It’s no secret that with the exception of the Pass Labs XP30 my high-end journey has been accompanied by a panoply of tube preamps. I had become accustomed to the sound of triodes operated in Class A without any overall loop feedback. These are circuits with residual second-order distortion that is consonant with the music and tends to enrich musical textures. Of course, taken to the extreme, the end result is a fat and harmonically lush presentation reminiscent of some vintage preamps. Such a sonic signature may be fun to listen to in some contexts but it isn’t reference caliber. In contrast, the L2.1 always sounded musically natural while being tonally neutral. It seemed to extract the musical message without imposing a particular personality over the presentation. In this respect, it allowed the program material and front-end components to sing without editorializing. Its inherent sound was texturally pure, neither adding nor subtracting from the musical tapestry. OK, so after extended listening I could detect just a suggestion of honey, perhaps a residue of second-order harmonics, but never even a hint of textural grain, electronic harshness, or brightness. The best overall description that comes to mind is an edgeless organic wholeness—a rare quality for an electronic device. In contrast, most preamplifiers come across as what they are, electronic devices with obvious distortions that make it difficult to accept their version of the truth.
Tonal colors were right on, and program material allowing, the midrange sounded naturally sweet. The downside, if you will, of total neutrality is that front-end imperfections have nowhere to hide. The L2.1’s presentation was akin to the surface of a highly polished sphere on which any mark becomes readily visible. There are no euphonic band-aids to cover up any flaws. But that is exactly what a reference preamp is supposed to do, so there’s no need to shoot or criticize the messenger when it reveals the truth. Without a lush romantic midrange, a bright digital front end would be exposed. To confess, I did miss the big-tone presentation (aka lower mids on steroids) of my favorite 6SN7-based preamp and had to compensate via choice of speaker and matching power amplifier. The old adage about good sound being a function of careful system building very much applies here.
The frequency extremes were extended and capable of resolving delicate treble nuances and unfolding bass lines with precision and rhythmic conviction. No surprise here. I expected as much from a high-end solid-state preamp. However, what I didn’t expect was the facility to get in touch with the music’s heart and soul. Most solid-state preamps have the mechanics of music reproduction down pat; they own the requisite bandwidth and low-level detail retrieval. But that is typically coupled with a distinct lack of passion, what I like to refer to as “silicon sterility.”
The L2.1 is different. It had no trouble extracting the music’s full complement of drama. It seemed to squeeze more energy from every recording I threw at it. Massed voices expanded from a mere whisper to full voice. Much of this had to do with its exemplary transient speed and superlative dynamic range. Subtle volume and pitch variation, the microdynamics of the music, bubbled to the surface effortlessly. I’m fascinated by the vibrato of various singers that sometimes extends embarrassingly lower than the ideal of about 7Hz. This preamp allowed me to literally count those vibrato modulations with ease. Neither was the macrodynamic range ever in doubt. Similarly, the range from loud to very loud was reproduced without any strain, complaints, or audible change in character—a performance level that appears to vindicate Vladimir Lamm’s design paradigm.
What I found surprising was the remarkably low noise floor, which at times felt as if I were peering into the blackness of a bottomless well. Track fadeouts and reverberant decay were readily resolved. In general, the spatial impression was quite convincing with excellent image focus and depth perspective, though the extent of soundstage layering was dependent on the associated power amp.
The Lamm Audio L2.1 is clearly deserving of the “Reference” appellation, holding up as it does a mirror to the music. It cuts through previous limitations of solid-state preamplification allowing the music to flow with precision and emotional conviction. It garners my unqualified recommendation. It’s no secret that the L2.1 is currently my first choice in line preamplification.
Specs & Pricing
Inputs: Three unbalanced on RCA jacks
Outputs: One pair of unbalanced RCA jacks, one pair balanced XLR jacks
Frequency response: 5Hz–120kHz (–3dB)
Total harmonic distortion: <0.03% at 2VRMS output (20Hz–20kHz)
Signal-to-noise ratio: 97dB (below 2 VRMS output, A-weighted)
Voltage gain: 14.9dB
Input impedance: 50k ohms
Output impedance: 130 ohms
Dimensions: 19" x 4.5" x 13.875" per chassis
Weight: 34.4 lbs.
LAMM INDUSTRIES, INC.
2513 East 21st Street
Brooklyn, NY 11235
Speakers: German Physiks HRS-130, OB3 (DIY)
Power amplifier: VTL Manley Reference 200/100 monoblocks, Linear Tube Audio ZOTL40 Mk. II, NYAL Moscode 600 (modified)
Analog source: Kuzma Reference turntable and Stogi Reference 313 VTA tonearm, Clearaudio da Vinci V2 mc cartridge
Digital sources: MacBook Pro laptop running Amarra V3.04 software, April Music Eximus DP1 DAC, ModWright-modified Sony XA-5400ES SACD player
Cables: FMS Nexus-2, WireWorld, and Kimber KCAG interconnects, Acoustic Zen Hologram II speaker cable
A/C Power: Monarchy Audio AC-Regenerator, Sound Application power line conditioners