TechDAS Air Force V turntable Page 2

Elastomer supports between the chassis and its wide-diameter feet provided reasonably effective isolation, although light taps on both the support platform and chassis produced somewhat greater impulse throughput than what I remember hearing through any of the more costly Air Force turntables.

Setup and use
I'll keep this short: Setup was easy. Just keep in mind the need to level the 'table using the adjustable feet, before and after installing the tonearm of your choice, then check it yet again after cartridge installation. Importer Graham Engineering supplied the latest B-44 Mk.III version of his Phantom tonearm, which shows fit'n'finish improvements to an already superbly designed and manufactured arm. (You can get the Mk.III in a package with the Air Force V for $24,000—a savings of $3000 compared to retail.) I also used the Swedish Analog Technologies CF1-09 and Thales Statement tonearms: Both are priced beyond what most Air Force V buyers would probably spend on a tonearm, but I know their sound and wanted to hear how they would perform with the V.

What accounts for the quiet?
Given that the V has an inboard motor, mounted on a bolted-together chassis and located close to the platter, I guessed that the entry-level TechDAS would be somewhat noisier than the more costly Air Force models. But what I heard was just the opposite: This turntable was stupidly quiet—not as quiet as the $450,000 Air Force Zero that I got to hear at a California event a few months ago (and that will be here soon for review), which was by far the quietest turntable I've ever heard. But the V was perhaps quieter than the other Air Force turntables I've reviewed—and for reasons I can't explain. Confirmation bias denied!

Other than on "ripple warped" records, where vacuum hold down can exacerbate the problems associated with warps, I'm a big fan of well-engineered vacuum hold-down systems. I prefer it to clamping, and certainly to unsecured records just sitting on the platter, which allows vibrations to ricochet through the record and reflect back to the stylus.


The first cartridge I fastened to the Graham arm was the fast, super-clean, well-detailed Ortofon A95. As soon as everything was locked in, I played the album 4GDB (Artasee Records, no catalog number), something I've been meaning to review when time permits. It's a live-to-2"-analog-tape labor of love: a fun, well-recorded electric guitar jam session featuring four "under-noticed" Texas guitarists who've also worked with many big names. I was looking for the same big, full, rich, chunky sound I'd gotten from this LP on my big rig—or as much of it as this far less costly setup could provide—and I got way more than I expected!

Of course, there was that surprising degree of quiet—but beyond that, with the Air Force V, the sound was bigger and more fully fleshed out than I had imagined was possible. The bass lines on "Mother Earth Blues" were firm, grippy, and forcefully presented. On the bottom end, bass extension was effortless from both guitar and kick drum, and neither got lost in the generously live room sound. The snare drum snapped and, of course, the guitar transients were sharp and cleanly drawn.

Shortly thereafter, I was off to Europe (see last month's Analog Corner), but as soon as I returned home, I played a direct-to-disc record that mastering engineer Rainer Maillard had handed me in Berlin: the Joscho Stephan Trio's Paris-Berlin (BMS 1817V). This "finger picking good" trio of double bass and dueling acoustic guitars plays Django Reinhardt-style acoustic swing music with remarkable speed and dexterity.

Before I left for Europe, I'd installed on the Graham arm the Gold Note Donatello Gold cartridge, a modestly priced (ca $1000) low-output (0.5mV) MC cartridge, which features an elliptical stylus and aluminum cantilever. The simply miked recording sounded just the way the album jacket's back-cover photo looked: two guitars, left and right—both of them Jürgen Volkert Selmer-style acoustics—with a centered double bass. I heard a well-articulated and harmonically rich sound, plus spatial presentation that was strikingly three-dimensional and stable. Direct-to-disc recordings are as quiet as vinyl gets, and with the addition of what I had already come to know as the Air Force V's surprising degree of quiet, this was another musical and sonic treat. To get a full read on what I was hearing, after playing on my reference Continuum Caliburn turntable/SAT CF1-09 tonearm the above-mentioned records—plus many others, including the UHQR stereo mix of Hendrix's Axis: Bold As Love (Analogue Productions UHQR 0001) and the Analog Spark West Side Story reissue (Analog Spark 79301836801-8/Columbia OS 2001)—I moved the SAT arm to the Air Force V's back position, along with the Ortofon MC Anna Diamond cartridge (covered in this month's Analog Corner). That took little more than a few minutes, done right after I'd played West Side Story on the big rig.

