47 Laboratory's System In Review
In this world of me-too products, my first exposure to 47 Laboratory products was at a show over a year back. Eventually a review sample came my way followed by my full review of their Gaincard amplifier here on the Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine in our September 1999 edition. Since then the Gaincard has been receiving much cyberspace ink with many music lovers true musical bliss. Below is a review of virtually their complete system including their rare phono cartridge which few examples are available. Is this system a diamond in the rough or are the folks at 47 Laboratory a one hit wonder?
i'll dispense with the basics that were covered within my review of the Gaincard as you can easily read it by clicking the link. Here you will find information on their Model 4712 MC Cartridge preamplifier, Model 4713 Flatfish CD Player/Transport and Model 4705 Progression DAC. Each unit needs its own Power Humpty. There are different power units which are needed to properly supply power to the 47 Laboratory products. Specifically, the two kinds of power supplies are the Power Humpty which is for analog gear (Gaincard and MC cartridge preamplifier) and the other is called the Power Dumpty which is for digital gear (Progression DAC and Flatfish). The Model 4706 Gaincard and Model 4712 MC Cartridge preamplifier can use one Power Humpty for both stereo channels or you can opt for two Power Humptys so that each stereo channel has its own power supply. Meanwhile the Model 4713 Flatfish CD Player/Transport and Model 4715 Progression DAC can use separate Power Dumptys for each unit or you could use only one Power Humpty to power both pieces. During the review i tried different configurations and feel that the Gaincard is best with one Humpty for both channels. t Since i had only one Dumpty here, i reviewed the Flatfish and Progression digital sounded with one power Dumpty supply for both units while the MC preamplifier seemed to offer the best sonics with one Power Humpty. For those who are counting, that is four pieces of electronics with three Power Humpty-Dumptys (two turtle doves and a cartridge that's by MIYABI).
While the MC preamplifier is set at the 75dB gain level, those with more challenging cartridges can order the 93dB high gain version. This unique, yet expensive for it's size, MC cartridge preamplifier looks like a cartridge itself! Like the Gaincard, there are totally separate right and left sections which hold the appropriate audio channel. These are mechanically joined by the main front and rear pieces to form the complete unit. The Model 4712 MC Cartridge Preamplifier is unique in that it is a current amplification device instead of the usual voltage amplification variety. According to Yoshi of Sakura System, the 47 Laboratory USA distributor, "The base of gain calculation is not the output voltage itself of the cartridge, but the output voltage divided by the internal impedance of the cartridge. For example, MIYABI/47 and Benz-Micro Ruby both have output voltage of 0.3mV, but the internal impedance of MIYABI/47 is 2 Ohms while Ruby is 38 Ohms. This means Ruby's final gain through Phonocube is 19 times smaller than that of MIYABI/47, and you'll need a high-gain version. Similarly, Lyra Lydian Beta has 0.5mV of output which is bigger than MIYABI/47 but it's internal impedance is 4 Ohms, meaning the base of gain calculation is smaller than that of MIYABI/47. You don't need a high-gain version for this, but you will need to crank up the volume a bit to get the same loudness. We recommend to consult us ahead if the customer is not quite sure which version will suite better with his/her cartridge." The standard gain unit worked fine with their cartridge and also my beloved Clearaudio Insider Reference Gold.
The Model 4705 Progression DAC is the model of simplicity. This unit offering only a single power lead, one S/PDIF digital input via female RCA connector and the standard right and left channel outputs via female RCA jack. The 4713 Flatfish CD player/DAC has a front and center orange display. This gives the track and time among other information needs. While there are button on the front top for display on/off, play, stop and track forward/back, a wireless remote control is included which offers many more functions. An interesting aspect with this unit is that the CD actually stays on the outside of the unit while a plastic acrylic-like threaded piece secures your CD onto the transport's motor. While the unit does have right and left analog outputs, i suggest avoiding them as only the usual 1-bit decoder mid-fi sounds seem to come from them. Beings a transport there is not just one, but two S/PDIF digital outs via standard RCA jack. Here is where the intrigue begins...
The two S/PDIF digital outputs are different. Output 1, the leftmost jack, is DC coupled and is best used with the Model 4705 Progression DAC or other DACs which offer DC filtering. Why you ask? Because the DAC has a DC filter and therefore you do not need the transport to also have a DC filter as this could compromise the sound quality. A note of warning as connecting a normal AC coupled DAC to the Output 1 may cause damage according to 47 Laboratory. The other digital output is AC coupled and good for normal DACs (Output 2). As i said before, 47 Laboratory does say that you can use the DC coupled output for other brands of DACs that have DC filtering, though at a resulting comprised sound, therefore use Output 2 for AC coupled units. The plot thickens!
