Associated Equipment:
Digital Front End
Amplification
Loudspeakers
Cabling
Accessories
47 Laboratory's 4713 Flatfish CD Transport/Player and 4705 Progression DAC

Constantine Soo

8 April 2002

Specifications

4713 Flatfish:
DAC: 4x oversampling, 1-bit
Digital Output: 2 Coaxial (RCA) outputs
Analog Output: 1 Unbalanced (RCA) output
Dimensions: 170mm 245mm 60mm
Price: $3,600 (without Power Dumpty power supply)

4705 Progression DAC Specifications:
Input sampling frequency: 32 kHz, 44 kHz, 48 kHz (automatic)
Output voltage: 2.1V
Digital Input: 1 Coaxial
Analog Output: 1 pair, Unbalanced
Dimensions: 60mm 162 mm 70mm
Price: $2,700

4799 Power Dumpty power supply Specifications:
Application: Power supply for both Flatfish and Progressive
Dimensions: 130mm 195mm
Price: $1,800

System Price: $8,100

Address:
USA Distributor
Sakura Systems
2 Rocky Mountain Road
Jefferson, MA 01522
Telephone: 508-829-3426
Email: sakurastms@aol.com
Website: www.sakurasystems.com

This is a look at the 47 Laboratory's $8,100 CD playback system, comprising the 4713 Flatfish CD Transport and 4705 Progression DAC. Our own Paul Szabady reviewed the 47 Laboratory Phono Playback System in April of 2001. You may see my background information on these products in our archives.

The Audition

Canare L-5CFB 1.5 meter 75 ohm coaxial cable and Illuminations D-60 Data Flex Studio 1.5 meter 75 ohm coaxial cable were alternated in connecting the 4713 Flatfish CD transport to the 4705 Progression DAC. The Progression's fixed-level analog outputs were connected to the Audio Note M3 Preamplifier, which would drive the 300B Audio Note Quest Monoblocks or the solid-state McCormack DNA1 Deluxe. To verify the Progression's performance characteristics on cone, horn and ribbon speakers, I alternated the auditioning with my Apogee Duetta Signatures, Genesis VI's and Klipschorns. Interconnects were two pairs of Granite Audio #470 with Cardas Quadlink 5C speaker cable. A Sony SCD-777ES SACD Player or my CEC TL1 belt-drive CD Transport/Wadia 27 Decoding Computer digital system were used alternately to play source material.

I found my recent concert experience of Franz Liszt's A Faust Symphony in my C-row perspective an aberrant reminder of the 47 Lab's tonal prowess via the Genesis VI. Conducted by Roger Norrington, the playing of the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus somehow provoked a familiarity to what I felt was the 47Lab's sonic signature.

Freshly daunted by such an experience, I hurriedly took out Daniel Barenboim's same reading on CD with Berlin Philharmonic and Berlin State Deutsche Choir [Teldec 3984-22948-2] upon returning home. Most immediately noticeable upon playing that disc was the tonal accuracy of the 47 Lab, with unprecedented dynamic contrasts from my Genesis VI in their irrepressibility and the very uncommon co-existence of orderly gentleness. The sense of space enabled superb delineation of the orchestra and allowed for precise localization of each instrument group.

Alas, live sounds are absolute in their vibrancy and scale; and therefore despite the many intoxicating memories from home listening sessions, my 47 Lab-injected audio system did not approach the live event. Comparing the CEC/Wadia and Sony SACD player to the 47 Lab, the Sony approached the same recording in competent soundstaging but fell short of the 47 Lab's depth with less dynamic contrasts. The CEC/Wadia's excellence at tonal shadings lent instruments abundant overtones, producing richer sounds complimentary of the combo's strength at wholesome dynamics.

Sounding considerably different from the Teldec disc, the Flatfish and Progression cunningly portrayed the outlines of instruments with unwavering localization from John Williams' Jurassic Park soundtrack [MCA MCAD-10859]. The 47 Lab system locked onto the center stage instruments' images and reproduced complex activities unswervingly extending beyond the locations of the left and right speakers. Presenting a most superbly organized perspective, the 47 Lab seemingly presented a hauntingly convincing E-row vantage in a hall treated acoustically for the utmost in microdynamics and imaging. Furthermore, with "Journey To The Island", the choir breathed out soft but vivid background accompaniments amidst a charged and grandiose summoning of the main theme.

