I have been wanting to get my hands on a TechDAS turntable and finally the time has come for the Air Force III to grace my system with its stunning quality and to finally find out how good vinyl can get with something of this caliber slotted into The Speaker Shack’s system.
Having had a few turntables over the years I have never really been a big fan of vinyl and have only featured one review on The Speaker Shack’s website. It has never really convinced me that the quality has been as good or better than what I have been listening to in high-resolution or on CD, as I have a huge collection of music both on HDD and in CD format, they have always taken preference. But I think this is going to change after having a serious piece of kit like the TechDAS in my listening room, and a rapidly growing collection of vinyl.Features and Build Quality
The Air Force III is built from high grade aluminum alloy and crafted to the highest quality and everything about it screams high-end as it is a beautiful piece of equipment to see in action and it inherits nearly all the features from its bigger brothers that is the Air Force One and Two but at a fraction of their cost. What you get is the Air-bearing floating platter which sits on 30μm layer of air and it is pumped from an outboard air compressor, an umbilical cord then connects to the turntable. This external box also sends power to the unit and precise control for its speed settings. To say that this turntable is precise is an understatement as it operates with absolute accuracy. It uses an advanced high-precision oscillator to ensure that the speed settings are spot on for both 33.3rpm and 45rpm. It also features the vacuum LP hold-down which makes sure that the vinyl is held firmly in place and as flat as possible so that there are no warps in the pressing. The motor is an external one which sits next to the turntable and is fed power by a DIN type connection. The motor is fully adjustable for the belt that is connected to the motor and platter. The platter weighs in at a hefty 9kg and it is incredible to think that air keeps it free from friction with a glass platter sitting directly underneath all that weight. The AF III accepts up to four tonearms which is two more than both the AF One and Two so even more flexible than its bigger siblings. It will accept tonearms from 9” to 12” in length and it has fitted a Graham Elite tonearm and a Koetsu Urushi Vermillion MC cartridge which are well suited to this TechDAS and work extremely well together.Ease of use and Setting up
Setting this turntable up was something that I had help with, not because it is difficult but because it is so precise that it needs
someone who has the expertise and experience with TechDAS players and how all the adjustments are made. For this task Absolute Sounds had the TechDAS delivered and setup by one of the most experienced men in the country to make sure that it was working perfectly and Pedro who made this happen helped me understand all the settings that were done and showed exactly how precise this player actually is (so a big thank you to him). All the major parts of the turntable are adjustable and it is down to experience which is what really matters with these sorts of turntables as it is not a plug-n-play device but instead an extremely accurate instrument to play your music on. Once setup is done it could not be simpler to use and all the controls are on the front of the players control panel with an LED display that is clear and simple to use and understand. It features an auto standby feature which will turn the player off after a longer period of time, this turns off the air compressor so as to keep it working at optimum efficiency.
For this review, I am using my ProAc K6 speakers and the McIntosh Labs MA8000 Integrated amplifier. For the phono stage I am using the Mytek Brooklyn DAC, I would have liked to use the McIntosh phono stage but it is too far in distance for the cables as anything longer than 1.2M could introduce noise into the signal path. This is probably the only set back I have in my current system and with a higher end phono stage the levels of quality would improve even further. Cables are from Transparent Cables with XLR connecting from phono stage to the big McIntosh.Performance and Sound Quality
I am a huge fan of Santana and have most of their albums on vinyl but also own the digital and silver disc versions of their music too, so have been making comparisons to the different flavours that I own to the vinyl ones. An interesting and fun few weeks I have had and at every opportunity playing an album over and over again.
