That kind of sums up the Japanese house of Air Tight for me.
The Osaka-based bespoke electronics manufacturer celebrated its 30th anniversary last April, which is no small feat for an esoteric tube amplification-based company. I’m sure a large part of their longevity is due to the fact that Japan is still home to what many consider the most discerning audiophiles on the planet. Audiophiles who make no apologies for their longstanding love of tube amplification. Even during the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s when transistors ruled the sonic-reproduction world, many long-time hifi gurus I’ve spoke with have said tubes were still staunchly qualified as “the best” for musical playback in Japan.
Over the years Atsushi Miura, with his engineering partner Atsushi Ishiguro have expanded the company’s expertise to include pre-amps, step-up transformers, and low-output moving-coil cartridges. Their PC-1 Supreme ($11,000 USD)cartridge is a favorite of mine on the show circuit for it’s transparency, deft emotional touch, texture, and thought-provoking image presentation. So imagine how I felt when I saw the company’s flagship anniversary Opus-1 LOMC cartridge ($15,000 USD) on a modified Transrotor SME tonearm (5009JR $3,500 USD) pulling music from the grooves of an LP riding high on a Transrotor Orion turntable ($30,000 USD). Don’t imagine, I’ll tell you: I felt giddy.
Now add in the brand new Air Tight 3211 mono blocks (available March 2017) and a prototype Air Tight ATE-X moving-magnet phono stage (multiple phono curves – RIAA, AES, FFRR – no release date or price at this point) and the hulking Piega Coax 711 three-way floor standers… giddy-up.
The ATM-3211 monaural power amplifier (120 watts into 6 Ohms) features a pair of the venerable,and supremely musical 211 output valves used in a push-pull triode configuration with a 12AX7 first-differential circuit and three 12BH7 valves configured as cathode-followers in parallel. The 211 is fast gaining ground with me as one of my most coveted output valves for their visceral power presentation, most notably in the lower/mid octaves, and feeling of almost unlimited headroom in the upper registers. A very addictive combination, but one that inevitably comes with a high price for entry, as 211 amps don’t usually come on the cheap. So be forewarned, as this sound is addictive.
The sound from this obviously, lovingly curated system was akin to an out-of-body experience near as I can tell. The music felt right, and harmonious. It had astounding detail, but it didn’t call attention to the detail. It was merely there if you wanted to focus on that instead of the musical pattern the gear wove through the few songs I heard played in my limited time here.
Not unlike a fine whiskey or wine, this type of sonic reproduction does not hit one over the head, and shout “I’m so gooooooood!” No, it plays around your edges, and draws you in. It unravels the loose thread on your sweater, and pulls until you’re sitting there oblivious, and half naked. This isn’t what I’d call music for the masses, it’s for those looking to develop their palate.