How do you beat the $3,000 power cord regime? That is $3,000 for each power cord... and you need three of them! Perhaps your system "requires" two "digital" power cords and one "analog" power cord... or visa versa? Please, do not get me started about those "tunable" types of power cords with Magic Wood or Hyper-Special Networks that will set you back a month's pay? Did i forget to mention the new must-have Ultra-Pure Super-Waveform Power Reconstructor... or the Lighter Than Black Power Company Mega-Power-Generator so Sir Power Company is "closer to your home"? How much time, money, and sanity can we who seek the Holy Grail of music reproduction manage? It gets worse...
After mixing and matching audio equipment by various manufactures (from years of auditioning and "upgrading"), you now have a pre-amplifier from manufacture "Y" an amplifier from manufacture "Z". Maybe your phono stage is by the ultra-tweaky "Manufacture X". Are you still with me? Does this ring a bell, or maybe i am hitting a nerve too close to home? Would you like to get off the merry-go-round and find a one-stop shop for virtually all your music loving needs? Well i say eliminate the edifice of established electricity. Demolish the dastardly demons of AC. Be gone the bastion of various brazen of brands. If so, then please read on because I am about to take you on a tantalizing trip to reaching the fascinating frontier offered by Final Laboratory.
Please note this review was to appear in Ultimate Audio well over a year ago, though as life has it this gave me more time to audition the gear and, in turn, the Final review now appears within these pages (pun intended).
Attempting to reach audio nirvana has led me to places i dare not speak. Sometimes the deep down feeling of adding yet another tweak just may put me over the edge of sanity. Yes my friends, I am beginning to suffer from audiophillia nervosa! Maybe it is the Late Winter Blues, writer's burnout, or the usual New Hampshire Cabin Fever? Whatever it is, thank goodness for the Japanese and their atypical ways of discovering new frontiers. Enter the Final Laboratory system.
Final Labs provides a complete line of audio amplification system that is operated from good ol' batteries. Though like everything audiophillia, these are not just ordinary batteries mind you. After all, we are discussing Japanese exotica here, right? While one could use those expensive Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), Lithium Ion or Alkaline type, this is not the way to true battery power enlightenment according to Final Labs. Why? Because after tests by the gurus and golden ears at Final Labs (and confirmed personally), they seem correct in suggesting batteries that use manganese. These are, fortunately, basic "C" and "D" size batteries that tend to last for hours of audiophile nirvana and are less expensive than Alkaline. So be gone you gaggle of power cords. Away with the mish mosh of misaligned system from many manufactures. (Note to self: Stop watching the TV game show The Weakest Link.) For this review we have Final Lab's fascinatingly retro styled entire amplification system including their phono stage, pre-amplifier and amplifier. All three are 100% battery powered.
How many batteries you ask. How does a staggering ninety-two (92) batteries sound to you (pun intended)? Of course if you are environmentally conscious and insist on saving the world from battery pollution, a tubed AC power supply from Final Labs is available. While not here for this review, we are again talking scrumptious Japanese audio as the AC-5, which can power either the MUSIC-4 or MUSIC-5, uses eight 5U4GB tubes, and the AC-6, which powers the MUSIC-6, uses ten 5U4GB tubes. During this review I only needed two complete sets of batteries (184 batteries for those of you environmentalists who are keeping count).
Installing the batteries is quite easy as the Music 4 phono stage and Music 5 pre-amplifier each enjoy their own dedicated outboard battery power supply case. As for the Music 6 amplifier, you need two outboard cases to house the batteries; as a power amplifier's supply needs are higher than that of small signal amplification units. So what's the deal with using all these batteries? After all, batteries start out with a good, high voltage and slowly pass away. Surely there must be a better use for so many "C" sized batteries? Fortunately for those who do not have big stock in Eveready or Duracell, battery life provides approximately 120 hours of operation per battery set and it is easy to verify battery life through the large top-mounted meter on each unit.
Some feel that the best way to eliminate AC hum, RFI and other Pesky Power Plant Pests from reaching the critical audio circuits is to simply not use AC power at all (duh!). So is it really worth burning away a boatload of batteries for only a few hours of musical bliss? The environmentalists are surely now with pen in hand ready to condemn me for using ninety-two (92) batteries in a few week's, further enhancing the already too high rubbish pile in my local land fill. But let us throw all caution to the wind and have a look shall we?
The Music 6 amplifier produces Mega-Monstrous Super Strong 10 watts per channel. Those of us with proper loudspeakers know that 10 watts can go a long way. The Japanese rediscovered the joys of high-sensitivity loudspeakers long before the America reawakening. The aural delights of high-sensitivity horn loudspeakers mated with low power amplification are well documented. Lest we forget about the pre-amplifier and phono stage whose sound is equally as important. After all, garbage in = garbage out.
