I. The Past As Prologue

"The world makes way for the man who knows where he is going." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thirty years ago, we didn’t call it the Houston Audio Society. It was simply a collection of people interested in good sound. There were doctors and lawyers, as well as a few impecunious students seated at the rear. I was one of those.

One night we gathered at a fellow’s house to assess how much better cutting-edge digital technology was than hoary, outmoded analogue. We did not, in the words of Stereophile’s Gordon Holt, wish “to be caught with our pants down when the jig is up.”

Modern high fidelity was represented by a Nakamichi CD player. The unit’s special feature was vacuum evacuation of the disc chamber. No air-borne vibrations would disturb the pristine, flawless reproduction of music. The antiquated analogue format involved a Pierre Lurne belt-drive turntable, an SME V tonearm, and a Koetsu cartridge. We did not expect this competition to take long, and we already knew the outcome.

To our collective surprise, the CD sounded harsh and dry, with a flat perspective that eliminated soundstage. The colors and textures of the music were stripped away. The turntable system, in comparison, was vivid, rich, dynamic. Everyone heard the difference. An uneasy shuffling rippled through the room.

“Convenience disc,” someone muttered.
“A coaster for my drink.”
“Frisbee flinger.”

I went back to my apartment over a two-car garage. At the time my system consisted of a Rega 3 with its simple tonearm and an Audio Technica moving magnet cartridge. Even that modest assembly beat the best digital could offer.

Earlier in the week I heard a Scotsman demonstrate his turntable, which looked like a modified AR. The designer was traveling around the country in the importer’s Saab. He was opinionated, flamboyant, witty. That man was Ivor Tiefenbrun, and his product was called the Linn LP12.

I mention these distant events because I have finally encountered a digital product as satisfying as analogue, and its designer is at least colorful as Ivor.

II. Thinking inside the box

The review sample of the Lite 7 Lampizator DAC arrived from Warsaw in a large cardboard box. This was a message in itself: Halliburton cases, however shiny and robust, aren’t necessary for the safe delivery of high-end electronics. They add cost, they massage our urge to conspicuous consumption, but they’re not necessary. (The package arrived via DHL. Could UPS have done as well? I’m skeptical.) 

Inside the large box were smaller cardboard boxes to cushion the contents. No inches-thick bumpers of foam rubber, no molded Styrofoam. Even the tubes arrived undamaged. You might say that the message was complete before the music started: if you understand the physics and execute the engineering correctly, you don’t have to spend money on unnecessary elements.

The Lampi 7 Lite is a rectangular box measuring a conventional 17 inches in width and a quite unusual 20 inches deep. Six rubber feet support the chassis, if your equipment rack will accommodate an item that long. The faceplate is engraved LampizatOr, the capital “O” serving as power button. Vents are cut into the left side. The metal work is neat, but not as overwrought as the glistening rippled face of Rowland electronics, the impenetrably bulletproof appearance of Levinson gear, or the retro-futuristic Krell facies. 

The unit might be mistaken for a rugged pizza delivery box but for two shiny glass items protruding upward from the back reaches of the chassis. These are the output tubes, and they raise the total clearance to 7 inches. I emphasize the dimensions because you may have to move your equipment around, or get longer interconnect cables.

The rear panel contains every feature you could desire. From the left, there’s a voltage selector switch, followed by the on/off switch and a female IEC cable inlet. 

Next is a toggle switch. Set in the “up” position, the unit is biased for 242, PX4, Type 45 or 101D tubes. The “down” position is for 300Bs. The designer has made it possible, almost irresistible, to change the sound characteristic. At the same time, he has made changing the digital portion of the circuit impossible. This is different than the Eastern Electric MiniMax DAC Supreme, in which the cover is easily removed and chips exchanged in minutes, but your choice of tubes is limited to a single 12AU7. Lukasz Fikus, Mr. Lampizator, has settled the digital part of the equation. He leaves the unit’s final sonic signature to the listener. 

There was no power cord in the box, a sensible decision because no one would run this DAC with a cheap cord. That’s another place for user preference.

In the center of the panel is a plaque: when the unit was assembled, who assembled it, who tested it.

Next comes a pair of toggles that control the input. You push the top one up to select USB inputs, the lower one down to choose AES/EBU. If you switch the top down and bottom up, you get SPDIF. As one of my friends remarked, this was the simplest way for two switches to control three inputs. 

Two RCA male plugs are next. These are the outputs. They are identified with neatly printed labels attached to the box with tape. This was another instance of putting resources where they belong. Why should you pay for engraving on the back panel of your DAC?

Finally, there are SPDIF, BNC, USB, AES/EBU inputs, all labeled as the rest of the panel. 

