The man behind this Tonearm is Marc Gomez. His intention is to engineer a Tonearm that is capable of providing very high level of mechanical performance, acting as a stable platform for the pick-up cartridge. He started the design of this Tonearm as a mechanical precision instrument, instead of some kind of tuned musical instrument, as preferred by some. Here, there is no intended "sound" by the designer but only the intention to retrieve the most music from the grooves of the record played. Therefore, the choice of materials used in making this Tonearm is based on proven laws of physics and engineering practices.
Recently, I purchased a TechDas Air Force One after a local presentation by Nishikawa San. I was impressed with the technicality of the turntable and more so, with the extreme low level noise. Layer after layer of details just flow out from well known records and well versed ancillary audio components. I was so pleased with the result of this turntable with the usual Graham Phantom 2 Tonearm on it that I raved to my fellow members at the Analogue Fellowship. Thus, a few of them actually bought the turntable. Then, I believed that the combo is as good as it gets.
Marc contacted me at the Analogue Fellowship Facebook to enquire if I be interested to give his creation a listen and review. My reply to him is a big "yes" since I have nothing to loss but only to pen down my experience. This experience led to a few other experiences that cost me. I realized the importance, the role and the effect of a Tonearm in an analogue system. I have a few formidable and well known Tonearms in my collection, but not in the price point of the SAT, and that they did not show and prove to me their effect and value in an analogue system as the SAT did.
After living with the SAT Tonearm for some months now, with all components settled in, the following is my impression of the product.
Sound wise through Miyajima Kansui cartridge.
What do I get from a simple human voice?
Music can invoke certain emotional response from the listener, whether it be live or reproduction done right. I would love to start up any new addition to my audio system with a certain music of choice that most suit my mood at that instance. Here I love to start up with something simple and easily recognizable, the human voice. The human voice, to me at least, is a medium that carry the inner realm of the person, in which case the singer. It can be an acted emotion or a true essence of oneself. It is rich and multi layer or facet of one's self at that moment of recording. There are instances when I listen to a well versed recording (that I know so well) of a simple vocalist accompanied by a few musicians that I am taken into the presentation in a new way. I will be impressed if that invoke a certain new level of emotion in me. Flow with me here, imagine that the same song or music or tone that you know so well suddenly be given a new level of emotional suspense and surprise. I love to draw this through the album of Nah Youn Sun, "Voyage" (Silk Road Music SRM008LP), when the first instance the stylus drop onto the groove, her expressionism took on a new level of presence. The voice carries a certain weight that carry a tone to the end. You will notice how freely and clearly a particular word or sentence being voice with emotion that continue or stop at the right instance. Some may call this "detail retrieval", but to me it's not that simple. This SAT Tonearm with a cartridge that I know, is able to dig out the grooves a certain manner that tones are presented with layer after layer of rich tonality. It's not bloom or weighty mid here but that tones are able to present to a new level of expressiveness. Just listen to the way a particular word is sang and you will get the point above.
Next, I love to have you hear Amina Claudine Myers in her audiophile favorite album,"Amina Claudine Myers Salutes Bessie Smith" (Leo Records LR 103), especially track 3 of side A, "Jailhouse Blues". Here, she sang with such clarity of her emotion that one is able to slice and size up her emotion at that moment. To me, it can be the hidden available information that allow the voice to enjoy such palpability that the emotional content therein rise up to the surface like a highlight of the presentation. If given another combination, I can only tell you how beautiful her voice was.
Another trip on the same lane here, I wish to draw to a local flavor (Singapore Artist), Kit Chan in her debut album on vinyl (NCKCLP001). In this album, I love to start up my audio system with track 2, it's the title track of a famous Hong Kong drama series,"Triumph in the Sky" that involve a simple vocal accompanied mainly by a piano, a guitar and bass. Here, I go for the richness of vocalization and expressionism of the artist. This set up allows me to get this in full and beyond that I can connect with the artist's expression and feeling for the characters' in the drama series. I have to admit that this maybe contributed to the fact that I know the drama series. On a more audiophile term, the vocal floated in a jet black and quiet background adds to the realism and fruition of the above. At track 4, Kit Chan was asked to wait for her queue then the musician starts, here you can literally hear and feel the atmosphere of the recording session and the realism of her voice came in. This is not just a listening alone but experiencing one ( at least to me).
On a faster pace musical play?
