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Of all the tables I have had around over the years, only my reference Shindo-Garrard 301 is as easy to use on a daily basis and as free of hassles and potential heartaches. Once properly set up, you don't have to think about it again: no endless adjustments. One does not purchase the Brinkmann Balance anticipating a never-ending series of updates that must be incorporated to keep the table from falling behind sonically. You analog aficionados know what I am talking about - even you inveterate tweakers who actually enjoy the fact that it will be a challenge when you wake up tomorrow morning to produce the wonderful sound you heard from your turntable today. Turntable owners are more likely than any other category of audiophiles to refer to the finicky and tweaky as versatile. The Balance is the antithesis of finicky or tweaky; indeed, it is as close to plug-and-play as one might hope to find in the far reaches of the high end.

Don't be misled by the Balance's ease of setup and use. It offers the ultimate in high-resolution playback and must be matched with like-minded components. Match it properly and you will be rewarded with exceptional and exception-less performance from the moment you drop the stylus into the groove until you decide to give it a rest - something, I suspect, you will rarely be inclined to do.

For your listening pleasure
It is now a commonplace for reviewers to assess a component's sonic performance piecemeal: begin with high or low frequencies, move on to presence region or midbass, head straight for the midrange, then pass right through to the other end of the spectrum. Of course, one could do that with the Brinkmann Balance - but doing so would miss the point.

The Brinkmann Balance presents music the way you hear it live: as an organic whole, not as disconnected parts. Nevertheless, no information has gone missing and a listener intent on following particular musical parts is surely free to do so. It is all there as every aspect of the music on an LP is available for those inclined to listen analytically or as through a microscope. Still, the Brinkmann discourages detached, analytic listening. It invites the listener to embrace and be moved by the music, not to study or scope it.

It is also a commonplace to distinguish at least implicitly between musical and audiophile attributes of components or systems. Soundstaging is, if anything is, an audiophile property of components and systems. The same is true of cognate concepts like imaging. In contrast, the tone and timbre of instruments signify musical attributes, and a component's ability to reproduce either or both well constitutes a musically important feature of it. Other evaluative concepts, for example image density, are more difficult to categorize. I never listen for audiophile attributes but to be honest, I enjoy them when they are present. I just don't miss them much when they are not.

Over the years, I have become much more interested in timing and dynamics, in particular, the manner in which the music develops resolves and decays. The way in which a component or a system presents dynamics, including shadings and contrasts, can be among the most important and nevertheless misleading features of playback. To my ears, so many components present music in dynamically uneven ways: lots of punch in the midbass, but no dynamics at all in the higher frequencies. Some components are known for their big midrange bloom that is not matched anywhere else in the frequency spectrum. These are attention-getting attributes to be sure, just as a tipped up presence region gives one the impression of high frequency information and an artificially large soundstage. These are designer tricks and listeners are often caught unawares. Customers are taken by the sales pitch only to find themselves trading in their equipment a few months down the road. Too often, what passes for dynamic components or systems are simply unbalanced ones.

Timing is even more important to music and its reproduction. Many systems are let down by poor timing. Music without proper timing lacks coherence and falls apart. Rare is the backloaded hornspeaker that produces bass in time with the rest of the music. I am not passing out secrets here. Getting the timing right in such designs is as much a problem as is producing highly articulate, pitch-accurate lower frequencies more generally. It can be done of course, but it is one of the reasons why getting a full-range driver in a backloaded horn to sound right is a major engineering feat and often costly as well.

It is important to distinguish between two notions of correct timing: internal and external. A coherent playback system requires correct internal timing. When the internal timing of a system is correct, everything from the attack to the decay of notes in relationship to one another makes sense.

Still, a piece presented with good internal timing can nevertheless fail to be musically persuasive. All the elements cohere, but there is something nevertheless wrong, or better, unpersuasive about the overall presentation. Most of us have no difficulty in identifying when the overall sound is a bit sluggish - when it seems to take too long for notes to present themselves. And by the same token, the timing seems unnaturally quick when we hear lots of attack and leading edge but very little by the way of decay. In most modern systems, the sound is more likely to be a bit too fast than too slow. Long-time audiophiles know that the original Linn LP 12 was set up a bit fast. So much of what we hear in reproduced music strikes me as a bit rushed by comparison to the real thing. Mind you, this is very subtle and virtually no component or system really "nails" timing. But the palpability and the musical persuasiveness of a playback system and its components ultimately depends, I am inclined to think, on how close it gets to reproducing the way in which music in fact develops, resolves and decays. .

