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Power amplifiers
M1.2 Reference
     
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M2.2
    
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ML2.2
    
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ML3 Signature
    
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Preamplifiers
LL2.1(regular/deluxe)
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LL1.1 Signature
    
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L2 Reference
    
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LP1 Signature
    
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LP2.1 (regular/deluxe)
                phono preamp
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Hi-Fi NEWS & RECORD REVIEW, January'1996
Ken Kessler

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excerpts

...Just looking at the LAMM tells you little, other than that it's rather, uh, large. The precise amount of cubic room space required, per channel, is not inconsiderable 210x432x495mm (HWD). These are Real Men's Amplifiers, if I may be so politically incorrect. Looking it over reveals that the back is filled with more hardware than you expect of a power amplifier, the company having fitted the following: two pairs of beefy binding gold-plated brass posts (for easy bi-wiring), a gold-plated XLR balanced input, and both inverting and non-inverting gilded RCA single-ended inputs, remote control facility, the mains switch, and bias/impedance selector (1-6 Ohms; 8-16 Ohms) with red LED indication of the chosen setting, a separate earthing post, access to the AC mains fuse, the IEC-style mains plug input, a 110-240V voltage selector and a set of handles duplicating those at the front. And you'll appreciate them when you find out that a single M1.1 weighs 29.93Kg. Or 64.51Lb if you refuse to go metric... The front is a thick panel bearing the handles and a power on indicator.

...Built like something designed to withstand combat, the M1.1 houses droll-eliciting parts and its internal finishing is as good as any. The weight comes not from the case but what's inside.

The M1.1 is neither fearsome nor fussy because it's so well conceived. Accidents are avoided because the unit has a soft-start circuit offering a built-in delay indicated by the flashing of the front panel indicator. When it stops flashing and you hear a 'click', the output reaches the speakers. Other safety features include the AC fuse, various stages in the circuitry to protect against overloads, shorts across the outputs, and excessive DC at the inputs, a thermal resetting fuse to monitor the temperature of the power transformer and other hidden safeguards to allow you to rest easy.

While LAMM burns in the amplifiers for 72 hours at the factory, the company suggests that further burn-in will yield even better performance. And it does cite 45 minutes as the minimum recommended warm-up period from switch-on. In my set-up, I left the M1.1s on from 8am and listened in the afternoons. These beasts suck up 300W of juice each while idling, so I'm expecting a vicious electricity bill this quarter.

It's worth mentioning here that the M1.1 comes with an incredibly comprehensive owner's manual, and, as they say on the Internet when you ask stupid questions, 'RTFM' ('read the flipping manual' - or words to that effect). It tells you everything you need to know, including how to bridge two pairs for headbanging idiots who want more grunt. More important are the instructions regarding the shorting plugs needed for single-ended operation, where they go and when they shouldn't be used. Again, RTFM.

Because there are, at present, no solid-state preamplifiers in my possession of any particular distinction, I used the partially-tubed LAMM with preamps from Unison Research, Dynaco, Graaf and Trilogy. Source was the hot-rodded Marantz CD-12 (keep an eye on 'Headroom'), with Nirvana digital cable and ART interconnect. The LAMM drove Sonus Faber Extremas, Ruark Icons, Bolero Kompakts, Rogers LS3/5As and Apogee Ribbon Monitors via ART, XLO and Harmonix cables. I tried bi-wired and single, inverted and non, and you'd better believe that the LAMM prefers to see the correct impedance selections, or as close as is possible with oddball designs that very by as much as four ohms from the nominal impedance. Maybe there's a little guy inside this thing which, Woody Allen-like, comments on the load to the rest of the amplifier. "Guys, you're not going to believe it, but some klutz has set this on the low-impedance position and hooked up the LS3/5As. Let's scare him." Which the amp proceeds to do by not sounding quite as good as you know it can sound. Which is bordering on the incredible.

In a period pregnant with fine products -- the wee Ruark, the Wilson Benesch ACT Ones, the Mesa Baron -- such successes are enough to fool me that all is well with the world. So I didn't need a stonker like the M1.1 to come along and mess up my acidic world view. Even before you reach the minimum warm-up period, the LAMM sings. It is immediately and unmistakably recognisable as 'something special'. The LAMM delivers the kind of sound which makes the concept of 'high end' easier to explain, and easier to comprehend. It is whole levels above the standards we accept for serious listening. It is simply one of the most close-to-flawless power amplifiers I've every heard.

Over-used and slightly vague words like 'coherent', 'tactile' and 'visceral' are all that we have in our arsenal to describe certain aspects of a sonic event. Sure, we know what they mean and they allow us to communicate, but we need varying degrees of each if we're to distinguish between products which differ only in subtle details. And the LAMM sets new standards in a couple of areas where the competition is heavy, a superiority evident regardless of the speakers or cables in use. But they're almost peripheral qualities, given that nearly all modern high-end amplifiers are so damned good that choosing between them is often down to price, size, styling or prejudices.

Starting at the bottom, the LAMM impressed me nearly to tears with the way it improves on extension and slam without adding any artificial hardness or edge. This is no plodder, no juggernaut which impresses by sheer force or quantity. Every note comes through unsullied, even in hyperactive performances from thrash acts or over-eager reggae artists with producers incapable of reading the LEDs on their mixing desks. And the sound is certainly free of nausea-inducing bass bloom. The bottom octaves are so clean and controlled that what I thought were listening room deficiencies are nothing of the sort: I'd been hearing other amps misbehaving.

Where the 'tube-ness' of the LAMM comes in is at the upper bass region and beyond. Indeed, if I hadn't been told what was playing, I'd have guessed that someone found a pair of Beard P100 monoblocks. This is the kind of midband which balances neutrality and air with the kind of power which normally streamrollers delicacy in the process. It's a curious experience, hearing something as potentially fragile as a Keb' Mo' number delivered with a force that blows you into your chair. How you turn the Chordettes' 'Mr Sandman' into 'fluff-with-mass' escapes me, but that's the only way I can express it.

Never does the top end grate, never does the sound turn aggressive. It's the antithesis of the equally admirable (and far less expensive) Mesa Baron, which sounds like a guitar amp just itching to go all Jimi. The LAMM is so polite, so well-behaved, so genteel that it's almost self-effacing. This is your perfectly obsequious, perfectly obedient servant, like Luca Brazzi only not so ox-like. The M1.1 does what's asked of it, without drama and without complaint. It is a wonderful hybrid indeed: part steam-hammer and part surgeon's scalpel.

Too bad there's no UK distributor. And too bad the M1.1 isn't a piece of junk, so I could have called this review "LAMM to The Slaughter". Instead, I have to say that the LAMM deserves a medallion...

 

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