III. The Lampi Menu

You can get anything you want at Alice’s restaurant

From a few basic axioms, such as the superiority of tubes in reproducing sound, and circuit configurations derived by careful listening over years, the Lampizator product line evolves toward higher sound performance. The company web site establishes a hierarchy:

DAC perceived quality chart

Solid state output DAC => noval triode DAC (Amber) => octal triode DAC (Big 6) => Directly heated pentode (Atlantic ) => Directly Heated Triode SET (Lite 7 ) => Directly Heated Triode SET with Tube Rectification Power Supply (Big 7 and Golden Gate )

I asked Lukas what sonic changes followed the choice of solid state rectification in the 7 Lite. He replied, “The solid state rectifier is a very safe and reasonable choice . . . Sonically the sound of [tube rectification] is very small but at the same time – very important. The natural sense of soundstage, the intimate closeness, the true timbre . . . We consider the Lite to be a very fine compromise – a first step into DHT kingdom of prime tubes.”

The company’s prices are here: link.

You can configure the end product to suit your taste and system needs. For example, here is the company’s server: link. Configure to your heart’s content. 

Lampizator products come with a seven day return policy, which is nothing exceptional. They come with a five year warranty – somewhat better than standard – that is infinitely transferable. That is unusual, and speaks of confidence both in design and execution. 

There’s a trade up policy. When finances permit, you may exchange your old Lampizator product for its retail price, deducting one per cent per month, less shipping and customs. I don’t believe I’ve seen that kind of offer before.

IV. The Lampi Manifesto

The LampiztOr web site has a repository of Lukas’s earlier musings (link), which is by turns outrageous, confident, droll and provocative. In an industry which spends a great deal of energy on high seriousness that turns into pomposity, it’s refreshing to read a blend of humor and serious engineering.

But the key to all of the products listed on the site, from DAC to server to preamp to amps, is this declaration [My italics.]:

I have no particular attachment to tubes . . . Tubes sound good not because they are made of glass, or because they have vacuum inside, but because I can get away with a 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. That’s why I love tubes. Listening confirms that the signal is pure, uncorrupted, and the musical content comes through, shining in full musical glory. 

V. The Lampi Sound

I learn more from reviews that compare products that are roughly the same price than I do from isolated reports. For this investigation, I chose the Sim Audio 650D. It costs a lot more than the 7 Lite, but part of the cost is the transport. To level the playing field, I began with a TEAC VRDS as my source. Later, I used an Apple computer as a server.

Although I ran many discs through the Lite 7 and the 650D, three performances served as references during serious listening sessions: Klemperer’s reading of Mahler Symphony Number Two in C minor, “Resurrection,” (Philharmonia Orchestra, Warner 552126); Richter’s Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto Number Two in C minor (Wislocki/Warsaw Philharmonic, DGG 447420); and Gould’s 1981 “Goldberg Variations” (Sony 37779). I have all three on vinyl as well. That will become relevant later. 

The problem with the Sim is that it sounds exactly as the reviews portray it. Bass was reproduced deeply and tightly, without overhang or blurring. With that foundation, the rhythmic lines were clearly laid out, and lyrics were projected very crisply. This is what I call “show sound,” because it’s what I hear when I attend high fidelity shows: detail, resolution, authority. My listening session notes contain comments like this: “detail-oriented,” and “precise to a fault.”

After several hours, I had the sensation of looking at Ansel Adams black and white photographs: every feature of the music was there, vividly, but I was unmoved. “What am I missing?” I wrote.

When I switched to the Lampi, I wrote fewer notes because I was engaged with the music. I stopped admiring the artifice of the reproduction and concentrated on the performance. Here was bulky old Klemperer, building with slow tempos to an irrefutable vision of his friend and champion’s work. I wasn’t distracted with high fidelity considerations of bass depth, soundstage width and clarity, although the Lampi was every bit as competent in those regards as the Sim. This Mahler Second is a treasure, committed to record over fifty years ago, and brought back to life – resurrected, if you will – by a hunk of aluminum and wires. 

So also the Rachmaninoff. From the first eight bars, Richter plays with a conviction that removes all doubt and criticism. Wislocki and the Warsaw Philharmonic are with Richter at every step. It’s a thrilling, compelling performance. With the Sim, I heard precision in timing and pitch; with the Lampi, I regained the excitement of hearing the performance for the first time.

To entertain the Ansel Adams metaphor again, the Lampizator restored color to the picture. I don’t go to concerts in order to check the frequency response of the orchestra. Gordon Holt once asked after attending a symphony performance, “Where’s the treble?” His point was that tweeters extend a lot higher than we can hear, and they exaggerate the sound of live music. He reminded us that the definition of high fidelity is not to draw caricatures, but to serve the music faithfully.

By now, Gould’s second traversal of the “Goldberg” is fraught with a lot more than the performance alone. It is the only piece he ever recorded twice, and the differences between 1955 and 1981 are pronounced: the latter is slower, more reflective. It’s also one of his last performances. There’s a moment in the twenty-fifth variation where one can almost imagine Gould swooning. Both DACs allowed me to hear Gould humming along, and pedaling. Only the Lite 7 allowed me to share in the yearning, the stretch toward the ineffable. The span begins in Leipzig, carries to New York City, and ends in my Midwestern American burg. The listening note from that evening says simply, “Yes.”

