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STEREOPHILE, Vol. 18, No. 4'1995
Jonathan Scull 

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excerpts

...The last Lamm product I had my hands on was a pair of M1.1 monoblocks (see Vol. 18 No.4, Vol. 22 No.7).  I liked those hybrid tube/solid-state amps quite4 a lot.  Since then, Lamm has weathered the vicissitudes of the audio business and has soldiered on to produce a full range of tube and hybrid electronics.  They've also coaxed very respectable sound from recalcitrant rooms at diverse audio shows -- a real miracle, I can tell you.

...Thus it was that those devilish tiny triodes lit their filaments behind mine beady eyes, and the next thing you know...

...Visually, Lamm's 90W ML1 monoblock is a blend of contemporary form-follows-function styling with several retro-chic touches.  Two huge transformers dominate the rear, and the densely potted power transformer is thick as a brick.  A pair of 6C33C-B triode tubes sit mid-deck and slightly off-set to the left in front of the output transformer, with two more tubes -- a 12ZX7 and a 12BH7 -- before them.  Top deck right resembles a panel from a Cold War-era bomber: a vertical array of two old-fashioned circular meters with three flick-switches berlow.   Three minutes to target...

...The ML1 is hand-built with parts of the finest quality: Dale metal-film resistors; Caddock power film resistors; PRC wire-wound resistors; Bourns multi-turn potentiometers; Electrocube and Roederstein film capacitors; high-frequency switching-grade Cornell Dubilier and United Chemi-Con electrolytic capacitors; Hammond chokes; gold-plated Neutrik XLR connectors; and military-grade "low-noise, long-life" vacuum tubes.  The toroidal power transformer has no mechanical contact with the transformer cover or the chassis, and is suspended in a resonance-absorbing "encapsulant."

...Despite its Bomber Command meters, the ML1 is 231st century under the skin.  The 12AX7 input tube carries a Wilson current mirror based on Motorola transistors.  The second voltage-gain stage, the 12BH7, is hitched to the driver/buffer stage -- a quartet of high-frequency, high-voltage Hitachi MOS-FETs, which means the ML1 is actually a hybrid design.

...The Lamm ML1s impressed me immediately with their sense of refinement.

...In fact, the ML1s sounded linear across the board, very extended, and very demanding of associated equipment...Of course, that's a backward-arriving compliment; the ML1s were, in fact, ruthlessly revealing in that regard.  Yet the midrange always sounded clear -- unpolluted, transparent, and airy.  The highs too were pellucid, clear, shimmering, extended, anything but warm or euphonic.  If you yearn for Ye Olde Tyme Toobe Sounde, you're headed for a fall with the ML1.
     There was, however, always something subtle, gentle, and expressive to be culled from the fabric of the music.  In fact, while the Lamms were in the system, I often had the impression of listening close to master-tape sound; very rewarding on some levels.
     The ML1s delivered pomp and bombast when required, but it's safe to say they were also Masters of the Small Scale.

..."It's ambient beyond my ability to express!  Beautifully focused music as well as sound-stage imaging."  I suppose that's what you're looking for at this lofty price level: beautifully focused music -- the ineffable, the inspiring, those turns of phrase and expressiveness that give me, for one, the sheevers.

...[And then I tried] analog.  Now that was an ear-opener.  Freaked me out, I can tell you.

...There followed something of a vinyl orgy, as I pulled out LP after LP.  There was a natural tendency to reach for the berst with the Lamms; I nearly died listening to the second movement of Beethoven's String Quartet 9 in C, Op. 59 (Columbia MS 6187, another treasured original six-eye) with the ever-accomplished Budapest Quartet.  I was struck by the perfection of the plucked cello, the breathlessness and emotion that lay between the notes, the trippy-close quality of feeling without question that I was sitting in a small salon with the Budapest right before me!

...I'm a lucky SOB.  All audiophiles are.  Here it was, a Sunday night in late winter: cold, wet, and not very conducive to schlepping out to live music.  I further abused my laptop: "But what could be more meaningful musically than this?"  Then I spun one of my favorite Haydn Piano Trios, No. 6 in F by the Beaux Arts Trio (Philips 9500 325, LP).  As I sat pensive before the elegant musicv, I noted: "The ML1s are for the Discerning Listener.  Having struggled with every detail of the front-end, having tuned the living daylights out of cartridge and 'table, you're rewarded with the best vinyl has to offer."

...While I've always thought this recording a touch analytic, I found it now transparent beyond reproach.  The sound of the musicians moving about in their chairs struc me as never before.  Such small details, suddenly so evident, raised something of the feeling of participation one has at live events.  I still noted the familiar, slightly hot, and analytic top-end, yet it didn't betray the music at all.  It became part of the larger gestalt of the sound cascading over me in the Ribbon Vchair. Delightful.

...It was hard to stop listening that night; albums littered the floor as, one after another, I spun old favorites to savor them anew.  Quite an evening.

...The Lamm ML1s sounded balanced, wide-band, utterly transparent, and quite refined.

...In any case, I think it's safe to say that Shushurin meant exactly what he built with the ML1.  It's an expression of musical purity that brings him -- and will perhaps bring you -- closer to the angels.

 

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