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LampizatOr Revisited

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There are a lot of brands in the world. Some are household names. Advil. Macintosh. Polaroid. Wii. Prius. Some are more niche. Auricap (Audience’s electronics capacitors). Clarke’s (mens shoes). EOS (Canon’s cameras). Pilot Sport (Michelin performance tires). Some brands just have to be seen to be fully appreciated.

Lukasz Fikus is clearly angling for the recognition-factor with his LampizatOr line of DACs. LampizatOr? Yes. LampizatOr. Get used to that name — we’re going to be hearing a lot more of it moving forward.

I first ran across the LampizatOr last summer, when some lunatic over at the Computer Audiophile forums started raving about the LampizatOr being the “best DAC ever”. Strong words. Fightin’ words. Then I found a Stereomojo write-up on the LampizatOr Level 4 DAC and I was curious. Almost immediately thereafter, I read that it had taken the top spot in a six-DAC shootout, and I was very curious. So, I called Ming Su, the US distributor for LampizatOr, and that was all she wrote.

But not quite. I found myself actually, actively, missing the DAC. That’s never a good thing. So, after several months of thought-virus infestation, I exercised the demon.

Lukasz & team have come up with something new. He’s calling it the Level 4+, and it’s a variation on the DAC I got to spend time with last Fall. This DAC has a heavier, and more heavily damped, chassis. It also has a brand-new PCB design for the chipsets and layout. My DAC is fully balanced. It has a full set of V-Cap CuTF capacitors, an analog volume control (with a sleek Apple Remote), a 32-bit USB input for direct connection to my MacBook Pro server running Pure Music, and a BNC S/PDIF connection for use with an external reclocker/converter if I should choose to use one. It’s also got a sporty black faceplate and a green “eye” power-button. This is a hot-looking piece of gear.

Currently, it’s in the rack pushing tunes to a preamp while it burns in. I’ve got all of 24 hours on it so far, and yes, the sound is improving. Which is scary, because it sounded good right out of the box.

All I can say at this point is, “hee hee”. I’m really tickled. Much thanks to Lukasz Fikus and his crew in Warsaw!

Ahh, it’s good to be an audiophile ….

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About Scot Hull (979 Articles)

Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.

36 Comments on LampizatOr Revisited

  1. Any update on the Lampi 4 vs other dacs (berkeley etc)? How suitable the Lampi is for rock music compare to equivalent priced dacs?

    • Part-Time Audiophile // July 14, 2013 at 8:50 AM //

      I think the Lampi is a great DAC — suited to whatever you you listen to. That is, I don’t really get the DAC for this and DAC for that approach.

      If it matters. I think the Berkeley has more precise, more delineated bass, but the Lampi has a more 3D midrange texture. But I think I already said that….

  2. Many thanks to Norman who seems to be the only one who actually has a cognitive brain cell somewhere, in addition to PTA who is brilliant of course, who uses the same rather descriptive word as I used in my review of the Lamp – magical. I don’t think I’ve ever used that word in a review before – we try to be very specific without too much vague imagery. It’s still “magicalfying” us to this day.

    I suggest in the future, if anyone has a (negative) comment to make about anything PTA says on his site, write him privately first before you pull the trigger and embarass yourself in public. That’s a good idea for anyone anywhere when it comes to criticism.

    Keep it up PTA!

  3. Any more thoughts on the L4+. Have the L5 and really think it is a good sounding dac.

  4. Hi,

    just wondered being not so familiar with this blog yet:

    Will there be a kind of review at this place of this new reincarnation of the Lampizator ? I personally would be very interested to understand, if possible of course, how it compares in your opinion with respect to the Berkeley Alpha DAC Series 2 (that I interpreted at least as being your reference currently, well, more or less).

    Being located in europe it might be simpler / more comfortable for me to get the Lampizator, but not until hearing your opinion 🙂

    Many thanks,
    Adrian

    • Part-Time Audiophile // April 22, 2012 at 9:03 AM //

      I’ll be revisiting the LampizatOr Level 4+, and doing some comparisons to the Berkeley Series 2, sure. Not sure when, though, my backlog is getting a bit long.

  5. Just to clear it for some folks – the LampizatOr DAC has an analog volume control – the purest one in existence. Just two resistors in the path at a time. It is controlled by a microprocessor switching of the relay-resistor ladder. Thats the purest way I know of. Thats why the DAC sounds so good with power amps. The PRE is unnecessary and we save $$$ when removing the preamp and IC cables.
    Lukasz Lampizator Guy.

