pl | en




Manufacturer: STELLA Inc.
Prices (in Poland):
89 000 PLN (a deck without tonearm)

Contact: 51-10 Nakamarucho | Itabashi-ku | Tokyo 173-0026 | JAPAN


Provided for test by: RCM

ideaki Nishikawa-san - once a Micro Seiki's designer today TechDAS’ - during the High End Show in Munich in 2015 (HERE) presented his latest and least expensive creation, a turntable called Air Force III, costing exactly half of what one had to pay for Air Force Two (158 000 PLN). And Air Force Two cost exactly half of what the Air Force One's price tag says (345 000 PLN), which is the flagship of Japanese company. Each one looks different, sounds different too. Even so, they share some common features, such as vacuum disc suction mechanism, an 'airbag' underneath, a synchronous motor AC controlled by a microprocessor with adjustable automatic tensioning of a rigid belt, etc. The differences, however, are equally significant and come down to different decks, platters different way of feet decoupling which all combined together generate an increase in prices.

Hideaki Nishikawa-san and Air Force III at High End 2015 in Munich

Knowing that the smallest version of the Air FORCE is being developed I figured that it would be a variation on the classic shape of the Micro Seiki SX-8000 turntable. I was not mistaken. What I couldn't foresee, however, was that this would be the most beautiful and sleekest of all three Mr. Nishikawa's turntables. It is relatively small and - retaining the ability to mount up to four arms on it – it occupies quite a small space. It features a square chassis with a separate motor in a round housing that is placed next to the deck. Much further away one has to place a large black box with pumps and motor control. Not because it is ugly, because it is not, but because it vibrates a little so it's better to keep it away from the record player.

Speed and the suction controls are placed on a small "panel" projecting from the front wall. It is a very comfortable and nice looking solution. The buttons: 'Stop' and 'Suction' have been highlighted in green, and the rest are backlit with milky light. If for some time we do not use the turntable for some time, the pump is automatically switched off and 'stop' button turns red. On a small display we can read speed and its value while adjusting it.

Turntable can be fitted with up to four arms. Just buy the appropriate bases, screwed onto a pin placed in each corner of the chassis (each for 8200 PLN). During the test, the turntable featured three arms: the primary was a beautiful, well-known to me Dynavector DV507 mk2 (34 300 PLN) fitted with Shelter Accord cartridge (13 500 PLN) , the second one was the SME M2-9-R with Miyajima Labs Zero, and the third was 14 "Kuzma 4Point I knew already from Mr. Sikora's turntable fitted with... Denon DL-103.

Let me tell you – this turntable looks really great. Made of aluminum plates and castings, with the aluminum platter (platters made of different materials are being developed and should be available soon) floating on a thin layer of air, with a massive motor housing on the side makes an impression of a delicate and yet firm force.

TechDAS in “High Fidelity”
  • REVIEW: Air Force Two – turntable, read HERE
  • REVIEW: Air Force One – turntable, read HERE

  • Records used for the test (a selection)

    • Benny Carter, Jazz Giant, Contemporary Records/Analogue Productions AJAZ 7555, „45 RPM Limited Edition #0404", 2 x 180 g LP (1957/2009)
    • Bert Kaempfert, Bert Kaempfert - From The Original Mastertapes - Four Hits On 45 rpm, Image HiFi, 007, 45 rpm, 180 g LP (2004)
    • Cannonball Adderley, Somethin’ Else, Blue Note/Analogue Productions AP-81595, „The Blue Note Reissues, 45 RPM Special Edition #2468”, 45 rpm, 2 x 180 g LP (1958/2008)
    • Charlie Haden, The Private Collection, Naim Label LP110, 3 x 180 g LP (2000/2008)
    • Dead Can Dance, Anastasis, [PIAS] Recordings PIASR311DLP, 2 x 180 g Green Wax LP (2016)
    • Depeche Mode, Leave In Silence, Mute 12 Bong 1, 12” single (1982)
    • Elvis Presley, Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis. 40th Anniversary Edition, RCA Records/Music On Vinyl MOVLP1052, 4 x 180 g LP (2014)
    • Extra Ball, Birthday, Polskie Nagrania „Muza” SX 1414, „Polish Jazz Vol. 48”, LP (1977)
    • Frank Sinatra, No One Cares, Capitol Records/Mobile Fidelity MFSL-1-408, „Special Limited Edition No. 186”, 180 g LP (1959/2012)
    • Frank Sinatra, The Voice, Columbia/Classic Records CL 743, Quiex SV-P, „50th Anniversary”, 180 g LP (1955/2005)
    • Julie London, By Myself, Liberty Records MCR-1, „Columbia House Record Club”, LP (1965)
    • Nat ‘King’ Cole and the Trio, After Midnight, Columbia/Analogue Productions 28180, 3 x 180 g 45 rpm LP (1957/2010)
    • Pink Freud, Pink Freud Plays Autechre, MMA Rec MMA03, Limited Edition No 78/250, 2 x 180 g LP (2015)
    • Romuald & Roman, The Polish Psychedelic Trip 1968-1971, Kameleon Records KAMPLP 13, 180 g Pink Wax LP (2016)
    • Semafor Combo, Semafor Combo, OBUH V30, 180 g LP (2012)
    Japanese issues available at

