Bergmann Audio Magne Turntable System Review
Magne Turntable System
AUD $17,200 RRP
“What a cool-looking turntable” was my first reaction on seeing Bergmann's Magne. Its simple, elegant and understated styling is attractive and impressive – the best of Danish design, you could say. It's stunning to behold and, at the same time, practical and functional.
Magne means strength. In Nordic mythology, Magne was the son of Thor, God of Thunder. At just three days old, he was so strong he could lift a dead giant off his father, who was pinned underneath. Magne is one of the Gods who survived Ragnarok, the Nordic Armageddon, to rebuild the new world – or so the legend goes…
Outwardly the sparse, functional styling on this turntable hides many advanced technical solutions. While it's superficially simple, uncomplicated and understated in many respects, don't be fooled by outward appearances. Bergmann has solved many challenging technical problems with elegant simplicity and impressive ingenuity. Floating the platter or tonearm on a cushion of air should create a smooth, frictionless, low noise bearing close to the perfect ideal.
The problem has always been how do you design an air-bearing that runs consistently, reliably and quietly, without the need for tiresome maintenance and adjustment? Many previous air-bearing designs used noisy motors that needed to be positioned well away from the listening area – preferably in another room. Upkeep is another factor, with regular checks, adjustments, and cleaning required. So while air bearings might seem to offer several seductive benefits, the downsides can be off-putting. All very hair-shirt…
The Magne is different. Its pump produces a very faint, barely audible transformer hum that can only just be detected with your ear close by. It's no worse than many amplifiers or CD players with transformers. And, there's no audible swish or hiss from the air created.
Some might want to debate the value of air-bearings and whether or not they're worth the trouble. But, as founder/engineer/designer Johnnie Bergmann has so-neatly and gracefully eliminated all the major drawbacks and downsides inherent with such designs, it's a pointless argument.
Air and motor noise have been reduced to a level where they're effectively silent, while even airflow avoids undesirable pressure variations. The air needs to be filtered to remove dust, so there's a simple, user-replaceable filter that's easy to change when the time comes. Bergmann says this should give at least a year's use before a change is needed. Johnnie himself, who lives in a small town with clean air, claims to have used the same filter for a decade. So, much will depend on how polluted your living area is.
The Magne features air suspension for the main platter and the tonearm. Compressed air is supplied by a motor pump housed in a fairly large box measuring 330x150x160mm. This box also supplies power to the DC motor that drives the platter via a flat belt.
With the deck switched on, a very faint noise can just be detected when you stand nearby. It almost sounds like mechanical bearing noise but isn't; the sound continues when the platter stops turning. What you hear is a very gentle escape of air around the arm and centre-bearing. It's not a sharp hiss or swish, but something softer, lower in frequency and virtually inaudible, even in a quiet room stood a metre or less away.
Floating the main bearing on a cushion of air creates a smooth, noiseless mechanical interface. Amazingly, I could detect no transmitted motor/bearing noise whatsoever. It's as if the platter is not turning. Even the quietest, low rumble turntables usually produce a faint mechanical rubbing sound as the platter spins. But with the Magne, there was nothing – complete quiet.
Hum levels were not quite so low, however. Using a low output moving coil pickup, a faint low-level hum could just be detected though the speakers at very high volume levels that (try as I might) could not be totally eliminated. I tried various screened cables for the turntable/amplifier connection without success. It isn't induced hum from the motor, as the Magne has a DC type. Nor was it a ground loop. The hum seems to be picked up by the 15cm of unscreened Litz cable that exits the rear of the tonearm. This has to be ultra-thin and flexible in order not to impede the lateral movement of the tonearm.
Interestingly, with a Transfiguration Aria (0.38mV output, 10 ohm coil), hum was a fraction higher than a Lyra Argo (0.45mV output and a 4 ohm coil). So it appears the hum reduces noticeably with lower coil resistance. With the Argo, the hum was virtually inaudible, even at full-wick. Fitting a moving magnet pickup, the hum grew significantly worse – despite a much higher output of 6.5mV – because high impedance coils are far more hum-sensitive. So, hum shouldn't be a problem if you use a moving coil cartridge with a fairly low coil resistance (10 ohms or less).
The main platter is 4cm thick and weighs 5.5kg. It has a 4mm removable polycarbonate mat, plus an inner platter weighing 1.5kg, making the total platter mass around 7kg. The main bearing is steel and surprisingly short at just 1cm long and 1cm diameter. Start-up time is around eleven seconds at 33rpm. The motor powers up gradually to avoid belt stretch and reduce motor wear. The platter turns slowly for the first seven or so seconds, then quickly gets up to speed. With the air pump off, the platter is grounded and won't spin.
There are two press buttons on the top plate which select 33 and 45rpm speeds. You can fine-adjust both speeds via two push-buttons. Pressing one of the speed buttons stops the platter. The air pump carries on working for two minutes and then ceases operation. The turntable has now powered down, so there's no need to switch the air pump off from the PSU box. This is useful if you position the PSU so it's hidden away and not easily accessible, especially as the main power on/off switch is located at the rear of the unit.
The Magne's linear tracking tonearm has a virtually friction-free air bearing to enable it to glide freely and smoothly while playing records. The fixed tube (on which the arm moves) has tiny holes in it from whence the air comes. You can feel the air when you put your hand nearby. A linear tracking arm eliminates the tracing errors that occur with conventional pivoted arms, where slight geometric imperfections occur. Therefore, the stylus is no longer perfectly aligned with the groove wall at certain radius points.
However, accurate alignment of the cartridge in the headshell, plus optimised geometry in terms of arm position and angled offset, minimises the tracing errors of pivoted arms to a point where there's little or no discernible adverse effect. So, does linear tracking offer any real benefit?