    • Thanks for that. The more I read and learn about the LampizatOr, the more I like it.

  6. Forgot to include the Brinkmann integrated (passive linestage).

  7. Follow up to the DAC/Pre question. I should have never explored this question. I came across this over at CA and my head is spinning. http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content/DAC-real-preamp

    OK, in the 5K+ DAC range the pre will likely be good; anything under questionable. I’m done with this topic.

    BTW, is it analogue, or analog when discussing volume control?

    I’ll leave you alone now, you’ve got to prepare for the NY show.

    • Part-Time Audiophile // April 11, 2012 at 8:45 AM //

      I think it’s “analogue” if you’re English. Very proper, what what.

      And yes, I think you’ll be better off with a Dodd tube buffer in many cases, rather than going with the preamp section of most inexpensive DACs.

      • The Dodd looks interesting. It’s a little beyond my full technological understanding. But, I think the passive linestage/passive pre, or whatever it’s referred to, is similar to the volume control used in the Vitus and Odyssey Audio Cyclops integrated? Amp with volume control minus any additional circuitry (pre) in the signal chain? I don’t know what I’m talking about. You don’t have to waste your time trying to educate my dumb a**. I’m just thinking aloud. I’ve got a lot to learn. I’m going to go read some more now.

        Pip-pip & cheerio

      • Part-Time Audiophile // April 11, 2012 at 8:16 PM //

        No worries. Lemme know if the wheels come off the bus. 😉

  8. Definitely a fan of this type of creative work but this can’t compare to your TW – does it?

    • Part-Time Audiophile // April 10, 2012 at 3:03 PM //

      Sure, it compares! And pretty well, too. More on this soon ….

  9. Controvery in that, some say it’s always bad and some say it can be good. The great Vitus makes a blanket statement to that affect here at around the 20second mark; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Txu6DueWH0A

    I certainly hope the Wadia is excellent. I love the small size and Wadia cosmetics are always one of my favorite. I have my doubts that it can be reeaally good. LIkely a compromise in power supply and dig. vol. control. I was hoping to see Wadia come out with something in the 3-5K range for the 121.

    Thanks for the link. You covered thoughts there on dig. vol. that I must have missed.

    The Seta BUF1 looks interesting, but adds a little more complication. I’ll just avoid digital volume for now… well, unless it’s a Devialet. Thanks!

  10. Thanks for that info. I’ve had the thought of switching from integrated amp to DAC arrangement, to DAC/built in pre to straight amp for a while, just for convenience. Seems that nearly all new DACs come with pre now, so why not. But, doesn’t sound like a good switch in the long run. Too much controversy with digital volume. When switching DACs, I don’t want to be second guessing the dig. volume control in the system. Play it safe and simple; stick with integrated amp and leave the DAC to DAC duties only, I guess. Dig. vol. has always felt a bit odd to me. Mainly when trying to get a precise volume level. And, there seems to be a sort of disconnected feeling in use.

    So, definitely something like the new Wadia 121 I was considering for the bedroom system, will have a pretty sad digital volume control? Idea here, was to have the (very small, unobtrusive) Wadia out on the shelf (remote control convenience), under plasma, with amp out of site, in cabinet. At this price point I’m sure it’s not good, but just don’t want to accept it.

    • Part-Time Audiophile // April 9, 2012 at 8:26 PM //

      Controversy? I wouldn’t say that. I think both digital and analog can be done well — and I have two DACs here that prove that point.

      The Wadia 121 is supposed to be electrifyingly good. Haven’t heard it, though. But I plan to!

      BTW, there’s a new product coming this summer for the DAC-into-an-amp crowd, the Seta BUF1. Might do just the trick.

  11. Just read the Mojo 6 DAC shootout, it hardly a fair shoot out. Putting something less than half of the Lamp4 price. It will be great to get a MPS3, Wesis 202 or MSB entry DAC.
    I had heard the Lamp 4 side by side to MSB, Sorry the MSB entry got me the big thumb up. While Lamp 4 is not bad, but the price point i will get a Audiogd 7.1 with very close quality of sounds i can get in 1/3 price.

