A Review By Stereophile

Airtangent tonearm
Arnis Balgalvis, February, 1989

Tonearms, like Rodney Dangerfield, never get no respect. When was the last time you heard someone actually argue the merits of a tonearm? Right, not recently. "Hey, I just got that new Gizmo tonearm!" "Oh yeah? What cartridge are you using?" People pick out the cartridge for praise and consideration time after time, while the tonearm gets taken for granted.

Change the material of the wires in the tonearm, or the interconnects to the preamp, and, granted, you'll get more attention than having switched to a tonearm with, say, an azimuth adjustment. After all, how much can it matter? The tonearm is not in the direct path of the signal. All it does is hold the cartridge, and as long as the geometry and VTF are within reason, it's doing a good job. Once again—no respect.

But the tonearm's role goes well beyond a mere support function. Due to its early appearance in the playback hierarchy, the tonearm can have a profound influence on the overall outcome of the musical event. And that's without touching on any functional or even aesthetic aspects of this component.

As a matter of fact, I submit that the tonearm is not only the most active, but also the most influential component in your system. Every time a record is played, the tonearm is involved. It's an integral part of the playback ritual. The tonearm not only points the cartridge in the right direction, it also cues over to the right spot, raises the cartridge, and lowers it into the groove.

But it's not until the stylus settles into the groove that the tonearm becomes a crucial, active component of the reproduction chain. Besides having to keep the cartridge in step with the advancing spiral of the groove itself, the tonearm has to bear the swings and narrows of outrageous excursions. With luck, these will be recorded information, but anomalies of the black disc also have to be accommodated.

Consider this analogy: A pair of binoculars can be the brightest and the best, but if you don't hold them still the magnification and resolution are wasted. Gripping them in your hands is not enough; even with your elbows pressed to your sides, all you will see is a blur—the image wanders, jitters, and drifts. But if the elbows are supported on something firm, like a wall, everything steadies. Put the binoculars on a tripod, and the results are rock-solid.

The tonearm has a similarly vexing task, only carried a step further. Take the same binoculars to a floating boat, stand up in it, and now try to sight on something far away. Better still, look at a bird in flight.

Well, a stylus riding a record groove has similar requirements. The cartridge has to be held rigidly and perfectly aligned by the tonearm in order to avoid image shifts, blurred transients, grundge, and the like. Except for one small problem—the groove is a moving target. It is cut in a spiral, requiring the tonearm to keep up with this path. The pressing could also be off-center, or worse, warped. It's a one-shot deal, in real time no less, without the benefit of error correction.

The tonearm, acting from a shifting reference position, has to provide the cartridge with enough steadying influence to allow the stylus to correctly garner every recorded nuance from the speeding record groove. And as if all that was not enough, the requirements also include adjustments for VTF, VTA, azimuth, and overhang.

Granted, it's complicated. But is the tonearm really influential? Most definitely. The point is that a tonearm can make or break (oops, poor choice of words, here in the world of megabuck cartridges) a cartridge. A cartridge cannot do the same for a tonearm.

For once, you're not at the mercy of garbage in, garbage out; instead, you're in a position to minimize it. What we have here is a case for generating minimum distortion at the point where the signal originates. It has been said before, and I'll say it again—if you don't get it right at the beginning, forget it.

The tonearm is there to make the cartridge look good by customizing its relationship to the groove, which, in turn, will optimize the interpolation of the recorded information. Here I refer to more than just the built-in facilities for trimming VTA and azimuth settings. We have now entered the subtle world of structural resonances, bearing stiffness, and similarly complex design problems. We have also crossed an imaginary line separating the engineering world from the realm of art.

Respectfully, I rest my case.

Fortunately, there are individuals who not only respect tonearms, but who are committed to perfecting them. One of these people, Leif Haggmark, designer and developer of the Airtangent tonearm and the Swedish Magnepan and Krell distributor, has left no room for doubt about his commitment.