Like the Audio Note Kit 1.1 DAC reviewed by me a few months ago, the Model 4705 Progressions DAC is of the non-oversampling variety. There is no oversampling used as is with virtually all digital to analog converters. The claim of 47 Laboratory and Audio Note is that the use of digital filtering is claimed to possibly cause smearing in the time domain among other things. As most people reading this know that jitter is another type of time smearing. The elimination of a digital filter can be, arguably, beneficial. A passive I/V conversion is used in the Model 4705 Progression DAC that is handled by a passive device. 47 Laboratory claims "The result is a superb transient response without any over-shooting, and still maintains the output voltage of 2.1V." Like with their other products, the shortest possible signal length is achieved by arranging and mounting the parts as closely together. While not mentioned in my review of the Audio Note DAC Kit 1.1, due to using a simple filter design there is a drawback. Specifically, there is some signal that extends a fair amount beyond 20kHz and therefore you may want to insure the rest of your system can handle this. Most systems seem to have no problems in this regard.
During this review i did also have the opportunity to enjoy the MIYABI / 47 MC cartridge. The designer of this piece, the legendary MIYABI designer Mr. Haruo Takeda, collaborated with 47 Laboratory in bringing this line contact stylus Alnico magnet design. MIYABI/4Ts aluminum alloy cantilever is claimed to "holds all the resonant energy inside and pours them into the phono-equalizer" according to the piece of literature i have on hand. The best sounding cabling for this system, as i did not have the 47 Laboratory Model 4708 OTA Kit, were the Kimber Select KS 3035 or Nirvana SL loudspeaker cables and KS 1030 interconnects. Loudspeakers used were the Avantgarde Uno or my beloved modified KEF 104/2.
All Systems Check,
Using the KEF 104/2 with large scale concert music seemed to help prove that the days of 200 watt behemoth amplifiers are not needed when one chooses to use a properly designed higher sensitivity loudspeaker that presents a sane load. Hopefully the day will come when audiophile run out of town those loudspeaker manufactures who insist on making large units whose sensitivity is below 90 db and/or present unstable low impedances to their upstream amplifiers. Ok, so i have an axe to grind about these things, yet if they can make great high-sensitivity loudspeakers in the 50's and 60's, why is it some loudspeakers seem to have caused a de-evolution?
Using the digital dynamic duo together showed me some of the best digital my ears have ever heard from a single manufacture. While loading, er, um, screwing down CDs on to the Model 4713 Flatfish CD Player/Transport was weird to say the least. Then again every time i look at the diminutive-sized Gaincard amplifier i guess it all equals out in some strange way. While i did not heard a great difference between having the display lights on or off, i do want to note that the Flatfish most defiantly needs some form of resonant control.
The good folks at Bright Star Audio recently sent me some of their goodies and the Little Rock 1 did wonders to get the best possible sound from the transport. It was an improvement large enough for me to make the Bright Star Audio Little Rock 1 a virtually mandatory device with the Model 4713 Flatfish. Everything, and i mean everything was better resolved.
Analogue junkies will be wondering how can a small, weirdly shaped, light weight (and almost $4k) MC phono stage sound good. If you have read my previous review of the Gaincard amplifier i have said the same thing. Well, how can i say this, when used with the Miyabi / 47 MC cartridge or my fave super-fi sell-the-house-and-kids priced Clearaudio Insider Reference you get analog that would make a grown man cry (or a dead man, um... Darn Rolling Stone flashbacks!). While the now famous inexpensive Lehmann Audio Black Cube, for which i was the first to break into worldwide audiophillia, has been all the rave, i have a feeling those who are into top-notch analog just may be swooned by the Model 4712 MC Phono Equalizer. So what does this unit do that has me in Happyville. It does nothing.
No, i do not mean it does not work. What i am trying to say is that it is not a trip to tube euphoria nor is it a ticket to the Solid-Stately Manor. It is the sound of one hand clapping. To be more review-like, it brings to the music what you put in front of it. It seemed to sound like nothing. i tried the unit using all non-47 Laboratory goodies to insure of my opinion here and it seems to be the most transparent thing my ears have heard for a phono stage. In fact i also never experienced any grounding problems, the dreaded nasty phono buzzing, high-gain hissing, tube roar, etc. during any setup i threw the unit into. The price will keep many an audiophile more as a wishing then an owning, though those who can afford such things really may want to audition the Model 4712 MC Phono Equalizer.
This leads us to an interesting conclusion. Could it be that, like the Model 4706 Gaincard, this MC amplifier, or shall we say amplifiers in general is 47 Laboratory forté? While i am sure that somehow there is some characteristic of the MC preamplifier, maybe it is so small a to deliver so much that i am at a loss of words? (Said in good humor) Hmm.. a review at a loss of words? Perish the thought! In the end there needs to be more investigation into this unit. Again, maybe amplification devices is what 47 Laboratory excels at. Back to the complete 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. Could it really be that the use of zero oversampling is the key? On with the mix and match we go.
