I’ve been looking forward to meeting Lukasz Fikus of LampizatOr for a good while now, and catching up to him at the New York Show was really nifty. Unfortunately, I also caught up to him 30 seconds after his team ditched leaving him scrambling to pull off a gear-switched demo, and things got a bit hairy. Oh well. Another time.
In case you missed it, the name “Lampizator” does not refer to a foe of Godzilla. Sorry. Though that would be awesome. No, it means “to add vacuum tubes”, aka, “to en-tube-en-ate that which was not tubed”. It speaks to his origins as a modder, and the name kinda … stuck.
LampizatOr has been on my radar since I dunno when, when I first crossed paths with a Generation 3, Level 4 DAC. That experience remains one of the most compelling of my short audiophile career, and I still think back fondly on that. Since then, Lukasz has pretty much gone bananas.
At the top of the rack is the Big 7, his take on what a no-holds barred DAC ought to be. It’s a monster, to be sure. I’m pretty sure there wa a pair of 45 tubes sticking out the top, set back from the big rectifier tube. Yes — this beast is a Direct-Heated Triode DAC!. Prices start at $7,500€, and go up with options. What options, you ask? Well, there’s the choice of analog output tubes, whether or not you want the DSD decoding DAC (it’s a fully discrete and separate path, a second DAC, if you will), what kind of caps you want (there are several to choose from) and more. This version featured a volume knob which meant that it could stand in for a preamplifier to the LampizatOr GM70 mono amplifiers (prices start at 6,900€, depending on options), but those amps actually also feature volume knobs! Dual mono integrated amplifiers? Yes! Also in the rack was a Gen 4 Level 4 DAC (prices start at 2,950€). A LampizatOr Transport, a modified Squeezebox Duet server engine meets wireless/wired ethernet to S/PDIF conversion, provided the linkage between computer and DAC.
The loudspeakers were/are something of a mystery. There was absolutely no literature in the room (Lukasz shrugged at me when I asked), and there appears to be no online information, either. I’m pretty sure they were Mosaic Audio Illumination ($18k/pair), as this is what Jason Serinus reported was shown at CES this year. Some design information I found over here, but I can’t verify or vouch, but feel free to click-through.
The sound in the room? Well, we were in something of a transition actually, moving from the Big 7 down to the Level 4, and there was some issues with hum and clicks. Once everything was firing, the sound was very tactile. Which brings me to another point.
I was talking with Lukasz, very briefly, about the DSD portion of his DACs. As I mentioned, this upgrade is a completely separate board inside the DAC, and activating it requires telling the DAC that the signal is on the way. Previously, this was done manually, but now there’s a really handy remote for switching the paths around. Once active, this pathway doesn’t actually decode anything — there’s no “chip”, per se, either:
The LampizatOr DSD DAC … does not manipulate the data in any shape or form, it does not convert it, upsample, reclock or downsample. It does not go through pcm process either. It is purest native dsd we know of. We practically only gently remove the carrier frequency from the raw data as it comes from hard drive. Nothing more, nothing less.
I asked about an auto-sensing feature, something that could “see” whether the incoming bitstream was PCM or DSD and switch accordingly, and he shook his head. Too complicated and too damaging to the sound. Mute-and-switch-and-unmute was the recommendation. “Better still — do the conversion on the computer,” he said.
“On the computer?”
“Yes! With JRiver, you can simply have your computer do all the conversions prior to sending. You can send everything this way. MP3, PCM, whatever. Sounds a lot better.”
This rang a bell, actually — the Berkeley Audio team had suggested the exact same thing when it was revealed that their new DAC did not support DSD. They suggested a similar move, albeit, their recommendation was to convert everything to PCM.
I filed that trick away for future reference.
Outside the room was the new LampizatOr Head DAC — a derivation of the LampizatOr DAC designs (“all of them”, apparently), and features many of the same … features. Including 32bit/384kHz sampling on PCM and up to double-rate DSD over USB. ¼” TRS single-ended, 4-pin XLR and dual-mono 3-pin XLR headphone outputs are options, and there’s a user-switchable output setting to accommodate higher/lower impedance headphones. Prices start at 3,900€. I got a few minutes on this DAC with a pair of HiFiMAN 560 headphones, and the sound was textured, dynamic and liquid.
I think I want more of this. Oh yes, yes please.