By Dr. Panagiotis Karavitis
There are legends in the hi-fi industry as in everything else. There is one, concerning a well-known US-based designer and his obsession for air transport as being the only safe way for shipping his enormous crates filled with tube amps. Then there is another legend, about a company who produces the same phono stage for more than 10 years and never changed a bit in the design. People say that this company rarely changes something in the original design.
Funny thing, both legends are real and they even have a name behind them. The name is a legend itself, Vladimir Lamm. Phono stage goes by the code name LP2 (there is also an LP1, a triple chassis design that costs some 32.K $).
As far as the second legend goes, the LP2 is a simple machine both for the looks and the usage. You can have it in any color you want, as long as your choice is black. The chassis is very well-built, massive to say the least. On the front quarter of an inch thick plate, you will find nothing but a red power indicator LED and a pair of handles. You might think that the handles are there only to show off but you will be surprised to know that they actually serve. This is an 18 kgr (41.5 Lbs) phono after all.
Things are not complicated on the back either. There are 2 inputs, one for MM (set at 200 pF and standard 47 KOhm) and the other for MC (400 Ohm loading) cartridge. As this is a dual mono design, you get a double input selector, one for each channel. A double ground connection is available, the “classic” for the tonearm cable, while the secondary serves for grounding the phono stage itself to an external ground. This was not necessary in my setup as the phono was almost as quiet as my battery operated ASR basis. Power switch is also in the back, not so comfortable if you intend on positioning the phono in the lower part of your rack.
Compared to the standard version, which weighs 10 kg (18.8 Lbs), the Deluxe differs in having a heavy plate underneath the main circuit which acts as damper for mechanical vibrations, while higher quality polystyrene capacitors are employed and slightly bigger power reserves complete the package. Unlike other brands, the Lamm deluxe version costs only a few hundred $ more than the basic one, in fact they practically sell only Deluxe versions.
Looking a bit closer in the guts of the LP2, I could not but admire the single, huge pcb, the tube rectification (6X4/6202 tube), the dual mono architecture and the quality of the passive components used throughout (including DALE and PRC resistors, ELECTROCUBE and ROEDERSTEIN film capacitors and high frequency switching grade CORNELL DUBILIER electrolytics). This clearly is one of those machines that you get the feeling it will never fail you. RIAA network is passive C-R type.
Interesting enough, the Plitron transformer can handle all types of mains voltage and frequency, the selection can be done by moving a single fuse to the required slot.
Technically speaking this is a pure vacuum tube, class A design, with no negative feedback (the heavy lifting amplification gets done by tubes, Raytheon JAN 5842 WA Black plates in the review sample). Unlike the NVO SPA one reviewed a few months ago, the MC gain stage is handled by Jensen step up transformers. This is a more conventional way for attaining a proper low signal amplification, meaning eliminating the first stage’s noise while adding those necessary 20 dBs to the MM design in order to achieve a sufficient gain for the majority of MC cartridges. Declared values are 37.65+-0.2 dB of gain for the MM stage and 57.5+-0.2 dB for the MC stage. There is an issue here, for this kind of money a phono stage is supposed to provide a wide set of adjustments in order to accommodate all kind of carts. Well, Lamm is a legend also for not walking the beaten road. The LP2 has no adjustment settings. None, niet, zero. The only option available is to order the LP2 with a different sensitivity step up transformer, which can be installed at the time of the order at no extra cost in the factory (it is still possible to change the SUT afterwards, but at an additional cost). This translates in a limited range of usable carts. How limited? Not by much. Having in hand the standard version, the only cart I had problems with is my Fidelity Research PMC-1 which, like the modern Ikeda designs, is an air core moving coil that ouputs a vanishingly low 0.17 mV. I can only think of just a few other commercially interesting carts that have similar specifications, the Denon DL-S1/ DL-304 and some Jan Allaerts designs which challenge the limits of insanity with sub 0.20 mV output. With these, unless you have a very (and I mean very) capable pre amp, the standard (57.5 dB gain) LP2 is better left out of the equation. Unless you intend on using only extremely low output MCs and order the higher gain SUTs installed. On the other hand this phono has a huge overload margin and I used with great success the 1.0 mV high output MC EMT JSD-6 with which I did most of my listening, the Denon 103R did the rest (my specimen measures a perfect 0.27 mV per channel and it was more than enough for driving the phono). If you like numbers, please read the full set of measurements done by Bascom King for Lamm here.
Some long-awaited listening
If all these technicalities got you bored, I’m afraid you will have to wait just a little bit more. Personally, I hate waiting. Not for the 45 seconds of blinking (time delay) from power up to operation mode, it ain’t much, but Lamm does recommend at least 30-45 minutes of “warming up” in order to get the best possible sound. Who am I to go against Lamm’s recommendations? So on each session, I switched on both my radio and the phono and by the time I got disgusted by the commercials the phono was ready to go.