The idea behind this tonearm was to accomplish everything I have discussed and then some. That "then some" includes low moving mass in both planes, controlled resonances in the armtube, and user conveniences galore. Also, the finish is excellent, the design admirable, and the execution stunning.

Obviously, a very exciting product. But there must be a catch somewhere. There is—it costs $3200. Sure, the Airtangent is imported from Sweden, but the biggest reason is the small number of audiophiles who partake of such sumptuous goodies. It's a case of supply and demand—of performance, that is.

The reigning ethos is that every little vinyl niche hides yet another nuance that must be explored. As a result, equipment that can live up to such expectations must perform to an upward-spiraling performance standard. Such high-performance products are available, but somebody has to foot the bill for the development—that small number of customers who appreciate these specialty items. The result? High bottom-line manufacturing costs for such products as the Airtangent.

It saddens me to see the very limited press that some very significant product developments get. It's a shame that more people will not enjoy or benefit from these remarkable fruits of intense dedication, nor those responsible get the recognition they deserve. But such is the fate of singlemindedness, I suppose. But as small as the high-end community is, the appreciation for audio exotica is intense. Leif tells me that a total of 325 Airtangents have been sold worldwide.

The Airtangent started out innocently enough. Leif merely intended to satisfy his own need for an all-out tonearm, so he built a few prototypes. Word of his achievement somehow got out—in the audiophile community there is really no such concept as secrecy—and his fame spread quickly. Before he realized it, his pet project had outgrown the bounds of unassuming private adventure. At that point Leif made a decision to go into the tonearm business and the rest is history.

Speaking to Leif bore out my theory that achievements in the high end are based on the drive of a few individuals. His intensity, pride, and perseverance are nothing but admirable. (He got up at 4AM—his time—to phone in an explanation and some background information for this review.) It was also fascinating to see that express shipments from Sweden were much faster than some of the local transactions. In most instances, two days was all it took.

It is also why he never stops making improvements. A case in point is the cueing mechanism. When I first saw it, all he had was a manually operated mechanism. It did what it was required to do, but that was all. Next thing I know, the cueing bar is motor-driven. Leif had incorporated a small motor, normally used in cameras, in his design. Just recently I received a very sleek-looking mechanism which hides the movement of the cueing bar. This adds considerably to the overall elegance of the design. Leif says that he is driven to design the perfect product; I have detected nothing in his attitude that would lead me to doubt that premise.

The Airtangent—an Overview
Just what makes the Airtangent so special? Let's start with first impressions, something especially important for a tonearm costing $3200.

How many high-end products do you know that come packaged in an attache case? A flip of the lid is all that's needed to display each of the Airtangent's component parts, all properly secured in neatly contoured compartments of bright red foam. Against that background, the black and metallic finish of the components stands out ever so much more prominently and invitingly. This beautiful sight is bettered only when the Airtangent has been installed on a turntable.

Of course, the basic design is something we should know more about. In the case of the Airtangent, it's all in the name. While the "Air" part is obvious, the "tangent" may not be.

A tangent is a straight line touching a circle at one point only. More of interest here is another geometric fact: a tangent is always perpendicular to a radius of that circle. Simply put, if we keep the tip of the cantilever tangent to the record groove, the tip will always remain on the radius of the groove. Since the raison d'etre of a straight-line tonearm is to replicate the original traverse of the cutting stylus, we are home free. All we need is a virtually frictionless bearing design—and air is the way to go.

Such rigorous design requirements demand exacting tolerances. Not only must the parts fit properly, the structural integrity has to cope with resonances, stress, and stability. Recognizing this, an interesting conglomeration of materials can be found interspersed throughout the Airtangent, including acrylic, aluminum, copper, steel, magnesium, and titanium.

