LampizatOr DSD DAC Level 4 review


Lukasz Fikus AKA LampizatOr is a well known, charismatic audio designer and is considered by many a "Robin Hood" of the high-end audio scene due to his unconventional views on all matters audio. His views are strong, backed up by good arguments and absolutely show the incredible passion behind his creations. He graduated at the Warsaw Polytechnic University - Electrical Engineering; specialty power distribution, and has a major in High Voltage Physics. Through years of relentless experimenting he eventually taught himself how to build very musical sounding audio devices that also found almost a cult following among audiophiles and music lovers. For something like that, one has to have a deeper understanding of music and Lukasz shows this in his creations - in a most profound way. All of his designs feature tubes, hence the name: LampizatOr (Lampa - tube). On his website we can find some bold statements but if we are able to “consume” them without prejudice - we might pretty much agree with almost everything he says. Examples:

“We don’t like the way 90 % of the products on the market sound. Not that we think they are bad products, they just don’t sound right to our ears. We design our stuff differently. We listen to our customers and we listen to the music. “ 

“Here are some principles we follow and those we don’t:

-We don’t believe in switching power supplies - everything we do is powered by good old transformer, using Polish Steel cores and Polish Copper wiring and made by friendly local companies. 
- We believe that feedback is a bad practice and we never use any of it - neither local nor global. We only use customer’s feedback. (Ha ha, excellent one!)
- We don’t spend money on marketing (zero) and on shows (zero) and on advertising. You pay less this way. Our only way of communicating the message to the potential new buyers is via the word of existing happy users. (Makes perfect sense)
-We are a modern 21’st century business. It just so happens that by using good old electrical knowledge we manage to beat - with our sound -  the rubidium clocks, femto clocks, 700 X upsampling, 1000 x damping factors, 125 programmable functions, 0,00001% THD, 20-20000 Hz specs, 18 sabre dacs in parallel etc. etc. So called modern technology has little to offer to the true music lover. (Well...sometimes, yes)
- Every component carries a five years warranty that is unconditional and transferable. We honor the warranty on every product bought by you second hand. (Respect!)
- Every product can be upgraded in the future to any specs or level you desire. Any forgotten feature can be added later. After a product comes to our factory for repair or upgrade, we can negotiate “resetting” the warranty to new 3 years. (Now this is a VERY STRONG POINT!)

On top of it:

“THE LAMPIZATOR DSD DAC HAS USB PORT BUILT IN, SOLID STATE DIGITAL FILTER, PASSIVE DISCRETE ANALOG FILTER AND ACTIVE DISCRETE TUBE FILTER. IT 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.”

There you have it, think whatever you want but give it a chance.

The dedicated DSD machine

For the review, Lukasz sent the DSD level 4 DAC, the dedicated DSD only DAC. It uses a proprietary DAC chip of unknown origin.

The specification goes like:

DSD DAC capable of playing iso files through USB port, with speed 64 and 128.  All technicalities similar to LampizatOr DAC L4 as we know it.


One USB input (works with MAC OS without any drivers and requires a driver for all Windows types. (Ask about LINUX compatibility).
One pair RCA stereo SE outputs
110-115-220-230-240 V AC variants
One tube for PSU rectification (6X5)
A pair of dual triodes for analog LampizatOr output stage (Ecc40 or 6SN7GT or E182CC or 6N6P or E88CC or Ecc82)
A five winding transformer with total of 50 VA
Paper in oil output capacitors 
5 years warranty (fully transferable)

Some of the music used for the review 


- Vivian Green - A Love Story (the debut studio album by American R&B singer Vivian Green)

- Jennifer Warnes - The Well


- Carole King - Tapestry  (according to Rolling Stone, the 36th Greatest Album of All Times)


- Mercedes Sosa - 30 Años 

- Rodrigo y Gabriela - Live in Japan

- Jim Hall - Concierto


- Eiji Oue - Exotic Dances from the Opera


- Babatunde Olatunji - Circle Of Drums


- Astor Piazzolla - Tango: Zero Hour

The sound...


...was nothing short of a revelation. The LampizatOr DSD DAC proved itself to be a perfect TIME MACHINE for old recordings of truly GREAT MUSIC. Is your medicine predominantly the audiophile music? Then this review isn`t for you. The LampizatOr DSD DAC made the old recordings sound alive in an intimate, emotionally VERY involving way. The majority of the used material represents REAL MUSIC, not an audiophile collection of great sounds.