I started my listening sessions with a moving magnet cartridge, I always do. I know what you are thinking, who on earth buys a 7.790 $ phono stage to use it with MM cartridges? You are right, just about no one, but then not everyone is familiar with Audio Technica’s 20 SLa design. This is nothing else than the cherry picked, best measuring version of AT-15, former top of the line back in the late 70’s. On my “black beauty” TT I keep the AT 20 SLa with matching AT 1100 oil damped straight tonearm. The two have a perfect synergy with a resonance frequency of 10 Hz.
Some things are common knowledge among designers and audiophiles. One of these “concepts” is that the dual mono configuration guarantees perfect channel separation. This black box amazed me more than once in the way it presented things in stereo. There are moments when you hear the music gently moving from one speakers to the other. More like a shift of a scant amount of dBs that creates the magical feeling of space in the recording. The case was with Jestofunks 45rpm “I’m Gonna Love You” (IRMA records of Italy) where the sax was moving from one direction of the center stage to the other and not always directly facing the microphone. This is not the kind of movement that you get in say, electronic music where the entire reproduction moves from one speaker to the other in such an artificial way, it has more to do with the ability of the phono (along with the rest of the system and AT dual magnet cart with 30 dB of channel separation) to pin point the artists movements, his position in front of the microphone, the swings he performs when pushing air into the sax, even the way he looks at the other components of the band from left to right, in order to blend together.
From acid jazz to classic jazz and from the AT to the Denon, with Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” (Impulse records GR-155 re-issue) that was meant to showcase some pure Trane sax. Full stop here, it was Elvis Jones with his cymbals that made my ears pop. Beautiful extension and clear sound, a rattle so gentle yet rhythmic that almost overtook the center stage from the rest of the quartet. The higher frequencies and treble are not what made the 103 family famous but the LP2 still managed to squeeze out every last drop of bell bronze vibration. Playing the same record with the EMT cart revealed the same attributes but with what I would call a “denser”, punchier sound with better defined bass and overall stronger presence.
During the review period I was preparing for Carlos Almaguer who would be going on stage here in Athens at what appears to be his perfect role, the Rigoletto. Unfortunately I do not own a recording by Almaguer so I studied on the classic Serafin/ Gobbi/ Callas/ Di Stefano EMI set. I Gave it a spin (and two and three) with both the Denon and the EMT and discovered how beautifully the Lamm manages the crescendos in Di Stefano’s voice. There was something in my system that it was hard to describe. The ease music was floating was a first for me. Compared to the ASR Basis which acts as my personal reference the music was maybe a bit less dynamic, less explosive but it was also more relaxed. Lamm’s LP2 gave me the impression that it never tried to emphasize one aspect of the reproduction at handicap of another and at the same time left me immersed in melodies, fashioned in a seamless musical cloth.
I admit that I enjoy listening to great recordings. Great by all standards. Not just the musical score but also impeccable in the technical process of capturing the exact sound of the instruments. Among my finest examples of black diamonds I easily place the work of Jurg Jecklin, former chief engineer at the Swiss Radio and famous for his recording invention, the Jecklin disk. What amazed me with the LP2 was the combination of two characteristics that are so hard to achieve but offer a sound experience close to perfect. You see, getting detail out of a record is not that hard, and having a relaxed, laid back if you prefer, sound is not that hard either, especially in tube designs. The toughest job is to get both at the same time. To prove my case i invite you to listen to Jecklin 208, that’s Scarlatti’s sonatas for cembalo with Goetz-Laurson playing a replica instrument of 1750 by Pascal Taskin. The recording is so detailed that you can easily listen well beyond the notes, to the pedals being pressed and the strings being released and literally creates the illusion of watching the soloist perform in front of you. On the other hand the sound of the cembalo has a natural extension in the mid-high frequencies that can be fatiguing for those not familiar with the sound. The LP2 never ever made me think of changing a record, I simply wanted more of the EMT-LP2 combination. Ended up spending a couple of weeks listening to Baroque favorites, Leonhardt’s works on Philips and Rampal’s on Erato records.
The cembalo finally left the stage to the more modern piano and Scarlatti was replaced by Rachmaninov and his 2nd concerto for piano. The audience was amazed back in the 19th century with the deep, pulsing notes produced by the hammers hitting on the piano strings and I was keen to test the lower octaves capabilities of the LP2. Now, there are two fantastic recordings one cannot possibly think of not having in his collection, Richter on DG and Ashkenazy on Decca. I might prefer Richter’s “airy” touch but when it comes to vivid dynamics and slamming bass Decca’s pressing is second to none. Just listen to those very first strikes opening the “Moderato” ! Maybe it is because of the big capacitance reserves or maybe it’s the Jensen step ups, but the LP2 proved to be more of a solid state design in terms of bass extension rather than a tube one.
