Comes now the Air Tight Opus-1 Ermitage cartridge, released in honor of Air Tight’s thirtieth anniversary. And, folks, it is just as much of a winner as its two distinguished predecessors—and certainly the best Air Tight yet. Of course, the competition has stiffened since the PC-1 was introduced in 2006, with the Goldfinger Statement, the Lyra Atlas, and the Ortofon Anna (Ortofon seems to have taken a cue from Mr. Matsudaira, as its recent cartridges are now higher in output, richer in color and energy, but still high in resolution) leading the way.
Like the PC-1s, the Opus-1 uses an SH-µX core for even higher-efficiency output (0.5mV) at low impedance (1.4 ohms). However, the Opus-1 uses windings whose “cross-sectional dimensions are 10% larger” than those in the PC-1 Supreme. The Opus-1 also boasts a semi-line contact stylus with a 0.1mm square tip, an ultra-hard duralmin (an alloy of aluminum that contains copper, manganese, magnesium, iron, and silicon) cantilever, and a “hyper-solid duralmin” base for superior freedom from resonances.
How does it sound? In a word, solid. The Opus-1 may be the most three-dimensional-sounding cartridge I’ve heard in my home. Where (on my fabulously high-resolution system) a low-impedance/low-output cartridge like the Ortofon A90 will reproduce Dean Martin’s voice (on Analogue Productions’ superb reissue of Dreamin’ with Dean) with so much fine detail you can tell how much spit (or bourbon) Dean-o has in his mouth on any given note, the Opus-1 slightly dials down the analytics but turns up the volume, converting Dean from a highly detailed albeit paper-flat acoustic image to a fair semblance of an actual human being standing in front of you. As I once said of another remarkably three-dimensional transducer (the MBL X-Treme), it’s like the difference between watching a film and watching a play.
In addition to this remarkable dimensionality, the Opus-1 is an exceedingly neutral cartridge. While not at all rolled in the treble, it is also not at all aggressive up there either. (If you’re used to the sensational brilliance and speed of something like a Goldfinger in the top octaves, the Opus-1’s lifelike smoothness may come as a pleasant surprise.) In the bass it is a veritable powerhouse, with simply sensational extension and resolution in the lowest octaves, reproducing really deep notes on synth, organ, piano, bass drum, or five-string bass guitar, with superb definition, lifelike speed, tremendous power, and the same unflappable neutrality and transparency that it brings to the mids and treble. Nothing thickens or darkens or simply goes black and indecipherable in the Opus-1’s bottom end—or anywhere else. Kickdrum and Fender bass or synth? Top-octave cello and bottom-octave viola, as, say, on the churning ostinatos of the Penderecki String Trio in Yarlung’s superb recording of the Janaki emsemble? You’ve never heard them distinguished more clearly—or realistically. Trust me. (On an imperturbable ’table/’arm like the Acoustic Signature Invictus/T-9000, this thing tracks and traces at least as well and as cleanly as anything I’ve had on any ’table.)
Like its PC-1 brethren, the Opus-1 is also a superior soundstager. Though I don’t think its stage is quite as wide and deep as that of the Goldfinger (my benchmark in such matters), it is at least as good as that of the Ortofon Anna. Probably better. With its inherent transparency and superior trackability, it will certainly give you a clear picture of who’s playing what and where, no matter how busy or dynamic the music gets.
Speaking of dynamics…the Opus-1 has almost tape-like smoothness, speed, and power. Here is a cartridge with the dynamic “continuousness” of the real thing. (Don’t confuse this with a lack of transient punch—the Opus-1 has punch aplenty. But unlike certain other cartridges—and digital all the time—this cartridge doesn’t give you a sense that its reproduction of dynamics is subtly “stepped,” proceeding in a slightly mechanical fashion from one level to another. As in life, the Opus-1 reproduces changes in intensity, large and small, as a continuum, making the presentation that much more realistic and easy to listen to. If you’re used to something as thrilling as the Goldfinger, you may feel you’re losing a little zip, but listen for a while and see if what’s lost hasn’t been offset by the natural ease that has been gained.)
