Vacuum-packed: the 'Airtight' amplifier Page 2

I used the Air Tight combination with an Oracle Delphi II turntable, SME V tonearm and Audio-Technica ART-1 cartridge, a Marantz CD-12 CD player and the Sonus faber Electa Amator and Celestion SL700 loudspeakers. As for cabling I used a variety of wires including Master Link, Mandrake, Lieder, Sony LC-OFC and Monster M1. And I immediately hit on two mismatches.

Trying to think like the kind of anachrophile who would have designed these items, I'm assuming that the company anticipated use with high-output vintage cartridges such as those from Decca or MCs like Ortofon SPUs with onboard transformers. Sure, I could get some sounds, but headroom and maximum level were in short supply, so I did my 'quiet' listening with the ART-1 cartridge fed straight in and my headbanging with a step-up amp from Glassic in place.

Dandy Sounds
The other mismatch was the Celestion SL700, which needs more juice than this baby can muster. I could get some positively dandy sounds out of the '700s, but no way would it cope with the odd crescendo. Yet because the sound – if not the levels – was so enticing, I spent as much time driving the '700s with the ATM-1 as I did the easier Sonus fabers.


Thinking like the Japanese, though, would suggest that most of these amps will end up driving some hyper-sensitive classics such as Lowther horn systems. Mind you, I had so many combinations to try out, what with the bypass mode and the CD Direct inputs, that I simply stopped worrying and treated the inevitable reconnections as a daily chore. Like shaving.

Fortunately, the long build-up between the time I first learned of the Air Tight and the first listen was rewarded with some of the mostly gloriously lush and musical sounds I've heard since running an SPU into elderly Marantz and Dynaco tube electronics through the AR 2AXes. Talk about a blast from the past...

Ghostly Silences
Actually, that's unfair, because the preamp sounds 'younger' than the power amplifier, most of the Mills & Boon effects coming from the ATM-1. What both share sonically are ghostly silences by both valve and solid-state standards, phenomenally wide and open soundstages and absolute freedom from edginess. But while the preamplifier is detailed and precise enough to be regarded as modern, the power amp has a softness – however enticing – that might be too romantic for those weaned on transistor equipment or current era valve powerhouses such as the big EAR, Audio Research or Beard amplifiers. But I'll be damned if I'm going to apologise for the Air Tight duo because I loved the lushness.

Playing both modern, glassy recordings and sonic masterpieces of the era of the Air Tight amps' inspiration, I noted an unerring facility these products have for sweetening whatever sounds they are fed. Is it accurate? Hell, no. But neither is it offensive in the way that identifiable distortions or wild colorations are. The Air Tight combination doesn't really add anything which would annoy, it merely shaves off the edges which could become nasty.


This was identifiable whether I used the front sockets with a direct-injected line level source or via the preamp through the rear sockets. Despite my description of the ATM-1 as some kind of lavender-scented granny of an amp, it remained both transparent and coherent enough to reveal the benefits of the various bypass modes.

And then it hit me. Although I didn't have the gear to hand, I'm absolutely certain that if these Air Tight components were used with the kind of audiophilia which is so cherished in Japan, the sweetness would offset the sharpness that I attribute to Decca cartridges and horn-type loudspeakers.

Missing The Point
As the ATM-1 can be modified for monophonic 80W/2ohm operation, the power shortage is not a problem. (Indeed, the company already manufactures a beast called the ATM-2 which uses four KT88s for 80W/channel from one chassis.) But £2059 is a fair chunk of cash for the audio equivalent of a rebuilt-from-the-ground-up Jag Mk II. The preamp, at £1769, has to compete with the better-equipped, far more precise Audio Research SP-9 among others. But that's missing the point.

With that attitude, there'd be no more mechanical Rolexes, only throwaway watches. No, ownership of the Air Tight amps requires a bit more than money. It requires a weird and wonderful blend of nostalgia, an appreciation for hand-crafted mavericks. The Air Tights are to me simply the nicest products around for powering classy little boxes like the Sonus fabers, for satisfying a craving for the past without the risk of running elderly components. The ATC-1 and ATM-1 aren't really hi-fi products after all. They're the stuff which dreams are made of.