How many of you have dealt with electrically noisy front-end gear. You know, the type that only an exorcism by a Catholic Priest could rid that low-level 60/120Hz buzz n' hum. With the Final Labs system there is little worry about concerning power line nasties. Remember, we are using batteries here and have saved ourselves the pains of electrical gremlins. Using the Music 5 pre-amplifier is very straightforward. In retro 70's style that harks back the likes of Japanese cult classic TV show Ultraman. You have top-mounted toggle switches to choose the desired input and a single volume knob. While there is no official balance control, side mounted input gain knobs can be used for recordings with channel imbalance problems.
As for the moving coil phono stage, the same visual retro styling also applies, though with fewer toggle switches. A middle of the road 40dB of gain is provided for. It can not be stressed enough that this retro styling lends itself to either a love or hate visual appearance. Final Labs, being a Japanese company, follows the Japanese exotica rule of top-mounted operation. This is unlike that of the usual front panel switches and knobs found on virtually all Japanese Mid-Fi receivers and American Hi-Fi. Overall construction is not of the battleship or "survive a nuclear blast" variety, but more like it should be a prop in the aforementioned Ultraman TV show. Ok, enough with visuals and operational details, let us move along to what really matters.... How it reproduce music.
What Is The Sound Of 92 Batteries?
After a few hours of the usual burn-in i sat down for a listen. The first thing that grabbed my attention was the utter lack of grain in the sound. The highs seemed very silky smooth, but not overly rolled off or recessed. There appeared to be a small lacking in the extreme uppermost frequencies, yet nothing distracting. Due to the lack of grain in the Final Labs system, as found in some more mainstream manufacture offerings, the upper frequencies were relaxed and never fatiguing. In fact to some regard it was a revelation to hear a solid-state device portray such a smooth rendering of cymbals, flute, snare drum and violin.
As for the midrange, there is a certain rightness of sound harmonically that one does not usually find in solid-state gear. Not to begin a tube versus solid-state argument, though the wise reader surely realizes the inherent advantages of each technology, though i admit each type of audio amplification is achieving higher music reproduction capabilities with each newer generation of products. If there was only one strong point of the Final Labs system, it was within the portrayal of a rich harmonic texture. This is not to say it was artificially creamy, or slow ‘n syrupy. It was a simple rightness of the harmonic structures; without augmentation of the highs or a small boost in midbass (that some call "warmth").
In the lower frequencies, the bass was quite impressive and tuneful. In fact there may be something to this battery power technique as another unit here for review (see last month's Silbatone pre-amplifier review) appears to have virtually the same bass qualities. To be more specific, the speed, agility and overall cleanliness of the bass from around 40Hz upward are a revelation. The inner definition of each note gives the impression of more detail as, say, an acoustic bass is played. There is simply more information unraveled. My educated guess is that the removal of the 60Hz electrical frequency from the usual electrically powered units may also cause some interference with this same frequency spectrum within an audio component. After all, getting the power supply right is crucial for all high-end components. Removal of the dependence for the questionably clean electrical power also eliminates the associated gremlins. This is also why the very first audiophile review of a balanced power unit appeared in another magazine as written by yours truly years before the mainstream high-end took notice is now gaining popularity. Every designer knows the troubles with AC power as boutique electrical cord designers also have their own methods of dealing with AC.
...And The Music
First up was a fully energized and bass heavy piece. Specifically, Prodigy's album titled Fat of the Land. [XL records XLLP 121]. Why such a non-audiophile hard-core vinyl recording you ask? Because if a system lacks proper power supply it would surely make itself known during intense passages that demand the most from a system. Many duet or small ensemble "audiophile" recordings simply do not truly test the ultimate power capabilities of a system's power supplies and associated components. The song "Breathe" gives the opposite to a music reproduction system. This fast-paced, bass heavy highly intricate recording will quickly alert the listener to problems within a system concerning power handling. To my surprise the Final Labs system sailed through this recording quite well. While it did seem to be straining during the most challenging sections of the music, the resolution and deciphering of the extremely fast (32nd notes) bass was impressive. Still, the lowermost notes seem to cause the system a bit of hardship as the deepest notes are a bit rolled off and this also appeared to cause some strain in the upper frequencies as the power supply ran out of juice. While this is more a "torture test", odds are most audiophiles would not go this far to truly tax a system to see just how far to push a system into defeat. Still, it was quite remarkable until I went overboard. Not just remarkable for being a battery powered system, but extraordinary regardless of components. Ok, so now i knew the system could get going when the going gets rough under insane circumstances. Now on to more refined music.
Reaching for classical jazz, the Miles Davis The Great Prestige Years [Analogue Productions APJ 035) was a welcome change of pace. Here the Final Labs system was capable of not just achieving that famous David trumpet sound, the acoustic bass and drums were very well rendered with just the right amount of air and space. In fact it is the impressive speed and resolution of the acoustic bass that got my attention. There was no hash or grain while each note had glorious body. i could almost feel his fingers stroking the strings! Upper frequencies such as cymbals and the trumpet was silky smooth, if a bit rolled off. This subtle roll off was very subtle and seemed to be consistent no matters what music was being reproduced. Maybe a cable change would do the trick? Alas, only have a limited supply of cables here so hopefully the future will bring me the likes of transparent and Nordost.
