Lampizator level 4
The state of DAC’s
Highend audio world is changing rapidly and for sure. Let us for a moment step above the pessimistic views of recession and the down of highend as we know it. In past few years we’ve seen two paths or routes, that audiophile and highend audio movement have rush into. One is Feniks like rebirth and rising of vinyl. There are strong reasons why this phenomenon happened. Decline of CD titles, younger generation beings exposed to the ritual of black vinyl magic, exclusive pressings available only for this media and nevertheless analog sound. Analog and vinyl will stay, but comparing to the speed and potency of high-res digital audio, I’m afraid it cannot hold with the hyper pace and race of digital.
Digital revolution already happened. We’re just experiencing the ripple effects. Time for a joy!? In all of my years being audiophile and highend audio industry observer I cannot recall such a positive movement and variety of products being lunched even in golden 80’s.
Digital is future happening right now. Where it will end if at all? We’re still at the front end of digital refinement and look at all the boom. Once industry hit at least one third of mileage from analog, there will be no looking-turning back. I’m sort of happy and sad at the same time.
Magic and mystification not needed
No need for those. I like to take a pride in thinking and seeing audiophiles as mature and reasonable people, with strong desire for making their systems sings belowed music and music only. All that in the way, that they perceive the reproduction of favorite music. There are apples, oranges and peaches J. And even much more. On the ultra high end level there are some rules and guidelines, which cannot be overseen or avoid. It’s the fact, that you’ll have to pay major bucks to get on the level of ultra highend reproductions. No snobbery, but a fact. When we step down to the real world, things got more then interesting. No need for frustration. There are paths and products promising a lot.
You have been Lampizied
Lukasz Fikus. Who is this guy? Un underground rebellion from DIY
Clan? A sole fighter? Audio artisan?
For those who don’t know Lukasz story, he left good safe job and pursued his venture of Lampizator magic. Passing from rebuilding and upgrading CD players Lukasz Fikus stepped on the ladder of DAC manufacturing. Somewhere along the way he’s cough almost legendary status. Let us explore the universe of Mr. Lampizator with his DAC Lampiztor level 4.
From pictures on the web, you’ll might not get the right impression about the appearance of Lukasz DAC. Like my Lamm LL2 preamplifier, Lampizator Level 4 black anodized and brushed front plate resemble a timeless simplicity and elegance. While I’m still sucker for Kondo, Burmester, DalbyAudioDesign etc. appearance, there is something classy about minimalistic black. It just blend well in space and give that Odyssey 2001 feeling of space, time and continuum. On the front plate you’ll find famous Lampizator logo with on/off switch on the place of letter o. Red O ring looks mighty and the absence of blue is welcome change J.
Which level you’ll go?
Currently there are 5 levels of Lampizator, that one can order. This system of upgrading resemble Audio Note UK philosophy. One’s demands is matched by the sophistication and funds available. For my test Lukasz provided one step below his two chassis reference level 5 DAC. Version under review incorporated sole SPDIF digital input. So any CD, computer card, music center etc. with this output is a welcome partner. I tried Lampizator with CD players, computer cards, music player and with Bluetooth module with SPDIF output. In this review I wont go into details and under the hood of Lampizator DNA. So much have already been written and discussed about Lukasz Fikus creations and the way he's combined his art of electronically assembly.
For this review I’ll focus on what is most important and what most of you requested. How good does this black box sound and where its place among other DAC’S.
Battle of giants
Antelope Zodiac Gold, Burson Audio HA-160D and Kingrex UD384 +U power were in constant rotation as my digital front ends in the time of review. How intriguing and both satisfying is this quiet revolution of DAC’s. So many choices and variety of different characters. I would avoid general terms of digital being void and general in sound. Those times are long passed by. We might not like the digital vs analog, or have our own certain perception of sound, but something is happening in DAC market and present movement promises a lot.
Kingrex UD384 is fast, ultras specs and affordable. Having so much sound for so little would be illegal few years back J. Burson HA-160D is an established and recognized headphone amplifier, preamplifer and DAC with it’s own stand out character. Very warm, musical and life like. Zodiac Gold Dac from Antelope shows its professional audio roots. Resolution, timing, sense of space etc. Very good and impressive.