    I think that this can not be avoided - AFThree will be compared to its two more expensive brothers. And of course from this comparison it shall come out defeated. If we think that the less money we will get us better, or even comparable, sound we are mistaken. Those who still have doubts let me remind you the casus of dCs Players, Vivaldi and Rossini, more HERE. Wishful thinking improves mood, but it does not change the reality.

    Also, perceiving the smallest of TechDAS turntable in terms of "replacement" for models I and II is pointless. Perhaps that is why I liked very much what in a similar situation Andrew Everald wrote:

    There is no need to get for NAP 500 DR to stay in a long shadow of his, having the form of a high tower, big brother. This, in any way, is not a situation of "well, if I can not afford a Statement ...", but it is the power that is a class by itself, as befits a top model in Naim's the range.

    Andrew Everald, Naim NAP 500 DR, „Hi-Fi News & Record Review” May 2016, Vol61, No.05, p. 37

    The 'baby' TechDASa has its own "voice" with its many feature in common with larger Air Forces. But since it had learn from them not only the lesson they gave it but also inevitable compromises involved, it is significantly different and in no way it is a "instead of" type of product. To explain this as accurately as possible, I'll start with writing about what the Air Force Three is, and then of what it is not. Summary will refer to both parts.

    To be…

    Feature that all these turntable have in common is a very solid, stable presentation. I'm talking about presentation in which everything is nicely arranged, it has its place. The turntable delivers music in a disciplined manner, ensuring absolute repeatability between listening sessions of the same disc (which is not too common). Within almost whole band, except for the lowest bass, it does not soften the attack, nor smooths it out. Punctuality is excellent, the sound has this internal drive and perhaps that's why it presentation exhibits this amazing stability.

    The descriptions of "One" and "Two" in relation to their tonality were quite simple. The most expensive model was soft, exhibiting what is so cool about suspended turntables, ie. lack of emphasis on initial phase of each sound. It's about sound being precise but not too precise. Although it looks like a contradiction, it is not. It is one of the few elements the differentiated AFTwo from AFOne. The middle model seemed to be more precise and more resolving, but only if we have never heard something better, eg. A master reel-to-reel tape or model One.

    The "Three" is closer to the "Two", but it is not it. Its sound is warmer and even - a paradox - richer. In part thanks to the Dynavector tonearm that performs amazingly well in the lower end area, but credit partially goes to the turntable too. High treble's presentation was moderate, and the listener attention is focused on the midrange. Which is a different approach than the one of suspended decks, such as the Acutus Reference by Avid HiFi, that I like very much. Avid is about warming and smoothing out any unevenness in the sound that would draw our attention to the fact that this is just an imperfect imitation of reality. When it comes to III, it is about precision and resolution giving a natural warmth to the sound.

    I started a 'formal' listening, after several days of night sessions with headphones over my head, with the Birthday of the Extra Ball album by Jarek Śmietana. Waiting for the re-release with Jacek Gawłowski's re-master I decided to use the first release. I was truly impressed. The turntable created a credible event, with beautifully shown changes of the dynamics, tonality, with dense, but nicely separated plans. It easily outlined a large-sized images in the foreground, being less precise when it came to presenting events happening deeper on the stage. It does not pretend that this is a modern recording and showed the whole thing in a little dark, closed way, because that's how it was recorded.

