Interview with legendary "Robin Hood" of high-end audio Mr. Lukasz Fikus or even more known as Lampizator.
Where and how did it all start for Lukasz Fikus and Lampizator?
Obviously at the age of 5 I disassembled all mechanical toys, destroyed electric steam-trains and used the little motor to build toys of my own. At the age of 15 I wanted to have music system, so I had to build my own as under communism we had practically no possibility to buy stereo. And then at the age of 35 I bought on ebay a very precious Revox CD player which came DOA (dead on arrival) so I was very frustrated and I decided to open it and try to repair it. I had absolutely no clue what is inside a CD player and I had to reverse engineer the whole schematics and design. I repaired it and concluded that it was easy. And I got hooked on buying broken gear just for a charade, a brain exercise to repair it without clues and without service manuals. I searched ebay.de with key word FUR BASTLER and this way I managed to buy cheaply amazing gear, around 200 CD players which I repaired and lampized all. I learned everything about the engineering behind these machines. The superiority of sound of CD players with tube output stage over the stock output with op-amps made me embark on this hobby seriously. Later, when I quit my office job - I was on the road to marketing my ideas.
Would you consider Lampizator audiophile oriented company?
Of course yes, it is mainly oriented on music lovers, not just audiophiles, which is not the same thing, as we know. My gear allows music lovers to experience the art of music much closer to the original form, hence more deeply and enjoyably. Audiophiles have a tendency to dig the high-street brands, unfortunately.
Kindly list all current products from Lampizator.
Currently as a manufacturer we have 3 main products: the LampizatOr DAC, The Squeezebox tubed transport/music server, and the USB tubed converter to AES/EBU and SPDIF and i2S. This week we also added the all new monoblock amplifier, a very heavy machine which is a SET with GM70 Soviet triodes.
Lampizator become a synonym for hand build high-end DAC’s . How this breakthrough happen and what is the secret behind it?
I wanted to create my own product, based on the experience with two hundred CD players lampized. I decided that I must avoid mechanism for CD playback at any cost because of their low reliability so I chose the product without moving mechanical parts - the DAC. I consider the DAC to be a relatively timeless product because there is no more progress there - DACS will be the same for many years to come so there is no race that I must take with Samsung, Sony or Apple. They will always be better and cheaper with hi-tech digital toys, but they can’t compete with a boutique manufacturer when it comes to labour intense, hand made, ridiculously over-specified gear, using lots of antique parts, silver wires, heavy chokes, custom made transformers etc. In this arena I am calling the chips, not the giants.
Why tubes in the audio path?
I have no particular attachment to tubes. If the parrot guano gave better results in signal amplification, or transistors - I would use them. Tubes sound good not because they are made of glass, or because they have vacuum inside, but because I can get away with simple amplifier stage without local or global feedback and without high part count. The tube circuit can be as simple as humanly possible - in my case the stage has just one resistor, one triode and one capacitor. Thats why I love tubes. Listening confirms that the signal is pure, uncorrupted, and the musical content comes through, shining in full musical glory.
What would you say, that Lampizator- Lukasz Fikus is doing different and specific to other DAC’s?
Mainly I am very open to listening test and comparisons. I don’t follow so called datasheet and white paper specs - I use the chips the way I want and I make the chips sound the way I want, even if the approach is far from textbook or dogmatic respect for manufacturer’s suggestions. I realized that chips for DAC are not digital devices (like in computers) but they are analog devices, responding really strongly to strange manipulations like power supply filtering, capacitor quality, connection topology, clock frequencies, materials used for wiring and soldering, vibrations, magnetic fields, grounding schemes and so on. Making a chip sound in a specific way is like building violins. Yamaha can’t duplicate what Stradivari did, it is a secret of the trade. It is like cooking, or gardening, or animal training. It is not about zeroes and ones.
Anything special about topology?
There is nothing special really. Anyone can make a circuit equally good just after 2-3 years of every day testing and trying. What is special is my absolutely fanatical approach to testing by ears in thousands of hours of nightime listening. I use circuits insanely simple, if you remove one more part - everything will collapse. So I am testing the absolute limits of simplicity that I can get away with as an engineer. I remove and remove and remove until I can’t remove anything else and then I make the circuit sound best under these circumstances. In sound quality less is more, because the signal gets less chances to be distorted and loosing the natural beauty of the music.