The Air Force V's overall presentation of that stunning and revealing Broadway show recording was somewhat drier than that of my reference 'table, with a less generous expression of the reverberant field of Columbia's 30th Street Studio. Events I was used to hearing extend further in time stopped somewhat short. Voices were slightly less round and less fully fleshed out (pun intended), and the overall spaciousness of the presentation was somewhat reduced. However, that tended to produce snappy and satisfying rhythm'n'pacing. Strings were somewhat drier and musical textures less generously presented. The bottom end came up somewhat short as well, which partly explained the space deficiency, and I've heard greater dynamic slam from this and other of the best records I know, especially in the classical music realm—but please keep in mind the almost 10x price differential!


I don't doubt that as you move up the line to the bigger Air Force 'tables, these minor deficiencies would diminish: You would hear incrementally more in terms of, especially, overall spaciousness, dynamics, and bottom-end extension and slam—everything except for background quietness, where I think the V would compete well with all of them and maybe better some, as it did with the Caliburn.

What else can you get?
For around $20,000 you have other choices, including the less expensive VPI HW-40 direct-drive turntable ($15,000 including arm); the SME 20/3 turntable with Series V arm ($19,500); the Kuzma Stabi M ($19,225 without arm); or even the direct-drive Technics SP-10R ($10,000) combined with the OMA plinth (estimated to be under $10,000). There are many options at this costly but still "affordable" price point.

The new entry-level Air Force model in the TechDAS line has been skillfully shaved down from its bigger stablemates, to lower the cost while offering all the important features, impressive build quality, and clever engineering for which TechDAS is known. With the TechDAS Air Force V, your $19,500 buys a technologically advanced and versatile air-bearing platter spinner with vacuum hold down, whose minor acts of omission won't be noticed by anyone fortunate enough to own one. It's a 'table essentially free of tonal colorations—like the other 'tables in the TechDAS line—and one that provides a firm foundation on bottom with deep, well-defined bass (though there's more to be had from the bigger TechDAS 'tables and from some other "super 'tables").

There are other options at this price point with fuller, thicker sound, and some that are even leaner, faster, and lighter—but none that I've heard that offer vacuum hold down, a feature I've grown to consider essential (though not everyone agrees). In addition, the Air Force V successfully threads the needle between required analytical detail and desirable harmonic generosity. In other words, your choice of cartridge and phono preamp, more than the 'table itself, will determine the final sonic result.

While it was in my system, the Air Force V was 100% reliable and always a pleasure to use, and despite its compact, hardly-bigger-than-the-platter chassis and somewhat spartan appearance, I enjoyed looking at it—and, of course, listening to it.

As I found out, the Air Force V can accommodate even the most costly tonearms and phono cartridges, and that money will not be wasted. In fact, I'd say get the V and then upgrade the arm and cartridge as you go before upgrading the 'table—although I would guess that most people buying the V with the Graham Phantom will probably be satisfied and stop there, leaving more money available for records!

TechDAS/Stella Inc.
US distributor: Graham Engineering
25M Olympia Avenue
Woburn, MA 01801
(781) 932-8777

Anton's picture

I wonder if they have to pay any royalties to Thorens for their look!

Ortofan's picture

... SOTA Cosmos Eclipse with the vacuum hold-down system option.

p.chas's picture

How did the Thales Statement tonearm perform?
I believe the cost is in the region of $20k, is it that much better than than the Simplicity tonearm recently tested by Art Dudley?

