The Above The Tie (ATT) razor system is a new product from a very young company. This Tennessee-based firm designs, engineers and manufactures its razors locally using U.S. steel and U.S. labor. My recent experience with their Titan model demonstrated to me the company’s close attention to manufacturing detail and quality control showed me that they are capable of producing high-quality razors that are competitive with manufacturers worldwide.
The Above The Tie 7-piece stainless steel razor system is beautifully made, and its quality is readily apparent on first sight and touch. It has a fine satin-matte finish and surprising heft for its size. The gleaming texturing of the handle makes for an attractive and sure grip and the balance made it immediately at home in my hands. This is a fine razor system, there is no mistaking that.
This is the second stainless steel razor in my den (the other being the ATT Titan H1), and my first razor system. I was attracted to it based on my experience with the Titan, which I liked very much, and because the concept of a system appealed to me. The idea of being able to customize razor components to suit my needs-of-the moment was attractive, and I wanted to try out the various component parts see if they really did contribute to my every day shaving experience.
On first examination, I was impressed with the stainless finish and the subtle, even brushing on the top cap. The bottom plate is absent the usual large holes for the posts that DE razors normally use to help with blade alignment, and an examination of the top and bottom pieces showed why—they have been replaced by small pins and divots that don’t require through-drilling. This makes for a very clean appearance under the bottom plate, and a place for fine engraving to identify “ABOVE THE TIE 2012″ and “MADE IN USA”.
When I inserted a blade, I could appreciate the genius of the mini-pins and divots, which ensure perfect blade alignment every time. I wondered why no other manufacturers had thought to do this. When I turned it over, I also noticed the blade exposure, which is large. An examination from the side showed that the blade gap was significant, too.
I performed my usual prep, which is quite thorough, and loaded my Carrington custom ultra-dense silvertip badger brush with Mitchell’s Wool Fat soap to start my shave.
I knew that the “H” base plate was aggressive, given past experience with the Titan, but my over 400 shaves with the Mühle R41 had taught me a lot about aggressive razors. I was not intimidated. I was surprised at how easily the first shaves went. The system did not seem at all to be hard on blades, like the R41 had been for me. It also did not take any more care to use than my Merkur HD. It provided excellent audible feedback, which to me makes shaving easier.
But why a razor system? What real-life needs might a system address? In my personal experience, I primarily use aggressive razors because I have a very wiry beard that mild razors have never been able to cut effectively. With my usual four-pass approach, it is rare for me to get true BBS results. In the past, my favorite razors have been those that are generally considered to be aggressive, and I’ve used longer, heavier handles to boost their heads’ natural aggressiveness. These razors come with a price: due to the curvature of my neck, the longer handles require me to adjust my shaving technique because they are less maneuverable. Very aggressive razors like the R41 require a fair amount of concentration—and despite my best efforts, sometimes require a time-out when irritation builds. For these reasons I keep a Merkur HD on hand for backup.
For me, the ATT system meant I might find a single, high-quality tool to address all my shaving needs, with minimum need to adapt my shaving style. I found that the Atlas system did this very well, in fact better than expected. In my review, I will address each component individually, and also give my impressions of the system as a whole.
The ATT 7-piece stainless razor system includes the following components:
Top cap (2). The stainless top caps have a finely brushed satin-matte finish. It’s the same cap provided with the Titan H1, and the same included with all ATT razors and systems. The finish is high-tech and modeled after finishes used in the aerospace industry. It is both beautiful and unique in the shaving world.
Barber Pole Handle. The Atlas barber pole handle is a beautiful piece of functional artwork. At 3″ long and 56 grams it provides very nice balance. It is the shortest handle I have used in several years, since I have generally used long, heavy weight handles for the extra boost they give me in terms of aggressiveness. The system does not need an edge in this department, and the noticeable increase in maneuverability and balance provide a big plus in shaving ease and enjoyment. Unlike other barber poles I have used, the ATT handle does not have a tendency to twist while in use.
Knurled Handle. The outstanding knurled handle that comes with the 7-piece system is the same that’s included with the Titan razor. The texturing is attractive and provides a secure grip. The handle is large enough to be well-suited to most users, but small enough to be very nimble. It is 3.5″ long and weighs 71 grams, and provides the best grip and balance of any DE razor I have ever personally used. I feel that the grip and balance contribute to great control and performance.
Both handles provide a comfortable, secure grip even under slippery conditions. The system also permits use of a large number of handles from other manufacturers for those shavers who want further customization.
H Base Plate. The H plate, the most aggressive/effective of the plates included with the system, provides a blade gap of .036″. I am familiar with this base plate because of my experience with the Titan. I expected that like the H1, the shave experience would be very close to that of the Mühle R41. Unlike the R41, however, I find that I can use the H plate freely and without the need for close attention and concentration. The H plate, in use, is like using a well-behaved R41. My shave results are identical—with BBS results guaranteed nearly every time, and in just three passes, without need for worrying about nicks, cuts or irritation.
