Brinkmann Marconi-II Reference hybrid Preamplifier w remote & slate base

BR 03 PA MAR
NZ$ 19,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Brinkmann

Considered some of the world’s finest turntables out of Germany

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Positive Feedback Onlines Writers Choice Award:
Known stateside mostly for their exquisite and superb turntables, Brinkmann returns with a knock-out punch to the world of electronics. Not that there's anything wrong with focusing on only their 'tables. Alas, there's so much more to the Brinkmann line. Marconi is perhaps the most quintessential preamplifier to have graced my system yet—and I don't quite foresee that changing anytime soon. A marvel of electrical engineering, Marconi has it all; balanced and single-ended inputs, a tube stage handling phase inversion, individually adjustable input gain for all six inputs, remote control and Brinkmann typical design, that is, a resonance optimized chassis with see through glass top.

Immediately upon setup and connection to my trusted Threshold T400 super-amp, driving a pair of Zu Definition MK2s, I noticed gobs of detail, truly three dimensional soundstage and layering that was at least several orders of magnitude better than my existing setup. Playing cuts like Yello's latest Touch, the soundstage size and layering improvements immediately become evident. Speed, dynamics and overall image presence is the best I have ever heard my system sound and that's saying sumthu'n. There's a certain sense of clarity and calmness to the music that other preamps in my system perhaps hinted at, the NAT linestage comes to mind, but never quite capitalized on in a way as Marconi does. The perfect mate for the Threshold T400, this combo knocks bass lines and dynamics out of the ballpark when the music calls for it. Total splendidness and most definitely a product to consider if you are in the market for your last preamp. It sort of reminds me of what I said about the Brinkmann LaGrange, when I reviewed it years ago... a definite must have.
........
David W. Robinson, Editor-in-Chief

In the June 2019 issue of Germany’s Stereoplay Magazine, the Brinkmann Marconi MkII Line Preamplifier and Mono Power Amplifier were evaluated to great acclaim. Reviewer Roland Kraft concluded that Marconi MkII is “…certainly one of the very best line-stages that money can buy.” Considering that Marconi’s pricing  is substantially less than other state-of-the-art preamplifiers, we believe that Marconi MkII is a true high-end bargain. Audition and believe!

Brinkmann's introduction to Marconi linestage:

A line stage has three duties. First, it switches the various sources. Second, it controls the playback volume. And third, it conditions the signal in such a manner that even long runs of cable between line stage and power amp will not have an influence on the sound. The most important of course being that the preamp has as little as possible – ideally none – influence on the signal's musical integrity.  

 

MARCONI is our Top-of-the-Lne Reference quality Preamplifier. We have chosen this name as an hommage and a reflection towards the great inventor.

In the never ending search for tonal improvement in amplifiers, the development is often limited in the loss that is generated by components and other interferences. The symmetrical technique has been introduced to prevent these interferences or at least to minimize them. Therefore all the amplifier stages are doubled to carry the signal in both forms, the original one and an inverted one, which is 180° phase shifted. In the power amplifiers these two signals are backed together to form one signal again. This cancels all the tonal characteristics of the components and other interferences to zero, but the music is able to pass unconterminated.

We use this technique in our MARCONI preamplifier to further reduce all existing influences in an endeavour to keep the tonal influence of the components as small as possible. The phase inverters that are responsible for the symmetrical signals work with tubes. Tubes respond to the input signal without a noticeable time delay. Allowing a free syncronical and symmetrical signal. The outputs are provided by four identical, low output resistance transistor amplifiers.

Our asymmetrical preamplifier CALVIN uses the same output stages and the technical details described there are also valid for the MARCONI preamp.

The preamplifier is equipped with six linear-inputs, 5 of them correspond to asymmetrical and one to symmetrical signals. As a special feature, the input levels of all the six inputs are individually adjustable, so the user can set the same level of loudness for every connected source. The outputs are both, symmetrical and asymmetrical, the phase can be switched between 0° and 180° via remote control. A record output completes the rear panel layout.

