World Premiere Follow-Up!
LampizatOr Generation 5 Level 4 DAC
Computer audio to satisfy an analog lover.
Review By Wayne Donnelly
The first part of this
the LampizatOr Level 4 Generation 5 DAC was in December 2014 and I discussed the
unit's performance on CDs played on
a CD transport with an S/PDIF cable connection. This completion reviews the
DAC's performance playing high-resolution PCM and DSD computer files. Computer
audio is really the principal application that designer Lukasz Fikus is
addressing in this DAC. I urge the reader to check out the initial review, which
contains a lot of information, not repeated here, about the company and the
First, An Update
The performance I reported in the initial review has now been
significantly improved. The ModWright-modified Denon 3910 player I was using at
that time died an honorable death a few months ago. I replaced it with a
Steinmusic-modified Grundig Fine Arts CD player upgraded with a massive power
supply and several additional Steinmusic tweaks. It is a superb standalone
player, and a much better transport, providing greater dynamic range and more
extended frequency response, especially in low frequencies. At the same time,
Holger Stein also sent me his SP/DIF cable, which proved to be another
significant improvement. (This player would be worthy of a separate review, but
it is not imported into North America.) After about 200 hours of burn-in, the
player has proven good enough that I could be content using it to play CDs. But
it is also much better than my old player for feeding CDs to the LampizatOr. The
sonic improvements from a better transport are testament to the excellence of
the LampizatOr DAC.
My audio system and listening environment are described in
detail in my recently updated Writer's Bio. The computer audio station is on a
table four feet in front of the equipment rack that holds the LampizatOr DAC.
Because I am physically unable to get behind my equipment racks, which about
five feet out from the wall, I have the DAC on a low shelf so that I can reach
its rear panel, which has toggle switches that select power on/off and SP/DIF or
USB input. Selecting play from PCM or DSD files is via the illuminated
pushbutton on the front panel.
The computer is a Windows laptop with an outboard disk drive
holding over 7,000 digital files. I also use a 27-inch monitor so that I can
magnify listings to compensate for my impaired vision. I use JRiver software to
organize and access computer files. The 12-foot DanaCable USB (also reviewed in
this issue) allows me to route the cable so that I can roll my wheelchair up to
the DAC without running over the cable. As I describe in detail in the DanaCable
USB review, the performance of the DanaCable USB has elevated the sound of
computer audio through the LampizatOr DAC to a greater degree than I had
originally thought possible. All of the remarks below reflect the combination of
the LampizatOr Level 4 Generation 5 DAC and the DanaCable USB.
Listening to Computer Audio
I gave the Reference Recordings CD of Britten's
Orchestra (Michael Stern conducting the Kansas City Symphony) a Blue
Note award in 2010. Janice Mancuso at Reference later sent me an HRX disc that,
as a .wav file, was downloadable. It was one of the first PCM files I tried. I
have now experienced that recording three ways: first as a superior-sounding CD,
then as a PCM file through my original USB cable, and finally through the
DanaCable USB. I was unprepared for the stunning result of combining the
LampizatOr DAC and the DanaCable USB. In the Young
Person's Guide To the Orchestra, the soundscape not only grew wider
and deeper, but each section of the orchestra was firmly placed within that
stage. Violins took on a silky sweetness I had not quite heard before; low
strings became more guttural, allowing me to hear wood as well as strings.
Woodwinds had that breathy, "reedy" timbre that is so difficult to
record, and the brass had the "bite" that I hear in live performances.
The massive drum strikes that open the Sinfonia
da Requiem felt like physical punches.
Mahler’s "Resurrection" Symphony No. 2 with Otto
Klemperer leading the Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus is one of the greatest
of Mahler recordings. The 1962 EMI LPs remain valuable demo recordings at 50+
years old. I had compared the LPs and the DSD files when I first implemented
computer audio. Initially I still preferred the LPs, which sounded more
harmonically rich and simply more naturally musical than the DSD version. But
after fully burning in the discrete DSD section of the LampizatOr and adding the
DanaCable USB, I find that the DSD files convey a wonderful sweetness and
musicality, and of course the DSD background is quieter than my EMI LPs.
Patricia Barber's Modern
Cool and Nightclub are among my favorites. I have those recordings on
LP, on original and remastered CDs, and in DSD files. Again, the LPs previously
ha∂ come the closest to capturing the feeling of her live performances,
but I now give a slight edge to the DSD files.
The Bottom Line
As I commented in the first review of the LampizatOr Level 4
Generation 5 DAC, my physical disabilities make it hard to play LPs. Even before
implementing computer audio, I was beginning to find that the LampizatOr was
making it easier for me to enjoy CDs without feeling that I was overly
compromising the sound. Now, with its excellence in reproducing high-resolution
music files, the LampizatOr Level 4 Generation 5 DAC truly frees me from
worrying about the sound and lets me relax and enjoy the music.
before experiencing it on computer audio, I thought that at a retail price of
$5195, the LampizatOr Level 4 Generation 5 DAC was a fine value for anyone who
wants the best sound digital audio could achieve. Now that I have found in my
own system that high-resolution computer audio can rival – and in many cases
surpass – my beloved analog system, I can more fervently make that