Brinkmann Tonearm 10.5"

BR 10 TA TARM11
NZ$ 8,500.00 ea (incl. GST)
Brinkmann

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

New

To complement his earlier tables, Mr. Brinkmann chose the Breuer tonearm. Rarely seen stateside, the Breuer enjoys a legendary status that is nowadays also enjoyed by Frank Schroeder's Reference arm. Both the Breuer and the Schroeder arms are handmade works of art. Among analog aficionados with a more global perspective, Schroeder and Breuer occupy an exalted status that we more provincial types here in the States tend to confer on Graham and Triplanar.

And just as those who prefer either the Graham or Triplanar approach are unlikely to be moved by the other, those who are drawn to either the Breuer or Schroeder arm are not likely to admire the other. So it is in audio; so it has always been. Ecumenicalism is not a concept that has much traction in audio. My reference turntable is fitted with a 12" arm that would never be endorsed by those who favor the Schroeder approach; but then again my other table employs the Well Tempered arm that is the most important historical antecedent to Schroeder's. I tend to adopt the very out-of-date approach of listening to how the arm sounds instead of arguing a priori from theory to evaluative conclusion!

Supply of the Breuer did not keep up with demand and in time, Mr. Brinkmann determined that however much he admired the Breuer arm, he needed to design and build his own. The net effect is the Brinkmann 10.5, which unsurprisingly resembles the Breuer. It is also one hell of a fine arm. It is elegant, easy to set up and use. Adjustments to VTA, HTA, azimuth and tracking force are easily performed and once optimized, stable over the long term.

The Brinkmann arm is a fixed bearing. The ideal for those who adopt the fixed bearing approach is to eliminate any play in the arm. If the tonearm moves too much in response to the energy traveling from the groove through the arm, the arm will ultimately lose its stability and be unable to adequately track the record and reproduce the music accurately. No play may be the ideal but it is of course impossible to secure in practice. The fact that the ideal cannot be realized in practice has led other designers to abandon the pursuit and adopt a unipivot approach (e.g. Graham) or variations (SME's knife bearing; Schroeder's magnetic rejection; Well Tempered's strung paddle in silicon 'goop').

Rather than abandon the fixed-bearing 'no play' ideal, Brinkmann, like Breuer, employs extremely small precision self-aligning ball bearings machined to very tight tolerances in Switzerland which enable the arm to approximate the fixed bearing ideal while allowing the arm to move with the least possible friction. The net effect of this approach is realized in great tracking and explosive dynamics.

The Brinkmann arm is medium compliant and works extremely well with a broad range of cartridges. The Balance I reviewed came fitted with the recommended Brinkmann modified EMT. I am a huge fan of cartridges from the Ortofon SPU and EMT families. My reference cartridges are a Shindo modified SPU classic, a Denon 103 and the Roksan Shiraz. The latter is a modified EMT. Einstein (also of Germany) as well as Brinkmann modify EMTs. It is worth noting that van den Hul cartridges began life as modified EMTs as well. The Brinkmann modifications are designed to control resonance and in doing so, to increase clarity and extension beyond the original.

The »10.5« is considered one of the best tonearms in the world and is used as a reference (and highly recommended) by magazines and reviewers alike throughout the world. The »10.5« is a true allaround tonearm. With a dynamic mass of 12 grams, it works well with any modern cartridge; and with 10.5'' length, it is still short enough for most turntables designed for 9-inch arms, yet also long enough for 12-inch arm bases. For optimum resonance control and high torsional stability, the »10.5« is made from aluminum and stainless steel; a high tech synthetic material is also used. For the same reasons, the headshell is nondetachable and the surface of the arm tube has also been treated with special anodizing. A double gimballed suspension, with precision ball bearings free of play, ensures precise and frictionless tracking. The vertical downforce and the dynamic mass can be adjusted over a wide range thanks to the split collar counterweight. Skating is compensated for without any contact by magnetic force. (Too bad you actually will hardly ever notice any of these efforts. Because simply put, the better a tone arm works, the more you'll hear what has been cut into the vinyl: music!)

Art Dudley - Stereophile (USA)
"If you're interested in adding a clean, accurate phono cartridge to your collection of same, but you'd like just a little more warmth and gushiness than the average these days, consider an EMT. If you want all that and more—even more texture, humanity, flow, and noiselessness in the groove—consider a Brinkmann EMT: That's what the Titanium appears to be all about, and that's why I think it's a wonderful thing."

