Way back in 1993, one of the new kids
on the block, a CES "must hear," was the M1. ...For savages
not satisfied with the sheer brutality of the M1.1, there came the
twice-the-power M2.1 monoblock. And to drive them? The L1 preamp. But
being a purist, the M1.1 monoblock is the one I wanted to audition,
just to learn if what I heard back then, in show conditions, was as,
well, dynamite as we all suspected.
This is a straight, lab-look behemoth,
large enough to make its presence known no matter what you do...unless
you hide it in another room. The LAMMs are designed with Macho Man in
mind, if I may be so bold as to play the Neanderthal.
The M1.1 is built like something
designed to withstand combat. No expense seems to have been spared
inside, and the internal finish is as good as any. The weight comes
not just from the case but what's inside: it's packed to the rafters.
As you'd suspect because of the mass, the profusion of heat sinks, and
a seemingly low power rating for a unit of such bulk--100W--the M1.1
operates in genuine Class A mode when driving 4 or 8 ohm loads, its
power courtesy of a dozen high-speed MOSFETs. The power doubles into 2
ohms, and it goes up to 300W into 1 ohm. Not that anyone needs this
anymore now that the Apogee Scintilla has gone to that Great Hi-Fi
Store In the Sky...
No overall feedback is used in the
M1.1. The frequency response is stated as 4-150KHz, and it's
ruler-flat according to the supplied response curves. Although this
could describe any modern solid-state amp, the LAMM has a secret
weapon: a 6922 triode sits in the driver's seat. And this lone bit of
glassware inserts enought of a tube presence to tame the beast.
LAMM's M1.1 is neither temperamental
nor troublesome because it's so comprehensively conceived. Switch-on
accidents are avoided because the unit has a soft-start circuit with a
built-in delay, indicated by the flashing of the front panel
indicator. When it stops flashing and you hear a "click,"
the output is then allowed to reach the speakers. Other safety
features include the AC fuse, a thermal resetting fuse to monitor the
temperature of the power transformer, and various stages in the
circuitry to protect against overloads, shorts across the outputs, and
excessive DC at the inputs, along with other hidden safeguards to
allow you to sleep at night.
LAMM burns in the amplifiers for 72
hours at the factory before dispatch, but they feel that further
burn-in will yield even better performance; I used the Densen DeMagic
CD to produce a consistent burn-in, but you might also try the XLO/Reference
CD or Gryphon's Exorcist. Whatever you do, don't judge an M1.1 until
it's had at least 48 hours to settle down. Furthermore, the company
likes to see 45 minutes as the minimum warm-up period from cold
switch-on. I left the M1.1s on from 8am and listened in the
afternoons. However music lovers living in places where electricity
charges are criminal might rue the LAMMs' need for 300W of juice each
It's heart-warming to note that the
M1.1 comes with the most comprehensive owner's manual a power
amplifier could possibly justify. It tells you everything you could
possibly need to know, including how to bridge two pairs for maximum
power. As if you'd ever need it in the real world. What should not be
ignored, in case your dealer is a lazy sack of crap unwilling to
install the amplifiers properly for his cherished customers, are the
instructions regarding the shorting plugs needed for single-ended
operation, where they go and when they should or shouldn't be used.
Perhaps there's a little guy inside
this thing who, Woody Allen-like, comments on the load to the rest of
the amplifier. "Guys, you're not going to believe it, but some
klutz has set this on the low-impedance position and hooked up the
LS3/5As. Let's scare him." Which the amp proceeds to do by not
sounding quite right. At least, not as good as you know it can sound,
according to its rep and its memorable CES debut. Which is bordering
on the miraculous.
Whatever irritants accompany reviewing
a massive beast like the LAMM--grazed knuckles, a hernia--nothing
prepares you for the sheer joy this baby inspires. Even before you
reach the minimum warn-up period, the M1.1 sounds 'musical,' or, to
put it another way, it's immediately recognizable as capable of truly
high-end performance, by whatever norms you categorize
"high-end." Avoiding rhetorical arguments, fatuous political
stances and the like, we all know when we're in the presence of
world-class systems, and the LAMM delivers the kind of sound which
makes the concept of "high end" easier to appreciate. It
easily surpasses the standards we accept for serious listening. The
LAMM M1.1 is simply one of the most close-to-flawless power amplifiers
I've ever heard.
We use and over-use slighly vague
buzz-words to describe certain aspects of a sonic event:
"coherent," "tactile," and "visceral' are the
sorts of terms that we have in our arsenal to convey the physical
aspects of sound. Yes, we know what they mean and they do allow us to
communicate our observations, but we need varying degrees of each if
we're to distinguish between products which differ only in the
details. And the LAMM actually challenges standards in a couple of
areas where the competition is heaviest--a superiority evident
regardless of the speakers or cables in use. It's no great secret that
the world is awash with stupendous power amps of the high-end
persuasion, and it's a hellish task choosing one over another. Given
that nearly all modern high-end amplifiers are so damned good that
choosing between them often comes down to price, size, styling, or
prejudices, the aspects which help us to differentiate them are almost
always peripheral qualities.
Starting with the deepest bass, the
LAMM impresses with the way it delivers seemingly limitless extension
and slam, unaccompanied by any artificial hardness or edge. This is no
lumbering juggernaut which impresses by sheer force or bass quantity.
Every note comes through cleanly, even in cluttered, Boschian
performances from over-eager thrash, death-metal, or reggae artists
with producers blind to the LEDs on their mixing desks. And the sound
is certainly free of the nausea-inducing bass excess which makes too
many clubs the sole preserve of the partially deaf or the totally
drugged. The bottom octaves are so clear and controlled that what I
thought were listening room deficiencies are nothing of the sort: I'd
been hearing other amps misbehaving.
Where the "tube-nbess" of the
LAMM reveals its greatest contribution is in the upper bass region and
beyond. Indeed, if I hadn't been told what was playing, I'd have
guessed that someone located a pair of Beard P100 monoblocks. This amp
possesses the kind of midband which balances neutrality and air with
the kind of power which normally discards delicacy in the process.
It's a curious experience, hearing something as fragile as Lori
Lieberman's voice delivered with a foce that blows you into your
chair. It's how you turn the Chordettes' "Mr Sandman" into
"fluff-with-mass" that escapes me, but there's no other way
that I can express it.
The top end never grates; neither does
the sound turn aggressive. It's the antithesis of the equally
admirable (and far less expensive) Mesa Baron, which often sounds like
a guitar amp just itching to go all-Jimi. The LAMM is polite,
mannered, and genteel to a point that it's almost self-effacing...The
M1.1 is your perfectly obedient servant; if it were British rather
than American, it would be Arthur Treacher. The M1.1 does what's asked
of it, without drama and without complaint. It is a wonderful hybrid
indeed: part jack-hammer and part surgeon's scalpel.
...Too bad the M1.1 isn't a piece of
junk, so I could have called this review "LAMM to the
Slaughter." Instead, I have to say that this LAMM deserves a