Every conceivable adjustment has been built into the Airtangent. Tracking force is set by a sliding counterweight, overhang and azimuth by a movable arm tube. VTA has a ball-bearing race with rack-and-pinion "steering." Also included is a damping trough for taming more exuberant playback situations.

But the one feature that sets this arm apart from the crowd is a honey: cartridges, completely adjusted and aligned, can be changed in seconds! That alone should make the Airtangent worth the price of admission!

As the air-tube is suspended only at one end, the other end is free, allowing the air-bearing sleeve to be easily slid off. Whole tonearm assemblies, balanced and set for each individual cartridge, can be exchanged with the greatest of ease. Just unplug a single connector for the cartridge signal, and the air-bearing sleeve and armtube are free to be removed. Slide another assembly in place, connect it, and you're all set to use another cartridge. The whole process takes less time than it took to read this.

But there's more. The icing on the cake is the electronically operated cueing bar for lowering and raising the cartridge, as well as the end-of-record auto-lift feature. The latter feature is a truly worthwhile convenience seldom seen on a high-end tonearm (footnote 1).

Last, but not least, my favorite part—execution. Nothing but the best workmanship and parts have been used. For example, Tiffany are used for the output connections to the preamp, and Lemo connectors elsewhere. I've already mentioned the interesting intermingling of exotic materials in use here, as well as the Airtangent's stunning design presence. But it's at the detail level that praise should be heaped. Every little detail seems to fall into place, resulting in a product that has my highest admiration.

I don't hesitate to mention a Rolls-Royce and an Airtangent in the same breath—it's a design that easily conjures up thoughts of other renowned creations. The Hasselblad, for one, springs to mind for obvious reasons—its reputation is legendary, and it also hails from Sweden.

What hath Leif wrought
The basic air-bearing mechanism is very simple. First, take a hollow rod and hold it stationary, in a horizontal position. Next, close off one end, and force pressurized air outward through numerous tiny holes drilled radially in the wall of the rod. Now slide a sleeve over it, keeping the clearance between the two pieces to about one thousandth of an inch (25um), and attach an armtube for the cartridge. You're in business (footnote 2). Well, almost.

In the Airtangent, one end of the hollow rod is attached to the "mounting tower," a block of acrylic roughly 2½" high and 1½" square. The rod, 6 7/8" long and 1" in diameter, is suspended horizontally as a cantilever. This rod—the air-tube—is the source for the tiny air-streams used to create the air bearing for the sleeve assembly. To maintain the required accuracy and stability, the air-tube is manufactured from titanium. The air holes are not visible to the naked eye. The air can, however, be felt if a hand is placed very close to the tube.

The mounting tower is actually in two parts. One half is stationary and bolted to the armboard. The other is free to move vertically, and acts as a central coupling point for all the components comprising the tonearm. A miniature rack-and-pinion gear assembly is provided to move the two pieces with respect to each other. The two pieces are accurately linked by a vertically aligned linear ball bearing, and can be moved with respect to each other with the help of the rack-and-pinion.

The key word here is "vertically"—OK, you guessed it—that's the VTA adjustment. The shaft of the pinion is accessible, and attaches to a lever. VTA changes are effected by rocking the lever, vertically displacing the air-tube and the sleeve-bearing assembly. A locking screw secures the desired position. This couples the two pieces of the mounting tower together, and provides the necessary mechanical integrity for stable playback conditions.

The stationary half of the mounting tower fastens to the tonearm board with a ½" bolt. (Even the ½" Allen wrench is provided in the mounting kit.) Torquing this bolt home establishes very solid contact between the two surfaces.

But Leif goes beyond this. To avoid rotation of the mounting tower in the horizontal plane, three pointed screws, about 1/8" in diameter, extend through the tower vertically. The points penetrate the surface, anchoring the whole assembly in place.

