Given the dramatic drop in the number of high-end audio exhibits at CES, only two companies chose to occupy the huge, high-ceilinged suites on the Venetian Hotel’s 35th floor. The first, Lamm Industries, from the quiet little hamlet of Brooklyn, NY (where John Atkinson also lives), threw caution to the winds with a system whose total retail price was $649,440.
There was much to admire about this system. Although it was far from the most transparent system I’ve heard, its sound was warm and inviting on every selection played. A CD pressing of an analog recording of the Hot Club of San Francisco performing “Nature Boy” sounded lovely, and a CD of Stefano Grondone playing guitar similarly stood out. The system also nailed the meaty sound of violin in a CD version of Lou Harrison’s Violin Concerto. Speed was quite good on this recording, and different percussion instruments correctly exhibited different (albeit warm) sonorities. I also thought depiction of depth and breadth of acoustic space was excellent.
There was no question, however, that the system rounded the leading edges of tones. Whether it did full justice to the lower voices and wealth of detail in two of John Atkinson’s superb choral recordings was another story entirely.
Doing the honours were Lamm’s ML3 Signature amplifiers ($139,690/pair), LL1.1 Signature line-level preamplifier ($45,590/pair), LP1 Signature phono preamp ($36,890/set), and LP2.1 phono preamplifier, deluxe ($9390); Kharma Exquisite Midi Grand Signature speakers ($191,000/pair); the Italian-made Aqua Acoustic La Diva CD transport ($9000) and Formula xHD DAC ($16,500); Sanus equipment racks and SRA amplifier stands ($4240 total), and TchernovCable Ultimate Series cabling ($74,750 total). Not auditioned were the TechDas Airforce 1 turntable ($110,000) with out-of-production SME arms and surprisingly low cost (compared to everything else, at least) Ortofon cartridges, along with their corresponding Lamm phono stages.
Handcrafted in Italy, the Aqua DAC uses a Pure R2R FPGA-based ladder without digital filters, an I2S link between DAC and transport, and a transformer-based, fully balanced audio output stage. It handles PCM up to 24-bit /768kHz and DSD up to 256 (quad DSD).