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LL2 preamplifier

as reviewed by Larry Cox and Francisco Duran


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Majeel Labs Pristine S-10 amplifier and the E.A.R. 802 preamplifier.

Pioneer DV 525 dvd player.

Quattro Fil interconnects and speaker cables made from Belden 1219A wire.

API Power Pack and ACPEAM line conditioners. BDR cones.


one.jpg (6551 bytes)Straight up, I’m discovering, is how I like my audio, warts and all. I want music without any additives, even when it doesn’t sound nice. This is why I love the Lamm LL2 preamp. What I get with this preamp in my system (along with my new Audio Note CD 3 CD player) is music, sometimes distorted, sometimes flat, sometimes noisy, but always sounding like music, even when recorded poorly.

The LL2 looks like a laboratory instrument. Like a Model A Ford, you can have it in any color you want, as long at it is black. Two handles for rack mounting, simple white lettering, and a few chrome toggle switches are all that adorn the front. The toggles choose the direct input (which allows you to bypass the active parts of the preamp), line one, or line two, with another toggle for the tape loop, and a mute switch for the power up and down cycles. There is a visually identical deluxe version with an upgraded power supply and polysterene caps paralleling the film caps. The LL2 on hand here is the basic unit, retailing for a somewhat lofty $3990; the deluxe unit is a few hundred dollars more. The preamp uses two 12AU7s, two 6DJ8s, and a 6X4/6202 tube for voltage rectification. The first four tubes will be easy enough to replace, the latter, I expect, can be replaced through Lamm.

The LL2 provided a "just the facts" presentation. While that might sound underwhelming, it is the highest praise I can express. I heard more of the texture of instruments than I do with my E.A.R. 802 preamp, with an Air Tight ATC-3, and with a Reference Line Preeminence 1A passive preamp. The texture and richness of instruments was extraordinarily revealing, and while not always nice, it brought me closer to the experience of real music. Not Technicolor, but actual colors and textures were presented, spot on. ATC and Quad loudspeakers and the Lamm LL2 all have something in common—they are musical but not euphonic. I can hear poor recordings break up when these components are in my system. However, those extraneous sounds are presented like artifacts, separate from the music. Listening to music with ATC, Quad, and Lamm gear is like being at a party with two very discrete conversations going on simultaneously. The music in the foreground is easily intelligible, while in the background, effortlessly recognized as separate from the music, is noise, recording quality, etc.

Imaging was spectacular, and made the placing and re-placing of speaker positions easy. The music was so "in the room," it seemed like the speakers were unnecessary bits of furniture which had no part in making music. Images were always behind the speakers. Image depth was uncluttered, with space around instruments and players. My E.A.R. preamp sends performers a little further back from the speakers, though the images are a little less clearly specified. While the imaging of the LL2 was a pretty extraordinary experience, it remained a secondary concern, taking a back seat to tonal balance. Frequency extension was laboratory correct. Initially, bass seemed lighter in weight and depth than with my E.A.R. or the Air Tight. However, repeated listening let me know that while the bottom end of the other preamps were fuller, they were also slower and less distinctly drawn. (As an aside, my speakers really need 250 watts to have control of the bottom end, and the 100-watt Pristine S-A10 amp just doesn’t have the power. Happily, we got a 200-watt ATC amp in for review, and with that amp, the bass performance of the Lamm pulled ahead.)

In my experience, there is something unique about hearing music live that is rarely captured by audio systems. Listen to almost any live music, even if the music is not the sort you normally like, and it is of at least passing interest. The same isn’t so with most home audio. With most home stereos, if I have no interest in the genre of music, it is hard to muster any attention for it. Not so with the Lamm/ATC match. Almost everything in my music collection was interesting. CDs that were being marched off for resale at Penny Lane received a stay of execution.

The Lamm presented music on the upper end of things with bite but no etching, hardness, or silvery cleanliness. Hard to criticize. The midrange, where musical life can be glorious or boring, was magnificent. Timbre was so excellent that it, rather than transients, created the impression of a live event in my room. At $3990, the Lamm will take a well-oiled wallet, but I’d think that the ability to have Frank Sinatra, Peter Gabriel, or Django Reinhardt performing in your room nightly would be a great enticement. If we were to have Golden Ear Awards or Recommended Component Lists, the Lamm LL2 would be one of my top choices. Larry Cox





ProAc Response 2 with Osiris 24" stands.

Monarchy SM-70 amplifiers (mono). Reference Line Preeminence lA passive line stage.

Musical Concepts’ Pioneer DV414 DVD Epoch VII Signature player. Taddeo Digital Antidote Two.

