Hi End is about the preservation and reproduction of sound waves. There is no disagreement that the musical devices producing those waves can vary in quality or that the individual who operates those devices can vary in skill level. However, in the best scenario, a virtuoso using the finest instrument produces a sequence of "organized air waves" (called music) that pass into the ear, travel through nerves to the brain, and generate a "spiritual movement". That is actually the goal of music composition and performance. So, the goal of Hi End-- which tries as accurately as possible to reproduce those sound waves--is to deliver a "spiritual movement" or preserve an emotional impact that the composer intended to deliver to his or her audience.
The "spiritual movement" is a "spiritual movement". It is not an electrostatic movement, not a single-ended movement, not a vacuum tube movement, not soundstage movement, not class "A" movement, not 24-bit movement, not "properly treated room" movement, not oversized magnet movement, not gold soldered movement, and not low distortion movement...
All of the aforementioned movements are targeted to satisfy totally different demands of human needs. Our discussions of the particular technology that can enrich the composer's message is similar to two death row inmates discussing how knife design and manufacturing improves its killing ability. Similarly, buying $50,000 worth of jewelry for a woman does not make her more valuable, applying world-class cosmetics to a corpse does not make it look charming, and trying to blow life in to the dead substance does not lead to a fruitful result. So why do we accept Hi End products which deliver "beautiful engineering solutions" but do not increase the chances of our being spiritually moved by the music?
I have been asking my friends, the audio equipment dealers, and myself those same questions and have come to realize that the answer cannot be found within the Hi End world. The Hi End industry is about a group of people who are paying their mortgages by selling merchandise to individuals who do not know what they really need. Hi End consumers are hostages of this industry and drift from brand to brand, store to store, buying into skillfully organized marketing campaigns but for some reason, after investing $100K in the latest and greatest Hi End gear, find themselves saying "not happy with what I'm hearing". Sounds familiar, doesn't it? However, contrary to "not happy audiophiles" I believe that I know what I am looking for. But unfortunately, each time I want to be "moved by music", I cannot simply invite the Boston Symphony Orchestra or Willy Dixon over to my apartment for a couple of tunes. I need true "sound reproducing equipment". Welcome to the audiophile club....
Purchasing Hi End gear is like purchasing a car. If you're buying a BMW, then any model of BMW will be different from any model of Chrysler, though they will each retain the same types of distinctions throughout the product lines. It is the same with Hi End gear. All the equipment from a certain manufacturer will have a specific sound characteristic (which amuses me: it's the musical instruments that should sound differently...). The reason for this is that behind each brand there is an individual or sometimes a group of people who have a vision of the products' topology, principles, manufacturing methods, design and assembling. I feel very comfortable if we are talking about cars but I do not when it comes to the engineering of music producing gear. However, I still need to acquire a mechanism that will let me experience the pain of Buddy Guy or the joy of Mozart. Do I care about the manufacturer's "...30 years in business" or their "...patent pending technology"? I've heard them all. I have heard those "full of resolution" systems and realized that instead of getting the sensations I expected I got a direct insult to my intelligence. And what insulted me more was the fact that I actually paid for it and did so voluntarily. I have experienced many "music-producing machines"; however, my frustration has been increasing proportionally to the size of my dealer's smile. Eventually I began to lose my interest for the entire field and began to wonder if it was fake. Then I was introduced to something which changed my entire perception of Hi End: LAMM.
No specific LAMM model of equipment is being mentioned here because all LAMM electronics sound distinctive. If you want to know why this is so, go to the LAMM web page at www.lammindustries.com. The purpose of this article isn't to review LAMM but to share my vision of the place of the LAMM sound within the contemporary Hi End world.
What shocked me about this gear? First was a total lack of any mental abuse by the music, the delicacy and non-intrusiveness of the signal, and a complete absence of electronically made effects. I do not feel that I would like to write a product review. Many reviews have already written about LAMM products. But I would like to note just one very interesting fact: it is difficult to turn the LAMMs off. It is strange. Do you ever answer a phone call while music is on? Or talk with one of your housemates? Or do something, anything, which requires concentration? You shut down your system and return back to life, don't you? Not with the LAMMs. This stuff creates sounds so organically bonded with your environment that you'll just turn down an attenuator on the preamp. Why? I do not know. However, Vladimir Shushurin, the designer of LAMMs, says that he knows why.
