List Price: $20,000
James L. Darby
I know. Another review of a product that no one would describe as "affordable", yet Stereomojo's primary mission is to review "affordable high end audio". Are we changing our mission? No. We just reviewed a $225 preamp from Trends and $4,000 a pair speakers from the new Liberty label. Just before that a $1,700 SET tube integrated from Grant. Don't worry, we have not lost our heads. If someone offered you the very first in-home listen to a brand new turntable with never before seen newly designed airbearing arm and platter, would you turn it down? The truth is, we do turn down offers for reviews for most very expensive components and we do not ask to review the ultra expensive gear commonly found on the covers of the Stereophile and TAS, particularly when they shout "the best ever" every month. We know our audience, especially in these economic conditions. For example, we have talked to Lloyd Walker at audio shows and seen and listened to his $57,000 turntable. We have not asked to review it. I have spent lots of time with Peter McGrath of Wilson Audio speakers including a two-hour private listening session with him and Mike Fremer. I did not ask to review the the speakers. Fremer already owns a pair. We do not see it as a sin to occasionally review gear that sits outside the bounds of affordable audio. I don't know about you, but I sometimes like to read reviews of new Ferraris even though I'll never buy one. Do you disagree? We sincerely want to know. Please. Write us an tell us your thoughts. We do listen - publisher.
A confession. Traipsing around from one crowded hotel room to another listening to one audio system after another for four straight days and nights at audio shows is not all that glamorous. It sounds exciting to see and hear all the cool new gear but like anything else that intense, amps, speakers, players, cables and the rest all start to run together after awhile. You really have to concentrate and focus to do your job. But every once in awhile you walk into a room and see something that grabs your attention and wakes up that audio beast that lives deep inside people like us. At CES, it was a turntable. A turntable that looks completely unlike any I’d ever seen. It was beautiful. Clean. Not ornate and loaded with chrome and bling, no gold plated arms or colossal two-foot thick platters. It at once looked new, contemporary and “now’ while also evoking classic traits of the best of the past. It was mesmerizing. Quoting 1970’s Frankie Valli, “My Eyes Adored it”. I took over a dozen pictures, each from a different angle and all of them looked like displays in an art museum.
A youngish voice with a European accent ripped me from my reverie; “Hallo..my name is Johnnie Bergmann. Do you like my turntable”?
I introduced myself and handed him my Stereomojo card. “Ah yes…I know this…”. He proceeded to tell me about his table, this remarkable work of art that had captured my fancy so quickly.
The table was the Bergmann Sindre, named after a creature of Nordic mythology called a dwain. Sindre was a blacksmith who made the golden ring Draupner and Thor’s Hammer Mjoelner.
The Sindre is 100% Bergmann with nothing from Rega, Clearaudio or any other maker. The design is rather unique in that the arm is a new linear tracker. Even more unique is that it is arm itself moves along on a cushion of air. That puts it in rare company, but the uniqueness doesn’t stop there; the platter is also suspended on a soft breeze. Both are driven by a single air pump that is virtually silent. An outboard controller commands the belt-driven platter at constant speeds of either 33 or 45 rpm.
The platter air bearing consists of two aluminum discs between which the air supply creates a thin frictionless air film. The spindle is centered in a bearing housing made of a very longwearing and frictionless technical polymeric. The material, which is vibration muffling in itself, has a five times longer life than bronze bearings, according to Johnnie.
"You know that linear trackers are notoriously difficult to set up and maintain. I've made this very simple with just a few parts. It can be set up and playing in just a few minutes", Bergmann smiled. The 3.2 kg subplatter, which is made of solid aluminum, in combination with the 4 kg acrylic platter, provides a well-balanced system. When the clamp is screwed on the taps thread, the subplatter, platter and record gets tightened into one heavy and very stable rotating unit. An O-ring in the bottom of the clamp prevents the record from slipping on the platter.
