Turntables

The Brinkmann Audio RoNt II Power Supply

After living with the Brinkmann Bardo turntable for about six months, the much awaited RoNt II vacuum tube power supply arrived, and as anticipated, it took the Bardo to a higher level of performance.

In the case of the Bardo, adding the RoNt II to the table adds just over $4,000 to the MSRP, making the total package about $14,000. Ironically, this is what it used to cost without the upgraded power supply before Brinkmann streamlined their US operations. This is a major win for analog enthusiasts.

Now, with a year of using the Bardo under my belt, the relationship keeps getting better. This table never ceases to amaze me on all levels. As a visual person, I love the clean, uncluttered look of the table – it is the essence of visual simplicity. Some of you might not think or care about it, but just like cars, some turntables look dated after they’ve been on the rack for a while, but the Bardo feels more like it should be in a museum or a mid-century modern furniture store between an Eames lounge and a Barcelona chair.

The RoNtII delivers an equal level of aesthetic ethos, with sleek good looks, easy tube access and a small piece of granite, precisely fitting the RoNt’s footprint. It looks too good not to display prominently on your rack, however, place it so you can easily access the rear panel, that’s where the power switch is.

Good looks are useless without the performance to back it up, and the Bardo delivers the goods in this department as well. It has been remarkably easy to use and set up, with the Koetsu Onyx Platinum cartridge I used for the bulk of the review still in place. The Bardo is a high performance daily driver that I’m always happy to use.

Adding the RoNt II

For a bit of history, click here to read my full review on the Bardo. It offers a great combination of dynamics and musicality along with the rock-solid speed accuracy that only a direct drive turntable can provide. This speed stability provides an additional benefit: tremendous low-level detail retrieval. For those that haven’t been following my analog path, it began in the mid-70s with the Technics direct drive SL-1200. Today, my rack is sporting the current SL-1200, the Bardo/RoNt combo and the Grand Prix Audio Monaco 2.0. All direct drive tables.

This doesn’t mean your belt drive table is irrelevant. (I still have a few of those that I love.) However, just as staff member Jerold O’Brien prefers driving an Audi and I prefer a BMW, after coming full circle I’m solidly in the DD camp these days.

Too much of this is never a bad thing and replacing the Bardo’s solid state supply with the RoNtII makes an instant difference. The best thing about this upgrade is that you can hear it immediately – there’s no waiting 400 hours for it to break in, all the while psyching yourself out, wondering if you truly hear it or not.

The minute the tubes warm up in the power supply, and you spin a record (I suggest listening to something you are very familiar with on the old supply, then doing the swap) you’ll grasp what the RoNtII adds to the presentation. I couldn’t resist spinning the recent remaster of the Led Zeppelin ZoSo (or Led Zep 4, or whatever you refer to it as) and playing “Stairway to Heaven.” Call me sentimental, or cheesy, but it just felt right. Adding the RoNtII, gives John Bonham’s legendary drumming more force, more oomph, more attack, while Jimmy Page’s notes hang in the air with a greater sense of purpose than when I listened to it just a minute before, sans upgraded power supply.

While I’m not a geeky measurements guy by any stretch of the imagination, a few more album sides of acoustic music and I could swear that the Bardo’s fantastic pitch accuracy was even better with the new, upgraded supply. Breaking out a test record and Feickert’s iPhone App instantly reveals the minuscule amount of speed variation with the stock supply is even lower with the RoNtII in place.

Those of you that listen to a lot of acoustic music, primarily selections with piano, violin and such will probably notice an even greater improvement in musicality, than someone like me that still listens to Kiss without regret. Admittedly, the Roland Space Echo effect in the drum solo of “100,000 Years” is even spacier with the upgraded supply.

So why tubes?

Herr Brinkmann takes an ingenious approach to everything he builds, and the RoNtII is no exception. With a pair of PL36 Pentodes as voltage regulators and a 5AR4 rectifier, the tubes isolate the AC mains from the turntable motor, essentially acting as a power conditioner in addition to providing the final 24 volts DC to power the turntable.

There is only one caveat that you need be aware of – the rectifier tube. Where the two NOS triodes used in the power supply are deemed bulletproof from a longevity standpoint, the 5AR4 rectifier is a weak link, as current Chinese models are not terribly robust. This is not a knock at  Brinkmann; it’s just what the tubes are today. You can do one of two things; keep a spare or two of the standard issue tubes on the shelf, because you know Murphy’s law, or call Kevin Deal at Upscale Audio and buy the best NOS replacement he suggests. This might set you back $100 or so, but one of those tubes might just outlive you. When the rectifier tube goes, it takes the power supply fuse with it, so ask your dealer for a couple of spares and file them where you’ll remember them.

Is it worth it?

I feel the increased level of resolution, and dynamic range that the RoNtII offers is worth the price asked. I’ve certainly spent more going up a grade or two in phono cartridge and received less improvement. It’s worth mentioning that this power supply also works with the Brinkmann belt drive models, and I’ll stick my neck out and guess that it offers just as much if not more performance gain. I suspect that we’ll be auditioning an Oasis in the future, so we’ll revisit this option at that time. Again, I think it is very thoughtful of Brinkmann to build one component like this that will upgrade multiple models, keeping proliferation to a minimum. Makes it easier for the end user.

The Bardo by itself is one of the best values going in the $10,000 table range, and the upgraded Bardo/RoNtII combo is certainly one of the best performing tables I’ve experienced in the $15,000 range. It’s like going from a 3-series BMW to an M3 or an Audi A4 to an S4; once you experience the higher level of performance, you might not be able to go back. I know I can’t. The RoNtII has proven an essential upgrade to my Bardo, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

www.brinkmannaudio.com

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