In contrast, my CEC/Wadia's perspective offered more simmer and had more sumptuous instrumental texturing that was devastatingly addictive. Though the Sony SCD-777ES's Redbook CD prowess accorded appreciable dynamics with this non-audiophile recording, it did not possess the same dimensionality that the 47 Lab so expertly accorded to tranquil passages.

Defying my impression of its sonic character, the Flatfish and Progression offered newly conceived sense of scale and energy with Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 8, Symphony of A Thousand, [EMI digital CDS 7 47625 8]. With the 47 Lab at the helm, vocal articulations and their delicate intonations bestowed the melodic passages with an opulence that was less prominent via the CEC/Wadia. Whispery chants that were the praises of angels aptly conveyed a newfound timeless peacefulness, inclusive of a sense of redemption. More than other conductors of considerable stature, Klaus Tennstedt sustained the flow of the melody while preserving the subtlety of the sentiments. This noteworthy accomplishment was all the more prominent with the Flatfish and Progression.

In contrast, the CEC/Wadia system did capably develop the massive sounds from the brass and choir alike, with the soundstaging so wide that it seemed limited only by loudspeaker confinement. The massive brass, however, occasionally overshadowed the projection of the vocals. By comparison, the Sony had a less spacious soundstage as evident in tighter grouping of the orchestra. Although the Sony's tonal shadings were not at the same level as the CEC/Wadia or 47 Lab, its punctual transients preserved event spontaneity nicely.

Spinning early CD's such as Barry Manilow's Even Now [Arista 32RD-21] on the 47 Lab surprised me with the newfound clarity and soundstaging. A recording that was previously plagued with severely truncated harmonics and offering coarse and undistinguished instrument textures, Barry's voice was at once endowed with a wealth of tonality, while his signature big band accompaniments revealed plenty of information and layering for the first time. Instrument textures have never sounded so clear and involving, as percussion, piano, saxophones, trumpets and voices all were reproduced with the precious reverberation that invokes dimensionality.

Possessing a sweet and yet determined voice, Olivia Newton-John's singing went through phases in her life as documented in the CD Back To Basics, The Essential Collection 1971-1992 [Geffen GEFD-24470]. Even so, from early classics such as "I Honestly Love You", to the 80's super-hit "Physical," the 47 Lab brought out a rare tonal purity of her voice that was both sultry and touching that eerily resonates in the listener's mind. Ambience surrounding instruments was consistently revealing amidst complex and driving orchestrations, maintaining a vividly 3-D soundstage. For the first time, the 47 Lab gear revealed the hidden treasures from within the bits and pits of this recording.

Styx's 1980 best-selling Paradise Theater [A&M CD3719] sounded more delicate and powerful than ever with the 47 Lab. In addition to the surprisingly resolute rendition of vocals and instruments, the hitting of cymbals was heard approximately 2 feet beyond my left and right speakers in the track "A.D. 1958." Hardly known for tonality and dynamics, this CD now possessed keen dynamic contrasts befitting a high-fidelity studio feed, conveying an energetic band in action. Consistent and organized best describe the imaging from 47 Lab system and its ability to project delicate ambience in relation to instrument localization.

A 30-minute 1957 RCA Victor recording by two Native Americans called the Los Indios Tabajaras, the album Always In My Heart [RCA 8.11411] was a sensation in its time. Produced by Herman Diaz, Jr., the monophonic yet atmospheric left and right channels of solo guitars were joined in the center with a Hawaiian bongo. Although the sound quality was hardly of demonstration status, I reckon you will find the music mesmerizing and invigorating when played on a peaceful and quiet summer night. Despite the monophonic limitation, the 47 Lab extracted a richness of instrument timbres and reverberation queues belying its age - something the CEC/Wadia only hinted at. The single-page foldout liner notes are bare in appearance but quite elaborate and fascinating on the band's rise to fame.

Most impressive amidst all listening sessions, piano playing drew the conclusive judgement from me. A 2000 release of pianist Maurizio Pollini's reading of Beethoven's 33 Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli, or simply known as the Diabelli Variations [Deutsche Grammophon 289 459 645-2] is transformed through the 47 Lab. In surprisingly demonstration-class sonics, Pollini infused abundant finesse into deeply serene passages without overindulgence, resulting in a superb display of inspired playing arising from high degrees of originality. Never before has a DG piano risen in such dynamic and harmonic clarity from within a reverberating studio, with a vibrancy so potent, making the stereophonic reproduction eminently rewarding.