    • Part-Time Audiophile // April 8, 2012 at 11:01 PM //

      Funny you say it that way, because I had the opposite reaction and sent an MSB back to it’s owner. Ditto the Playback. As always, YMMV.

  12. Thank you for the logistical help.

    Cheers,

    Bill

  13. I came away with the same thoughts as Bill. That is one sorry 6 DAC shootout. And, I didn’t see a date in the article; it looks to be very old (at least in the DAC time scale that is). A more appropriate Lamp DAC shootout would involve maybe the Berkeley, PS Audio PWD, Ayre QB-9, Audio Note, Weiss, something from Wavelength.

    A name change would be nice. LampizatOr!?!? Yikes! Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. He has a pretty catchy surname. Fikus Audio sounds much better.

    While I’m at it, that power light on the front panel combined within the LampizatOr name, that he seems to be fond of, is a serious eye-sore. It looks odd. Man, I’m picky. I’ll shut up now. No disrespect to Mr. Fikus and his work.

    • Part-Time Audiophile // April 8, 2012 at 9:16 AM //

      I have no idea why those DACs were picked for that “shootout”, but I still think their process was pretty interesting, and very definitely not common in a published write up. Didn’t really get to the heart of the “system synergy” issue I like to harp on, as it’s quite possible that each DAC would have been rated differently had the components changed. Along those lines, IIRC, there wasn’t a multi-level system shootout either — the system was what it was and the DAC either shone or it failed to. In a “more resolving system” (where ‘more resolving’ equals components that align more to the analytical than to the musical, where ‘musical’ is taken to mean “smooth and not detailed”), the results might have, again, been different.

      In my rather different system, I found the Lampizator to be … well … magical. Yes, the bass was a bit loose. In fact, in the sample I was evaluating, I found it elevated — and I quite liked it. But the thing that caught my ear was this “lit from within” quality which I’d seen described in posts, but had never heard in person before. The Lampi sounds different.

      And yes, the tubed AMR DP-777 DAC has some of this. I’m getting an AMR DP-777 this summer from Avatar, so I’ll have some direct comparisons then.

      As for the aesthetic, I have nothing for you. 😉 FWIW, I think the unit looks very polished in person. No, it’s not an Esoteric or an Accuphase. But it’s also not DIY.

      • That AMR looks mighty impressive on paper. And, the build looks wonderful compared to some of the other big name DACs in that price range. Me want.

        I’ve noticed a common theme among various tube based DACs. The bass is not exactly tight/controlled/punchy. That’s too bad. I guess tube based is best to avoid for my taste. Must hear pronounced kick-drum.

        You have much more audio knowledge than I, so I’d like to get your take on digital volume control, particularly in regards to your Berkeley. I’ve read how great the Berkeley pre-amp section is, but at the same time, always read that digital volume control is terrible compared to analogue. So, if digital volume control is bad, how can the Berkeley be so great as a pre? I’m thinking the answer is, that the Berkeley has a very good digital volume control (as digital goes), but ultimately analogue volume is better when all things equal. Saw no info. on the Berkeley site regarding their implementation. This question applies to other DACs w/digital volume as well. So, DAC direct to amp vs. integrated amp (analogue volume) to DAC? Thanks.

      • Part-Time Audiophile // April 9, 2012 at 8:39 AM //

        I’m not a fan of digital volume controls, but only for sensitive speakers. Digital volume controls use the bit-depth of the file to provide attenuation, that is, they end up “throwing away” bits. Most of this is from a pad that the attenuator adds to the file as it’s read into the DAC (16-bit goes to 32-bit, or something). But after a certain point, the bits in use are actual file bits, not pad. Hence, sound quality goes down. Usually, this isn’t an issue, but if your speakers are sensitive, you may have to use quite a bit of attenuation. Anyway, I’m sure this is written up somewhere.

        The long and short of it is, I don’t think this matters — I think there are good and bad ways to implement either. So, in the case of the highly sensitive speakers (not sure what a good threshold is here), I’d shoot for analog over digital. Of course, I think there are some that say any digital attenuation is bad, no matter what, but again, I think this is a matter of implementation.

        The main issues, I think, in running a DAC as a preamp are impedance mismatching (though Lukasz Fikus would disagree with this) and power. I think the DACs that sound best as preamps are very much designed this way from the start. The Alpha sounds quite good as a preamp. So does the Lampi. And so does the AMR, though my experience there is far more limited. But come down market, and all bets are off. I think it’s cheaper to build a good DAC and leave off the overbuilt stuff that would make it a great pre, so that’s what they do, even if they throw a volume control on there. As always, I’d test before I bought.