VI. The 7 Lite Variations

Those glass bottles (Lampi, in Polish) on the 7 Lite’s chassis are an invitation to experiment with the sound. Would I be a gracious host if I declined the offer?

The 7 Lite came with a pair of PX4 tubes manufactured by KR, the Prague firm that brought this 1928 design back into production. The PX4 enjoys a quiet but solid backing from people who believe it to be the finest power tube ever made, combining sweetness and detail retrieval. 

When I asked Lukas why the review unit came with this tube, he responded, “We always have 3-4 types in stock and we listen with every unit shipped, looking for a particular synergy.” Who am I to argue with people who designed and built the product?

But we’re audiophiles, and we must tinker, experiment, substitute and probe. Often we don’t agree with each other, and sometimes our tastes change, but it’s a journey with a purpose.

My two reference amplifiers use 300B tubes, so I have a supply of those 1930s relics. I chose two Sophia Electric Royal Princess 300Bs that weren’t doing anything, and dropped them into the 7 Lite.

Although the basic character of the DAC remained, the switch was immediately apparent: the sound was richer and more fleshed out. “Better upholstery,” my notes say. I don’t think Sophia designs for an overly romantic sound, but it is plainly different than the more objective KR perspective. Which is 

more correct? I think the question misses the goal of high fidelity. We are not pursuing every subatomic particle of information, but rather recreating the experience of hearing live music. And we know it when we find it. As A. E. Housman remarked about poetry, 

I could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat, but I thought we both recognized the object by the symptoms which it provokes in us.

Some music is better suited to PX4 tubes, while other music responds more favorably to 300Bs. 

Next I borrowed a pair of Psavane 101Ds. Again, there was a significant change in the character of my entire system. The 101D emphasizes air, a sense that the performance venue extends outward and especially upward toward a very high ceiling. 

Like most audio people, I have a selection of power cords lying around. Generally, I preferred Acoustic Zen’s Tsunami for a balance of drive, fluidity and detail. 

VII. All things that rise converge

"One man can make a difference." - John F. Kennedy

The Lite 7 had to face a final test, the only really important one: comparison with excellent analogue.

I have a friend – call him Noah – who regards all digital products with contempt. In his book, a fifty dollar CD player sounds every bit as good as a $25,000 rig. You may disagree with him, but you cannot argue against the extraordinary sound of his main system. 

We discussed my enthusiasm for the Lite 7, he scoffed, and I invited myself over for an evening.

This trial could never be considered fair: Noah has a Kuzma Stabi XL with Kuzma’s air-bearing tonearm and a Kuzma cartridge. This system costs more than six times what the Lite 7 does -- the tonearm and cartridge are each near the Lite 7’s price. To put a very competent but cost-conscious DAC against them would hardly be equitable, but that was my plan. I wanted to see how far digital had come since I was in graduate school.

I would have liked to conduct this test in my listening room, but Noah’s turntable weighs around two hundred pounds and has been set up meticulously. I packed transport, tubes and DAC, and headed south.

We listened to the Mahler, Rachmaninoff and Bach records, as well as several of Noah’s favorites. Vinyl followed digital, then the reverse. In every case, my friend’s system extracted material from vinyl that my Linn/Ekos/Airy ensemble omitted. I have never heard vinyl sound better.

Noah paused as he cued up a record. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard digital sound this life-like.”

By the end of the evening, we agreed that Noah’s table was superior in portraying body and richness, the timbre of music, but that the difference between the Kuzma system and the Lampizator was much smaller than either of us had imagined. In terms of clarity, the distance was even narrower. 

Again we looked at the equipment racks, loaded with table, Shindo phono stage and line stage. Power cables, air pump and interconnects dangled behind.

I thought about our listening session on the way home. What would an optimized Lampizator Golden Gate DAC driven by an equally good server sound like? Would the small difference between great analogue and digital shrink even further? Would it be worth the money? If you had limitless financial resources, you’d still have to consider the time spent on cleaning records, adjusting VTA and changing records. What is our goal in this hobby? 

When our Houston group gathered to pit Nakamichi CD player against Lurne turntable, John Curl and Thomas Colangelo were working for Mark Levinson. I bought Stu Hegeman’s own Harmon Kardon Citation II amplifier around that time. One of us owned a Marantz 10B tuner, designed by Richard Sequerra. 

The great achievements in high fidelity have come from the genius and very hard work of men like these. They did not follow trends; they created them. Lukasz Fikus is such a person. His Lampizator 7 Lite is a major step toward realistic musical reproduction. I’ll try to get my hands on his other products.

Richard Weiner


5000 EUR


Standard Lite 7 DAC:

•Output capacitors Jupiter AM series
•Tubes: Standard Psvane 101D, with provision to switch to 2A3, 6A3 or 300B or 45-245-345.
•Same Level 7 PCM DAC 384 kHz
•USB up to 32 bit/384 kHz
•DSD engine same as Big 7
RCA output pair
USB input socket


Lukasz Fikus 
Brzozowa 2G
05-552 Wola Mrokowska