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Positive Feedback ISSUE 51
september/october 2010

audiodiscourse

 

Impressions:  Final Reflections on the Lamm LP2 Deluxe Phono Preamplifier
by David W. Robinson

[All photographs and image processing by Robinson, unless otherwise noted; cartoon by Daniel Zimmerman.]

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The Lamm LP2 Phono Preamplifier on the Critical Mass Systems Black Platinum PXK Direct Coupling System.

In medias res…

"Sherman, set the Wayback machine for 2008…"

Yep, that'll do it. Over the event horizon, and down into the gravity well where some of my best good intentions have ended up over the years. You know:  right there next to various writing and editing projects, my oft-deferred book (main body done; excise the garbage phase underway, while my publisher waits patiently), tons of photographic work, mountains of music to listen to, teaching to be done, and… oh yes… other review projects. Back over there and then is where my notes about the Lamm LP2 have been blammoed since my move to Virginia—and then my quick move back when the US economy apparently decided that it should jump over the event horizon into a black hole, too.

Five months out and back, ending up where I started, thanks to an over-leveraged economy and some right folks-who-were-probably-spawned-illegitimately and who apparently have neither clue nor conscience. (I suspect that some souls got lost along the way, as well.) It's been a ride, that's for sure, but the whole episode left a giant hole in the rhythm of my writing, as I've had to piece together a whole new way of making a living by teaching hither and yon at the university level. Slow but sure, and over a year in the making so far.

Not to bleat at you… very many have it far worse than I do…but just to explain why these notes skidded to the sidelines. I was able to give the Lamm LP2 a belated Brutus Award for 2008 right after I returned to Oregon (February, 2009; see my initial comments in PFO Issue 41, at http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue41/brutus_awards.htm). Apart from that, the convergence of time and energy wasn't to be found.

Until now, that is. It's time to share some final reflections about this very fine phono preamp with you…

Associated system

At the time, the Lamm LP2 was part of a review project that included some stellar components. The turntable was the Continuum Criterion turntable with the Copperhead tonearm. At the originating end of the line was the Air Tight PC-1 MC cartridge feeding the Lamm LP2 Phono Preamp, which then cascaded to the superb mbl 6010D reference preamp. This, in turn, spilled over into a pair of mbl 9008 stereo amps running in monoblock mode, and from thence into a pair of mbl 101E Radialstrahler omni-directional speakers.

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The mbl 9008 amplifers and the 101 Radialstrahlers used with the Lamm LP2 Deluxe.

One would expect the synergy of the mbl system to be excellent, and it was. As I noted in my separate 2008 Brutus Awards for mbl (also in Issue 41; see http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue41/brutus_awards.htm):

Without doubt, I'd have to put the mbl system that I listened to in the spring and summer of 2008 at the top of my list for Brutus Awards in 2008, both for individual components and for the synergy of the ensemble. On the mbl Brutus Award list, one for each, plus a Brutus for the superlative synergy of the parts (total, four awards):

mbl 101E Radialstrahler omni-directional loudspeakers

mbl 6010D preamplifier with balanced input and phono amp option modules

mbl 9008A stereo/monoblock amplifiers

And this surprised me quite a lot, I have to confess. My previous experiences with mbl components at audio show from 2006 and back had been uniformly underwhelming. Of course, "show sound" can notoriously misleading, as I've said many times before. Terrible rooms and acoustics, neighbors next door and across the hall playing the "my sound and music is bigger than yours" game, crummy power, no warm-up time, lousy synergies produced by last-minute alliances of mutual desperation among exhibitors, visitors who won't shut up, won't leave, and won't take a hint… that sort of thing makes assessing what you're hearing very difficult. But allowing for all that, my visits to mbl rooms in the past had given me the impression of hard-edged, forward, and overly analytical audio presentation. I always kept walking.

Until RMAF 2007, that is. Right at the end of that show, I got a brief few minutes in an incredibly over-crowded mbl demo room, and was extremely impressed at the combination of transparency and musicality that I could make out. mbl USA was kind enough to cooperate with PFO in shipping a pair of 101E speakers, a pair of 9008A monoblocks, and a 6010D preamp.

