Nothing is as Simple as We Would Like:
More on the 47 Laboratory Gain Card Amplifier

Rick Gardner

Of late I have been giving considerable thought to how we are dealing with differences. I have been shocked and amazed at the hostility that often accompanies discussions among the various factions of the high end with respect to how we pursue our individual and collective desires for reproducing music. Long ago I reached the uncomfortable conclusion the only thing in life I have any meaningful control over (and that rarely) is myself. In this spirit I have been pushing my own comfort level to explore differences I may have dismissed too lightly in the past.

Intellectually I understand there is something important going on with SE triodes. To try to better understand this I have been trying to avail myself of every opportunity to learn more and experience more of this topology. At present I have the fine Bel Canto SE-80 Mk. II’s in my listening room (review forthcoming). While I am aware of their limitations, I certainly understand the charm. I have also had 300-B and El-34 based SE integrateds in my secondary room (the 300B albeit, very briefly).

David Robinson invited me to his lovely new house to hear some "deep triodes." The plan was to listen to some of the better known 2A3 based amps (Welbourne, Wright, etc.) along with a new, low power SS offering from Gain Card. This was to be done in the supporting context of single-malt scotch (get it, get it?). For my contribution, I brought the cute little Audion EL-34 based SE integrated from Britain.

The plan was to feed these cuties into a pair of Lowthers (other than classic horn designs, sort of the sine qua non of high impedance, high efficiency triode friendly speakers . . . hell they will run well on less than a watt, according to the US Lowther importer, Tony Glenn). The source would be, of course, the SCD-1. This would be a real adventure for me, not having heard the Lowthers previously.

So, after a few drams, David, Tony and I sat down for some serious listening (well, not all that serious . . . it’s hard to be serious for too long at a time with Tony around!)

OK, very nice mid-range, no bass to speak of (if you want the low-end, the Lowthers are simply not the speaker for you), small scale, and a little closed in at the top. But for me, the greatest struggle was that the sound never seemed to get up off the speakers. I could appreciate the tonal qualities at in intellectual level, but my foot (and my heart) simply did not move.

OK, so we take a break (Tony and I had to head outside, our nicotine levels having grown dangerously low), while David switched over to the Gain Card. It got a whole ten minutes to warm up.

The Gain Card is silly small. It comes in two pieces; the primary section about the size (maybe even a bit smaller) of two Beta tapes sandwiched together. The power supply a round can a little bigger around and shorter in length than your average large can of tomato juice. Heavy for its size and immaculately constructed . . . and we are into double digits for output power (around twenty, as I recall). The tube preamp we have been using wouldn’t work (impedance mismatch) so we took the SCD-1 output directly to the amp.

Back to the SACD’s we had been using, and POW! The music leaps off the speakers and my toes go to tapping. No grain, no flicker . . . some indications of real bass, but this wonderful pace and control that made the Lowther experience something very different. I was involved, excited . . . I could even imagine myself tucking this little beauty away, running a small, powered sub, and being really happy with the Lowthers in a secondary system (something that ever entered my mind with the 2A3’s).

I don’t think this combo fits the mold for the whole deep triode thing, but that doesn’t mean it is not HUGELY worthy of consideration.

I want to spend some more time with the Gain Card and all of its accompanying ancillaries (these delightfully diminutive transport {about the size of a book}, DAC, passive source switcher and phono stage).

Really impressive.