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Originally published April 1, 2004
Kenwood L-02T vs. Lirpa 4.7 Laboratory - Studio Standard Ultimate FM Tuner
Winner: Lirpa 4.7
Imagine my excitement when one of our tuner benefactors offered his incredibly rare, embarrassingly expensive Lirpa FM tuner for a Shootout. Yes folks, I'm talking about the Lirpa 4.7 Laboratory - Studio Standard Ultimate FM Tuner. Most of you have heard of this ultimate in FM tuners, but you've probably never seen one until now. Rumor has it that there have been only 4.7 of them made to date. How do you make seven-tenths of a tuner? Well, it is rumored that one of Lirpa's long-time customers, a very old, very wealthy eccentric, firmly believes that stereo is nothing but a conspiracy to make people buy extra speakers, amplifiers and wire. Bending to his demands and his money, they redesigned and built him a mono tuner. Serial number: .7. Rumor also has it that he had a dedicated hi-fi room built in the shape of a right triangle with a Klipschorn corner-horn speaker placed in the 90-degree corner. As far as only 4.7 having been produced so far, please understand these are totally handmade by a team of international players. They fly into Germany for three months a year and work side by side, keeping the Lirpa legend alive.
As usual, I wanted to spend some time, one on one, with this incredible piece of hi-fi before subjecting it to any A/B tests against the Kenwood L-02T. The first thing I noticed was the dead quiet background, even on weak stations like 88.7 west and 88.9 to the west. Pure silence, but the music did flow. Boy did it flow! While listening to 98.7 oldies on KLUV, I felt as though I was back in my '55 Chevy and it was 1962 again. With my eyes closed I felt all the excitement of teenage youth flowing over me. When Chubby Checker did "The Twist," I felt my feet digging and turning into the rug. When Elvis sang "Return to Sender", I thought of long-lost girlfriends and made a mental note to read through old love letters. During a long commercial break, I switched to 101.1 classical on WRR. It felt as though I was instantly placed in the best seat at the Meyerson and was listening to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. It was so real, I could hear the conductor's wand slicing through the air. When a solo violinist performed, I sneezed as I imagined rosin from her bow wafting down onto my face. Unbelievable! It was so real. No, it was better than real. Yes folks, the musical presentation through this tuner was better, actually larger than life. Front-to-rear depth came in layers. No, not layers. That would imply discontinuity where there was none. I'll have to call it a front-to-rear REALITY. The soundstage was huge. Never have I experienced such an event. Well, maybe once at a Led Zeppelin concert in the early '70s, but that may have been enhanced by all the funny smoke in the air.
The musical experience with the Lirpa was so intense that I finally had to get up and turn on the lights to return to reality. I kept saying to myself, "it's only a tuner, it's only a tuner." I had no idea my system had such resolving power until heard through this tuner. It's better than vinyl, better than digital. Eventually, the classical station proved too much, so I switched to 88.1, the college jazz station in Denton, Texas. Now this was somewhat easier to handle, usually smaller groups of players in more intimate surroundings. Here the imaging was pinpoint and I could truly *see* the musicians in the room. At one point, I had to open my eyes to make sure. Was Etta James sitting at my table singing ONLY to me? During a recording of a live show, I could almost taste the drinks being served and my sinuses began to stop up from imagined cigarette smoke in the air. As a final test for the evening I turned to 107.5 KOAI, smooth jazz. Here the music sounded like, well, smooth jazz. I guess there are limits to the magic of any audio product. There was no reason to A/B the Lirpa against the Kenwood L-02T. The Lirpa was so far beyond the Kenwood and even the Accuphase T-109V musically, that I must designate it an 11 PLUS, clearly on a level above these two former champs.
Attempting to rate the Lirpa for DX capabilities, it won hands down against the L-02T. It was able to pick up all weak but local stations with no background noise at all. When the roof antenna was pointing toward 88.7 west, it was absolute heaven to finally be able hear a good clean stereo signal with no interference from 88.5. On the L-02T, I had to switch to narrow mode to reject 88.5 and then was only able to pick up 88.7 in mono. Turning to 88.7 east, the L-02T was able to receive a fair but noisy signal. Even with the Lirpa, there was SOME noise in Super Wide mode but all was right with the world when I switched to the normal Wide mode. Then KTPB came in loud, clear and in stereo. The folks at Lirpa do make an indoor antenna and at first I laughed at the thought. I like REAL antennas, outside antennas. But after all the musical magic this tuner surprised me with, I had to give it a try and... Wow! Incredible! I'm tempted to go through the whole system of tests again. In every way, this small indoor antenna outperformed every antenna I've ever owned or tried, indoor or out. The Lirpa indoor antenna is designed to sit on top of the tuner, as shown here. It is designated the Lirpa DEVIL-A. I'm told that stands for Dog-Eared Vertically Intensified Linear-Arrayed. A funny story. When the top brass at Lirpa got wind of my pending review and that I had decided to include the DEVIL-A, I got a call from their lawyers who forced me to sign legal papers saying I would not post closeup photos of the antenna or give any dimensions. It seems they were worried that certain antenna manufacturers close to TIC might copy this innovative design. Basically, they said if I let their DEVIL out of the bag, there would be hell to pay.
