Lamm ML2.2 monoblock power amplifier Page 2
Second, after installing 14 tubes in two mono amplifiersevery tube neatly packed and clearly marked for a single, specific socketthe user must check and, if necessary, adjust the plate voltage and plate current for each amp's output tubes. This requires a very small screwdriverthe adjustment pots are easily accessed via clearly marked openings in the top paneland a very good digital multimeter. One of those two items is included with every ML2.2; as for the other, Lamm recommends the Fluke 87V.
Third, you must be willing and able to repeat those checks and adjustments, precisely and carefully, every now and thenpartly because failure to do so would result in suboptimal performance, partly because failure to do so could result in premature deterioration of the power tubes. According to the recommendations in Lamm's almost peerlessly thorough operating manual, every two years you will also want to replace the 6N6P tubes with matched pairs of same.
Except for the lifting, none of the above is at all difficult, and during the four months I spent with the ML2.2s, all of it went without a hitch. (I did not, of course, have to replace the 6N6Ps, or any other tubes.) When I first installed the Lamms, the plate-current and plate-voltage readings for one amplifier were spot on; the other needed only a slight nudge in the right direction. I rechecked and readjusted both amps twice during their stay here, and the readings never strayed more than slightly.
During their time in my system, the ML2.2s remained on the floorI don't have an equipment support that can accommodate their sizewithin 2m of my Shindo Masseto preamplifier, whose output impedance is an accommodating 600 ohms. Like its predecessors, the ML2.2 allows the user to choose between RCA and XLR input jacks, the latter offered for the sake of convenience only (the Lamm is not a balanced design). Three separate pairs of chunky, gold-plated binding posts allow the user to select between output-transformer secondaries for 4, 8, and 16 ohms. I used only Auditorium 23 stranded-copper cables with gold-plated banana plugs, driving my Audio Note AN-E/SPe HE and Quad ESL loudspeakers, as well as a borrowed pair of DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96s and, just prior to their return to the manufacturer, a borrowed pair of Wilson Audio Sophia 2s. I used the ML2.2s' 8 ohm taps with the Audio Notes and the DeVores and both the 8 and 16 ohm taps in an effort to get the Quads to sound good with the Lamms (but see below).
Interestingly, while the reproduction of spatial effects on stereo recordings isn't high on my list of priorities, the ML2.2s' imaging prowess was among the first things I noticed. In that regard, these newest Lamms embodied the single-ended ideal: They floated solo instruments and voices between the speakers with the sort of psychedelic presence that seems the sole province of that output architecture. Spatially and in many other ways, the Lamms were engaging from the start.
More important, those sounds were musically convincing. While the sounds of instruments and voices had believable color, texture, and presence, and appeared to emanate from within a black absence of electronic noise, it was also apparent from the start that the Lamm allowed lines of notes to retain apparently all their natural flow and momentum. Although this might pass for faint praise in another context, the ML2.2 was the most listenable amplifier I've experienced.
In my 2004 review of the Lamm ML2.1, I described that amplifier's ability to scrape noise and distortion away from lines of notes, and get closer than ever to the real musical sounds underneath the artifacts. The ML2.2 did that and more: it unearthed music, and musical meanings, I'd simply never heard before. In the minutes before the start of "Conquistador," from Procol Harum's Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (LP, Chrysalis CHR 1004), when one normally hears only a gentle, nearly subconscious wash of orchestral tuning-up sounds, it was now impossible not to hear and appreciate the short scraps of melody being tossed around. Later, during the song itself, it was far easier than usual to hear when organist Chris Copping enters in the chorus: no mean feat regarding an instrument playing nothing-special chords under an 80-piece orchestra. And later still, during "Whaling Stories," I could hear the vibrato in the massed voices of the chorus. Wow.
The ML2.2 didn't just respect sonic colors and texturesit revered them, with greater saturation and depth than I recall from its predecessor. The new Lamm gave a compellingly rich, tactile account of the massed strings in Ferenc Fricsay's posthumously released recording of Tchaikovsky's Symphony 6, with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra (LP, Deutsche Grammophon/Speakers Corner 138 135), and did much the same for the remarkable tone that Phil Lesh coaxes from his electric bass throughout the Grateful Dead's American Beauty (LP, Warner Bros./Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 1-014). That quality, coupled with the Lamm's superb temporal performance, allowed me a greater-than-usual degree of appreciation for Lesh's superbly crafted lines.
