The Sakura Systems website provides the following technical description:
“In conventional CD players, or CD transport~DAC combination, with multi-bit DAC chip, the original IÂ²S signal is converted to S/PDIF format at the transport circuit, then converted back again to IÂ²S at the receiver of the DAC section. For 4735 CD player, Junji Kimura created a proprietary 3D circuitry which enabled to avoid this extra conversion by connecting the IÂ²S output of the chip on the transport circuit directly to the IÂ²S input of the DAC chip. 4735 Midnight Blue CD player has opened a new stage to already well-known organic, analog sound of 47 Labs™ CD play back system.”
The Midnight Blue CD Player is a unique and minimalist product, as are all 47 Lab products. They were first known for their original and simple Gaincard amplifiers. Most 47 Lab products are small, simple, and cute, and this is true of the Midnight Blue line. (The two exceptions -spectacular exceptions — are the KOMA Turntable and the PiTracer digital transport, both of which make a rather incredible visual impression.) Despite its simple appearance, the Model 4735 Midnight Blue is possibly the biggest surprise of any product I have reviewed. If you’ve read any of my digital review you’d be able to tell there is one thing about digital that the 47 Labs designer and I agree upon: Neither of us is a fan of upsampling. We like non-oversampling, digital-filter-less DACs. The 4735 uses the rather simple, and to many, outdated TDA1543 chip set. It isn’t anywhere near the newest, greatest chip set. It was chosen because of the absence of the S/PDIF-IS2 converting receiver, making it his choice to use in the non-oversampling mode with no digital filtering.
It’s the transport on this player that is new to 47 Labs. It is a very high quality transport built by TEAC. Yohshi Segoshi of Sakura Systems (the U.S. importer) explained that it was chosen for its quality, reliability, and most of all because it could easily be modified to the kind of transport that 47 Labs prefers. It also gave them the ability to build with it a very good DAC and power supply in a very small package.
Like other 47 Lab CD players, the CD doesn’t go inside the player, but sits on top more like a LP on a turntable. The Midnight Blue does have a hinged lid that you close, and which serves as the clamp for the center of the CD. Despite this, almost half of the CD is exposed when playing. The player has small buttons on top for stop, play/pause, advance track or previous track. It also has a nice remote that adds a few other features such as a repeat button as well as buttons for different views on the display.
I like the way the player looks; it has a rather neat high tech and a retro look all at the same time. I love how small it is; probably because it tucks into my system so nicely that you hardly notice it. My only complaint with its looks is that there is no way to dim, or even better, yet, turn off the display.
The 4735 Midnight Blue CD Player is the third 47 Labs Midnight Blue products I have reviewed and I continue to be very impressed. Both the tuner and the headphone amp were very good indeed, but it is this little CD player that has blown me away. I have to admit part of why it blew me away is because I just didn’t expect it to be in the league with some of the digital setups I have reviewed. Let’s be honest — a couple of them cost more than ten times as much. I had really planed to hook it up in my digital video system upstairs and to review it in an all Midnight Blue system. At its price point these seemed to be the types of system where it would most likely be used.
Things changed though when I broke my leg and for a few weeks found changing LPs very difficult. So I had my son hook it up for me downstairs where it went into a system with my Teresonic Ingenium XR Silvers, the Wavac EC-300B, and David Slagle’s Emia Remote Autoformer with silver windings. Then just because I had them around I used a High Fidelity Cables Ultimate Reference Rhodium Plus power cord and for interconnects, a pair of High Fidelity Cables Ultimates. Everything was plugged in to the HB Cable Design PowerSlave Marble. Now, I know this is a bit ridiculous on a CD player that cost $3,250. You need to remember though that I wasn’t hooking it up just for the review, but to substitute for my AMG V12 turntable for a few weeks.
Later in the review I will get to how it sounded with more price appropriate cables and in my upstairs system. For now, I want to talk about how it sounded in the reference system. Yoshi informed me that it had plenty of time on it but had not been played in over a month. So, I hooked it up and put it on in the background for a few hours and then listened that evening. What did need break in were the cables, so while it sounded very good the first night it was about a week before I realized just how good it was.
What I had on hand to compare it to was the wonderful sounding DAC built into my Electrocompaniet PI 2D Prelude Integrated in the upstairs system, the very good Teac PD-501 player, and a Marantz UD7007 Super Audio CD/Blu-ray Player, which is a pretty fine Red Book player. The 47 Labs player sounds nothing like any of them though. It is more organic sounding, it has a more natural sounding bottom end, and lets the music really flow into the room. To be honest what it reminds me the most of is the Audio Note CD4.1 player I had in house for just a few days before I had to give it up. That should be no surprise considering the similar design philosophy, except 47 Labs doesn’t use tubes or tons of silver.