The power supply for the preamplifier is build into a separate casing. All components that emit heat have been placed in the preamplifier. It's large enclosure with heat sinks on both sides is much more capable to dissipate heat. The tubes are placed inside the heat sinks, enabling the heat to dissipate. So only the power transformer is left in the power supply casing. The power switch on the front panel of the preamplifier activates the secondary low voltage and the high voltage rails for the tubes via three relays.

A special feature of the preamplifier is its fully electronical control for level as well as for volume. An AD-converter interrogates the motorpot at the front panel and this information formed as a digital word is fed into the digital potentiometer-ICs to control the volume passively via a few hundred integrated resistors.

This technique allows to drive the four outputs with the same volume, there are no differences between the channels. The volume can be adjusted with a rotary knob on the front panel of the preamplifier or via remote control. A mark at the rotary knob allows the visualization of the volume setting level.

Specifications

Reviews

Awards

Specifications

THD/IM distortion:  0,01%/0,05%
S/N ratio:  90 dBA
Frequency response DC:  250 kHz
Gain:  12,5 dB
Output voltage - maximum:  ± 12 V symmetrical
Output impedance symmetrical: ± 0,1 Ohm
Input impedance:  20 kOhm
Input sensitivity:  150 mV
Input gain adjustment:  0 ... -12,5 dB (0,5 dB/step)
Dimensions:  420w x 95h x 310d mm (with granite base) /  power supply 120 x 80 x 160 mm
Weight:  preamp -12 kg / granite base - 12 kg; / power supply - 3,2 kg
Included in delivery:  preamplifier, power supply, power cord, granite base

Reviews

Brinkmann introduction
Brinkmann introduction

As usual for Brinkmann, we didn't accept any compromises when developing the »Marconi«. The volume control, for instance, is purely electronic and works in two planes. First, the sensitivity of each of the six inputs (two of them balanced) can be adjusted individually and saved, thus eliminating the obnoxious jumps in volume when switching between sources. Second, the “actual” volume control consists of a motorized potentiometer that can be operated either remotely or with the knob on the front plate. This potentiometer digitally controls ICs which in turn adjust the playback volume passively with discrete resistors in precise steps of 0.5 dB. The utmost immunity against any influences can only be achieved with balanced signal processing. Which means that for a stereo preamp, four complete amplifiers are required since the signal is processed both in phase aswell aswith a 180 degree phase shift.

Line stage »Marconi« 
 
A line stage has three duties. First, it switches the various sources. Second, it controls the playback volume. And third, it conditions the signal in such a manner that even long runs of cable between line stage and power amp will not have an influence on the sound. The most important of course being that the preamp has as little as possible – ideally none – influence on the signal's musical integrity. 

As usual for Brinkmann, we didn't accept any compromises when developing the »Marconi«. The volume control, for instance, is purely electronic and works in two planes. First, the sensitivity of each of the six inputs (two of them balanced) can be adjusted individually and saved, thus eliminating the obnoxious jumps in volume when switching between sources. Second, the “actual” volume control consists of a motorized potentiometer that can be operated either remotely or with the knob on the front plate. This potentiometer digitally controls ICs which in turn adjust the playback volume passively with discrete resistors in precise steps of 0.5 dB. The utmost immunity against any influences can only be achieved with balanced signal processing. Which means that for a stereo preamp, four complete amplifiers are required since the signal is processed both in phase aswell aswith a 180 degree phase shift. 

Since components and external interferences influence the in- and the out-of-phase signal to the same degree, they can be eliminated at the input of the power amplifier by means of a circuit that only amplifies the differences between the two signals (i.e. the music), but not what they have in common (i.e. the interferences). This immunity of influences alone in our opinion justifies the doubled parts count and complexity. We use a vacuum tube phase inverter stage. And it's not for nostalgic reasons that we rely on tubes – it's because they operate (practically) without delay and thus guarantee an inverted signal that is perfectly in sync with its non-inverted counterpart. The tubes sit in two large side-mounted heat sinks and can thus dissipate their heat without many obstacles in the way. The remote control allows the selection of the inputs, controls the volume (including mute) and allows the switching of the absolute phase of the signal. The display on the front panel informs about the selected input, its level and the absolute phase.