    You could hear that this turntable creates the event on large oval-shaped soundstage in front of us. Acoustics of large rooms is shortened, and spatial effects, through which the sound surrounds us, slightly reduced. I say this in the context of the best turntables I know, but also comparing to others from the same price range. AFThree is, in my opinion, a master of the foreground, of creating an impression of an intimate contact with the music. It was not a coincident that Frank Sinatra sounded so flawlessly, whether from old recordings reissued on the album The Voice or from the more recent stereo recordings, eg. at No One Cares. His voice had a large volume, it was solid, complete and legible.

    On the She's Funny That Way I heard something that is worth paying attention to when configuring a system. This turntable focuses on precision and does it despite what I described above. Although you can not hear high tones highlighted, although the attack is not too contour, part of the range from the area of 2-4 kHz has a lot of energy. The voice of Sinatra in the recordings sounding in such a way as if the front of his mouth he formed a 'horn' using his his hands, was a little more "horn-like". In other recordings, in which the vocals had the correct tone, without distortion, they sounded incredibly "flat". However, if anything in the recording swerved from it, especially in the upper band, turntable emphasized it a bit.

    I do not know if it's why, although probably there is something to it, but it seems to be a device that does not mask pups and cracks. When listening through the loudspeakers it did not bother me at all. With the new pressings there were almost no pops and cracks at all. In turn, the magnetostatic handset, HiFiMan's model HE-6, that always reacts nervously to higher treble energy, it was quite audible. Generally, it's a similar level to what you can hear from Transrotor turntables, Acoustic Signature and SME, but more clearly than with suspended decks, as well as with more expensive TechDAS models.

    …or not to be

    This is one of the features of the best, most expensive turntables – they separate the music and artifacts related to its reproduction. They place them in separate planes, which we, our brains, do not have to separate by ourselves. With the "Three" they are nicely damped, nothing disturbs the treble, but there is no such "separation" as with the more expensive models, especially with the One that is, in this respect, insanely good.

    Also, the size of the instruments, the volume of their sound here is smaller. The soundstage is not very deep, although we don't perceive this as a bad thing, because our focus is on the foreground. It is very clear especially with analogue jazz remasters, for example by Speakers Corner or Analogue Productions. This is a turntable that sounds best when playing analogue recordings. Records pressed using digital masters still sound good, for example I like the Dead Can Dance's album Anastasis released on green vinyl (Record Store Day 2016) very much. It took me only a moment, though, with the cited Extra Ball albums such as Somethin 'Else by Adderley or Carter's Jazz Giant, or the beautifully recorded in OBUH studio album by Semaphore Combo group (analog from beginning to end), to know that it was it! One played all the albums in a delightful way, Two played them very well, but it slightly favored analogue ones and Three is simply created for the latter.

    The sound of more expensive turntables of this producer has a greater momentum, it is unrestrained and more resolving. The '3' tends to shape the presentation bit towards a common denominator. Low bass is not so well defined nor so well controlled. Not to the point it could bother a listener, because it's able to damp impulse quickly, but we know that it could go even deeper with it, that the response of the room could have even greater momentum.


    If someone says that Three is flawless, he will either lie or be misinformed. More importantly, however, if somebody says about the Three that it is a poor performer will lie more or be even more misinformed. I'll go a step further and say that even those who ostensibly will express their opinion by saying "worse than ...", referring to the more expensive TechDAS decks should think about it, because apparently they do not understand the audio and do not know how to separate the product from its context.

    Air Force Three is a turntable about a specific voicing that sticks to the paradigm set by the One. It offers it all but to the lesser extend, it is much cheaper after all. This is a beautiful example of precision engineering, in which the music is the key element, the ultimate goal. This turntable differentiates really well without emphasizing flaws of the recording. It responds best to the fully analogue recordings, and they, coming from, for example, Blue Note, Columbia, etc., will land on its platter most often. The focus on lower midrange makes vocals sound fantastic and are three-dimensional. This is a turntable, which has some flaws, which does not do everything perfectly. However, it is a mature, beautiful product, an emanation of human genius at its best. Do not forget that this product can be improved in the future by adding a record weight, a anti-vibration platform, or replacing platter with another one.

