Brinkmann Edison Mk. II Phono Preamplifier | REVIEW

I hate being one of those high-end reviewers who hold onto gear forever, stretching the process out over months and months, waiting for other products to show up, working out whatever issues come up, and all the while the our industry is dealing with a major breakdown in global and domestic shipping. That’s why I’m looking at this Brinkmann Edison Mk. II phono preamplifier, a glorious and shiny box with a glass top that allows you to see the finely finished innards, and I think to myself “How long has this been here?” Should I keep a nearly $14,000 phono pre for as long as I have?

I remember, back in my distributor days, when I sent a $4,500 phono pre to a reviewer and he kept it a long time, far longer than I’ve kept the Brinkmann Edison Mk II. That was a major logjam for a small company like ours. But this German-built precision machine has been here for so long because it went on a journey with several turntables, cartridges and various system configurations, leading up to the time where I could finally use the Edison with the Brinkmann Taurus direct-drive turntable with the Brinkmann 12.5 arm. It took a while to get everything together and singing, but it was well worth it.

This analog rig, quite frankly, is probably the most complex and substantial analog playback device I’ve used. After just a couple of weeks, I’m listening to a new level of playback courtesy of Helmut Brinkmann. It’s a sound that’s quiet, smooth and precise. There’s a deliberation in the way the music is delivered to my ears, sort of like a master furniture maker who wants to hand-rub just one more layer of lacquer and then it will be perfect. And then, it is.

I would have considered combining the Brinkmann Edison Mk II review with the Taurus review, except for one small detail. I’ve been using the Edison for the better part of the year, with all that analog gear that floated on through the listening over the course of 2021, and I realized this phono preamplifier had quietly taken the role of the good silverware, brought out for special occasions. (If not silverware, how about a matched set of WE 300Bs?) That sounds silly, I know, but I had to let those other phono stages shine on their own because the Edison was going to take a flame thrower to the place.

But when the magic started to happen in my review system, when the turbochargers really kicked in, it was time to hook up the Brinkmann Edison Mk. II and find out just how good it could all sound. It never once let me down in that regard.

Inside the Brinkmann Edison Mk. II

That’s supposed to be a joke. I said, “Inside the Brinkmann Edison Mk. II” and it’s funny because the top is glass and you can literally see…oh, never mind.

Describing the Brinkmann Edison Mk. II, the features and the specs and the functions and the sound, seems incongruous with looking at the phono preamplifier itself. It’s a beauty, no doubt about it. The circuitry inside is carefully laid out, with unusually vivid colors, almost as if the folks at Brinkmann wanted people to look inside. Hmmm.

Then you realize there are four parts to the Brinkmann Edison—the main unit, the heavy base, the power supply and the remote control. The base is heavy, and it has the same footprint as the Edison. When the Brinkmann Edison Mk. II was dropped off, I was surprised by the weight of the package. This is just a phono stage? Then I realized the base was packed carefully inside and it was far heavier than the phono pre itself. At first I though this was an HRS base, since I have one for the Taurus turntable. But it’s a slab that Helmut Brinkmann has been including with his products for a long time. The power supply is compact, also heavy and well-made.

One of the most surprising things about the Edison, especially since you can see everything within, is that it’s a hybrid phono preamplifier. I looked all over, or at least my idea of all over, and I didn’t see a valve anywhere. But then, almost by accident, I noticed the small round cutouts in the side of the unit, within the slender heat sinks on the side. There they are, the tubes, positioned laterally. (Telefunken NOS, what else did you expect?) You can see them if you look straight down on top of the unit, or if you glance through the openings at the side, but let’s just say they’re hiding in plain sight.

Once I figured it out, I thought it was a great design choice. Then I started noticing all the other little details.

The Brinkmann Edison Mk. II stands apart from most other phono preamplifiers I’ve used because so much of the engineering is right there, in your face, begging you to finish up that EEE at Carnegie-Mellon. Helmut Brinkmann is doing so much more than taking a solid circuit design, using the best quality parts and putting it all in a nifty chassis that addresses vibration and noise control. He’s looking at every possible aspect of his design and thinking of ways to make it even better. I once joked that he probably spent years just deciding on the right types of screws for the chassis, conducting endless listening tests on every type available before he shrugged his shoulders and possibly told himself, “I guess I’m going to be making my own fasteners. These are simply not good enough.”

I joke, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if Helmut Brinkmann replied, “Yes, that’s exactly what I did.”