BRINKMANN was One of the Five Best-Sounding Systems at High End 2012 in Munich

Munich 5This year, Germany’s annual High End show was held May 3-6 at the Munich Order Center, a beautiful, modern event facility that’s well suited to the display of high-end audio gear. Jeff Fritz and I were there for all four days -- our report, on SoundStage, covers most of the highlights, but missing from it are my five picks for the best-sounding systems at the show. I spotlight them here.

German electronics manufacturer Brinkmann Audio shared a spacious, brightly lit room with the US’s Vandersteen Audio, Harmonic Resolution Systems, and Shunyata Research, who respectively make loudspeakers, stands, and cables. The last link in the playback chain was Vandersteen’s Model Seven speakers, which I’ve heard sound good at other shows -- but never so good as in Munich.

Although the bass frequencies were strong and deep, and the highs well extended and very clean, what floored me was a combination of smoothness and detail in the midrange that was nothing short of spectacular. Then there was the imaging -- the best I heard at High End 2012. When Helmut Brinkmann played an LP of Ry Cooder’s Buena Vista Social Club, I sat there slack-jawed for several minutes, listening to how wide and deep the stage was, and how tangibly present the musicians and their instruments were in that space. Companies often complain about not being able to create great sound under show conditions -- this room proved that it’s possible.

Vandersteen room

Brinkmann Nyquist Mk II DAC, Marconi Mk II Linestage, Edison Mk II Phonostage - Irresistible
Jacob Heilbrunn

CONCLUSION: When contrasted with much more expensive equipment from CH Precision, Boulder, and Ypsilon, the Brinkmann gear doesn’t quite have their magnanimity of sound, grip, and airiness. CH Precision produces a cavernous black space that seems unrivaled. Boulder has a degree of control that is unique to it. And Ypsilon lights up the soundstage. But Brinkmann comes remarkably close and has its own set of virtues. It has a dynamism and smooth continuity that are immensely beguiling. It represents formidable German engineering allied to a profound sense of musicality that will be difficult for most listeners to resist.

Brinkmann Nyquist Mk II DAC, Marconi Mk II Linestage, Edison Mk II Phonostage

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. 

 

Brinkmann Marconi Mk II

 

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. 

Brinkmann Nyquist Mk II DAC, Marconi Mk II Linestage, Edison Mk II Phonostage

The dominant impression that the Brinkmann equipment conveyed was of a sumptuous but never bloated sound. Dynamics were superb. On Mavis Staples’ album One True Vine [ANTI-Records], the drums and bass boasted real kick. Throughout, the Brinkmann gear handled the bass region extremely well, revealing nuances that other equipment sometimes skate over. On a Leonard Bernstein recording of Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 with the Vienna Philharmonic, I was bowled over by the texture of the doublebasses at the start of the first movement. Whether listening to solo piano or trumpet, it became obvious that this Teutonic gear wants to woo you, not bludgeon you over the head, with its swagger. Highs were slightly on the darker side, but this helped create a burnished sound.

This came home to me most vividly in listening to the Edison phonostage, which brings us to the heart of the Brinkmann enterprise, namely, vinyl. I listened to the Edison both through the Brinkmann and Ypsilon Silver PST-100 preamps. I found it most useful to isolate its sound by using the familiar Ypsilon. This afforded me the opportunity to hear exactly what it was—and was not—doing as it amplified the tiny signal from my Continuum Caliburn turntable and Swedish Analog Technologies reference CF1 tonearm via the Lyra Atlas SL and Miyajima Infinity mono cartridges.