The arm is as simple as it gets. From their literature we find: "A linear tracking airbearing tonearm can be produced in several ways. We have chosen the following construction: A long fixed air pipe with small vents creates a frictionless air film on which a sliding pipe gently floats. The arm tube is mounted on this sliding pipe. In this construction you avoid an air tube which inevitably interferes with the arm's freedom of movement. This type of arm is simple to adjust perfectly. The tonearm is made in a very hard aluminum alloy to secure the best stability as possible. The arm tube is made of carbon fiber - again to secure the best stability as possible. The head shell, made in the same hard aluminum alloy as the rest of the tonearm, is completely parallel with the sliding pipe, which results in a perfect azimuth.”
There is a system for lifting the arm and again it is very simple; a black o-ring connects that arm tube to a knurled knob that when turned, lifts the arm. While it is simple, it is also rather inelegant and touchy. The leverage appears to be a 1:1 ratio and there is no hydraulic mechanism to temper the motion. So, if you twist the knob too fast or too hard, the arm will lurch violently – not enough to harm it, but it’s just not very smooth and silky like the rest of the table’s operation. After making the “too hard” mistake a time or two, you do learn to operate it correctly, so it is really not a big deal.
Speaking of twisting, the tonearm’s internal wire is twisted in one piece from clips to plugs to avoid too many solderings in the extremely sensitive signal path. That wire is human hair thin and the source of more than a little trepidation because it sticks up at the rear of the table just inviting itself to be accidently caught on something and torn from it’s solders. I was always very conscious of it, but then I am always much more vigilant with review products that do not belong to me than I am with my own stuff – and I am very careful with my own gear.
The same tenseness was present when attaching the clips to the cartridges. Those tiny wires… There is a reason for those wires being so tiny and it has to do with mass and damping. Those wires are one of the toughest obstacles when designing a linear tracker and an air bearing linear in particular. As we will see, they can be a real drag…
The tonearm has VTA adjustment and a possibility for perfect horizontal adjustment of the air pipe, independent of the plinth. The tonearm can be moved forward and backward on the plinth. A big assortment of adjustment tools is provided so no trips to the hardware store are needed.
Adjusting the tonearm’s vertical force was a bit more challenging than most. Usually there will be a dial or something to move or twist to achieve perfect balance. The arrangement here is simpler and again a bit unrefined. The weight is clamped to the arm with a rubber lining that grips the arm tightly. You must very gingerly twisting and move the weight which requires some force until it is correct using an external force gauge. I have a digital model, but it did take quite a bit of fussing to get it right. There is no scale or engravings to guide you. Again, if you are not changing cartridges frequently, this is not a big deal and I know Johnnie would tell me that less is more and simpler is better, but one does expect a little more on a $20,000 table.
“Less is more is the keyword, in technique as well as in design in Bergmann products”, said Bergmann. I believe that a turntable must consist of as few parts as possible, to avoid any interference with the sound. Bergmann turntables are made in a combination of different materials, to create the most life like and musical sound, with lots of details and impressive dynamic. Every single part of a Bergmann turntable and tonearm is carefully considered in its function, material and design. And all components are developed by myself. My goal is to develop airbearing turntables and linear tracking airbearing tonearms with as few components as possible. Sindre is extremely easy to set up.”
The air pump is a long black box that is attached to the table by a long, clear plastic tube. The pump has its own on/off switch and a small blue light lets you know it is operating. That’s a good thing because you probably would not notice that it’s running otherwise; it is that quiet. I positioned it on the floor right next to my Stillpoints rack upon which the table was placed. Nobody ever noticed it whether there was music playing or not. In the past, air pumps have had to be placed in separate rooms because of their racket, but not this one.
"The air supply has been the object of one of our greatest attentions”, I was told. “The air must be even, clean and dry. Impulses from the pump are absorbed in an encapsulated reservoir. This results in an even airflow to the air bearings. The air supply is mounted with a filter, which prevents small dust particles from entering the system. This filter is exchangeable if necessary. Furthermore, there is a container for the accumulation of condensation. This container is placed on the back of the air supply and is easy to empty. The chosen pump is very reliable, and the total solution has a noise level so low that it can be placed in the listening room."
I cannot dispute any of that.
