Review: Lampizator Lite 7 DAC DA converter
Everything about the Lite 7 screams performance. It’s a sumptuous sports car disguised as a DAC – shiny, sleek, and low slung. Like the classic Corvette’s lightweight fiberglass body, it’s sheathed in black Plexiglas. Viewed from above, it conjures lavish speedsters at auto shows, hoods up, flaunting pristine supercharged engines, radiators, fans, cabling and serpentine belts; looking through the Lite 7’s translucent vented cover, you see an impressive array of lights, wiring and components. And with an oversized pair of directly heated single-ended triode tubes (usually reserved for use in tube amps) protruding from the rear, it calls to mind a black Mercedes Formula One racer. It’s stunning.
After letting the Lite 7 acclimate to my system for several weeks, it's time to give it a serious listen.
“Moon is Shining.” (Special Event 21 -- The NPR Sessions, featuring Keith Greeninger, Chris Lee, and Brain. (Blue Coast Records DSD 64 download. Folk/Blues).
I have to say right off the top that vocals and instruments have never sounded so “in the room” and engaging at my house.
For those unfamiliar with this download, it is a bittersweet ballad with acoustic guitar, drums, and upright acoustic bass.
As I listen, Greeninger’s throaty baritone is captured, alternatively, in its breathiness, tenderness, strength and vulnerability. Its natural timbre — as well as those of accompanying instruments — are conveyed better than with any other DAC I’ve used. Guitar strings squeak in protest as deft fingers shift, ply and slide over them, sweet notes ring out, float and decaying true to life. The sonorous plunks of the upright acoustic bass are richly textured, while the hiss of brushes striking the high hat sound — it’s all smoother, better balanced and refined — even weightier — than the Amber, which had previously impressed me so much.
“Jimmy and the Crows.” (Special Event 21 -- The NPR Sessions, featuring Keith Greeninger, Chris Lee, and Brain. (Blue Coast Records DSD 64 download. Folk/Blues).
A little more upbeat, running through the Lite 7, this bluesy rock song is more airy, ambient, and accurate than I’ve previously heard on my system. The attack of guitar strokes, brushes striking the snare drum and the plucked acoustic bass are true to life and mesmerizing. His haunting vocals are natural, full and balanced. It’s lush and juicy — especially with the dialog between the sweet, detailed guitar picking, high hat, guitar body taps, and bass. Summed up, it’s hard to imagine this DSD recording sounding any better.
“Almost Like Being in Love.” John Moriarty Trio. (HD Tracks. So Many Stars. 5.6 MHz DSD 128. Jazz.)
The pace, rhythm and timing are very good in this up-tempo jazz classic. John Moriarty’s piano is vibrant, well-balanced, pushed back a smidge (likely mixed that way to carve out a range for Bonet Moriarty’s vocals to have full bloom without being muddied by the piano playing at similar frequencies), its notes floating through the air, lush and vibrant; Jim Kerwin’s acoustic bass is resonant, well-defined and forward; Bonet Moriarty’s vocals are clear and a touch aggressive (again, likely mixed that way to make her voice stand out over the piano — or, maybe, it’s just that way naturally!), well-articulated and rendered. It’s a delightful tune and, playing via the Lite 7 at DSD 128, it’s very ambient and engaging.
“Light in the Fracture.” Emily Palen. Glass (DSD-Guide download, 5.6 MHz DSD 128. Classical).
There is an amazing sense of air about this recording of Palen’s violin. The timbre is well-defined, three dimensional and hauntingly resonant. The depth, the delicate details and decaying notes are captured and conveyed with sublime aplomb, making it a rewarding, visceral experience taking in this artists work.
“What Do You Want From Me.” Pink Floyd. Division Bell. (HDTracks. 2.9 MHz flac. Rock.).
Richard Wright’s Hammond organ and synthesizers sound spot in the opening moments, locked in with the David Mason’s drums and Guy Pratt’s electric bass keeping time. And then the magic —David Gilmour’s electric guitar, whaling away upfront and center. It’s massive, euphonic — orgasmic — with its dynamism, detail and timbre. And Gilmour’s vocals? The Lite 7 captures its quintessence in all its glory — the unique nasal tone, the reverb, and angst. Mason’s drums are full-bodied with lots of slam and presence. Simply put, this is rock and roll done right!
“Poles Apart.” Pink Floyd. Division Bell (HDTracks. 2.8 MHz flac. Rock.)
David Gilmour’s ambient and airy vocals (which are well-rounded, reverb-heavy and defined) take it up a notch in this slower, melancholic melody, its lyric acknowledging former bandmates Syd Barrett and Roger Waters. Starting off with Gilmour’s well-rounded vocals and acoustic guitar tuned in DADGAD (or Celtic) tuning, and electric bass, with Richard Wright on keyboards, it’s evocative, exquisitely clear, balanced and sweet in its presentation. And then Dave Mason’s high hat and snare — and Gilmore’s soulful electric guitar — take it to another level. It transports the listener on a lushly textured musical journey, present and in the room, with vocals, guitars, drums, orchestrations and programming washing over in textured layers like a psychedelic tsunami.
“Stowaway”. The Larry Corryell Organ Trio. Impressions. (Chesky Records. uncompressed CD ripped to laptop in Apple Lossless. Jazz.)
The warm glow of virtuoso Larry Corryell’s electric guitar’s leads and comps in this downtempo tribute to Wes Montgomery are rendered very natural and balanced. And there’s no mistaking it: Sam Yahel’s soulful Hammond B-3 organ sounds just right. The lows, the warmth, that unique earthy tone, and the slight grunge in spots — it’s just right. Combined with the air, pacing and snap on Paul Wertico’s high hat and drums, there’s an uncanny sense of presence, creating as it draws me into their jam session in an intimate setting.
In Lite of These Events
From the beginning, long before the Lite 7 was acclimated to my environs, it sounded exceptional. Like a select cabernet sauvignon, it was elegant, complex, balanced and robust. It rendered timbres naturally, with superb imaging, detail, and true to life. Frankly, this is the best sounding DAC that’s graced my system – and I’ve heard some good ones!
At $5,300, the Lampizator Lite 7 is not inexpensive, nor does it quite have the glow associated with some of its siblings; by using a solid state rectifier, versus a rectifier tube, that sheen is pulled back a smidge and, as a result, it sounds a touch more analytical. As such, I feel it strikes an excellent balance. Moreover, at roughly half the cost of their wondrous Big 7 DAC, it has a lot of its benefits.
In the September 2010 issue of Car and Driver, Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter defined good handling as “the car does exactly what the driver requests and provides transparent feedback in doing so.” In my opinion, the same can be said of the Lampizator Lite 7: it responds perfectly to the driver (the music signal), and is very transparent in conveying it to the listener. For this, I heartily give the Lampizator Lite 7 DAC two checkered flags.
· Toshiba Satellite C655 laptop computer with JRiver Media Center, ripped CDs, FLAC and DSD files
· Straight Wire USB Link USB cable
· Lampizator Lite 7 DAC
· Straight Wire Solo interconnects
· Schiit SYS passive preamp
· Straight Wire Solo interconnects with CAMAC connectors on one end (to connect to the Mark Levinson amp) and the other with RCA connectors to the preamp
· Mark Levinson ML-9 amplifier
· Straight Wire SoundStage SC external bi-wire cables
· Von Shweikert VR-5 HSE speakers