Country of Origin
This review first appeared in May 2023 on HifiKnights.com. By request of the manufacturer and permission of the author, it is hereby syndicated to reach a broader audience. All images contained in this piece are the property of HifiKnights or the manufacturer- Ed.
Reviewer: Marek Dyba
Analog sources: J.Sikora Basic MAX turntable, J.Sikora KV12 tonearm , AirTight PC-3, phonostages: Grandinote Celio mk IV, ESE Lab Nibiru V 2.5
Digital sources: passive custom PC with Win10, Roon, Fidelizer Pro 7.3, JCat USB Femto card with iFi power supply, Hdplex linear power supply for PC, JCAT USB Isolator, LampizatOr Golden Atlantic +Ideon Audio 3R Master Time (USB signal regenerator), LampizatOr Pacific
USB: iFi audio 0, micro iUSB3.0 and 3x Mercury cables
Preamplifiers: Audia Flight FLS1
Amplifiers: GrandiNote Shinai
Speakers: Ubiq Audio Model One Duelund Edition, GrandiNote Mach4
Interconnects: Hijiri Million, KBL Sound Red Corona, Metrum Lab Edge, TelluriumQ Silver Diamond USB, Stavessence USB Eunoia and Apricity, Ethernet Eloquence
Speaker cables: LessLoss Anchorwave, Metrum Lab Edge, KBl Sound Red Corona
Power components: GigaWatt PF-2 MK2 and GigaWatt PC-3 SE Evo+; a custom power line with GigaWatt LC-Y in-wall cable; GigaWatt G-044 Schuko and Furutech FT-SWS-D (R)
Rack: Base VI, Rogoz Audio 3RP3/BBS
Sundry accessories: Rogoz Audio SMO40 and CPPB16 platforms and BW40MKII feet, Franc Accessories Ceramic Disc Slim Feet and Wood Block platform
Retail price of reviewed components in EU (incl. tax): €12'000 [standard version is €8'000]
I finally got my hands on the latest LampizatOr phono stage, the flagship VP4 Silver. I also visited company headquarters to interview designers Lukas Fikus and Andrzej Hutnik and set the stage.
How did digital tube guys get into vinyl?
Even before my first phono stage, I believed that people who liked my DACs were music lovers who didn't like digital. They wanted digital that sounded 'right' when their reference was vinyl. My first customers said that digital sound hurt their head so they needed a digital source that sounded like vinyl. I too liked this sound they talked about and was able to do a pretty good job offering DACs which according to many resembled the analog sound of vinyl. It became the very foundation of our success. We gave people what they wanted and even the biggest vinyl aficionados could finally enjoy digital. The next logical step was to try and develop an actual phono stage. If I could offer digital devices that made sound these people enjoyed, shouldn't I be able to develop a phono stage for them that performs at least as good as what they already have if not surpass it?
I first have another question about your digital products. Were these customers and their love for analog why you focused strongly on DSD from the start?
Let's make one thing clear first. I'm no expert on digital audio. I'm an expert in currents, voltages and laws governing electricity. That's why I approached digital audio reluctantly and tried to marry it to my knowledge and experience of electrical circuits. To get it right I spent 10 years experimenting and getting closer and closer. Finally my extensive electrical knowledge and far less advanced digital know-how led to results I really liked. My phono stage development didn't have to depart from my digital experience but rather stayed true to my electrical expertise, to understanding what current, voltage, anode, cathode and grid are; and my general fondness of tubes. This experience can apply to any component, be it an amplifier, DAC, tuner or phono stage. So turning my focus on vinyl for a while didn't betray my previous achievements. It built upon them.
You started your phono project not for yourself but others?
That's true. At this stage I didn't yet have my own turntable or records. What's more, I didn't think that I'd ever become a vinyl aficionado. I was certain that such a chapter in life was behind me. On the other hand, I realized that having spent 10 years gaining the knowledge to develop top-class D/A converters would make it a real shame not to apply it to vinyl as well. I thought that it would be a quick and easy process and was so very wrong when it turned out to be much more difficult.
The main difficulty must have been the huge voltage gain required?
Exactly. With amplifiers, amplification factor is x 1, 1.5, 2, perhaps x 4 if you go crazy. That's because it will receive an input signal of say 2.5V which can produce playback SPL of 94dB so very loud. Very few people use more than a few watts from their amplifiers beyond short-term peaks. In a valve amp an amplification factor of x 2 is perfectly sufficient. Now issues like environmental hum, ground loops or even hum from the tubes themselves are hardly noticeable if at all. In my DACs the gain ratio too sits at the single-digit level so x 2 to no more than x 4 while we also change impedance ratios and buffer some signal. When it comes to phono, to amplify an MC signal requires a gain ratio of 3'000 to 4'000. We also need RIAA equalization so a circuit that reverses the process used to cut a vinyl record by attenuating bass and boosting treble. Now the bass amplitude in the signal read from a record groove must be additionally boosted by 20dB. If there's some small hum at the 50/60Hz line frequency, it will get amplified 3'000 times plus a few more hundred times for the extra 20dB. So a phono stage is like an electron microscope for 50Hz and/or 100Hz hum. Dealing with that is the most difficult part of phono stage development. By studying designs from other brands we saw how difficult it was for them. So one of the very first issues we had to face was unimaginably difficult for us. Finding all the necessary solutions took us years of small successes and many failures.