Since I published the article “Preamplifiers: keys to mystery” I received many emails from my site visitors asking about Lamm prams and questioning my remarks in comparing what I said to “data form other sources”. Some people disagreed or surprised with my assessment, witch is fine. Ironically most of the “disagreed never owned L1/L2, were “just about to get one” or were juts plane Audio Asylum’s Idiots who would say anything juts for a sake of say it. Anyhow, I kept receiving emails, similar to what you are asking. Those questions are quite not b/w and in a way boring because they have to do with purchasing decisions. From other prospective the questions are reasonable because the L1/L2 saga is sort of complicated and there are very-very few people out there who would be able to clarify the subject. Furthermore, whatever was said about the L1/L2 in audio media and within Internet audio is mostly incorrect. Therefore, feeling a certain guilt for injecting doubts into the “peaceful world of audiophile believes” I think I need to fill up that virtual L1 vs L2 comparative chart.
I own both of the units and experimented not only with mine units but also with the L1/L2 of other’s people. Although I eventually got rid both of the preamps and I do not use any of them in my own playback (there is a lot of information why I come up with this decision within this site) I sincerely feel that both L1 and L2 are SUPERBLY GOOD BUYS. If their transparency from the certain perspective is not good but still it does worth to pay for them and to try them for a while in playback to learn about the benefits of the X-Factor – the unique quality that they posses and that does not exist in any other preamp. Consider the L1/L2 as the sound processors that although screw something up but they still do certain things the might be used beneficially.
L1 and L2 are different. They are essentially the very same preamps with different powers supplies, different some parts and the different price.
A used L1 nowadays cost ~ under $3K and if the Morons like me would not shut up then the price would be go even lower. L1 has a severe luck of transparency compare to L2 primary due to inadequate quality of the parts used and due to a huge among of superfluous switched that Vladimir placed in the signal path. None of the L1 input beside the “Direct” should be used as the “other” inputs create cruel detritions of sound. The preamp even when a single direct input is used has tendency to be dull, in some way noisy but it all together is superbly musical. This “dullness” is very different and it more would relate to ”lushness”, but still not regular lushness but an “intelligent lushness”. It has some sense of “dynamic distinctiveness” when sound go into dynamic complexity and everything else maintains its identity. The amplitude and the X-factor in L1 is enormous and the certain luck of transparency that L1 has creates a very complimentary masking effect that make the negative arteffects of the X-factor less observable. The L1 might be a very interesting project to bypass all those switches, change the attenuators for. If I use the L1 I would trash that Lamms PS supply with that slow 12AX7 and go for more serious and faster regulator amplifier and more interestingly sounding gas reference tube. However, even “as is” the L1, as a single input preamp it does worth $3K and it more music preamp then many other that cost 20 times as much.
The used L2 costs nowadays around $7300. This is a lot of money to make any further experiments with I and to fix the numerous problems that it has and I do not think that anyone would go for it fixing the L2. The L2 is the very same preamp as L1 with the very same standard regulator but with tube rectification and with some better parts. The Sounds-wise (not Sound-wise) the L2 is VERY significant step up compare to the L1. Any single audio quantifiable characteristic with L2 if more superior then L1. L2 is way more transparent and it has fewer problems with others then “Direct” input (still sound gets worsening with the “others” inputs). The L2 has completely faulty PS that makes the preamp insultingly sensitive to quality of power lines. I do not know what caused it: the Lamm’s discrete common mode filter the rectification tubes, the characteristic of the SS circuitry or something else but be prepared that 4-5 months out of year, primary during the summer, your system will be completely unlistenable due to the quality of electric line. There is no other peace of audio know to me that would be do sensitive to the power lines. Also, be advised that no power devise, would it be a regenerator, isolations transformers, symmetric transformers, filters, of any other gismos would help the L2 to un-subordinate itself from the quality of electricity. L1 has this effect as well but in VERY minor scale. Probably the luck of general transparency musk out the aggravations from the power lines…
Another fault with the L2 power supply is that you will be forces to change the rectifiers and regulator tubes pretty much monthly. I sincerely feel that the entire ridicules L2 PS is good enough to drive the kids cars from ToysUS. Lamm design concept during his creations of L2 was to pile up parts under his name, multiply the cost of them by 10x 9his standard business practice about which he is very proud) and to deploy to public a two-box preamplifier = the vacuum cleaner to suck-in some cash.