R Base Plate. The R plate provides a lesser blade gap of .023″. I had imagined that the shave experience would be similar to a Merkur HD, but found that it was closer to that of a slant. The R plate is easy to get BBS shaves with, and carefree in actual use. The quality of shaves were not as close as those of the H plate, but very, very close with three passes.
M Base Plate. The M plate provides the mildest shaving experience of the three. With a blade gap of .010″, I anticipated that the shave experience would be similar to that of a Gillette Tech or other mild DE razor. This class of razors is generally not well-suited to my wiry beard, and I have difficulty getting a BBS shave with my standard four-pass approach. In actual use, the M plate provided an excellent BBS shave nearly every time in four passes. The shave was close to or better than the results I get from my Merkur HD.
It should be noted that the 7-piece system includes enough components to make two complete razors, and that all components are covered by a generous guarantee.
Over the past six weeks, I tried the ATT system with both handles, in every possible configuration using a variety of different blades, soaps/creams and brushes. The following are my detailed observations:
Price: The retail price of the 7-piece all-stainless razor system is $399. Considering the durability and craftsmanship, as well as the versatility of having multiple base plates to modify and customize aggressiveness, the investment is attractive—although at the very limit of my budget. The system is compatible with a large number of handles to further fine-tune the razor. I think the system offers good value for the money. You will never need to buy another razor, and there are enough components to make two complete heirloom-quality razors. There are ATT products for other budgets as well.
Quality: This system screams “quality” along every dimension. The brushed-satin stainless finish is very well done. It even holds up to close inspection under magnification. It is a great marriage of form and function. The heft is solid, but not over-the-top.
The razor is easy to clean, especially due to the innovative pin-and-divot blade alignment feature that does not require drilling holes through the base plate. The feature also guarantees perfect blade alignment every time. It is my understanding that this feature is a rarely-found feature in the industry, and I think it’s a good example of the care and thought that goes into the design and execution of Above The Tie’s razors.
User Friendly: I prefer three-piece razors for ease of cleaning. The extra few seconds it takes to replace a blade every few days I find negligible. The pin-and-divot alignment feature, while ensuring accurate blade alignment, was sometimes a little tricky for me personally because of arthritis in my hands. For most shavers, this will not be an issue, and you will only appreciate how perfect the blade alignment is every time.
Grip: The grip and its finish are two of the system’s finest features. On the longer, knurled handle, the texturing is attractive and provides a secure grip even when wet and soap-covered. The handle is large enough to be well-suited to most users, but small enough to be very nimble. It has superb grip and balance, which contributes to great control and performance. The gleaming knurling on the handle makes for an attractive and sure grip and the balance made it the best-functioning of any handle I’ve ever used. This is a fine handle, to be sure!
The barber pole etching on the shorter handle is both precisely machined and perfectly executed to provide a solid, non-slip grip. I have had the experience of barber pole handles that want to twist in my hands. Not so here. I should note that because I have used heavy, long-handled razors for so long, I did encounter a short learning curve that took three shaves to resolve. The first few shaves were accompanied by unexpected but minor irritation. It took a few shaves for me to learn to correctly use the incredible maneuverability that the razor provides.
Ease of Blade and Base Plate Replacement: Personally, I like three-piece razors, including this one. For me, with limited dexterity in my hands, the feature could be a little tricky at times, and take a few extra seconds. I’ve always enjoyed the ritual of inserting a fresh blade, and with this system, the time it takes provides a visual reminder of the excellent quality and craftsmanship of these shaving tools.
Aggressiveness: This is an effective razor system capable of giving fine, close and comfortable shaves. I have discussed the aggressiveness of each base plate above, and won’t repeat it here.
No matter which base plate I chose, I found it remarkably well-behaved. I was able to shave quickly, and with little concern for nicks, cuts or irritation. I tried the system with a variety of blades, soaps/creams and brush setups. I especially like it with Feathers, Perma-Sharps, Personna Med Preps and the included Astra SPs, though the system seems to tolerate any blade well. Where some razors, like the R41, seem to magnify differences between blades, this system minimizes them.
Adjustability: This is non-adjustable razor in the traditional sense, but with a range of options for modifying aggressiveness/effectiveness by replacing the razors’ base plates. I found that the range of aggressiveness could be modified from near-R41 levels to what felt to me like Merkur HD or R89 levels. Base plate swapping is no more difficult than blade replacement with this three-piece razor system.
Balance: For me, this is a finely weighted and balanced DE razor system. Shaving with it is as easy and carefree as it could be, in my opinion.
Packaging: The ATT system comes in a good looking, custom cardboard box with a pack of Astra SP blades, which work very well with all system configurations. For the cost of the system, however, I would have preferred a more durable, custom metal or wooden box. This is an heirloom-quality purchase, in my opinion, and an upgrade in this area (or an available optional accessory) would be desirable.
Overall: This stainless steel razor system is a remarkable achievement, especially since this is the first razor system offered by a very young company. It is designed, engineered and manufactured in the United States by an American company using U.S. steel and labor. The manufacturing detail and quality control are competitive with high-grade razor manufacturers worldwide. Above the Tie’s first entry into providing a stainless steel razor system deserves a close look by serious shavers everywhere.