Jules Coleman wrote in 6moons:
It is elegant, easy to set up and use. Adjustments to VTA, HTA, azimuth and tracking force are easily performed and once optimized, stable over the long term. The Brinkmann arm is a fixed bearing. The ideal for those who adopt the fixed bearing approach is to eliminate any play in the arm. If the tonearm moves too much in response to the energy traveling from the groove through the arm, the arm will ultimately lose its stability and be unable to adequately track the record and reproduce the music accurately. No play may be the ideal but it is of course impossible to secure in practice. The fact that the ideal cannot be realized in practice has led other designers to abandon the pursuit and adopt a unipivot approach (e.g. Graham) or variations (SME's knife bearing; Schroeder's magnetic rejection; Well Tempered's strung paddle in silicon 'goop'). Rather than abandon the fixed-bearing 'no play' ideal, Brinkmann, like Breuer, employs extremely small precision self-aligning ball bearings machined to very tight tolerances in Switzerland which enable the arm to approximate the fixed bearing ideal while allowing the arm to move with the least possible friction. The net effect of this approach is realized in great tracking and explosive dynamics.

Specifications

Reviews

Specifications

Distance platter center to tonearm bearing center 244 mm  
Effective length 259.8 mm  
Overhang 15.8 mm  
Cartridge mount 1/2'' connector, long holes  
Minimum distance between mounting surface and platter top 25 mm  
Mounting depth 30 mm  
Cartridge weight min. 4, max. 16 g  
Dynamic mass ca. 12 g  
Total weight ca. 300 g  
Counterweight 180 g  
Scope of delivery tonearm with flying leads (unterminated), tools  
Options tonearm with standard 5-pin connector (SME type)

Reviews

The player as a whole is extremely revealing and very even handed,
Hi-Fi +

There’s an interesting piece on the Brinkmann website which tells us a lot about the way Helmut Brinkmann’s mind works. In essence it explains how Helmut noticed that the tiny screws that adjust the cantilever on the EMT cartridge were made of steel and realising that this was probably not a good idea he set about trying screws of different materials and in different arrangements to find the best sounding arrangement. These screws are 1mm in diameter, the man’s attention to detail is clearly in another league to that normally encountered even in German engineering. After considerable experimentation he came to the conclusion that having one of the three screws in titanium produced the highest fidelity. I’m impressed that he made the time to listen, clearly German TV is no better than the programming we get over here!

The Bardo is Brinkmann’s second direct or magnetic drive turntable. It was preceded by the Oasis (which looks like the same design on a plinth) and has the same rather elegant drive system. The motor and the bearing are one piece, that is they are combined because they both need to be in the same place. This is obviously not new, Technics and many other Japanese manufacturers did something similar over thirty years ago but I can think of only one other example with audiophile aspirations. That example is the Goldmund Studio which is no longer produced but had a pretty strong reputation even in the context of that company’s exalted rang While the idea of putting the motor around the bearing would seem to be a logical thing to do in practice it’s not without difficulties. The main one is that electric motors ‘cog’, that is their rotation isn’t totally fluid but consists of a series of small jumps as the rotor is pushed from one coil to the next. Brinkmann has sought to combat this by placing the coils at 22.5 degrees to one another and having overlapping magnetic fields, this was found to reduce cogging and make for higher sound quality compared to a traditional 90 degree layout. The Bardo also has somewhat more substantial platter than direct drives of yore, it weighs 22lbs (10kg) and the inertia that this provides further helps to smooth out anyremaining cogging.

Interestingly the speed control system uses analogue electronics where a digital system would undoubtedly have been cheaper, but as you will have surmised Brinkmann is not about making things at minimum cost. The speed control is done with a strobe or tachometer under the magnet in the bearing/sub-platter, its voltage output is compared with a temperature stabilised reference voltage and feedback is used to align the two. A digital system would be simpler but its RF emissions were considered to be a hazard tosound quality.

The bearing is a steel shaft that sits on a Teflon cup but the rest of the motor and subplatter is machined from aluminium, it’s an elegant assembly and I hope that there is space to publish a picture.