The active parts of the tonearm are attached to the air-bearing sleeve. Here, on the platter side, we find a clamp holding one end of the armtube for the cartridge. This 71/4"-long magnesium armtube does not differ significantly in size from those in ordinary pivoted designs. It's a sleek-looking tapered tube extending over the platter, with a rectangular platform for the cartridge at the end. The other end is gripped by a clamp on the aluminum air-bearing sleeve. This keeps the weight down and the rigidity high. The inside is filled with foam for damping, and to keep the cartridge signal wires from rattling.

The clamp is loosened to align the cartridge, thus freeing up the armtube. For overhang, move it along its axis; for azimuth, around it. The settings are locked into place by tightening the clamp.

A sliding counterweight on the opposite side of the air-bearing sleeve balances the cartridge and the armtube to provide the required VTF. A couple of weights are supplied, one large, the other smaller, to accommodate a range of cartridges. For the same reason, the armtube comes in two stiffnesses: the standard armtube, and a mechanically bolstered version (optional) for cartridges requiring more rigidity. Leif mentioned the MC-3000 and the Koetsus as candidates for this application.

The cartridge signal passes from the armtube to the mounting tower via Litz wire from a special source. Besides its electrical purpose, this miniature cable is the only mechanical link between the air-bearing sleeve and the outside world. Some very careful positioning of these wires is necessary to avoid drag from this source. The spring action of these tiny wires can seriously impede the virtually frictionless air bearing if not treated with care. These wires are terminated at a miniature Lemo connector which plugs into its mate on the mounting tower.

Signals from the arm proper are routed to a pair of Tiffany jacks on an outboard termination box. This interface box also provides a junction point for the vinyl air-supply hose from the pump. (The latest versions also house the circuitry and battery for the cueing mechanism.) The On/Off switch for this mechanism terminates here as well. I found this box very useful, as all external connections—electrical signals or air supply—are conveniently co-located.

Leif's thoroughness extends all the way to the air-supply pump. To provide even air flow, the pump includes a reservoir for storing a small volume of pressurized air. The pneumatic nature of air helps smooth out the individual thrusts of the pumping action.

Any way you look at it, the overall result is very impressive. The Airtangent projects a powerful, elegant image.

Mounting Excitement
I can't tell you how happy I was to have everything fall into place very smoothly while mounting the Airtangent. I wanted to get the job done quickly and get on with using the tonearm, but I also wanted to savor this process; I seldom handle such refined equipment.

Once again, Leif came through. Except for a called-for ½" drill bit, everything necessary for mounting, setup, and adjustment was supplied. He has assembled a very comprehensive collection of tools, templates, and alignment aids to simplify the installation of his tonearm. Most everything you can think of was included here: the necessary Allen wrenches, a drilling template, the hardware, and a number of setup jigs. These last consisted of a blank record to help set the final level of the turntable, and the straight-line jig for positioning the stylus of the cartridge. I was impressed.

After savoring each component during the get-acquainted process, I proceeded to mount it on the armboard. Fortunately, I still have the VPI HW-19 Mk.II on loan from Harry Weisfeld. Of the many aspects of this product that type it as an audiophile product, one in particular stands out. This turntable is extremely well-suited for changing tonearms. With each tonearm mounted on its own tonearm board, the whole assembly can be removed easily and substituted with another. I can report happily that the Airtangent was mounted without a hitch. As a matter of fact, I was pleasantly surprised how smoothly the setup and alignment went. Of great help here was my previous experience with the ET-2, another parallel-tracking, air-bearing tonearm. That arm taught me the importance of leveling, and how to deal with little nagging problems such as dressing the cartridge signal wires for minimum drag.

But not everything came up roses. Wiring the termination box was pretty frustrating: too many inaccessible parts in cramped quarters, and short tonearm leads, required that the work be performed very close to the turntable. I hope Leif gets a chance to redesign the box next time around.

Other improvements could be made: First of all, a high-quality stylus-force gauge should be included with a product like the Airtangent. That would make the set-up process independent of existing equipment.