It is a very difficult to explain to Lamm the certain attributes of sonic quality of his units if the quality is above a certain level that he consider is “good enough for Marc Mickelson-like to be impressed”. The L1 was perfectly within the Lamm’s ability to hear and to appreciate the differences (he does not practically hears well at HF) and perfectly within his ability to listen what his preamp can do (he dose not have or has no access to a well performing playback installation where he could actually hear what his preamps do). So, if you think about some “evolved subjects” of preamplifier transparency then they are well beyond the level where the Vladimir consciousness operates. He juts do not know what is doing on. Partially he dose not know because he has no means to facilitate his own education and practically because he really does not care about the result.
The L1 was the best preamp that Lamm knew how to make and L2 was the Lamm dive into the territory where he has no aptitude to be. As the result, the L2 is dryer and in a way more artificial sounding then L1, although it operates in own more superior transparent level then L1. The PS of L2 becomes unlistenable within a month: the tubes jut goes south. I personally was able to detect a worsening of sound at L2 within 2 weeks after the new tubes were placed. I know some people whose tubes went dead after one days of playing the L2. It took years for the arrogant Vladimir Lamm to recognize that his preamps do not perform well in the customers listening rooms (Lamm’s foolish ability to acknowledge his own faults become a legendary among anyone who ever dealt with him). He himself was unknowingly running from Hi-Fi show to show drugging his L2s that were completely dead. Eventually, recently he made an amusement on his site that the tubes within his preamps MUST be changed one a year. Probably that fact the he sells the $2 worth 6C19P for $60 do helped a little but still my estimate would be that the regulator/rectifiers tubes must be changes one a month at least. Better to change then weekly or even better…. do not use the faulty designed unit.
Another thing. The L2 has less X-factor amplitude then L1. Most likely that the arteffect of L2 electronic contamination of sound affect the X-factor in some ways and do not let the X-factor to operate in its full bloom. The L2, even with very fresh tubes is way more SS sounding then L1 and has some sort of synthetic signature within itself. Also, although the L2 has kind of “officially better bass” in reality the L2 is way brighter unit then L1. L1 was perfectly balanced tonally but the L2’s balance is very slightly moved up that combined with dryness and dehydration of L2 sound make quite unattractive affect. Also the bass issue is the issues with L2. The L2 has no lowest bass. L1 does not has it as well but it will not bother you with L1 because it well masked into the general blur of the unit. The L2 is more transparent in upper bass and consequentially it would require a better lowers bass. Unfortunately the L2 do not has it. Well, I have to go easy on Lamm regarding it because NONE OF THE OTHERS passive/active line-level units have a correct lower bass…. besides the Guy Hammel’s Active preamp.
I would add to the L2 the crosstalk between the inputs, a severe dynamic compression until the volume clime ups very high, it’s sensitivity to static electricity that might blow up the input stage and many other things. Still, despite all of my negative assessments (and be advised the in this article I was taking ONLY about the negative facts) I feel that used L1/L2 are an interesting buy. Fists of all it would be nice to see on your own how much foolishness was among what I’ have said about the L1/L2. Second: both L1/L2 worth to try because the X-factor and this sets all negative bids off. Third, and it is important: all my negative comments about L1/L2 are very applicable for practically any other Hi-End preamp. Do not compare my negative finds about L1/L2 sound to the complain-free review of the idiots who writhe in audio publications. If I write about what how CJ, ML, AR or any other prams do them my comments would be way harsher and I give a lot of credit to the L1/L2 for it’s X-factor.
A local audio guy (who owns L2) asked me a few months ago: “Romy how much do you think the X-factor important?” This is very complex question. I have my position regarding the question but I would like do not express it in here. I think one should try the L1/L2 and make up own mind where the X-factor lives in the scale of own listing preferences and how the X-factor might or might not be used within own machine-humane-music interactive protocol.
Romy the Cat