A number of my friends love to have me play Bruce Katz Band's "Crescent Crawl"(AudioQuest AQ-LP1012), and they expect me to play this at "live volume level". If not, they exclaim,"it wouldn't be fun". The term "fun" can mean a number of factors and the culmination of them all. They, including myself, expect the live event kind of presence in the musical presentation.
"Presence", to me, requires a good or right amount of (controlled) bass or low energy that stay at its boundary, without unwanted overhang and drag, and will not "disturb the treble region". Here, I like to take Lorne Entress' drums hits, I hear and experience every single hit is with different strength and energy. Even the transient of the lowest note to the highest note is so clean that one can literally follow the musical flow and pace, as intended by Bruce Katz in leading the team.
"Presence is not lost even in the most complex and congested passage, even as the pace picks up!", is required here. At every track in this album, I notice that each musical instrument enjoys its exclusive space, moment and atmosphere. Even in a heavy and congested passage, every musician is in his space that one can point them out easily. When the moment came for the exclusivity of a musician, one can literally hear and experience the start and end of a blanket. Throughout the whole, the atmosphere surrounding the whole recording session is present through this set up of Tonearm and cartridge. Thus, to me, a toe tapping session that indicate my soul and body signed the approval in this department.
What about a bigger play?
An orchestra like the Dallas Wind Symphony led by Howard Dunn in "Fiesta" (Reference Recordings RR-38) is called into play. This album contains tracks with loud and complex passages coupled with soft and simple passages. When orchestra or big band is in play, I love to play them at peak around 100db ("live volume level?"). The SAT Tonearm allows the cartridge to track so well that at congested passage with a sudden "grand slam" of the lowest region to maintain its definition and directivity. I have hear too many combination at my analog rig to fall below this mark.
Another area of "presence" that I wish to draw is that, through this combo, the big orchestra is able to be presented with a clean wave of subsonic presence. The low low is so clean that it stay at your feet level and never disturb the higher low. Thus, one is able to perceive the source of this low low from the depth of the grand soundstage.
The big play is usually done in a big space which is bigger than most home audio set up. It be most difficult to reproduce such, to say the least. To me, a big and grand audio system can give an illusion of the actual play with the help of our mind that tends to be active and imaginative, if so chooses, thus able to fill in the gap where our audio system fail. Here, I take the album, "Count Basie/Live at the Sands (before Frank)" from Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL 2-401) recorded live with audiences. The SAT Tonearm is able to carry the Miyajima Kansui cartridge to play the big band way bigger, broader and deeper than any other Tonearms that I had tried it with. I am hearing wall to wall and floor to ceiling of a soundstage with depth that easily distance the band from the audiences with a layer of atmosphere. Throughout the whole presentation, the clear and distinct presence of the audiences is vivid that one can almost feel the glass of wine pouring. Let me order something here...waiter?
At this point, it is clear to me that the SAT Tonearm is able to carry the Miyajima Kansui cartridge to a level that I have yet heard.
A Solid Performer with the ZYX Omega Gold cartridge...
A definite switch of presentation from the Miyajima Kansui compare to the ZYX Omega Gold. I wish to begin stating the above, the ZYX allows the SAT Tonearm, or vice versa, to present music with solid and control mid and low bass. Each tone is solidly played with clear definition, delineation and closure. Some may call this as higher treble energy or attack. I hear the same amount of detail and resolution which I can easily say both cartridges are of equal league but very different tonality and presentation. I have set up both cartridges on some other Tonearms such as the Graham Phantom 2, SME V, Cartridge Man Linear Tracker arm and the Breuer. All the above mentioned did allow both cartridges to present differently but not at the level of difference as the SAT Tonearm. To me, the SAT Tonearm is so much more transparent to the cartridge used, but at a price point equally as great.
A detail impression of the SAT Tonearm with the above mentioned cartridge on the TechDas Air Force One, is available in my upcoming review of a full Vitus Masterpiece components system that comprised the MPD-201 DAC, MPP-201 Phono stage, MPL-201 Pre amp and MPM-201 Mono amp.
The SAT Tonearm does come at a price point that is not easily reachable by most. The same goes for most product at the upper echelon. This is indeed a "Tonearm of Tonearms" and there aren't that many Tonearm that is able to compete against it.
Danon Han Hong Den
Ed. note; The test sample is a pre-production unit. The production units will have a much improved finish as it was shown in Munich.