TechDAS Air Force Zero Debut at Audio Salon—First Impressions Stun Listeners

Let's just say I went into the TechDAS Air Force Zero's recent debut at The Audio Salon in Santa Monica with a great deal of skepticism. A big, lumbering turntable featuring an enormous and massive multi-layer platter system seemed like a prescription for over-damped, ill focused sound. What we heard those two evenings was anything but!By the way, what you see towards the bottom of the platter is not a reflection. That is the lower part of the platter!

Once the 40 or so assembled consumers, reviewers and guests were seated, the cover came off the top of the turntable to reveal a massive platter spinner that was far more attractive in person than in pictures.

Designer and industry veteran TechDAS's Hideaki Nishikawa then explained his ultimate 771 pound turntable, which is still in development. What we heard and saw was a prototype. Multiple stacked platters might seem like a sonic "no-no", but the various platters of stainless steel, gun metal and tungsten have machined into them air chambers so when the vacuum is applied to lock the record to the platter surface, the platters too are vacuum sealed to one another forming for all intents and purposes a single massive platter, floating on an air bearing.

The modified Pabst motor—originally designed for use in Studer professional tape decks—also features an air bearing. TechDAS has bought up the world's supply of 40 new old stock Pabst motors, which limits the Zero to 40 units total, world wide. At a cost of more than $400,000, you might think few would buy such a product but we were told that at least 10 have already been pre-sold.

The Audio Salon's Maier Shadi recently completed this new showroom in a space that formerly occupied his storage room and it's among the finest sounding retail display areas I've heard anywhere in the world. It's a room easily big enough show off the unlimited power and full range of Wilson Audio Specialties WAMM Master Chronosonic loudspeakers and subwoofers all driven by Dan D'Agostino Master Systems electronics including Momentum M400 monoblock amplifiers, an HD preamplifier and phono preamplifier.

From the first record Mr. Nishikawa played to the final record I played, the crowd was treated to what all in attendance agree was the finest vinyl playback any of us have ever heard and it wasn't even close. This turntable stomped all over every other turntable I've ever heard including TechDAS's superb Air Force One Premium, and my Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn. It wasn't even close—beginning with blacker backgrounds than I've ever heard from a turntable. It was so quiet that I often worried that the system was in "mute" when suddenly the music poured forth at high SPLs from the speakers.

Fitted with a Graham Elite/TechDAS cartridge and an Swedish Analog Technologies (SAT) CF-12/Lyra Atlas SL, listeners could choose between spaciousness and warmth (Graham/TechDAS) or master tape like transient speed and transparency (SAT/Lyra). All enjoyed equally both sounds, which were three-dimensional, tonally balanced, coherent and dynamically spectacular. The system's effortlessness was revelatory. Familiar records like Masterpieces by Ellington revealed heretofore hidden textural and tonal nuances, helping to produce a "you are there" experience that thrilled on both evenings all in attendance.

While I didn't dare ask if a review sample might be possible, at the end of the second evening Mr. Nishikawa asked if I'd like to hear the Zero in my home. I expect that to happen late summer or early fall. The massive turntable will have to go "around the corner" from my equipment rack but fitting it into the room will be possible and I'm expected months of sleepless nights!

analogdw's picture

That's incredibly high praise coming from you Michael. A new 'best turntable in the world' it seems!?

Michael Fremer's picture
Could be. Ought to be considering the price!
CG's picture

Not to mention the bill for the supporting cast of equipment...

JanS's picture

I hope we get some digital comparisons to wet our appetites?!

Michael Fremer's picture
Definitely! That will draw a YouTube crowd for sure...
azmoon's picture

...crazy I'm sure. It looks ridiculous. In the literal sense - not as a compliment.

Ortofan's picture

... it was apparently impossible to find a suitable motor made as a current production item, rather than having to use a new-old-stock piece of 'unobtainium'.

What happens sometime down the road if the motor fails?
Does your $400K turntable suddenly become a 771 pound paperweight?

davip's picture

What he/she said.

This is the real elephant in the room (apart from the turntable itself) -- when there are zero replacement motors left when all 40 TTs are sold, what is the buyer to do when Their motor fails? The TechDAS 'Zero' seems to have been appropriately named in this regard. Why, for what amounts to a half-mil TT, couldn't Japanese ingenuity have fitted this model with an induction motor?

Ditto the other comments on superlatives -- I thought that diminishing-returns applied as we moved up the audiophile tree -- a $100K Rockport is not 50x better than a £2K Sondek, but this Zero is apparently so much better than a $100K TT that nothing else "...comes close".