Second, a dial gauge should be available, maybe as an option, for calibrating the VTA settings. At the very least, some markings along the linear bearing in the mounting tower are desirable to keep track of the VTA position. And don't tell me to use the position of the rack-and-pinion lever; that's too coarse, and not in keeping with the precise nature of this instrument.

Third, the azimuth adjustment should be more substantial. It's not enough to loosen the clamp and rotate the armtube. These rotational increments are haphazard, and, while better than none at all, something along the lines of the Triplanar method would be welcome.

Airtangent has made wonderful progress in rewriting and generally overhauling their instruction manual. I have seen three editions of it, and am happy to report vastly improved results. The initial version was written in Swinglish and left a lot to be desired. Now, besides much-improved English, illustrations have been added and helpful hints abound. The latest version is clear, instructive, and truly helpful.

Sonic Impressions
As you have no doubt surmised, I have nothing but the highest regard for the design and execution of this product. But it was the sonic performance that really took me by surprise. I had a very good idea that it was going to be good—too much reliable fanfare had preceded it—but I was unprepared for the excellent sonic revelations awaiting me.

Oh yes, this was special. It was obvious well before the first cut was completed, and before any adjustments were optimized. I just knew that I was dealing with an extremely exciting product, and that a new level (at least for me) of sonic refinement had been attained. And that's from someone who owns the SME V and Well-Tempered tonearms.

The music immediately came to life with a marvelously refined and inordinately stable soundstage, the lifting of several layers of veiling, and, overall, meticulous, rich, and harmonious reproduction. It was stunning!

Airtangent is my name, and details are my game! That's what this tonearm was telling me. It sure was music to my ears: mesmerizing, thrilling, I couldn't get enough of it. I played whole sides of album after album, marveling the whole time at how much more information was still available from records I have been playing for years.

Three cartridges were used to evaluate the Airtangent: Koetsu Rosewood Sapphire Signature, Ortofon MC-3000, and Monster Cable Alpha Genesis 1000. All three performed extremely well, but the most potent coupling resulted with the MC-3000. The very low tip mass and the Fritz Gyger "Replicant" stylus profile contributed to the spectacular sonics, which featured detail, definition, and dynamics with unprecedented precision.

To be fair, since I am singling out performance aspects, it should be mentioned that the Alpha Genesis 1000 turned into a remarkably dynamic performer; I nodded in approval many times, while the Koetsu displayed harmonic richness of sumptuous proportions. I have no doubt that each cartridge benefited handily from being fitted to the Airtangent.

Other equipment used for this review consisted of the following: the VPI HW-19 Mk.II turntable supported by an Arcici "Lead Balloon" stand; Museatex PA-6i, ARC SP-11 Mk.II, and Krell KRS-2 preamps; Krell KMA-100 Mk.II, Classe DR-9, and Museatex MTR-101 power amps; Apogee Diva and Celestion SL-600 loudspeakers; Museatex interconnects and speaker cables.

I suspect that the apt ergonomics of the Airtangent aided the excellent sonic performance. The significantly simplified setup procedure made it possible to quickly zero in on the best performance, thus setting the tone for very relaxed listening sessions. Since readjustments were convenient and could be approached without apprehension, the tonearm was viewed and treated favorably at every step of the way.

The Airtangent had a very transparent, smooth, and delicate character. I got the feeling that the stylus behavior was more precise now that the alignment requirements were better fulfilled. Since the stylus was positioned to deal with the complex groove modulations more effectively, the musical mosaic appeared to fall into place effortlessly. An excellent demonstration of this is the "Silent Night" cut from Cantate Domino (Proprius PROP 7762). Not only was the sweep of the choir very wide and deep, it was also wonderfully delineated to individualize the members of the choir. The acoustic of the church and the multi-hued choral colors were rendered with marvelous presence. The carefully crafted sound appeared less labored, conveying a feeling of freedom and openness.

