|Junji Kimura is 47Lab's eminence grise. By now world-famous and -- where his Gaincard is concerned -- relentlessly copied in DIY audio circles, his illustrious engineering pedigree spans extensive tenures. There's Pioneer, Trio Corp (now Kenwood), Uni Creates Corp, Luxman and Kyosera. Kimura-San's restlessly probing mind and concomitant itching for paths less traveled predicated 47Lab's founding in 1992. It meant vacating the steadily flowing and certainly not impecunious river of convention. It meant crafting a small vessel/laboratory to brave this same mighty river - in the opposite direction, upstream. Dont fence me in! How rebelliously counter-corporate, how anti-establishment.
Other Japanese free-thinkers had done so before, have so since. From Hiroyasu Kondo's original Audio Note to Kazutoshi Yamada's Zanden Audio; from triode-guru Sukuma-san to researcher Ryohei Kusunoki, Combak's Kiuchi-San and countless other audiophile ronins - the land of the Rising Sun has done more for the resurgence of horns, low-power triode amps, resonance control and the flamboyantly retro concept of digital-filterless CD playback than self-congratulatory mainstream myopia in the US would ever recognize or credit.
What traits in the Japanese psyche or culture could facilitate such experimental out-of-the-box enthusiasm? What in the suave French soul is responsible for a similarly advanced trend on l'opposite side of the world? Good questions. For today though, we'll direct your inquisitive mind to something more tangible - Kimura-San's Shigaraki system. It downscales fiscally -- but purportedly much less so in performance -- the celebrated 47Lab Flatfish/Progression DAC/Gaincard setup. That's a $11,400-serious Zen rig and includes two Power Dumpty supplies for front-end & amp. Shigaraki meanwhile consists of the equivalent and functionally named CD transport Model 4716, DAC Model 4715 and Integrated Amplifier Model 4717 which -- repeat with me all together --$4,750 out-the-door takes home. Now add Junji's personal reference speaker. That's the Konus Audio Essence ($3,500/pr), a single-driver full-range creation by Sead Lejlic, 47Lab's Bosnian distributor for Europe whom I previously interviewed in these very pages. Then connect these various parts with 47Lab's own wiring.
Voilà - you've got yerself what I shall begin reporting on today as well. It's, as you'll agree, a small, very different but complete and completely thought-through lifestyle system. It's to music what a hole-in-the-wall eatery is to diehard -- i.e. non-snobbyist -- food mavens: A somewhat funky, to-the-heart-of-the-matter celebration of the essentials over the glamourous fluff. Where the food's delivered without fanfare or fancy napkins but also without painterly presentations on mostly empty plates. Where the chef's instead an eclectic freshness fiend who believes in substantial appetites. Of course none of the tour guides or neighbors know of him. Depending on your head space, that could be terribly offputting or exciting. You know which side of the fence I call home.
How this system looks, works and sounds won't be everyone's cuppa tea. Forget Lipton's tidy bags. While sanitary, they barely color the (timbral) water. This is select Pouchong tea - a small portion of handpicked leaves unfolding to preposterous size (of sound). They can be reused for a whole day (endless repeat). They're left at the bottom of the cup (all on a single shelf). That container is preferably made from a special ceramic (Shigaraki) to enhance the tea's slightly fermented (very organic) flavor.
Shigaraki of course is a traditional Japanese workhorse ceramic used for ordinary day-to-day utensils. Here it makes up the DAC and power supply housings as well as the bases for the bent-metal enclosures of transport, amp and amp's power supply. Rather than laser-etched into 1/2" gold-plated face plates, the minimalist 47Lab logo -- like a prehistoric clay print -- is stamped into the mud-colored ceramics while a triple-contact sleeve fitting on back connects the two supplies to the transport and DAC's captive umbilicals respectively. On the amp's supply, the logo's micro perforations pass the red rays of an internal diode upon power-up, both to subtly confirm status and add a touch of internal glow.
With its four constituents of transport, DAC, amp and speakers, today's system just begs to be mixed up. Try it in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways to identify each component's sonic signature before assessing whether matters of synergy push individual performances out of bounds when all are used together as a complete system. First up are transport and DAC. Since my reference player eschews a coaxial digital output in favor of optical, the Jolida JD-100 would assume alternate transport duty. Bel Canto's DAC-2 would augment the Shigaraki DAC, either combo strung together with Chris Sommovigo's excellent i2digital X-60. All this friendly kibbitzing and carousing would occur in the context of my usual reference system: Bel Canto PRe1, AUDIOPAX Model 88s, Avantgarde DUOs on Apex footers, components housed on Grand Prix Audio's Monaco, itself supported on another trio of GPA's carbon-fiber pyramids. Exclusive cabling, for this initial lay-of-the-land exploration, would not be Junji's wires. I'd stick with the phenomenal HMS Gran Finales to which, since they first got here, my ears have by now thoroughly cottoned on (and now don't want to let go of). After all, the audiophile version of Alcoholics Anonymous (one day at a time) must be observed with equal rigors in our otherwise inebriated-by-imagination listening context: Change just one component at a time...