Lampizator Lite 7 digital converter
- Jason Kennedy
- May 2016
Lampizator is not your average audio electronics company. It’s chief designer Lukasz Fikus is very forthright about what is and isn’t important when it comes to building the best gear. When it comes to the product category where Lampizator made its name – digital to analogue converters – Fikus makes clear how much influence the various elements have on the final result. In contrast to most DAC manufacturers he believes that the DAC chip itself is not that important and credits the analogue stage and its associated power supply as being the most important elements in the mix. Being a valve man this means using NOS valves of the high power variety, silver wiring, Duelund capacitors, and iron core transformers.
Those of a cynical bent might think that he takes this approach because the output stage and power supply are the areas where it is easiest to make a difference to the sound. Not many audio companies have the knowledge required to build their own converters, but amplifier technology is a widely understood science, even when you are talking about single-ended valve based engineering. That said, Lampizator does offer a discrete ladder DAC in its top model, the Golden Gate, so it must know of what it speaks. The fact that the brand has also built the biggest profile of any east European electronics company also suggests that they are doing something right.
The Lite 7 is a more affordable version of Lampizator’s Big 7 DAC. It is just as huge, but has transistor rather than tube rectification in front of the Psvane 101D valves supplied as standard for the output stage. The converter is ready for DSD up to DSD128 and PCM to 24/192, whereas the Big 7 takes both these numbers two notches higher. Volume control with remote and a front panel display is a €1,000 option, but this upgrade also affords an analogue input: two more can be added at extra cost. Other optional extras include a DSD512 DAC, balanced outputs, headphone out, and Lamipizator’s discrete R2R ladder DAC. You are also at leisure to change the output valves to 2a3, 300B, 45, 6A3, 245 or 345 triodes, but remember to select the right setting on the rear panel. The line out version has only a single switch on the front panel and this selects between PCM and DSD operation; this is the first example of such a switch I’ve come across and one provided because Lukasz uses a different chip for each format. Input switching between USB, RCA coax and AES/EBU balanced is via a toggle switch at the back of the box, which seems inconvenient until you realise that casework over half a metre deep requires a top shelf location in most situations.
Given that most equipment supports are not that deep, Lampizator has the sense to include six rather than four feet, so that the rear portion of the DAC can protrude from the rack. Why so big? The main reason is that it uses the same chassis as the Big 7, but it is also a single-ended triode amplifier with a DAC onboard, so it has two power supplies with separate transformers for each and those have secondary windings for the various elements. On the other hand, it has only one amplification stage, one capacitor in series with the signal, and no output transformers. The box still seems excessive until you realise that it can be upgraded to Lampizator’s top spec, which can include balanced operation with four output valves.
The USB input is unusual in that it does not require power from the source device like many DACs, which eliminates one source of noise in a stroke. It presumably runs an Amero receiver because this is the driver that Windows PCs need to hook up with it. I was concerned that this would make the Melco N1A digital transport redundant, but the Lite 7 is a full class 2 device and the combination worked fine. I started by using the standard output valves and the USB input with the CAD CAT JRiver powered digital transport and CAD’s powerline free USB cable.
First impressions count for quite a lot and in this case what you hear is the valves. I don’t use glass audio as a rule, so whenever it turns up the colourful nature of the frequency response is pretty obvious. That said, the effect on the music is enlivening. This often has a very positive effect, making calmer pieces more interesting and varied because of the way that timbre and dynamics are enhanced. I don’t usually use Anouar Brahem’s Souvenance [ECM] for reviewing because the tracks are long and slow burning, but the beauty of tone in Brahem’s oud is picked out superbly by the Lite 7 and makes the opening track all the more inviting. It inspired me to try Tord Gustavsen’s latest release What was said [also ECM, see last month’s music reviews]. Here the track ‘Tom Violence’ showed that this DAC is not bass shy, the synth element providing some lovely grumbly stuff, whilst proving extremely good at revealing lyrics. The voice on this album tends to pass almost as another man made instrument on most DACs but here you can’t help but notice what is being sung by Simin Tander, in a good way too. It remains coherent and engaging to the end.
The single-ended nature of the Lite 7 means that it works beautifully at low levels, in both senses of the word. You can hear quiet sounds and you can listen quietly without sacrificing the inner dynamics of the music. This happened with many tracks because of the wide variety of recorded levels between them and the non-remote nature of my preamp. The other thing you notice is that leading edges are relatively soft, compared to most solid state DACs. This is partly a reflection of the 101D valves (using 300Bs sharpened the sound), but in both cases imaging is a bit short on focus. There is no shortage of presence but stereo lacks solidity, which from a musical appreciation perspective is no big deal, but it’s a quality that many enjoy and does help to define the acoustic space where the music was recorded.
Using power amp valves even in single-ended mode means that the Lite 7’s output is unusually high, so high that I suspect many valve preamplifiers would struggle to cope. There are two ways around this, you can have the output customised to suit the input sensitivity of your preamplifier or go for the volume control option and its associated analogue input(s) and trade in your preamp. This is something offered by the UK distributor G-Point rather than Lampizator themselves.
Pressing the ‘O’ button on the front panel and engaging DSD mode with the Lite 7 connected to the Melco N1A brings forth very appealing and open sound with Beethoven’s Sonate 32 Maestoso [2L DSD sampler]. This revealed the DAC’s remarkably low noise floor by virtue of the way that the damping pedal’s actions were so precise; the whole thing had tremendous poise and radiance and inspired me to try some more. What also struck me was that the Lampizator’s slightly smooth leading edges make for a more relaxed listening experience, so you can enjoy the full dynamics of well recorded pieces without the subtle glare that transistors struggle to eliminate. This is more obvious with great recordings of acoustic music because such instruments can sound far softer than most audio systems allow.
The Lite 7 is not most audio systems; it is considerably more musical and engaging – especially with 2A3 valves. I remember liking SET amps with this output device and the Lampizator reminded me of the vibrancy, spaciousness, and superb tonal richness that it can extract from a signal. Even in a situation where the valve is doing little more than ticking over its character is evident. Using the coax input with a Cyrus Stream X between Melco and Lampizator proved once again that this connection has the advantage when it comes to timing. All it took was a few bars of AC/DC’s mellifluous ‘Gone Shootin’’ [Powerage, Atlantic] to reveal as much. It inspired some very lively listening and the complete abandonment of the more cerebral sound of the USB connection.
If you value the emotional and tonal qualities of music above absolute neutrality, the Lite 7 is a fabulous converter. It will make all of your music more interesting and ultimately more enjoyable, and that should be what this hi-fi malarkey is all about!
- Type: Single ended triode PCM and DSD-capable digital-to-analogue converter/preamplifier.
- Digital Inputs: One AES/EBU, one Coaxial and one USB 2.0
- Analogue Outputs: One stereo single‑ended (via RCA jacks)
- DAC Resolution/Supported Digital Formats: PCM from 44.1KS/s to 192KS/s with word lengths up to 24-bit, DSD64 (2.8224MHz) and DSD128 (5.6448MHz)
- Frequency Response: Not specified
- Distortion (THD + Noise): Not specified
- Output Voltage: Not specified
- Dimensions (H×W×D): 130 × 450 × 530mm
- Weight: 16kg
- Price: €5,880 (£4,531)
UK Distributor: G-Point Audio
Tel: 01435 86 55 40
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