The results in my listening room were nothing less than spectacular. The omni-directional presentation of the 101Es, in tandem with the mbl preamp and amps (nearly 1000 watts at 2 ohms, with double power cords), power cabling by Silent Source, interconnect and speaker cabling by JENA Labs, preamp power conditioning and amp stands by Walker Audio, provided an experience of effortless power, incredible transparency, immersive imaging, and real musical heart that was certainly in the top five all-time of "audio systems that I have known and loved."

On second thought, maybe in the top three.

Given the responses of the visitors I had to my listening room while it was here, I'd say that the mbl system was the single most popular system that I've reviewed. The "Wow!" factor is huge… the visual impact of the mbl 101Es is pretty hard to top… but the response of visitors was even stronger while listening. I had family members and other troopers-through who insisted that it was the best thing they'd heard in my room, ever. I'm not sure about that, but "top three" is likely. The most significant indicator: I listened to a lot of music while mbl was here, because I really wanted to. Not because I had to. Regardless of source …and I used a fair number of them, both analog and digital …the results were always extremely seductive.

And in fine audio, "seductive" beats whatever's in second place.

The only component that wasn't mbl in this chain for LP playback was the Lamm LP2. In fact, you can think of these reflections as a final meditation on the LP2—a sort of "Part 2" of my long commentary on the Continuum Criterion that I published in Issue 45 (see http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue45/continuum.htm). I do this from the perspective of currently having the Criterion turntable and Copperhead tonearm in for a return visit, this time equipped with the brilliant Ortofon A-90 MC and coupled with the exceptional darTZeel phono amp section in their NHB-18NS preamp. This has given me a broader feel for the virtues of the Lamm LP2 Deluxe.

Notes follow.

Lamm LP2 Deluxe Description

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The Lamm LP2 (photograph courtesy of Lamm Industries, Inc.)

The LP2 Deluxe is a dual-mono vacuum tube phono preamp, operating in single-ended, pure Class A mode. The tube complement is composed of two sets of 417A and 5842 tubes per channel. There is no loop feedback employed in the circuitry. Lamm states that the LP2 uses a highly accurate passive RIAA EQ network to provide proper playback of RIAA LPs.

Physically, the front of the LP2 has a pair of hoist handles, and a red LED to indicate that the power is on; otherwise, there are no switches or other indicators. There are two pairs of gold-plated RCA inputs on the back of the LP2, one for MC and one for MM; note that these are non-inverting of phase from front to back. Gain is specified at 57.5dB for MC, and 37.65 for MM. Input impedance is 400 Ohms for MC, and 47kOhms for MM. Unlike some more flexible phono amps with front panel controls for switchable parameters, the LP2 Deluxe does not have variable loading or volume control. The LP2 Deluxe does have an input/sensitivity switch for each channel to toggle from MC to MM. The power supply storage for the regular version of the LP2 is 125 Joules; for the deluxe version (reviewed here), the rating is 150 Joules. The rear panel also has a grounding post for earth, and a separate grounding post for the feed from the turntable. A helpful feature in the LP2 Deluxe is its auto-muting function, which immediately applies mute to power-on, power-off, and AC drop. Not every phono amp is this intelligent.

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Rear view of the Lamm LP2 Deluxe (photograph courtesy of Lamm Industries, Inc.)

Internally, the LP2 Deluxe has mil-spec circuit boards, with very tough construction. No thin and crummy foundation here; Lamm is using some serious green board, as should be.

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Interior of the Lamm LP2, from above (photograph courtesy of Lamm Industries, Inc.)

The power supply is internally switchable for 100/120/220/230/240 Volts AC, with +/- 10% allowance.

Lamm claims that all LP2's are burned-in at the factory for a minimum of 72 hours, though they recommend a further 200 hours by the end-user. Warm-up time is specified at a minimum of 45 minutes; me, I never turned it off. Its power consumption of 70 Watts was an acceptable exchange for being ready for vinyl at all times; you may make a different decision, of course.

The LP2 Deluxe has some important upgrades over the standard model. Not only is the power storage increased from 125 to 150 Joules, but also all capacitors in the signal path are bypassed with high quality polystyrene caps, and significant damping is applied to the chassis panel to neutralize vibration. There must be quite a lot of damping involved; the LP2 Deluxe is a heavy customer! The regular version specs at 22 pounds, while the Deluxe tips the balance beam at nearly 42 pounds. I certainly found the unit to be very inert while I was handling and tapping it… very solid. But be careful when moving the LP2 Deluxe; drop this one, and whatever is underneath (your floor, your foot, the local Fido) is at serious risk.

