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But this milestone Gaincard amplifier launched 47 Labs. Though not obvious, the digits in this company name refer to the name Kimura in an encrypted way. In Japanese the short version of the word yellow is ki. Purple on the other hand is mura. On a resistor its ohmic value is not printed as a letter or number but positional color code. A resistor with the yellow-purple or ki-mura code has a value of 47 ohms, hence Kimura Laboratories became 47 Labs. This letter and color game is typical for Kimura-san. He always thinks out of the box to come up with original ideas and solutions. Originality is one thing but it's really simplicity which is the main focus for his designs. When these two ingredients combine with good engineering, what results are minimalist designs where form follows function. The short signal path in the Gaincard and the inside-out/upside-down approach of the PiTracer transport are telling examples. Ultimate simplicity is also found in the 47 Labs cables, be they interconnects or loudspeaker cables. A rather stiff sheath holds a single high-quality solid-core copper conductor. A plastic plug connector has the wire stick out a bit which then gets lazily wrapped around the plug a few times. It's funky but works great.

Over the years the range of 47 Labs products has extended to various quality and price levels so the Japanese manufacturer now covers quite a broad market segment. Common to all are very idiosyncratic exteriors which not every potential buyer will appreciate. With the new series of Midnight Blue models the aesthetics have become tempered into something more classical to hopefully appeal to a broader range of music lovers. Whilst the outer jacket has grown more conventional—incidentally co-designed with one of Sony’s top designers—the wayward 47 Labs approach to minimalism and quality remains squarely in place inside.

The Midnight Blue series counts five models at present. Starting with the lowest model number 4730, there is a genuine FM stereo tuner. Like all Midnight Blue boxes it measures just 20cm in depth and 10cm in height. What differs from model to model is width. All share the clear aluminum bottom plate which bends around the back twice. First it forms the back plate proper with all connectors and posts, then a little lip at the top. That structure is visibly bolted to the actual chassis with protruding stainless steel hex nuts. It’s no surprise that the enclosure itself would be painted midnight blue.

To issue an FM tuner in 2012 shows real guts. Don’t people listen to some form of digital radio by now? To the contrary. Good ol’ FM radio is alive and gaining in popularity. In Japan the 4730 tuner already has become quite the success and the US apparently is following rapidly. That’s because FM radio still offers a great amount of uncompromised high-quality analog audio that hasn’t been completely killed by too much compression or limiting. One must find the right stations of course. For the European market the 4730 gets adjusted for the frequency bands receivable there. It might not be a surprise sight when a new owner of such a tuner climbs up on the roof to install an old-fashioned FM antenna like a laundry drying rack and plucks more signals from the ether. The 4730 comes with two antenna inputs, one high-impedance 300Ω for the well-known double wire and one 75Ω coax. Fine-tuning is easy and the sensitivity of the tuner is spot on. Even with the simple antenna we used the difference between cable and internet radio was enormous to make real believers real quick.

The Model 4733 is a multi-function device of preamp/DAC. True to 47 Labs form there is neither over- nor upsampling. For this true godfather of the NOS or non-oversampling movement it’s always been best not to tamper with the original signal in any way. Accordingly a simple Philips TDA1543 became the vintage R2R chip of choice. There is no filter at its output. Such simplicity incurs a few limitations. One of those is compatibility. It's good only for 16/44.1 Redbook. With a zillion of such recordings available, the right customer won’t miss support for what by comparison remains a pathetic handful of hi-res issues. Digital input is via coaxial S/PDIF around back or the frontal USB port. Analog inputs are via two pairs of RCA connectors. For output the user can get a 5 x amplified signal through the headphone socket or the same signal can be routed through the preouts. But there’s more. The 4733 also has a pair of spring-loaded clips as a type of loudspeaker connection that's so often maligned already for mainstream applications, never mind high-end audio.