final battle of giants
Can old champions defend themselves from the young challengers?
CD player shootout:
In the first corner: Old era champion -
Grundig 9009 (lampized)
In the second corner: The HiFi press favourite Wolfson WM8740 DAC
inside the Cambridge Azur 640 player Lampized
In third corner: Internet opinion leader: Burr Brown PCM1794 DAC inside
the best so far from Shanling - the supercool CD300 Player Lampized
And finally in fourth corner: Lukasz Fikus new discovery - The
LAMPUCERA DAC with Cirrus CS4397 DAC and CS8416 receiver -
Four dream machines. Four gems which without super price tags represent
the best that High-End Anno Domini 2008 can offer. Even without
Lampizator and without any mods - super products on their own.
The seek for truth continues. The winner - in any event - is you, the
reader. I have checked hundreds of players and re-worked nearly 100 to
find out what is behind good sound.
At the end - you can save tons of money by not buying any bullshit and
paying reasonable money only for top value.
I managed to narrow the choice of DAC chips only to 4 types. One is the
oldest champion, a cult status chip - TDA1541As1 and the three others
are just kids, all born near 2005, all 24/192 compatible,
Wolfson from Scotland, BB from Japan/USA and Cirrus from USA as well,
steroid loaded muscles and testosteron pumped self confidence. Can they
be even comparable?
(I must admit, that the UltraAnalog DAC D20400A and AK DACs and
ringDac were beyond my
reach and budget so we must wait patiently untill I get one.)
You can also read about TRANSPORT project HERE
Meanwhile - let the battle begin.
versus the Shanling
At first I tought that the Shanling thrashed the Grundig, but the fact
is that it was just louder. After a couple of switches back and forth,
I thought that the Shanling is a touch more transparent, a touch more
open on the top, and the bass was both faster and deeper.
Overall, I prefer Shanling but in midrange alone - the Grundig may have
an edge in "warmth".
2. Grundig versus Wolfson
This is no contest - Wolfson does everything that Shanling did so well
but does it to even higher degree. So the differences are apparent.
There is no doubt that I can't defend the Grundig. It is OUTSHINED by a
very small yet so important margin. Especially the bass from Wolfson is
in another league from all three contestants - it s more natural and by
that I mean FAST and CONTROLLED.
Whatever Shanling is good at, Lampucera does a little bit better. Very
little bit. The lampizator stage is slightly different but the
Lampucera - every time I try it - rises my blood pressure more that
Shanling. I could have both, but if you ask me - Lampucera is the
one. Cheaper, more universal, and so easy to apply. RCA or XLR, op-amp
or tubes - all is a snap.
4. Lampucera versus Wolfson
This gets tough.
at first seems better in treble and attack, Wolfson is warmer and more
human. After changing more CD's, I am loosing my confidence. I am sure
Wolfson has better bass controll, more lean and rock solid foundation.
In bass NOTHING AT ALL can touch the Wolfson.
Overall, they are
so similar and so good, I must push myself really hard to make any
valid comment at all. I am probably biased towards Lampucera because it
is more of what I need it for - to give it to ALL THE PEOPLE. I am a
self proclaimed Prometheus - remember.
help to resurrect every CD or DVD or even a PC soundcard with SP/DIF.
Wolfson must be purchased with the new player.
In the end sonically I give them DEUCE (equal).
5. Grundig versus Lampucera
the selector in real time resulted in my total disbelief. How can this
little sucker be so good ? Mother of Lord, am I a lucky guy to
experience all that? Knowing how good the Grundig is, I decided that in
my ranking I must create the new CATEGORY ZERO to reflect the
6. no possibility to try Shanling against Wolfson/Azur.
THE FINAL CONCLUSION
Oh my goodness, I am exhausted. All these
players are so good that listening critically for the smallest niuances
which make a difference is no mean task.
The good news - despite the fact that I have EXTREMELY revealing
system, the differences are really small, so if 4 differently made
tools get the same result - means that we are circling DAMN CLOSE
around the point of perfection. Truth is within reach!
The differences are so miniscule, that they can also be linked to
different capacitors in Lampizator, different cables, different
transports or AC cords.
Grundig has 6H1P tubes in SRPP, Wolfson had the same albeit in SE mode,
not utilizing its balanced outputs, Lampucera was megalampized with
gigantic 6H13C in triode mode, and Shanling was single ended SRPP with
Unfortunately I have neither time, nor patience, nor will to conduct a
scientifically objective blind ABX test in ideally controlled
conditions and with 0,1 dB volume adjustments etc.
I knew beforehand, that the overall sound will be all similar and all
good. So I concentrated not
the usuall criteria like bass and trebles, but instead I looked for the
goosebumps, halucination factor, brain fooling illusion factor,
involvement, enjoyment etc. These implicit qualities which can not be
measured or even described, yet they make the whole important High-End
the mere HI-FI.
Any person is welcome to do a similar test and to reach totally
conclusions, what I am saying is TOTALLY SUBJECTIVE but OTOH it is free
from any moral, cultural, financial or other forms of bias. I am a free
man and I tell you as it is.
Bigh thanks to Doctor Skibinski for endless patience and
lending his critical ear and wise brain.
Here is my verdict.
It is a very hard section to write!
In my opinion, the Wolfson DAC inside Cambridge Azur 640 Player is
fantastic and equal to Lampucera 1.0. I can not choose one over the
other. They are both about
which means superb.
They both make unbelieveable great sound, the difference is
Cambridge can be bought anywhere in the World as a ready product.
