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As a one-source integrated, the Gaincard is minimalissimo - precisely its Zen appeal. To precede it with a preamp defeats the entire concept. To give drat curiosity a rest, however, here's what happened when the concept got flushed. The ModWright -- itself a hybrid tube design that's very neutral for a valve piece but nonetheless justifies the internal glow with spatiality, layering and microdynamic elan -- gave the Gaincard more grounding and upped the jump factor a trifle. That latter aspect was mostly noticeable on the kind of demonstrator fare I never listen to for pleasure, meaning Classical bombast at Maxell-ad levels, say the dynamically completely uncut Sibelius 5th with Estonian maestro Neeme Järvi conducting the Gothenburg Symphony [BIS 222]. The grounding effect, however, was real-world useful on all albums regardless of metier or SPLs. It injected a bit of raunchiness and drive into my favored fare of charged Flamenco -- La Susie's Ague de Mayo on muxxic is a recent hot discovery in this genre -- or added a few pounds to skinny Fadista Mariza on transparente [Time Square 9047].

In brief, Dan Wright's affordable masterpiece preamp with remote justified once again that I picked wisely when I purchased it. With no tubular liabilities, it did exactly what a premium active preamp is supposed to do over and above a passive pot.

Having also acquired the passive Music First Audio transformer-attenuator unit for a superior example of that breed, I was prepared to accede the possibility that inserting one passive in front of another -- essentially that's what this madness amounted to -- might do something beneficial rather than nothing (or worse, go negative.)

I wasn't sure it would do any good but I knew it might. I'd already performed the bypass test with Opera Audio's mighty Consonance CDP-5.0 Droplet and its volume-controlled 2 x 6H30 output stage. There I found the passive to be faintly active in matters of sweetness and silken texture. The Passive Magnetic now did two things, one rather subtle, the other a bit less so. Contrary to intuition about such matters, going passive squared added that same skoch of silken sweetness to the already sweetly flavored Gaincard. That's why I say subtle. Sugar on sugar is a lot harder to make out than cayenne pepper stirred into honey or chocolate (two excellent options, by the way).

Less debatable was the curtain call. As a big believer in high speaker efficiencies, I delight in being able to play things very quietly without feeling I'm missing anything. When I say quietly, I mean while Ivette's working upstairs. This separates us by only about 20 feet, an open archway and seven small steps. She may have the television going at very low volumes if she's doing artwork. I have music going in my cave. That sounds cacophonous and uncivilized but isn't. At all. It's amazing what you can tune out (when what you want to tune in on is patently obvious to not require concentration or effort). Being standard operating procedure chez Ebaen especially on weekends, I'm keenly attuned to the background-yet-satisfying-level game and how far I can push it - downwards. As the Brits say where the Passive Magnetic is from, their unit came on song sooner than the solo Gaincard. The volume where things gelled and went coherent, resolved and full simply happened earlier. It was as though someone had dropped the sweet spot on the system's torque curve one gear lower. The results with the copper PRE-T1 were virtually identical but not the silver which sounded tonally lean and a bit whitish while the soundstage perspective shifted farther away from the listener.

One other reason I bet my remaining realsizing funds on the Music First piece? Its fully balanced outputs. Those enable bridged operation on my Patek SE gainclones. Go out balanced from a pre into Peter Daniel's XLR-to-two-RCA adapter: presto, two 50-watt stereo chip amps turn 100-watt monoblocks, each with its own dedicated outboard power supply.

When I first acquired the Pateks, I felt that bridging them -- at the time necessitating the Bel Canto PRe2 for its balanced outputs -- overemphasized transients for too much sharpness at the expense of body or harmonic envelope. Perhaps due to further break-in; perhaps due to swapping out preamps for the Music First; perhaps due to different balanced cables (Analysis Plus Solo Crystal vs. Crystal Reference); I now feel differently. What I'm hearing is more meat especially in the midbass power zone, increased dynamic acceleration and a touch more image density, already a key point with the Pateks and chip amps in general.

Employing an unfair advantage is what sports are all about. If genetics made you 7'4", you belong on the basket ball court. The little white guy just has to put up with you and work harder for a goal. The Gaincard even in dual-mono mode was simply outmuscled, overrun and put in second place when I compared the four Canadian boxes in 100-watt bridged mode to the two Japanese cans plus aluminum postcard at 25 watts. The AudioSector quartet played beefier, with more excitement, harder-hitting attacks and, especially in the midbass-to-lower-midrange band, with more wallop and body. The only area where the Gaincard might have held the advantage was in the mid-to-upper treble which seemed more refined yet - still no Emission Labs solid-plate direct-heated 45 triode but a far far cry from transistor chalkiness and arguable more suave than the bridged Pateks which inject just a bit of bite here on occasion.

You know how they say ignorance is bliss? It's a one-way ticket. Once ignorance becomes knowing, you can't go back. Having seen the itemized parts cost for the Gaincard guts published on the web; having Yoshi now allow that the inside photo on the prior page was of a real Gaincard, albeit an earlier iteration... pricing and execution simply don't match up. I believe that the Gaincard has degraded into a caricature of sorts. It's become testament to the bravura -- some might call it outright gall -- of Kimura-San who laughed HighEnd audio in the face, reached back into Engineering 101 and packaged the most basic of circuits in a rather funky manner, then surrounded it with Zen mystique and went to town for as long as the market would stay open.

