** WARNING: This is a meaty read. TL;DR? You owe it to yourself to hear this **
As a lover of good sound, itís a satisfying experience when you find a piece of equipment that raises the quality of your audio system and brings you joy by enhancing the listening experience. The results may include improved tonality or more accurate timbres; increased transparency or superior dynamics, realism in the areas of attack or decay, greater soundstage width and depth or more precise imaging Ė perhaps all the above.
With some of my recent purchases, I felt I was inching closer to my goal of perfect sound. Scratch that, not perfect sound Ė because thatís unobtainable, but rather a sound presentation that would connect me to the music, and shift my focus from the gear.
My Unison Research S6 integrated amplifier and WLM Audio La Scala monitor speakers are two items that have raised the bar in my listening room. As my diet of streaming audio increased, however, I developed a nagging feeling that my digital chain was letting the side down.
What ensued was a prolific (some might say, manic) period of digital to analogue converter demos. I already owned the Rega DAC and Peachtree Audio Dac It-X Ė no digital slouches, but perhaps compromised in areas that were easily exposed in a more Ďrevealingí system.
Over a period of months and through the generosity of friends and dealers, I tested the Theta DS Pro Generation III, RAKK DAC, Enlightened Audio Design DSP7000 MK2, Theta DS Pro Basic III, Counterpoint DA-10, Audiomat Tempo 2.8
and NuPrime DAC10H
. My main takeout? What a difference a good DAC can make.
Of this motley crew of components, the Theta Gen III and Audiomat impressed me most, though for very different reasons. The Gen III is all ballast, with that big Moffat bass, a larger than life soundstage and a powerful and propulsive sound that pulls you into the music. Not the last word in subtlety, but comfortably better than the entry and mid-level DACs I have heard. The Audiomat, courtesy of 13hof, was the epitome of refinement, with a compelling presentation of the human voice. Itís a beautiful piece of gear, and I almost purchased it before hearing the subject of this review: the tubed LampizatOr Amber Mk 2
(sold by Audio Tweak
My first impressions of the Amber were that it didnít possess an obvious personality. This is not to say it is boring, slow, or polite. On the contrary, it is a clichť. What I mean by this is that it is simply musical, which is the best compliment I can pay to a digital component. It is even-handed, linear, fluid, three dimensional, open, airy but as you listen to music via the Lampizator youíre rarely aware of these tick boxes, or a compartmentalised sound, because what youíre presented with is the whole. With the LampizatOr in my system, I found myself getting lost in the music and not obsessing about the gear - a most delightful place in which to find myself.
From a potential userís perspective, you may still want to know, but how does it sound? In my opinion, it is true to timbre in the way a very good multibit DAC can be (reminding me of both the Theta and the Audiomat here); with vocals, it conveys a kind of essential quality, bringing forth richness and depth rather than thinning out voices in a way Iíve heard with some DACs; the soundstage is generous but not overblown, and possessing of a realistic sense of depth; its bass wonít make Mike Moffat blush, but rather itís a case of everything in its right place. The low end is ample to the point I've dispensed with a sub altogether! But none of this matters, if the music doesnít flow, and this is the Amber Mk2ís greatest strength: it allows the music to impress rather than trying to be the fifth Beatle.
For specs, you can read more here
My DAC journey has been a busy one, frustrating at times, but Iím very happy to report that Iíve found a nice playmate for the Unison Research S6 and WLM Audio La Scalas. I highly recommend
a demo of the LampizatOr Amber Mk2 or its larger siblings such as the Atlantic and GoldenGate Ė if youíre so inclined.