Brinkmann Balance turntable Page 2

A Balanced sound
Leaving aside the Rockport System III Sirius, which is in a class by itself, the only competition in my experience for the Brinkmann's sonic performance, aside from my reference Simon Yorke S7, are the SME 30/SME V, the Avid Acutus, and the Kuzma Stabi Reference. However, the Brinkmann's mass-loaded system was unchallenged in bass performance. I had never experienced such fundamentally correct, deep, tight, articulate, yet delicate bottom-end performance from any turntable, including, perhaps, the Rockport. As the Yorke shattered my then reference VPI TNT back in 1998, so the Brinkmann demolished the Yorke's bass performance, carving out and sculpting deeper, more muscular, more dynamic, yet tighter and lither renderings of stand-up and electric bass, timpani, and kick drums. With both 'tables connected to the Manley Steelhead tubed phono preamp, it was easy to perform A/B comparisons. When I replaced the Brinkmann-EMT cartridge with the Lyra Titan, the results were the same.

The Brinkmann Balance supplied convincing weight and authority while maintaining the lightest, most delicate touch on complex kick-drum maneuvers from familiar jazz recordings whose nuances I thought I'd long ago fully explored—including the by now moldy but still enticing "Take Five" from Dave Brubeck's Time Out. Other 'tables could plumb the depths of some of Joe Morello's hardest kicks, but none had the ability to recover quite as quickly to prepare for the next. By comparison, the Yorke S7, while still impressive, sounded somewhat cloudy, compressed, and semiconfused—and believe me, compared to most, the Yorke is a model of clarity.

All of this was accomplished without any nagging sense that the Balance was ever overdamped or "thick through the middle," which the heavily damped SME 30 occasionally is. The Brinkmann reproduced the lightest, airiest, purest soundstages along with bottom-end weight, and did so without imparting the sensation of brightness or etch that spotlit the top end of the Avid Acutus, as I remember it. The SME 30 and Avid Acutus are world-class 'tables—I could happily live with either—but during their respective review periods I remember each design pulling the sound in a particular direction, however slightly. Two months with the Brinkmann Balance left me feeling that it was utterly neutral and totally revealing, with no deviation from its exceptional evenhandedness and unforced clarity and detail.

I don't see the point in reciting particular sonic experiences with familiar reference material; if you've been reading this column, you know the usual suspects. I will say that, thanks to the Brinkmann's subterranean reach, uncanny quiet and solidity, and overall effortlessness, all of these LPs sounded new and subtly improved, with greater holography of imaging but without etch, blacker backgrounds, and deeper, vaster soundfields.

Playing old standbys as well as less familiar LPs I hadn't heard in years was always an act of discovery through the Brinkmann—not because of the small, new musical or sonic gestures it might reveal (though it did), but because of the exceptionally musical presentation it provided overall: an effortless, coherent, solid, musical whole; a rhythmically tight, emotionally uplifting propulsive drive that gave the music an indelible sense of purpose that couldn't be denied.

I hadn't played Neil Young's Tonight's the Night (Reprise) in a long time, but after reading Shakey, Jimmy McDonough's apparently meticulous-to-a-fault biography of Young, I was curious to revisit the album. (Harvest producer Elliot Mazer tells me the book is full of inaccuracies, and that it pleased neither him nor Young. Still, it's worth reading.) It was an absolutely astonishing listening experience. The demonic Young and his backing band, Crazy Horse, were arrayed in startling relief across my listening room with an eerie palpability against a background black as the night sky—I'd never heard it sound like this. Through the Simon Yorke S7, Tonight's the Night was still a compelling experience, but with nothing like the Balance's degree of utter coherence.

When I switched cartridges, putting the Brinkmann EMT in the Immedia RPM tonearm mounted on the Yorke S7 and the Lyra Titan or van den Hul Condor on the Brinkmann 10.5 arm, the Balance's superiority shone through—but its revealing performance pointed out just how closely Brinkmann had tuned the EMT to his arm and 'table's bracing neutrality.

While the Tubaphone-modified EMT cartridge I reviewed in the February 2000 Stereophile erred slightly on the side of midbass warmth and bloom, the Brinkmann-EMT's extra rigidity successfully tamed the excess bass while allowing the cartridge's midrange richness to shine.

The Lyra Titan is a more neutral and revealing cartridge. The combination of it and the Brinkmann was nothing short of astonishing in every way, though some listeners may prefer the Brinkmann-EMT's richer midband. The Brinkmann-EMT sounded equally enticing on the Yorke S7, but that combo was noticeably warmer and less musically bracing. On the Brinkmann, the EMT hit all the right notes. It is a testament to the utter neutrality of the Brinkmann's performance that, for the first time, I could clearly hear the Yorke's very minor dynamic limitations and subtle enrichment of the midrange—tuned as Simon Yorke prefers.

Tubed vs solid-state power supplies
I spent more than a month listening to the full Brinkmann combo with its tubed power supply and a pair of unfamiliar Audience phono interconnects. Then I switched cartridges and generated a full set of listening notes. I used a few very familiar records, including (though hardly limited to) Classic's 45rpm editions of Belafonte at Carnegie Hall and The Weavers: Reunion at Carnegie Hall.

With the Brinkmann-EMT back in the 10.5 arm, I spent an evening going back and forth between the power supplies, and there was a definite, easily heard difference between them. Call me gullible—I don't care. The two supplies produced distinctly different results, the clichés about the differences between tubed and solid-state gear proving remarkably if subtly true. The tubed supply produced a more vibrant, transparent sound, with greater image dimensionality and a fuller, somewhat more "golden" harmonic palette. The solid-state supply delivered a somewhat drabber, drier picture, but one that was better organized overall, with slightly finer, better-defined images. Still, I greatly preferred the vibrancy and immediacy of the tubed supply. If you're fortunate enough to own a Brinkmann Balance, don't hesitate to at least give the tubed supply a try.

Summing up
The $23,800 combo of Brinkmann Balance turntable, 10.5 tonearm, modified low-output Brinkmann-EMT moving-coil cartridge, tubed power supply, and HRS M3 stand is—with the exception of the Rockport System III Sirius—the best turntable system I've ever heard. Someday soon I'd like to hear the 'table with some other, more familiar arms, but for now, wow!

Brinkmann Audio GmbH
US distributor: On a Higher Note LLC
(949) 488-3004

OneMic's picture

It's pretty suprising that you enjoyed the tube supply better; I guess it just added a little extra wow to an already great piece of equipment and left you all a-flutter. 

waterface's picture

Elliot Mazer on the accuracy of Shakey, that's rich.  He also claims he was never interviewed for the book.  He was--three times.  Once in person.

--Someone Who Knows

bwright's picture

I generally dismiss the hype around power enhancements or cleaners, but the Brinkmann tube power supply makes a dramatic difference in sound quality. I have no idea how it works, but it really does - I heard it with the Bardo at Music Lover's Audio in San Francisco, and the result was immediately obvious to everyone in the room. We all commented on how much better it sounded.

Ked's picture

Hi Michael, I know this table well and I like it. Would you advise this over Spiral Groove (never heard), Yorke S7 (never heard) and Kuzma Stabi M for classical music? Thanks