Mr. Shushurin participated in proprietary Russian research projects (utilizing enormous resources of the Cold War dumped to the military researches) which explored the way we hear. These were not just medical anatomy studies to understand the biological process but ones that attempted to grasp how our hearing creates those "spiritual images". If someone was to conduct similar research and publish the findings, the results would eliminate the common misconception that we all hear differently. In fact we all hear in a different way the different music from man-made machines but we have a very common reaction to the natural sounds. However, those who constantly expose their hearing mechanisms to those natural and pure sounds, as opposed to synthesized or electronically synthetic sounds, are not attracted to sounds which are not found in real life. It is so simple and so scary. Simple, because true sound is found in the real world, not created by applying certain harmonic metrics to an electrical signal. Scary, because no manufacturers besides LAMM have explored this aspect of human hearing and at the same time have the privilege and luxury of being a world-class amplifier designer.
From what I've just said it is very easy to understand why LAMM products cost a bit more than those from other manufacturers. But what kinds of elements make up the price? Is it the total amount of resistors and capacitors the designer uses multiplied by the number of times the company placed a large ad in an audio magazine? Well, do you try to measure the amount of paint that Rembrandt used for his pictures? Can you measure the dollar value of the effort that humans spend trying to get closer to the Truth? LAMM is not just your next amplifier, it is your way of buying peace with God (as far as sound is concerned). It is the enabler that exposes you to human musical wealth. It is a piece of art which gives a lot of pleasure if you know how to use it and it is a 'small' price to pay to LAMM as they are the only company (according to my knowledge) which makes it possible.
However, if I were a dealer I would perhaps have difficulty selling LAMM equipment. It would be much easier for me to demonstrate to my client other equipment: "My dear friend! For another $15K you will have the ability to hear how the stomach of your favorite artist consumes a ham sandwich which the artist ate a day before the recording...Oh! I'm sorry, you are not a proctologist... in such case, did you know that when a drummer hits the cymbals, the impact of the drum stick with metal surface actually consists of 50 micro-hits and you could entertain yourself by counting them. Let do it together... 1,2,3,4,5... Or you know what? For additional $5K I could offer you a portable device that could count it for you. Even more ...if you get both of them today then I will provide you with two years of free battery replacement and promise to inform you when a new state-of-the-art device detecting the positioning of the drum stick relative to the North Pole will be available...." Absurd? Not at all. It is a necessary routine that dealers must follow in order to be in the business. They need to provide evidence that a model they are pushing now is far superior to the model they sold last year. It is easy to demonstrate quantitative differences to a client than to force the client to read books, go to concerts, and visit museums for a long time before entering a Hi-End store. LAMM equipment is about building a bridge between your own personal experiences of beauty and being able to obtain this experience every time you turn on your audio equipment.
Oscar Wild suggested, "treat your spirit with sensations and let sensation treat your spirit"... So, surround your life with positive sensations. Buy flowers and smell the beautiful scent, see wonderful pictures and be blessed by your vision, drink fine wine and enjoy the fruit on your tongue. Don't you think you deserve to be surrounded by original sound sensations as well? Let LAMM do it for you. It is not Hi End. It is the only way to enjoy natural sound through electronic equipment.
This amplifer is nothing short of extraordinary in its level of musical performance. I am at a loss as to the comments below regarding the manner in which this fine product is being judged and can only regard the misguided commentary regarding the products performance & price as nothing more than sour grapes or a lack of appreciation of how well it actually performs. I've heard this amp in comparison to the best from high end stalwarts such as Krell, Rowland, Conrad Johnson and Audio Research as well as a number of efforts from smaller less well know SET producers and this amp simply tops them all. While I too lament its dear tariff, it is unequilocally the best I have ever heard.