What does state of the art digital audio and ultra high-end means for you?
As a “reverse engineer” person I want to see the concept behind it, the simple genius design that can be read like an open book, and if it takes a lot of money to realize - it is a no compromise high end to me. Any educated idiot can make a very sophisticated , over-engineered product and pack it with premium parts and market as high end. Only real genius can make it simple, beautiful and sounding right. Very very few engineers can do this. Kondo was the first one, the Pope of high end, and frankly nothing much after Kondo made any progress or breakthrough. To make best amps, best DAC, best cables and best cartridge in one lifetime is a truly buddhist achievement. And he was not an electronic engineer, not even an electrician, just an open, renaissance man with huge passion.
What are your views on balanced topology? Is it a must for best sound in audiophile branded products?
Balanced operation has many many crazy misunderstandings and myths. It is merely a simple way of achieving something, at the cost of something else. It has no correlation with sound quality. It can be compared to 4x4 car design, which achieves good tracking at the cost of price, noise, fuel efficiency, reliability and turning radius. It is a tradeoff like anything else. Having said that, most good gear out there is SE and that’s my personal preference. It makes sense for some products like phono stages and DACs but only in the context of really fully balanced rest of the system and at the cost of almost doubled manufacturing cost.
What sets Lampizator audio design above other manufacturers?
It is the end result - the sound at the price. I design my product to be as timeless as possible - a huge engineering and component value that will stand the test of time not in 2 years like modern electronics but in 10, 20 and 30 years from now.
Do you use pure class A in your signal chain and outputs?
What is your approach to power supply and how important it is in your opinion?
Power supply is everything. Remove the power supply importance and my DAC is like any other 200 dollar DAC from China. Power supply to the tube anodes, tube heaters, and 9 other digital supply points, sets the LampizatOr DAC aside form the crowd and makes it sound as heavenly as it does.
Separated power supply is highly regarded with audiophiles. What are your views on benefits with outboard power solutions and two box design?
I don’t follow that path because I really know whats going on, I don’t just speculate that removing PSU from the “consumer” should “bring some benefits”. The separation is a huge tradeoff and the result is a proof - closely built supply delivers faster, better and cleaner. There is no mythical “interference” because I measure it that it isn’t there. I will take a one box for a two box any time. I sell DAC Level 5 which is a two box only because of lack of physical space in one box.
What importance do you give to the built in elements? Are they crucial to your approach or do you find tuning them in the right combination to be of the most importance?
I don’ believe that the electronic component price is the measurement of expected sound quality. Every component is being used to perform a given task. The cheaper it is the better, because it makes the end product more accessible to people. The Gucci component is a huge industry that thrives by suggesting us the contrary. I hate that approach. Every component can deliver the expected performance if we understand the requirements and the task. Having said that - sometimes the given performance and given task can be achieved only by a special pricey component. Like say a choke with a large core made of amorphous metal and pure copper. But not “just” an expensive capacitor. 99 % of the magical components out there are just pure snake oil.
Having said that I must mention the factor of marketing versus real quality. Soviet parts were made to the highest standards on Earth with the best materials on Earth but they were never marketed as audiophile stuff. So even if getting them is very cheap - they were made by millions - they outperform 99% of so called audiophile parts from Western hemisphere made today, for crazy audiophiles and with tons of marketing aid. I resist that as much as I can. If I use Gucci parts sometimes - it is only when a) market forces me to do so and b) I do hear some benefits of that.
Analog sound vs digital reproduction?
This question is like opening a can of worms. It would take a week to discuss it. Personally I don’t believe such distinction. I believe that digital recordings and reproduction is equally good or bas as analog one. There are only good recordings and bad recordings. A Mac laptop with a good mike will beat most analog tape recorders. Also most of LP’s from 80’s and 90’s were recorded digitally and mastered digitally on horrible equipment and consequently even as LP’s they sound horrible. Only real LOVE of their job and attention to detail by people involved - maters.
Is analog still a reference?
Good analog recordings from pre-1980 era played on good tubed system is still a reference.
What is your view on vinyl and analog playback?
I hate changing LP sides.
Digital master tapes vs high-res analog master tapes?
I have no knowledge so I will not comment.