Like I said it has a very organic and tactile sound. There is the temptation then to say “like vinyl,” but it doesn’t sound like vinyl. What it does sound a lot like is music, more than I am use to from most digital players at any price. The 47 Labs Midnight Blue player is very listenable, more so than I would have ever dreamed possible from a digital source without spending many times as much. I was also very surprised with its ability to let me become so emotionally involved in the music. This is an area that makes or breaks it when I consider whether or not a piece of equipment is a keeper. I just have no interest in listening to music that doesn’t move me. This little player does this nearly as well as my vinyl rig on well done CDs. It’s not as alive sounding, it’s not as quite, it’s not as detailed, it’s not as powerful sounding as the AMG V12 and SoundSmith combo, but man is it easy and fun to listen to.
It also surprised me with the immediacy and presence with which it played music. Vocals sounded fleshed out and occupied real space, with a great sense of air form the vocalist and around them. These are qualities I had not heard in my digital system upstairs until I put the 47 Labs player in the system. Both voices and instruments had substantial substance, tonal colors, and air. It is in the bass that this player won me over though. It just sounded so natural. It didn’t seem to pump out fast, one-note bass. Drums sounded so right; they sounded fast but with lots of air around and within them. The leading edge was good but the decay is what made them sound so real. The same could be said of upright basses.
I have not had any digital in my reference system for several years, other than to review. The only reason I would own a CD player is to play music I like that is not available on LPs. I have made do for several years by going upstairs and listening to these on my video/digital system. So let’s talk about the sound of a few of those recordings for a minute.
Let’s start with the Mobile Fidelity Gold Disc Jazz Sampler. There is a reason that on E-Bay these bring up to $300. Not only are they rare, but the music is great. The first track, with Zoot Sims Quartet playing “Do Nothing ‘Till You Hear From Me” sounded so rich and alive. Zoot’s tenor sax was just right there in the room with me, and the bass was full and occupied a real space. On another track where Buddy Rich’s band plays Cottontai,l, I wanted to get up and clap; it moved me so. The drums and cymbals were life like, powerful, and played in beautiful space with great air surrounding them. Again, the bass of this little CD player sounds so wonderfully natural.
Another one of my favorite recordings not available on vinyl is Mary Lou Lord’s “Bright City Lights.” She recorded the performance with a portable DAT recorder in the subway. I love her covers of Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” Bob Dylan’s “You’re Going to Make Me Lonesome When You Go” and my favorite, her cover of Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.” There is a purity to this recording that, if played on a good system, is beguiling. I have taken this CD to audio shows and people always want to know who it is and where can they get the CD. I answer “Google it.” I don’t remember ever hearing her guitar sound better. The air, space, and speed with which it was played made it sound so real. Her voice sounded like she was there in the room. It was a privilege to hear this on my big rig; it was so much more involving than it is on the upstairs system. CDs like these two are the reason I’m reconsidering having a way of play CDs downstairs.
I could go on listing CD after CD that I don’t have on LP, but what would be the point? I mean right now I’m sitting here listening to the soundtrack of Corrina, Corrina and enjoying the heck out of the eclectic group of songs. Truth is I love the tonal balance of this little CD player, it reminds me a lot of the tonal balance of an EMT TSD-15 phono cartridge, and that’s a pretty darn good thing.
For those of you who want to know, the soundstage is great, the imaging is very lifelike, and the immediacy will compete with most moving coil phono cartridges. None of that is what makes this thing so wonderful though; it simply makes me want to listen to CDs more than I can ever remember. I’m not saying that it is better than my vinyl setup; it isn’t. I’m not saying it’s the best digital source in the world. I’m sure it must not be, but I haven’t heard much of the newest expensive digital players in my system. I’m just saying I love it and it fits a perfect need I had given up on in my reference system.
Conclusion: Why a CD Player in 2014?
That seems like the question, doesn’t it? The Midnight Blue CD Player won’t play high-rez recordings, it won’t play DSD, heck you can’t even hook a computer or an iPhone up to it. Well, as good as it sounds I can think of several reasons. First, I have a couple of hundred CDs I’ve not found on LP, many were never on LP, or maybe they are current artist that for some reason aren’t releasing their music on LP. Second, there are thousands of CDs of music I don’t have on LP that can be bought used for little or nothing and then cleaned and treated with something like “Essence of Music” that will now be enjoyable with the Midnight Blue player. Last, it also means I don’t have to have a computer, monitor, or iPad to play digital music.
For me there is one more very special thing about this CD player: its size and simplicity. It can sit on the corner of the middle shelf of my Box Furniture Rack and take up almost no space. I guess you can tell I really like this CD player. I can’t remember when I felt that way about a digital source. Highly recommended!
This completes my individual reviews of an all-47 Labs system with this player, including the 4730 Midnight Blue Tuner, the 4733 Midnight Blue Headphone Amp/Preamp/USB DAC and the new Alnico-version Lens II speaker. I will soon publish a review of the system as a whole. All of this will be hooked up with their wire.
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