What’s most striking about the Brinkmann Edison, at least early on during its stay, is its incredible flexibility. You get three separate inputs, a choice between RCA and XLR, and—this is cool—the ability to set the gain and impedance for each one independently. It makes for a very busy looking back panel, one that I found a little overwhelming at first considering the preamp alone isn’t that big. You got little knobs and jacks covering most of the real estate, looking like a pro-audio equalizer, and I constantly felt like I might be plugging the wrong cable into the wrong jack. None of this is a problem, and I got used to it, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had to follow an owner’s manual for a phono pre, step by step.

Then again, I mentioned flexibility—not knobs. The Brinkmann Edison allows you to choose between 16 separate settings for gain, all between 49 and 73 dB. I’ve never considered whether I needed more gain settings in my life or not, but once I start playing around I realized that yes, every cartridge has its happy place when it comes to output. You get 12 different settings for load, ranging from 50 ohms to 47K, which doesn’t seem extraordinary (my Pureaudio Vinyl phono stage has 20 or more possibilities based on the dip switch configurations), but maybe those 16 gain settings spoiled me. In addition you can choose stereo/mono modes and phase inversion, and you can take advantage of a 1:1 input transformer.

You can also make these adjustments via the remote. What more could you possibly need from a phono preamplifier? A robotic arm to flip the record when the side is done?

The Mk. II version of the Brinkmann Edison includes the following improvements over the original:

“In its Mk II incarnation, Edison’s RIAA EQ network has been completely re-designed. The result of Helmut Brinkmann’s relentless fine-tuning, nearly every capacitor has been updated with a new value or type, yielding increased accuracy and linearity. Lessons learned from the Nyquist design project enabled Edison’s output stage to be substantially improved, resulting in a lower noise-floor, more detailed and holographic sound, superior long-term reliability and an even closer connection to the music.”

Brinkmann Edison Mk II Set-Up

Once again, I can’t provide specifics on the other components in the system because there were so many combinations used over the last few months. But I can tell you my strategy for using the Brinkmann Edison Mk. II phono preamplifier with all the analog components I’ve reviewed over the summer of 2021.

Basically, I had two “Kings of the Mountain” to use as an ultimate phono pre reference for much of last year. The first was the Pass Labs XP-27, which I used as a touchstone because it was so quiet and neutral. I used it to really dig into the sound of the other components in the playback chain. The XP-27 might be the most neutral component I’ve ever reviewed—at least in the last few years.

The Brinkmann Edison is also incredibly neutral, but there’s something else about the sound, something that says, “Save me for those special occasions when you really want to be blown away by the sound quality.”

That, of course, suggests that only one of these phono stages is neutral because they do not sound the same. These extremely subtle differences are deeply ingrained in the foundation of the sound, however, and I was reminded of my experiments in the world of grounding over the last year or so. With those wildly different grounding approaches in the AudioQuest, Nordost and Atlas Cables, I still felt that each product was able to lower the noise floor, reduce distortion, and all those incidental things that occur when you take the time to truly ground your system. At the same time, I felt I could detect differences in those silences, and I’m still trying to sort these impressions out. (I go into this phenomenon more in other reviews from 2021.)

I feel that both the Pass Labs XP-27 and the Brinkmann Edison Mk. 2 are neutral and quiet. But I also heard differences, ones that I bet I could confirm while blindfolded. The XP-27 got completely out of the way of the music and let me properly evaluate the rest of the system with relative ease. The Brinkmann, however, asks a simpler and more direct question—do you want to hear this music sound as good as it possibly can?

That’s how I wound up using the Brinkmann Edison Mk.II phono preamplifier—for the really good stuff. When I had the Koetsu Urushi Black cartridge with the Koetsu SUT, for instance, I used the Brinkmann without hesitation. The same goes for the Brinkmann Taurus direct-drive turntable with the Brinkmann 12.1 tonearm with either Koetsu or the ZYX Ultimate Airy X. Fire up the Edison, and let’s make unforgettable memories.

This is, of course, not a comparison designed to pick a winner. At this level, it’s the old “flavors of ice cream” argument. You might want one type of sound, or you might want another. I could see a world, one in which money flows more easily than in this one, where I could find a reason to use either of these outstanding products. Maybe both, depending on the ancillaries.

Brinkmann Edison Mk II Sound and Listening

Am I going to further discuss the meaning of nothingness in this review? No, not at all. Unlike several neutral-sounding components I’ve explored since I joined PTA, I feel like I have a firmer grip on the overall sound quality of the Brinkmann Edison Mk. II phono preamplifier. It’s far more intriguing of a story than “it gets out of the way of the music.” Early listening sessions confirmed that yes, the Edison was so balanced in its presentation that I could find no immediate fault, nor a noticeable sonic signature.

