Air Tight is known by most of us audio aficionados for their outstanding moving coil cartridges, beside that, some of us associate the Japanese company with classic well made and beautiful crafted tube amplifiers. The Air Tight cartridge portfolio got so much praise and awards in the last 15 years s, that this product category almost outstripped the core business of the company. Air Tight is very conservative in bringing new products to the market – product terms of more than 20 years are common and not something special. As Miura San, the founder of A&M ltd. / Air Tight celebrated the 30th birthday of the company, it was time to bring out something special to amaze us audiophiles – a new reference cartridge. As it was done in the past, he mated up with Matsudaira San (My Sonic Lab) – to create maybe the best moving coil cartridge known today, the Opus One.
If we have to describe the character of some of the best regarded carts today, we will come up with attributes like speed and pin point accuracy if we talk about the amazing Lyra cartridges. If we think of a Van den Hul, amazing resolution comes to mind – not seldom mated with a lack of musicality. Thinking about the the Ortofon SPU or the EMT JSD range of carts, we face the opposite character of a Van den Hul – stunning musicality and a rich sound mated with a very satisfying reproduction of our beloved music. Koetsu will give us some of the sweetest midrange in the whole market with a very special realism, which gives us a drug like sound and the amazing DECCA London Reference, is famous for its tremendous ability to render the biggest dynamic swings. – The big question is – can we have it all in one single package without any compromise??
The answer is – yes we can – and it might be the Air Tight Opus One which stand out in combining all the greatness in the different disciplines in a unique fashion. In my book it is the most complete cart ever created till today. This is a bolt statement, I know – but that is what my ears tell me, if I listened to its stunning performance – and as always in todays high end business it comes also with a bolt price tag. In Germany we have to pay around €15 000,- to own such a jewel. Please think about that – €15 000,- that is a sum, were you are able to buy a nice used BMW or a whole stereo system with some amazing LS3/5a speakers mated with a classic tube amp like the Quad KT66 monoblocks and a very, very musical Garrard 301….I cannot help myself – but I am not ready to spent such a huge amount of money for just one single cartridge – even if it is maybe the best in the world. That being said – Air Tight brought in 2018 the PC1 Coda to the market – which is less than half the price of the Opus One, still a very steep price tag but maybe a little less crazy than buying the top of the line cartridge…. Miura San gave us for half of the price of his reference cart Opus One a slightly stripped down version of this gem with is also the successor of the world famous PC1.
Opus One and Coda share a compareable body construction made out of a special 7075 aluminium material. The body structure itself is made out of two rectangular blocks of this dense and light material, which are pressed together using an interleaved pattern. The characteristic of A7075 is very special and addresses the energy transfer as also the amount of absorption in the cartridge housing itself. A7075 is very dense and can transfer energy in the most direct and fast fashion – but at the same time it has a very unique property of absorbing mechanical energy. The PC1 Coda was developed by using the SME V tonearm – a piece of gear which has not a great ability to absorb any initiated mechanical energy because of its overly stiff magnesium arm-tube. This material selection takes care of a wide margin of different tonearms – which makes the Coda a highly versatile cart.
The cartridge features a stiffer suspension as we will face it with a Lyra Atlas for example, so it needs to be paired with a tone arm which features an effective mass of around 15g – 18g to get a perfect resonance frequency pattern of 9hz. The cartridge helps lighter armwands with its own weight of nearly 13g.
The biggest technological speciality of the PC1 Coda will be found in its electrical parameters. The cartridge has a DC resistance of 1,7Ohm – which normally results in a very, very low electrical output. But not in this case!!!! – To get a feeling for what Matsudaira and Miura San did here, lets compare the Lyra Etna SL´s electrical figures with the Air Tight PC1 Coda:
DC Resistance Output
Lyra Etna: 1,52 Ohm 0,25mV
Air Tight PC1 Coda 1,70 Ohm 0,50mV
As we can see, the Air Tight PC1 Coda doubles the output figure of the Lyra Etna SL while having almost an identical DC resistance. That being said, Air Tight was able to combine two parameters which are normally opposed – a single layer coil structure with its low moving mass AND a healthy output voltage.
Efficiency – a unique construction
Matsudaira San is the mastermind behind this astonishing, patented technology. But how is all this working??
On different webpages we will find the information that a special coil structur is responsible for the high efficiency of this design – but that is mostly wrong translation from Japanese language into english. The unique principle behind the cartridge “motor” can be found in using a special designed core material, which features high amorphous MU metal! With this material and some very strong neodym magnets together with a high purity copper coil, Matsudaira San was able to create the most efficient cart till today.
That is good news for us record lovers – because a single layer coil structure has a very low mass figure, which enables the cartridge to track the grooves with less inertia resulting in a very accurate transient and dynamic response while giving our (tubed) phonostage an easy task.
The phono stage – and the SUT
If you mate the PC1 with a full active phono stage, I will recommend with a termination figure of around 100 ohm – if you detect oh so small hint of dynamic compression, raise the figure to 200 Ohm. As every phono stage reacts different to the HF peak every moving coil cart is sending into it – consider my advices as a starting point. It all depends on the capacitance of the used phono cable and the internal construction of the RIAA stage.
