Brinkmann Bardo Review

The conventional complaint to direct-drive, which involves a motor located directly in the center of the platter, was that you could hear it ‘cogging.’ This was a problem caused by the fact that the permanent magnet fields of a direct-drive motor are not uniform (they’ll always be stronger at the ends and weakest in the middle), causing the motor torque to fluctuate significantly. This results in ‘hunting,’ in which the servo continually summons little bursts of more power, or small decreases in power, to correct the platter speed. The argument went on to say that belt drive is resistant to this.

To some extent, this is correct. Direct-drives are never exactly at the appropriate speed, but they are constantly close. They can be extremely close depending on the quality of the motor, electronics, and speed sensing. Belt-drives, on the other hand, can never be at the correct speed; the problem is that, when the motor is running at (or close to) the correct speed, the platter is decoupled by the rubber belt, which functions as a slipper clutch. Because the inertia the stylus causes in the groove as its modulation fluctuates, a belt-drive is constantly slowed slightly by stylus drag, and what yields is the belt (or the coupling of the belt to the spindle), effectively causing a tiny slurring on transients, smoothing the leading edges of notes.

Opponents of this hypothesis correctly point out that the drag created by the stylus is a small fraction of what is required to halt a motor. But the reality remains that I can hear the differences between belt-drives and direct-drives with my own ears. So either this idea is correct, or there’s another explanation for belt-drives’ inability to maintain an exact constant speed as well…

The Bardo, like Helmut Brinkmann’s first Oasis, uses magnetic direct-drive, but in a more cheap and versatile design. This is a really versatile way to get into Brinkmann ownership, with a selection of options, inspired by the design of their top-of-the-line models Balance and LaGrange. The system is designed so that the motor and platter share a single bearing; a circular magnet is installed in the platter’s bearing and is concentrically forced into rotation by coils on the circuit board beneath the magnet. Two magnetic sensitive resistors react to magnetic fields and drive the coils in a highly consistent and slow circular movement, which is controlled by an electronic circuit.

The motor control mechanism, according to Brinkmann, sends just enough energy to the motor to keep it running at a constant speed. Interestingly, this is also where some leading lights in the Technics mod community are thinking; the servo on the SL-1200 is set up for quick start-up and produces an unnecessarily ‘tight’ sound, which many people prefer to ‘relax’ a touch. As a result, the Bardo takes twelve seconds to start up at 33.333 RPM and four seconds at 45 RPM, compared to under a second for an SL-1200!

The stator of the Bardo motor is made up of four specifically designed field coils that are positioned concentrically and precisely around the platter bearing. Brinkmann decided to forego the normal 90-degree mounting angle in favor of a non-standard 22.5-degree arrangement, which decreased cogging even more due to the magnetic fields overlapping. The rotor of the motor also serves as the sub-platter, and it has an eight-pole magnetic ring on its bottom. The rpm of a speedometer disc is monitored inside the motor and converted to variable voltage, which is passed into a control circuit, where the rpm is compared to the reference voltage, which is adjusted via trim pots. A switch controls the speeds, and there is a speed LED (green for 33, red for 45).

The main bearing of the Bardo is a lubricated precision (hydrodynamic) journal arrangement that is touted to be quiet and maintenance-free. The motor control electronics’ quiescent current keeps it warm all the time. It has a black acrylic platter pad to hold the 9.8kg platter, which is made of a special ‘resonance-optimized’ special aluminium alloy. The chassis is made of 15mm Duralumin, measures 420x320x100mm, and weighs 14.8kg in total (chassis 5kg, platter 9.8 kg).

The tonearm base on the Bardo may be rotated and fixed without play, allowing for simple and precise tonearm adjustment for any tonearms between 9″ and 10.5″ without fiddling with the arm. Brinkmann drills the base to the specifications specified by the buyer. The deck includes RCA phono or XLR output ports on the back, and Brinkmann adds tonearms with DIN connectors or permanent cables can also be used. The Brinkmann 10.5 tonearm (£3,895) and an EMT ti MC cartridge (£2,595) were included with my sample.

