3½ years ago I reviewed LampizatOr's first phono stage called the Vinyl Phono MC1. Now it's time to follow up on the progress Lukasz Fikus, Andrzej Hutnik and team made with their latest VP4 Silver. An old audiophile joke claims that all of us eventually mature enough to convert to tubes and vinyl. There seems something to it as with advancing age, more and more people I know and read about turn to these good old ways of playback enjoyment. Lukasz Fikus has always been known as a 'tube' but also 'digital' guy. He started his audio business by tuning and upgrading CD players and such. What he usually did was add an entire tube output stage like ModWright's Dan Wright did for universal players. I know some people who used his services back when and loved the results. Later came his own D/A converters which today are well recognized and considered amongst the best available. Supporting high-resolution PCM but also DSD—in my opinion their specialty—their distinctive feature always was the combination of the best converter chips with the charming advantages of valves. Apart from sheer performance this built in another advantage, namely tube rolling. I believe this was a huge factor in LampizatOr's worldwide success.
I asked Lukasz years ago why he began developing D/A converters rather than amplifiers or loudspeakers. As a sort of joke, he explained that hifi kit can get very heavy, hence his preference. As we know now, not only did his DACs get rather heavy, he and his team didn't stop there. Today's LampizatOr catalogue includes amplifiers, speakers under the sub brand Fikus Electric, a server, cables, even a power conditioner – and all quite massive. We might say that he didn't follow his original plan. To circle back to today, the biggest surprise over his many years of iterative digital refinements was 2019's phono stage. Did Lukasz finally grow old enough or wise up sufficiently to spin vinyl? It was a valve machine, looked similar to his DAC, was as big, heavy and very good if not yet perfect. Subsequent user and review feedback plus experience and know-how gained in the interim now have created something even better.
Given Covid, I'd not followed his development in phono stages across the past few years. The idea for this review sparked during a conversation with Poland's famous Janusz Sikora of JSikora turntables and tonearms. The two companies had been cooperating for a while, with LampizatOr's phono stage in JSikora's showroom and JSikora's turntable in LampizatOr's. Janusz told me that the new Vinyl Phono VP4 Silver surprised him with its excellent performance and significant progress over the previous version. I know Janusz Sikora well enough to know that he doesn't easily get excited. So I called up Lukasz and several weeks later a review unit was ready. It's a one-box solution with tube-rectified power supply and step-up transformer (SUT). It sports one MM and two MC inputs. SUT fans can add theirs to the MM input because the designer emphasized that it received the very same attention as the MC inputs to offer equally high performance. You'll just have to accommodate a 43 x 51 x 13cm WxDxH machine that weighs 19kg with the copper top. My Rogoz rack holding a JSikora table, two phono stages and an Art Audio 300B SET wasn't big enough for the VP4 Silver to require a separate Alpine rack.
The look of the VP4 hasn't changed much over the original Vinyl Phono MC1. This time the thick aluminum front only comes in black and the Silver version differentiates from the standard version by copper top. The front hosts a VU meter behind acrylic, a Nixie tube and two knobs, one a 5-stop selector with 'mute' positions between each of the three inputs, the other a load selector to avoid fumbling with dip switches in the back. Clients specify their five load values upon order time. MM automatically loads at 47kΩ. The eye-catching Nixie tube shows the selected loading number. The rear panel features NextGen WBT i/o on RCA, a ground terminal, IEC power inlet and mains switch. Cutouts for XLR reserve for the balanced version. The chassis rests on four anti-vibration metal footers. Key for all LampizatOr phono stages is pure tube gain with zero negative feedback. Today's bottles are 4 x 6N2P-B, 4 x 6N2P, 2 x 6N6P and one 1X6X5 rectifier all hidden inside the chassis. The differences over the non-silver VP4 include the carefully selected silver SUT, silver wiring plus a number of carefully selected parts which better complemented the silver than copper ingredients; including custom capacitors from a renowned supplier. Total gain is 70dB.
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