I very much enjoyed the recent video of your visit to the Thales factory in Switzerland.

On a different matter, the Garrard 301 turntable now being re-manufactured by SME, is apparently going to cost about £20k (including a wooden plinth made by Spendor speakers).

volvic's picture

£20k for the new Garrard? Wow! bet those that own one and have done their mods ain't giving it up anytime soon. I always knew the costs of bringing an idler to modern standards was not for the faint heart and was neither cheap. $20k! Wow!

Anton's picture

Does anybody know someone who got into vinyl in the modern era and ended up with one of those Thorens?

My theory is that they are more about sonic nostalgia than they are about absolute sound quality.

The idler drives seem to add some rumble/punch that people of a certain age seem to like, but I just don't see the long term enjoyment of that sound.

I'd like to see the 'Feickerts' on these.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Let's get ready to rumble" :-) .........

Ortofan's picture

... idler-drive Thorens and Garrard turntables to undergo an examination by Dr. Feickert?

Anton's picture

That would be way cool.

Send Fremer right over!

jeffhenning's picture

A $19.5K turntable is absurd. A $450K turntable is truly obscene.

Does anybody want to buy a brand new, $450K VCR? Or go back to getting coal deliveries to your house to fire your furnace (which you have to stoke yourself with a shovel)? Perhaps, you may be interested in exchanging your washing machine for a $10,000 platinum/titanium washboard.

To even consider purchasing obsolete technology that's this expensive, you truly do meet the criterion of having more money than brains.

Anton's picture

The fringes of any hobby look crazy.

jeffhenning's picture

I stand corrected. Knowing this has realigned my priorities. Everything should cost a half Mill!

Seriously, though, I'm wondering how much better these will play an LP than the Technics SL turntable re-issue that costs $3K?

This is put into even starker relief when you consider that the greatest factor in the sound, by several magnitudes, is the cartridge. All the turntable, tone arm and phono pre can do is screw up the sound from the input systems transducer. They can't improve it.

Robin Landseadel's picture

The greater factor in SQ is the discs themselves. The vast bulk of LPs manufactured since 1949 are unplayable. These things, despite what some here might say, wear out. I've owned those records, you have too. Beyond that, the vast bulk of LPs manufactured within the last five years are sourced for digital files. Logic dictates that the file [source] that the LP was mastered from will be superior to the LP copy made from that source.

jeffhenning's picture

The vast bulk of all the recordings made it the last 25 years have been digital. It's not a recent phenomenon.

Look for my comments on this new Bowie vinyl release on

It's gotten a bunch of these luddites who troll there very upset:

I would consider these people to be very low information audiophiles.

Robin Landseadel's picture

I suppose my remarks make more sense in the context of the recent uptick in LP sales. Yes, "digital" LPs first appeared around 1972 [Jean-Pierre Rampal, Telemann Flute fantasias, awful 12-bit sound, Denon, reissued on the odyssey budget series of Columbia], there was a bucket-brigade delay preview circuit [lo-fi] commonly used for LP mastering in the 70's. Almost everything on LP since 1994 is digitally sourced. I've owned over 10,000 LPs, buying more than half as used LPs. I'm guessing Mikey didn't own those records, they usually had audible wear. I'm sure if one is obsessed enough LP wear can be mitigated, but there's no getting around the basic laws of physics. Things fall apart. Energy goes downhill. Tires wear out. LPs obey the same fundamental principles. Like the way the potential energy of the beginning of an LP groove is always greater than the potential energy of the end of that groove. Don't tell me I can't hear that because I always do. In one of my lives I was a recording engineer, minimal miking, acoustic music including large-scale orchestral music, no dynamic limiting on my side [mastering engineers do what they have to do].

Yeah, show me the LP with hi-def video and discreet surround sound.

Anton's picture

He is you!

Robin Landseadel's picture

Nope, I'm Barry Judd. "Jeff Albertson" worked out of a shop at the southwest corner of Dwight & Telegraph in Berkeley, told me that Matt Groening was a regular customer at Amoeba's [right across the street].

