Brinkmann Audio Nyquist D/A processor Page 2

However, as is all too common in computer audio, the Nyquist's instruction manual is sketchy in terms of overall connectability and use. Although the manual tries to be Roon friendly, what's printed there isn't exactly what appeared on the Roon setup screen. If you're at all experienced with streaming, you'll figure it out.

Before reading my description of the Nyquist's sound, remember the words of a former audio writer who famously wrote that tubes do not belong in an audio system "unless you are a tweako cultist. There is nothing in audio electronics that cannot be done better with solid-state devices than vacuum tubes." Now, forget those words.

Anxious to get the review process started, Brinkmann first sent a non-streaming Nyquist that, after a few weeks' use, developed a software glitch. Switching too quickly among the inputs, or even abruptly changing the volume, made the display's information break down and the unit freeze up. As with many microprocessor freeze-ups, pulling the plug, waiting a few minutes, and powering up again solved the problem but didn't get rid of it. The solution was a replacement unit that included streaming functionality, and with the glitch corrected.

During the exchange of review samples, I was told that, along with the inclusion of streaming, other upgrades had been made, including a major improvement in sound quality. I was happy to hear that, because the original Nyquist sounded way too tubey: murky and rolled-off on top. The second sample sounded way better.


MQA Sound
Listening to MQA files supplied to me for this review or streamed from Tidal HiFi/Master made two things clear: Those who claim they can't hear a difference between CD-resolution files and hi-rez MQA files either haven't bothered to listen, or don't want to admit that their claims of "CD sound is perfect" are just plain wrong.

MQA has been convincingly demonstrated at Consumer Electronics Shows, and most recently at an event sponsored by New York City dealer Innovative Audio, where Wilson Audio Specialties' Peter McGrath, an accomplished recording engineer, played unprocessed hi-rez files of his simply miked orchestral recordings, followed by the time-corrected MQA versions. The differences were profound, and obvious to all attending: The MQA versions had greater image solidity and three-dimensionality, and wider perceived dynamics. More like a good LP. McGrath even surmised that vinyl's superior performance to CD in the time domain may account for why, on the best LPs, dynamics appear to be wider, even if the measurements say otherwise.

As for MQA's ability to "fold" and "unfold" very large files for streaming and playback, hearing 24/96 and 24/192 files streamed through the Nyquist via Tidal was an ear-opener. Had this been CD sound in 1983, I'd still be an LP guy—but I'd also be all in with digital.

In many reviews, I've mentioned the Modern Jazz Quartet's European Concert (2 LPs, Atlantic 2-603). This 1960 live recording is one of my favorite MJQ albums, and Swedish engineer Gösta Wiholm nailed it. And there it was on Tidal as a 24/192 stream. For the first time, I heard this familiar recording free of the occasional vinyl blemishes, and not restricted by the glaze and two-dimensionality of "Red Book" CD resolution. The sound was clean, pure, spacious, and more transparent than any CD I can recall hearing in terms of verisimilitude of attacks, sustain, and generosity of decays. It was free of unnatural edge, grain, and other digital afflictions, and yet—I hate to sound like a broken record—the LP still sounded to me more real, especially in terms of image solidity, three-dimensionality, and harmonic structure.

The bell-like shimmer of Milt Jackson's vibes, John Lewis's touch on the piano—especially when he repeatedly strikes the same key, as he does in Ray Brown's "Pyramid (Blues for Junior)"—and the crisp snap of Connie Kay's snare, sounded delicate, graceful, and a bit velvety through the Nyquist, but still more convincing on vinyl. Nonetheless, the Nyquist's presentation of this streamed hi-rez file was nonfatiguing, and sonically and involving.

Rich Sound
Some observers suggest that it's the artifacts of vinyl playback, not higher resolution or analog purity, that produce these ear-pleasing qualities. If so, it's a happy byproduct of the now antique but still viable process. The production and playback of hi-rez digital files also exhibit consistent artifacts—subtle ones, compared to the in-your-face aberrations that at one time made listening to digital audio so unpleasant for many of us.

Regardless of their resolution, PCM or DSD, the most consistently audible artifact or deviation from "reality" I heard in all of the files I listened to through the Nyquist and through other DACs I've auditioned was a subtle, plasticky texture that produced a somewhat polite, smoother-than-real sound. Gone, though—at least with the best recordings—were the grain, glare, etch, and spatial flatness that made listening to digital music a must to avoid. The Nyquist's tubed output, and whatever else Brinkmann has engineered into it, made listening to older CDs less objectionable, without choking the air and impressive spatial qualities audible in the latest hi-rez digital recordings.