Superconductor+ interconnects and a double run of JPS Ultraconductor speaker cables.

Panamax power conditioning. BDR cones and Vibrapods.


two.jpg (6646 bytes)The Lamm LL2 arrived while I was recovering from a car accident. In the shape I was in, I had to have help installing it into my system. I also longed for a remote control! On the FAQ page on Lamm’s website it states: "All Lamm models are equipped with internally built power line filters of high quality." They feel that their equipment works best plugged directly into the wall, but unfortunately I did not discover this until after I had auditioned the LL2, so I listened to it plugged in to one of my Richard Gray units. I would have gladly traded the internally built power line filter for a remote, but no such luck. The looks of this unit strike me as more "industrial grade" than luxurious, but don’t let its exterior fool you. Inside this black box lurks the heart of a diva.

I first had the LL2 hooked up to one of my Monarchy SM70 amps. The sound was fine—fast, clean and agile—but the more I listened to this combo, the more I felt that the timbre was slightly off. The music sounded a little thin. I felt that my Monarchy amp was a little to blame for this, so I switched to my newly-acquired Antique Sound Labs MGSPM25DTs to see what would happen. These little 25-watt, single-ended KT88 monoblocks perform way beyond their pedigree, so I felt confident mating them with the multi-buck Lamm. The verdict? No matter the amp, I still heard thinness and a slight shift of musical timbre. Then, after running the LL2 with everything including the TV on a daily basis for about two weeks, a change occurred. The slightly thin, analytical character changed to a warmer, more full, and more musical sound. This was more like it! I hate audio equipment break-in stories, so I mention this because the last guy who passed this unit to me said that it was already broken in. Maybe in your system, bubba!

Another possible cause for the thinness was the Norh CD-1 CD player I was using at the time. Since the Norh has two tubes in its output stage, like a good boy I turned it off every night after listening. It was only after leaving the Norh on continuously (per their instructions on their web site), then playing music through it, that the sound changed for the better. It is always a good idea to follow the instructions (if they are in the box) as much as possible. How much better or different the Lamm would have sounded plugged straight into the wall is a matter for speculation.

The LL2 reproduces music in a clear and distinct manner. I heard very little coloration with this unit. Because it is an all-tube design, I kept thinking that it would sound overly warm and slightly euphonic. That was not the case. For instance, on my David Fathead Newman CD Chillin (Highnote Records), the tenor, soprano, and alto saxes that he plays on various tracks were clean and distinct. Each musician weaves together as a musical whole, but individuals can be easily picked out of the musical soup and followed with ease. The sound is clean but inviting. The LL2 let me hear all the subtle changes in Coltrane’s playing that makes numbers such as" My Favorite Things" sound fresh. Of course, I don’t need much coaxing from any piece of gear for that one, as it is one of my favorites! The interplay between Coltrane and McCoy Tyner with his interweaving piano was very easy to follow. I got into the groove on this track.

Steve Rodby’s bass on any number of my Pat Methney CDs sounded tuneful and taut. The LL2 handled the rhythm of the music well, reproducing the lower frequencies in a fast and clean manner, and with ample texture. This clean, dynamic signature also reached into the midrange and treble regions. Guitars and cymbals sounded extended and clean, with a touch of warmth and plenty of atmosphere as opposed to flat or bright. After my son slapped on his Mortal Combat Soundtrack CD, I was glad the LL2 handled the top end in this fashion. Even the high-pitched screaming of Judas Priest’s Rob Halford had a clean, natural timbre. The top end was never bright. Dynamics were also a strong point of this preamp. When a percussion instrument is struck or a guitar strummed, there is no overhang or slowness. With jazz combos or large orchestras, the LL2 proved well-balanced and coherent. Stravinsky’s Petrushka on Naxos sounded vivid.

Just for the fun of it, I replaced the LL2 with my Reference Line passive. My passive is a very clear and transparent sounding unit, but the music was missing a slight amount of fullness, texture, and sweetness compared to the LL2. Dynamics on the whole sounded a bit flatter than with the LL2, which comes as no surprise. What was surprising was the quiet background of the Lamm. It takes quite a preamp to even approach the silent background of my passive, but the Lamm came close.

In my system, the Lamm LL2 reproduced music in a tight, very clean, and very detailed manner. Expecting a lush sound from it, instead I heard a sound that leaned the opposite way. If this is what you want in an all-tube unit, the LL2 could be your cup of tea.
Francisco Duran




Lamm LL2 preamplifier
Retail $3990

Lamm Industries
TEL: 718. 368. 0181
web site:
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