When the timing is right, when reproduced music develops as music does, it all slows down just a bit and comes across as largely unrushed. There are many analogies in other contexts. When I play music with others who are far more accomplished than I am, I feel like I have to rush to keep up. When I ask them what it feels like to play when they are in command of their instruments, invariably they tell me that time stands still, everything feels unrushed. The same is true in sports. Composure, confidence and control are associated with the game slowing down, the baseball looking like a grapefruit traveling so slowly you can see the laces of the ball rotate individually. And so on.

Timing is a relational notion. Good internal timing gives reproduced music coherence, but it is not enough to render the experience persuasive or palpable. It is not enough to make it real. For this to occur, the timing of the reproduction must capture the timing of the real event. The notes must develop, resolve and decay as they do in life and not just in relationship to one another. When that happens, the listener can see deeply into the music - not just deeply into the soundstage as a physical space. This is what separates listening to music as a physical experience from listening to it as an emotional one.

The Brinkmann Balance is one of the very few turntables I have heard that pretty much gets the timing right. Because it gets the timing right, it plays music and invites the listener to see deeply into the music, to embrace and be moved by it: to experience its meaning while avoiding any tendency to parse it into component elements.

As with other high mass designs, the Balance has a deep, full and authoritative bottom end. Unlike some others I have heard, however, it stops and starts on a dime. It is much more agile in this regard than are some of its competitors. I like to put this in terms of recovery rate. After big, powerful moments in large orchestral pieces, there is no sense that the piece is starting back up too slowly or too quickly. There is a breath, a pause, a gathering of thoughts, and off we go again - all in order. I cannot tell you how often tables get this wrong.

The midrange is extremely detailed but natural. Improperly isolated high mass tables can be unnaturally edgy on top, but no doubt thanks in part to its HRS isolation platform, the Brinkmann is extended, airy and edgeless on top.

But is there anything to complain about sonically?
Not really. After listening for two months, I had the sense that Helmut Brinkmann likely voiced the table around classical music and small Jazz combos. I had gotten this impression from the fact that no matter how I tried, I couldn't get the table to play dirty or nasty.

The Chemical Brothers' "Hey Boy, Hey Girl" never fully came across as the ode to the Club Ecstasy scene that it is. Even Roy Buchanan's ear-piercing Telecaster on his signature "The Messiah Will Come Again" [Roy Buchanan, Polydor, PD5033, 1972] comes across somewhat tamer than it is in life. I couldn't get the Brinkmann to display bad manners - no matter how hard I tried.

If the Brinkmann has a character trait that leaves a fingerprint on the music, it resides in its refinement and good manners. The Brinkmann is well behaved and mannered, even on those rare occasions when you might want to see it throw some dirt in your face.

And there is more
The Brinkmann sounds great, looks great and is a work of exceptional engineering. But there is more. The more is reliability and service. Purchase the Balance with the Brinkmann arm, EMT cartridge and the HRS isolation platform and you are likely to have trouble-free world-class performance for years to come.

The extreme high end is populated by products that are made by hand. This is part of their charm and much of what accounts for their exceptional performance. These are not products designed to price points or to appeal to a mass audience. They express the designer's vision. They have a signature that is unmistakable. Often this can come at a cost, sometimes in terms of piece-to-piece consistency. Other times, there is a price to be paid in terms of delivery time or service.

Not so with Brinkmann. Should you have a problem, you can count on good service. Lawrence Blair protects the Brinkmann name. To that end, he has developed a first-rate dealer network that he supports who in turn support their customers. And Brinkmann itself has been in business for quite some time. If you have questions, Lawrence Blair will answer them patiently. If he cannot answer your question, he will call Mr Brinkmann and get the answer for you. I know, I asked many such questions. Should you need a replacement part, Brinkmann will have one to you in short order.

With the Brinkmann Balance, you are not only buying a state-of-the-art turntable, you are buying a commitment to excellent service and to your ongoing enjoyment of the table. And given the Brinkmann Balance, enjoyment is the least of it. More likely you will find insight into music and into the importance of music in a full and, one might say, balanced life.

Manufacturer's website
US distributor's website