That said, being party to the best-of-the-best, which this TT obviously is, would get most of our 'panties in a bunch' as you Septics like to say, so just put it down to audiophile blush -- it would have made this old man very happy too!

Michael Fremer's picture
Sondek is a very pleasing sounding turntable but the Rockport probably is 50 X better
Howard's picture

What he said.

Im sure these are great motors and given the relative time its actually spinning it should out last several owners, but in the physical world things do fail.

Thanks for all the great reviews, Michael. The guy we love to be jealous of. Its a tough job but somebody's got to do it, eh.

volvic's picture

If after 50 years we can take apart TD-124, Garrard and EMT motors and refurbish them, I am sure these will be serviceable as well.

Michael Fremer's picture
It's repairable.
Ortofan's picture

... your review sample arrives, perhaps you could inquire of TechDAS as to the feasibility of repairing the motor should the need arise and/or, if that is not possible, what their strategy might be to furnish a replacement?

mauidj's picture

I get really peeved by these Uber components that when released are given such praise. Nothing even comes close? Oh please. Are you telling us that all those superlatives that have been thrown at the other tables mentioned are in fact no longer relevant. This is the one single issue that I find so bloody annoying about our hobby and especially Stereophile writers.

Solarophile's picture

"It wasn't even close—beginning with blacker backgrounds than I've ever heard from a turntable. It was so quiet that I often worried that the system was in "mute" when suddenly the music poured forth at high SPLs from the speakers."

That's not possible unless the room's noise floor was too high to begin with such that the vinyl surface noise was made inaudible!

Michael Fremer's picture
Quite obviously you know better...
Michael Fremer's picture
Such black backgrounds. Sorry, but I never have.
PeterPani's picture

it will not beat a properly set up TD 124 :-)

Ortofan's picture

... an Oswalds Mill Audio slate plinth that weighs 772 lbs.

volvic's picture

But they sure do weigh a lot.

volvic's picture

Quite easily.

CG's picture

I think that products like this help show what the media (vinyl in this case) is really capable of. That's a worthy thing in itself.

I'm not sure how many of the extreme aspects of the engineering will eventually trickle down to more pedestrian products, though.

The good news is that my VW Golf gets me to work and elsewhere pretty well, even if not in the same rarified air as a Bugatti might provide. So it likely will be with turntables compared to this one.

Ortofan's picture

... compensate for off-center pressings, as did the Nakamichi turntables.

Michael Fremer's picture
That is the final frontier. However, the Nakamichi didn't sound very good.
tzh21y's picture

It did.

Michael Fremer's picture
But the Nakamichi didn't sound very good perhaps in part due to the split plinth.
OdinLoki's picture

First I would like to thank Maier Shadi for allowing me the privilege of attending the premier of the TechDAS Zero.
My first impression upon seeing a photo of the Zero was this is a highly elaborate Viking Anchor for their raiding boats. But like Micheal when seeing the Zero live its a piece of engineering art and sounds incredible especially since I am not a Jazz or Big Band fan. On this machine I could listen to both without reservation including Duke Ellington.
Of course the price is about the same as a used Ferrari 812 but man it plays.

abelb1's picture

This is very exciting. It's not often that one of these landmark products come around. I have a feeling this turntable will be one that people remember and talk about for a long time. Can't wait for the in depth review!

2395's picture

is there a video of your session listening to the tt...many thanks

BB's picture

I own a classic ~150-pound Micro Seiki table (Air Force's predecessor company) with a 50-pound stainless platter capped by a 4-pound copper platter mat for constrained-layer damping (very effective). It sounds wonderful. Most people think that this table is way-over-the-top nuts. And I can't argue. So now we have a 771-pound table to appeal to masculine one-upmanship. I'm sure it's a fine-sounding table. But, if 771-pounds is good, wouldn't 7,000 pounds be even better?Soon we'd have to dream of a 70-ton table. Why stop there, or anywhere?

At some point we have to grasp onto reality (never mind cost) and accept the principle of diminishing returns. At some point it does get silly. Take that from a guy with huge speakers and a thousand watts of tubes. I admit that I am in silly territory already.

Henk's picture

I may be missing one, but I've never seen a serious TT without a motor.

I'm wondering why, it wouldn't be so difficult to spin it up before play, and keep it up to speed with a separate flywheel, for instance through the use of an idler wheel....