LampizatOr The Lite 7 DSD DAC
Input: USB, 2x Coax S/PDIF (RCA, BNC), and Toslink
Output: analog RCA pair
Dimensions: 45 cm wide, 53 cm deep, 13 cm tall
Weight: 16 kg
Availability: Direct and Authorized Dealers
US Distributor: www.lampizatorna.com
"But Grandmother! What big tubes you have," said Little Red Riding Hood
Warsaw Poland's LamizatOr (What is LAMPIZATOR? It is a play on Polish Lampa (vacuum tube) and Terminator) is the brain child of Lukasz Fikus and his DACs have been causing a buzz in the computer audio world for years. What's the buzz? They sound really good. The Lite 7 DSD DAC is a pared down version of LamitzatOr's Big 7 DAC. The Big 7's tube rectifier and chokes are gone and super premium parts like the Big 7's Jupiter Copper Wax output capacitors are replaced with the less costly Jupiter AM series. The idea with the Lite 7 is to deliver The Big 7's directly heated triode sound for roughly half the price of admission.
I like what Lukasz Fikus has to say. Here's a taste:
- We design for the sound
- We choose to over-specify everything, even if only on the assumption that it does not hurt
- 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. All power supplies are “linear” type.
- We believe that triode vacuum tubes sound good and that op-amps sound bad.
- 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.
- 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. Occasionally our dealers do participate in shows and reviews or audiophile get-togethers.
- We are not retro, we are not about nostalgic stuff, we are not grandpa’s radio with magic green eye. We use tubes only because they help us achieve desired technical goals in the best possible way.
"The result is a very subjective accumulation of hundreds of decisions that make a distinct product. We like that product. If you like it too - you will agree that our decisions were right. If you don’t like it - it is a plain and simple case of different taste. We don’t believe in one product for everybody so we choose to target the like minded audiophiles. This is our strategy."
I bet you're wondering what DAC chip Lukasz settled on for the Lite 7. Me too. Here's Lukasz:
What we found is that the chip-set sound is: 10 % DAC chip choice, 50 % receiver chip choice, 20 % receiver-DAC connection interface and 20 % power supply construction. Yes, the DAC chip choice - from worst case to best case scenarios could affect only 10% on the subjective scale of sound quality.I hope you're getting a picture of what I read to be a straight-forward, opinionated (which we want our designers to be), no nonsense approach to product design. Fikus is an electrical engineer with a specialty in power distribution and a major in High Voltage Physics and he has a lot more to say about his approach so I recommend heading over to the LampizatOr website for more of his story.
We took the time and effort to test every chip we could buy or find in old products, it was close to 100 chips that we tested in similar condition and without output stage influence.
That explains why we don’t disclose the DAC chip name. We simply don’t want to be pigeon-holed by ignorant people, based on our choices.
The Lite 7's USB input (Amanero Technologies Combo384 Module) is asynchronous and uses two internal clocks for re-clocking. The USB receiver is internally powered, thus avoiding the noisy power supply coming from your computer, and the data is handed off directly to the DAC chip via I2S. DSD processing is physically separate from PCM processing so users must push that two-position switch on the unit's front panel to engage, or disengage, the DSD circuit.
The Lite 7 supports PCM playback up to 32/384 as well as DSD128. There are four digital inputs around back with associated toggle switches and a single pair of analog RCA outputs. Lampizator wants you to use your favorite power cord, "Please use a decent AC cable. We suggest spending around 100 Euro for a good AC cable, not more but not less.", to attach to the IEC inlet so they do not ship a power cord with the Lite 7 DSD DAC. I used a Shunyata Venom Digital Power Cable which is more costly than the recommenced 100 Euro but I'm a rebel. I also tried the much more expensive Shunyata ΞTRON Σ SIGMA power cord and preferred it over the Venom.
The Lite 7 employs a pair of directly treated triodes in the analog output stage. The standard tube choice is a pair of Psvane 101D, but users can swap in their own 2A3/45 or 300B to taste. Just make sure you flick that rear-mounted toggle switch to the correct position to match the tubes in use.
In terms of looks, I find the Lite 7 to be...deep! 20" minus your cables deep. The front and back feet are 16" apart (on center). As you can see, LampizatOr does not go in for fancy case work which is just fine by me as utilitarian and minimal strikes my fancy.
The LampizatOr went into my regular system which includes the Pass INT-30A/DeVore Fidelity The Nines and near the end of the review, it also got to play with the Ayre AX-5 Twenty/DeVore Fidelity Xs. The Light Harmonic Lightspeed USB cable ran from JitterBug'd MacBook Pro running Roon (1.1) capped off with the UpTone Audio REGEN to the Lite 7 and a pair of Auditorium 23 ICs connected the Lite 7 to the integrated amps. A23's speaker cables complete the cable picture.
