LampizatOr Pacific DAC preview


You ever get them? There’s all kinds.

I’m talking about the ones when it seems like the room has gone suddenly cold. You get a shiver down your spine.

Goosebumps usually creep up on you when you don’t expect them. I got a dose of them shortly after I first starting playing the LampizatOr Pacific DAC.

I had a mix of tracks I’d queued up via the Aurender N10 in for review that was feeding the Pacific (Balanced version) via USB and Arcade Fire’s “No Cars Go” came on several cuts into the playlist. I was still adding songs and I was only half listening because the unit was brand new and I was lining up a couple hours of cuts to start the break-in process on the unit’s circuit paths, capacitors, resistors, internal cabling and the crown of tubes sprouting from the top of the golden chassis when suddenly the goosebumps spread across my arms and up my back and shoulders to the nape of my neck.

It sounded like Arcade Fire was in front of me. Cliché, I know, but it was that sudden presence in the room, as if out of nowhere someone was there and it startled me. I had a friend over a few days later for a listen and he looked at me with a similar startled expression when London Grammar’s “Hey Now” kicked in and the bottom end fell out of my listening room. So far, the more hours I put on it, the better it keeps sounding.

Like the Audio Note DAC 5 Special I also have in review, the Pacific makes you forget completely about the fact that it is reproducing the recorded event and unconsciously allows one to be utterly engaged in the music playing. Coincidence? Probably not and I’ll tell you why I think that. Both units utilize zero-feedback, zero upsampling and zero oversampling DAC architecture. While the DAC 5 Special maxes out at 18/96 (by design), the Pacific can handle PCM conversion of up to 24/192 files via SPDIF and up to 705kHz DXD/512 DSD via USB and PCM 32/356 via LAN, so the high-resolution crowd is covered.

Input choices are optional on the Pacific. With your choice of BNC, a second SPDIF/RCA, AES/EBU and Toslink on top of USB/LAN. Balanced or unbalanced inputs/outputs are also available.

To find out more about the company and the Pacific specifically, I reached out for a Q&A with Fred Ainsley, North American Distributor for LampizatOr.

Q&A with Fred Ainsley

Rafe Arnott: LampizatOr was started less than 10 years ago by Lukas Fikus who earned himself a degree in electrical engineering specializing in power distribution and a major in high-voltage physics – a potent mix for an individual to possess who’s the driving force behind a high-fidelity company that focuses on DAC, amplifier, preamplifier, power conditioning, custom computers and cable design and production. Fikus professes in having “passion, experience, engineering skills and some degree of craziness too!” All things that come as no surprise in my mind to anyone whose either seen or heard the company’s designs and that would seem paramount in the production of what I consider to be just as much works of art as audiophile products. Is it this unique mindset of Fikus’ that helps set the brand apart in a sea of ever-expanding computer-audio associated and hi-fi equipment?

Fred Ainsley: “Absolutely. From my first encounter with Lukasz back in 2012 it was obvious he wasn’t another “me too” type designer. He’s got a very unique and captivating personality and I think he imparts this into his craft as well. He’s joked with me on numerous instances that if his electronics professors were to take a look at the designs he’s made commercially he would probably fail the course.

"I think this comes down to a certain non-binary thinking that Lukasz is a walking embodiment of. While his ultimate designs and choices are grounded in legitimate scientific theory, a large part of what makes him unique is his ability to say: 'This is the right way to do it, but let’s see what happens if...' This curiosity, of course, balances well with Lukasz having an international Executive MBA degree.”

RA: LampizatOr designs completely stand out from any other high-fidelity product out there, for example the 24ct gold-chassis Pacific DAC I have on loan (whose exterior is touted as “...the most durable protection money can buy, beats any lacquer or paint”) is a perfect example with it’s outrageous finish and plethora of enormous valves growing like a garden from its top plate. Is this visual-design treatment part-and-parcel with the ethos of Fikus’ and the company to focus on what he refers to as the ”Lampizator principle which champions the individual, honest business and customer concerns.” The part of that claim that stands out for me is the “individual” aspect. LampizatOr products – the Pacific in particular – seem all about individuality, not just visually, but in their sonic presentation as well. Is this approach with a bent on individuality key to how the company approaches their designs?

FA: “We like to believe so, Rafe. Our business is providing state-of-the-art musical reproduction systems for individuals who demand the very best. You cannot accomplish this mission with a one-size fits all solution, but rather must focus on the needs, preferences and expectations of the individual... We prefer to spend some time speaking to our customers to get an idea of the problems they need solved, what appeals to them, what makes them tick.”

RA: Going through the DAC’s specifications, one can readily see that nothing but the best-of-the-best are used in every stage of construction from the gold-plated PCB circuit paths, the silver and gold solder used in the DAC board design and input and output stages, oversize transformers, metal-foil power supply capacitors, MUNDORF silver and gold capacitors used in critical circuit-path junctures, custom wiring, custom-power USB with dual clocks... the list goes on and on. Is this just the LampizatOr way? Some may balk at the pricing of components such as the Pacific DAC, but when one sees what goes into it – just from a parts-costs analysis, never mind the years of research & development that went into its design – I find it difficult to take offence at what is clearly a world-class design. Was this always the goal of the Pacific? To be a cost-no-object product to showcase the bleeding-edge of DAC design?

FA: “Yes, thank you Rafe. It is wonderful you appreciate the level of attention to detail that goes into these products. When people think of Digital-Analog Conversions and quite frankly most audio products in this day and age, it’s largely viewed more in terms of mass production, cost scaling and compromise in favor of the bottom line. With the Pacific we were able to incorporate all that has been learned over the years at LampizatOr and express it in a way that is free of budgetary constraints.

"Yes, it is expensive. But it is also a proof of concept, so to speak. It is our expression of what is achievable in digital-audio reproduction without share holders and accountants to answer to. From the name of the DAC, which represents Lukasz’ love of travel, sailing and world exploration to the precious metals from which it is constructed, we hope it is apparent to the world that LampizatOr is truly different.”

RA: When you spend years designing, tooling, putting a parts-supply chain in place and training staff to build these bespoke DACs for a flagship product like the Pacific, how much trickle-down of tech and design lessons is it practical to expect to make their way into lower-priced DAC models like the Amber II, Atlantic or Lite 7? Is that type of thinking inherent to the company? Does LampizatOr have any plans to release a new DAC design in 2018? What about across the board built-in streaming capabilities?

FA: “Lukasz’ heart is and always was, focused on providing the best possible DAC for the lowest possible price. It is of course the flagship that attracts attention and makes head turn, but it would be a shame to overlook the offerings in our $3-4k USD range, where the international middle class is shopping to get their first true triode sound experience. "Speaking of trickle down, of course, from the day the R&D is frozen on a flagship, the factory starts observing the reaction from early adopters, bloggers, reviewers, and if proven to be solid, the trickle down process starts as soon it is possible within the budget.

“Be it an operating-point choice, a vendor change, a component selection, new tooling, procedure or other discovery. Sometimes this even results in a new product. The factory itself functions as somewhat of an organic being. While it is true that there is a general competence of everyone in the building, the team in Poland is comprised of truly unique individuals which really promotes out-of-the-box thinking, healthy competition and collaborations of experience/expertise.

“Like the people who make up our company, we like to think of our products as organic themselves. We are constantly learning as we continue to manufacture and of course many of these lessons will make their way down the line. This very thing makes working here fun every day.”

I’d like to thank Fred Ainsley for his time on this Q&A and ask readers to check back as a full Pacific DAC review with be forthcoming.

Lukasz Fikus Lampizator, Brzozowa 26A 05-552 Warszawianka, Poland