I might argue with the claim that the table is “easy” to set up “in just a few minutes”. A Music Hall table is easy to set up. Regas are pretty easy to set up in about an hour. The Bergmann owner’s manual lists 37 separate tasks that must be performed and each takes some time. It takes even more time if everything does not go perfectly. Adjusting the airflow for the platter can take some time. It took me too much time because I kept getting the belt twisted (I think) – it is visually impossible to tell since the motor is hidden as is the belt once it is slipped over the platter. You also need to know that the air pressure adjustment works on the “Three Little Bears” principal – not too much, not too little, but juuust right!” One important ease of use is that you do not need to mouth the tonearm - it comes attached.
The arm is the same way and I never did get the pressure right initially. I worked and worked with the thing for days. I finally got the arm to move on its air cushion, but the stylus would get stuck and I’d get the dreaded repeating phrase horror. For at least two reasons I had started with the Zu version of the Denon DL103R reviewed last year. First, I didn’t want to try mounting my much more expensive “The Voice” cartridge with its rather fragile ruby cantilever right off the bat. Its mouthing bracket can be a bit of a pain as well. (Told you I was very careful). Also, the Zu’s beautiful silver brushed aluminum body would look perfect with the Sindre’s black, silver and white color scheme. The problem is, it’s too heavy for the arm. The beast weighs 13.6 grams and tracks at about 2.5. That must feel like an M-1 tank to the delicate air induced arm assembly.
I replaced the Zu with The Voice from Soundsmith which is feather light and tracks at a mere ONE gram and glorioski! A couple of small twists on the valve screw with a tiny driver and perfect tracking was happening all over the place! Man was I relieved. Needless to say, there should be some documentation of appropriate cartridge weights to be used on the table. A customer might not be so patient.
Cartridge mouthing is pretty. Overhang is simple via the aluminum template included. Just match the stylus tip to the dot and you’re done. Just be careful with those tiny wires…
There are adjustments for VTA and the tonearm can be moved backwards and forwards on the plinth via two screws under the table holding the arm. The arm can also be adjusted in the horizontal lane independent of the plinth via a screw on the topside of the armbase.
The feet are beautifully engineered and sculpted spikes designed for low vibration transference. There are three of them instead of four because that has been show to better isolate.
All turntables must be level, but leveling is perhaps even more critical for airbearing arms. A simple level comes with the Sindre, but I used a larger type that indicates level in three directions at the same time. It took a little time, but I was easily able to get a precision level.
When I asked Johnnie why he chose a linear design for his table, his answer was short and simple: “While a record is cut linear- it has to be tracked linear.” Ah, if it were that simple. Have you ever asked yourself if linear tracking arms were far superior to standard arms, when doesn’t everyone make one? Why aren’t ALL tonearms linear trackers? The answer is, linear tracking arms can actually be less accurate and add even more mistracking artifacts than a pivoted arm. The problem is how to move the mass across the LP and keep the stylus perfectly in the center of a groove while inertia of the jagged cuts in the walls of the grooves (different on each side of a stereo groove) seek to toss it about and centrifugal force strives to cast it to one side. Also, while the arm is supposed to be able to travel freely, there is the issue of those wires that run through the assembly from the outputs to the cartridge.
When I said earlier that those wires could be a drag, I meant it quite literally. The arm must drag along those wires as it traverses the vinyl applying small forces that hinder free travel. In this case, they are an integral part of the design because an arm cannot be completely free or frictionless or it would be completely undamped and very sloppy, allowing the stylus to bounce around like a leaf in the wind. Pivot arms incorporate “drag” as well. You know it as anti-skating that compensates for centrifugal force, but we all know it is not very accurate either. So a “frictionless” arm MUST be damped. There have been many methods to accomplish this, from troughs of oil to servos and several other designs. Since there are no servos or other measures, the only damping we see here is the wire itself. Bergmann has designed it to be as low mass an pliant as possible as to not impede the arm, but enough to keep it from be tossed about like a loose wheel lug in a hubcap.
I had been using already scratched junky vinyl for initial setup, but now that I knew things were wet up properly I could get serious. What to play first? Ok…I have several tests records from a vintage Shure to others such as the Cardas. I ran a few and everything sounded and tested perfectly. The arm and table navigated the toughest tracks with aplomb. Time for some real music.