After spending a few weeks with this unbelievable tuner, I grudgingly boxed it up, triple-boxed from the factory, and shipped it to Bob for proper testing in his lab. I did sneak a peek inside and found no ceramic filters to coincide with Lirpa's Super Wide, Wide, Narrow and Super Narrow modes. When I inquired, Lirpa executives asked if I could see the ten encapsulated black boxes. Those, they said, were part of the proprietary filter system. Hopefully Bob will be able to shed some light on this system. Winner? The Lirpa did usurp-a all the rest.
Bob's test results:
Capture ratio: 0.6 dB
Alternate channel sel wide/narrow/super narrow: 60/90/160 dB (beats the 10B!)
Adjacent channel sel wide/narrow/super narrow: 12/28/68 dB
Mono signal strength 50 dB quieting 7 dBf
Stereo signal strength 50 dB quieting 29 dBf
Separation, dB 1 kHz 91.1 dB
THD mono/stereo 1 kHz 100% modulation 0.0002%/0.0005%
S/N max db mono/stereo 98.5 dB/93.3 dB
I was shocked at the capability of the IF filters in this incredible tuner. When I called Lirpa to find out more information, the marketing guy was out playing golf, so luckily I was able to speak directly to an R&D engineer, after explaining that I had already signed a complete nondisclosure agreement. He was speaking in broken German, but I was able to catch about half of it, something to do with bending electron beams with superconducting magnets to enable the first implementation of an ultra-linear phase, ultra-selective IF filter. Unglaublich! That perhaps explains the incredible weight of the unit and power supply.
My brief testing of the tuner done with the new Lirpa DEVIL-A antenna confirms Jim's review. It appears the antenna may use a combination of "golden ratio" elements aimed at capturing the circular polarization of FM broadcasts, and then some. We have heard rumors that some of the Lirpa R&D team have also been involved in particle physics research, and the results of that research has been deployed in the ultra-secret DEVIL-A antenna. The special ritual used to "charge" the antenna at this point is under strict legal nondisclosure, but I can attest that it works, like no indoor antenna I have ever used before (or outdoor antenna, for that matter). Lirpa assures me there is no unusual risk involved in performing the calibration, which I questioned due to the high RF levels involved. The twitchy but well-documented calibration should be done monthly for maximum effectiveness, but apparently will last a year or so for those that can live with the slight performance hit. In summary, this tuner absolutely sets the new high-water mark for RF measurement performance, and so rightly lays claim to the title "the world's best tuner." Well done, Lirpa!
Weight: 170 lbs.
Price: $19,400 USD at current exchange rate - really a bargain at not much more than a Burmester.
THE SHOOTOUT CONTINUES!
Rankings after Shootout #68:
11 PLUS: -C- Lirpa 4.7 Laboratory - Studio Standard Ultimate FM Tuner - The search for the Ultimate tuner is over. Puts you IN the music.
Originally published April 1, 2004
Lirpa 4.7 Laboratory - Studio Standard Ultimate and Lirpa Reference 1 BDTE:
With all due respect to Jim and Bob, now that the Lirpa name is out to all readers of the Tuner Information Center (TIC), we owe the readership to talk about the big dog, not the runner-up! While I am totally enamored with the 4.7 and still searching for one, the BIG DOG in the line is the Reference 1 BDTE!
The Lirpa Reference 1 BDTE (this is the full-blown version of the Lirpa 4.7 Laboratory - Studio Standard Ultimate) is to the 4.7 as the Sequerra Reference is to the Sequerra Studio. I understand that BDTE is the designer's little inside joke, ala Adcom with their GFA/GFP names, and presumably stands for Best Darn Tuner Ever, Big Dog of Tuners Ever, or something equivalent?! Now here is a tuner that I have lusted after since I was a mere boy. Only a few factors have stood in my way, those being cost, obtaining enough strong guys to lift the tuner into my reference system, and for proper long-term performance the obligatory concrete pier resting on bedrock to support the weight and girth of this magnificent tuner (microphonics in the dual nested phase-lock loop multiplex is the underlying issue for the exceptional support).