    TechDAS Air Force III is a turntable of a mass-loader, non-suspended design with a belt drive. Its base has a square outline and is relatively short. It made of perfectly folded, aluminum castings and set on four adjustable feet. They are not decoupled with a pumped air, as in AFOne or by a rubber "cushion" as in AFTwo. Instead, we have a rigid decoupling, with a spike and a bed. The company assumes that in most cases it will be sufficient, but also understands those who might consider this solution insufficient. For them it will be important to know that a pneumatic platform is being develop, a one that in future could be used under the deck. HRS prepared a platform for AFOne and I wonder who has been chosen for this task this time.

    As I said, the main 'body' is made of 21 kg aluminum die-cast, also a 9 kg platter is made of aluminum. As reported by TechDAS, platters made of different materials are being prepared, and experience learned with AFOne tells us, that a different platter will result in a quite different sound on the same deck. From the top platter is finished with a material improving its engagement with the record, and at the perimeter and in the center it features an outwardly projecting silicone seals. This is a part of the system that sucks record to the platter - I do not know a better way to integrate the record and turntable. The disadvantage of this solution is that it works only for the 12' records. The platter itself floated on a film of compressed air at a height of 30 microns above the disk of a tempered glass.

    Air for both systems, for suction and lifting, is supplied through a fairly long hose to the back of the turntable. The pressure is generated in a separate system of pumps, housed in the black box. The box is made of aluminum plates and looks like a high-class power amplifier. The box, apart from the microprocessor-controlled pumps, holds also a power supply and a motor controller. Suitable cable terminated with a multi-pin plug runs along the hose from the pump to the rear panel of the turntable. Pumps were 'borrowed' from AFOne and I must say that they are working very quietly.

    Synchronous AC motor is connected separately to the turntable with a short cable. They put it in a very solid, heavy cast, that is standing on four adjustable legs, looking like miniatures turntable's feet. Typically, the motor sits in a specific distance from turntable. In this case one can move it closer or further away from the deck which does not affect its operation stability. It's part of the microprocessor system used for applying a precise belt tension. Because it is non-extensible, in which it resembles string drive. The calibration procedure is automatic and once done it won't have to be repeated for a very long time.

    Tonearm bases are screwed on the pin placed in chassis's corner. There are four of these pins, so one can mount up to four 9-12'' arms, but also a 14'' 4Point Kuzma. Each tonearm base is quite costly.

    A word about device's control - the engine and sucking are activated by illuminated buttons on a small panel projecting from the front wall. There are two speeds, 33 1/3 and 45 rpm, and one can also fine-tune them using the two 'Pitch' buttons, that offer an adjustment in ± 0.1 rpm. steps.
    Due to the use of ultra-precise controlling, spinning up the motor takes a little longer than usually. First, the platter is accelerated to a slightly higher speed than nominal, then it slows slowly down until it reaches the proper speed.

    The company offers its own phono cartridges, but does not make their own tonearms - hence the choice of three different ones for this test. This is quite understandable. But I do not quite understand why you have to pay extra for the record weight (3600 PLN). Not only in this case, but also for AFOne and AFTwo.

    Specifications (according to manufacturer)

    Dimensions (S x G x W): 312 x 360 x 160 (without tonearm bases)
    Weight: 21 kg, platter 9 kg

    Dimensions (S x G x W): 188 x 155 x 140 mm
    Weight: 4,6 kg

    Pomp and power supply unit
    Dimensions (S x G x W): 350 × 270 × 160 mm
    Weight: 9 kg



    - Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
    - Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
    - Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE

    - Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE
    - Multiformat Player: Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD
    - Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
    - Power amplifier: Soulution 710
    - Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE

    - Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
    - Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
    - Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
    - Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
    - Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
    - Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
    - Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE

    - Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
    - USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
    - LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
    - Router: Liksys WAG320N
    - NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
    System I
    - Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
    - Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
    System II
    - Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
    - Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA

    System I
    - Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
    - Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
    - Power Line: fuse – power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m) – wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
    System II
    - Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
    - Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
    - Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
    - Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
    - Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
    - Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
    - Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4

    - FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One