        As for the bass on the Lampi (or any tubed source) — yes, there’s a difference. And yes, it’s usually a bit looser/softer/less controlled. But if you’re not into techno, you might prefer the tube as the bass sounds more like an upright or a drum rather than a drum machine. The Alpha does a better job separating those two out. But I’m certainly not complaining about the Lampi’s bass. Um, no. Not so much.

    • The DAC shootout lineup logic is simple. They chose DACs they already reviewed and the occasion was their annual BBQ get together. (circa May 2011)

      Here are the editor’s conclusion for the shootout and the subsequent Level 4 review:

      Be forewarned: The Lampizator Level 4, if you haven’t experienced state of the art digital playback, will rock your world. It will make you reconsider of what the lowly CD is capable. It turns out all the digital nasties we’ve all heard over the years was not indigenous to the CD itself, but the technology available to decode it.

      You have just read two reviews of a Digital to Analog Converter by two different reviewers in two different systems in two different rooms (and two different states for that matter) who both are ardent vinyl lovers and owners of significant LP collections (Mike has somewhere around 10,000) and several turntables who both are raving about it. Unapologetically. Both of us have stated that it is a game changer, even though we’ve heard many other DACs. I just realized we haven’t said anything materially negative about it, and believe me, we love to find real weaknesses when they exist, and they almost always do. We suppose if your visual tastes prefer elegantly attired components, the simpleness of the Lampizator’s visage may not impress you. And that’s ok. We all have our preferences. Mike said that you don’t buy this DAC to impress your friends, but I think he meant appearence-wise, because this DAC has musically impressed, awed, moved and changed the mind set of many of our friends. Emphasis on the word musically.

      For whom is this DAC best suited? Anyone who loves music more than stereo gear. Anyone whose goal is not to listen to the glory his system, but to the glory of music.
      I’m keeping the one I have even if I have to sell other things to cover it. Like my wife. Okay, not Linda. Maybe some of my LP collection though. An amp or two. Sending it back would mean such a backward step as to make listening to music an excercise in frustration now that I know what is attainable.

      How about suitability to different price categories of your system? Mike’s system is not a big bucks behemoth, though it is high in bang-for-the-buck value. What’s it worth? I dunno. Ten grand maybe? All of which he owns? The system I have in house at the moment probably retails for north of $100,000. Most of that is going back to the providers though. Dammit. But not the Lamp. No way. The point is that both of us, regardless of price and attendant resolution and quality, have stated that the Lampizator is a game changer. Big time. You can take your cue from that.

      We both beleive that it performs far better than its cost. We believe you may waste your time listening to any other DAC out there in the land where capacitors and resistors dwell. If you enjoy wasting your time, go listen to others, we are betting you’ll return to hear the Lampizator with your own gear, in your own listening environment.

      The only caveat is that we have in-house the Level 2 that sells for $1,750. How close is it to the Level 4? Do you get 80 or 90% of the Level 4 for less than half the price?

      Then, Lukasz the “sweet spot” of the line is his Level 3 that goes for $3,250. How does it compare to both? Lukasz, we think you’re going to have to send us a Level 3 so we can solve this pressing issue! Please?
      =========================

      Darby’s comments: While the Lampizator won, it is clear from the judge’s comments that the margin of victory was very slim, which says a lot about the Eastern Electric at 1/6 the price. I have to say that I thought the Lampizator, even though this is the first time I’d heard it, was far superior to the EE. Why the discrepancy? It could be that I was very familiar with the sound of the EE since I had reviewed it, bought it and had listened to it for hundreds of hours prior to the DAC-Off through many different amps and speakers. I was also very familiar with all the tracks, much more so than the judges. Yes, I knew which DAC was which, but I believe that knowledge did not influence what I heard. In addition, since Mike Peshkin was through with the listening portion of his review, I took the Lampizator home with me and immediately stuck it in my system in place of the EE. After listening to the Lamp for about 40 hours now, I can easily say that it is vastly superior to the EE in tube OR solid state mode. It is simply the best DAC I’ve had in my system, including others at the same or more bucks.