Let’s start with something simple yet wonderful. The Neil Young “Live at Massey Hall” was handy since I had just finished a review of it and it fit the bill.
Now, if you’ve been with us here at Stereomojo for any length of time, you know that we were the first in the world to review the Raven One by TW Acustic. It was a rave review and a Maximum Mojo Award winner, something that’s pretty rare around here. I loved it so much I bought it (another very rare occurrence) at pretty much full retail price. Subsequent reviews by Fremer at Stereophile and some guy at TAS just echoed what I had said. With the Graham Phantom arm (which cost almost as much as the table) I think I have pretty terrific and extremely high value analog front end.
I had just reviewed Neil Young's early “Live at Massey” spun on the Raven, so this was going to be interesting. The first thing I noticed was the quietness of the background. While I won’t say it was substantially quieter, the quality of the quietness was different. Does that make any sense?
The noise floor, what there was of it, had a different more viscous, thick texture to it. There was a solidity that was set apart from the low and mid bass as if the air beneath the vocal and solo guitar was thicker, more humid perhaps. Living in South Florida, I am a connoisseur of humidity, believe me. Perhaps if I say it was more tube like than solid state it might translate better.
Was that quality better than the Raven? I reserved judgment. This was just the first record.
What hit me next was the speed of the Sindre. Acoustic guitar is a good test of a table’s ability to catch those infinitesimal leading edges that add so much to the “real” quality of recorded music. Here the Raven was clearly superior, but then that is one of the Raven’s most endearing and outstanding qualities. The more my audio journey continues, particularly after spending time with the Sanders electrostats, the more I appreciate and hear speed (or the lack of it). Some speakers, amps, cables, et al now sometimes sound as if they are playing in quagmire of mud.
I noticed this again later when spinning “6 and 12 String Guitar” by the legend Leo Kottke whose blistering picking technique is abundant on this Classic Records reissue that Musikmike Peshkin and I reviewed when it came out. The Sindre made it easy to hear the different qualities of Leo’s different guitars featured on various cuts. Wood, steel, nylon, and divergent body sizes were all contrasted beautifully, which added interest and drew me in to what the player was doing and what he was trying to accomplish musically. That is the whole reason for such products to exist, is it not?
Over a period of three weeks we listened to dozens and dozens of LP’s with many listening sessions lasting for four hours or more. Obviously, ear fatigue was never an issue. And what causes ear fatigue? For the most part it’s distortion which forces the ear and the brain to work very hard to decipher what the true sound really is. There all types of distortion and any of them can lead to ear fatigue. Even a clean signal that has a nasty dip or peak in the response can cause fatigue – like too much bass. Yeah, thumping bottom ends that pressurize your chest are impressive at first, but try tolerating that for four hours straight. Same goes for a too hot high end or even an exaggerated midrange. After a while you just start thinking of other things you could be doing. Many audiophiles suffer from this syndrome and don’t know it. After all, your ears don’t yawn or droop like tired eyelids might. They don’t start nodding off or drooling. No. Instead you just get a feeling like you would rather be doing something else like cleaning the sandbox of your neighbor’s cat. It is the polar opposite of drawing the listener in to the performance. Try listening to your system for two or three hours straight. If you can’t, it’s not your mind wandering off, it’s your ears telling you they have had enough.
A turntable can be a distortion machine. Any misalignment between the arm and the disk’s grooves will cause distortion. With every standard arm, misalignment and distortion is guaranteed during playback at the beginning and end of the LP as the angle of the arm conflicts with the angle of the grooves. In fact, during playback, there are only two brief points at which the alignment is correct.
There’s lots of distortion on Classic Records new re-issue of Hot Rats, but that’s a good thing because the distortion is the sound of Frank Zappa’s hot lead guitar on this 1969 release. Five of the six tracks are instrumental with only Captain Beefheart’s grizzly vocals featured on "Willie the Pimp". Rats was one of the first recordings made on a deck capable of 16 tracks while groups such as the Beatles were struggling with 4. Zappa also was a techie. The Sindre cruised through the complex rhythms, instrumentations and chord changes and showed its ability to rock. The many woodwinds and keyboards of Ian Underwood were rich in harmonic texture and his energetic lines were easy to follow as the Danish tracker dug them out. See our review via the link at the end of this review.