First let me state, as i have said before, the Model 4713 Flatfish CD Player/Transport on its own, using the analog output on the unit, is not what a $5,400 digital front end make. We are talking about an impressive transport front-end with what sounds to me like a basic 1-bit DAC system. That is like placing a Pinto engine and transmission into a Ferrari 360 Modena. i would say the same about the Model 4705 Progression DAC. While i have a few unique customized transports here (read: tweaked out non-commercial units), none of them seemed to get the best from the Model 4705. The best sounds from this digital rig came when they were used together. it would seem 47 Laboratory agrees here as their special DC coupled output which is specifically made for their DAC seem to bring about the best sounds from both units.
In fact if i used the Model 4713 Flatfish with the Audio Note DAC Kit 1.1 i did get good sound, but not better than the 47 Laboratory combo. In fact the G-ds have graced my home with the $uper ultra-expensive Audio Note DAC 5 (think five figures folks) that is also a zero-oversampling unit. It uses all silver goodies and more super-fi tweak parts in this one unit than is found in most complete audiophile systems. The same outcome still applies. Let me also say for the record that when the DAC 5 is used with my custom transports it is in another league way beyond the 47 Laboratory combo. Not just a small difference, but as though a whole new world was brought forth. i know another reviewer had one of these puppies in his system but his editor will not seem to want to open the zero-oversampling can o' worms. Guess dreams of those SACD and 24/96 numbers games fill their head. Digital, analog... it is the music that matters!
Speaking of analog, the Miyabi / 47 MC cartridge sounded wonderful in my usual non-47 Laboratory reference system (all silver wired ultra-tweak). Alnico magnets are used as one might expect in ultra-exotic Japanese stylings. The cartridge seemed to lean more towards the musical over the analytic side of things. While not overly so, the thereness in the midrange was glorious. Bass, while not the deepest i have heard as with my Clearaudio Insider Reference, it is available at less than half the price. The highs also seem ever so slightly rolled off. This seemed to also add to the cartridge's more relaxing sound as opposed to an overly edgy sound as found with lesser units. Image definition and soundstage ability was excellent. My sample seemed to sound best with a 2.2 gram tracking force as measured by my Clearaudio Exact stylus gauge. While one could make minor tonal adjustments through VTA and tracking force, the above comments are at 2.2 grams with the back of the cartridge ever so slightly (and i mean very slightly) upward.
As a complete system you most certainly could do worse. Meridian system, while technically more sophisticated, never seem to sound right no matter how many different times i have heard them. You can add Cello to this list as i have been wined and dined by Mark Levinson himself. Yes, the Cello system are good, yet seem to strip away the humanness and soul in the music to my ears. Few companies make complete cartridge to loudspeaker systems... and there's the rub. Too many of us keep mixing and matching as we travel the world audiophillia hoping to find that magical combination that leads us to audio nirvana. With the 47 laboratory system i feel confident in saying that here you have an easy choice for those who simply want to forget about the system and simply... enjoy the music.
The below is rated on the complete system
Thank you very much for the extensive review of our products. I really appreciate your effort to bring accurate descriptions of products and the sound they make (or the sound they do not make!). While I enjoyed your mostly very positive comments, there is a couple of points I would like to make. The first one is that although you had almost all our products, cables were not included. I don't know why Yoshi didn't send it to you, but our products are very sensitive to the difference of cables and we use our cable through all product developments. Second is about the setting of Flatfish. As you found out, it is very sensitive to how, and on what, it is set. What we usually recommend is a very flat, solid surface without any damping materials between the floor and Flatfish. I haven't had a chance to try Bright Star products, but I'll keep it in mind.
After reading your review, I feel almost jealous of the situation in US that allows reviewers to compare the reviewing product with other brand's components and state their opinion honestly. Yoshi says it's not always the case, but you seem not to hesitate on the matter. Whether it is positive or not is an entirely different issue. Without comparison, who can say anything about value! Sadly, in Japan, the situation is far worse. The whole industry is in the same bed. Nobody says anything negative about anything. Reviewers are ranked by how much sales he/she can generate. Manufacturers can buy editorials and annual awards. Compared to that, the fact that you can write this kind of review and actually publish it with a response from the manufacturer is a lot healthier situation.
Thanks again, oh, before I forget, "the things that never been here", our flagship Pitracer transport will make it to US shortly!
* Output power: 25W + 25W ( 8 Ohm)
SYSTEM PRICE $3300
Miyabi / 47 MC Cartridge
*Stylus: Line contact
Model 4712 MC Phono Equalizer
*Input impedance : 0 Ohm
SYSTEM PRICE $3900
Model 4713 Flatfish CD Player/Transport
*Digital output : 2 Coaxial (RCA) outputs
Model 4705 Progression DAC
*Input sampling frequency: 32kHz, 44kHz, 48kHz (selected automatically)
SYSTEM PRICE $8100