Preamplifiers

Lamm LL1 Signature Stereo Tube Preamplifier - An Audiophile's Dream

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I burned in the LL1 a full week before I sat down for critical listening (it is burned in for 2 days at the factory).

I was awestruck at the sound. It was as pure and sweet as I have ever heard. The music was incredibly easy to listen to, with absolutely no fatigue. Detail was all there, but it never pushed itself. It was just present.

I had an unusual experience. One evening, I just kept listening, playing some great jazz from Miles Davis. I don't normally listen to music late at night because it keeps me from falling asleep quickly. But this time, I slept like I wish I could sleep every night. Deep, restful slumber. I didn't think much of it at the time, but a few nights later, the listening ran late into the evening again, and I slept that same deep, beautiful way I did that evening earlier. There is something about the sound with the LL1 that was doing this, and I don't really know what it is. However, as a neuroscientist, I am a believer in the power of music on the nervous system, perhaps something to do with synchronizing activity in the brain.

So, here is a small list of the discs, and my accompanying comments. The other components were a Classé CDP-10 CD player, McIntosh MCD500 SACD/CD player, OPPO BDP-83SE-NuForce Edition universal player, Balanced Audio Technology VK-75SE power amplifier, Bryston 14B SST2 power amplifier, McIntosh MC1201 monoblock power amplifiers, Lamm M2.2 monoblock power amplifiers, Magnepan MG1.6 planar speakers, and Carver Amazing Mark IV ribbon speakers. Cables were Emotiva, Slinkylinks, and Legenburg.

Comparing power amplifiers, the Bryston 14B SST2 had the dryest sound quality (it has the least amount of distortion of all the power amplifiers). So this combination would probably appeal to the purist who wants the least change to the signal. The McIntosh MC1201 was a bit warmer, and it also has a little more distortion (hundredths of a percent instead of thousandths of a percent). The Lamm M2.2 was warmer sounding than the McIntosh, and this is because it is a hybrid amplifier, with a triode in the second stage. The Balanced Audio Technology VK-75SE combination was the warmest of all the pairings. The VK-75SE is an all triode, pure Class A amplifier, so this is no surprise. In fact, it uses two 6H30 triodes (one for each channel). However, it is limited to 75 watts output per channel, and that is really not enough power for symphonic recordings at reasonably loud levels. I would need something like a VTL or Manley to get the kind of SPL's that I like with full orchestra symphonies and have it be an all-tube power amplifier, driving low efficiency planar speakers. In any case, my favorite combination is a pure Class A triode preamplifier and large solid state monoblock power amplifiers. I recommend that you listen to this kind of setup if you get the chance.

Music played through the LL1 gave me an incredible feeling of inner peace. It was neutral to the extent that it did not emphasize any part of the audible spectrum more than any other, but it certainly was different than other preamps I have reviewed in the extent of its warmth, due to having almost exclusively 2nd order harmonics. There was absolutely no harshness to any part of its sound. Flutes were crisp, yet fluid and mellifluous. Pianos had depth and fullness, without congestion. Violins were clean and detailed, arpeggios from the harp raised the hairs on the back of my neck. Voices communicated with clarity and emotion. Transient attacks were lightning fast, but always stayed connected to the flow of the notes that followed.

The LL1 stimulates much more than the cerebral cortex. The music that passes through the LL1 trickles down to the limbic system, where emotions are processed. It was the same feeling I get when I have my weekly massage therapy, with soft music in the background. And yet, the LL1 was also like a cobra, lurking, waiting for the chance to spring its power onto the soundstage when musical passages demanded it. There seemed to be no limit to its abilities there. CDs are not all recorded at the same loudness, and when the music seemed too intense, I merely flicked that little - 12 dB toggle, and the volume settled down to perfection without my having to fiddle with the two volume controls. And, if the next disc had music that I wanted the neighbors to enjoy along with me, I flicked the toggle in the other direction. Regardless, I never had to turn the volume controls past their straight up, 12 o'clock, position, which was only half of the dial's turn. It was obvious that the LL1 had to prove nothing. Its mere physical presence tells you what is to come. It is comfort food for those with a big appetite for pleasure.

At $42,690 for the LL1 pair of preamplifier monoblocks, most will scoff. But, the LL1 is a masterpiece. It is not simply paint on a canvas. It is Renoir, Monet, Degas, Cézanne, maybe da Vinci too. The price of genius. The sound of angels. An audiophile's dream.

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