Another recent Classic re-issue and recent Stereomojo reviews is Villa-Lobos’ “The Little Train of the Caipira” with Eugene Goossens leading the London Symphony, originally recorded on 35 mm film by Everest. It features big dynamics and colorful orchestration with Latin rhythms and unusual percussion instruments. The Sindre reproduced all the playfulness and fun of this piece that adults and kids alike should enjoy. The soundstage was brightly lit and very large in scale. Again the Bergmann flaunted its ability to capture transient responses throughout the frequency spectrum, but above all it conveyed the utter sense of joy and celebration this recording exudes.
For jazz and quality female vocals we listened to the British jazz diva Claire Martin on Linn’s “Too Darn Hot” - not a reference to Zappa’s Hot Rats mentioned earlier. Things get off to a simmering start with Something's Coming from West Side Story. The intro is sax solo with lots of echo and 'verb before an acoustic bass enters followed by Claire. As I’ve said many times before, reverberation, whether natural or studio effect, is very difficult to reproduce correctly. It can (and usually is) truncated as it fades, or its denseness is diminished and thinned out by too low resolution or mistracking or it sounds rather grainy instead of perfectly smooth. The digital reverb as presented by the Sindre was long, full and grain free.
I also have digital files of this recording in 24/96 resolution. Played back on the PS Audio Perfect Wave System, the reverb was very similar but not quite as rich. Acoustic bass was perhaps a bit more solid in it lowest registers, but overall I preferred the vinyl. Digital, I must admit, is getting very close to vinyl played back on top-notch tables like this and probably superior to analog played on more entry level tables. Of course, high rez digital files are few and far between while vinyl is almost unlimited in selection – one of the best perks of analog.
One of the biggest drawbacks of linear tracking arms and airbearing technology in general is its fussiness and high maintenance, often requiring tweaks and adjustments. During my time with the Sindre, it performed flawlessly with no further adjustments necessary, a tribute to Bergmann’s “keep it simple” philosophy.
The Bergmann Sindre is a work of art not only in appearance but in its engineering as well. The “less is more” design seems to have paid off in terms of performance, setup and reliability. The goal was to overcome many of the flaws and inherent geometry problems found in all past and most current designs. The Sindre may not be for absolute beginners, but not too many people first venturing into vinyl will look to spend $20,000. We wish the price were lower of course, but the current plight of the dollar is no help when purchasing European gear and the years it took Bergmann to design such a groundbreaking product has to be factored into the price.
There are other airbearing arms available from Kuzma and Clearaudio to name just two, but you still have to find and pick out a viable turntable.Neither company makes table with matching airbearing platters. The Walker Procenium Black Diamond table has an airbearing arm and platter - at $57,000 - and it is much more complex. Finding a turntable with an airbearing platter, the VPI HRX for example at $12,000 which does not include a linear tracking airbearing arm, would be pretty daunting. We think that the airbearing arm matched to the airbearing table by the same engineer is a terrific advantage.
Its quietness sets new standards in terms of noise not only from the pump but the air escaping from the table and arm. The Bergmann is not perfect, but neither is any other table.
The Sindre can be upgraded to battery power, but no price is listed.
Cartridge selection and leveling is crucial. We think Johnnie Bergmann has something special, something like finding the mythical Hammer of Thor.
Turntable: Airsupported platter, centred by a steel spindle/hardweared low friction polymer bearing. DC motor. Beltdriven.
Plinth: Solid fibre board.
Platter: Acryl, 4 kg.
Subplatter: Aluminium, 3,2 kg.
Total weight: 23 kg.
Dimensions: 475 x 500 x 210 (D x W x H)
Tonearm: Linear tracking airbearing tonearm. Hard aluminium alloy/carbon.
Effective mass: 10 gr.
Motorcontrol: Seperate, 33 & 45 rpm.
Airsupply: Silent, clean, dry and smooth airflow.
Weight: 8,4 kg.
Dimensions: 415 x 210 x 220 (D x W x H)
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