Lamm Industries ML1 monoblock power amplifier Page 3
There was, however, always something subtle, gentle, and expressive to be culled from the fabric of the music. In fact, while the Lamms were in the system, I often had the impression of listening close to master-tape sound; very rewarding on some levels.
The ML1s delivered pomp and bombast when required, but it's safe to say they were also Masters of the Small Scale. Listening to Mischa Maisky on Cellissimo (DG 439 863-2) bowing his instrument, I enjoyed the most open, clear midrange I can remember hearing in ages, one that skated perfectly on the edge of fullness of tone and fast, leading-edge energy. I had the uncanny sense that Maisky's cello sounded just as it would in person. Listening to his breathing and the rosiny scrape of the bow below brought me so close to the performance that it took my breath away.
Listening to the superb "Gymnopedie No.3" by John Williams on The Guitarist (Sony Classical SK 60586), I jabbed at my long-suffering laptop: "It's ambient beyond my ability to express! Beautifully focused music as well as soundstage imaging." I suppose that's what you're looking for at this lofty price level: beautifully focused music—the ineffable, the inspiring, those turns of phrase and expressiveness that give me, for one, the sheevers.
So while the ML1s could play loud, they were really all about subtlety, nuance, and gesture. Still, curiously, when it came to classical music, they played Mahler, Stravinsky, and Brahms to very satisfying levels of volume and dynamics with good bass control. But they were less able, it seemed, to keep up with the deep, driving bass beat of Peter Kruder's Peace Orchestra (G-Stone G-CD 004) (footnote 3).
Given intelligent use of the volume control, the ML1s gave their all in the nether regions. A good sign: At lower volumes I was struck by how the bass sounded powerful and linear, and went deep. Up to medium-loud levels the ML1s maintained their poise, but cranked beyond their capabilities the distortion in the bass became manifest, easy on the ears though it may have been. Turn the gain down a skootch et tout va bien. Despite their purity of presentation, the plummy bottom end at fff levels could become a bit too much. A certain lack of control and fattening of tone and texture accompanied a loss of defining, leading-edge information. But back it down and the bass gathered itself into a much tighter, all-of-a-piece construction.
How did this translate into "normal" listening on the Utopias? Notes: "The opening bass solo on 'Use Me' on Companion is full and luscious—not bad for 90W!" Even binding-post burners like "Afro-Left," from Leftfield's Leftism (Hard Hands/Columbia CK 67231), sounded rich and satisfying in the Dynamics & Impact department, supported by a punchy bass line. I just couldn't turn it up quite as loud and raucous as both K-10 and I like it sometimes. And again, though I can't begin to imagine why, classical was less of a problem. Bizet's rousing Carmen Suite No.2 (Bernstein/NYP, Sony SMK 63081) was, according to my effulgent notes, "a trip and a half! The room-defining bass on this joyous old warhorse is wonderful, deep, satisfying, and dynamic."
Where analog reigns supreme
As a result of the ML1's pickiness with associated components and the heavy demands it placed on the digital front-end, of course I had to try analog. Now that was an ear-opener. Freaked me out, I can tell you.
I stayed with the BAT '50SE and added the VK-P-10 phono stage, recently supercharged with 1.5m of Synergistic DR Active Shielding. The ML1s were at their relaxed best with classical vinyl of almost every kind. I was freshly charmed by a favorite old London disc (CS 6225) featuring Debussy's Images pour orchestre, Stravinsky's Symphonies for Wind Instruments, and Ravel's Pavane pour une infante défunte by K-10's favorite, Ernest Ansermet et L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. The scope, swell, the bell, the full tonal palette, the naturalness and sense of actual music played in a concert space—a heady experience. The soundstage wasn't as 3-D wraparound as some amps manage—of course, that depends on the recording—but the ML1s placed me in the audience somewhere between the front and middle rows, say G or H. But the high level of transparency seemed to allow me to get closer to the music in another way.
Footnote 3: I've received a lot of passionate and positive e-mail (with one negative) regarding Kruder & Dorfmeister and other drum'n'bass, dance, or electronica recordings I've used recently in my reviews. Besides a big Approved stamp, reader Miguel Sanches of Lisbon, Portugal informs me that Kruder and Dorfmeister are actually from Vienna, not Berlin. I stand corrected. Can I have my passport back now?—Jonathan Scull