Lamm Industries M2.1 monoblock power amplifier Page 2
The Soul in the Machine
Setup was short and sweet. I plunked the M2.1s down on shot-filled Grand Prix Audio Monaco amplifier stands and plugged them in with Acoustic Zen Gargantua II or Wireworld Silver Electra 3+ power cords. The only slack I cut them was to fire them up at least an hour before doing any serious listening. Nothing more needed to be done. The Lamms behaved perfectly over a period of some six months; about the only negative thing I have to say about living with them is that they run on the hot side of warm and can raise the room temperature to a toasty level.
The M2.1 had every strength you might expect to find in the work of such an accomplished engineer designing to a very high price point. Their tonal balance was utterly even and neutral. My usual tools of bass torture from Kruder & Dorfmeister, Kraftwerk, and the soundtrack of The Thin Red Line didn't faze them in the least. Even the "Poem of Chinese Drums," from Burmester's Demonstration CD No.3, couldn't make them lose their cool. The bass was always rock-solid, right on pitch and bloomy, not boomy.
The treble was smooth and extended—if perhaps not quite as extended as the Halcro dm58 monoblock's, it wasn't far short. The overtones of the strings of the Munich Bach Orchestra in Bach's Brandenburg Concertos 5 and 6 (LP, Archiv 2722 033-10) were rosiny yet naturally sweet—the Lamm added neither sugar nor astringency. Like its sibling, the triode-powered ML1, the M2.1 had just a hint of darkness, no more than a filmy scrim, at the top of the uppermost treble, but this did nothing to seriously impede their reproduction of the overtones of strings, cymbals, or piano. The Lamms presented no obstacles to hearing the size, shape, and unique sonic character of any concert hall, club, or studio.
As for midrange, the Lamm's ability to conjure the human voice was simply off the charts. Save for his fellow Irishman Van Morrison, there is no more emotionally honest or personally compelling singer in rock or folk music than the magnificent Christy Moore. His voice gets inside me as do few others, whether or not you agree with the political sentiments expressed in nearly everything he sings.
While he usually records in acoustic settings, Moore did some of his finest work back in the early and mid-1980s, with Moving Hearts. An unlikely mélange of electrified traditional Irish music, fusion, and rock, MH was a butt-kicking band whose eponymous debut LP (WEA K 58387, UK) just smokes from beginning to end. "Hiroshima Nagasaki Russian Roulette" is a one-song exhibition of all they did well: Moore spits out the bitter words with a contemptuous anger that would stop the most attitudinous punk rocker dead in his tracks. Behind him lies the richly layered backdrop of Donal Lunny's electric bouzouki, Declan Sinnott's stinging lead guitar, and the tough, fibrous Fender bass of Eoghan O'Neill. Toward the song's end, Sinnott engages in a high-speed game of cat-and-mouse harmony playing with Uillean piper Davy Spillane and Keith Donald's soprano sax that is a wonder to hear. [Amen!—Ed.]
The Lamm laid all of this on the line with tremendous clarity and drive—every cutting word bitten off by Moore, the dizzying interplay between Spillane, Sinnott, and Donald, and the rock-solid rhythm section. In case you missed it the first time, Spillane, Donald, and Sinnott later repeat their effortless, simultaneous virtuosity on "McBride's," to equally impressive effect; through the Lamm, the infinitely subtle contrast in timbre between the pipes and the soprano sax was as clear as the difference between chalk and cheese. The deep mournfulness of Moore's voice in "Irish Ways and Irish Laws" came from somewhere as old as time, the words "I wonder will I live so long..." hanging in the room like a lost, lonely ghost.
Eva Cassidy's "Cheek to Cheek," from her Live at Blues Alley (CD, Blix Street 10046), glowed with life and love. As with Moore and every other singer I heard through the M2.1s, Cassidy's voice came from a body, not a singing head hanging ungrounded between the speakers. Only the best amps can materialize a whole person behind the voice, and the Lamms nailed it squarely.
Voices were not the only instruments with which the M2.1 excelled. Guitars had a resonance and presence that was Goosebump City. Mark Knopfler's slashing, biting Stratocaster on Dire Straits' "Tunnel of Love," from Making Movies (LP, Warner Bros. BSK 3480), was as tingly as his mellow, woody Dobro on "Romeo and Juliet." Most amplifiers will give you the Dobro's wooden body or its metal resonator. The M2.1 squarely hit both bullseyes. The rich warmth of the nylon-stringed guitars of Anthony Phillips and Enrique Berro Garcia on "Otto's Face," from Antiques (LP, PVC 8968), was as graceful and lifelike as recorded music can be. I recently stumbled on an elderly, rainbow-label British EMI pressing of The Ballad Style of Stan Kenton (LP, Capitol/EMI S1068), and it was a beauty through the Lamms. The thick, buttery moo of the trombones provided a plush, mellow backdrop for the bracingly upfront sax section, everything surrounded by a tangible cushion of air and space.