It seems, that contemporary digital audio moves towards details, speed, transparency etc. Where is the line between resolution and musicality?
I believe that resolution and transparency are an important ingredients of musicality but resolution alone is nothing. I have only two tests of quality. First : sit in the totally dark room with eyes closed and mind free of thoughts - press PLAY and how quickly you are totally “there”, connected with your body and mind to the original event. Second one is - do you have tears in the corner of your eyes when the piece ends.
Where is the end of with sampling frequency and bits? What about 32-bits?
I stronly believe that 44,1 and 16 bits is all we need. There are some EXTREMELY good recordings on 44/16 that prove by their high quality that the medium is not the limiting factor - it is the recording engineering , love, passion and attention to detail that makes good recordings. Most of the hi-rez stuff is utterly boring and meaningless. Having said that, most valuable artists recorded many years ago and only on analog or 44/16 so whats the point of discussing benefits of Hi-Rez files if Louis, Ella, Miles and Zappa are dead ?
Digital phenomena is already happening. Where it will head?
Faster and easier accessibility of MP3 in the cloud.
Do you assemble everything in house or do you employ subcontractors?
We do everything in the factory, we subcontract only metal work.
Any influences, look up inspirations?
I was mostly influenced by sound engineers from former Soviet Union, like my master Evgennyi Kreminski who taught me a lot . Unfortunately he died one year ago. I also admire Hiroyashu Kondo as a designer and Peter Quvortrup as a marketing genius.
Do you ever plan to bring other products like preamplifiers and amplification to your line?
As I said - the new amp is now the reality, we make preamps occasionally and next in line will be a totally non-compromise phono stage. I also want to embark a DSD DAC as I believe the market is quickly shifting to server based systems.
What is innovative with the way you approach digital audio?
It is the approach to chips as analog devices, not digital ones.
What is the secret of Lampizator audio strong market impact in high end audio world?
The credibility I managed to build up during my 6 years preceeding the factory, as a Prometheus or Robin Hood of audio - demystifying the big brand products and telling people the truth about sound engineering.
Do you still love the vinyl?
Where does hifi stops and high end comes in for you?
It is in the mind of the listener, the importance that he or she attaches to the emotional aspect of music “consumption”.
What is the future of digital audio and where do you see Lampizator in it?
I see everyone using terabyte file servers and needing a magic box to convert these files into heart touching musical enjoyment.
Do you think analog master tape quality can be matched within the digital domain?
Of course - we can’t have master tapes at home, but with Lampizator-like converters we can get damn close !!!
What do music lover gets with adding upsampling? Is this not just another processing in chain?
It is a great way of achieving nothing
What do you use as reference audio when designing the products?
I use my friend’s system costing more than my house and sounding better than any concert I ever heard.
Can you tell us more about importance of clock?
I don’t believe in clocks. Reclocking kills music for me.
What is so special about Lampizator?
It’s creator, of course!
What is ultrahigh end reproduction for you?
Something that a very dedicated person achieves sometimes in 20 years of intense and persistent system building. Most of them never get there unfortunately because they read too much of audio press.
Silver as material and Lukasz Fikus?
Silver is very good for audio, but I don’t know why. It just sounds better, period.
Who would you say are your customers?
My customers are mostly people who burned their fingers by buying more and more and more expensive stuff and never getting satisfaction from these purchases. They learned the hard way and they want now something really good from someone who knows better.
What does one get by purchasing Lampizator?
One gets a timeless, musical box that will stand the test of time for a lifetime and that will be serviced, upgraded, repaired and improved over the next 40 years of my life expectancy.
Where does High-end heading in past two years? Your view?
The crisis filters out the companies that offer low value and high price. Crisis makes people re-think their purchasing decisions and to embark on real value versus marketing hot-air value.
Would you like to say something to our readers?
Of course! I would say - dear readers, thank you for reading thus far ! Spend your money wisely, look into ebay and its precious gear from 60‘ties and cheap simple products that were musical in the first place. Don’t believe media hype and marketing, follow your ears and buy more music. Listen more, enjoy it more, and I am sure our paths will cross some day eventually.
Mono and Stereo ultra high end audio magazine All rights reserved, 2012
None of the text or pictures can be re-pritend or used in any way without prior permission.