We do very well with the Brinkmann decks here at Lotus. They sell at a strong steady pace and owners are always delighted with what is a very staunch reliable product. Stability of the product, the company and the UK distribution is a major part of the appeal as is of course, the superb performance that they offer. Whilst the keenly priced Bardo is the biggest seller here (what other deck can genuinely perform as high as a Bardo for under £5000) we should not neglect Helmut’s most recent creation, the belt drive multi-arm Spyder which at £7996, sits neatly between the entry Bardo and flagship Balance.
A Brinkmann Front End
Regular customers will know that at Lotus we build systems that strive to lower noise and distortion and provide you with the most transparent, neutral and resolving sound possible for a given budget. The more resolution, the greater the freedom from colouration or “sound of the equipment”, the closer you are to what’s really on your records and CD’s. Your system will sound more real, more alive, your artists will play with more expression and nuance and the more thrilling, engaging and emotive your experience will be.
Because all of our brands are high in refinement, dynamics and liquidity our systems never start to sound harsh or clinical or analytical or bright or any other of a number of common hifi ills. This means that you never really need to “fix” them with another negative, like adding a soft interconnect or a speaker that is rolled off in the treble, or a component that “adds excitement” to an otherwise dead or flat sound. Yes, we can easily bias the sound gently (a little smoother, a touch darker, slightly more laid back etc.) because everyone has their subtle preferences but generally we keep well away from equipment that has too much character or flavouring. If you do want to add a little flavour to the system then that’s perfectly fine but the best and most controlled way to do that is at one particular point in the system with one particular component. This is vastly preferable to having a huge collision of coloured components all with their own way of doing things and all pulling the sound this way and that. These systems can become very very hard to unpick and improve. This philosophy of ours is especially true of course with your source component. Your turntable should be as resolving, as neutral and as dynamic and vital as possible. You simply can’t create fine detail, real dynamics, good timing or neutrality further down the line if the deck doesn’t do it in the first place.
With all of that that in mind, it’s not difficult to fully appreciate the power of a Brinkmann turntable and how it fits in so well with what we do here. The Brinkmann designs are open, neutral, dynamic and do not impart any particular signature to a piece of music. They are an enviable and astute starting point for any Vinyl chain and we also feel that you get a considerable amount of performance for the money that you spend, not to mention first rate build and craftsmanship that will last you a lifetime.
Overview & Setup
The Spyder is a belt drive, open chassis design which was developed from a clean sheet just a few years ago. It can accomodate up to 4 tonearms (hence the name) and in the Sinus motor and electrically heated bearing borrows technology from the top of the line Balance turntable. Like all of Helmut’s turntables it comes in excellent packaging and is a doddle to install and setup. The bearing, motor and platter are all separate pieces and your armboard and outrigger is easily assembled into the bearing to complete the chassis. After the normal levelling of the deck (via the feet of your rack or stand) the motor pulley can be positioned 7.5 cm from the platter edge. After that, the Brinkmann 10.5 tonearm and your chosen cartridge can be setup in the regular way applicable for any standard tonearm. One single screw clamps the 10.5 collar once the VTA is correct and the counterweight is a beautifully machined 3 module affair with provision for very fine adjustment. Brinkmann also includes an azimuth tool which can be screwed into the headshell and then sat onto the platter. It’s lower surface is perfectly flat so if it does not sit perfectly flat onto the platter then you will know you need to rotate the headshell a little which is easily achieved by loosening one single screw on the underside of the arm tube.
Brinkmann decks makes light work of cartridge alignment. The first task is to set the pivot to spindle distance of the deck by rotating the armboard and ensuring that the distance bewteen the central pivot of the arm and the centre of the turntable spindle is 244 mm. You can do this with a household ruler or tape measure or a bespoke measuring device if you have one.
Once that is done you simply tighten the armboard to lock the tonearm in place and then place the Brinkmann alignment protractor upon the platter and move its armature out to align with the Tonearm pivot. Once that is correctly in place, the cartridge just needs moving forward or back in the headshell so that the tip of the diamond rests perfectly inside the single target hole. The cartridge body and cantilever should also run parallel with the protractor’s grid of markings.
