The ML2.2 sounds so real in part because of a few specific qualities that can be identified and described, but also by qualities that are ineffable. The specific qualities include, first and foremost, grain-free, ultra-liquid, and deeply saturated tone colors. The brass and woodwinds on 88 Basie Street [JVC XRCD], for example, just sounded that much closer to the sounds of those instruments in life. Listening to the ML2.2 pointed out to me that even the great amplifiers overlay instrumental textures with a slightly synthetic tincture that hardens the timbre and reduces the sense of ease and involvement. The ML2.2 is utterly natural, organic, and free from any hint of electronic haze. Significantly, the ML2.2’s liquidity and ease aren’t the result of softening the treble, slightly reducing resolution or rounding transient information. In fact, this amplifier has a full measure of treble energy, is ultra-high in resolution, and has whip-fast transient performance. The difference is that the ML2.2 doesn’t make the treble sound as though it’s a separate component of the spectrum. Neither does it artificially hype detail or add etch to transient leading edges. It simply presents music in a way that sounds closer to the way live instruments sound, and less like a hi-fi recreation of them.
Another of the ML2.2’s strengths is its ability to make crystalclear subtle musical lines that, through other amplifiers, become part of a homogenized background. The ML2.2 allowed me to hear, without effort, what every musician is doing at any time. Countless times I found myself discovering nuances of expression in “background” parts that turned out to be essential to the piece’s presentation. This quality is in part aided by another of the ML2.2’s great attributes, the impression that the instrument exists in tangible space, not in a freeze-dried vacuum. I could hear a halo of air around the image, and that halo expand outward with its dynamic envelope, a quality for which Jonathan Valin coined the term “action.” Not only that, but the ML2.2 portrayed the reverberation around the instrument with a density and complexity that one hears in life. The decay surrounding the piano of Nojima Plays Liszt on Reference Recordings was richly portrayed, and with it came a heightened impression of a piano in a hall, “lighting up” the acoustic. When these qualities are combined simultaneously as they are in the ML2.2, the result is an extremely powerful connection with the musical expression.
When driving the Q7, the ML2.2 was my amplifier of choice with about 75% of my music collection. With the other 25% I would sacrifice the ML2.2’s unique qualities for greater bass extension and control, wider dynamics, and the ability to reproduce musical climaxes without strain. If you want to hear the Q7’s spectacular bass extension, bottom-end power and drive, and bass impact, the ML2.2 probably isn’t the amplifier for you. The ML2.2 won’t reproduce orchestral climaxes with the same authority and lack of strain as a big solid-state amplifier. It also fails to fully convey the powerful rhythmic drive of rock, blues, and some jazz. My 75%-to-25% ratio will vary from listener to listener depending on musical taste. If your proclivities lean toward chamber music, acoustic jazz, and vocals, the ML2.2 will likely be perfectly suited to 100% of your collection. And keep in mind that the higher the loudspeaker’s sensitivity, and the more benign its impedance, the less the ML2.2 will be limited in bass and dynamics. With a loudspeaker of 98dB sensitivity and a flat impedance magnitude and phase angle, the ML2.2 will sound like a powerhouse. Nonetheless, I must reiterate that it would be a mistake to think of the ML2.2 as just another SET amplifier with all of that technology’s limitations in the bass. No other SET I’ve heard has the ML2.2’s control, dynamics, and authority in the bottom octaves.
The Lamm ML2.2 surely belongs in the pantheon of the world’s greatest amplifiers—of any price or technology. This amplifier delivers the kind of special listening experience that you must hear for yourself to understand just how special it is—and how it can make other amplifiers, even the most highly regarded tube and solid-state designs, sound somewhat flat and sterile by comparison.
As I thought back on my listening experience to write this description of the ML2.2’s sound, I found that the memory of the listening sessions with the Lamm was more vividly etched in my mind than listening sessions with other amplifiers. Recalling specific pieces of music, I relived the sense of musical discovery, of communication from artist to listener, that is the hallmark experience of living with this special product.
As great an amplifier as the ML2.2 is, it’s not for everyone or for every loudspeaker. You must match it with an appropriate loudspeaker and be aware that it won’t deliver the bass extension, control, and dynamics of less expensive solid-state designs. You must also be prepared to make front-panel adjustments using a voltmeter, as well as to replace tubes periodically.
But the caveats end there; in every other respect—and I mean every respect—the Lamm ML2.2 is stunningly great. Once you hear the ML2.2 under the right conditions, your world will be forever changed. I know that mine has been.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Single-ended triode monoblock power amplifier
Power output: 18W continuous into 4, 8, or 16 ohms at 3% THD
Tube complement: 12AX7, 6N6P (x2), 6C33C (x2), 6AK5, 5651
Frequency response: 20Hz–20kHz (–0.3dB) at 18W into 16 ohms
Signal-to-noise ratio: 90dB A-weighted at 4V into 16 ohms
Inputs: Pseudo-balanced on XLR jacks, unbalanced on RCA jacks
Output taps: 4, 8, 16 ohms
Input impedance: 41k ohms
Output impedance: 0.84 ohms, 30Hz–20kHz (8-ohm tap)
Damping factor: 9.5 at 1kHz
Power consumption: 245W at rated output
Dimensions: 16" x 8.25" x 20.375"
Weight: 81 lbs. each (net)
Price: $37,290 per pair
Lamm Industries , Inc.
2513 E. 21st Street
Brooklyn, NY 11235
Digital Sources: dCS Vivaldi system (transport, upsampler, clock, DAC); Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Series 2; iMac server with Berkeley Alpha USB interface, MacBook Pro; Pure Music and Audivana playback software
Analog Source: Basis Inspiration turntable with Basis Vector 4 tonearm, Air Tight PC-1 Supreme cartridge; Simaudio Moon 810LP phonostage
Preamplifiers: Rowland Corus, Constellation Perseus
AC Conditioning and Cords: Shunyata Triton and Talos, Audience aR6TS conditioners; Shunyata Zitron Anaconda and Audience Au24 AC cords
Cables: Shunyata Anaconda interconnects and loudspeaker cables; MIT MA-X2 and MA-C interconnects, MIT MA-X SHD loudspeaker cables; AudioQuest WEL Signature interconnects, Transparent XL Reference interconnects; AudioQuest Diamond USB WireWorld Platinum Starlight USB
Equipment Racks: Stillpoints Isolation: Stillpoints Ultra SS and Ultra5
Acoustics: ASC 16" Full-Round Tube Traps, 10" Tower Traps
Accessories: VPI 16.5 recordcleaning machine; Mobile Fidelity record brush, cleaning fluid, stylus cleaner