Lamm Industries M1.2 Reference monoblock amplifier Page 2
The Lamm M1.2 offered a different view. Mountain's Leslie West was a master of what was called, back in the day, the "woman tone"—a wailing, soulful, yearning sound that came only from a Gibson guitar played through an overdriven Marshall tube amplifier. It was not harsh or aggressive but plaintive and rounded, and generated a surfeit of compound overtones as the guitar amp was overloaded. Even on the abysmally recorded "Flowers of Evil," from the album of the same name (LP, Windfall 5501), West's guitar had something very near the completeness I heard in the music store when my friend was auditioning amplifiers with his Gibson. What struck me was the way West's chording was captured; through the M1.2, it was no longer the muddy mass of distortion I have been hearing for so long. Now it was a richly textured carpet of interrelated harmonics. Vocals were a special delight. Vikki Clayton (footnote 3), Frank Sinatra, Sandy Denny, the Sugar girls—all sounded more present, more real, so easily believable with the Lamms driving any of the speakers I had on hand. Their midrange was not lifelike—it was alive.
The Lamms were uncannily accurate at expressing the way each instrument or voice projected into space. A voice, an acoustic guitar, a horn—all have extremely different and distinctive patterns of projecting sound. The M1.2s' ability to particularize each instrument in its natural way was always captivating, contributing so much to the sheer believability of its sound. Imaging was, therefore, extremely convincing. There were times I was struck by the thought that if the images of singers at the front of my room were any more real, I could poke them with a pin and they would bleed.
Bass performance was utterly unremarkable in the best possible way. With the EgglestonWorks Andra II and Legacy Whisper loudspeakers, the Lamm did exactly what each LP or CD asked for however low it was required to go. There was no exaggeration of low frequencies, and the transition between upper bass and lower midrange was determined solely by the speaker. There was, however, exactly the right amount of midbass authority—the rule of the day was speed and pitch definition devoid of artificial bloat.
One sonic characteristic set the M1.2 apart from other Lamm amps I have auditioned. The earlier generation of amps had a slight, residual darkness in the top octave. For whatever reason, that has been mitigated to a great degree in the ML1.2 (see my Follow-Up on the ML1.1 in the January 2004 issue), and seemingly banished entirely from the M1.2. There was a bit more sparkle and extension in the M1.2 than in the other Lamm amps I've heard, adding the final touch of realism to what was already exemplary performance.
Soundstaging performance was simple to describe: What was called for by the recording appeared in the room. Given an enormous artificial environment, such as that on Siouxsie and the Banshees' Wheel's On Fire (UK 12" single, Wonderland SHEK 11), the Lamms responded by flinging a gargantuan space into my room, within which every instrument and voice was precisely placed. I could have sat and drawn maps of the shapes and layouts of the orchestras revealed by the Skrowaczewski/Minnesota Orchestra recording of Ravel's La Valse (SACD, Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 4002) and the Reiner/Chicago of Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra (CD, RCA Living Stereo 61494-2), which perfectly reflected the very different shapes of the halls' stages.
What the M1.2 did that made it so endlessly fascinating was the way it presented the entirety of the musical picture as one unified, continuous, utterly coherent experience. Not sometimes and in some ways, but at all times in all ways, music was soulful, holistic, and organic through the Lamm. It was the rightest amp I have yet heard. Rather than acting as a mere "just the facts" reporter, the M1.2 probed much more deeply, to become a superlative teller of music's stories. Nor was it snobbish in the least. Its rightness and storytelling abilities were there just as much on such irresistibly charming piffle as Sugar's "Heart and Soul" (Japanese CD single, Toys Factory TFCC-89110) as on far more profound music, such as Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé (LP, Munch/Boston Symphony, RCA/Classic LSC-1893). In fact, the Lamm's superb resolution allowed the complicated, overcompressed mix of "Heart and Soul" to show far more of its inner workings, and revealed that the girls can sing some very stylish harmonies.
The Lamm did not knock me off my feet when I first heard it because it wasn't designed to do so. Like a Mercedes-Benz, it is made to impress over and for the long run with sustained and systemic excellence. In a strange way, this is an amp that will select only those who respond to it on the deepest levels of understanding.
More than this
I sometimes wonder if it is a coincidence that a large percentage of the components I find most compelling are the results not of market research or strategic planning, but are instead the product of one bold thinker's imagination and creativity. The Lamm M1.2 Reference is a prime example.
Getting only chump change back from $20,000 for a pair of 100W amplifiers does not sound like much of a bargain, and in real-world economic terms, it isn't. The point of buying components such as the M1.2 is not maximizing economic efficiency but getting a piece of an artisan's vision. The M1.2 is the latest embodiment of Vladimir Lamm's concept of what an amplifier should be and do. A "bargain"? No. The M1.2 is something more and better than that; for anyone who knows and loves the sound of live music, it is something beyond such parsimonious concepts—when doing what it was created to do, it is worth every last penny of its price.
Anyone who can recognize a piano knows that a Kawai or Baldwin grand has the same structural elements as a Steinway or a Bösendorfer. Anyone who knows and loves pianos will, if humanly possible, opt for the handmade instruments, even given their towering prices. Those instruments embody not just the basics of what makes a grand piano, they incarnate a unique musical and artistic vision—the bases of which are intangibles that cannot be quantified but are well worth paying for, or at least aspiring to.
Utterly continuous and coherent in all respects from top to bottom, the Lamm M1.2 References always spoke with one voice, whatever the variables I confronted them with in terms of music, speakers, source components, or cables. There is nothing else quite like them—anyone who hears and falls for them will find no ready substitute. It may be the most universally recommendable of my three favorite amplifiers. Both the Halcro dm58 and the Atma-Sphere MA-2 Mk.III require some thought in system matching (footnote 4). The Lamms simply did what they do regardless of their surroundings; if they speak to you as deeply and as truthfully as they spoke to me, your search is at an end.
Words are an audio reviewer's stock in trade, but each Lamm amplifier that I have reviewed has challenged my ability to describe its essence. At last, I admit defeat. Trying to explain the ultimate experience of listening to the M1.2 Reference and why it is so special is like trying to explain why you've fallen in love with someone; matters of the heart cannot be reduced to words on paper. There was a sense of liveness and thereness with the Lamms—a feeling of complete connectedness with the music that can be conveyed only unsatisfactorily and by analogy. Hearing music through nearly any other amps after hearing the M1.2s was the difference between seeing a very good lithograph of a masterpiece after seeing the original, from two feet away, in a museum.
From their massive shipping crates to the standard-setting owner's manual, from their clean, uncluttered styling to their incredibly compelling, truthful, nuanced sound, the M1.2s speak to the value of getting all of the little things right. When every detail has been taken care of, greatness follows naturally. You can find different, but you cannot find better. For once, "Reference" is not only the most accurate, but the only appropriate descriptor. Quite something other than else.
Footnote 3: On Fairport Convention's The Cropredy Box (UK CD, Castle Music CMETD815).
Footnote 4: The Halcro, for all its excellence, would not be my first choice to pair with lean-sounding speakers; the output-transformerless Atma-Sphere would not be an appropriate match with a speaker with extended impedance dips below 3 ohms in the bass.