Lamm ML3 Signature amplifiers (pair).
Lamm ML2.2 amplifiers (pair).
Lamm M2.2 amplifiers (pair).
Lamm LL1 Signature line-level preamplifier (pair: two mono preamps + two separate power supplies).
Lamm LP1 Signature phono preamplifier.
Rest of system: TechDAS Air Force One turntable, TechDAS TDC01/Ti MC cartridge, Graham Elite tonearm and Phantom tonearm, EMM Labs TSDX CD/SACD Transport, DAC2X Stereo D/A Converter.
Lamm M1.2 Reference amplifiers (pair).
Lamm L2 Reference line-level preamplifier (preamp and separate power supply).
Lamm LP2.1 phono preamplifier, deluxe.
Rest of system: Wilson Audio Alexia speakers, TechDAS Air Force Two turntable, Graham Elite tonearm.
I have named Lamm systems as among the best I have heard at so many shows that it is beginning to be redundant, but the big Lamm/Tech DAS/emm labs/Verity system unmistakably earned its spot here, with the Lamm/Wilsonsystem hot on its heels. There was nothing to rationally criticize, and Vladimir Lamm’s claim to make “simply the world’s best audio electronics” has been, as the Mythbusters put it, plausible from the day he opened his doors. As the old-time Dallas Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith once said, “If you can do it, it ain’t bragging.”
Mentioning the grand scale brings to mind Lamm Industries, which always comes loaded for bear in their two rooms. The larger of the two rooms featured Lamm’s LP1 Signature three-chassis phono preamp ($33,990), LL1 Signature line stage ($42,790), and both the ML3 Signature ($139,400/pair) and ML2.2 mono amplifiers ($26,700/pair) driving the top and woofer cabinets, respectively, of Verity Audio’s Lohengrin IIS speakers ($120,000/pair). Analog was supplied by the ultra-high-tech air-suspension TechDAS Air Force One turntable ($100,000) fitted with Graham Elite ($14,000) and Phantom ($6800) ‘arms holding TechDAS’s TDC01 Ti cartridge ($12,500). EMM Labs’ TDSX CD/SACD transport ($17,000) and DAC2X D/A converter ($15,500) handled the digital duties, and everything was tied together withKubala-Sosna Elation power cables, digital interconnect, signal interconnects and speaker cables ($139,700 total) and rested on Sanus stands.
In their second room Lamm teamed the barely less complex TechDAS Air Force Two turntable ($50,000, with a more conventional, albeit exotically executed, suspension), Graham Elite ‘arm, and ZYX UNIverse Premium cartridge ($13,995) and the same EMM Labs digital gear as in their other room, with Lamm’s own LP2.1 phono stage ($8990), L2 Reference line stage ($15,990) and M1.2 Reference hybrid power amps ($27,190/pair) with Wilson Audio’s wonderful Alexia speakers ($50,000/pair). Sanus racking and Kubala-Sosna Emotion-series cabling ($51,100 total) completed the system.
Lamm’s systems have almost always counted among my best of show over the last fifteen years and nothing changed this year. The Verity system was marvelously expressive of all the nuances of music of all types. The Hot Club of San Francisco’s “Nature Boy,” with a guest vocal from Maria Muldaur, was as lifelike as the state of the art allows, which on music of this scale is very close indeed. There was an overwhelming effortlessness to this system, as there was to the big VAC/Dynaudio system, that comes only from superb sources and electronics paired with the finest in full-range speakers that are set up properly in a room with space enough for everything to breathe. This proved true whether the music was classical, jazz or amplified. My CD of Alan Hovhaness’s Khriman Hairig, for orchestra and solo trumpet, put vast spaces, natural imaging and scrumptious string tones, airy and extended, directly in front of me.
The Lamm/Wilson system was no less impressive, with the Analogue Productions 45rpm reissue of Getz/Gilberto, and Astrud Gilberto in particular, on “The Girl From Ipanema” sounding absolutely scrumptious and tactile. I followed that classic by asking Elina Lamm to play “Solitude” and “Where or When” from the Jazz Track reissue (yeah, sourced from digital and not up to an Analogue Productions LP, but the music is brilliant) of Duke Ellington’s Indigos. The Duke’s piano and the full-band recapitulation of the theme on the former, along with Paul Gonsalves’ breathy, buttery tenor sax on the latter, were beauty in sound. With the title track from Blackmore’s Night’s Under A Violet Moon, my notes say, “Nothing to say — perfect to the recording,” which about sums up both Lamm systems: Both were superb by any criterion one might choose to apply.
