Feature

Turning the Tables

By Jack Lawson · 26th Apr 2017
What's better than a Brinkmann turntable? Two Brinkmann turntables.

Truth, says The New York Times, is based on facts. The revival of vinyl has seen soaring sales but mainly of appliances under £100 that might be called record players but they are record grinders.

Every dealer claims to be an enthusiast. Every manufacturer claims to be a craftsman. The problem is that most of today’s “high-end” is only high priced. It is manufactured but not crafted. Maybe the manufacturer once earned a reputation with bespoke products but today the brand has a prestige it no longer earns. Even the reviewers seem to buy into the Emperors’ Clothes, believing years or decades of their own flattery.

Brinkmann turntables employ no PR agents, buy no dinners for reviewers; in short they are a laboratory rather than a sales organization. In the revival of vinyl they compete against bigger names whose technology derives from the 1980’s or upstarts who can turn a platter and build a mechanically good subchassis or tonearm. But perhaps there are no greater turntables in Europe.

Bardo w/ 10-inch arm (and EMT Ti cart.) on the Swiss Breur.

Brinkmann is a supreme example of a Music Room product. A 21st century turntable, a design based on tradition. But its techniques and materials were unimaginable in the recent past. All models are stunning value. There is no entry point product. The Bardot with 10-inch arm at around £7,000 is the most affordable but on hearing or upon inspection it cannot be called compromised. It might be called the 8th wonder of the world, the way it recreates the musical event, but only Brinkmann’s Balance is worthy of this ranking beside the pyramids, hanging gardens, statue, mausoleum or lighthouse.

You may think this is a joke, or an exaggeration, but is it really below the ultimate human ingenuity and achievement? You’re still not convinced? Well, I get to listen to one (lucky me) and it isn’t like any other source; never mind streaming, CD, or whatever, it isn’t like any other turntable until you get to the exotic models that sell for six-figure sums.

No, the genius of Brinkmann is not that he has made the ultimate affordable. He has made it simple. Simple looks easy but it is quite the reverse. Don’t you know how a short letter takes so much longer to write?

Can a serious analog person live without four arms now that detachable headshells are discredited? Pictured: the Spyder docking two arms on a Brinkmann platform.

The latest design from Casa Brinkmann, the Spyder, looks the most skeletal of all designs and yet it is the most flexible. In essence, the armboard almost becomes the chassis. And as such, it has its own “voice” or presentation of music. It is second to none. It accepts 1 – 4 arms, reconfigurable at any stage and set-up takes less than an hour, if working very slowly. Four arms? That might be arms for your two mono cartridges, vintage and modern with one and point seven mil tips (pre- and post 1967 microgroove pressings, like the recent and fabulous Beatles in mono) and two stereo cartridges, MM and MC or strain gauge or optical or (for me) dynamic music (rock) and classical /acoustic.

I said the Spyder was second to none and with its belt drive it will sound different and arguably better than a Bardot. But the Balance has been the flagship model for a long time and slowly has evolved into sublime greatness. The principle was correct from the start but experimentation has yielded breakthrough technologies of the new motor, new power supply and lots of incremental advances.

It only appears to be standing still.

The Brinkmann Balance w/ 12-inch arm and EMT Ti cartridge: a pinnacle product.

Excuse the pun, but that is the point. The engineering is so out-of-this world that the tiny belt accelerates the massive platter (18kg) within seconds and if you keep it clean it appears still. No wobble. No friction.

And check this out: where other exotic turntables are a nightmare to calibrate Brinkmann’s manual constantly reassures the user things are not critical; don’t use oscilloscopes and test instruments. If you think that Helmut Brinkmann is complacent then think again. What he has done is abolish the dependence on impossible precision at the user end. All the precision is factory set. For example, a Brinkmann arm and cartridge is supplied in a cradle all set up. No kidding.

This level of concept, design, refinement and real world lab technology in a domestic product is what we expect in the world of cameras, Zeiss lenses, Nikon, Olympus, etc. It is very rare in high-end audio, sadly, where the hype reinforces a pretence of precision. Very few, if any, have the vision, the persistence and the sheer integrity to advance their art beyond the horizon …. And not to charge exorbitant prices.

Oh, and did we mention that the music lifts it so far beyond other sources? Yes, we said it.

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