The phonostage is quite flexible, allowing you to switch the transformers in and out of the circuit to boost the signal from moving-coil cartridges before the amplification stage. On stereo records I found the transformer to be indispensable. On mono records not so much. Many of the mono records from my jazz collection simply sounded incredible on the Brinkmann. Take the album Li’l Ol’ Groovemaker….Basie! The drums were set back far in the rear of the soundstage while the brass choirs came screaming out with what seemed like unprecedented ferocity in my system on cuts like “Nasty Magnus.” Basie apparently told Quincy Jones after the first run-through, “You ought to have written four of these, Quincy! That’s wailin’!” Indeed. Sonny Payne’s drums had visceral impact as the orchestra blasted out a series of crescendos. 

Brinkmann Edison Mk II

 

Then there was the marvelous 1954 Norgran LP The Artistry of Buddy DeFranco. The interplay between DeFranco and the pianist Sonny Clark, who died in 1963 at the age of 31 and cut a number of solo albums for Blue Note including the classic Cool Struttin’, on songs such as “You Go To My Head” had a visceral palpability to it. The Edison finely rendered Clarke’s assured piano playing while capturing DeFranco’s lambent tone. It was simplicity itself to follow their exchange of musical ideas. The sound was so spectacular that it prompted me to whip out a bunch of other mono albums. It’s always salutary to return to mono records, which have their own weighty sound that can often elude later, supposedly superior stereo recordings. I’ve found that this is so particularly in the bass region. I thus much enjoyed listening to Red Garland’s Prestige album All Kinds of Weather, which features the legendary Paul Chambers on bass. The Edison provided a rock-solid rendition of this trio, the best I’ve hitherto heard. 

In waxing eloquent over mono recordings that I’ve accumulated over the years, I hardly mean to scant stereo. The sheer artistry that the Edison conveyed on the Philips recording The Delectable Elly Ameling was a combination of the sublime and the beautiful. On Mozart’s wonderful motet Exsultate, Jubilate, which he composed in 1773, the Edison tracked every syllable, every quaver, every trill that Ameling enunciated during her ravishing performance. It nailed the antiphonal effects between Ameling and the oboe as she sang “Hallelujah.” Once more, there wasn’t a trace of sibilance or harshness. Instead, the Brinkmann delivered a posh, upholstered sound that was quite delectable. Actually, I should say breathtaking. On the Bach “Floesst, mein Heiland, floesst dein Namen,” the interchanges between Ameling, two oboes, and chorus reach an exalted level. Listening to such works made me think of the eighteenth century German writer Friedrich Schiller’s famous distinction between naïve and sentimental poetry—the former being the natural state that we aspire to but can no longer achieve. In sonic terms, Brinkmann, you could say, tries to bridge the gap.

When contrasted with much more expensive equipment from CH Precision, Boulder, and Ypsilon, the Brinkmann gear doesn’t quite have their magnanimity of sound, grip, and airiness. CH Precision produces a cavernous black space that seems unrivaled. Boulder has a degree of control that is unique to it. And Ypsilon lights up the soundstage. But Brinkmann comes remarkably close and has its own set of virtues. It has a dynamism and smooth continuity that are immensely beguiling. It represents formidable German engineering allied to a profound sense of musicality that will be difficult for most listeners to resist.

strings were tonally perfect—raspy, angelic or somber as required—but possibly enhanced by the instruments ballooning like something out of Alice in Wonderland. The harpsichord was both precise and rhythmically supple
Michele Surdi

my final impression is that the Brinkmanns are truly distinctive amplification devices characterized by world-class build, a total absence of grain, exemplary composure, excellent low and high volume capabilities and the kind of overall tonal integration and luminosity which can only be obtained by a competent and dedicated designer. Personally I consider them a wholly acceptable alternative to my favorite Nagra tubed line stage and giant DHTs. For high power transistor amps, that‘s saying a lot.

To me, all high-power transistor amps sound alike by and large. As the flawed product of a noxious marketing strategy based on current-hungry speakers, their pros and cons tend to cancel each other out. This leaves the listener to the melancholy pastime of comparing output stage reaction to 1-ohm impedance and phase condemnations. Still, Nelson Pass has taught me that topology tops dogma any day. Besides, I’m a sucker for looks. Which meant that when my Roman dealer displayed Brinkmann of turntable fame electronics on his shelves by way of the Marconi linestage (€10.200) and mono amps (€12.945), I availed myself of my very dearly bought client privileges to hear 'em.