      Next year, if the judges are willing, we’d like to do another shootout at Mike’s Ribfest. Possibly more DACs, but it could be anything; amps, speakers, turntables… Next time I think we should agree beforehand on the musical examples so everyone is as familiar with them as possible.

      If anything, the Shootout proves that different people like different things in their sound, even when they have somewhat similar tastes and biases. That just makes sense since different people, even “experts” disagree on different musical genres and artists, wines, art, dance, cars, pets, computers, food and everything that makes up life as a whole. I happen to love female vocals, but i talked extensively to one AA’er that thought all female vocals were “screechy”. “Karen Carpenter is screechy, you say”, I asked? “Karen Carpenter is a female and all female vocals are screechy!”, he replied. What’s more important, I think, is that he and I had a great time together the whole weekend and our vastly differing opinions did not effect our time together whatsoever, in fact we ended up joking about it at every opportunity. You see, we both love music and the things that reproduce it in our homes. if only everyone could focus on the things they have in common rather than the differences, what a different world we would have. True?

  14. Bill,

    Go to http://www.lampizatorforum.com

    Prices have not changed since Generation 3 and the latest features, ie chassis etc are less than 3 weeks old an unannounced.

    You can also surf the Lampizator facebook page. The website is Lampizator.eu ad you click on the shop, not the old DIY site.

    Finally, its Polish…not Croatian.

  15. Very interesting, however I wasn’t able to find any “Lamp 4+” details on Lukas website yet

    One question: I am currently trying to take a purchase decision between the Lamp, the Berkeley Alpha Series 2 and the Playback Designs MPD-3. I intend to use USB as an interface.
    Will you be interested in comparing the native USB Lamp interface to a configuration using Berkeley Alpha USB Box onto Lamp SpDif ?

    Many thanks and best regards,
    Adrian

    • Part-Time Audiophile // April 8, 2012 at 7:55 AM //

      I haven’t found anything formal on the 4+ yet either.

      Berkeley, Lampi, Playback = 3 great choices. Which is “best” may be a toss up. Only one does DSD (Playback), if that helps. Only one is tubes (Lampi), if that helps. I think the Berkeley clearly has the best USB interface, but it’s external to the DAC. Of the three, I bought the Berkeley + Alpha USB, returned the Playback, and then, after everything else was settled … had to go back and get the Lampi. YMMV.

      And yes, I’m using the USB on the Lampi. Nicely isolated and sounds great.

    • You should try to audition the Wavelength Cosecant (Hi-Speed). A bit of a challenge given Gordon’s pretty thin dealer network…but worth your consideration.

      Cheers,

      Bill

  16. Incidentally, the Lamp “win” in the Mojo 6 DAC shootout feels kinda like Bush v Gore in 2000.

    The $4700 Lamp beat out a $750 Eastern Electric MiniDac, albeit by a nose hair.

    “No judges indicated that the differences (between the Eastern Electric and the Lamp) were “Significant” with 5 saying they were “Subtle” and 1 “hardly any difference at all”

    http://www.stereomojo.com/Stereomojo%20Six%20DAC%20Shootout.htm/Stereomojo6DacShootoutRound2.htm

    But I do agree with you that it’s one fine looking piece of equipment, for sure.

    Cheers,

    Bill

  17. Ok, you’ve got my attention. I’m definitely intrigued. I’ve got to learn more about the “DAC you can’t live without”.

    So I venture of to the Lampizator website…or should I say combo labyrinth, maze and audiophile Dear Abby sock drawer. After 20 minutes, I think I found a pdf with a year old price and features of the Lamp 4…i think. I also think I found a couple of thousand word description of the evolution of the Lampizator…or it might have been the evolution of Croatian vacuum tubes. Hard to tell. Probably both.

    If you’re really fond of Brother Fikus, you should definitely trade him a half day of your communication skills in exchange for a complimentary Lampizator 4+ and straighten out his wacko website so that it’s navigable by earthlings.

    Assuming that this fix will never happen and ol’ Fikus will continue to building an audiophile DAC website equivalent of Where’s Waldo…do you have a shortcut to a link or two that talks about the 2012 Lamp 4, it’s current features and current price?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

    Enjoy your holiday!

    Cheers,

    Bill

    • Part-Time Audiophile // April 7, 2012 at 10:00 PM //

      I don’t, actually. It’s all kind of word-of-mouth (usually from Lukasz himself) until he gets around to it. I’m going to try to get some info together for the write up.

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