While a direct comparison of the ML2.2 and ML2.1 wasn't possible, my memory of the ML2.1's sound suggested that the ML2.2's character differed from it only slightly: The new amp sounded a little more forward than the old, with a bit more meat to instrumental and vocal sounds in the treble rangewhich is to say that the ML2.2 was a little less airy-fairy and somewhat more substantive than the ML2.1. But a different sort of comparison comes down in favor of the earlier amp: While the ML2.1 sounded great with my Quad ESLs, the ML2.2 was notably less so. A few records sounded fineHenry Grimes's bass solo in "All the Things You Are," from Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins's Sonny Meets Hawk! (LP, RCA Living Stereo/Classic LSP-2712), was generously textured and had an especially nice sense of melodic flowbut Tony Rice's solo guitar in the title song of the Tony Rice Unit's Manzanita (LP, Rounder 0092) sounded distant, dull, and bereft of its usual supple twang, almost as if the guitar part were recorded out of phase from everything else in the mix. Similar examples of such midrange skewing piled up before I learned from Vladimir Lamm that the ML2.2 uses less feedback than the ML2.1and feedback, as I've learned over the years, is something a tube amp needs in order to drive the ESLs' wiggy load. That's not a flaw, really; just the loss of a lucky pairing.
With the Audio Note and DeVore speakers back in the system, I did wish that the ML2.2 were a bit better at expressing musical touch and force. It was good enough in that regard: John Bonham's drumming in "Royal Orleans," from Led Zeppelin's Presence (LP, Swan Song/Classic SS 8416), sounded convincingly strong, and the drums, guitars, and piano in the starkly recorded title song of John Cale's Fear (LP, Island ILPS 9301) all had fine impact. But my similarly powered (20Wpc) Shindo Haut-Brion amplifier was better with both of these recordings, especially at expressing the force behind quieter sounds. The latter included the strange five-note figure the late B.J. Wilson plays on tabla in "Boredom," from Procol Harum's A Salty Dog (LP, A&M SP 4179), and the even subtler details throughout the remarkably explicit recording, by Ernest Ansermet and L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, of Ravel's L'Enfant et les Sortilèges (LP, Decca/Speakers Corner SXL 2212), where the Shindo amp even gave a sense of the force behind the singer's rolled Rsan effect the Lamm didn't put across as well.
Because enthusiast products and appliances are held to different standards of ease of use, their values must be judged rather differently. It isn't fair to expect that the Lamm ML2.2 would offer 100 times better sound than a second-hand Adcom ampor, for that matter, 28% better sound than a Lamm ML2.1if only because, in any endeavor, perfectionism's gains are small.
That doesn't mean the ML2.2 should get a pass on this front: As I wrote in that 2004 review of the ML2.1, "It's my professional responsibility to tell you that I just plain don't see anywhere near $15,000 worth of parts inside one of these chassis, no matter how much the trannies cost. Are they that difficult and time-consuming to build? Maybe."
Although the quality and thus the presumed expense of the parts, materials, and workmanship in the Lamm ML2.2 are all beyond question, one must face the fact that to buy an expensive product such as this is to pay a premium for the designer's original ideas, much as one pays to own a book or a print or a recording of music. Vladimir Lamm, whose groundwork in engineering and the perception of sound has occupied him for nearly 50 yearsand whose Lamm Industries celebrates its 20th anniversary this yearhas created an amp that offers not only unparalleled performance in many regards, but combinations of musical qualities available in no other product I know of. While only the prospective buyer can judge the value of the ML2.2, I suspect that most people with both the means and a thirst for the capabilities described above would have little trouble pulling the trigger.
Apart from costing more than the average person can spend, the Lamm ML2.2 is a failure in only one regard: It is completely useless for background music. Every note it played in my home became unignorable. An extraordinary product, and one that all of you should endeavor to hear.