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(Photograph courtesy of Lamm Industries, Inc.)

The Sound

As I cited earlier, I commented on the signal chains in which I got to hear the LP2 Deluxe back in Issue 41. The path was made up of the Air Tight PC-1 MC cartridge à Continuum Copperhead à Continuum Criterion (on Finite Elemente Pagoda Master Reference Rack) à Lamm LP2 Deluxe Phono Amp (on first the Critical Mass Systems Black Label Grand Master Stand, followed by the Critical Mass Systems PXK Rack System) à mbl 6010D reference preamp à pair of mbl 9008 stereo amps in monoblock dual power cord mode à mbl 101E Radialstahler omni-directional speakers. Power conditioning on the source side was provided by a Walker Audio Velocitor; the amplification (2x2 power cords, all Silent Source) was directly plugged into two separate 20 Amp dedicated circuits. (For all other details, see my review in Issue 41.)

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The gorgeous mbl 6010D reference preamplifier, which took the signal from the Lamm LP2 Deluxe:  it sounds every bit as good as it looks!

As I mentioned in my major review of the Continuum/mbl/Lamm system back in Issue 45, (see http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue45/continuum.htm) I tossed a ton of favorite LPs at the LP2 Deluxe. Classic MoFi's including the Beatles, the Stones, Frank Sinatra, and some of their Anadisq 200+ gram LPs; Analogue Productions reissues; some of my DCC Compact Classic LPs; various Classic Records reissues; and even some test pressings and vintage stuff ranging all the way back to the ‘60s. Over time, I got something of a feel for what the LP2 Deluxe was doing, particularly as I've since had a chance to revisit the Criterion/Copperhead combination with the Ortofon A-90 and the darTZeel NHB-18NS preamp and MC phono section.

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The Lamm LP2 Deluxe phono amp on its earlier rack, a Critical Mass Systems Grandmaster Black (later replaced by the superior PXK Rack), looking down upon the Continuum Criterion/Copperhead/Air Tight PC-1. Watercolor variant image by Robinson.

"Wait a minute! Apples and oranges! No fair!" I can hear it already.

And if that's you, you'd be right…but maybe not completely. I've spent very significant time with darTZeel before, and again now, and think that I have a sense of the flavor of that family of components. (My comments on this time around with darTZeel will be published later in the year.) There is a distinctive feel to the Lamm components that I've heard thus far, and I'd like to isolate it if I can.

Before that, however, here are some basic observations. The LP2 Deluxe is quiet. As in, no hiss, hum, or other annoying artifacts at any reasonable playback level. I carefully took the mbl 6010D to scary volume levels with nothing on the Criterion turntable. No nasties; no hiss to be heard, and that was with nearly 500 Watts per channel via the pair of mbl 9008 monoblocks. I adjudged the Lamm LP2 Deluxe to be exceptional in this regard, which agrees experientially with their published noise specs of "better than 88dB," A weighted.

The gain of the LP2 Deluxe (57.5dB published spec) was well mated with the Air Tight PC-1's robust output of 0.6mV, providing all the volume that any sane person would want. Ultra-low output MCs (<0.30mV) might want to check the rest of the system before proceeding, however; as always, factors like the type of music and volume levels preferred, the length of interconnects, the quality of the amplifier-speaker interface, and the efficiency of the loudspeakers should be considered. 57.5dB gain is good, but might be marginal with flea-output MCs. Overall, there were no problems driving the signal from the LP2 Deluxe to the mbl 6010 line section via a one-meter pair of JENA Labs symphony interconnect cables.

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In good company:  the Lamm LP2 Deluxe on the Critical Mass Systems PXK Rack with the EMM Labs CDSD SE transport and DCC2 SE preamp/DAC.