Hmmm, since when is pricing established for any product on the basis of cost? This woeful naivety is emblematic of those who think they understand how the world works but basically just dont get it. Let me explain it to you - products are priced on the basis of the value they provide. The only real exceptions are those cases where products are essentially identical in terms of performance and the result is strong price competition as that serves as the only basis for product differentiation. The other is where no alternatives exist and demand far exceeds supply resulting in unfair temporary profit taking at the buyers expense due to the lack of viable alternatives. As far as I can see, neither case applies to the LAMMs. Now lets consider the LAMMs a bit further. No one makes you buy this product. It is offered to anyone interested for them to take it or to leave it in the context of other amplifiers at a variety of other price pionts. As a result the value of the product is in the ear of the beholder. For those who hear its special magic that price may seem reasonable - to those who dont it will not. But that is true of any other high end product so why is it any different here? It seems this product has become something of a whipping boy for those in this hobby who wish to vent over gear they can not afford or view as unreasonably priced. Why is that I wonder? Is it because they envy what they cannot have? Or more likely that they allow magazines to think for them about whats good and when a product like this gets good reviews they resent not being able to afford what their self appointed gurus tell them is best? I suggest the last two posters get control of their own priorities and let this board be a review board instead of a platform for smearing products they resent - the market will take care of the rest. In the mean time, in the interest of fairness to the product I'll give it a 5/5.
I completely agree with Jim's assessments below. A few additional pointshowever. The popular high end magazines should at least be partially blamed for the existance and perpetuation of such rip off products. In all honesty, after some research, I have never run across an electronic component that has been blessed with such amazing reviews. You can read most of it at the LAMM INDUSTRIES site. The fact is, if you are proclaiming an effect (incredible sound quality) without a cause rooted in science as not only the ML2, but all SET type amplifiers do, then some sort of voodoo is responsible for the amazing sound the listener is "supposed" to hear. Having auditioned this amplifier with a pair of Aerial 10T's proved that there is absolutely nothing about this amplifier that can justify even 1/10th of the price they are asking for it. Of course, Jim did a fine job of covering the build quality deficiencies of the amp, so where is this obscene price coming from? I don't feel good about picking on this one product to make a point about unjustifiably expensive audio gear. There are dozens of companies out there that are just as bad (Conrad Johnson, Jadis, etc.). Since Jim got the ball rolling on the subject, I guess the ML2 will have to be the martyr in a fight to get this nasty element of psuedo-mysticism out of this hobby.
I have tried to be absolutely fair about this amplifier in every regards. But I can not see how this amp can be priced as it is. I guess it would be wrong to price an exceptionally well sounding amp that costs roughly $2K to build at around a fair market value of under $7-8K. Instead this company feels that they came across an opportunity to sell this amplifier at rediculous prices assuming that there will be some poor enthuiast to fork up around $30K. If you have every looked inside of this amp, no matter how good it sounds it is not worth the cost. I feel the company should be honest about this product and set a new bench mark for best sound at an appropriate price. This tells me couple of tings about the owner; 1. he is absolutely in it for the money with absolutely no regard for audiophiles. 2. he feels that he has come across an opportunity based on his simplistic design to put in place a lot of nonsense reasoning about pricing acording to sound quality.
It is amusing to see this companies display of utter odasity and display of false pretenses at the CES. Even a good copper cable can sound exceptionally good but it doesn't mean that it should be priced at $10K because it "sounds the best" which is also subjective. I have seen companies spend magnitude more money in propriatery development of machinery to build custom cases for functional purposes as well as research and development to warrent a high cost. But if you look at this amp and the hand solder job of the tube sockets as well as cheap stock aluminum machine work with standard tubes that is used in this amp along with good cabling, it will blow your mind to even comprehend of pricing this amp at $30K.
Please listen, look, feel, and rationalize before you buy this amp. I am sure that after 6 months you will wake up feeling sick and tacken by this company.
4 star for sound, -5 star for price/integrity/honesty of this amp and the company. If you read thier web site it has a section where they have had an open link (which it has been up for months with no message) titled why our amps are so expensive. Just the fact that they have to try an justify tells the whole story.