The traditional objection about direct-drive, where the platter is driven from a motor mounted right at its centre, was that you could here it ‘cogging’. This was the issue arising from the fact that the fields of a direct-drive motor’s permanent magnet are not uniform (they’ll always be strongest on the two ends and weakest in its centre), which causes the motor torque to fluctuate slightly. This makes for ‘hunting’, where the servo is constantly summoning up little bursts of extra power, or little drops in power, to correct the platter speed. The contention then asserted that belt drive is immune from this.
This is true, to an extent. Direct-drives can never be at exactly the right speed, but are always very close to it. And depending on the quality of the motor, electronics and speed sensing, they can be extremely close. Conversely, belt-drives can never be at the right speed either; the trouble is that whilst the motor speed is at (or close to) the right speed, the platter itself is decoupled by the rubber belt, which effectively acts as a slipper clutch. Given that playing a record presents a continually varying load, thanks to the inertia the stylus creates in the groove as its modulation varies, a belt-drive is always being slowed down slightly by stylus drag, and what gives is the belt (or the coupling of the belt to the spindle), effectively producing a slight slurring on transients, rounding off the leading edges of notes.
Now, opponents of this theory validly point out that the drag the stylus creates is a fraction of what’s needed to slow a motor down. But the fact remains that I can hear with my own ears how different belt-drives and direct-drives sound. So either this theory is true, or there’s another explanation for the same phenomenon of belt-drives being unable to maintain an exactly constant speed either…
Helmut Brinkmann’s first Oasis sported magnetic direct-drive, and now the Bardo uses this too, in a more affordable and versatile package. Inspired by the design of their top-of-the-line models Balance and LaGrange, this is very flexible way of getting into Brinkmann ownership, with a range of options. The system is such that there’s only one bearing for the motor and the platter; a circular magnet is mounted into the bearing of the platter and is concentrically driven into rotation via coils on the circuit board under the magnet. An electronic circuit drives the coils via two magnetic sensitive resistors that react to the magnetic fields into a highly constant and slow circular movement.
Brinkmann says its motor control system transfers just enough energy to the motor for it to remain at a constant speed. Interestingly, this where the thinking from some leading lights in the Technics mod community is going too; the set-up of the servo on the SL-1200 is designed for fast start up and gives an overly ‘tight’ sound which many like to ‘relax’ a little. As such, the Bardo has a start up time of twelve seconds on 33.333RPM, and four more on 45RPM, compared to under a second on an SL-1200!
The Bardo motor’s stator consists of four specially designed field coils, mounted concentrically with high precision around the platter bearing. Based on listening sessions Brinkmann decided to forgo the typical 90-degree mounting angle in favour of a non-standard 22.5-degree roster, which, due to the magnetic fields overlapping, further reduced cogging. The motor’s rotor also acts as the sub-platter and carries a magnetic ring with eight poles on its underside. Inside the motor, the rpm of a speedometer disc is measured and turned into variable voltage that is fed into a control circuit where the rpm is compared to the reference voltage that is adjustable via the trim pots. Speeds are selectable by a switch, and there’s a speed LED (green for 33, red for 45).
The Bardo’s main bearing itself is a lubricated precision (hydrodynamic) journal affair, said to be quiet and maintenance-free. It’s kept permanently warm due to the quiescent current of the motor control electronics. It supports the 9.8kg platter which is hewn from a special ‘resonance-optimised’ special aluminium alloy, with a black acrylic platter mat. The chassis is 15mm Duralumin, measures 420x320x100mm, and the whole deck weighs 14.8kg (chassis 5kg, platter 9.8 kg).
Cleverly, the Bardo’s tonearm base can be rotated and fixed without play to allow simple and precise tonearm adjustment for all tonearms between 9” and 10.5”, without the need to fiddle with the arm. Brinkmann drills the base to the customer’s choice. The rear of the deck has a choice of RCA phono or XLR output sockets, and Brinkmann says it’s also possible to install tonearms with DIN connectors or fixed cables. My sample came fitted with the Brinkmann 10.5 tonearm (£3,895) and an EMT ti MC cartridge (£2,595).