Overall build and design of this three-piece combo are on a par with darTZeel (my European benchmark for fit and finish), with the Germans appropriately playing Dieter Rams to Marc Newson of the Swiss. What really surprised me was that the manufacturer—somewhat perfunctorily claiming 150 watts into 8 ohms and 250 watts into 4 ohms, no big deal these days—also clearly states that the amps are not to be coupled to speakers with impedances falling below 3 ohms. This was a startingly far cry from the usual will-drive-a–radiator boast.

Also, on closer inspection both preamp and monoblocks turned out to be fully balanced, effectively doubling the component count to partly explain their impressively high prices. Even more intriguing, the programmable-gain six input  line stage, though a tube and tranny affair, was not a bona fide hybrid. The tubes on view through the cooling fins are not euphonic glass end stages or buffers. They act as solely phase splitters with presumably no overt sonic signature of their own. This testifies to a deliberately unconventional approach and one not subservient to the customary best-of-both-worlds come hithers of hifi commercials.

Preamp volume regulation finally is a sophisticated combination of digital control and discrete resistors which results in 0.5dB steps, not a universally popular solution at this price but equally the result of a deliberate choice. The challenge now was coupling the combo to a speaker capable of putting it through its paces without straining the suggested performance envelope. This by the way is the essence of system matching - as opposed to the sell ’em all and let the schmucks sort ‘em out spiel touted by most professional reviewers.......

Redbook used was Hèléne Schmitt’s Piéces pour violon et basse continue by Bach, serious music and serious sound engineering for serious hifi equipment; Neville Brothers’ Yellow Moon signally embodying the Daniel Lanois production credo (the nearest approach to a nonexisting original event); and, from an undead analog master, the decadent banshee romance Pampered Menial by Pavlov’s Dog.
 
Starting with Bach, strings were tonally perfect—raspy, angelic or somber as required—but possibly enhanced by the instruments ballooning like something out of Alice in Wonderland. The harpsichord was both precise and rhythmically supple ...... Thumbing the ergonomically laudable remote had the effect of cutting things down to size while revealing totally unexpected low-level delicacy and transparency (various output readouts were neatly and conveniently logged on the sky-blue display). This in my book is a hallmark of true quality and suggestive of very high-grade electronics particularly since planars are not generally known for late-night capabilities.

The Neville Brother’s harmonies on the eternal "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" were duly moving while Lanois’ impeccable production values were revealed by the fantastic instrumental placement which underpins the vocals and was aided by the fact that, to these ears at least, planars ultimately sound more alluring than real.

Pavlov’s "Dance Song" is a hellish concoction of sophisticated songwriting, Seventies compression extravaganzas and a frightening lust for power. At barely sub-concert levels, the end result was simply exhilarating: bungee grin, flapping hands, jivin’ knees - the works. It was a full tribute to the Brinkmann grunt and the speakers’ power-handling capabilities. It’s not easy to combine jackhammer drive, electric bass articulation and perfectly pitched shrieks. On the debit side the dated recording technique did away with any pretense of dimensionality.

So far so good. Having proven the Brinkmanns’ technical prowess, it was time to test their musicality by hitching them to the Harbeth Compact 7......As validated by the Compact 7, my final impression is that the Brinkmanns are truly distinctive amplification devices characterized by world-class build, a total absence of grain, exemplary composure, excellent low and high volume capabilities and the kind of overall tonal integration and luminosity which can only be obtained by a competent and dedicated designer. Personally I consider them a wholly acceptable alternative to my favorite Nagra tubed line stage and giant DHTs. For high power transistor amps, that‘s saying a lot.