For the purposes of this article and so that I could make some fresh notes, I set the Spyder up in the demo room for a good few hours listening and shod it with a Transfiguration Phoenix S moving coil. From the off I gave the deck an uphill struggle by feeding it into Tidal Preos/Impusle pre-power and a pair of Tidal Contriva loudspeakers. This is an extremely resolving setup and certainly the most neutral and invisible equipment I’ve ever encountered. To be fair, anyone with the best part of £120k to spend on amps and speakers should and would opt for a Brinkann’s Balance or even higher, but I chose this setup for my listening so I could fully reveal what the deck was and wasn’t capable of. For phonostages I started with Allnic’s venerable £2500 H1201 tube preamp and then moved onto the bigger H3000 and the internal phono of the Tidal Preos. Mains ancillaries were from Tidal and Entreq and most pieces of equipment were stillpointed.
After playing a few sides to warm the cartridge and system up, I stepped back in the demo room and took a seat. Music was fairly varied from Grace Jones, John Coltrane, Radka Toneff, Muse, Barton Hollow, Stanley Clarke, Rickie Lee Jones, Amos Lee, John Patitucci, Norah Jones and the Tommy Chase quartet. From the get-go the Spyder gave an open, airy and three dimensional delivery with with good dynamic power and agility and a good sense of composure and confidence. Backgrounds were nice and quiet and one of the first standout skills was the Spyder’s beautifully delicate and resolved top end. Whilst bass response was some way short of the Balance’s amazing ability in this part of the frequency range, the Spyder had well defined and textured bass with a good level of punch and drive. When passages of music became congested the deck responded with an increased sense of power and made a good attempt at maintaining a sense of apportioned energy, bandwidth and coherency to indiviudual instruments.
As we’ve spoken of before the deck sounds very neutral, so much so that it was very quickly highlighting the Transfiguration’s ever so slightly lifted top end. Tonally, spatially and rhythmically records sounded like they were supposed to (although through a Tidal system that is very very different from how you would expect in other systems, although more on that some other time !) and I wasn’t aware of any particular ‘style’ or fingerprint that the Brinkmann was bringing to the table.
A Good Support
One footnote to all of the above is a note on the deck’s support. Placed directly onto my Pro Audio Bono rack as in my pictures the weight and dynamics of the deck was a little lacking for my tastes and for the calibre of the system. The Tidal electronics are hugely open and very distortion free but this means that unlike a lot of other equipment, they won’t create extra drama and detail for you in the form of residual noise and general sonic “confusion”. As you take away noise from a system the sound always becomes simpler, more at ease, more calm and in a sense less dramatic unless the drama and dynamics are in the music.
I found that by stillpointing the Spyder with a set of three Stillpoint Ultra 5 feet (you can do this either directly under the deck and motor or underneath a plinth or platform that the deck is sitting on) the deck achieved a far higher level of composure, dynamic power, coherency and bass response/control. To be fair though, any Brinkmann deck needs to be installed on something a little more elaborate than a surface of wood from a regular hifi rack. At lotus we have various options including a Pro Audio Bono suspended platform and Brinkmann’s own M3X granite isolation base. We believe stillponts though, will elevate performance to an ever higher level. The ideal of course is to use a combination of stillpoints and an isolation or mass damping base.
Summary & Criticism
The irony of being a hifi dealer is that whilst you do spend a lot of time listening to music, it’s only very occasionally that this can take the form of listening for pure pleasure. Whilst making notes for the Spyder I found myself just forgetting the task in hand and pulling out more and more vinyl from the shelves. Like all Brinkmanns the Spyder absolutely nails the basic musical presentation that we all crave. Tunes and rhythms are carried forward and unravelled with complete effortlessness, no part of the frequency spectrum sticks out and no notes are too fast or slow or sharpened or softened in any way. The Spyder has a wonderful flowing ease to its delivery and it’s a deck that you can enjoy hugely for long long listening sessions. Thankfully it’s a source that never once sounds like an ‘information device’ or prioritises sheer detail retrieval over melody, tune, and the song as an accomplished single whole.
