If you are unfamiliar with 47 Laboratory, then you must be a newcomer to Enjoy the Music's Review Magazine. Our focus on this company and its unique product line is predicated on our collective respect for its design philosophy and demonstrated success in forging musical sound from operational amplifier chips. The principals at 47 Laboratory believe that their products are tools for enjoying music, rather than test bench specifications-based marvels. Being purist designs, lacking in macho factor and convenience features, they may not fit everyone's expectations. However, music lovers, looking for musical, affordable, and reliable gear, please take note.
The model 4718 ($1,680) phono stage represents an affordable version of the Reference Series Model 4712 Phonocube ($2,100), sharing essentially the same circuitry with its more expensive brother. Physically, there is not much to talk about: the phono stage consists of a main chassis and a separate power supply, both diminutive in stature. Both are encased in a non-conductive, Shigaraki ceramic casing. There are two versions available: standard gain (75dB) and high gain (90dB). Reviewed here is the standard gain version, which should be suitable for most MC cartridges currently on the market. This is a current amplification device, which means that the output level of the cartridge will be controlled by the ratio of the cartridge's output voltage to its internal source impedance.
The 4718 was dropped into my analog reference system, whose foundation for the past several years has been the Kuzma Stabi Reference turntable, outfitted with the Graham Engineering model 2.2 tonearm. My main stay MC cartridge remains the Symphonic Line RG-8 Gold, hand-made by A. J. van den Hul. The 4718 is not a product that caters to tweakers: there are no switches or any other external adjustments to make; installation is simply a question of connecting a few interconnects and a ground wire, and off you go. The rest of the amplification chain consisted of the deHavilland UltraVerve line preamplifier and my own Blue Velvet line preamplifier and T-Rex 300B-based single-ended triode power amplifier. Loudspeakers used were mainly the BassZilla Platinum Edition.
It has been said that mixing whiskey and water spoils two otherwise fine drinks. Much of the same thing may be said about solid-state and tube gear. After all, the weaknesses of each design type might add to dilute the combined strengths of the mixture. Thus, the positioning of a solid-state device at the head of my all-tube signal chain did cause some concern, but much to my surprise and to the 4718's credit, it was not immediately obvious that there was anything amiss.
Our own editor Steven R. Rochlin had this to say in his review of the 47 Laboratory system: "When the Audio Note Ongaku was here, there was a sweetening of the highs that was ever so seductive. While as a system the 47 Laboratory products do not have the sweetness, they do have incredible smoothness. This is not at the cost of rolled off highs or lower of resolution. In fact there was an abundance of resolution." I can only nod my head in total agreement as his findings precisely capture the sonic essence of the 4718. Its level of textural smoothness was nothing short of spectacular and represents a dramatic departure from the "grainy photograph" presentation that characterizes old-school transistorized designs. (Editor's note: to this day i still regret letting go of the Ongaku. It changed my life, both body and soul, and think of her fondly. Frankly, the financial burdens of this website caused her to leave my premises.)
For example, Jim Bongiorno' s 1970s Ampzilla power amplifier, highly rated in its day, did many things right but smoothness was not one of them. I should know, having owned one for many years. Many modern amplifiers (e.g., Accuphase) have managed to nail down smoothness but at the cost of neuron-numbing sterility, sounding dynamically comatose. Given a choice, I would always opt for the Ampzilla' s more dynamic yet rough, wild-west cowboy, interpretation of the music's harmonic tapestry.
In the case of the 4718, I could have my "silicon cake" and eat it too. Transients unfolded with lightening speed. The treble range possessed ample air and refinement. Bass lines were reproduced with plenty of punch and sterling pitch definition. This puppy proved to be exceedingly detailed, and coupled with its intrinsically low-noise floor it was easy to follow the decay portion of transients way down into a recording venue's reverberant field. In other words, its sense of clarity was simply superb. Macrodynamics were negotiated with full conviction over the range from moderately soft to loud. The above combination of sonic attributes could best be described as masterful. It was as though Arturo Toscanini's spirit had infused the soundstage with his unique blend of precision and musical passion.
Speaking of the soundstage, every time I return to analog after a long bout of digital listening, I am amazed at how much more 3-D analog portrays spatial perspectives and image outlines. Don't fool yourself, digital maybe good, but the spatial impression with analog is king. And even in this respect, the 4718 did not disappoint. Image outlines took on a spooky flesh and bones palpability. Soundstage depth and width perspectives were fully fleshed out. And best of all, image outlines were solidly rooted within the soundstage. Irrespective of volume level, it was always easy to point a finger at a particular instrument. This impression of solidity goes way beyond what I have ever experienced with digital.
As mentioned already, the 4718 is not a sweet sounding phono state. Neither did I find it to romanticize the midrange, as far as infusing the lower mids with tropical lushness. Harmonic textures were consistently smooth and clear, but in the long run it became obvious that there was something missing: the harmonic vividness and sheen of the real thing. In particular, female voice was portrayed though sunshades -- a bit on the dark side of reality. In addition, reproduction of microdynamic nuances was a bit restricted, slightly reducing the music's expressiveness. The music's emotional drama and emotional content reside in volume, pitch, and timing modulations that are encoded into the music's fabric. Decoding all of these clues makes all the difference between canned music and the live musical experience. The magic is in the details, and the 4718 did breath plenty of life into my favorite recordings, only falling short relative to much more expensive tubed phono stages. This is not a euphonic device, which may disappoint those of you out there looking for an exotic new analog flavor of the month. However, experimenting with a matching tube preamplifier will pay handsome dividends. I was able to sweeten the sound, and tweak it more to my liking, by using my own Blue Velvet line preamplifier, an-all tube, 6SN7 based design.
The 4718 phono stage is a prime example of the adage that good things come in small packages. Despite its diminutive size, this phono stage throws a huge, dynamic soundstage that is superbly fleshed out, proving once and for all that sound-on- steroids need not originate from beefy, muscle-bound, amplifiers. It represents another superb design from 47 Laboratory's Junji Kimura, demonstrating the correctness of the company's motto, that only the simplest can accommodate the most complex. I like the sound, and the price is a major attraction - what more could you ask for?
Input impedance: 0 ohms
Output impedance: 47 ohms
Gain: 2 types to match the internal impedance of different cartridges type A (standard) / type B (high gain)
Dimensions: main unit 76 x 76 x 80
Sakura Systems / 47 Laboratory