Which one would you choose; a new CD player or a new Mazda 3? Would you prefer a new turntable or a two-bedroom apartment by the beach on the Gold Coast?

 

18 Audio Research CD9SE d

 

There’s a small number of audio fundamentalists who spend staggering amounts on premium equipment for even a fractional improvement in sound quality. Whether these improvements actually exist or are all the minds of the listener is a subject of lively debate, but it doesn’t matter really; it’s an improvement for them even if they only think they can hear it. Now some new tests of their resolve have emerged.

Let’s take CD players first, maybe it will soften you up a bit for the turntable. But first some context: The Marantz CD5005 is a very good CD player indeed and sells for $629. Arcam’s CDS50 is a ripper for $1495. If these prices sound a bit high to you Audio Research, an American company that’s been at the high end for 50 years, has unveiled its CD9SE for $24,995. And it has a little brother; the CD6SE at $16,995.

These are special things if you’re into CDs, and plenty of purists are. With CD players it’s all about the transport (that’s the bit that spins up and reads the CD) and it’s why both new models are built around the Philips Pro2 transport, considered the industry standard.

But what amazed me is that the company has optimised the electronics and transports so exactingly for CDs that they won’t play SACDs or any other form of optical disc. These are CD players for the true believers.

18 TechDAS turntablePlenty of people prefer turntables and there are some around from $500 that perform very nicely. They have a good diamond stylus mounted in a good cartridge on a good arm and they give a truly vinyl sound. From there prices move steadily north. The venerable Linn Sondek LP12, depending on the cartridge, tonearm and stylus you specify, can cost anything from $9000 to $14,000 and it’s arguably the industry yardstick. Even so it’s not unusual to see turntables from specialist brands sitting in the mid to high 20s.

But now there is the TechDAS Air Force Zero turntable from Japan which sells, in its simplest form (that is, with the titanium platter and tonearm base rather than then optional tungsten numbers) for $570,000.

The big enemy of turntables (apart from all the other ones) is vibration, as you will know if you’ve ever danced in a house with wooden floors where the major music source is a turntable. But the folk with the golden ears can be upset by vibrations that couldn’t jiggle a sleeping helium atom on a windless day. They complain especially about vibrations that can’t even be felt setting up resonances between the tonearm and the platter that, to them anyway, make the London Phil sound like the Boise High School Band.

So they like heavy turntables, the heavier the better. Heavier turntables are less likely to be bothered by the errant flap of a butterfly’s wing in Peru, and this is where the Air Force Zero delivers in spades. It weighs 350 kilograms. And yet the platter ‘floats’ on an air bearing.

According to Sound and Image magazine it’s the creation of fabled Japanese audio engineer Hideaki Nishikawa and will go into production later this year. He’s only making 40 so get your deposit in now.

Then again you never know, in a few years you might pick up a cheap second-hand one on eBay. Tip: Make sure the seller includes delivery.

First published by smh.com.au May 2019.

 

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