LAMM L2.1 REFERENCE HYBRID LINE LEVEL PREAMPLIFIER REVIEW


Everyone who is even remotely connected to high-end audio has undoubtedly heard about Vladimir Lamm and of his legendary company Lamm Industries. I am sure that many of you (like me) have owned or still own some of the products from Lamm's rich product portfolio. I had two Lamm Industries preamps in my various system permutations, and one thing I clearly remember about all the models was that I was very fond of the was gain handling capability. There is something in the way these preamps are dealing with the attenuation. Unsurpassed ease of signal flow and without the loss of signal essence and a mojo. In the real world, it is never easy to find the sweet spot for volume/gain. Some audiophiles swear that the gain is clogged even with a slight turn of the volume knob, others strive for the so-called full bandwidth, which allows the knob to be opened almost to the sixth hour. 
 
While the overall gain always depends on the system configuration, the path of the Lamm is somewhere in the middle of the scale and offers a versatile universality.
 

THE CORE 

 
The main difference between the L2.1 and all other comparable preamps is that it was designed from the ground up to offer an almost inaudible sound signature. When used in conjunction with a suitable type of power amplifier, especially LAMM amplifiers, it guarantees the extraordinary transparency of the perceived sound and the reproduction of a three-dimensional sound stage in the home, recording studio, etc. without limits or restrictions.

 
The L2.1 features a topology that is capable of producing the most natural sound performance in the audio path, with a sophisticated design that is simplified, but not simpler. Its unique circuitry with specially selected high-voltage superlinear MOS FET transistors ensures Class A operation from input to output, with no overall feedback at each stage. 


All stages, including the high current output buffers, are single-ended. A unique electronic protection circuit allows the outputs to be manually muted until the preamplifier stabilizes after power-up; it also allows the preamplifier to operate in a "muting" mode during operation and automatically switch to mute if the mains AC voltage drops or is interrupted.


The L2.1 has a separate power supply that uses a filter with choke, a vacuum tube rectifier, and a voltage regulator.
 

THE INNER HEART 

 
Special care was taken in the development of a high voltage high-speed vacuum tube voltage regulator (+350V). The use of this voltage regulator in conjunction with other technical aspects allows the reproduction of the smallest nuances and three-dimensional subtleties in the music palette (provided that such details have not been lost during a recording process). 


A somewhat unusual combination of a high-voltage vacuum tube power supply and superlinear high-voltage MOS FETs makes it possible to achieve an enormously large output swing with virtually constant harmonic content of the signal with the absolute dominance of the second harmonic.


During the development of the L2.1, special attention was paid to optimizing the output impedance of the preamplifier in order to achieve virtually complete independence of the output impedance from the frequency and to enable the preamplifier to drive significant capacitive loads generated by many modern interconnect cables (without audible sound degradation).

 
Each preamplifier is carefully handcrafted with matching components of the highest quality. Some of them are low-noise metal DALE film resistors in military-grade quality, unique TKD step potentiometers (41 notches), PRC wire-wound resistors, ELECTROCUBE and ROEDERSTEIN film capacitors, CORNELL DUBILIARY electrolytic capacitors with high-frequency circuitry, specially selected durable vacuum tubes, high-quality gold plated high-performance RCA plugs and gold plated NEUTRIK XLR connectors. The preamplifier power supply has a specially developed, extremely low-noise toroidal power transformer. The AC voltage is filtered by a special RFI line filter. 


OPERATION

 
Like all Lamm products, the Lamm L2.1 Reference preamplifier is the easiest to use. Left and right channels are separate, and two TKD 41-step volume control potentiometers can be used to set the exact volume for each channel, and the same applies to select two inputs. There is also a handy mute switch and a phase invert switch. Two additional and unusual switches provide the tape/ source and between line and direct. 

 
The Lamm L2.1 Reference preamplifier provides two RCA inputs and both XLR and RCA outputs. Since it is two preamplifiers in one housing, the separate power supply housing provides not only a direct power connector for the main unit but also a remote trigger, a ground connection, and two sockets (max. 500 W). 


Other features include 3 inputs; 1 tape loop; phase switch for the output signal; balanced and unbalanced outputs; and built-in remote LAMM power amplifier on/off trigger.
 