Personally I consider them a wholly acceptable alternative to my favorite Nagra tubed line stage and giant DHTs. For high power transistor amps, that‘s saying a lot.
Michele Surdi

REVIEW SUMMARY: As validated by the Compact 7, my final impression is that the Brinkmanns are truly distinctive amplification devices characterized by world-class build, a total absence of grain, exemplary composure, excellent low and high volume capabilities and the kind of overall tonal integration and luminosity which can only be obtained by a competent and dedicated designer. Personally I consider them a wholly acceptable alternative to my favorite Nagra tubed line stage and giant DHTs. For high power transistor amps, that‘s saying a lot.

REVIEW: To me, all high-power transistor amps sound alike by and large. As the flawed product of a noxious marketing strategy based on current-hungry speakers, their pros and cons tend to cancel each other out. This leaves the listener to the melancholy pastime of comparing output stage reaction to 1-ohm impedance and phase condemnations. Still, Nelson Pass has taught me that topology tops dogma any day. Besides, I’m a sucker for looks. Which meant that when my Roman dealer displayed Brinkmann of turntable fame electronics on his shelves by way of the Marconi linestage and mono amps, I availed myself of my very dearly bought client privileges to hear 'em.

Overall build and design of this three-piece combo are on a par with darTZeel (my European benchmark for fit and finish), with the Germans appropriately playing Dieter Rams to Marc Newson of the Swiss. What really surprised me was that the manufacturer—somewhat perfunctorily claiming 150 watts into 8 ohms and 250 watts into 4 ohms, no big deal these days—also clearly states that the amps are not to be coupled to speakers with impedances falling below 3 ohms. This was a startingly far cry from the usual will-drive-a–radiator boast. 

Also, on closer inspection both preamp and monoblocks turned out to be fully balanced, effectively doubling the component count to partly explain their impressively high prices. Even more intriguing, the programmable-gain six input  line stage, though a tube and tranny affair, was not a bona fide hybrid. The tubes on view through the cooling fins are not euphonic glass end stages or buffers. They act as solely phase splitters with presumably no overt sonic signature of their own. This testifies to a deliberately unconventional approach and one not subservient to the customary best-of-both-worlds come hithers of hifi commercials.

Preamp volume regulation finally is a sophisticated combination of digital control and discrete resistors which results in 0.5dB steps, not a universally popular solution at this price but equally the result of a deliberate choice. The challenge now was coupling the combo to a speaker capable of putting it through its paces without straining the suggested performance envelope. This by the way is the essence of system matching - as opposed to the sell ’em alland let the schmucks sort ‘em out spiel touted by most professional reviewers.

As luck would have it, my dealer had just finished burning in a pair of new Magneplanar MG 1.7 three-way quasi ribbons. Like dipoles of all kinds, planars have more than their share of placement problems. Compared to electrostats however, they maintain the signature absence of box colorations without incurring amp-killing impedance and phase-angle cyclone rides. Magneplanars in particular are obstinately inefficient (the 1.7 claims 86dB but it’s likely less) and never rise much above 4 ohms. Yet they work as a purely resistive load. As such they are if not easy to drive then at least free from freakish electrical requirements. Maggies are also exceptionally resolving, making them an excellent analytical tool.

Guts and grain would be the defining issues here. To check them out, I hooked the Marconi in all-balanced mode to the serene Nagra CDP by means of  Nordost Tyr interconnect, linked the linestage to the monos with the discontinued Nordost 4Fil (one of the best of its kind) and connected the Maggies to the monoblocks’ very creditable binding posts with 2+2m of the unostentatious but reassuringly solid and shielded Van den Hul Integration cables Power cords were Nordost Shiva throughout, current being drawn directly from the wall through an Isotek Sirius 6 distributor. The room was professionally damped with  Echo Busters and all inactive speakers shorted. I also washed behind the ears, religiously.

Redbook used was Hèléne Schmitt’s Piéces pour violon et basse continue by Bach, serious music and serious sound engineering for serious hifi equipment; Neville Brothers’ Yellow Moon signally embodying the Daniel Lanois production credo (the nearest approach to a nonexisting original event); and, from an undead analog master, the decadent banshee romance Pampered Menial by Pavlov’s Dog.