During mastering, LPs are cut with a head that traverses the lacquer in a straight line. So there's a certain logic in playing records back the same way. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. There are definitely some drawbacks with linear tracking arms. Put simply, they're inherently ill-suited to following a pre-cut groove compared to a pivoted arm. A linear tracking arm is a good 'leader' for cutting a new groove; it's not nearly so adept at 'following' an existing groove. To get it to follow creates some major engineering headaches…
Of all the various attempts to make a functional linear tracking arm, an air bearing seems the best solution. Making something that works reliably and quietly isn't easy, but Bergmann's simple, elegant design delivers a smooth, friction-free result that functions beautifully.
I'd say the sonic advantages of Bergmann's air bearing are far more significant than the relatively small benefit gained by linear tracking – though the latter is certainly useful. Done correctly, as here, you get a decoupled, very low friction, noise-free bearing with almost zero free play.
The Magne features a plinth made from a solid high-density material weighing around 11kg. The plinth is very dead, and – despite the lack of decoupling – there's very little vibration or resonance to be heard when you tap the plinth or the surface on which the turntable stands. Available in a choice of black or white, it sits on three 8cm diameter aluminium feet, each with a small ball-bearing support point. The feet are adjustable, and correct levelling is very important with this turntable and arm.
Even a slight error causes the tonearm to move horizontally – which may lead to the stylus skipping over the first few grooves when lowered onto an LP. The tonearm is made from damped aluminium and carbon. Its effective length is around 6.5in and its effective mass is 11g, so it will work with medium-to-low compliance cartridges best.
Adjustments for VTA, overhang, and levelling are possible. The arm has a simple decoupled counterweight that moves back and forth to achieve the correct stylus downforce – so a set of stylus scales is necessary to determine tracking weight.
The arm is wired with ultra-fine Litz copper wire, and connection is made via a couple of RCA phono sockets. As no connecting cable is provided, you will need to buy a screened type. I used a Vertere cable designed for this very purpose, with good results.
The Magne is not provided with a lid, but one is available as an optional extra if required. Being a generous size – 440x495x165mm – the deck is easy to operate, and not the least bit fiddly in terms of accessibility. Indeed, after using it for a while, you realise how small and cramped nearly all other turntables are. With most, the arm lift/lower lever is invariably situated close to the fulcrum and thereby awkward to access. Not so with the Magne, where everything is widely spaced out.
I fitted the Magne with a Transfiguration Aria MC cartridge which I'd been using in a Thorens TD-124 with an Origin Live tonearm. As soon as the stylus touched down, it was clear that the Magne delivered a sound of exceptional clarity and precision. It was noticeably sharper and more immediate than my Thorens, the high treble crisper and more extended. Bass was firm, lean and tight. The whole presentation sounded solid, focussed, precise and very neutral.
There was an effortless ease and clarity that was unmistakable. It was the kind of precision and focus you associate with SACD at its best. There was nothing loose, sloppy or the least bit 'romantic' about the way the Magne sounded; it had rock-like stability.
Playing the LP Dances Occidentales, I was impressed by the way the Magne separated out the double basses and kept all the various strands clear and distinct. I'd never heard this record sound so good. Joe Sample's Carmel sounded lively and energetic, with a crisp airy presentation that made the music jump out of the loudspeakers.
On the ECM LP Standards Vol 1 with Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, the piano sounded beautifully bright and articulate. Recorded at Power Station in NYC back in 1983, I used to think this album sounded a bit smeared and lacking in clarity and separation. But played on a good turntable like the Magne, it sounds super-solid, clear and detailed, with excellent depth and space.
Schubert's Piano Sonata D784 with Alfred Brendel on Philips was similarly focused and immediate, with excellent clarity and dynamics. Surface noise was very low, and the cartridge seemed to track securely without distress, even in loud, demanding passages. The Magne's DC motor has very high torque, giving strong, powerful drive. Speed stability is outstanding – not a hint of wobble or pitch fluctuation. The musical presentation felt hugely solid – more like the best digital than analogue – with reassuring security and focus.
Playing Philip Glass' Songs from Liquid Days, I was impressed with the unforced clarity of the sound and the way all the constantly shifting many-layered parts were kept separate and clear. Also, there was an even consistency across the whole LP side, with no deterioration from start to end. Clarity, definition and stability were outstanding and hardly seemed to change as the stylus went from edge to centre. Such effortless focus and fine detail was like listening to master tapes. Stereo soundstaging was notable for its poise and stability. Even when things got loud and boisterous, the Magne always stayed cool, calm and collected. The end result was musically involving and enjoyable.
Comparing the Magne to Origin Live's Resolution turntable with Illustrious arm, the British deck sounded warmer and fuller, with a slightly more voluminous bass and a somewhat looser, more relaxed musical presentation. While both turntables sounded focused and precise, the Magne struck me as just a tad more exact on account of its leaner, more tightly defined sound.
Bergmann suggests partnering the deck with warm sounding pickup cartridge for best results. I certainly agree with this, having gone from the slightly more neutral Transfiguration Aria to the fuller sounding Lyra Argo, and finding the latter subjectively better.
With beautiful and stylish design, plus simple-to-use functionality, Bergmann's new Magne turntable is a true reference product that sets a benchmark for stability, accuracy and neutrality in vinyl replay. It's expensive, but is deservedly so – its many special qualities are ones that you grow to love and appreciate the more you use it. It's fun being an airhead, so hear it if you possibly can!
An avid audiophile for many decades, Jimmy has been writing about hi-fi since 1980 in a host of British magazines, from What Hi-Fi to Hi-Fi Choice. Based in London, England, he’s one of the UK’s most prolific record and CD collectors – no streaming service can yet match his amazing music collection!