I immediately recognise Danish design. The well thought out minimalist looks, the neat and elegant lines, the use of colour… it draws me in like a magnet and just because of that I promised myself that one day I would listen to a Bergmann Audio turntable at home. It took a few years, but recently the idea came to fruition. The distributor Audio Ingang loaned me the entry level model from this noble brand and mounted a Benz Micro Glider SL low output (0.4 mV) MC cartridge in the tangentially tracking tonearm. By the way, don’t be fooled by the ‘entry level’label, the Magne turntable including Magne tonearm still costs over €9,000. The name ‘Magne’ originates from Scandinavian mythology: it’s the son of Thor and means ‘strength’. Although extreme strength is not needed to lift the Magne, the weight of the turntable was the first thing that I noticed when placing it on my rack: a respectable 18.5 kg. Of that total, 5.5 kg originates from the aluminium platter with polycarbonate mat and 1.5 kg from the aluminium sub platter. The second thing I noticed is the significant width of the plinth: a whopping 495 mm. The plinth is made from a high density composite material of unspecified nature. The total package of plinth and platter gives an impression of solidity and quality, fit and finish of all the parts is very high.
The appearance of a turntable in this price is important – not only will you be listening to it for a longer period of time, you also will be looking at it and possibly showing it off to others as a proud owner. However, the really important thing in the end is performance and the technology it employs to achieve that performance. One specific example of the latter – which is very important to the Magne DNA and only used by very few designers of serious turntables – is the air bearing. The downside with nearly all the turntables that I have come across with air bearing arms, is that the compressor required to build up the air pressure made so much noise that it could only be placed in the listening room if measures were taken to reduce that noise. Johnnie Bergmann – who designs and manufactures all the mechanical parts of his turntables and arms– has produced a compressor that does not have this flaw, it sat quietly next to my system throughout review period. The compressor feeds air to both the arm and the platter. In this tangential arm – which plays the record in the same way as it was cut – air is fed through small holes in the static part of the arm assembly, which leaves the moving part of the arm to float on a cushion of compressed air. In this way, the tonearm is completely decoupled from the rest of the turntable and the surface it sits on. The cartridge and arm are moved solely by the stylus tracking the groove.
The arm itself is a simple construction made of an aluminium sled, a damped double-walled carbon fibre arm tube and an aluminium head shell. The counter weight is decoupled from the arm tube. The theory behind the design is that it isolates the cartridge from acoustic feedback in the turntable or the support it sits on. Compressed air supports the platter, so that no weight rests on the bearing, which is completely unlike traditional systems. In a similar manner to the arm, it minimises friction and reduces the task of the spindle to centre the platter. At the back of plinth, air pressure for the arm as well as the platter can be adjusted individually. With the correct set-up, the airflow becomes too quiet to hear – even in the vicinity of the turntable. Pure, clean air is crucial for optimal operation, for this purpose the compressor is equipped with a condenser and air filters along with a big reservoir to ensure that the air is as dry, clean and constant as possible.
On top of the turntable two buttons are available to switch on and choose the correct speed (33 1/3 and 45 RPM). On the back is an IEC power inlet that I connected with a Sonore AC power cable. Bergmann provides the option to send the audio signal to the phono preamp by way of an RCA, XLR or DIN output. Because a cartridge is by nature a balanced device and my resident ASR Basis Exclusive Phono preamp also has a balanced layout, I normally choose XLR. This review sample of the Magne however was equipped with RCA outputs. I chose an unbalanced interconnect from John van Gent; the Magic Link. From the phono preamp, the balanced signal was carried by a Van den Hul D102 MKIII interconnect to the Music First Audio Classic V2 passive preamp, which is in turn connected with the same balanced interconnect to a pair of Pass Labs X260.5 mono power amps driving Harbeth SHL5 Plus speakers using a Pink Faun SC-1-2 loudspeaker cable. The Harbeth loudspeakers are supplemented with Sonore Audio Universal Harmonizers placed on their tops.
A puck is included with the turntable and it works well, it’s a good fit with the spindle and has a rubber ring inserted underneath which rests on the label. The arm lift is undamped, but you soon get used to this. Because it’s a knob instead of a lever, it is hard to see if the arm lift is up or down. However, by adapting a standardized regime in playing an LP, any confusion or problems are easily avoided. In other words: this is also a matter of practice. Playing the first LP, the turntable immediately proved the merit of the design choices and with that, more than justified its existence. The absence of normal bearing friction resulted in a very stable playback of ‘This I Dig Of You’ from Hank Mobley’s album Soul Station, with gripping timing and drive that came close to the performance of idler wheel turntables. Even Wynton Kelly’s piano, recorded in typical Rudy van Gelder fashion, sounded more tight than usual.
The fabulous 6 and 12 String Guitar album by American guitarist Leo Kottke showed just how stable an image the Magne produces, portraying the instrument in a lively and vivacious manner. In the next round, the Magne convincingly debunked the myth that air bearing, linear tonearms are not capable of playing bass in a cogent way by laying a firm foundation underneath Dvorák's Cello Concerto in a performance by Janos Starker and the London Symphony Orchestra with conductor Antal Dorati. Timing, energy, power, ambiance and realistic tonal colours were displayed in abundance. With each recording it became clearer that the combination of Bergmann Magne and Benz Micro Glider SL is very capable of presenting the ambiance of the recording space – provided this was capture by the recording. An excellent example is the legendary 1963 At Carnegie Hall live recording by the American folk group The Weavers, in which each member of the group is portrayed with eerie realism in their own space, yet without reducing the symbiosis of the whole. The emotion in Pete Seeger’s voice whilst singing ‘Ramblin’ Boy’ immediately made the hairs on my arms stand on end. This effect can also be present with other beautiful turntable combinations, but I feel that the attendant emotion in his voice is seldom presented so strongly, especially when he sings ‘He got the chills and he got ‘em bad, I lost the only friend I had’. This made me play more emotionally touching LPs than usual, or have done in the past. Every album I pulled out of my collection induced that same effect. God I love vinyl, especially when it sounds this good!
Those who have read the full review will probably agree with me that no conclusion is needed because all has been said already. This is not how it works however… there will always be people only interested in the final verdict and therefore only read this final paragraph. Because of this, I would like to summarize one more time what I have experienced using this record player. I didn’t start by describing the looks of the turntable by accident. I love Danish design and for this reason alone, I would love to have the Magne in my listening room permanently. A second reason to refuse to return the Magne to its rightful owner has to do with its high build quality and finish. Both reasons make me enjoy this turntable just by looking at it. The third reason to choose this turntable is the extremely thoughtful manner in which some techniques – especially the use of air bearings – are implemented. This has resulted in a complete absence of problems related to friction and the main reason why detail, dynamics, ambiance, imaging and authentic tonality are reproduced without any vagueness or smearing. The greatest quality of this turntable however is its self-effacing sound, enabling the full capabilities of the cartridge and phono preamp to be fully appreciated. Never before have I enjoyed the unmistakable qualities of the Benz Micro Glider SL so much and nor have I heard every adjustment to my ASR Basis Exclusive phono with so little effort. I would like to conclude by stating the obvious; if I had €10,000 available for the purchase of a turntable, the Bergmann Audio Magne would be at the very top of my list.
This review was first published in MusicEmotion magazine.