During my session I moved up from the Allnic H1201 to the legacy H3000 phonostage. This the first ever “super stage” that the industry ever saw, brought about a huge performance lift in all capacities. With a phono such as the H3000, the soundstaging is very expansive, fine detail is on another level altogether and the ambience and mastering processes are very firmly wrung out to their very last drops. The system was now delivering an uncanny insight into the true nature of the recording and the feeling of realism and instruments literally hanging in space in front of your face is endlessly delightful. Moving to the inbuilt phonostage inside the Tidal Preos Preamplifier gave me an even more neutral and controlled delivery although on some music you could say that some of the Allnic’s exuberance, bloom and spatial character was slightly misssed.
That the Spyder has the kind of resolving power, dynamic headroom and detail that prevented it from falling short in the Tidal system with two heavyweight ‘mega’ phonostages is huge testament to it’s general performance level. In these more general hifi scoresheet categories it is fair to say that it is a lot of deck for it’s pricepoint although of course it does fall short in performance when compared to the very best turntables mainly in terms of bass response, soundstaging and very fine microdynamics but then at half or even a third or quarter of the money you’d expect that. In terms of crtiticism then, my only points would really be these sorts of parameters which one only really achieves by spending a lot more money. I’ve heard better dynamic headrooom, pitch stability and focusing of image as well as out and out quietness but at this level of spend there isn’t anything really to grumble about and the Spyder does not really have any standout weak points per se and does not obviously do anything ‘wrong’. Like it’s elder brother I’d say it too is supremely well ‘balanced’.
The Bardo & Upgrades
Comparing the Spyder back to the Bardo or Oasis is a fairly interesting exercise. The direct drive decks definitely have a more solidified, immediate sound to the Spyder’s more floaty, spacious delivery. Whilst the Spyder is ultimately the better deck with slightly greater resolving power and wider staging, if one were predominantly a pop/rock fan and depending also on the rest of the system, the Bardo or better still Oasis might be the better choice. All the Brinkmann decks can of course do full justice to all forms of music but the direct drives will stop and start notes and exude a sense of tautness and precision that is slightly more suitable to pop/rock. The Spyder with a little more timbral information in the middle of the note and its greater sense of relaxed elasticity between the various parts of the music will be a little more suited to jazz, acoustic and looser, less congested music. To put this all in context though, let me just say that I could personally live with any of them playing any or all music.
The Spyder can of course be taken to a higher level that the form we have experienced and talked about here. As stated above, a good platform is essential. The common wisdom for non suspended decks is to mass damp them and Helmut has long been a proponent of granite bases being employed underneath his designs. We have also had good experience with PAB isolation platforms especially when used in conjunction with stillpoints feet. Using stillpoints Ultra 5 underneath a deck has been the very best support we’ve ever experienced though and if budget allows this is where you should look to. The other neat upgrade for the Spyder is fitting the RONT II vacuum tube power supply. This brings about subtle but worthwhile improvements in space, flow and perceived ‘musicality’. We also advocate swapping the supplied record clamp for the Stillpoints LPI record weight; not only is this quicker to use requiring just simple placement rather than being screwed downwards, but in about 90% of systems it is signficantly preferable to the stock item. Finally, the Spyder can of course be outfitted with Brinkmann’s flagship 12.1 tonearm and this will bring about a marked improvement in just about every area of performance, it’s an absolutely stunning tonearm.
Before getting into specifics, let me say the reproduction is excellent in the sense that it is transparent, dynamic, low in perceived distortion, with a fairly high degree of perceived neutrality.
Operationally this setup was a joy to use, its fit and finish of a caliber that spells “G-E-R-M-A-N” in caps. I didn’t do the setup, but I observed Andrea Brinkmann (Mrs. Brinkmann) do it and there’s nothing beyond the ability of anyone willing to work carefully. Once speed was set, it operated flawlessly throughout the entire review period.
The combination of Brinkmann Spyder and 12.1 arm with standard power supply will get you a versatile, ingeniously designed turntable built to the highest manufacturing standards, and an equally well-designed and precisely executed tonearm. The combination kept me listening blilssfully for two months.