frequency," which digital scolds claim as proof that CD sound is "perfect." Nyquist's theorem mathematically proves that all you need to perfectly reconstruct the original analog waveform within the audioband—ie, 20Hz–20kHz—is a sample rate of at least twice 20kHz. As the CD sampling rate of 44.1kHz is slightly more than twice that of the highest frequency audible to humans, it must therefore be perfect. When you argue that higher-resolution audio produces better sound, their usual response is, "What are you, a bat? Humans can't hear past 20kHz."

Clearly, those people have not heard the Brinkmann Nyquist—or other similarly equipped DACs—decode a high-resolution MQA file.

The Nyquist Decodes All
The Brinkmann Nyquist costs $18,000. It decodes MQA and PCM signals up to 384kHz (DXD, DSD64 and DSD128 via DoP (DSD over PCM), and DSD256 natively. In short, if you've got the digits, the Nyquist can deal with them.

According to Helmut Brinkmann's untitled white paper about the Nyquist, it has "individually optimized signal paths for every format." DSD is not converted to PCM. Instead, after a "very precise re-clocking," the signal is sent to a discrete (non–IC-based) DSD DAC, followed by a "soft analog filter" that's "steep enough to reduce the noise energy to a level that will not impact the audio components which are 'Downstream' in the playback chain, but not so steep, as we take great pains to preserve the air and openness of sound for which DSD is famous."

In his white paper, Brinkmann writes that while he tested several DSD DAC chipsets, none compared to the sound of a discrete DSD DAC. Non–signal-degrading relays automatically switch between PCM and DSD.

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The PCM and MQA signal paths differ only in the additional signal processing required for MQA. All PCM and MQA signals are upsampled eightfold, to 352.8 or 384kHz, within a powerful, 16-core processor that also decodes MQA files. The upsampled signals are then reclocked and routed to two ES9018S Sabre DAC chips, one per channel. The eight DACs in each ES9018S are operated in parallel to produce a single, very powerful DAC. While each ES9018S chip includes a variety of features that can perform a wide range of tasks and phase-locked-loop (PLL) functionality, all of these have been switched off. For upsampling, jitter reduction, and other functions, the Nyquist has separate, more powerful processors, each with its own individually designed power supply.

The clocks, specifically designed for high-definition audio, have ultra-low levels of phase noise and are placed very close to the DAC chips, to help minimize jitter. The PCM upsampling filters are claimed to cancel pre-ringing, about which there remains a great deal of controversy, best discussed elsewhere. Brinkmann claims to have optimized its MQA algorithm parameters to further reduce time smear.

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All of the digital-processing hardware and software is contained within an easily removable subassembly referred to by Brinkmann as the Nyquist's digital module (footnote 1). This module alone, which also includes an Ethernet input for streamed data, includes 11 dedicated power supplies. The Nyquist also includes a special high-voltage power supply for its analog circuits, including the DAC output.

In addition to streamed software updates, this design permits in-the-field module exchanges by the user as new technology becomes available: a new hardware standard, DAC chip, DSP technology, etc. Finally, the Nyquist supports the Roon music player, with which, by now, everyone reading this should be familiar.

From Brinkmann's white paper: "During the research and development period, our main reference for Nyquist's Sound Quality were Brinkmann turntables, as we feel our 'tables achieve a uniquely natural and organic analog sound. We designed Nyquist to share this 'Brinkmann DNA'."

Now, before any digital heads explode from having read that a turntable was the "main reference" for a DAC, hear this: The Nyquist's output stage comprises four long-life, new old stock (NOS) Telefunken PCF803 tubes, originally developed in the 1960s for use in color TVs. Each tube incorporates a pentode and a triode, and is also used for analog gain control. Turntables and tubes? Now feel free to explode!

