47 Laboratory 4715 D/A processor & 4716 CD transport Page 3
Given the strengths I've described here, I thought I'd prefer the Shigaraki combination on Strauss's Tod und Verklärung (Lorin Maazel, Bavarian RSO, RCA Victor 63265-2), where the ability to maintain a precise rhythmic pattern against sustained notes and chords is so important. But, good as the Shigarakis were, I thought my Sony did a slightly better job. There, the Shigarakis could've used that extra bit of color and (especially) bass depth, to complement their already fine temporal abilities. And did the Sony sound a little cleaner and the 47 Lab combo a little noisier in the very quietest parts? Or was that, in fact, a distraction of the Shigaraki transport's noisier motor drive?
The 47 Lab combination was emotionally satisfying nonetheless. I tried something amateurish but sincere—a 1991 collection of the choral music of Randall Thompson (Arkay AR6110), a DDD recording so crappy I swear I can hear the quantizing noise on some numbers. Yet the charmingly dated mid-20th-century harmonies, not to mention Robert Frost's motley moods, came across directly and entertainingly, maybe even uniquely so. Or the great wail and verve (there's that damn word again) of Clarence White's B-bender Telecaster on The Byrds' Live at the Fillmore, which is so strong a dose of good guitar playing you'll want to put the intro to "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man" on repeat for a while: The Shigarakis brought out the best in that one.
You should also try Barbirolli's Mahler Third, released way posthumously on BBCL 4004-7. The Shigaraki combo had a direct, emotive, and ultimately extremely involving way with this music, even if the top end wasn't as sparkly as that of the Sony or of numberless other players. In fact, when you get right down to it, the 47 Laboratory combo was a little quacky by comparison—so midrangey it made Barbirolli sound almost like Toscanini, if you know what I mean. The Sony is also better at letting you hear Sir John's rather loud cantabile during Kerstin Meyer's "O Mensch! Gibt acht!" But for their part, the Shigarakis were better at getting the tears flowing at the end of the great Adagio. There you go.
If I were describing the 47 Laboratory combo to a friend and I didn't have to worry about being circumspect and professional, I'd put it like this: 47 Lab equipment, in general, performs like classic mid-1980s Naim gear, but sounds more crisp and has significantly more color, if a little less "authority." 47 Lab's digital gear follows suit, except you can leave out the part about sounding more crisp.
Junji Kimura's designs tend to focus on the essence of the music they're playing, sometimes at the expense of hi-fi trappings and sometimes not. For all its rhythmic strengths, the Shigaraki CD system was easy to listen to, with no high-frequency nasties. It had decent color, if not quite the last word, and no less drama than any other "Red Book" playback system I know. It even imaged acceptably well, although that is far from its raison d'être.
The way I hear it, some audio products have a better or worse sense of flow than others, of presenting music as the involving continuum it really is, rather than as just a succession of pretty-sounding stills—in much the same way that different conductors can be better or worse at finding and unraveling the singing line at the core of virtually all Western music. I consistently hear a better sense of flow—drastically better—with SACD than with any "Red Book" CD system. SACD sounds more like analog and more like real music to me, which is why I like it.
In this regard, I heard no huge differences between the Shigaraki combo and my Sony SCD-777ES SACD player playing CDs: Sometimes the Shigarakis seemed as if they might have had slightly better flow, but much of the time they sounded no better in that regard (although they never sounded worse). The distinctions I heard were no greater than might be accounted for by a headache or a bad mood.
Overall, I slightly preferred the way the Shigaraki combination played music as compared with the standalone Sony, although the difference wasn't big enough on most music to make me want to give up one for the other. I do, however, enjoy the Shigarakis as things, if you know what I mean, and I enjoy using them. I like the ideas behind them, which I think is an important thing to confront and admit.
Both the 4715 DAC and the 4716 CD transport are largely hand-built, the former obviously more so once you look inside it. Neither offers superb value for money; neither offers notably poor value, either. If anything, the 4715 DAC is a better value for what it is, an observation echoed in and reinforced by its performance. Although my job is to tell you how this package performed in my system, I can't escape the fact that the DAC was the more musically influential of the two.
If I didn't care for SACD as a whole, and I were just starting out with "Red Book" digital, I'd consider buying both Shigaraki components. As it is, and based on my experience, I'd lean toward combining an inexpensive SACD player with just the Shigaraki DAC doing the conversion honors for regular CDs: That's a system to be reckoned with for the listener who stresses music over sound and wants to enjoy the (musical) best of both worlds right now.