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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employs the Well Tempered arm that is the most important historical antecedent to Schroeder's. I tend to adopt the very out-of-date approach of listening to how the arm sounds instead of arguing a priori from theory to evaluative conclusion!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.

I have had extensive experience with the Shiraz. The Brinkmann and Shiraz clearly have much in common. Properly loaded into a first-rate phono stage, the EMT is dynamic, lively, extremely detailed and full-bodied. It is not a warm and beautiful cartridge like a Koetsu. Nor is it analytic and ruthlessly revealing. It makes music in an absolutely convincing and tonally balanced way. Tonally and dynamically, it is an even-handed performer top to bottom: No hype in the presentation anywhere, a model of composure and self-confidence. Behind the SPU, the EMT is my second favorite cartridge at this point, and one I much prefer to almost all modern cartridges short of the Kondo Io – though I confess to a hankering to hear Edward Barker's reference, the Allaerts. I also recently made the acquaintance of the Magic Diamond cartridge (obviously modeled on the older SPUs) favored by Lloyd Walker, and that too shows much promise.

There are many ways to construct an analog playback system in the home, just as there are many ways to construct a music playback system more generally. One approach is to find a great plinth and platter combination, then to search out a motor or motor drive, then to find an arm, get an arm board made for the table; then find a cartridge, phono cables and put the whole thing together. There is nothing wrong with this approach or the many variants of it. With a good ear and even better luck, one can find analog nirvana this way.

Many people put together a music playback system the same way. Sources from one company, preamp from another, amps from yet another, speakers from another still, and so on. For years this was my approach as well and I suspect it remains the dominant one among audiophiles and reviewers alike. Again with a good ear and even more good luck, one can produce a good system. More often than not, however, I fear the results are cobbled-together systems that sound like many reports produced by committees read.

The alternative approach is to have one's analog playback system reflect one designer's vision or voice. The Brinkmann Balance realizes Helmut Brinkmann's vision of what analog playback should be. You can pick and choose among its parts as you like. The chassis/plinth and motor combination are excellent enough to stand up to any arm you desire. By the same token, the Brinkmann arm could grace the best analog playback systems extant. And the Brinkmann EMT will never be embarrassed in any setup.

The Balance, however, is not a confluence of good parts. Rather it begins with a vision of the whole and works back from that vision to a coordination of elements sufficient to realize the vision. It is a balance of elements, all excellent in their own right, but the whole of which far exceeds the sum of the parts.

The Balance is a mature and finished product. No element of the design has been overlooked. The arm is chosen because it is an optimal match for the table; the cartridge is chosen because it is an optimal match for the tonearm, and so on. This level of maturity in design and execution reflects the designer's approach and is in turn reflected in the way the product is distributed and marketed here in the States. Everything about the Brinkmann exudes quiet self-confidence and composure. The overall maturity of the company, its products and its representatives is uncommon and stands as a welcome and stark contrast to some of my recent experiences. Very welcome indeed.

The intelligent and affable Lawrence Blair, III, distributes Brinkmann turntables and electronics in North America. Lawrence splits his time between protecting the hard-earned and well-deserved reputation of Helmut Brinkmann (and his products) and overseeing not-for-profit based initiatives that provide mental and behavioral health services to the disadvantaged and endangered. Lawrence is not just one of the good guys in this business. He is one of the ethical ones as well. And he's a good human being to boot.

Lawrence made the trip from the Pocono Mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania to my home after setting up another Brinkmann Balance at a customer's home in Westchester. I met Lawrence and his bride at his customer's home to watch him set up the table and to have a preliminary listen through a different system. I was impressed, enough so that I did all I could to encourage Lawrence to leave as soon as possible so that we might get on with the main event of the day (at least for me) - which was to get the table set up and running at my place.

An hour later we were at my home, and an hour thereafter the Brinkmann Balance was ready for action. Brinkmann recommends that the plinth be placed on an isolation base or platform. The Harmonic Resolution Systems M-3 isolation base has eclipsed all of Lawrence Blair's original recommendations. I reviewed these while toiling for Ultra Audio, and recently named HRS' M1R equipment rack my personal component of 2004. I therefore placed the HRS isolation base custom made for the Brinkmann atop the standard HRS isolation shelf in the M1R. I followed a similar procedure with the Redpoint Testa Rossa XS. Redpoint also contracts with HRS for custom-made platforms. That's where the similarities between the Redpoint and the Brinkmann ended.

The Brinkmann EMT cartridge loaded properly into the internal step-up transformer of the Shindo Catherine preamplifier. For the first part of the review, speakers were the Hørning Agathon Ultimates, which were also in house during my time with the Redpoint, making comparisons more meaningful than they might otherwise have been. The Hørnings were eventually replaced by DeVore Fidelity's Silverback Reference (review to follow). Primarily both the Shindo Sinhonia and WE300B LTD monoblocks provided amplification. I spent a solid three months with the Brinkmann Balance. It performed flawlessly and I loved every minute it graced my system.