Airtangent tonearm Page 4
After savoring each component during the get-acquainted process, I proceeded to mount it on the armboard. Fortunately, I still have the VPI HW-19 Mk.II on loan from Harry Weisfeld. Of the many aspects of this product that type it as an audiophile product, one in particular stands out. This turntable is extremely well-suited for changing tonearms. With each tonearm mounted on its own tonearm board, the whole assembly can be removed easily and substituted with another. I can report happily that the Airtangent was mounted without a hitch. As a matter of fact, I was pleasantly surprised how smoothly the setup and alignment went. Of great help here was my previous experience with the ET-2, another parallel-tracking, air-bearing tonearm. That arm taught me the importance of leveling, and how to deal with little nagging problems such as dressing the cartridge signal wires for minimum drag.
But not everything came up roses. Wiring the termination box was pretty frustrating: too many inaccessible parts in cramped quarters, and short tonearm leads, required that the work be performed very close to the turntable. I hope Leif gets a chance to redesign the box next time around.
Other improvements could be made: First of all, a high-quality stylus-force gauge should be included with a product like the Airtangent. That would make the set-up process independent of existing equipment.
Second, a dial gauge should be available, maybe as an option, for calibrating the VTA settings. At the very least, some markings along the linear bearing in the mounting tower are desirable to keep track of the VTA position. And don't tell me to use the position of the rack-and-pinion lever; that's too coarse, and not in keeping with the precise nature of this instrument.
Third, the azimuth adjustment should be more substantial. It's not enough to loosen the clamp and rotate the armtube. These rotational increments are haphazard, and, while better than none at all, something along the lines of the Triplanar method would be welcome.
Airtangent has made wonderful progress in rewriting and generally overhauling their instruction manual. I have seen three editions of it, and am happy to report vastly improved results. The initial version was written in Swinglish and left a lot to be desired. Now, besides much-improved English, illustrations have been added and helpful hints abound. The latest version is clear, instructive, and truly helpful.
As you have no doubt surmised, I have nothing but the highest regard for the design and execution of this product. But it was the sonic performance that really took me by surprise. I had a very good idea that it was going to be good—too much reliable fanfare had preceded it—but I was unprepared for the excellent sonic revelations awaiting me.
Oh yes, this was special. It was obvious well before the first cut was completed, and before any adjustments were optimized. I just knew that I was dealing with an extremely exciting product, and that a new level (at least for me) of sonic refinement had been attained. And that's from someone who owns the SME V and Well-Tempered tonearms.
The music immediately came to life with a marvelously refined and inordinately stable soundstage, the lifting of several layers of veiling, and, overall, meticulous, rich, and harmonious reproduction. It was stunning!
Airtangent is my name, and details are my game! That's what this tonearm was telling me. It sure was music to my ears: mesmerizing, thrilling, I couldn't get enough of it. I played whole sides of album after album, marveling the whole time at how much more information was still available from records I have been playing for years.
Three cartridges were used to evaluate the Airtangent: Koetsu Rosewood Sapphire Signature, Ortofon MC-3000, and Monster Cable Alpha Genesis 1000. All three performed extremely well, but the most potent coupling resulted with the MC-3000. The very low tip mass and the Fritz Gyger "Replicant" stylus profile contributed to the spectacular sonics, which featured detail, definition, and dynamics with unprecedented precision.
To be fair, since I am singling out performance aspects, it should be mentioned that the Alpha Genesis 1000 turned into a remarkably dynamic performer; I nodded in approval many times, while the Koetsu displayed harmonic richness of sumptuous proportions. I have no doubt that each cartridge benefited handily from being fitted to the Airtangent.
Other equipment used for this review consisted of the following: the VPI HW-19 Mk.II turntable supported by an Arcici "Lead Balloon" stand; Museatex PA-6i, ARC SP-11 Mk.II, and Krell KRS-2 preamps; Krell KMA-100 Mk.II, Classe DR-9, and Museatex MTR-101 power amps; Apogee Diva and Celestion SL-600 loudspeakers; Museatex interconnects and speaker cables.
I suspect that the apt ergonomics of the Airtangent aided the excellent sonic performance. The significantly simplified setup procedure made it possible to quickly zero in on the best performance, thus setting the tone for very relaxed listening sessions. Since readjustments were convenient and could be approached without apprehension, the tonearm was viewed and treated favorably at every step of the way.
The Airtangent had a very transparent, smooth, and delicate character. I got the feeling that the stylus behavior was more precise now that the alignment requirements were better fulfilled. Since the stylus was positioned to deal with the complex groove modulations more effectively, the musical mosaic appeared to fall into place effortlessly. An excellent demonstration of this is the "Silent Night" cut from Cantate Domino (Proprius PROP 7762). Not only was the sweep of the choir very wide and deep, it was also wonderfully delineated to individualize the members of the choir. The acoustic of the church and the multi-hued choral colors were rendered with marvelous presence. The carefully crafted sound appeared less labored, conveying a feeling of freedom and openness.