Full orchestra pieces such as the wonderful Reference recordings Pomp & Pipes [RR-58] was reproduces with an amazing sense of hall acoustics. This is one of those times when my listening room truly disappeared and i was left there with my eyes closed yet being able to "see" the concert hall with orchestra in front of me. The portrayal of depth and space was incredibly revealing. While it seemed to lack the ultimate in depth as compared to the $30,000 Silbotone pre-amplifier, $10,000 amplifier and same-priced phono stage from other manufactures, the Final Labs system seems to show the "law of diminishing returns". The mass of violins had a very natural harmonic structure, as did virtually all the other groupings of instruments. As for the most demanding passages that include full orchestra with pipe organ, the Final Labs system seems to handle it all with ease. So maybe the system is not up to the "torture test," but neither was the huge electrostatic loudspeaker, many thousand watts $250,000 system at a high-end show a few years back in Los Angeles. Remember, the Music 6 stereo power amplifier produces "only" 10 watts per channel yet I must admit it seemed to be better than the aforementioned $250,000 system!
...And The Results
While i would not directly recommend this system for trance and house nightclubs nor hip-hop DJs, music lovers may find that the battery powered Final Laboratory system achieves new heights in enjoyment. The slight roll off in the uppermost frequency extremes do not appear to interfere with most acoustic music, which in fact is rendered with wonderful harmonics and rich detail. One of the main strengths of the Final Laboratory system is the way it reproduces hall acoustics and the space between and around the musicians. During my listening sessions here at home i found it quite hard to get back to working my "day job." So are the problems with being a reviewer when you also work at home. As a fast side note, the Finals Laboratory Daruma-3II isolation/anti-vibration devices are a bargain! The Internet has been all-abuzz concerning the joys of this product! To sum it all up, the Final Laboratory system is a breeze of fresh air to the usual fare of power nightmares that can occur with normally powered products. Of course in the end what really matters is that you...
Dear Mr. Rochlin,
Many thanks for your thoughtful review of Final Laboratory's MUSIC-4 phono stage, MUSIC-5 preamplifier, and MUSIC-6 power amplifier! Each of these unique components is quite special - whether used separately or together - and it is obvious that your appreciation of them has continued to grow since your initial report a couple of years back on Enjoy The Music.com™.
Although I could go on and on reemphasizing the sonic virtues of these components that were so accurately described in your review, I would rather take the time to discuss the issue of battery power. Certainly, the use of batteries in phono stages and even preamplifiers is not unheard of, but I have found that many audiophiles are caught off guard when confronted with Final's battery-powered amplifier, and are completely thrown by the concept of a 100% battery-powered amplification system (phono stage + preamplifier + power amplifier)! While the advantages of avoiding reliance on the AC power grid should be obvious, many people seem to assume that a battery-powered amplification system will somehow sound "fragile" in comparison to plug-in-the-wall alternatives. Nothing could be further from the truth, as observed in your review - when it comes to impact and dynamics, the Final Laboratory components can run with the best of them.
I would also like to address some specific issues about the use of batteries that were raised in your review:
Of course, the use of battery power is only one of the factors contributing to the amazing transparency and musicality of the Final amplifiers. Other factors that are at least as important include the totally unique "less is more" circuit designs of these components, as well as the very high quality of the internal parts. Batteries alone don't guarantee great sound - you need circuitry of exceptional sophistication and refinement to take full sonic advantage of such a pure power supply.
While the MUSIC-4, MUSIC-5, and MUSIC-6 may not be for everyone, there's "no denying the addictive qualities" of these amplifiers, to quote another reviewer. Again, and on behalf of everyone at Final Laboratory, thank you very much for sharing your listening experiences with this system.
P.S. I suspect that the very slight roll-off you heard in the uppermost treble region would indeed be addressed by a change in cabling. Final Laboratory produces some high-quality OFC interconnects and speaker cables that - not surprisingly - are a perfect match for these amplifiers.
Inputs: AUX 1 / AUX 2 / Phono
Input Impedance: 560 Kohms
Output Impedance: 60 Ohms
Power Supply: UM2 Battery Case holds 28 "C" size batteries in one box
Price: $3,250 (UM2 battery box adds $450)
Music 4 Phonostage
Phonostage type: Moving Coil (MC)
Input impedance: 560 Kohms
Output Impedance: 60 Ohms
Gain: 40 dB
Power Supply: UM2 Battery Case holds 28 "C" size batteries in one box
Price: $3,700 (UM2 battery box adds $450)
Music 6 Power Amplifier
Power: 10 watts per channel, two channels
Frequency Response: 0-100,000 Hz
Power Supply: UM1 Battery Case for power (two pieces) hold a total of 36 "D" size batteries needed to fill the two box set
Price: $3,250 (UM1 battery box adds $700)
6-piece cup set with three large metal ball bearings
United States Distributor: