Preamplifiers: keys to mystery – or…. how a preamp might be not only a load-driving gadget.
Years after years the preamplifiers are being a “terra incognito” of audio people. I admit that preamps are a subject of my persistent curiosity. I was always mystified how came that such a simple functional entity of our audio systems could be so routinely-horribly implemented in Audio. I owned/seen/heard countless number of preamps and learned that all of them unfortunately were faulty in one-way or another.
The subject of this post will be my current relationship with my current preamp: Lamm L2. Just to pre-structure the reader’s understanding I have to make a disclosure: I (with very high probability) assure you that I do familiar with your “reference” preamp. I have many of them and, please reading this post, do not behave like an unfortunate idiot Steven Rochlin (from the notorious “Enjoy his Music” sewer) who was trying a few years ago to “educate” me by begging me to “learn” from the Conrad-Johnson’s garbage. My interests in preamps are way beyond of the ”common audiophile wisdom” and certainly are way further than the “insight” of the typical Rochlin-like audio muhajadeen.
I have written in the “My playback” section about the paradoxically-mystifying effect of some of the Lamm’s preamplifiers. This is very complex topic: to share with other’s people why the L1 and L2 are differ form anything else. The “L1’s and L2’s effects” unfortunately can not be learn within any other electronics and people who did not hear the below-mentioned effects have no idea of what I might be talk about. More then this: even people who are familiar with L1 and L2 (and I dealt with many of them) are mostly without understanding what is doing on while sound is going thorough thier preamps and, the most important: how the benefits of the L1, L2 might be utilized. Yes, it is not about the owning of a specific ingredient of a playback but about knowing how to use it. OK, if you are wiling to read further on then you have to bare with my deprecating attitude: I do not really ask any apologies for my low regards of many audio people as do not have a lot of respect to them – not necessarily because I am a jerk (this is only one and a very minor reason), but also because I am unfortunately too familiar with the wide-spread intellectual, spiritual, musical and interpretive primitivism of the people who “do audio”.
Nice introduction! Lets go on….
L1 and L2 are basically the same preamps. They certainly have constriction and design differences as well as quite different “the sounds” producing capacity. (Please distinct “Sound”, “sound” and “the sounds”) However, the main target of my article is not an analyses or a recognition the trivial audiophile differences (I would leave this duty to the bogus doodles writers – the damn industry reviewers) but my attempt to acknowledge-understand the source of something that I call “L2’s X-factor” – or the unique and exclusive listening benefit and the sonic contributions that L1 and L2 offer. (I will identify the effect of the “X-factor” later on)
As I said before, I do not like my L2 but I do adore the “X-factor” benefits. Unfortunately no one else offers X-factor-producing preamps and therefore I have to live with my L2. Now, after some very recent events, situation is changing and many L2 ‘s authority-challenging questions are popping up in my head.
Fist of all about my hate of L2. Probably hate is too aggressive word. I would say that I do not like it. It has a lot of bogusly implement hypercritic functionalities that are done with the typical psycho-republican mental objectives. In 2001 I remember I called L2 as “Lamm’s preamps of the W Bush era” and I was very closed: in many cases L2 is like our current president: a public misrepresentation of ignorance as humility (only God knows how good L2 might be if it were not implemented with the conservative hate).
L2 is very “strange” in it’s day-today operation: too few inputs, a cruel deterioration of sound when used “none-direct” lines, large crosstalk between the input lines of the same channel, first 45 minutes of a complete sonic disability until it warms up, none phase-invertible balance outputs (completely insulting!!!), high audio noise, extremely high musical noise (this is the main problem), dynamic compression, too high sensitively form the “quality” of electricity, extremely short tube life in power supply (3-4 month and I can hear it), too fragile input stage, sever worsening of Sound when the volume is down…and many others. However, with all its misery (that is still way LESS then any other preamps the I had) L2 still provides something that is place it in a totally different class and mane it very-very distinctive: the “X-factor” and THAT is quite successfully make L2 a SINGULAR WINING preamp.
Before I dive into the jungle of the “X-factor” let me to make a preface: I know about a typical audio preamps all that you know. This article is not a preamp’s kindergarten but a preamp academy.