The Decca record was the perfect battle field to compare the LP2 with the NVO SPA one. A battle won by the more expensive LP2, though not by much. Both phonos share the “industrial” look and both offer no gain settings. Similarities do not end here as the two phono stages are very musical, involving and offer the typical, slightly less aggressive presentation of tube designs. If you draw an imaginary line connecting your speakers, both these phonos put the stage a palm behind this line. In comparison my solid state ASR puts it a palm forward. The LP2 offered a lower noise floor than the NVO and on Ashkenazy’s notes showed a deeper, better defined bass extension. I believe that these attributes have something to do with the step up transformers implemented in Lamm’s design. On the other hand, the NVO presented a slightly more dynamic sound, we are talking minor details here, and this may have to do with the hybrid passive-active RIAA de-emphasis. On the Rigoletto recording the LP2 demonstrated a deeper soundstage when the Duke Of Mantua sang his famous canzone “La Donna e` Mobile” during the final tragic scene from the back ground. This is a very delicate scene, as the voice comes from far behind and the LP2 managed to create this tremendous illusion of depth while preserving excellent articulation.
That’s the LP2 Deluxe phono stage by Vladimir Lamm. Tubes with step up transformers, industrial design flying in wooden crates or if you prefer the perfect mix of effortless, delicate and detailed music reproduction.
Lamm LP2 Deluxe specifications
Rated Output Voltage F = 1KHz:
MM input to output 0.125 Volts RMS.
MC input to output 0.125 Volts RMS.
Voltage Gain F = 1KHz:
MM input to output 75.5 + 2% or 37.65 + 0.2dB.
MC input to output 750 + 2% or 57.5 + 0.2dB.
RIAA Accuracy from 20 Hz – 20 KHz: better than + 0.0 dB/-0.5 dB.
Total Harmonic Distortion from 20 Hz – 20 KHz; no more than 0.1%.
Input Sensitivity Vout=0.125 Volts RMS, F = 1KHz:
MM input: 1.66 millivolts RMS + 2%.
MC input: 0.167 millivolts RMS + 2%.
MM input: 47 KOhms shunted by 200 pF
MC input: 400 Ohms.
Corrected output impedance: typically 3.5 KOhms.
Signal-to-noise ratio, below 1 Volts RMS output, A weighted:
MM input to output (shorted input): better than 88dB.
MC input to output (shorted input): better than 87dB.
Absolute Phase: non-inverting.
Input voltage range: 100-240 Volts, 50/60Hz ±10%.
One power transformer; two filter chokes; one full-wave vacuum rectifier; one solid-state analog non-switching voltage regulator.
AC voltage intensively filtered by special RFI power line filter.
Power Supply Energy Storage deluxe version: approximately 150 Joules
AC voltage selector 100/120/220/230/240 Volts, internally switchable.
Safety: Unique electronic protection circuit enables muting of the outputs until the preamplifier is stabilized after a turn-on, and automatic switching to muting in case the AC line drops or is interrupted.
Power Consumption: Typically 70 Watts.
Burn-in Time at Factory: Minimum 72 hours.
Recommended Burn-in Time in end-user’s System: Minimum 100 hours.
Unit dimensions: 4.5 inches high x 19 inches wide x 13.875 deep + 1.375 inches for front handles.
Crate dimensions: 23″ x 19″ x 10″ (58.42cm x 48.26cm x 25.4cm)
Unit weight deluxe version: 41.5 Lbs (18.84 Kg).
Shipping weight deluxe version: 62.6 Lbs (28.42 Kg).
SRP: $7,790.00. (US market)
Associated equipment for this review
- Garrard 401 turntable/ SAEC 308 L tonearm + Denon 103R cartridge/ SME 3009 series II imporved tonearm + EMT JSD-6 cartridge
- DIY Black Beauty TT/ Audio Technica 1100 straight tonearm/ AT 20 SLa cartridge
- ATC SCM 40 speakers
- ASR Emitter I HD amplifier with external Akku
- ASR Basis phono stage
- NVO SPA one tube phono stage
- Nordost Flatline Gold speaker cables, Nordost Spellbinder IC , SAEC tonearm cable, SME tonearm cable, AT tonearm cable
About the Author
Born and raised in Athens, Dr. Panagiotis Karavitis is an ex-radio DJ turned pediatric ophthalmologist, and has a self-described healthy appetite for vinyl.
You can read more about Dr. Karavitis over on our Contributors page, and find him on Facebook.