Setup and Use
As with Brinkmann's optional, tubed power supply for its turntable motors, the Nyquist's main enclosure comes with a thick granite base to place it on. Combined, the Nyquist and its base measure 16.5" wide by 12.2" deep by 3.75" high. (The Nyquist's outboard power supply measures 4.75" wide by 6.3" deep by 3.2" high.) Also included is a nicely machined remote control: With its six buttons you can select the input, switch the phase (absolute polarity), mute the output, and adjust gain. It also lets you switch between the headphone and main outputs. The Nyquist comes with a hand-built power cord designed and tuned by Helmut Brinkmann.

On the rear panel, which is compact and attractive in a businesslike way, are single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) analog outputs; USB, S/PDIF (coaxial), optical (TosLink), and AES/EBU (XLR) digital inputs; an RJ45 Ethernet jack; and the power-supply jack.

On the front panel, large volume and input-selection knobs flank a screen that displays the selected input, the format (PCM, DSD, MQA), the sampling frequency, the volume setting in dB, and the signal polarity. To the right of all this are the On and Mute buttons, and at far left are a ¼" headphone jack and a button to activate the headphone amp. And that's it.

The Nyquist's glass top plate lets you view much of its guts, though the digital module is enclosed within its own casework. All of the main circuitry seems to be on a single large, horizontal circuit board, with smaller vertical boards at either side; these contain the horizontally positioned tube sockets and tubes. Vents in the side panels and massive heatsinks keep the tubes running cool.

The Nyquist was easy to install and a pleasure to use, despite the usual problems of getting a computer and a digital audio component to shake hands, which took some time to sort out. Push the On button and the screen displays "Nyquist" while the circuits stabilize, after which the current settings appear. Push Mute to unmute and you're ready to listen.

The Nyquist worked seamlessly with Roon. It found my network, and Roon connected easily with the Meridian Sooloos Music Server, as well as with the iTunes content on my MacBook Air laptop. With Roon's inclusion of Tidal streaming, the musical possibilities were unlimited. When I plugged a hard drive containing hundreds of hi-rez files into the MacBook, Roon found and played them. Roon's ability to retrieve metadata is truly impressive, but you probably knew that.



Footnote 1: The module bears the label Analogue DA-Converter, visible through the Nyquist's clear top panel; its rear panel, which also comprises a portion of the unit's rear panel as a whole, bears the label dac-module.
COMPANY INFO
Brinkmann Audio GmbH
US distributor: Brinkmann USA
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
AJ's picture

So it turns out after a couple decades, the the missing ingredients that made unmusical digital so cold, harsh and sterile were:
Low frequency distortion and random noise added at playback and then a nice little dose of High frequency anharmonic aliasing distortion "fold"/embedded into the audio band during the encoding stage.
Cool ;-).

Ortofan's picture

... an Explorer2 DAC from Meridian can perform MQA decoding.
For that tube-y "analog" sound quality, run the output of the DAC through a iFi Micro iTube2 - which is available for under $400.
What, then, does one get for the extra $17K+.

rwwear's picture

With no HDMI input a high resolution DAC is pretty useless. How can you use it for Blu-ray audio or SACD/DVDA?

7ryder's picture

I think you answered your own question - you don't.

rwwear's picture

Never ask a question you don't already know the answer to.

It does seem like a lot of over engineering for little gain.

doak's picture

Why would one want to feed this with a disk player??

rwwear's picture

Why even build such a device if only to use with streaming or computer audio? The best audio is still from high resolution discs like Blu-ray audio or SACD/DVDA. DVDA and Blu-ray are on the rise for reissues of classic and modern music. There's lots of music being reissued on DVDA and Blu-ray.
Most of everything I purchase goes directly to the computer using JRiver and streamed throughout the house. Some are high res downloads. It sounds great but for high resolution audio, there's better.

Heye's picture

Last week I had the Nyquist for 4 days at my home to see if I can get more out of my valued CD collection (I don't care for highrez cause I can't hear much difference - maybe my ears are too dull for this stuff...). Well, Miles horn was actually smoother compared to my Eera Integral CD-player but Jacquelines cello was much less full-bodied. And for most CDs the difference was very small and one couldn't really tell which one was actually better. So I invested my good money rather in a Kondo preamp - this was a real revelation!!!

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