Junji Kimura's Model 4717 Shigaraki Amplifier is, in fact, a 3-input 20-watt stereo integrated with one set of line outputs. The outboard transformer cube performs requisite voltage regulation while the very slim upright control section is said to house op-amp-based circuitry very similar to 47Lab's own famous Gaincard. A continuously adjustable slider trims volume, the lower toggle switch can mute or engage the main outputs, the two upper toggles select between inputs.

The associated math is squirrely. Three inputs, twin two-pole instead of one solitary three-position switch. Is there a Satori-pregnant haiku hidden in 3 equals 2 x 2? Perhaps. Clearly Shigarki conforms to a different -- albeit elusive in this regard -- logic. It goes: Switch 1 up = input 1; switch 1 down + switch 2 up = input 2; switch 1 down + switch 2 down = input 3. Not complicated but slightly - peculiar. Aft we're greeted by four pairs of sturdy RCAs, 5-way speaker terminals without full-size metal contacts inside the plastic nuts, and the four-conductor captive umbilical that draws go-juice from the cube which itself sports a standard IEC and snap inlet for the umbilical's contact.

Does high performance to you mean he-man connectors, Class A-style heat sinks, big numbers on paper and hernia-inducing physical presence? Go bother someone else then. As the anti-Godzilla of monster amps, puny Shigaraki won't impress such mindsets one iota. If, however, your ears should be properly hard-wired to your heart and not your eyes - well, shtick around, friend. You'll enjoy reading about how this little 'un can warm your heart while taking up less shelf space than two CD jewel cases and not wallet-raping you like successful agents of real real-estate are wont to.

First impressions? I used my beloved AKG K-1000 ear-speakers whose 600-ohm impedance and 74dB non-sensitivity require manly amplifier oomph. They offer true stereo separation without sharing a common inter-channel ground; resolution and HF balance that can turn lesser solid-state amps into nasty buggers; and an after-market Stefan Audio Art cable that terminates in Rhodium-plated spades for easy connection to standard speaker binding posts.

Replacing my resident tube-hybrid Unison Research Unico as K-driver, I picked a recent CD [Thunder of the Swords - Sufi Trance, Mega Müzik, 069] of electronica suffused with organic Turkish timbres compliments of ney, klarnet and unprocessed vocals. Like most predominantly synthesized music with relentless drum machine grooves, Thunder needs: Less rather than more edge; well-damped bass to infrasonic depths; speed and definition to separate the rapid pulses of electronically generated beat tattoos. If Shigaraki's diminuitive size was hiding a Napoleonic nasty temper, with this fare my ears would be ringing and bleeding in no time.

Thankfully 'twasn't the season for my bells to toll. Shigaraki was ultra-quiet, fast, very transparent, punchy, utterly grain- and hash-free, with natural rather than emphasized bass weight and, even on close-miked metal-on-metal clangs, completely devoid of steely hardness. Instead of merely tolerating this album for the occasional highlight, I now actually got into it - without involuntarily bracing against abuse and sudden-death fatigue.

Don't mistake this compliment for back-handed. Truly, this down'n'dirty excursion told me more faster about Shigaraki than a proppa High-End dem. You see, I despise it when our equipment dictates what kind of music we're allowed to listen to - or, as one manufacturer here recently admonished "our xyz is not ... for the listener who wishes to casually assemble an audio system and expects poorly recorded source material to sound anything but poorly recorded... it will admittedly drive some listeners to distraction by revealing the sonic inadequacies of many CDs. Do not blame the xyz for exposing bad recordings..."

Yes, there are bad recordings. Then there are the xrcds and Cheskys and green-edged wonders of the world. And those manufacturers who think that whatever we listen to sucks. But it's precisely here, betwixt these two extremes, where most of the really great music lives. Should you spend lots on high-falutin' equipment only to be told that your music's not up to snuff while suffering the aural equivalent of nuclear winter? The Shigaraki thus far and vehemently said no to such manipulative nonsense. It told me that Junji designs for broad reality, not narrow idealized exceptions. Bravo! Time to come off my soap box and listen to some audiophile-approved tunes instead.

I now switched to the Avantgarde DUO as the first speaker load. Word had it that Shigaraki (and the recently retired Volksamp aka. the Pass Labs Aleph 3 Mk II) was a low-power, affordable solid-state solution for Avantgarde hornspeaker owners unwilling or unable to get into tubes. I'd alternate between the Model 4717 and my two resident integrateds, the YBA Intégré DT of my computer sound system and the aforementioned Unison Research Unico of the headphone rig. Minor complaint to the Japanese audio deities: Shiggy's binding posts defeated all heroic attempts at biwiring with the HMS Gran Finale - barely enough room on the terminal posts coupled to the round plastic cap's unwilligness to screw down on piggybacked spades hard enough to produce a non-slip zero-twirl grip. Okay, this is an unlikely scenario but functionally, these binding posts do, er, leave room for improvement. I replaced the customary HMS bass leg of the speaker cable with an Analysis Plus Oval 8 jumper from the tweeter horn to the DUO's active sub. I was now open for business. The first customer to walk in? My Record of 2002 - Mediterra Nostra by Barrio Chino.