As its name suggests (in Tibetan, ‘bardo’ means ‘transitional state’, and I’m guessing that’s the allusion?), the basic Bardo is an entry-level Brinkmann deck that can be upgraded to an altogether higher form. When launched in 2010, the stock (£4,495) package comprised the acrylic platter mat and small plastic housed power supply. Upgrade stage 1 (£695) featured the metal cased power supply that is used for the Balance and LaGrange turntables instead of the standard power supply. Stage 2 (£695) featured a glass platter mat and a record clamp instead of the black acrylic platter mat. Upgrade stage 3 combined stages 1 and 2, and was said to give the Bardo “nearly the bandwidth and dynamic resolution of Brinkmann’s bigger turntables”. There was also the option of a matching granite platform (440x310x30mm), claimed to further improve sonics.
As high-end turntables go, the Bardo is blissfully delightfully simple. The deck chassis is effectively just an armboard, a bearing housing and a link between the two. On to this sits the very heavy platter, and the whole shebang can then sit on the optional granite base. This is an important point because the Brinkmann of course has no isolation from the outside world apart from its mass. As such, correct siting is essential. I found the base worked well, but Avid’s isolation platform worked better still. In fact, I used two of them, atop a Quadraspire Sinoku vent rack, whereupon the Bardo really began to sing. If it’s not properly sited, the deck just sounds like a dirge, so experimentation is well worthwhile.
Listening to the Bardo, and you’re left in no doubt that this is a direct-drive. Strummed steel string guitars, for example, have more bite; it’s as if you can hear the space between every plectrum strike on the string almost in slow motion, whereas belt drives simply blur it. Take the lead steel string guitar work on Tears For Fears’ Pale Shelter or the opening guitar arpeggios on Kate Bush’s Babushka to see what I mean.
There’s more; instruments seem to jump out of a sea of black. Compared to a Michell Orbe for example (a brilliant belt-drive in my opinion) and the Michell seems to tie everything together more, so there’s never a sense that bass guitar notes have ever stopped; one seems to run into the next. The Bardo does not do this; rather it’s as if percussive elements almost blink on an off like light emitting diodes in the dark. I am of course overstating this slightly; the subjective differences are subtle but still have a profound effect on the sound.
Direct-drives also tend to pick out studio effects more than belters, thanks to their glassy clarity, and here the Bardo does its stuff, proving a forensic interrogator of mixes. Another aspect is the focus across the treble; angrily struck hi-hats have incredible speed. Moving to Steely Dan’s Rickie Don’t Lose That Number and the Bardo provided what’s best described as a mastertape-like rendition. Tight, taut, incisive and super-detailed, yet at the same time authoritative and effortless.
Tonally, it’s also a fair way away from the Technics, as one might expect. Here we have a slightly less powerful bass, but one that can express itself more naturally. There’s still just as much low end as, say, an SME Model 10, but it sounds far better articulated. Across the midband, the Bardo has a lovely neutrality that you can’t help but love; there’s little of the creamy warmth of your average belt-drive superdeck, but neither is there the coldness and chill of classic high end Technics designs, for example, and absolutely no sense of a clangy, chromium plated upper mid. Rather, it’s a akin to a gently sunny summer’s day where nothing blinds you but all’s still there in sharp relief. This fine balance is topped off by a sparkling treble that’s in no way as sharp as any of the last generation of Japanese direct-drives, but still has their vivid presence.
I am a direct-drive fan, and if you ever doubt my reasoning then I suggest you hear the Brinkmann Bardo to find out why. First, as a user experience it’s fiendishly simple; so many other high-end turntables are more like assembling a kit of parts, and can take ages to set up. But this deck might as well be a Rega P2; it’s all together in a jiffy. This done, it is lovely to use; silent, uncomplaining, non-wobbly and small in size, it’s a turntable for those who believe a deck should be heard and not seen. Finally, sonically it is superb.
Delivering a powerful, effortless punch into your system, you’ll be amazed at the level of detail and insight it has got, and the eerie ‘spaces between the notes’ that you simply don’t here via belts. Fantastic dynamics, shimmering treble and bucket loads of air and space complete a prime package. This important high-end turntable deserves to succeed.