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Hi-Fi Choice, issue 260
Art Dudley

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Here's something I've never done before: Having finished a new product review, I took the thing out of my system, cleaned it off, packed it for shipping ... and then right before I called the air freight company for a pickup I unpacked it again so I could hear it for just a little while longer.

It is – or perhaps I should say they are – a monoblock amplifier from a company called Lamm Industries of Brooklyn, New York, which is about five hours from where I live. The ML2.1 is a single-ended amp that uses a Russian 6C33C indirectly heated triode as its only output device per channel. The amp can pass 19 unclipped watts across an average load, and it's capable of that much only because its 6C33C is regulated from here to next Sunday and back again. (Each Lamm amp has six tubes, fully three of which are used as voltage regulators.)

But the Lamms sell for $30,000 a pair, which is considerably more than I earn in half a year.

My disdain for very expensive audio products is no secret. I've never encountered a $10,000-plus turntable I could take seriously, musically or aesthetically, and because the Alpen boxes of 2010 will likely contain giveaway players better than anything we can buy today from dCS or Wadia, pricey digital sources are even sillier. But the Lamm ML2.1 amplifiers – or, more to the point, the extraordinary sense they make of every record I feed them – made me reconsider.

Imagine a product that seems to scrape away every bit of dirt from the musical wave, leaving the attack and decay components of notes sounding particularly clear and purposeful. The resulting presentation isn't threadbare but rather rich with believable tone and texture: Reeds, strings, and skins have never sounded so convincingly real in my home.

As a recovering flat-earther I'm also qualified to suggest that the Lamms do a better than average job of keeping timing and tunes correct. Of course I've found that to be true of most single-ended amplifiers, assuming decent enough output trannies and sensible loudspeaker matching. That a single ML2.1 weighs over 70 pounds speaks to the former; that it drives a Quad ESL-989 in my moderately sized room with only occasional compression and absolutely no hard distortion speaks to the latter, and admiringly so.

Audio jewelry this is not: While impressively large, the ML2.1 is a rather drab looking flat-black thing. Similarly, its interior doesn't have anything in the way of rare metals or designer parts. But it's stunningly solid and well-built, and I haven't had a moment's trouble in the three months it's been here. Three months going on four, actually.

At last count I owned four amplifiers myself – an E.A.R. 890, a Naim NAP 110, a Fi 2A3, and an Audio Note Kit One – and the Lamm monoblocks don't render them obsolete or make them seem any "worse" to me: I'm very lucky to have what I have. But it's also good to have something to stretch toward. Perhaps Haliburton needs an audio reviewer...?

 

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