Moving on to the ultra-exotic, I saw and heard what must be the most ambitious new turntable introduced in a long time, the TechDAS Air Force One from Japan. Designed and built by former Micro-Seki engineers, the Air Force One, as its name suggests, is based on an air-bearing platter. The chassis is a three-part constrained-layer damping structure composed of aluminum on the top and bottom, with “super duralumin” in the middle. The chassis alone contributes 95 pounds of the ’table’s 175-pound weight. The 66-pound platter is composed of four distinct components, all made from different materials. An integral vacuum hold-down system couples the LP to the top platter. Turning off the vacuum by pressing a button on the chassis creates slight positive pressure to make record removal easier. The entire structure sits on three suspension pods that isolate the ’table with a combination of air and a liquid polymer. The $125,000 Air Force One (without arm) looks like a very serious (and beautiful) piece of hardware.
The Air Force One was shown in two rooms, both with new tonearms. The first arm is the Phantom Elite from Graham Engineering (who is also the Air Force One’s North American importer). The second new arm shown with the Air Force One is from a company called Vertere, a company created by Roksan co-founder Touraj Maghaddam. The new arm reportedly represents the culmination of everything Maghaddam has learned in 30 years of designing turntables and tonearms. The Vertere arm is a ground-up rethinking of tonearm design, and one that features some radical new ideas. One of these is a counterweight that hangs off the back of the tonearm and pivots as the arm moves up and down. According to Maghaddam, this reduces changes in tracking force when the stylus encounters a record warp. The bearing is built from a unique laminate of plastic and metal, and the arm wand is titanium. The arm’s design is focused on reducing extraneous forces acting on the cartridge so that it can do its job of responding only to groove modulation. In a nice touch, the headshell includes a tiny light to aid cueing in the dark. The Vertere arm ships in February with what must be a record retail price for a tonearm—a mind-numbing $35,000.
I had a first-hand demo of the LP-cleaning machine that everyone’s been talking about—the Audio Desk Systeme Vinyl Cleaner. The fully automated system immerses the LP vertically in a bath with rotating scrubbing brushes on both LP sides. The LP is cleaned not just with the brushes, but with ultrasound. The ultrasonic cleaning removes more dirt than the brushes, and also gets dirt out of the groove bottom where no brush bristle can reach. After cleaning, the LP is dried by air rather than a vacuum to prevent static build-up. The machines is slow (five minutes per LP, both sides simultaneously) and fairly expensive ($3895), but it looks like it might be the state of the art in LP cleaning.
In other product categories, Shunyata Research has developed its own interchangeable loudspeaker-cable terminations, including a high-performance banana plug. You order Shunyata’s cables with whatever termination you need, and if you change loudspeakers or amplifiers, you simply swap the terminations to fit your system. The connectors were all designed for sound quality first.
Shunyata also introduced a product that addresses an issue that I’ve encountered in more than five years of using its power conditioners: lack of rack space to mount the company’s Talos and Triton conditioners horizontally on a shelf as intended. The conditioners end up being mounted face-down behind the rack with the AC outlets facing up. This arrangement not only frees up precious rack space, it also makes the AC outlets more easily accessible. Unfortunately, the sonic performance can be slightly degraded, although I counter this by putting Stillpoints Ultra SS or Ultra 5 between the Triton and the floor. Shunyata’s solution is the new Hydra, an eight-outlet conditioner only 4" deep that’s designed to fit behind an equipment rack. It uses the same connectors and filtering circuitry as the Triton, but the Noise Isolation Chambers are slightly shorter. The new slim-line Hydra comes with stainless-steel spiked feet and machined discs. The good news is that without the expensive aluminum front panel, the Hydra’s price comes in at $3000, a 40% reduction compared with the Triton.