Despite what those other reviewers (who I respect) said about the 4.7, the Lirpa Reference 1 BDTE actually is the better tuner and has a 29-gang front end counting both the (19) FM and (10) AM portions. Part of why the tuner has such staggering girth is that the tuning capacitor is actually just under 30" in length and is encased in the finest shielding ever (a three-layer affair made from Mu metal, copper and permalloy) with EAR isodamp damping (they manufacture military damping products) between the layers (clearly the front end is NOT the source of the microphonics). The military specification, Silicon on Sapphire Field Effect Transistors (SOS - FETs) restore the gain lost through this most massive of all tuning caps (or should we say the Mother of all tuning caps?). I am lucky to be one of the select few to have recently acquired not one but TWO New Old Stock (NOS) Lirpa Reference 1 BDTEs in their original wood shipping coffins (shades of an overgrown SME 30 box)!
To go on with the circuit analysis, it uses a custom balanced diode bridge mixer and a high-power, ultra-low noise local oscillator made of 12 paralleled low rbb', high frequency bipolar transistors and triple buffered and shielded (same materials) to prevent leakage of the LO. The IF is made from one stage of 14 LC sections that are mechanically tuned, phase aligned and then epoxy-potted for permanently high performance. That part is shared with the Motorola DNF1 and sourced by the same firm. The selectivity in the IF is in front of all of the IF gain blocks (which are cascoded, differential JFET-based) and the limiter circuitry that follows. The detector is a special torroid-based ratio detector that has no peers in the industry. The torroid, which uses an amorphous sendust, glass ribbon wound to form the core (sourced by Matsushita, I believe, and part of their Technics division) and is shielded again in the same materials as the front end, actually weighs more than most modern tuners at 12 pounds! This is one of only three tuners in my experience that has TOTAL IMMUNITY to WWV and its carrier appearances across the FM dial !!!! The multiplex section is made from two nested phase-lock loops with pilot canceling circuitry, and is perfect except for the microphonics from some high impedance paths and a poorly mounted oscillator for carrier cancellation (hey, no one is perfect). The audio stage is one of only two that was ever done correctly! It uses low-noise paralleled JFETs in the HP "zero-distortion" topology where the same number of complementary, hand-selected, N and P channel devices appear in each polarity so that stage to stage, the odd harmonics are canceled and being complementary so too are the even harmonics. Given that all tuning devices are inherently a compromise except the panalyzer in the Sequerra, a combination of 3 buffered detector outputs and an RGB output allow the display of more important tuning information than most designers would probably understand (ok, overstatement, current tuner designers anyway)....
So now that I have whetted your appetite, what does it sound like? At first I thought that it had a signal-to-noise ratio and absolute quieting that actually improved on what the stations are transmitting, but then I realized that I hadn't plugged the tuner in! Hey, go ahead and throw rocks, but even dedicated tuner ho people can make mistakes. Once correctly powered, the Lirpa shattered all previous performance benchmarks and has ruined me in terms of listening to FM or AM through ALL other tuners! I immediately was struck by the depth, width and precision of the soundstage, the utter lack of noise, exceptional dynamics and ability to pull stations from over 400 miles away with a Magnum Dynalab ST-2 antenna! I never understood that this is actually the best FM antenna ever until I owned this tuner (not kidding). I won't get into the rest of the details, because it does a disservice to the other merely great tuners that suffer tremendously by comparison. Obviously the L-02Ts and TU-X1s that I own are all going on eBay and Audiogon soon! I only wish that the one flaw of microphonics could be solved as I would gladly give up the trunk space in my car and use the RF remote to enjoy this level of sound during my commute to and from work. Since it has a quality headphone jack, I could use my new Sennheiser HD650 (fantastic) to listen without the acoustic compromise of the automobile cabin! Finally, this is the first fantastic tuner that looks as good as it sounds. Imagine looking at Cindy Crawford (or another model of your choice) while being plunked down in front of your favorite symphony or rock band for a live performance... It is almost that good. It is like hearing that you have to marry one of the Bond girls and having your choice... It is almost that good. I feel bad that I own 10% of the world's supply of this vaunted and virtually unknown tuner and knowing that few others will ever hear or see one. Well, those people can find comfort in knowing that the rest of my tuner collection, except for the Motorola DNF1, is going on the blocks for sale and all of them were perfectly aligned in my lab.
I will try to post digital photos of this truly exceptional tuner as soon as time permits, until then I remain the happy tuner ho with TWO LIRPAs !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Hey, maybe I can trade all of my lesser tuners (L-02Ts, TU-X1s, etc. for one more Lirpa???????????)