Santana’s first album titled Santana has to be one of the best recording’s that I have heard as this record was recorded way back in 1969 but it sounds as good as anything that I have heard produced today on any format. Released by Columbia Records it is an absolute gem and the TechDAS Air Force III reveals layers of details and energy that I never knew existed in this recording. I have owned the cassette and CD versions but also have the recording in high-resolution too, but the vinyl seems to give you an almost there feeling with the emotion of the music portrayed and captured on this undying format. Having been to many Santana concerts in the past I know exactly how big this band plays with a massive percussion section and Carlos Santana on guitar and Mike Carabello on Vocals and guitar. Evil Way’s and Shades of Time really connect with the listener making for one of the most engaging listens that I have had on my system to date with the percussion having so much dynamic and vivacious attack and simply stunning guitar work from Carlos Santana.
The way each instrument is placed in time and space around my listening position is just as good as it could possibly get. With the best yet to come as the bass and beat from Jingo strikes with a solidity and firmness that is felt through my sofa, such is the hard-hitting nature of this piece of music. Side 2 is as equally impressive with Persuasion one of my all-time favourites coming alive off this vinyl pressing. Treat is the second track and has a piano solo at the beginning with every strike of the keyboard striking through the air with scalpel precision and again the percussion hitting home hard. If ever anyone needs convincing how good vinyl really is then I ask you to take a listen to this masterpiece of a recording as it sounds divine in every aspect. Each note from the guitar has an almost tangible feel and reach out and touch moments. This is analogue at its finest and the Air Force III carries you away to 1969 and a snap shot in time at how good rock music is and was back then with all the noise from the bass amps snapping you into the rhythm of the music. Soul Sacrifice had me jamming and my foot was tapping to the beat of the bongo’s that were being played and the brilliant percussion which seemed to be an endless stage such was the vastness that was being projected through my speakers.
Sticking with the Santana theme and on to my next album which is Abraxas produced and recorded way back in 1970 released by
CBS records. Yet again the TechDAS shows its authority over the other formats giving a rendition which is just breathtakingly real in sound and performance. Singing Winds, Crying Beasts echoes with the ringing of chimes all around the room giving an almost holographic performance. Black Magic Woman has to be one of the most well-known Santana recordings. And this is my favourite version and most satisfying to date with an electric performance from Carlos Santana on guitar. The electric piano was brilliant back then and sounds just as good today through the TechDAS. Oye Como Va has me singing the words and the bass guitar twangs and rings out with a texture that I have not heard until now. This is as real as it gets and puts you right there in the moment I kid you not. HiFi has become exciting and satisfying again and this is one experience that I am not going to forget in a hurry. Home demos have never had more importance until now, I used to sit on the fence regarding vinyl to be honest but not now, I am swung firmly in awe as the TechDAS shows me what all the fuss really is about.
The whole picture is not painted until you look at all aspects of the TechDAS and the technology that creates the whole story. This is a tour de force in turntables and wears the TechDAS name with pride, the vacuum suction is just one of the specialties and the air-bearing is incredible in action as the platter spins so freely. With a build quality that is without peers in my opinion, the Graham tonearm and Koetsu cartridge are so well matched that adding all the pieces together and you get analogue heaven.Conclusion and Final Thoughts
Yes, this maybe an expensive turntable and quite possibly one of the finest but until you hear it in action can you really comment on whether it is worth it, without a doubt absolutely YES. It is one of the finest sounds I have experienced in my listening room and I feel honored to have experienced it in all its glory. I would love to own one and after having it in my room I can honestly say it is worth every penny. When compared to the price of the Air Force One & Two it is a proverbial bargain. You may get better performance from the bigger brothers but at a cost and if you want to get near that performance then the Air Force III becomes an even better investment. You can upgrade different parts for this turntable like the platter so it can become even better, you can also get an isolation platform so that it replicates the Air Force One’s feet which is just one of its premiums.
The TechDAS Air Force III gets the Reference badge from The Speaker Shack as it is well and truly deserved.
Price at time of review approx £18,995 turntable, Graham Elite tonearm £9,050 Koetsu Urushi Vermillion cartridge £4,000UK Distributor Absolute SoundsTechDAS website