Bottom line. This is by far the best Air Tight yet, and at $15k it is priced accordingly. For that kind of money, you’re gonna want to listen to the competition, none of which sound much like the Opus-1. One of the great virtues of analog—or one of its most damning flaws, according to the analog-is-like-dragging-a-stick-through-a-ditch crowd of digital-philes—is that you can tune your system to sound any way you want it, and still end up with a simulacrum of the real thing. You can, if you choose, get a marginally more detailed presentation than that of the Opus-1, though you may do so at a price in sterility. You can certainly get a more scintillant top end, though you may do so at a price in aggressiveness and brightness. You can get an inherently riper, darker tonal balance, and a slightly wider, deeper soundstage. What you can’t get is a more neutral, continuous, three-dimensional presentation top to bottom. Whatever you end up choosing, you’re not going to get something that sounds substantially more like real musicians in a real space.
“One of the great virtues of analog is that you can tune your system to sound any way you want it, and still end up with a simulacrum of the real thing.”
You see, folks, those ditches that we LP lovers drag those diamond-tipped sticks through are literally filled with music—replicas of the actual soundwaves that struck the membranes of the microphones in concert halls and recording studios, sometimes fifty, sixty, or many more years ago. They are the real thing engraved in vinyl—not approximations of it passed through field-programmable gate arrays churning ones and zeroes.
The Air Tight Opus-1 gets my highest recommendation, and joins the Goldfinger Statement and Ortofon Anna as one of my references.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Ultra-low-impedance moving-coil cartridge
Frequency response: 10–50kHz
Output voltage: 0.5mV
Internal impedance: 1.4 ohms (DCR)
Magnet: Neodymium #50
Stylus pressure: 1.9–2.2g
Channel balance: Within 0.5dB (1kHz)
Crosstalk: More than 30dB
Terminal pins: Rhodium-plated
Weight: ca. 12.5g
JV’s Reference System
Loudspeakers: Magico M Project, Raidho D-5, Raidho D-1, Avantgarde Zero 1, MartinLogan CLX, Magnepan .7, Magnepan 1.7, Magnepan 3.7, Magnepan 20.7
Subwoofers: JL Audio Gothams
Linestage preamps: Soulution 725, CH Precision L1, Audio Research Reference 10, Siltech SAGA System C1, VAC Signature
Phonostage preamps: Audio Consulting Silver Rock Toroidal, Soulution 755, VAC Signature Phono, Constellation Audio Perseus, Innovative Cohesion Engineering Raptor
Power amplifiers: Soulution 711, CH Precision M1, VAC 450iQ, Siltech SAGA System V1/P1, Odyssey Audio Stratos
Analog source: Acoustic Signature Invictus/T-9000, Walker Audio Proscenium Black Diamond Mk V, TW Acustic Black Knight, AMG Viella 12
Tape deck: United Home Audio UHA-Q Phase 12 OPS
Phono cartridges: Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement, Air Tight Opus-1 Ermitage, Ortofon MC Anna, Ortofon MC A90
Digital source: Berkeley Alpha DAC 2
Cable and interconnect: Crystal Cable Absolute Dream, Synergistic Research Galileo LE, Ansuz Acoustics Diamond
Power Cords: Crystal Cable Absolute Dream, Synergistic Research Galileo LE, Ansuz Acoustics Diamond
Power Conditioner: Synergistic Research Galileo LE, Technical Brain
Accessories: Stein Music H2 Harmonizer System, Synergistic ART and HFT/FEQ system, Shakti Hallographs (6), Zanden room treatment, A/V Room Services Metu panels and traps, ASC Tube Traps, Critical Mass MAXXUM equipment and amp stands, Symposium Isis and Ultra equipment platforms, Symposium Rollerblocks and Fat Padz, Walker Prologue Reference equipment and amp stands, Walker Valid Points and Resonance Control discs, Clearaudio Double Matrix SE record cleaner, Synergistic Research RED Quantum fuses, HiFi-Tuning silver/gold fuses