THE MUSIC

 
The playful lightness of Quarteto Novo - Quarteto Novo is a remarkable historical gem that provides an impeccable insight into the inner core of any preamplifier. The fast-changing "Misturada" offers so many challenging layers of vibrant music, and the chameleon-like nature of the Lamm L2.1 Reference preamplifier provided a greater insight than usual. A remarkably multi-layered relief like the depth of "Misturada" was not only most vividly displayed, but it was also much easier to recognize the horizontal and vertical acoustic cues. 


The L2.1 Reference allowed a much greater airiness and three-dimensionality than usual and reflected the instruments and sounds in a more convincing way. 

 
The credibility factor was further confirmed with another unusual but remarkable acoustic album. Something as haunting, powerful, and at the same time beautiful as the Alarm Will Sound - Acoustica cover by Richard D. James alias Aphex Twin"Blue Calx (arr. C. Burhans)" is no easy undertaking for any preamplifier. An enormous dynamic core that carries "Blue Calx" needs more than just an appropriate augmentation. This is where the Lamm preamplifier stands out. Regardless of the price, there are not many high-end audio preamplifiers that can conceptualize this daunting composition as completely and free of dynamic reservations as the Lamm   L2.1 Reference can.

Every fan of string instruments should take advantage of the wonderful L. Subramaniam, Larry Coryell - From the Ashes from the legendary record label Water Lilly Acoustics. Timbre, tone, and color, as well as spatiality, are critically confronted with "Beyond the Flames". It is a harmonically rich recording, where the hail of the preamplifier quickly reveals itself through the amplification. The emotional touch and the interactive ability of the line stage cannot be deceived with this piece. 


"Beyond the Flames" can sound slightly pale, uninvolved, and without the ability to reveal the necessary connection between the performer and the listener without the proper preamplifier. Lamm L2.1 Reference not only provided the top-tier engagement. It has also let the music liberate from the too-often embarked electronic and mechanical traits of an active stage. 
 
The same is true for Mstislav Rostropovich - Mstislav Rostropovich - The Complete Decca Recordings. "5 Stücke im Volkston, Op. 102: 2. Langsam"

 
A repeated catching and releasing sets the string into vibration. Often the taut fibers of the bow that produce the vibrations sound more plastic than organic even at the utmost audio plane. On the contrary, with Lamm L2.1 Reference, the resonance chamber, which is responsible for the cello's energy formation sounded like a real instrument compared to many preamplifiers that make it sound like a sample library reproduction. 
 
Recorded somewhat more lively "Cello Concerto in C major, Hob. 7b: 1: 1. Moderato" shows how well the Lamm L2.1 reference reproduces the core of the cello. This is particularly evident in the purity of tone. 
 
Too easily the higher harmonics can be hidden or simply masked if the preamplifier gain does not have the power to convey the presence of the correct vibrations. 
 
Fascinating in cello reproduction and in connection with the preamplifier nucleus and its sheer potency, it seems that the higher the fingers are positioned on the cello neck, the less tuned the notes seem to become. The same does not seem to affect the lowest octave notes, but this phenomenon (for high notes) could be related to the way our ear perceives sound and vibrations. 

The Lamm L2.1 Reference remarkable reproduction of the Rostropovich can be connected with Vladimir Lamm's intriguing circuit design, which is based on the human hearing mechanism.
 
If you consider that vibrato is a series of rhythmic adjustments of pitch, a little on the metaphysical side, then everything in the universe vibrates or has a resonant frequency. So there is a deeper correlation, but the exact science remains undiscovered. Ultimately, it's a sonic result that matters and Lamm L2.1 Reference performance speaks for itself. 

In the way, the L2.1 reference handles the most fragile sound, also translates to the Lamm out of the box general qualities. This is something that is intimately inherited with all of the Lamm's products. The DNA that is superiorly reflecting the core qualities of the music and conveys them unaltered further into the high-end audio system chain. 
 
A great reality check of any high-end audio line stage and yet system capability is Roberto Paternostro, Württemberg Philharmonic - Anton Bruckner: Die Sinfonien.

 

The spatial effect of the recording allows for an enormous spatial discovery when the system and each component is set up correctly. Moreover, Lamm L2.1 Reference has done a great job of providing an all-embracing foundation. It was refreshing to observe the Lamm L2.1 Reference with "Te Deum: 1. Te Deum- Allegro moderato". 

