TechDAS? That’s the ‘open your wallet and repeat after me... help yourself!’ turntable brand, isn’t it? Everything rides on a column of money powered by several air compressors. That’s not for real people, that’s for those with hot and cold running Ferraris! Granted, the Japanese company TechDAS does make some extremely good turntables that are priced well into the ‘super-deck’ category. In fact, at Munich this year, the company showed its strictly limited edition AirForce Zero, which costs close to a cool half a million (it doesn’t really make much difference whether that is ‘US dollars, ‘British pounds’ or ‘Euros’... half a million of them is quite ‘spendy’ for a record player, no matter how good, how rare, or how many parts of it are held aloft by air). But this is often the way of things in audio; a company makes a range of products from the aspirationally priced right up into the stratosphere, and all that gets talked about is the one that frets the firmament. Meanwhile, devices like the AirForce V keep banging away, making a top-class sound that is universally liked almost under the radar. There Ain’t No Justice!
In fact, it’s best to just ignore the bigger AirForce decks when looking at the V; not because they are intrinsically better, but just because they are bigger and attention grabbers, by virtue of the sheer amount of technology and, of course, that price tag. The size of even the smallest TechDAS model doesn’t quite reach to EF Schumacher’s ‘small is beautiful’ epithet (it’s still a relatively stocky turntable fed by a very solid air plenum system), but it’s an attractive deck in a form-follows-function kind of way – in its grey finish, it’s got that 1950s laboratory chic down pat. And there’s that price tag, which at a tenth that of the the original model and lose to one fiftieth that of the limited run AirForce Zero, is worthy of note.
The primary difference between AirForce V and other models centres on the turntable’s platter. Where the standard Air Force platter is made from a single piece of material such as aircraft aluminium or stainless steel, the V uses an inner and outer platter arrangement. This helps keep costs and size and weight down to manageable levels. It also does without many of the side posts and additional damping, giving a footprint akin to that of the AirForce III, but without the side motor tower; by making a platter with a sub-platter, the belt doesn’t need to wrap around the outside of the platter, and the motor housing can be inside the main plinth of the turntable, in a manner not too dissimilar from designs like the SME and the Linn LP12.
Those aspects of design help take the top decks to the sort of levels required by systems at the absolute pinnacle of performance, but the AirForce V doesn’t sacrifice much in the way of performance at all. Sure, if you have a system that is well into six and even approaching seven figures, then the sort of resolution most of those systems generate and demand will make the difference between this deck and its bigger brothers pretty noticeable, but for more normal humans, this might just be all you need.
Here’s the big thing. If you are one of those who thinks a manual is for wimps, and is something that should only be read if the build-up goes off the rails, then have someone else build your TechDAS Air Force V. It’s not that the manual is complex (although it is comprehensive) or that the AirForce V is twitchy or unreliable. It’s that there is a set way of putting the turntable together, some of the construction process is slightly counter-intuitive, and if you don’t move from logical step to logical step you can stress or even damage your AirForce V. It’s also vital that you get that glass air-flow platter scrupulously clean before you build it up, anything thicker than a fingerprint will undemine airlfow across the whole platter and isn’t a good long-term plan. A lurking cat that seems to know the exact moment and tactically best place to shed fur is not a good idea.
Once built, however, the deck is a solid and remarkably stable performer. If radio stations were still using turntables extensively, this would be classed as a transcription type turntable for both its ability to keep on turning as it exudes solidity of design and purpose. There isn’t much in the way of adjustment in the feet, however, so whatever it sits upon needs to be and remain extremely level. .