Review: 47 Labs Gaincard Amplifier

Category: Amplifiers

I have been a nightclub manager for awhile, and have managed 5 clubs in my home town, NYC. I have recently spent 12 years woking in a club where live music was performed nightly. My idea of a great night out is dinner and a concert at Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall, or, if I can find it, some live jazz in some out of the way joint with no pretense of grandeur.
My experience also includes time spent selling audio for Leonard Radio in the 70's and work assembling speakers for a friend starting his own company, which only matters because we were constantly being sent equipment to use in demos, and I also helped many audiophiles assemble and install high end systems.
Nonetheless, this is only one man's opinion.
I mostly listen to classical and jazz vocals, and do most of my listening at night. Diana Krall, Andrea Bocelli. Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra are among my faves. I also grew up on rock, from the 60's to now, from the Beatles to Limp Bizkit.
I value imaging and tonality equally, and try to balance both.
The thing I hate the most is a system intended above all to impress the neighbors with prodigious bass that has nothing to do with the music.
I have owned the 25 watt and 50 watt Gaincards for about two months (25) and four months (50).
I had the higher power one first and bought the 25 watt later to see which one I would prefer.
I purchased these through Audiogon, along with my Ocellia Tilia loudspeakers.
Before this I was listening to a pair of Enigna Oremus loudspeakers powered by a Sonneteer Bronte Integrated amp.
My cables are Van Den Hul The First Ultimate interconnects and Teatrac Biwire speaker cables.
When I first bought the Tilias I used my Bronte and was planning to get a Diavolo amp I saw on Audiogon, but the sale fell through, and I saw a 50 watt Gaincard and got that instead. It sounded great.
However, I also saw a 25 watt Gaincard later on and figured I could get it, compare them, and keep the one I liked. I knew the reviews that I had read were for the 25, and was curious to hear the difference.
My opinion is in accord with that of the Sakura Systems website - the 25 watt unit is more natural sounding than the 50.
The benefit of having the more powerful amp is the imaging specificity and presence of individual images within the soundfield, something those who own less efficient speakers may appreciate, but I do not require with my Tilias.
I am currently enjoying one of the best sound systems it has been my pleasure to listen to, much less own.
The 47 Labs equipment is, in my opinion, a major step into a new future for audio.
Thank you for your kind attention.

Associated gear
Shiragaki DAC and Transport

Similar products
50 watt Gaincard
Nice review. How does the Gaincard compare to the Tripath Bronte?
The Tripath Bronte was recently reviewed in a Brit Hi Fi rag and they didn't like it very much, although they tried to smooth things over by saying it was "tube like". I lived with it for two years and wanted for nothing. I still own the Bronte and would like to sell it, but if I had to live with it again and use it to drive my high end rig I could live with it, no prob, Bob.
The Gaincards (I own both) are by far the most neutral amplification it has been my pleasure to own. However, I must confess to a bit of displeasure over the price asked for these amps. They are excellent, no doubt, but they are not fairly priced considering the quality of the level potentiometers and switches used. I have had a real lot of trouble with imaging due to the difficulty of insuring channel balance with these amps. It is often necessary to "fiddle" with the switches on these amps in order to get the soloist back in the center where he/she belongs.
At this price range this is not only unexpected, it is unforgiveable.
It is only for the sake of the sense of reality afforded by the 25 watt Gaincard that I put up with this.
I plan to have the unit serviced and the potentiometers replaced.
I read in another post that you've added an Audio Note M2 pre to match with your Gaincard.

I had just let an M2 phono slipped out of my hands as I confirmed with the seller one day too late.

Can you share some details as to how M2 is improving/matching with the Gaincard in your system? What cables and sources are you using?

You didn't happen to "steal" the M2 that was being sold Agon about a month or two ago from me, did you?
I got the M2 for $1250, and if the price is familiar, the I am guilty as charged.
It was wonderful driving my Gaincards, which I had both, 50 and 25 watt, making them both more "musical", obviating the need to use the potentiometers in the 'cards, and making the system more dynamic.
You need to know, however, that the M2 can be very microphonic and needs a lot of vibration control, the only caveat I would give a prospective buyer of an M2.
After having my 25 watt Gaincard modded by the manufacturer, I have had no problems with reliability (see previous review) and I have trouble imagining anything better, regardless of cost. I have heard systems that cost much more that the $20K or so my system is valued at, and I am more that satisfied that mine is comparable, if not better in many respects. I am not trying to impress the neighbors, just looking to enjoy my music.
With anything from small ensemble music to Metallica with full orchestra, I am happy.
Highly recommended for anyone looking to get off the upgrade bandwagon.
I am with you in your quest to enjoy the music rather than impressing the neighbors.

