In New York, over a decade ago, I first came across the Brinkmann Balanced turntable. It was hooked up to a tube power supply—an act of dedication that inspired confidence in the company’s mission to extract the very best possible sound from vinyl records. It remains the only turntable I’ve seen that was powered by tubes.
Helmut Brinkmann’s eponymous company is probably best known for its turntable line, but it has produced a variety of front-end equipment for several decades. Now this German company is mounting a fresh effort to make a mark in that sphere with a passel of new products, including its Nyquist DAC Mk II, Edison Mk II phonostage and Marconi Mk II linestage—all of which, incidentally, contain new old stock Telefunken PCF-803 tubes that were originally used in color television sets back in the 1960s. Brinkmann rates them as having a life expectancy of around twenty years. Brinkmann’s gregarious American representative, Anthony Chiarella, dropped off all three of the Brinkmann units at my house and listened to them for an afternoon before leaving them with me for review.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Brinkmann gear, but I did know that the company’s emphasis on tubes is very much a good thing. I’ve heard a lot of solid-state equipment in recent years, but have never been fully convinced that it can quite attain the ethereal regions that tubes seem to reach and deliver. There is a certain nuance and alacrity, transparency and silkiness, that tubes offer. Don’t get me wrong: Solid-state keeps getting better almost every day in every way. But as with vinyl, the case for using tubes isn’t going away. If anything, it’s getting stronger.
The hybrid Brinkmann equipment is a good case in point. No one would call it inexpensive. But my sense in listening to it was that, in an age when the prices of top-flight equipment appear to be soaring into the stratosphere and beyond, Brinkmann has a lot to offer. It’s seduction in a small package. For the first thing that you’ll notice about these new Brinkmann pieces is that they are sleek and unobtrusive. They convey a certain elegance, plus the glass tops are fun to peer through, allowing a glimpse of the internal parts. They also come with black granite bases that are supposed to function as absorbers of untoward vibrations that can muck up the sound.
All three units run balanced. On its website, Brinkmann claims that “immunity from noise can only be achieved with balanced signal processing.” Hmmm. That would come as news to a variety of other designers. My single-ended Ypsilon gear, for example, runs pretty much dead quiet. You won’t hear any noise emanating from the loudspeaker or, for that matter, from the equipment itself. But there is no question that balanced operation, with its advantage of common-mode rejection, is supposed in theory to offer quieter performance, and I never heard any buzz or hum from the Brinkmann gear. Instead, it was free of noise.
There can be no question that Brinkmann packs a lot into its fetching units. Some of the highlights: Each has its own independent solid-state power supply that is attached to the main unit via a DIN connector. A total of four tubes are side-mounted in over-sized heat sinks and offer what Brinkmann calls virtually “zero voltage delay.” The volume control of the preamp allows you to set each of the six inputs individually. The Nyquist DAC offers a wealth of streaming opportunities so that you can take advantage of the latest and greatest in the digital world, including MQA decoding and PCM up to 384kHz/32 bits (including DXD), as well as DSD64, DSD128, and DSD256—I find, incidentally, that when streaming music I tend to ramble around more musically, whereas with CDs and a fortiori with LPs, I am more focused on the piece at hand. For all its technological wizardry, the Nyquist employs tubes in its output stage. And—drum roll, please—there is also the obverse of digital, the Edison phonostage. It offers continuous gain from 49dB to 73dB, multiple loading settings, and the option of running through a step-up transformer for low-output moving-coil cartridges (or bypassing it), not to mention a mono switch. The ability to play mono records in full fidelity, which I did, is definitely a nice feature, as is the ability to fine-tune the volume setting to your heart’s delight, which I also did via a large knob on the front panel.
Listening kicked off in the digital realm with a variety of CDs and the welcome opportunity to test the Nyquist’s streaming capabilities. On both fronts, the Brinkmann DAC acquitted itself very well, indeed. It was immediately obvious that it errs on the side of a sumptuous and velvety sound. Upholstered, if you will. I ran it and the Brinkmann Marconi Mk II preamp into the Ypsilon Hyperion and D’Agostino Relentless amplifiers, each of which demonstrated different features of this front-end equipment. The Relentless is simply a blockbuster of an amp, allowing you to test dynamics to the limit. The Hyperion likes to probe into the furthest recesses of a panoramic soundstage.
On Leonard Cohen’s final album You Want It Darker, the Nyquist and Marconi created a wide and deep soundstage that allowed you to track each accompanying instrument carefully. The bass was deep, but always carefully delineated.