Without any mods it is a CD player guaranteed to deliver. The
Lampucera is in fact a simple DAC KIT available from Hong Kong - just
wrire to LAwrence, he can help:
lawrencechanbig (a.t) msn(dot)com
The name of the kit does not exist hence my Lampucera nickname was
invented as a temporary solution.
Search ebay for this item, which sells for 70 USD from H-K:
24bit/192KHz DAC DIY KIT , FULL ASSEMBLED KIT
Similar although not as
economic and puristic solution is a Zhaolu DAC 2.5C
The shanling CD300 comes as a VERY CLOSE second. The difference
is very small, but I had to make differenciation. BB1794 is a hell of a
DAC but it looses just a thin hair. Nevertheless, it is a great chip to
The Grundig holds in the midrange department, but it does not hold in
the bass or highest trebles.
So the WINNERS ARE: Wolfson ex aequo with the Cirrus, a nod to Cirrus
if we can buy it cheaply as a kit, a nod to Wolfson if we buy the
Cambridge or other player like Arcam Diva CD72.
There is a link which I found AFTER this all has been said and done,
means that "great minds think alike". Having said that, the other test
was 100 times more professional and objective, kudos to these brave
guys and Mr. Ciuffoli himself
2008 follow up
I could not live with the deuce, as Ali G says - "one must always be a
little bit better than the other".
So I took the Wolfson and CS4397 for a secound round - the shoot-out
The setup was this:
Lampucera - meaning a naked CS4397 DAC chip connected to Sony
CDP-555ESD transport via a no name coax cable. The DAC chip connected
directly to XLR balanced inputs of ARG OTL mono amplifiers, driving my
P-12 speakers - bass Altec Lansing 416-C in-wall mounted, mids Saba
greencone 20 cm Alnicos and Raal ribbon tweeters. Each driver a
champion of the respective category.
Wolfson - inside Cambridge Audio Azur 640 C-2 CD player (brand new) and
with a direct bypass - DAC to XLR (balanced as well). Output op-amps
I used 4 or 5 best CD albums that I own- Shirley Horn Remembering
Miles, Friedman Liebzeit Secret Rythms, Metheny's First Circle on
K2/XRCD/Gold, and Lhasa's Living Road. Plus some more.
I did about 10 switching rounds with all these albums, listening to all
aspects like: bass BLOW and IMPACT, thread/instrument separation, echo
and air in the recording venue (recreated) , human voice "humanity
factor", brain fooling/involvement/hallucinations, treble purity and
Despite trying hard, sespite having EXTREMELY revealing chain - I can
not hear a slightest difference at all. No matter what criteria - I can
not pin-point a difference that's verifiable, consistent, objective etc.
With a gun pointed to my head - I would be forced to make a decision -
I think CS chip makes me more smile, more feel like "this is it". But
this is subjective. It is like choosing between two variants of the
same Porsche - the preferred one does not matter, it is STILL A GODDAMN
To get the "Cirrus sound" - the Zhalou 2,5 DAC offers a ready
product - just bypass output section, and to get the Wolfson -
the better option is Azur 540C - it is cheaper than 640 but has same
DAC chip. (second chip would not be used anyway, it is a waste of chip
in the 640).
So again - it is a deuce.
2008 - follow
With the help of a very experienced ears of Wieslaw, we spent one free
saturday morning critically evaluating the best players.
The shoot-out this time was:
Wadia 3200 transport driving the lampucera with 6sn7gt lampizator
Azur/Wolfson connected to 6H1P lampizator (almost the same tube)
and finally Wadia transport driving V.A.C. DAC2.
This is an old tubed dac from USA which is a handmade monster. I could
not believe my eyes - apart from a tubed output stage it has a Philips
SAA7323 DAC - one that was specified for boomboxes. An all-in-one-chip
of high integration, but by far - not a HIGHEND DAC.
Despite that - Wieslaw consider it his reference, and he knows what he
is saying. He probably had at home more highend gear than anyone I know.
The good old Grundig 9009 was also at hand for reference.
This time I caught the apparent feature of "the wolfson sound" - it has
the best drumming ability of any other player. I do not mean bass, I
mean just that - drumming. A jazz-rock piece with some drum solo had
such natural sound, such breathtaking velocity, such impact, such truth
- that I was speachless for a long time. I turned the volume to the red
zone and the experience was like a rollercoaster ride. I am not joking.
No other player was even close.
The VAC surprised me - it was the only player with overall different
kind of sound. I could tell it blinded from 20 other players. It seemed
to prefer the highest highs and did it with purity and delicacy I never
heard in my life. The upper octaves can only be compared to a 20 000
Euro turntable system. I was not sure if I like it or not, but I admit
that the level of details in the 10k-20KHz region was just beyond my
wildest expectations. But the tilt was too strong - it did not have
nearly as good midrange or bass. So this is a player (DAC) for detail
freaks with ribbon tweeters.
Considering the cheapness of the SAA DAC chip - VAC company made a real
miracle piece of equipment. Hats off to them.
Perhaps we were tired of this test, because at the end of the day the
Grundig proved to be the most listenable player.
Then Wieslaw decided to upgrade it and we fitted the new tubes - a 400
USD a piece Siemens E801S. Supposedly THE best tubes around.
I did not have a chance to listen to this upgrade, but Wieslaw swears
that it took the Grundig straight to heaven and left the other players
on earth. Howewer unfair - because others did not have supertubes
- I trust His opinion.
So the quest for the BEST continues ...
A half year later - it was time for the
SECOND ROUND OF THE BATTLE - READ HERE
to be continued....