Lamm Industries M2.1 monoblock power amplifier Page 3

After the basics have been gotten right, it is careful attention to the little things that elevates the solidly workmanlike to the truly artisanal. Consider Bruno Walter's incomparable turn with Beethoven's Symphony 6, "Pastoral" (SACD, Sony Classical SS 6012). Walter was one of the last representatives of a conducting tradition that, sadly, is no more. The Lamms delivered the most subtle and important elements of that style—the gentlest of dynamic variances, the delicate shiftings of light and shade, of texture and balance—that made this Walter's Beethoven, not von Karajan's, Solti's, or Joe Schmo's. The Lamm authoritatively delivered Walter's disciplined but gemütlich humanism in his approach to this music, his firm yet gentle control of every detail of the score. Those lovingly traced low-level details present in the music's inner voices were cleanly and easily traversed, but the Sturm und Drang of the thunderstorm had a rafter-rattling power that was just as lucid and transparent as the second movement's birdcalls.

The Lamms were every bit as capable with electric and electronic instruments as with a full orchestra. Enigma's "Mea Culpa" (German CD single, Virgin DINSD 104) is a pure exercise in moods and atmospheres. Like a great film director, the Lamms were so good at setting the stage that all the technique that goes into creating a believable scenario was forgotten. The enticing, vaguely menacing female voice drew me in to Michel Cretu's three-dimensional sound sculpture of the "Fading Shades" mix, weaving a spell of ominous Gothic gloom. On the more upbeat "Orthodox Mix," synthesizer twinkles fizzed over, around, and between the speakers in a 3-D display like a firefly ballet at twilight. The densely alien soundscapes of Future Sound of London's Lifeforms (Dutch CD, EBV/Virgin CDV 2722) were defined by the underlying organic quality that makes FSoL unique in electronic music.

Dynamics were consistently lifelike, from the depths to the lower treble. The huge booms from the taiko drum and bass drum in "Journey to the Line," from The Thin Red Line, had tremendous power and focus and remained where they belonged: deep in the soundstage. The burst of synth noise that leaps from burbling near-silence in "Among Myselves," from Lifeforms, was enough to scare me out of the room with its sheer violence and suddenness. In the uppermost treble there was a barely-there sense of not exactly compression, but a reticence noticeable only in contrast to the amp's continuous performance across the rest of the spectrum. This, I suspect, is the residuum of that equally faint tint of timbral darkness in the same range. In spite of this, the Lamm's treble dynamics were very good indeed.

Soundstaging was, as is the case with today's best components, entirely a matter of what was encoded in the grooves or pits. Those drums on "Journey to the Line" were waaaaay back in a soundfield that was precisely and naturally drawn. All sections of the orchestra had just the right amount of room to breathe on the "Pastoral," and on the Eva Cassidy disc I could feel each musician positioned around her, grounded with authority and a wholly convincing sense of place and space.

The Lamms also caught how instruments and singers project sound into space with uncommon accuracy. Whether it was the soundboard of a grand piano, a nylon-string acoustic guitar, or a saxophone, each retained its special projection characteristics. There was no homogenization, flattening, or "dumbing down" of the unique timbral and spatial characteristics of any recording.

The Lamms were masterful at maximizing the differences between LPs or CDs, giving each what is truly its own, making perfect musical sense out of whatever music flowed through them. And when the recording was so awful as to make this impossible, they told the unvarnished truth about that, too—but that's an issue of software, not hardware.

Several months' worth of listening to the M2.1s led to one conclusion: They are among the very few amplifiers that are not just impressive, but convincing in their musical presentation. While they did all of the "audio stuff" superbly, that was not their apparent raison d'être. To hear the Lamms was to realize that they are a labor of love for their designer, and that I could hear Vladimir Lamm's commitment in every last note that passed through them.

Battle of the Titans
Given what I've just said about the Lamm M2.1 and what I wrote about the Halcro dm58 monoblock in the October 2002 issue (every word of which I stand by), it behooved me to compare the two amplifiers head to head.

The Halcro remains more like something transported from Krypton, Superman's technologically hyper-advanced home world, than a conventional piece of audio equipment. The Lamms were, in a subtle but recognizable way, more approachable and spiritual in their presentation. Describe it as yin vs yang, Apollonian vs Dionysian, Platonic ideal vs Aristotelian reality—that was the difference between the two electronic giants. They were the two sides of a cosmic coin. I could not conclude that the Lamm's ultimate resolution and noise floor were quite the equal of the Halcro's, but no other amp's are, either. But, but...the M2.1's ability (shared with its sibling ML1) to consistently infuse a genuinely human presence into recorded music placed it on a peak barely less approachable than the solitary Everest on which dwells the Halcro dm58.

The dm58 and the M2.1 are two of the best high-powered—no, two of the very finest amplifiers of any kind to be found. Nor are they interchangeable—each has a distinct personality. If the Halcro is imbued with magic (defined as science of a higher order), the Lamm possesses an intangible of its own—call it soul, humanity, a techno-alchemical simulacrum of the life-essence itself. The Halcro first awes, then compels. The Lamm first compels, then awes. You pays yer money and makes yer choice.

You won't get any guff from me however you decide, only hearty congratulations that you have the cash and good taste to make such beauty and wonderfulness integral and permanent parts of your life. That I've been fortunate enough to live with both of these masterpieces back to back makes me realize how lucky I am to be an audio reviewer.

There's an oft-told story about a fellow who approached Louis Armstrong and asked the great man, "What is jazz?" Pops smiled, laughed, and said, "If you don't know, I can't tell you."

So it was with the Lamm M2.1 monoblocks. Words like "convincing," "human," and "soulful" pepper this review and my listening notes, but it all comes down to one thing: the Lamms made me believe in the music I was hearing. Koufax and Jordan would recognize one of their own. What makes the Lamms so special is ephemeral, beyond being pinned down by mere words, but it can't be missed by anyone who loves music delivered with heart and soul. Doesn't that include just about all of us?—Paul Bolin

Lamm Industries
2621 E. 24th St.
Brooklyn, NY 11235
(718) 368-0181