If you are using a step up transformer, things are slightly different….. The Air Tight ATH2A (reference) SUT was designed with the reference cartridges PC1, PC1 Supreme, PC1 Coda and Opus One in mind. The SUT offers a 1:30 turn ratio in its 2 Ohm setting (as also 1:15 switchable) – and gives us 29db of passive gain! It might be a special Japanese philosophy, which also can be found with other manufactures from the land of the rising sun, such as Kondo – that the gain figures of the tubes phono stages are not impressively high. To compensate that, Kondo and also Air Tight mate their moving coil carts with high turn ratios. Please have a look at the Kondo webpage, and you will find step up transformers which offer 1:42 turn ratios with 32db of gain – and offered to be used with carts of 1 – 10 ohm DC resistance. In the case of the PC1 Coda (and also the Opus One) we will gain a almost noise free phono sound with a small amount of active tube gain – because the cartridge sports a tremendous efficiency and is mated with a SUT which has a relatively high turn ratio for that kind of output voltage. IN pother words the whole phono setup acts like a complex gain chain….To gain an amazing signal to noise ratio from the classic Air Tight SRPP phono circuit, Miura San created with Matsudairas help a very, very efficient moving coil cartridge, which a very low DC resistance that can be mated with a high turn ratio.
If you co not own such a “low gain” phono stage – please be sure, that you choose a lower turn ratio – like 1:20 or 1:15 otherwise both components, SUT and cart might overdrive your phono input. A side note for all Air Tight users who already have an amplifier setup with a phono stage from the same brand – the whole setup will be only completed, if you mate it with such a cartridge. The synergistic effect of the whole phono chain from Air Tight is truly amazing, which does not imply that these outstanding carts do not perform dreamlike also in other environments.
More technical stuff
Other ingredients if the Coda are a boron needle with a semi line contact stylus, which tracks even the most demanding passages of your vinyl collection with an astonishing quiet performance. So this little jewel is not only for your 10 high end reissues – it can also be used with less than perfect vinyl! – Well done Air Tight!!!! The contact surface – as also the whole upper block of the housing is hard chrome plated to generate the most intimate contact between the headshell and the cartridge as also to feature the hardest surface possible to give the mechanical energy the fastest route away from the needle tracking the groove. Of course we get al the bells an whistles which can be found on any high end cart today, as rhodium plates contact pins, which are colour coded, as also a very, very luxurious packing, which is in itself a pice of art!
But how does a €8000,- cart of this calibre sound??? In one word – it is the a truly once in a lifetime experience!!!! – If I had to use just one depiction – it would be the word DYNAMIC…. This thing is better than any DECCA cart – it is the most dynamic sound I ever got from my vinyl rig. The Quad ESL57 electrostats did not know what they are able to bring to the table in this regard. I was completely floored from the ability to follow even the biggest or smallest dynamic swings – this is world class performance – and maybe the best you will achieve beyond the Opus One! But it is not as easy as this – because the Coda delivers so much more that the incredible ability to create a frightening dynamic. It has a fantastic resolution without any harshness – I would call it natural – the sound is created in such an easy and unforced way that it seems to be as natural as breathing. The Coda features a holistic sound – it does not that sort of separation we can detect with a lot of high end carts today. The ability to let the music speak with one voice reminds me of the classic studio carts like the Ortofon SPU or the EMT JSD. The PC1 Coda is able to give you all the different shades, all the colours and a fantastic pinpoint accuracy without dissect the music. The amazing quiet ride of the cartridges enables the tiniest microdynamic shades to come to life, which makes this thing oh so real! The ability to render the recorded space is perfect – you get a deep and wide sound with sharp boundaries and a cinematic view to the stage, which is very, very seldom found in such a balanced and realistic fashion. The speed and transient accuracy is nearly on par with the world champion in this discipline, the Lyra Atlas. And there is more…..Air Tight managed to imply an oh so delicate touch of sweetness to the sound, which reproduces vocals in such an amazing way, that they will touch your heart an soul. This cartridge will transform your way of listening to music – because it does everything perfect and in a balanced way. It is not a specialist cart for listening to only classic music or Jazz oder Electro – no – the PC1 Coda is made for any musical style – which is very, very rare in todays high end market.
This outstanding performance lets me come back to the price of this gem….around €8000,- – which is everything than a special offer….but we have to think about that in a different way: Nearly all of us have more than one cart – because they all give us some special abilities which we like to hear mated with different music. A lot of us have 3 or 4 carts in their collection and maybe 3 tonearms to change them as the vinyl selection demands them….You already guess what I try to say??? – What if one cart fits it all – what if you do not need anymore 4 carts an 3 tonearms – what if you just need the PC1 Coda and a good Mono cartridge???? – If you share this point of view – €8000,- is not anymore as ridiculous as it seems to be – because you spent maybe even more money to own 3 or 4 cartridges, which are – that I can promise you are now obsolete!
If there is one really “complete” cartridge – it might be the Air Tight PC1 Coda – a deep bow to Miura San and Matusdaira san – you made it!