Where the Edison exceeded my expectations is in the solid and fixed way the music developed within the soundstage. This did involve the imaging of course, and the Brinkmann Edison did place everyone where they were supposed to be, occupying just the right amount of physical space. In terms of the entire soundstage, however, I sensed a greater stability to music, as if I had just purchased a swanky new $40,000 projector screen for my awesome home theater system. (Which doesn’t exist, by the way.) The soundstage, with the Brinkmann, felt almost like it was presented on a whiter, cleaner screen. Tonality wasn’t changed—the music was simply more vivid and energetic with greater dynamic contrasts and more room to breathe. It was simply easier to relax and take it all in.

Now’s that time when I make a long list of all the records I listened to with the Brinkmann Edison in the system and sorry, but I have to pump the brakes. I’d been waiting a long time to put this analog rig together and I wasn’t about to talk about the review music that floats through this room at times, stuff that’s gorgeous in the moment but soon forgotten because I have way too much new music in the house at any given moment and I’m not even mentioning my digital streaming services like Qobuz.

There’s only one thing I wanted to do with the Brinkmann rig all set up, and that was playing all my favorite records. The rare stuff. The stuff I love. The stuff that sounds stupendous. The BEST records got played. The very BEST, my prides and my joys.

I’ll give you a quick example. I think that one of the best-sounding jazz LPs I own is the Analogue Productions reissue of Sonny Rollins’ Way Out West. This is a simple sax trio, recorded impeccably, but I get a huge rush from Shelly Manne’s cymbal work on many of these tracks. I’ve talked about this immortal ride cymbal, the way it never fails to sound excellent even on modest analog rigs, and yet the Brinkmann Edison brought something new that I’ve never heard before, a sort of shine to the ride that radiates out into the corners of the recording space. In a way, these resonances grow so clear and distinct that they become just one more weapon in Manne’s stunning arsenal, manipulated by drumsticks to achieve the desired effect. I’ve listened to this album so many times, but it’s never sounded this deep and layered.

And so it goes, through all my Three Blind Mice LPs and that Rachmaninoff album from Athena Records and all those original MoFis—even the UHQRs. Forty plus years of buying audiophile-grade LPs whenever I could, and I felt like each title had been waiting to be played on a rig as succinct, truthful and informative as this one. It came down to maybe my 100 of my finest LPs, all put in a red-carpeted queue, all ready to sound better than they ever did. I heard new things that made me think I was listening for the first time. I had goosebumps. I might have cried once or twice. I had all the feels that audiophiles are supposed to have, the sensations that lured me into this crazy hobby so many years ago, and the fact that the Brinkmann Edison thrilled me this consistently—especially once the Taurus was added—speaks volumes about the quality and performance of this phono preamplifier.

Brinkmann Edison Mk II Conclusions

I’m not going to wrap it up with the Brinkmann Edison Mk. II phono preamplifier right here, because there will be so much more to talk about when I review the Taurus. It’s been a rare experience to review an analog rig—Edison, Taurus, 12.1 arm, and either the Koetsu or the ZYX—at this level. There might be bigger mansions out there, with more incredible views than this, but I really enjoyed staying in this neighborhood and maybe I stretched it all out for so long because I didn’t want to pack my bags and go.

What I need to do is talk about the Edison on its own, both in the big Brinkmann analog rig and the various Technics SL-1200G/1210GAE set-ups I tested in 2021. This time, it doesn’t come down to neutrality or all those glorious inputs and features or the beauty and precision of this box. I can’t even say it comes down to then ultimate sound quality, because it’s far more complicated than that.

What I felt with the Brinkmann Edison, time after time, was this sense that I had finally jumped ahead one level in my pursuit of great sound. You see, I’ve heard plenty of big systems in my life, especially over the last few years. I know what they sound like, what they can do, and why people spend the big money to get that last bit of musical information from the record grooves. I also know what a great system sounds like in my home, where everything is scaled back a bit since I can’t quite build a gigantic room like Richard H. Mak or Mohammed Samji or Panagiotis Karavitis—our usual big system reviewers.

There are plenty of phono preamplifiers that cost more than the $13,900 Brinkmann Edison Mk. II, and they might even offer better sound. What the Edison phono stage has accomplished, however, is a straightforward and exciting bridge to that bigger and more perfect sound, a sound that is rare and uncommon and makes you feel great about your life and how far you’ve come in this hobby. Highly recommended, and a Reviewer’s Choice.