Lamm M2.1 Monoblock Amplifiers
by Marc Mickelson
Among the subjects creating a buzz at CES 98 was the introduction of new "super amps" by Krell, Boulder, Pass Labs, and Classé, among other companies. These were generally very big, very heavy amplifiers that not coincidentally were also very expensive. I didnt get to hear or see the Krell, Boulder, or Classé models, and when I visited the Pass Labs room, the X1000 was on soundless display only. However, a brand of amplifier I did get to hear a lot of was Lamm. Vladimir Shurshurins super amps were used in four rooms, including his own, and I can say from first-ear experience that they contributed to great sound in every case.
Three pairs of Lamm ML1s ($19,980/pair) were in use, as was a single pair of the magnificent Lamm M1.1s ($15,890/pair). The only amp in the Lamm stable not in use was the M2.1 ($15,090/pair), the highly biased class A/AB twin of the M1.1. Although the M2.1s look identical to the M1.1s, operate in the same manner, and use 99% of the same parts, they are more powerfuldelivering 200W into 4- and 8-ohm loads to the M1.1s 100Wand draw less power at idle, about 220W each. They also run cooler than the M1.1s, which can really put out heat for a solid-state design. Most significantly, the M2.1s operate in class A only for their first 36W and then switch to class AB up to their full output. Like the M1.1s, the M2.1s are hybrids, employing a single Russian mil-spec 6922 tube in each amp. They are large and heavy, but at least they include handles on both the front and back that make moving them a bit easier.
How do they sound in comparison to the M1.1s? Very, very, very closein fact, on most program material and at most volume levels, they are identical in sound to the M1.1s. The only differences I recognized were slight. The bass of the M2.1s retains the phenomenal depth and punch of the M1.1s, but to my ears its a touch tighterbut only a touch. CDs like Suzanne Vegas Nine Objects of Desire (A&M 31454 0583 2), with its prominent and somewhat fuzzy bass, sounded a little more controlled. I also enjoyed this small amount of added low-end tautness on Pete Droge & The Sinners Find a Door (American 9 43085-2), which is jangly guitar popwith touches of 60 psychedelia and the blues mixed inat its best.
The other difference in sound between the brothers Lamm is in the treble, where the M2.1s, when pushed to their limits, can sound the slightest bit hard compared to the M1.1s. But, to reiterate, this occurs only when the amps are really pushed, delivering nearly 100dB peaks, a volume level at which no sane audiophile would listen for any more than a few minutes. Again, with most music at reasonable-to-loud volume levels, the M2.1s retain all of the exemplary qualities of the M1.1s: powerful bass, a dimensional and real midrange, outstanding retrieval of low-level detail, a notable lack of grain and glare. The twin analogy makes perfect sense in regard to the Lamm M2.1s and M1.1s because only to the people who know them best or who listen to them side by side would they be recognizably differentand then only in the smallest of ways.
But, given the differences, would I recommend one amp over the other? I would lean toward the M1.1s because of the points I mentionI happen to prefer the bass of the M1.1sbut if you have inefficient speakers that are a brutal load and a room the size of a barn, the M2.1s would probably be more appropriatealthough the M1.1s dont lack for overall power one bit. The M2.1s cost $800 less a pair, although I cant imagine that anyone who endeavors to make the financial climb up Mount Super Amplifier would stop short to save $800. But then again, the M2.1s really arent a compromise. I can understand why someone would pick them over the M1.1s because of their greater power output. In either case, you cant go wrong.
One word of warning: If you own a pair of M1.1s and youre thinking that biamping with the M2.1s sounds like a good idea given what I say about their slightly tighter bass, dont try it unless youre prepared to buy them. It works, and I seriously doubt that youll ever biamp with any single amplifiers or pairs of monoblocks that will deliver sound thats better in any absolute way (and this should be expected for the $30,000 that the two pairs of amps cost). However, because the M2.1s have a higher input sensitivity, youll have to compensate for this by running a single-ended signal to them and a balanced signal to the M1.1s. This will work properly, equalizing the output level of both pairs of amps when the sound reaches your speakers, provided that the balanced outputs from your preamp have double the voltage gain of the single-ended outputs (this is the case with many high-quality preamps). To make things easy, the Lamm L1 linestage worked perfectly in this regard.
The Lamm M2.1s, like the M1.1s, are amplifiers to buy and forget about. Theyre made to withstand two decades or more of use, can drive any speaker in existence to deafening levels, and sound like music itself. Theyre not cheap, but in super-amp territory, nothing is. Highlyand enthusiasticallyrecommended.
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