The Nyquist's sound was smoother and more liquid overall, and somewhat warmer in the midbass, than that of the solid-state Simaudio Moon Evolution 780D and dCS Vivaldi DACs, both of which I've reviewed. If the aim was overall listenability, perhaps at the expense of extracting the last molecule of detail, Helmut Brinkmann's fine-tuning has been deftly accomplished.


While those who like a lean, tight, clean sound might find the Nyquist too soft and warm—even those who would happily sink into its rich, relaxing reproduction of the 24/96 versions of such classic albums as Cannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else (Blue Note BST 1595). Miles Davis's opening blats on muted trumpet in "Autumn Leaves" should be exclamatory and brash, but not painfully so, and the sound should mellow out when he lays down the melody. When Adderley enters, his breathy improv around the melody should give you a solid alto sax cushioned in reverb.

Older CD transfers get this all wrong. The most recent 24/96 transfer of this essential album's mono mix presents it better than I've ever heard it in digital. (Though when I just want to listen to the music, I'll always play the LP.) The Nyquist's rendering was flattering to this recording and to every Blue Note file I played, if not the last word in detail retrieval.

As long as Brinkmann says he used his turntables as benchmarks in voicing the Nyquist, let me ask: What do you want from your DAC: Koetsu-like richness and warmth, Lyra-like linearity and detail, or something in between?

For instance, when I played James Taylor's cover of Carole King's "You've Got a Friend," from his Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon (LP, Warner Bros. 2561), through a Lyra Atlas SL or Ortofon A95 cartridge and the CH Precision P1 phono preamp, it didn't sound as warm and full-bodied as did the MQA version through the Nyquist. I'd never before heard Leland Sklar's bass sound so voluptuous, or Taylor's voice so mellifluous, honey-coated, and round-bodied as it did digitally, through the Nyquist.

The same was true of "My Home Is in the Delta," from Muddy Waters's Folk Singer—also an MQA file. The guitar and drums are in greater relief and with better articulation of transients on a vinyl reissue (LP, Chess/Analogue Productions AAPB 1483-45) but would probably not be so when using a Koetsu or other warm-sounding cartridge.

I'm agnostic about DSD vs PCM. I have thousands of SACDs but currently no SACD player that works. The Nyquist handled well the few DSD files I had on hand, producing the smooth, spacious top end DSD enthusiasts prefer and that some detractors consider an artifact of noise shaping. The DSD-vs-PCM divide is a crack in the sidewalk compared to the Grand Canyon of analog-vs-digital. I'm not jumping in!

Nor am I a headphone guy (other than on airplanes), so I can't compare the Nyquist with other headphone amps—but through my AKG K 701 'phones, which are on the analytical side, it had a pleasingly rich yet detailed sound.

Power Cord Sound
But this battleground I will step into: Swapping out power cords produced major differences in the sound. No wonder Brinkmann tuned his own power cord to supply with the Nyquist. Unfortunately, the second sample of the Nyquist didn't include Brinkmann's cord. Instead, I compared Dynamic Design's Neutron 16 power cord, specifically designed for digital audio ($7500), with the digital version of Shunyata Research's ZiTron Sigma ($2138). While the Shunyata's slightly warm sound complements solid-state DACs like the Simaudio Moon Evolution 650D and 780D DACs, the Dynamic Design's more open, crystalline sound proved the ideal match for the Nyquist. Is it worth spending $7500 on an active, shielded power cord for use with an $18,000 DAC—or any DAC, for that matter? That's for you to answer.

Brinkmann Audio's Nyquist DAC is a thoroughly modern, full-featured, modular streaming DAC that's compatible with MQA and Roon and can decode in full resolution whatever you throw at it. Roon's compatibility with Tidal means that the possibilities of streaming music at CD resolution and higher are virtually limitless.

The Nyquist's tubed output gives it a particular sonic personality, though it's subtly drawn to produce a rich, pleasing picture, not one that's overly warm or sloppy on bottom.

I suspect that John Atkinson's measurements will show that the noise floor of the Nyquist's tubed output stage, though inaudible as hiss, allows less than full resolution of hi-rez files. But for those interested in a rich, involving experience of music, regardless of the numbers—and especially analog folks who find themselves interested in the world of easily obtained, superb-sounding hi-rez music now available via digital—the Nyquist would look and sound right at home next to a turntable.

Brinkmann Audio GmbH
US distributor: Brinkmann USA

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.

navr's picture

Also, did you listen Mk2?

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!!!