Simply put, the Gaincard was never priced based on what it costs to make. It was always priced based on what it compares with sonically. That's a perfectly valid strategy. Until you look into the box and do a cost analysis, that is. End of bliss & ignorance. Now do that with Shigeki Yamamoto's A-08S and you see execution, fit'n'finish and parts that add up to monster value. So even the "Japanese esoterica" rationale applied to the 47lab boxes doesn't gel. Approach the Gaincard like the Yamamoto amp and ... well, I've said enough. Incidentally, calling an integrated circuit chip a single part to market the 8-part simplicity of the entire circuit, input to output, as a miracle of cleverness is somewhat akin to calling a combustion engine a part of one. True, the National's only one chip - but what's inside is far from simple. True, using it is simple because it eliminates having to build up a circuit from the parts and functions already integrated into this monolithic part. But calling it simple to juxtapose against 'complex' as though the latter was evil is a sleigh of hand at best and pure marketing marmalade at worst. These ICs are marvels of miniaturized complexity!

In conclusion, I believe that the Gaincard is a true classic in that it -- quite brilliantly -- pioneered a
cunning concept. To this day, it justifies itself sonically with an elegance that is very rare in transistors. I believe Jonathan Scull would have called that very quality pellucid. It's against present-day competitors that the Gaincard shows itself to be outdated in execution and -- in these days of direct-sales and Chinese imports -- nearly disbarred as unconscionably overpriced. The truth of that statement should rest squarely on the number of units that actually still sell outside of Japan. My guess is that very few indeed do. Being a US dealer for the Gaincard must be a painful antagonism these days - between loving the sound and the idea of the concept but feeling incapacitated to answer the really tough questions about looks, lack of features and, first and foremost, price. In other words, backing up the idea with solid evidence about why so few click stops on the attenuators; why the funkiness of appearance and innards; why $6,500 for a dual-mono 50-watt single-source integrated when $2,500 buys you a 30-watt FirstWatt Aleph J --"the best Aleph yet" puns designer Pass and Michael Lavorgna will take it to the test --and another $299 a RedWine Audio Puri-T passive or the gussied-up Lotus with three inputs and a DacT stepped attenuator for $799. When $699 buys you a 38wpc Onix/Melody SP3. When $1,200 buys you an AudioSector Patek 50wpc gainclone of superior build quality and fully equivalent -- though not identical -- sonics. Unison Research's Unico. PrimaLuna's integrateds at $1,295. Ad infinitum, you get the drift.

None of that takes away, however, that the Gaincard was the first to make it to the North pole so to speak. It boldly claimed a particular area as hospitable which nobody previously had considered fit. This opened the doors for others to follow. They set up camp on the same grounds and thus kicked into high gear capitalism and with it, free market competition and cut-throat commerce. If I have sounded overly dismissive of the Gaincard's present-day appeal and significance, I never meant to deny those simple facts. Nor, for that matter, claim that it does not sound brilliantly un-transistorized, compellingly smooth, suave, mellow and non-arid and arguably can still rattle the cage on any number of $5k, hot-running, heat-sink bristling conventional macho power amplifiers. Admittedly I'm not sure that most of this is exactly what Yoshi Segoshi hoped I'd convey when he elected to send me his Gaincard. Alas, it is what I feel to be the fair and candid assessment of this classic - the one that didn't get away but upset the apple cart of the status quo those many moons ago and began the trend of "op-amps for president" that has even found its way into Blue Circle's high-power amplifiers with 6922-based driver stages.

As a closing movie moment would put it: "You were there first, Gaincard. Nobody can take that away from you. Ever."
Yoshi Segoshi replies:

Gee, I feel like I committed marketing suicide! Suggesting a comparison review with other chip amps was a kind of gamble for me. What made me go for it was the fact that I rarely encountered other amplifiers that outperformed the Gaincard -- no matter what the price point -- since I started handling it 8 years ago (well, of course except when driving speakers whose impedance drops criminally low or which require a huge amount of current to drive them). That was arrogance on my part. I never heard Peter's amps.

As for the price, I don't feel I need any excuse. If Peter's Patek was made in Japan, imported to the US and sold through the dealer channels, the retail price would fall somewhere in the vicinity of the Gaincard's $3,300. That's not to undermine Peter's decision to go direct with a very attractive price. Considering the character of the product, that was a wise decision in today's market and, undoubtedly, consumers benefit from it.

The majority of the Gaincard's cost comes from the packaging, as is the case (no pun intended) in almost any audio component. The Gaincard costs what it does because of what Srajan calls its "funky manner", machined aluminum casings done in Japan, not because we price it based on "what it compares to sonically".

The Zen-like marketing presentation is my doing although I never intended to create a mystique. I came from the visual art background and it was rather natural for me to associate 47's approach with some schools of traditional Japanese paintings.

Opinions aside, the fact remains that the Gaincard is $3,300 and that's not cheap. I'd say Srajan's assessment of the Gaincard is fair in its principle. You gave me a lot to think about, Srajan, and we'll work harder to bring something that you wish to replace your Patek with.

Thank you very much.
Yoshi Segoshi
Sakura Systems

Manufacturer's website