The magic trick that the LampizatOr DSD DAC performed was how it injected life into those legendary recordings. Do you consume music on an intellectual or emotional level? Well, music is a matter of EMOTIONS, not endless intellectual pondering. The moment we let our intellect (ratio) lose - everything becomes pointless. I mean: can we relax and just absorb the musical message with our other senses? Find for yourself; all I know is that the LampizatOr DSD DAC triggered my inner child. 


In comparison to the mainstream DACs equipped with the ubiquitous ESS Sabre DAC, the LampizatOr DSD DAC breathes LIFE and COLOR into every meaningful recording.
By COLOR I mean natural colors of instruments and voices - not making them colored. There may be a thin line between COLORED and COLORFUL but for the experienced music lovers it is easily distinguishable. The ESS Sabre DSD capability can give INFORMATION but emotion...well, it will struggle and eventually can fail.

I mean, any modern DAC can make audiophile recordings sound utterly clean and attractive...at first sight; after that, our enthusiasm can quickly diminish. It takes a lot more for a digital source to sound involving and the LampizatOr DSD DAC proved to be enormously capable in this (most important) regard. 

The Carole King - Tapestry album was certainly reproduced in a perfect “time machine” way; I was transported to some other space and time and I just surrendered myself to the music; there was nothing left of me but my senses. Except for the original recording engineers, nobody knows what compression levels were used throughout the album but the fact remains that in the early seventies, the recording studios were still unaware of the upcoming, eventually (seemingly) unavoidable “loudness war”. Regardless, all songs on the “Tapestry” album were reproduced as if it was 1971 - again. In a good sense. This is great music and it is timeless...and the LampizatOr DSD DAC did justice to it. The difference between the modern ESS Sabre DAC implementation (whichever) and the LampizatOr DSD DAC one was simply too big to ignore. With the former you could get the information, with the latter you would experience the EMOTION. I am pretty sure there is no need to explain the difference and if you still don`t get it...forget about music and find yourself another hobby.


The instruments on this album became alive; the immediacy was uncanny. The kick drum punches were incredibly powerful and lifelike; the piano had weight and body; the guitars were...well, they sounded like real guitars and not like some plastic toys. The LampizatOr DSD DAC provided BODY, TIMBRE, SOUL, EMOTION...I could go on and on but these are already the most important ingredients of music reproduction and they are mostly missing with the modern, ultra transparent breed of DACs. OK, the latter can give more information but not more music. Transparency without weight, natural timbre and emotional involvement is nothing in my book. Only if they are present then the quest for transparency makes sense. Are majority of manufacturers chasing the wrong attributes of music reproduction? Well, isn`t that obvious? How long can you stand the ultra transparent, sterile sound which has become a norm nowadays? Not for long, would be my guess. Surprise, surprise: one can listen to the LampizatOr DSD DAC all day long without ANY listening fatigue and not only that: his musical enthusiasm only gets reinforced.

Mercedes Sosa - Alfonsina y el mar: she was in the room with me. A cliche, I know but how to describe that sensation? The piano sound on this recording gets distorted at times but the LampizatOr DSD DAC made it highly listenable nevertheless.


The Jim Hall - Concierto album was a joy to hear. Another “time travel” experience in the best sense. Again, the main magic ingredient was the warm, inviting sound of all instruments on the recording which ensured long, stress-less listening sessions that could actually extended on forever. 

Eiji Oue - Exotic Dances from the Opera: the strings possessed all the important traits that a concert goer seeks: body, timbre, resolution, separation, great micro dynamics, etc.

Babatunde Olatunji - Circle Of Drums, interesting album of percussion and drums recorded in a very straight way. Through the LampizatOr DSD DAC the sound was energized, powerful and impactful. One could feel the tension of the drum skin and the resulting punch was easily felt through the whole body.


The Rodrigo y Gabriela - Live in Japan (DSD album) certainly needs to be experienced to be believed. The dynamics are unbelievably explosive and put a lot of stress on amps and speakers. The LampizatOr DSD DAC stepped aside and allowed for an intact sonic experience that was most appreciated.

Conclusion


Was the The LampizatOr DSD DAC flawless in its sonic presentation? No, it certainly had too strong “personality” to ignore but this should be much preferred to having no personality at all; the grey, ordinary and boring of the lesser DACs cannot be considered a real alternative. The LampizatOr DSD DAC absolutely favors dense tonal colors over transparency but this is a good compromise if you ask me. It encourages REAL MUSIC consumption and not merely comparison of audiophile sounds, which is pointless anyway. Judging by the LampizatOr DSD DAC sound quality, Lukasz seems to be a genuine music lover and his DSD DAC is absolutely a “must hear” for anyone wanting to forget about the medium and just delve deeply into his/her musical collection. As such it warrants a strong recommendation.