Michael Fremer's picture

But what you've posted is 100% factually untrue as anyone who shops for used records well knows. In fact, according to the WSJ there are two billion dollars worth of unplayable CDs out there. Your logic is illogical for reasons you don't yet understand. But that's ok. We can all get along.

volvic's picture

You are totally ignoring what a tonearm and turntable can do. That of course is your problem, but for the rest of us who have spent decades with vinyl these new turntables only serve to reinforce what demand there is and what a great medium vinyl is for sound reproduction and how resilient it is after all these years. Don't take my word for it ask some of Stereophile's reviewers from Dudley, Fremer, Reichert, Austin, Schryer, Micallef, Atkinson all of them have not one but even in some cases, two tables. Are they all Luddites? Doubt it.

Robin Landseadel's picture

You are totally ignoring what a tonearm and turntable can't do. That of course is your problem, but for the rest of us who have spent decades with vinyl these new turntables only serve to reinforce how the flaws of LPs can't be fixed and how far advanced modern digital recording is right now. This isn't 1982, this is 2019. This isn't about "Redbook" and CDs, this is about the recording used to master LPs and the fact that one can now hear those original files if one chooses to. I've owned multiple turntables simultaneously, thousands of LPs. I've been at this for 50 years. I've been a recording engineer, worked with a Grammy winning Producer/Engineer. I've heard really great sound from LPs but mostly I've heard in-your-face flaws. I've been at this since 1969, that's five decades, is that enough for you? Doubt it.

volvic's picture

Yes, you’re a recording engineer, we already know. Yet still after all these years you haven’t been able to convince me otherwise. I’ll side with the Tim de Paravicini’s of this world who love vinyl and its sonic qualities. Cheers.

Anton's picture

How do you rip yourself away from the mirror long enough to post here?

Tell us your bonafides some more.

To sum you up: “Waa, records suck. Do you know who I am? I’m somebody!”

Michael Fremer's picture

I own a great turntable and a dCS Vivaldi One—one of the finest SACD player/DACs you can buy. So you really have posted a bogus headline. I live very much in the present. The rest of your post isn't much better. I have an Academy Award nominated soundtrack to my credit as sound supervisor but I don't use it as a cudgel to make an argument for LPs. Such pomposity on your part. And no, it's not enough for me because I've been at it just as long as you, and Roy Halee, who has better credits than you and has been at it far longer than you, also prefers LPs. This is not about one upsmanship. It's about sonic tastes and what one hears and for me, LPs sound better than the best digital. You prefer the digits. And that's all that needs to be said by either of us.

Robin Landseadel's picture

You took this much time to respond? Something must sticking in your craw.

Ironic, that soundtrack you were involved with is primarily of a digital synth.

There's still less than half as much energy at the end of a record compared to its beginning. You can't hear it? Well good on you.

I've dumped all my records. Seems like the music I'm interested in comes in the form of defective records. I've got this thing about pitch, you see.

No need to respond.

JRT's picture

Watch the very lossy process by which pressed vinyl records are made.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be they add some 'useful additive distortions' during that process? :-) ..........

JRT's picture

I understand the humorous intent of your comment, however the nonlinear lossy nature of the process certainly does add some combination of linear distortion, nonlinear distortion, and noise to the original, and does so within the audible pass band.

Also, on playback the stylus running in the groove adds structure borne sound within the medium, traveling and reflecting within the vinyl LP. That also did not exist in the original, and did not exist in the mastering studio playback, where the playback medium was magnetic tape and is now digital. That is one of the reasons that reel to reel tape was more desirable (but also usually far more expensive), than vinyl LP when vinyl LP was the primary consumer playback medium and tape was the high-end medium. The serious audiophiles used tape, then.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Agreed ...... The SNR of vinyl is only appox. 8-10 bits ........ Compare that to approx. twice the SNR of CD's 16 bits ....... not to mention, hi-res :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Reel to reel analog tape has approx.12 bits SNR :-) ........

