Lamm: ML3 Signature Amplifiers Monoblocks, LL1.1 Preamplifier (pair), LP1 Signature phono preamplifier (set), LP2.1 phono preamplifier Deluxe.
Rest of system: Exquisite Midi Grand speakers, Air force One turntable, Model 3012-R tonearm (not in production), Model 3010-R tonearm (not in production), Winfield Ti cartridge, SPU mono cartridge, Aqua Acoustic La Diva CD transport, Formula xHD D/A converter.
Given the dramatic drop in the number of high-end audio exhibits at CES, only two companies chose to occupy the huge, high-ceilinged suites on the Venetian Hotel’s 35th floor. The first, Lamm Industries, from the quiet little hamlet of Brooklyn, NY (where John Atkinson also lives), threw caution to the winds with a system whose total retail price was $649,440.
There was much to admire about this system. Although it was far from the most transparent system I’ve heard, its sound was warm and inviting on every selection played. A CD pressing of an analog recording of the Hot Club of San Francisco performing “Nature Boy” sounded lovely, and a CD of Stefano Grondone playing guitar similarly stood out. The system also nailed the meaty sound of violin in a CD version of Lou Harrison’s Violin Concerto. Speed was quite good on this recording, and different percussion instruments correctly exhibited different (albeit warm) sonorities. I also thought depiction of depth and breadth of acoustic space was excellent.
There was no question, however, that the system rounded the leading edges of tones. Whether it did full justice to the lower voices and wealth of detail in two of John Atkinson’s superb choral recordings was another story entirely.
Doing the honours were Lamm’s ML3 Signature amplifiers ($139,690/pair), LL1.1 Signature line-level preamplifier ($45,590/pair), LP1 Signature phono preamp ($36,890/set), and LP2.1 phono preamplifier, deluxe ($9390); Kharma Exquisite Midi Grand Signature speakers ($191,000/pair); the Italian-made Aqua Acoustic La Diva CD transport ($9000) and Formula xHD DAC ($16,500); Sanus equipment racks and SRA amplifier stands ($4240 total), and TchernovCable Ultimate Series cabling ($74,750 total). Not auditioned were the TechDas Airforce 1 turntable ($110,000) with out-of-production SME arms and surprisingly low cost (compared to everything else, at least) Ortofon cartridges, along with their corresponding Lamm phono stages.
Handcrafted in Italy, the Aqua DAC uses a Pure R2R FPGA-based ladder without digital filters, an I2S link between DAC and transport, and a transformer-based, fully balanced audio output stage. It handles PCM up to 24-bit /768kHz and DSD up to 256 (quad DSD).
The best sound at CES—indeed one of the best sounds I’ve heard at a trade show— undoubtedly came from the big, $191k, three-and-a-half-way (two 1″ diamond tweeters, two 7″ Omega 7 midrange drivers, and two 11″ Nomex-Kevlar woofers in a D’Appolito configuration) Kharma Exquisite Midi Grand Signature floorstanders, driven by Lamm Industries’ ML3 Signature monoblock amps, LL1.1 Signature preamplifier, and LP1 Signature phonostage, sourced by a TechDAS Airforce 1 turntable (with SME 3012-R tonearm and Clearaudio and Ortofon Windfield Ti cartridges) and an Aqua La Diva transport and Formula xHD DAC, and wired by TchernovCable. Housed in a large room on the 35th floor, this sensational system was spacious like nothing else at the show—and gorgeous like nothing else at the show, producing a supremely beautiful sound wherein everything was in balance, everything was exquisitely defined (though not over-controlled), everything was imbued with lifelike bloom and color. Reproduction of vinyl was especially wonderful—phenomenally three-dimensional on JM’s Decca recording of Libra and EMIs of Shubert lieder and various arias sung by Fritz Wunderlich, with fabulous spatiality, gorgeous tone color, and superb transients on voice and all instruments.
This show was a high-water mark for Vladimir Lamm, who has been making some of the world’s best-sounding electronics since he introduced the ML2 twenty-five years ago, and for Charles van Oosterum, who has been making some of the world’s greatest loudspeakers for nearly as long. Both Vladimir and Charles have sounded marvelous, together and apart, at other shows, but this year’s system was flawless, showing off both speakers and electronics at their considerable best. My remarks about the demise of CES notwithstanding, it was worth coming to Vegas just to hear this system.
1, 2, 3: Jonathan Valin and Julie Mullins of TAS
4 & 5: Jonathan Valin and Vladimir Lamm
6: John Atkinson of Stereophile
7: Peter Breuninger of AVShowroom.com
8 & 9: Mike Fremer of Stereophile and Vladimir Lamm
10 & 11: Marc Mickelson of TheAudioBeat.com
1. Vladimir Lamm. 2. Elina Lamm.
3. Charles Rollo (Aqua Acoustic dealer), Vladimir Lamm, Cristian Anelli (Aqua Acoustic designer), Mark Sossa (Aqua Acoustic distributor).
4. Cristian Anelli (Aqua Acoustic designer), Mark Sossa (Aqua Acoustic distributor), Vladimir Lamm, Charles Rollo (Aqua Acoustic dealer).
5. Vladimir Lamm, Jonathan Resnick of Hi-Fi Direct.
6. Mike O’Keefe of Hi-Fi Direct, Vladimir Lamm, Jonathan Resnick of Hi-Fi Direct.