Starting with Bach, strings were tonally perfect—raspy, angelic or somber as required—but possibly enhanced by the instruments ballooning like something out of Alice in Wonderland. The harpsichord was both precise and rhythmically supple if slightly untethered. Not to worry, these were standard planar quirks which could be tamed by turning down the volume. Thumbing the ergonomically laudable remote had the effect of cutting things down to size while revealing totally unexpected low-level delicacy and transparency (various output readouts were neatly and conveniently logged on the sky-blue display). This in my book is a hallmark of true quality and suggestive of very high-grade electronics particularly since planars are not generally known for late-night capabilities.

Pavlov’s "Dance Song" is a hellish concoction of sophisticated songwriting, Seventies compression extravaganzas and a frightening lust for power. At barely sub-concert levels, the end result was simply exhilarating: bungee grin, flapping hands, jivin’ knees - the works. It was a full tribute to the Brinkmann grunt and the speakers’ power-handling capabilities. It’s not easy to combine jackhammer drive, electric bass articulation and perfectly pitched shrieks. On the debit side the dated recording technique did away with any pretense of dimensionality.

So far so good. Having proven the Brinkmanns’ technical prowess, it was time to test their musicality by hitching them to The Best All Round Speaker in The World, the Harbeth Compact 7. Full disclosure: though a Tannoy man, I am  a ranting raving Harbeth fanatic. The only reason I don’t own the Compact 7 is that being spatially challenged by my outsize  Yorkminsters, I bought the Harbeth HLP3-SR shoe boxes as my alternates instead.

So, plunking the latest model ES-3 on massive if nameless 40cm speaker stands with no particular care—you could plunk the Compacts on kitchen chairs—I gave the test discs another spin. I will not bore readers needlessly by listing the ways in which I loved the Harbeths more (they even gave Pavlov a soundstage). Suffice to say that I used these speakers to evaluate electronics and that I did not consider this in any way a mismatch except by commercial standards, which, since I don’t buy hifi for a living, concerned me not at all.

As validated by the Compact 7, my final impression is that the Brinkmanns are truly distinctive amplification devices characterized by world-class build, a total absence of grain, exemplary composure, excellent low and high volume capabilities and the kind of overall tonal integration and luminosity which can only be obtained by a competent and dedicated designer. Personally I consider them a wholly acceptable alternative to my favorite Nagra tubed line stage and giant DHTs. For high power transistor amps, that‘s saying a lot.

Awards

Positive Feedback Online's Writers' Choice Award

Brinkmann Marconi

Known stateside mostly for their exquisite and superb turntables, Brinkmann returns with a knock-out punch to the world of electronics. Not that there's anything wrong with focusing on only their 'tables. Alas, there's so much more to the Brinkmann line. Marconi is perhaps the most quintessential preamplifier to have graced my system yet—and I don't quite foresee that changing anytime soon. A marvel of electrical engineering, Marconi has it all; balanced and single-ended inputs, a tube stage handling phase inversion, individually adjustable input gain for all six inputs, remote control and Brinkmann typical design, that is, a resonance optimized chassis with see through glass top.

Immediately upon setup and connection to my trusted Threshold T400 super-amp, driving a pair of Zu Definition MK2s, I noticed gobs of detail, truly three dimensional soundstage and layering that was at least several orders of magnitude better than my existing setup. Playing cuts like Yello's latest Touch, the soundstage size and layering improvements immediately become evident. Speed, dynamics and overall image presence is the best I have ever heard my system sound and that's saying sumthu'n. There's a certain sense of clarity and calmness to the music that other preamps in my system perhapshinted at, the NAT linestage comes to mind, but never quite capitalized on in a way as Marconi does. The perfect mate for the Threshold T400, this combo knocks bass lines and dynamics out of the ballpark when the music calls for it. Total splendidness and most definitely a product to consider if you are in the market for your last preamp. It sort of reminds me of what I said about the Brinkmann LaGrange, when I reviewed it years ago... a definite must have. Review forthcoming.

............David W. Robinson, Editor-in-Chief