There are a lot of hard tasks for each preamplifier to master, but a special challenge is about 4.42 minutes on the opening track. A literary microcosm of the multiplex universe of decay and delays' microcosmos comes into its own. 

So many details and spatial clues are hidden in here. Once again, the Lamm L2.1 reference has demonstrated the unique ability to recognize the wide variety of micro-details, acoustic anchor points, and spatial clues that are essential for a vivid and credible reproduction. And all this without forcing self-dominance at any point in time. This alone is not only a rare feature but an attribute worthy of recognition and emphasis in itself. 

All in all, the Lamm L2.1 Reference was conceptualized to emphasize the best qualities of the music without pointing to its own dynamic. L2.1 Reference follows the musical narrative with feather-like ease, in the absence of complacency and at a level that is beyond usual norms. A positively impressive achievement on all fronts. 
 

CONCLUSION 

 
Back in the eighties, there was an unquestionable standard of a single-brand high-end audio system. Yes, there were always people who mixed and matched the high-end audio components. But most of the upper echelon separate apparatuses were almost always from one and the same manufacturer. Just look at the iconic print ads from the past...
 
There is a certain logic behind this, and it is all about achieving the perfect system's gain. At the moment, we do not have an exact standard like the professional audio industry when it comes to the input and output loading. For years, the evaluation of all sorts of equipment has revealed many interesting points and also raised some questions when it comes to its solitude standing and application in the high-end audio system. 
 

The experiences has thought me not to judge a product before the homework is done. It takes an extra effort in finding a suitable component that can handle and function correctly in synergy, but its worthy and needed. This rule applies to every part of the system. 
 
Before you ask the question... Yes, the Lamm L2.1 Reference preamplifier works best when matched with the brand's own amplifiers as has been proven in combination with my Lamm M1.2 Reference hybrid monoblocks. 


 
But it's not an end of discussion. Although L2.1 Reference harmonizes perfectly within its family, it is also a great performing in combination with other high-end audio amplifiers. You just have to find synergy and a matching amplifier that works. 
 
Lamm L2.1 Reference Preamplifier is as bold in controlling the music as the designer. Unforgivable in revealing the truth, but at the same time highly electrifying. 

 
L2.1 Reference reaches deep into the basis of the music and lets the message expand with impressive effect. It can create a rejuvenating perception of the recorded material without adding or subtracting the actual core. 
 
At its hub, the Lamm L2.1 reference embodies Vladimir's lifelong quest for perfection. Although this is not a top-of-the-range preamplifier of the brand and I have not yet heard what LL1.1 Signature or LL2.1 can offer, L2.1 Reference delivers impressive performance even in this operating state, which is not easily surpassed. 
 
In the age of the ongoing super-price race, the Lamm L2.1 Reference preamplifier is quite conservative in price. It offers a lot of "bang for the buck" when you consider how far you have to stretch yourself today to reach a certain level of performance at the highest level. 
 
No, there is still no remote control. Like many of the high-end audio designers, Vladimir remains true to the purist approach. He still firmly believes that any active electronic volume control would compromise signal quality. 

 
The absence of remote might certainly put off some of the audiophiles and music lovers, but there are still quite a few high-end enthusiasts who find their quest for purity and perfection in the absence of remote. 
 
If I remember correctly, I have used the stealth fighter analogy before. Yet it somehow reflects the qualities of the Lamm L2.1 reference... The innards are all designed to strict military specifications, the esthetics are similar to the tint of the Nighthawk and the stealth technology reflects the unmistakable sound of the Lamm L2.1 Reference. It's all about as little presence possible and not being detected!

 
High-end audio has come a long way to reach the level where transparency and sonic translucency are finally appreciated as real qualities. Over the decades, we have witnessed a variety of sound orientations that have tried to imitate the qualities of real live music. This has led to varying degrees of credibility. In most cases, the voicing decisions took the wrong direction and led to offbeat results. 
 
In order to convey the unadulterated message, truly natural transparency is required. If we consider that the ultimate goal of any high-end audio system is and should be the highly credible transmission of the artist's original quintessence, then the Lamm L2.1 Reference preamp is the place to turn your attention.