That goes for every cartridge I used—each responded with more detail. And since detail is the staple of such desirable sonic commodities as air, space, nuance, intonation, and harmonies, just about every recording became an exciting adventure.

Most of the drama materialized in a soundspace presentation of billowing proportions. The soundstage not only grew considerably as far as width and depth was concerned, but became more coherent and seemed filled to capacity with ambience cues. The performers, in general, remained in their accustomed positions, but now their presence was more prominent and clearly outlined. While better imaging contributed considerably, the more gratifying contribution was the airy surround enveloping each performer. Everyone's presence was more profound, and the illusion of a more credibly recreated musical event was more pronounced. The music could be as diverse as the solemn Cantate Domino, or Larry McNeely's bluegrass on Sheffield (LAB-9), and the presentation was clearly perceived in a more involving fashion.

The most-asked question about the Airtangent was the low end. "How's the bass? Does it go low enough?" they would ask. What I heard through the Divas did not give me an indication to suspect a shortfall in low-bass performance. The wallop and push were there to render full orchestras credibly, with enough attack and excellent dynamics.

In fact, the definition in this area, as heard on the Telarc Carmina Burana, was remarkable. The impacts of bass drums and the decays that followed were rendered with great clarity. And when I played Robert Gibson's piece for double-bass and oboe (Spectrum SR-313), it seemed I could count each vibration.

In keeping with its ability to keep every note and nuance in place, the Airtangent displayed an unremitting ability to portray most of each recording's essential attributes, good or bad, starkly intact. Though such thorough truthfulness can become a liability, the situation here was the direct opposite. Sure enough, a number of recordings were brought to their knees, revealing a few very unsavory character flaws. But most of the time these exposes were exciting. Many recordings could now be seen in a more fascinating light than before, and were, therefore, sonically more eloquent.

Improved dynamics also contributed significantly to the second coming of many of my recordings. I repeatedly found myself marveling at the added sock, push, and punch of many favorites. The Chesky Scheherazade (RC-4) was a good case in point. The shudders and throbs of full orchestral assaults pulsated with more energy and involved more acoustic space.

Digging out old favorites can very dramatically point to sonic gains. The "Most of Us are Sad" cut from The Eagles album (Asylum SD-5054) did just that. The voices had more power, the drums kicked harder, and the bass guitar had additional strength. That's not to imply any loss of delicacy. Many new nuances sprang forth with vim and vigor, and the articulation of transients and harmonies was rendered with remarkable clarity.

The Airtangent also had a say in trackability. The same cartridges had been used in other arms, namely the SME V and WTA, and, while the results were generally gratifying, a certain loss of control at high recording levels was apparent. Loud passages would tend to become edgy and turn nasty.

A good example is Van Morrison's Moondance album (WB BSK-3103). Here Van has been recorded to give his already ragged voice a very peaky edge. I didn't realize how much of an improvement was possible until the Airtangent was used. His voice was still as raucous and shrill, but now it was much more revealing of the inner complexities which were a blur at other times. As an added bonus, the instruments of the band could also be heard more vividly, with more focus and far more space, making for a significantly improved experience.

I thought it only fitting that the Airtangent be compared with the SME V. This remarkable incarnation of a pivoted approach has become a benchmark of sorts for tonearms. Its price also benefits handsomely from mass production, making it a more accessible product at $2000.

As fine a product as the SME V is, it does have a few shortcomings. The first has to do with VTA changes. Curiously enough, even though this arm has no provision for adjusting the azimuth of a cartridge, azimuth can be disturbed while resetting VTA. It can happen when the main support pillar of the SME V is canted while increasing VTA. Since the VTA screw is located off to one side of the arm pillar, it pushes harder on that side when turned to raise the back of the arm. An azimuth change results unless the pillar is manually restored to a vertical position; an upward pull on the anti-skate dial support does it for me. Sumiko maintains that tightening the clamps gripping the arm pillar will restore it to a vertical position, but my experience does not bear that out.

