This commentary first appeared in August 2015 on the PCLab blog of Poland. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this piece are the property of Dawid Grzyb or LampizatOr - Ed.

Reviewer: Dawid Grzyb
Sources: COS Engineering D1, LampizatOr Level7 (Psvane WE101D, resistor-relay volume control, DSD 64x engine) 
Preamplifier: Trilogy 908
USB bridge: Audiobyte Hydra-X+
Power & integrated amplifiers: Hegel H160, Trilogy 992
Loudspeakers: KEF LS50, Boenicke Audio W5, Trenner&Friedl Art
Cables: Forza Audioworks Noir family, KingRex U-Craft (Y) USB, Harmonix X-DC2F power cords
Power delivery: Gigawatt PF-2, Gigawatt PF-1
Equipment rack: Lavardin K-Rak
Sundry accessories: Goldenote Drum (60Hz and 80Hz)
Room 1: Regularly shaped 4.5 x 6.2m basement, quite low ceiling     
Review component retail: €18'000

For several months now, I've been a very happy LampizatOr Level 7 owner. Within its catalogue, this fantastic DAC was the first with direct-heated triodes (DHT) in its output section. It was also the model which allowed Łukasz Fikus to venture out into the deep blue sea if you will. The twin-chassis Level 7 is so obnoxiously big, many visitors to my audio crypt mistake it for a stereo amplifier. Yet there's sound reason behind its two-box madness with industrial Neutrik-fitted umbilical cords. It’s no whim but a dirty/clean box segregation. Hence the huge power supply occupies one chassis, the analog and digital boards with their various i/o the other. The latter box also gets mounting holes with ceramic tube sockets for the triodes and rectifier. The so-called Little Seven has strong and obvious DIY roots. Considering its many point-to-point connections, order under the hood is kept at a fair level though some people think of it as an excellent example for artistic messiness. There's a fairly big group especially in Poland who find our Level 7 a case of heavy disarray. To each his own. Point-to-point construction had been the rule from the very beginning. Łukasz wanted the shortest possible connections as one of his key principles years back. Fair enough. But these days that's not the most interesting part. Under the Level 7 hood work two separate converters. This deck is actually two parallel DACs which share the same analog board and power supply. One digital module handles PCM and is based on mysterious sigma-delta chips whose printing has been erased. Łukasz wants people to listen to music instead of certain parts. This prevents pigeonholing, a bad approach for this particular hobby. Too many (believe to) determine overall sound quality based on identifying parts without hearing the actual implementation. The more expensive the products get, the more erroneous such thinking becomes. It's something I learnt the hard way. The second digital PCB is a proprietary filtering module only capable of DSD. But there's more than meets the eye.

In his DSD engine, Łukasz Fikus uses no standard converter chip to process the signal. In fact, there’s no chip at all. Digital-to-analog conversion is handled exclusively with a filter developed by Herr LampizatOr himself. What we know is that he uses passive parts without data manipulation, hence no sigma-delta modulators or upsamplers. As such, the DSD signal path is most minimal. It consists of a USB receiver, passive filtration with nearby power regulation and an analogue section. I know of no outfit which handles DSD in more purist fashion. Just so, Meitner, Playback Design, Nagra and PS Audio do unique things, too. For example, the latter’s DirectStream DAC upsamples all signal to frequencies many times higher than DSD via an FPGA chip, which then also handles 1-bit modulation. Next there's a very precise clock, a low-pass filter and that's it. So PS Audio and LampizatOr are similar in eschewing off-the-shelf converters but their means to the same end remain different. My experience suggests that avoiding typical DAC chips usually nets great sound, though not necessarily better than the best devices built in more classical fashion with vintage or current R2R chips or discrete arrays. But surely the FPGA brigade holds its own ground. It is because of the Łukasz Fikus DSD engine that his products are popular amongst file-based playback enthusiasts of the highest order. Many of them could actually afford far more expensive machines yet they stick with LampizatOr. This confirms that our Polish manufacturer no longer is a greenhorn in the DAC game. Good word on this fact has widely spread. I'm merely covering well-trod ground. The PS Audio DAC is popular too yet has no tube stage which for obvious reasons appeals to many. The same is true for the Chord Hugo, the Metrum Pavane and the Schiit Audio Yggdrasil. None of them rely on commonly used chips. That puts them in the great minority. At the same time, they’re proof that some designers prefer to explore the less-traveled paths rather than well-lit shortcuts. In the long run, that can become profitable to this group of clearly skilled engineers. And by now Herr LampizatOr is one of them.

Certain individuals can't stop their own developmental process, especially the most creative lot. Łukasz Fikus is such a one. New products aside, he continually refines older ones. He upgrades, improves and standardizes his own solutions. His mind is an obvious mix of mad scientist with a head full of projects in various stages of completion; and business owner who must maintain law and order whilst mapping out the future. This effect is quite visible. Because of constant updates across the line, there finally came a moment when the next upgrade was actually something entirely new. That's how it went with the Level 7. It stepped down and the Big 7 showed up. The basics remained the same but almost everything else was different. But despite their progressive mobility, LampizatOr remain an open and customer-friendly company. Older units can be upgraded or exchanged for a newer model. Obviously money exchanges hands. Nonetheless, no buyer is left behind with obsolete expensive toys when a superior successor arrives. With LampizatOr, that can happen rather quickly. Such peculiar sales politics are a nod at adventurous shoppers and a bit rare in the market.

In the case of the Level 7 and its successor, changes were severe. Point-to-point soldering vanished almost completely, the analog board expanded with several layers of shielding and a now very professional look. Other modules too are very decently made so assembly has visibly improved. Yet one of the biggest changes is the lower but overall bigger chassis. The Big 7 still gets a single rectifier tube yet now 274B or 5U4G bottles come into play. This equals to an enormous playground for inveterate rollers. Nonetheless, the Big 7 wasn't the last ace in Łukasz Fikus’ sleeve. He knew that there was still room for improvement. His own clients helped him realize this to some degree.