Unlike an individual instrument or voice, which often displays highly defined image specificity, the piano is a large instrument resonating with complex dynamics and harmonics, whose dispersed localization is not as focused. Despite the aforementioned, the hammering of strings emerged in distinguished dimensionality via the Flatfish and Progression, with excellent delineation of keystrokes that at once communicated acute continuity and individuality in drama.

Last but not least, my usual desire to increase the volume, done in an effort to compensate for the lack of realism at lower amplitudes, was unnecessary. The 47 Lab gear made a good piano CD remarkably more revealing in dimensionality and tonality detailing. Instead of needing the higher volume settings to project the piano playing as though it was startlingly located inside the listening room, a lower setting now more appropriately depicted the piano and its location within a larger studio or concert surrounding.

On CDs with Emphasis

In regard to 47 Lab's caution of using piezo and/or ribbon speakers because of an energy concentration of 33% of the musical signal at 22k Hz, the warning is aimed towards improper amplifier/speaker matching. With only a few disconcerting exceptions, I did not encounter instances that would warrant concerns when listening either to the Apogees, Genesis, or Klipschorn.

The exceptions were strictly in the form of CDs mastered with emphasis. Emphasizing a CD during mastering was a practice most predominant in digital audio's early days, for the purpose of reducing digital noise at the upper frequencies; similar to what Dolby did for the analog cassette. With the improvements in latter digital filters, emphasis was soon no longer applied.

Every time my CEC TL1 transport plays an emphasized track, my Wadia 27 displays "EMPHASIZED" and proceeds to de-emphasize the content for a normal playback. The Progression, however, passed along data from the same emphasized CDs unscathed, thus producing excessively grinding and screeching high frequencies. Whereas both the Apogee and Genesis have tweeter adjustments that permit compensation, adjusting the Apogee's tweeter involves the midrange frequencies as well, thus altering the sound unnecessarily. The Klipschorns reproduced the sharp tones in full force. Consequently, as the Genesis offers the most flexible user contouring, it is the only speaker among the three that was a more fitting match to the Progression in all instances.

For readers with a significant collection of emphasized CDs, unless you plan to replace them with newly remastered reissues that carry no top-end emphasis, your piezo or ribbon speakers have tweeter level adjustment or you have highly transparent equalizers, I would have to recommend against using the Progression.
In realizing his vision of the ultimate in simplicity, Kimura's execution of Kusunoki's concept precluded circuits that would properly decode emphasized CDs produced in the early 80s.

Various Configurations

Connecting the 4713 Flatfish to the Wadia 27 produced slightly more reserved dynamics than those attained by the CEC/Wadia combo. The aftermarket RCA/BNC adapter used for connection to the Wadia might have compromised signal integrity with its possibly substandard impedance rating, thereby suppressing both the Flatfish/Progression's 3-D soundstaging forte and the Wadia's textural vividness. As my experience tells me that the Wadia sounds its best via ST or XLR transmission, the Flatfish's exclusive RCA digital output precluded such experimentation.

On the other hand, the 4705 Progression DAC did not falter as much as the Flatfish did when connected to non 47 Lab equipment, in this case, either the CEC TL1 transport or the Sony SCD-777ES SACD player.

The CEC coupled Progression retained the Flatfish's unreserved dynamics and meticulous soundstaging to a very large degree, defaulting only at the Flatfish/Progression's clarity in tonal shadings in favor of the CEC's forgivingly softer character. I reckon this sound will appeal to certain listeners.

Connecting the Sony SCD-777ES in CD digital-out mode to the Progression produced tonal shadings approaching that of the Flatfish/Progression level at the excruciating expense of a sense of spaciousness. While slightly mechanical sounding, the Sony did achieve more pronounced macrodynamics in the percussion and brass. Nonetheless, the overall soundstaging specificity and instrument tonality of the SCD-777ES/Progression surpassed what the Sony player can achieve alone. For readers who are considering SACD application, you can do well by getting both Sony SCD-777ES and the Progression DAC for outstanding jump factor.

Summary

The Flatfish's remarkably "stressless" signal handling and the Progression's high-integrity signal processing excel at the delineation of aptly varying soundstages, with extraordinary depiction of individual instrument harmonics. From a rock band's incisive but overwhelming instrumentation to that of a full orchestra, there is a unique ambience and sonic signature from each CD, providing an astounding musicality. Even audience applause sounded more real. In fair retrospect, the CEC/Wadia's incomparable crowning spectral coherency and textural smoothness is akin to the visual sensuality of Impressionist oil painting.