The parts of the turntable that you can readily see are finished to a superb standard in anodised aluminium, it’s a simple single beam construction with three adjustable feet and a single arm mounting. The latter is large enough to accept arms from nine to 12inches in length and Brinkmann makes two tonearms the 12.1 and the 10.5, the name indicating size. Both are based on the classic Breuer design and have gimbal bearings for both axis. The counterweight is a split type that can cope with a wide range of cartridges but the effective mass of 12g would appear to suit moving coils. 

As mentioned the company doesn’t make its own cartridges but has a variant of the EMT which it calls Ti presumably in honour of that tiny bolt. It also has a resonance optimised contact patch or mounting made with a sandwich of materials. It has a Van den Hul stylus and various other modifications  as well as a medium to low compliance suspension.

The Bardo sample sent for review had a pair of XLR sockets on the plinth beneath the arm but you can order this turntable with RCA phono sockets or use a DIN plug straight into the arm itself. Inconveniently the XLR outputs are not channel marked so you need a familiar record to establish this particular fundamental. Even though few phono stages take advantage of the fact the phono cartridge is naturally a balanced output transducer, so XLR sockets make a lot of sense. Fortunately I was able to use a another German component to assess its potential in this respect, namely a Burmester 100 phono stage which has the requisite sockets and is a very fine piece in its own right.

But before I get carried away with the sound its worth pointing out that the platter is normally supplied with an acrylic top surface but for a premium can be had with glass instead. It comes with a screw down clamp that’s made to the same high standards as the rest of the player but you need to route around in the box and find the component that sits under the vinyl to give the clamp something to dish over. Much like the the output channels the user manual fails to mention such niceties. 

There are two power supply options for this turntable and the more expensive metal cased version came with this sample. On/off and speed switching is achieved with the toggle switch under the plinth, the tip of which glows green when its up to speed (or red if you push down for 45rpm).

The final part of the puzzle is a granite slab that Burmester supplies as an option and which provides a solid ground for the turntable. You don’t need it to use the thing but it’s relatively inexpensive and has a positive effect on the low end performance, adding gravitas and power that you don’t get even with a well isolated stand. This 1.25inch thick slab is supplied as standard in the US but it’s a £339 extra in these parts. 

The player as a whole is extremely revealing and very even handed, it’s not as warm as an SME but it’s considerably more full bodied than a Clearaudio of similar price. The balance is on the lean side really but it could never be described as forward, in fact it’s very good at getting out of the way and letting the music through in all its emotional glory. I was struck by how much woe there is on Conjure’s ‘Oakland Blues’, this is a fabulous song written by Carman Moore and sung so effectively by Robert Jason that I have been listening to rather a lot on streamers of late but it takes on whole new depths with this turntable. It sounded very real thanks to the layers that the Bardo reveals in pretty much everything you spin, it also extracts the life in the recording in no uncertain fashion.  A lot of seemingly neutral turntables fail in this crucial respect and effectively undermine one of the key qualities of vinyl, but this one lets all the vitality of the music out in the context of a presentation that’s as open as the recording allows. Its timing, while strong, is not in the front league, high mass turntables, whatever the drive system, rarely are but this is not all that apparent without comparison. What it does rather obviously is put the music squarely in the room, it creates a physical presence that makes everything in the mix more real and tangible. This is largely because it tracks dynamics so well, maximising the contrast between the various instruments and voices in the mix gives the result a true sense of life that is hard to resist. 

This is all the more apparent when someone like Leo Kottke starts picking his acoustic guitar, the quality of playing is intoxicating because the turntable has no apparent overhang – notes stop and start with precision but without any undue emphasis or ring. As mentioned the Bardo can sound a bit lean at times and needs the rich muscularity of the EMT cartridge to balance this out, but its tautness and body with a van den Hul Condor is also extremely engaging. So much so that I found myself listening at unnecessarily high levels just for the fun of it. Under such circumstances its musical skills are brought to the fore and the records sound even better, at least for as long as the neighbours can tolerate it. Put on a spectacular recording such as the recent Premonition Records pressing of Patricia Barber’s Café Blue and you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the experience – to be frank I’m not a huge fan of her work, at least I didn’t used to be. In the B a r d o ’s hands the second track Mourning Grace changed all that. 

It’s impossible to say what the direct drive element contributes to this turntable, the last time I reviewed a Brinkmann (La Grange) I thought  it was superb and this model has made a very similar impression. What makes them good is not merely the drive system but the attention to detail that Helmut Brinkmann puts into their creation. It would nonetheless be fascinating to put this up against one of his belt drive designs just to find out. +