I assume the mods you speak of are the manufacturer's stated “new circuit topology”. Can you share the perceived differences between the original and the modded unit? I have not experienced any problems with my GC, but I have been curious about the upgrade and the potential benefits.
The upgrade brings the amp into the modern day expected norms of wide bandwidth (some claimed the GC was reticent in the low end and very high freqs), and adds some to the dynamics. To me, it was more than worth the small investment. If I hadn't already ordered a 300B custom made by Alex Dondysh, I would keep it, and want for nothing.
My 300B is only better in the sense that it provides more 3D imaging of individual instruments/voices, but it cost me almost $4k and it wil be my last amp for a long time. It is the amp I have always wanted, period, even with just a few hours of listening. I can't wait for it to fully break in.
Thanks for sharing your assessment of the GC upgrade. I hadn't heard or read about claims made regarding frequency limitations. Statements like that can be questionable, but they interestingly match your findings. As you point out, the small investment can certainly be worth it if extension and dynamics are improved. Sounds like the way to go. Getting better from your 300B is an even more interesting thought. Thanks again.
My amp was custom made by Alex Dondysh, who advertises in these pages. It includes Sophia mesh plate 300B's, silver wire throughout, James transformers, Black Gate capacitors, NOS GZ34 tubes, and some proprietary circuitry. I wanted the bandwidth of transistor amps, with the musicality of tubes, and I also wanted an amp optimised for my Ocellia Tilia 16ohm/98db-1watt speakers. It is dead silent with my ear next to the speaker, and has all the qualities I was looking for in an amp. The Gaincards left me with a very negative first impression, and eventually won my heart, but there is an emotional aspect to having something custom made which cannot be ignored, making one's judgement possibly suspect to a casual observer. I cannot deny the possibility of this, but the fact is, if it adds to the enjoyment of the MUSIC, then damn the bolloks - full speed ahead!
Yours Truly,
Casual observers aside, no one here would question your judgement. I understand your feelings about an “emotional aspect to having something custom made”. It compounds the sense of greater value and certainly helps to keep you off the component merry-go-round. I am interested in hearing the improvements you mentioned about the Gaincard upgrade. Maybe I'll get to it this year. Although, I do not look forward to disrupting my system nor my listening. After your new amp settles in, I hope you post a final comparison to the GC. Regards.
Since you asked...
Actually, I Have put the GC up for sale, although all I get is questions about the mod...
The Gaincard is truly a fine piece, with no negative transistor artifacts, such as grain or pinpoint (as opposed to 3D) images, with all the actual gain one could desire for all but the most demanding applications. If it doesn't sell, I will keep it and be happy about it. I have a pair of Diatones in my video system and would use the GC to drive them, extreme overkill for video notwithstanding.
The main benefit of the 300B is in the reproduction of individual images in the soundfield. They are solid, unequivocally there, and tonally pure, with an inner illumination of the performers that must be heard to be believed, when driven by my tube based Metronome Technologie C1A DAC, which uses the 18bit chip preferred by the actual circuit designer. I recently bought a pair of Siemens 5751 3 micas for my DAC and the benefit of using NOS tubes is tremendous. This DAC also has a 4.6 volt output, obviating the need for active preamplification, which has its own drawbacks. I anm having a level control custom made for me by Nelson at, with mono attenuators (I am hypersensitive to channel balance), silver hard-wired interconnects, and an ebony wood case and knobs. Currently I am using a Scott Nixon passive attenuator, and loving it, I have becone addicted to passive preamplification, and its neutrality, and I want a totally maxed out unit for myself.
With the my Alex Dondysh 300B amp, I find myself listening to music and being more emotionally drawn into the message of the performer, mostly due to the fact that I am not distracted by any audio artifacts, and I can relax into the experience without thinking of being critical in any way. This was also the case with the GC, only with a little more emotionally neutrality, a function of the dynamics of leading transients being less aggressive, something some listeners might actually prefer in their systems, depending on their source, kind of like the case of "passive vs. active preamplification". This is one of the qualities of the Gaincard that the Mk2 mod addresses, and quite well, I must say. I would recommend active preamplification with the Gaincard, for best results, although it will be extremely difficult to find preamps of sufficient quality to mate with an amp that exhiits this exemplary level of tonal neutrality.
The custom made amp includes 16ohm taps for the Ocellia Tilias, with low gain for better sound, and NOS GZ34 (5AR4) power supply tubes, a specially designed low noise circuit, silver wire and Black Gate caps. It will take a long time to fully break in, but in the meantime it is already incredible in its communication of the details, and the emotionality of the performer. Highly involving with any type of music.
I am getting a Coph Nia Phono Preamp for my Technics SP10 Mk 2 turntable, and this will lead to further adventures in audio.
Plese forgive my long windedness, and thank you for your kind attention.