The basic Bardo is an entry-level Brinkmann deck that may be upgraded to a much higher version, as its name suggests: ‘Bardo’ means ‘transitional state’ in Tibetan, and I’m thinking that’s the allusion The acrylic platter mat and compact plastic-encased power supply were included in the stock (£4,495) package when it was released in 2010. Instead of the normal power supply, upgrade stage 1 (£695) uses the metal cased power supply seen on the Balance and LaGrange turntables. Instead of the black acrylic platter mat, Stage 2 (£695) included a glass platter mat and a record clamp. Stage 3 combines stages 1 and 2 to offer the Bardo “almost the bandwidth and dynamic resolution of Brinkmann’s larger turntables,” according to the manufacturer. A matching granite platform (440x310x30mm) was also available, which was said to increase sonics even further.

The Bardo is a gloriously pleasantly simple high-end turntable. The deck chassis consists of an armboard, a bearing housing, and a connection between the two. The very heavy plate is then placed on top of this, and the whole thing can be placed on the optional granite foundation. This is significant because, aside from its mass, the Brinkmann has no isolation from the outside world. As a result, proper placement is critical. The basis worked fine for me, but Avid’s isolation platform was even better. In fact, I used two of them on top of a Quadraspire Sinoku vent rack, and the Bardo began to sing in earnest. The deck sounds like a dirge if it’s not properly sited, so experimenting is well worth it.

Listening to the Bardo, it’s clear that this is a direct-drive vehicle. For example, strummed steel string guitars have more bite; it’s almost as if you can hear the space between each plectrum stroke on the string in slow motion, whereas belt drives merely blur it. To see what I mean, listen to the lead steel string guitar work on Tears For Fears’ Pale Shelter or Kate Bush’s Babushka’s opening guitar arpeggios.

There’s more: instruments appear to float in the middle of a sea of black. When compared to, say, a Michell Orbe (a brilliant belt-drive in my opinion), the Michell appears to connect everything together more, so there’s never a sense that the bass guitar notes have ever stopped; one just runs into the next. The Bardo, on the other hand, behaves as if percussion parts were light emitting diodes in the dark, blinking on and off. Of course, I’m exaggerating little; the subjective variations are minor, but they have a significant impact on the sound.

Because of their crystalline clarity, direct-drives tend to pick up studio effects more than belters, and this is where the Bardo shines, proving to be a forensic interrogator of mixes. Another feature is the treble concentration; violently hammered hi-hats move at breakneck speed. The Bardo then moved on to Steely Dan’s Rickie Don’t Lose That Number, which he performed in a mastertape-like manner. Tight, taut, sharp, and super-detailed, yet authoritative and effortless at the same time.

As one might assume, it’s a long distance from the Technics in terms of tone. Here’s a bass that’s a little less forceful than the last one, but one that can express itself more naturally. There’s still plenty of low end, but it’s significantly more articulated than, say, a SME Model 10. The Bardo has a lovely neutrality across the midband that you can’t help but like; there’s none of the creamy warmth of a typical belt-drive superdeck, but there’s also none of the coldness and chill of classic high-end Technics designs, for example, and no sense of a metallic, chromium-plated upper mid. Rather, it’s like a bright summer day where nothing blinds you but everything is still in great relief. This great balance is finished off with a gleaming treble that isn’t quite as crisp as the last generation of Japanese direct-drives, but retains their vibrant presence.

I’m a direct-drive aficionado, and if you don’t believe me, listen to the Brinkmann Bardo to find out why. To begin with, the user experience is deceptively simple; many other high-end turntables are more akin to putting together a kit of parts, and can take hours to set up. This deck, on the other hand, may just as well be a Rega P2; it’s put together in a flash. It’s a turntable for people who believe a deck should be heard rather than seen; silent, uncomplaining, non-wobbly, and compact in size, it’s a turntable for those who believe a deck should be heard rather than seen. Finally, the sound quality is outstanding.

You’ll be amazed with the level of detail and insight it possesses, as well as the eerie ‘spaces between the notes’ that you simply don’t hear with belts. Fantastic dynamics, shimmering treble, and plenty of air and space round out this excellent package. This crucial high-end turntable is deserving of success.