Anton's picture

The real answer is to listen to the formats you want to hear and go from there.

The way the vinyl haters talk, I wonder if they can even tell which record they are playing.

Relax. Have fun.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I'm not a vinyl hater, Anton ....... I don't even hate lossy MP3 and/or AAC or even Bluetooth ........ I'm 'whatever floats your boat' kinda guy about everything :-) ..........

JRT's picture

"The way the vinyl haters talk..."

I am not a hater. I have heard good sound from vinyl.

With digital it is all about listening to the music with easy access to a widely varied collection with compact storage.

With vinyl there is too much that has nothing to do with listening to music, such as all of the fondling of the physical medium and packaging materials, and the ongoing tweaking of physical components that audibly affect response of the playback front end such that no two vinyl playback systems sound the same.

I would rather tweak the loudspeakers, the DSP, and the room acoustics. I want a consistent front end signal closer to the original that the mastering engineer had intended for me to hear on well mastered recordings, and I want the ability to correct or mask problems in other less well mastered recordings of worthwhile material and save that for future playback. What I don't want to do is pollute all playback with similar alteration to everything. Doing that is like dousing everything you eat with onion powder, good for a few things, but certainly not for everything.

Regardless, it is easy to capture the output signal of the phono preamp with a good AD converter (such as the Texas Instruments PCM4222EVM), and save a lossless data file on your network attached server, and later play back the exact same signal after DA conversions, and not have to bother with a bothersome playback medium, cleaning, physical storage, protection from physical damage, etc.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I think both JA1 and MF do the same thing with some of their vinyl collection ....... A to D and D to A conversions :-) .........

volvic's picture

Not sure what the Lansdaels and Hennings of this world have to prove on these pages with their constant vitriol against vinyl. Those of us who like vinyl enjoy it and spend our hard earned dollars to improve it, we don't knock streaming or computer audio which we also use. There is plenty of room for different sources and formats, still not sure why the constant hate. There must be something deeper at play.

JRT's picture

2 more bits accommodates +12_dB of dynamic range. Archaic now, but well executed reel to reel tape was a big improvement over vinyl LPs.

jeffhenning's picture

... the ultimate in analog audio recording technology. The closest thing to it was the Hi-Fi VHS VCR.

Playing back anything on those two media sounded almost identical to the source.

Having owned a Teac X-2000M mastering deck, I know by experience.

What killed of RtR was not that it didn't sound good. It was just too expensive. 25 years ago, a single 10.5" reel of really good audio tape ran close to $50.

I love the old Technics RS-1500 deck. Great tech, awesome performance, killer looks and way too expensive to record on by year 2000. And it had been surpassed.

Such is life. Don't look back. You're not going that way.

Michael Fremer's picture

digitization by its very nature despite what's claimed by its fanboys and girls produces audible and to some intrinsically unpleasant distortions, some of which are not yet measurable but we hear them. Worse, they are "baked in" in a way that the brain cannot filter them out. One is a form of noise that produces body tension, only released by turning it off. Put on a record and it's actually quieter and the brain and body relaxes. This is observable. Science is based upon observations. One day this will be measured and you can take solace in the graphs and charts.

ok's picture

that still struggles to meet current resolution requirements modern analog hi-end hardware far exceeds its own medium capabilities.

Glotz's picture

HAHAHAH.. not.

I was just going to trash thousands of LPs just because they were obsolete!

volvic's picture

Because you were told they are apparently off center!!!! LOL!!!

David Harper's picture

and to think thirty years ago I sold a wooden crate full of 500 LP's to a record dealer for fifty dollars. Now I'm paying twenty or thirty dollars a pop for new albums to play on my new Project TT. Next thing you know I'll be buying a new 35mm film camera. Wonder where I can get one of those.

JRT's picture

billyb's picture

That is the ugliest turntable i have ever seen in my life, hands down.