The second shortcoming concerns the large diameter of the armtube at the pivot end. When going for very low VTA settings, especially if a warped record is played, the back of the arm can end up too low, and hit the outer edge of the record. This problem becomes acute when playing the innermost cuts.

It might have been more informative to pit the Airtangent against the ET-2, since both are tangential-tracking, air-bearing designs. I feel, however, that bringing in the SME V at its $2000 price is more realistic. Anyone considering the ET-2, a terrific buy at $900, is not likely to suddenly opt for a $3200 product. $2000 is a bit closer.

Both tonearms are excellent performers, but differ greatly in concept and execution. For me, the ergonomics clearly favor the Airtangent. My priorities call for the ability to adjust everything, and the Airtangent is more complete. In day-to-day use, both are easy to live with. The cueing mechanisms are equally effective, but the motor-driven Airtangent approach has a special appeal for me. Sure, it's one more thing prone to failure, but it is also ever so much more fascinating technically. Of course, the end-of-record lift feature speaks for itself—a winner if there ever was one.

Mounting a cartridge in the SME V is a snap; and I have it down to about 10 minutes now. But the Airtangent, even though the initial setup takes much longer, out-features the SME V with its interchangeable air-bearing sleeve assemblies. Here cartridge changes happen in 30 seconds or less, and with perfect registration of all settings save VTA. If you recall, that's an extremely easy task on the Airtangent.

Be aware that the extra air-bearing sleeve/armtube comes at additional cost, since only one is included with each Airtangent. Furthermore, if only one cartridge is to be used, all of this flexibility is a moot point. But you tell me—What audiophile will not jump at the chance to change cartridges that conveniently?

I found the Airtangent to be my preference sonically as well. The smooth demeanor and wealth of new details of the Airtangent significantly contributed to its overall performance. The SME V was found to be more robust in the low end, and slightly more aggressive. It contributes a more forward and direct quality at the higher frequencies, and, while fast and detailed, falls short when compared to the Airtangent's extension and delicacy. Furthermore, the soundstage is not as ornate, or as rife with crucial details.

Spectrally, the Airtangent is smoother, with better extension at the higher frequencies. The SME V summoned a very solid foundation for the music and, most of the time, produced a more prominent balance in the lower ranges. To be sure, the Airtangent might be accused of some leanness in this area. I found it to be a better balance for me, however, as it blended more effectively with the equipment at my disposal. The added bonus was the transparency and definition of the bass frequencies. Yet it was in the midrange that the Airtangent did the most good. Every cartridge produced a more transparent presentation, and the Koetsu's legendary midrange richness became more apparent when mounted in the Airtangent. The lower midrange could be seen in a new light, adding impact and heft in a very palpable manner.

I'm completely taken with the Airtangent tonearm. But you don't have to be a CPA to realize that, for the price of an Airtangent, you can get the SME V and a top-flight cartridge. Of the three cartridges mentioned, only the Koetsu is above that budget—something to consider carefully.

Just remember that the Airtangent outperformed the SME V in a majority of cases, and, for all its complexity, is very easy to use. So what if you have to remember to turn off the air pump? That's more than compensated for by the end-of-record lift mechanism. For the consummate audiophile in me, the Airtangent tonearm is, in many respects, a dream come true. At the same time, it is also one of the finest products that I have ever encountered. For anyone who believes technology is something to be savored, the Airtangent is certainly served up most delectably. It is one of those rare products in which functionality, ergonomics, and aesthetics are blended with resounding success. The Airtangent is an elegant affirmation of just how synonymous high-end and high-tech can be.

Of course, I recommend it!

Sidebar: Specifications
Description: Air-bearing, parallel-tracking tonearm.
Made in Sweden.
Price: $3200.
Approximate number of dealers: 30.
US Distributor: Krell Industries (1989). None (2001).

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