Ladies and Gentleman. It’s time for Lampizator Level 4. Instantly Lampizator brought out the resemblance of vinyl in my set up. My system is very linear with Acoustic Preference Maestoso 2.0 speakers being a crystal clear window into the musical world and reproduction of audio. As few of my friends and hard core audiophiles commented, this is a full revelatory combination of gear. Any character of component under a review is instantly thrown at your face without a mercy. I’m building my third system in more romantic kind of way, but for critical listening I cannot afford to be in the muddy waters.
As Lampizator Level 4 DAC incorporate tubes, it might be a bit warmish at certain system. It all depends on synergy and combination of gear. I’m the fan of direct, fully dynamic and right in your face (and sublimely body) sound. The same impact I’m experiencing in studio or with life music. No restraints. I need the level of horn impact with the delicacy, intimate and bloom of dynamic speakers. This is where my levels of audio nirvana match.
These days it doesn’t really matter that much using tubes or solid state. When engineered and implemented correctly, both approaches can give out similar results. I might be still biased toward the tubes, but there is a constant strong fight between my left and right brain hemisphere. Rational and emotional boarders crossing battle. No clear winner.
It’s and art and experience to match those two and still came out as both passionate and rational. Perhaps those things combined do create a cultural imprint, which we all strive to achieve in some sort when reviewing and testing certain products.
Lampizator Level 4 DAC took the least of my efforts to like digital. Switching from my reference turntable with Zyx Omega X cartridge and Tom Evans phono preamplifier, a difference was noticeable, but more subtle that I expected. Without going into the strict details of digital audio and my so-called measuring and valuing system, my guts and hearts (all of them) were won by Fikus creation continuously in my listenings. Within my demo system, this was the closest match to analog I experienced so far.
HD Tracks Getz/Jobim classical high-res download is a fine example or analog rendering and great test track for comparing digital to Verve vinyl release. Lampizator performed way beyond of typical DAC analog rendering. This is Level 4 DAC's strong advantage. One of my favorite albums and a constant vinyl on my turntable is ECM's Pat Metheny Group self titled album. What an excursion of poetry and melodic. It is still as fresh as it was back in 70's. This is very demanding album for every crucial system and listening. Rides and hihats can quickly become harsh and freetless bass loose the impact, tone and energy very quickly within non balanced system. Lampizator nail the "Jaco" quite remarkable. There was a sense of pace, impact and motion of what always capture my inner rhythm on original vinyl pressing. Remarkable for digital.
There are still noticeable differences between Lampizator Level 4 DAC and analog reply. In my notes, sometimes differences were bigger sometimes smaller. However we turn around our so-called perfect ears and judging audio system, we’re still a subtle creatures. Everything affects us. So different moods puts us into the various states of mind and listening perception. This is where experiences, multiple listening’s and audio mileages must kick in. Otherwise everything is just uncontrolled flow of different impressions influenced by so many factors. Anyhow. Lampizator is narrowing the gap between analog and digital as no other DAC, that I had chance to listen.
When I draw a red line and sum everything, Lampizator Level 4 DAC affected me like no DAC so far. There is still something darn life like with analog vinyl replay and its not just a matter of ritual. Lampizator brought remembrance of those fine qualities and connected me into the music with fewer artifacts of digitalis.
All the fuss on the net and in the audio forums about Fikus are on the right track. Lukasz managed to do something right and many audiophiles found their destination already with Lampizator DAC’s.
Level 4 DAC is not exactly affordable. There is no bling enclosure, meters or space light. Just well thought engineering and “fine-tuning.” It might not be the right cup for everyone and that's fine. For those in search of analogue like qualities in DAC, do not overlook Lampizator. Be careful in selection of components and system synergy to avoid frustration. With devices of such calibre great match is a must to avoid regretting spending your hard earned funds.
Lukasz Fikus challenged me and he succeed in winning my attention and heart over. So far this is the most analog like DAC, which came across Mono & Stereo headquarters. Highly recommend!
Mono and Stereo ultra high end audio magazine All rights reserved, 2012 www.monoandstereo.com www.myaudioshop.com