TechDAS Air Force V Turntable Page 2

Having just reviewed DS Audio's DS-W2, my test LPs were the same to exploit audio memory. I swapped the cartridge in this Air Force V review sample for my own trusty Koetsu Urushi, intrigued to hear that there was an immediate shift in dynamic contrasts over my beloved SME and Linn LP12 turntables. The sound, however, differs in nature, so it wasn't as clear-cut as one might hope – if one hopes for easy answers.

Starting with my new fave test for low level information and bottom octave extension, the slams in 'The Boxer' from Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water [Mobile Fidelity UD1S 2-004; One-Step] acquired a firmness that contrasted with the slightly tighter sound of an LP clamped physically rather than with vacuum hold-down. I was slightly stymied, because I found both convincing and holographic, even if the vacuum-held V seemed somehow more 'grand' – and if you know that performance, grandeur is a key characteristic.

One immediate trait, consistent throughout the listening sessions, and with my other experiences of the V, was the epic scale of the musical space. My reference SME decks are no slouches in this area, and actually offer tighter positioning of the instruments, but I suspect those wedded to huge orchestral works will potentially find the Air Force V more enveloping. Once again, it puts the 'grand' in 'grandeur.'

Here I must point out a geographical consideration that makes contemporary SME and the Air Force turntables cousins rather than rivals: TechDAS's parent company, the Stella Corporation, distributes SME in Japan, and uses SME arms on Air Force turntables at shows. They co-exist in Japan for a number of reasons, and I am now learning why Nishikawa-san considers them complementary rather than mutually exclusive, for they differ like a Lamborghini versus a Ferrari. And in similar fashion, at this level, personal bias or taste becomes an arbiter.

With a raucous live album, such as Twisted Sister's Live At The Marquee 1983 [Atlantic 603497861378], the V creates a sense of space akin to a club (and having been to the old Marquee, it's convincing as can be). Meanwhile the crowd noises, Dee Snyder's vocals and the ace guitar work cut through with a cleanliness I had not readily anticipated.

One has to listen to the band's steam-hammer percussion to hear qualitative differences, with the vacuum hold-down benefiting the transient attack. Thuds and thumps taxed my Wilson Yvettes' woofers [HFN Feb '17], which seemed to relish the exercise, the V's delivery offering a generous sense of air.

Love Affair
I was starting to fall in love again with the whole air-bearing/hold-down concept, the Air Force III having filled me with lust, as did the One and Two before. With Doug MacLeod's Break The Chain [Reference RM-2519], the V showed it to be so close in competence to its dearer siblings that – rather than undermine their worth – it simply elevates the notion of the V's value-for-money. How so?

Seasoned listeners know the difference between what they are actually hearing and what they may or may not prefer. For some, for example, the notion of a master tape's authority is too aggressive in home listening, where hyper-detail may be a distraction. But with the Air Force V, the balance between seductive sound and attention-grabbing command are minimised, making it easy to listen to for extended periods. Too clinical a sound usually means truncated listening sessions.

With MacLeod's twangy guitars and textured vocals, the V perfectly captured the liquidity of the former and the gruffness of the latter, reminding me of the contrast between Dianne Reeves' and Lou Rawls' vocals on 'At Last' or the barrage of guitars on the Buffalo Springfield's 'Bluebird'. The Air Force V thus possesses the analytical capabilities of the best decks I've heard, but tuned to possess enough warmth and 'humanity' to avoid accusations of clinical cleanliness. And MacLeod's blues do not need to be sent through the wash cycle...

Speaking of 'Bluebird', I returned to Buffalo Springfield's What's That Sound? [Atco/Rhino 03497 86066], to listen to this epic track once more. This studio creation has so many layers of sound, and so many competing guitar farragoes that it can baffle systems and upset even the finest of trackers. In 50 years of worshipping this song, I have never heard it portrayed more vividly.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Make no mistake: TechDAS has balanced cost and features to add another turntable to the family that fits perfectly in the lineup. While I consider the Air Force V to be not the finest turntable available – that remains the Air Force One – it is certainly one of the best-value high-end decks on the market. I now know how would-be Porsche 911 owners on a budget felt when the Cayman appeared.

Stella Inc.
Tokyo, Japan
Supplied by: Absolute Sounds Ltd
0208 971 3909