In terms of dynamic and harmonic clarity, whether it was reading from an old, or inferior, or audiophile-grade recording, the 47 Lab was supremely resolute in its digital-to-analog conversion of layers of information from each audible frequency, analogous to the high-resolution line scanning in advanced video systems. Therefore, the biggest contribution this digital system had given me was the gratifying validation of a great majority of my CD investment since the early 80's to this day.

A word on soundstaging: in contrast to the Wadia-based system that exhibits more dispersed and well-formed soundstaging over multiple listening positions, the 47 Lab's beautiful 3-D soundstaging collapsed and became narrower and flatter when I was siting just two feet to the left or right of my listening position.

This trait was more evident on cone and planar speakers, such as my Genesis VI and Apogee Duetta Signature, and less so with my Klipschorns, probably due to horn speakers' dispersion pattern, which is highly directional to begin with. While the 47 Lab system has excellent resolution retrieval and soundstaging realism, the system is best appreciated in predominantly solo listening sessions. On the other hand, the Wadia-based system is obviously more practical to readers who value ultimate sonic beauty and prefer to share that sound during group listening sessions. Nevertheless, an in-depth objective evaluation of your speaker's characteristics and your priorities should precede actual purchase of the 47 Lab system.

As an integrated player, the sound of the $5,400 Flatfish with its 4799 Power Humpty bears certain resemblance to the $2,000 Perpetual Technologies P1A Digital Correction Engine/Upsampler and P3A DAC: good, solid center stage imaging with good overall image definition, albeit a relatively less focused stage-edge definition. Tonality-wise, the Flatfish CD player is less prominent then the PT gear in the midrange via my Genesis VI's, and less dynamic via my Klipschorns. Compared to my $3,450 Sony SCD-777ES SACD player in CD playback, the Flatfish excels in the single aspect of instrument tonality, lacking in dynamics and bottom-end extension. Considering the Sony provides user-selectable CD filtering modes, SACD playback and a large, informative display, the Flatfish becomes overpriced as an integrated CD player.

Having been conditioned by my reference Illumination Orchid-coupled CEC TL1/Wadia 27 digital system, it was initially difficult to accept the 47 Lab. Despite the subsequent month-long familiarization period, during which I found the Japanese system enjoyable, there were instances when I felt the alarming pull of my CEC/Wadia-addiction from deep within. Instances also occurred during this review when I persistently returned to my system, concluding I was merely caught up in the new-gear excitement and passing overly favorable judgment on the 47 Lab. Alas, for each of my revisits to my digital reference, the impression of 47 Lab haunted me, bringing out dimensionality and resolution surpassing my CEC/Wadia, despite all the idiosyncrasies, and my resultant criticisms.

With a lack of user-selectable features, the 4705 Progression is probably the most expensive DAC on the market. Its omission of a phase inversion option requires the user to reconnect speakers manually to play an out-of-phase recording properly, should the connected preamplifier lack the phase inversion option as well. Finally, the singular coaxial digital input of the Progression limits interface options.

Furthermore, due to the Progression's 22k Hz energy concentration and its lack of de-emphasizing function, cautious system matching is essential to minimize impact on fragile tweeters. While it is imperative to avoid playing emphasized CDs, it is of equal importance that the 47 Lab system is properly matched to a user-adjustable speaker in a sound system that is, at the same time, fundamentally neutral.

The Flatfish/Progression's lack of AES/EBU digital transmission may have stopped the system's continuous ascension to higher grounds, and I have yet to experience the sound of Progression's 24/96-compatible DAC with an upsampler. In my opinion, the Flatfish's existence can only be justified in its function as a pure CD transport, accompanied by the $2,700 4705 Progression DAC. At which point, putting aside the 47 Lab digital system's sheer diminutive dimensions and visually deprived aesthetics, the $8,100 Flatfish/Progression fusion forms a formidable elite CD system, its undeniable triumph made evident by virtues of tonal purity and 3-dimensional stage depiction. Sonically, the 47 Lab digital system firmly belongs in the league of other super Redbook CD players.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

47 Laboratory's 4713 Flatfish CD Transport/Player and 4705 Progression DAC