Verity’s high-sensitivity, four-way, four-driver, $120k Lohengrin IISes were being driven by Lamm Industries’ $139k SET ML3s in the bass and Lamm’s $37k SET ML 2.2s in the midrange and on top. The sound was drop-dead gorgeous—in its own way as natural and enjoyable as the Focal Grande Utopias were with the Naim gear, but with all the SET tube virtues instead of the solid-state ones. Since the Lohengrin IIS is not a speaker I’ve cottoned to in the past, I have to assume that Vladimir Lamm’s electronics were making the lovely musical difference. The combo was superb on Leonard Cohen’s “Ain’t No Cure For Love,” from Lennie’s own terminal-smoker’s croak to the angelic background vocals of Sharon Robinson and Charley and Hattie Webb to those thrilling Hammond B3 exclamation points to Dino Soldo’s throaty, lilting sax. And the system was just as impressive on the Feria from Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnol, albeit with a little less resolution of the inner voices of string choirs than the Naim solid-state amp delivered in the Focal room. Though this was probably not the ultimate alt.punk amp/speaker combo, for acoustic music of any scale it was outstanding. And, oh, that SET tone color!
If the Lohengrin room weren’t proof enough of Lamm Industries’ sonic excellence, Vladimir Lamm pulled off the same magic act with the four-driver, three-and-a-halfway $52k Wilson Audio Alexias, driven this time around by Lamm’s M1.2 Reference Class A hybrid/solid-state monoblocks and sourced by the Air Force Two turntable. The sound was phenomenal all over again—on Melody Gardot, Getz/Gilberto’s “Girl from Ipanema,” Louis and Ella’s “Cheek to Cheek” (both fabulously “there”), etc. Moreover, the presentation wasn’t just lovely; it was also realistic in the dark, rich, sweet way of all Lamm gear. Indeed, the Wilson/Lamm presentation might even have been a tad better than that of the excellent Verity/Lamm one, since there was no loss of resolution or slight flattening of dynamic contrasts when the Alexias were driven by Lamm solid-state (and only small subtractions of tone color and texture vis-à-vis the SET setup). Oh, the Lamm might have been just a tad tubby in the bass in this Venetian hotel room, and the Alexias may have been a little recessed in the presence range, but even at that, along with the Soulution room (for which, see Nine More Top Contenders, below), this was the best I’ve heard Wilson Alexias sound.
Lamm Audio used two ML3 Signature amplifiers ($139,490) and two ML2.2 amplifiers ($37,290) to power a pair of Verity Audio Lohengrin IIS loudspeakers ($120,000) in one of the Venetian’s largest exhibit rooms. When I entered the room, there were a large number of guests politely listening to the music, including our own Michael Fremer. From the short time I was able to spend in the room, the sound was simply superb.
…the large suites at the top of the Venetian and Mirage hotels mean fewer exhibitors per floor. But, from experience, the super-high-end manufacturers, many of whom think their products demand more attention than the rest of the audio world, frequent these larger suites. So, where you can figure getting in and out of a room inside of a few minutes on the 29th floor, anything less than 15 minutes in the company of these companies is considered rude. In fairness, when discussing a $60,000 DAC or a $500,000 loudspeaker with the manufacturer, you would expect the manufacturer to have a tale to tell, and a roll-call of technology to discuss. But, such is the demand for weaving a tale around a product that, by the end of the first day, where my colleagues had covered perhaps 25 or 30 rooms, I had barely managed eight.
There were two interesting things that came out of these rooms, however. Where many of the brands on the 29th, 30th, and 31st floors were streaming Tidal, these upper floors with product prices to match were relying more on LP, CD, or SACD. Also, this year saw a coordinated move by a number of European and Asian high-end audio distributors to stay away from the Las Vegas, in the hope of moving business to local shows at Munich and Hong Kong. This left the show attended by the US agents, who brought a touch of much-needed pragmatism to the Venetian Towers.
So perhaps it was a good thing that the ‘million dollar system’ planned in the Lamm Industries room (featuring TechDAS and Graham vinyl and EMM Labs digital sources, Sanus racks, almost $140,000 worth of Kubala-Sosna Elation cables) topped out at a ‘mere’ $706,000. This was because the new Verity Audio Monsalvat loudspeakers had to be replaced with the previous Verity flagship, the Lohengrin IIS.
Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that if you are reporting on a room with a $180,000 amplifier, you end up writing about a $180,000 amplifier. But where the reaction to such things has typically been ‘fawning’ from the industry, this year it seemed a little more ‘realistic’. However, low cost doesn’t tend to feature much in the upper suites of the Venetian, partly because they have big rooms to fill.
This is the only room where I forgot to take a photo of the room sign. So, instead, here is a photo of what it looked like out looking the windows in the Lamm room.
The ‘Million Dollar System’ did not materialize as the big Verity speakers did not make it to the show. So we got to hear the smaller Verity Lohengrin II speakers. The speakers were bi-amped with the Lamm ML3 on the bottom (the larger amp put on the woofers) and the ML2.2 on the top. [! :-)]