"What a deep voice you have!" ("The better to greet you with")
The LampizatOr Lite 7 DSD DAC greeted me with a very full, very rich voice. I spent about a month listening through the stock Psvane 101D tubes and I would characterize the Lite 7's sound as natural, engaging, and highly musical. In my experience, DACs can sound digital, they can also sound like good digital, like very good digital, and unlike digital to varying degrees. The LampizatOr falls into that last category, which is my favorite.
What do I mean when I say "digital sound"? I mean a flat, cutout version of our otherwise dimensional and rich music that also sounds harsh when pushed. That's the worst of it and I frankly do not hear this poor quality with most DACs. As we move away from this poor digital sound picture, we gain things like space, dimension, timbre, and resolution. In other words, music begins to sound more like music, no fancy words needed. The Lite 7 DSD DAC delivers a very healthy helping of music that sounds like music.
Compared to my reference Auralic Vega, the Lite 7 sounds more full bodied, tonally richer, more spacious and airy, and more natural. The Lite 7 makes the Vega sound like very good digital, even though when listening to the Vega for pleasure I do not think to myself, "That's some very good sounding digital."
John Coltrane's "Naima" from Giant Steps (CD rip) is one of my favorite songs, period. Within seconds, I can be transported to another place and time, like watching a great film. The degree to which this transportation occurs is dependent on my mood and the quality of the reproduction. With the LampizatOr, I was immediately lost in Coltrane's love song to his then wife which I find immensely moving and rich in time and place. With the Vega, some of this pure emotion was left out due to things like 'Trane's horn sounding less full-bodied, less life like. Wynton Kelly's piano was also richer and resounded more naturally through the Lite 7, drawing you in to the story to a greater degree as compared to the Vega and that's exactly where I want to be.
For me, the kind of sound the Lite 7 makes is addicting because we move beyond sound and into feeling. I'm not saying the Vega or even less costly DACs do not offer this ability as well, it's just easier to get there and stay there through the LampizatOr. DSD sounded equally rich and rewarding, but I found that having to get up and hit that switch to interfere with my musical flow. YMMV. Regular old CD-quality sounded marvelous, as did higher resolutions and I also found myself not caring about this distinction, which is exactly where I want to be. Music first.
Filling out the Lite 7 sound picture is hefty and well-defined bass, a truly lovely tonally saturated midrange, and sweet, delicate highs. The overall sound picture is as large as the recording and your room/gear allow, and the level of detail is such that you can dig as deeply as you care to into the music without being put off by too much edge. Again, think natural.
Tubes. Some people don't like 'em, I do when used properly. I own a few tube amps and preamps and I consider my Shindo Cortese/Monbrison combo to be the most musical gear I own. One of the things some people like about tubes is the ability to tailor the sound of tube gear by using different tubes. While I would not tube roll with my Shindo gear, Shindo is much much better at it than I am, the Lite 7's easily accessed triodes practically beg to get rolled.
The LampizatOr US distributor sent over a pair of TJ 300B/SE tubes and I also plugged in a pair of EML solid plate 45s as well as a NOS pair of globe 245s I had lying around (for use in my Fi 45 Prototype amp). The 300Bs offered the biggest, lushest sound, while the EML 45s delivered a more delicate and nuanced presentation. The NOS 45s were the sweetest of the bunch if not capable of ultimate grunt. The stock 101D's removed some of the 300Bs body and richness while not getting up to the 45's level of sweetness. In order to choose between the 300Bs and 45s, I'd have to spend more time with both. Let's be clear, the overall character of the Lite 7 DAC remains regardless of the tubes in use—we're talking about seasoning.
I also happen to have the totaldac d1-tube-mk2 DAC here for review and I'll be talking more about it in its own review. In terms of a comparison to the LampizatOr, which comes in at roughly half of the totaldac's price, I'd say the totaldac gets me off the digital charts altogether and delivers music that's so natural, immediate and direct, it defies comparisons. Of course comparing the LampizatOr Lite 7 to the totaldac is basically a silly exercise considering their price difference and a much more fair comparison would include the LampizatOr Big 7...
"What a big mouth you have!"
The LampizatOr Lite 7 DSD DAC lives up to the buzz, and then some. It is among the DACs I've enjoyed most. Music sounds natural, rich, and rewarding pulling you into your music for as long as time allows. The ability to tailor the Lite 7's sound to taste by rolling in your own triode's is simply icing on top of a very musical DAC.
Also in-use during the The Lite 7 DSD DAC: Auralic Vega, totaldac d1-tube-mk2 DAC