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Lamm LL2.1 Deluxe Preamplifier Review Print E-mail
Wednesday, 27 January 2010
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Lamm LL2.1 Deluxe Preamplifier Review

I knew within the first five minutes why Lamm had garnered quite a reputation in high end audio circles.  This was one of the most beautiful sounding preamplifiers I have heard, and recently, I have heard a few good ones. Specifically, the soundstage was the deepest I have heard from a preamp. There was more than enough low level detail, but presented in a very musical way. And it was very, very quiet. It was quieter than my Audio Research SP16 by a good margin.  Working from recent memory, the Manley 300B preamp actually threw a wider soundstage, but the Lamm went deeper. Depth of soundstage is especially important because it allows for the listener to decipher spacial relationships between instruments and also information about the recording space, whether fabricated or real.

I also have recollections of the Ayre K-5xe solid state Preamplifier (approx $3500) that I had on loan last year. I remember it being hyper detailed, definitely more detailed than the Lamm, but fatiguing, and very analytical sounding. I found it difficult to listen for long periods. The Lamm, by contrast, is a music making machine. My listening periods were long, and late into the evening. What I really noticed was how well the Lamm unraveled complicated musical passages without breaking a sweat. There was plenty of low level detail retrieval, but with an utterly perfect amount of tube magic thrown in.  By tube magic, I don’t mean smoothed over transients or some sort of velvety padding. I mean a harmonic “rightness”. This characteristic comes through when listening to recordings with acoustic instruments, as most music lovers will know when a human voice, an acoustic guitar, or a piano is being reproduced with realistic and accurate timbres.

Spinning my usual random CD picks I tried to touch on as my many genres as possible to see what the Lamm was capable of.  I started off with the Robert Plant and Allison Krauss disc Raising Sand. I have always liked most of T Bone Burnett's productions, and this may be one of his best. I have actually never heard the mix sound so coherent. On other systems the album can sound thick, and a bit dark. The LL2.1 put me deeper inside the mix, and revealed a lot more shades then I knew were there. The bass was big and round, the guitars fuzzy, the cymbals crisp, and the harmonized vocals in a space exactly where they should have been.

I have really taken a liking to Elvis Costello's cable show Spectacle, and I decided to honor the man by pulling out his collaboration with legendary New Orleans songwriter, arranger, and producer Allen Touissant, The River in Reverse. It's an old school record with live instruments, funky grooves, ballads, and great sound. This was another album I planned on listening to the first few cuts on, then, before I knew it, the CD was on the last track. The LL2.1 just made it a breeze to sit through album after album with out any sense of urgency or the need to change program material.
Getting a bit more obscure, I checked out a few Tim Hardin CDs. Hardin was one of the most celebrated songwriters of his era, the late 60's. His best known compositions, "Reason to Believe" and especially "If I Were a Carpenter", are some of the most covered songs from that period. His own records were bluesy, psychedelic folk.

His voice was throaty and expressive, beautifully recorded by the engineers at the legendary Verve label. In sampling tracks from Hang on to a Dream: The Verve Recordings, I was struck by how much older Hardin sounded than someone in their mid twenties. The Lamm did a superb job of presenting the details of the mixes...the reverbs used, the microphone distortion, and interesting, “buried in the mix” details. But this was not at the expense of musical enjoyment. I also put on Tim Hardin 3: In Concert, an incredibly intimate performance recorded in 1968. For the first time, after having owned this on LP, I heard tape saturation, hall echo, and the proper relationship between the musicians on stage that night.

I wanted to hear more acoustic music, so I spun ...Till Then by the brilliant jazz pianist Danilo Perez. It is a beautifully recorded and the playing displays restrained virtuosity.  A superb band and some great material add to the mix. As an added treat, one of my favorite vocalists, Lizz Wright appears on two tracks. I really enjoyed how the LL2.1 seductively laid out the arrangements. The piano, voice, sax, bass, and drums, by the supremely talented Brian Blade, all retained their natural timbres.


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