For some audiophiles and music lovers, there is a certain quality that they are looking for and are satisfied with. But on the utmost level, it's not just about the specifics such as timing or tone accuracy alone. It is about taking all these characteristics into account and creating a harmonious whole. This is what really defines the quality of high-end audio reproduction at the reference level. 

Lamm L2.1 Reference remarkably and in a best summarizes these essential varieties most expertly and without pointing out any special sonic peculiarities. 
 
For what is technologically and musically represented, the Lamm L2.1 Reference preamplifier is a clear winner of 2020 Mono and Stereo Highly Recommended Product Award.
 
Matej Isak 
 

PRICE

 
- U.S. retail price: $26,590 USD
 

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

 
RATED OUTPUT VOLTAGE

from 20Hz-20KHz into instrument load: 0.75 Volts RMS;
from 20Hz-20KHz into IHF load: 0.75 Volts RMS
  
VOLTAGE GAIN

5.54 ± 2% or 14.87 ± 0.2dB
  
FREQUENCY RESPONSE

from 1-40 Volts RMS into instrument load:   (-0.2dB) 20Hz, 20KHz. (-3dB) 5Hz, 140KHz;
from 1-20 Volts RMS into IHF load:  (-0.2dB) 20Hz, 20KHz. (-3dB) 5Hz, 120KHz
  
TOTAL HARMONIC DISTORTION FROM 20 HZ - 20 KHZ

Vout = 2 Volts RMS into instrument load: no more than 0.03%;
Vout = 40 Volts RMS into instrument load: no more than 0.5%;
Vout = 2 Volts RMS into IHF load: no more than 0.03%;
Vout = 20 Volts RMS into IHF load: no more than 0.5% 
  
IM DISTORTION

(60Hz:7KHz  4:1) SMPTE:

Vout = 2 Volts RMS into instrument load: no more than 0.03%;
Vout = 40 Volts RMS into instrument load: no more than 0.65%;
Vout = 2 Volts RMS into IHF load: no more than 0.03%;
Vout = 20 Volts RMS into IHF load: no more than 0.45%     
  
INPUT SENSITIVITY

Vout = 0.75 Volts RMS into instrument load: 0.135 Volts RMS ± 2%;  
Vout = 0.75 Volts RMS into IHF load: 0.135 Volts RMS ± 2%  
  
INPUT IMPEDANCE

50 KOhms
  
CORRECTED OUTPUT IMPEDANCE

typically 130 Ohms
  
NOISE

signal-to-noise ratio below 2 Volts RMS output, unweighted: typically 83 dB;
signal-to-noise ratio below 2 Volts RMS output, 22Hz-22KHz: typically 94 dB;
signal-to-noise ratio below 2 Volts RMS output, A-weighted: typically 97 dB
  
POWER SUPPLY

Power consumption: typically 80W;
Input voltage range: ±10%;
One power transformer, two vacuum tube rectifiers, one filter choke, one high-speed vacuum tube voltage regulator, one solid-state analog non-switching voltage regulator;
AC voltage intensively filtered by special RFI power line filter;
Burn-in Time at Factory: Minimum 72 hours;
Recommended Burn-in End-user's System: Minimum 96 hours;
Warm-up time: Minimum 25 minutes
 
UNIT DIMENSIONS 

(preamplifier and power supply have the same dimensions)
4.5 inches high x 19 inches wide x 13.875 deep + 1.375 inches of depth for front handles
 
UNIT WEIGHT

preamplifier: 15.42 Lbs (7 Kg);
power supply: 19 Lbs (8.63 Kg)     
 
TUBE COMPLEMENT

one 12AX7/ECC83, voltage regulator tube;
one 6C19P, voltage regulator tube;
one 5651A, voltage reference tube;
two 12AX3, rectifier tubes
 
NOTE: 
 
Instrument load: the load consisting of 91 KOhm resistor and 200 pF capacitor connected in parallel.
IHF load: the load consisting of 10 KOhm resistor and 1000 pF capacitor connected in parallel.

  

CONTACT

 
LAMM INDUSTRIES INC.
2513 East 21 Street Brooklyn
NY 11235
USA
 
Phone: +1.718.368.0181
Fax: +1.718.368.0140