As I've reflected upon the sound of the Lamm LP2 Deluxe in contrast with the darTZeel phono section in the NHB-18NS preamp (which is different in feel), I believe I've found a common denominator between the sound of the Lamm LP2 with the sonic signature of the Lamm M1.2 reference monoblocks. (For my notes on these, see PFO Issue 34 at http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue34/lamm_1.2.htm.) Like its amplifying brethren, the LP2 Deluxe seems to impart just a kiss, just a touch of warmth to LP playback. No euphony… nothing sappy, syrupy or overly saccharine… just a lovely resonance that I find to be irresistible. Like the M1.2 reference monoblocks, it brought out a harmonic richness in the Criterion/Copperhead/PC-1 combination. There was a velvety tone to strings that was quite welcome at all times. The Classic Records reissue of the RCA Scheherazade, a long-standing reference in these parts, was alluring instead of steely. Nick Drake's reissue LPs (Five Leaves Left, Bryter Later, and Pink Moon, all lovely treasures), had the feel of real presence, combining tonal warmth with precision in rendering the detail of Drake's marvelous finger-picking. "River Man," "Pink Moon," and "Cello Song" all touched my heart, as well as my ears.

air tight

The very fine Air tight PC-1 groove glides to feed the Lamm LP2 Deluxe. Ink-outline variant processing by Robinson.

On the other hand, the LP2 was dynamic and punchy when needed. The reissue of Glory sounded magnificent, with the percussives of the vintage-type sheepskin drumheads causing no overload at all to Lamm, and the boys' choir bringing visions of heaven. Likewise the Classic Records reissue of Witches Brew pushed the limits of analog without breaking the envelope; there was no glassing up of orchestral climaxes, just the delivery of the music with aplomb. Ditto my EP reissue of Louis Armstrong's dynamite "St. James Infirmary":  my, oh my! (Thanks again to Positive Feedback audiobud and long-time friend for bringing this recording to my attention… I owe you one, amigo!)

The soundstaging and imaging delivered via the mbl/Lamm synergy was exceptional. The mbl 101D Radialstrahler omnidirectional speakers were unbelievable in their ability to project a powerful sense of three dimensionality in my listening room, and would have been merciless on any upstream source that could not deliver the goods. One of my acid tests for LP playback in this regard is my Alto reissue box set of the Ataulfo Argenta Edition. The LP of the Concierto de Aranjuez and Noches en los Jardines de España are brilliant performances, recorded in such a way that the richness and sense of space in the hall is hauntingly portrayed when played back in a reference-grade system.

I should note in passing that the above final reflections are based upon what I heard with the LP2 Deluxe in its final resting place, the top shelf of Joe Lavrencik's exceptional Critical Mass Systems PXK Rack. If you don't think that state-of-the-art equipment racks make a difference…think again! And don't put the LP2 Deluxe on a junk rack; it will not be happy.

Conclusion

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In conclusion, what to say?

Overall, I can say that Lamm's published specifications, which are encyclopedic, and set a standard for completeness that I wish other fine audio companies would emulate, matched what I was hearing while listening through the LP2 Deluxe. I would have expected a phono amp that was nearly silent in its noise floor, rich, dynamic, with plenty of gain for my LPs even with lower output MCs. In no wise was I disappointed, even with the LP2 Deluxe strapped into accompanying equipment that would have tipped the financial balance beam at over $150,000. The Continuum Criterion is one of the most stable and linear turntables on the planet…and I could hear that plainly. Through it all, the Lamm LP2 Deluxe simply sat their quietly, and always provided exceptional signal for all the LPs that passed through. Very, very impressive.

There's simply no doubt that the combination of mbl plus Lamm's LP2 Deluxe phono amp constituting the playback chain in my listening room was one of the best that I've heard in nearly 25 years of listening. In every aspect, I found the Lamm LP2 Deluxe phono amp to be unforgettable.

In fact, I am still remembering it with pleasure two years later; take that retrospective perspective for what it's worth.

If you are looking for a world-class phono amp, one that will never leave you high and dry, you really ought to give very serious consideration to the Lamm LP2 Deluxe. It's one of the best, richly meriting its Brutus Award, and Ye Olde Editor's "Highest Recommendation!"

Enthusiastically!

Current price:  Contact Lamm Industries or your Lamm dealer for the latest pricing.

Lamm Industries, Inc.
2621 East 24th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11235 USA
TEL: (718) 368-0181
Web:  www.lammindustries.com
Email: lamm.industries@verizon.net


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