Ok, now is time to explain the “X-factor”. L2 is not a “transparent preamp” but a signal processor that heavily intrudes into the stricture of Sound and heavily modifies it. If you are looking for a signal’s objective, mathematically-identical input/output solution and if you pursue for an absolute transparency then look somewhere else (for instance the wonderful Placette Active). L2 is far from “audio transparency”, theory of signals neutrality and as far from the musical transparency as it theoretically possible. L2, no mater how absurd it sounds, converts the electrical transparency into subjective desirability and while it is doing this it introduces it’s own profound signatures. The main issue is that those signatures are not necessarily a musical poison but in many instances they are the useful remedy.
I am thinking about L2 for year and always mystified with it results. Pretend you have one single mono speaker and you drive your, for instance, 100K power amp by your front end (a typical setting in the unfortunately-high-impedance Hi-Fi). Pretend your front-end has a powerful output stage (most, and particular digital, front ends have horrible output stages), pretend your put stage has comparative to L2’s output impedance and pretend that the front end connected with the power amps via a short and very good quality no-length interconnect. After auditioning this scenario we have a certain “quality”. Then, you place L2 in the signal path and observe the sonic delta. First of all, I have to remind that am talking about one channel (in stereo the delta even more staggering and more complexity will be added), Also be advised the listening takes place in context of a speaker with a superb integration between the channels. I made the similar experiments with a single-driver speaker and got the absolutely identical results.
So, here is comes…
L2 makes Sound incredibly civilized, cultured and sophisticated. Without L2, driven by just a “strong output stage”, Sound is very crude, rough, vulgar and uncultured (BTW, it is how most of YOURS system sounds, like it or not) The sounds, without L2 are popping up here and there without any dynamic references, without any relation to the sonic boundaries. Sound has little convince-ability and presented in very raw fashion. This all is practically non-acknowledgeable (unless you have a lot of listening and evaluative experience combines with the in-depth knowledge of WHAT should be paid attention while you are listing) but as soon you plug the L2 in the signal path the situation changes very radically. L2 totally reshapes Sound. The dynamics (I recognize 7 different dynamic characteristics of Sound) changes very dramatically. The total dynamic rage is slightly lees but instead of the anxious of the dynamic scrams this time Sound gets something else – a dynamic intelligence!!!. This is not just an “ordinary compression” but totally different thing. The loud and soft sounds become to be more related to each other (not audio equalized but musically more related)! The tales of the decays become more allied to the amplitudes and to the frequencies of the attacks. The sharpness of the parabolas with which the tones roll to thier pitches with L2 more acoustically convincing and this sets everything up. You see, it dose not sound better or worth but this L2’s effect (“X-factor”) instantaneously removes even single shred of doubt that it might be “different”. Also, the damn L2 is the only know to me preamps that actually does to bass something completely fantastic: it slows bass down if it necessary and in a very “special” fashion and by means of it L2 sets a totally new rules for the game of sound reproduction within our unfortunately-ordinary low LF reverberation time listing rooms - here is where my methods of the active reconstruction of RT-60 kick in. (BTW, the ordinary audio damn-asses keep foolishly hunting for thier “fast bass”, good luck!) Also, and the the ironic part is that L2 sounds more long-tearm influential and “musically enriched” even despite that L2 injects a large amount of “electronic noise” wherever is possible (or something that I call "the electrical residue") and makes Sound slightly more monochromic-grayish then I would wish.
Another stunning attribute of the L2 contribution (another entity of the “X-factor”) is the L2’s fantastic ability to maintain the vectors of directions within sound. Even in context of a one single string instrument playing in the middle of a stage you would instantaneously detect that L2 “works”. L2 somehow maintains the relation between a source-event and the event’s boundaries. I am not talking about the audio misunderstood Soundstage (even the cotemporary Morons-reviewers, after years of learning of mine and others comments about soundstage as an artificial property of sound reproduction made the bashing of the Soundstage as thier recent marketing chic, however they before and now still clueless and still they do not “get” that even a Soundstage, in certain context, might be used VERY effectively and what to do with Soundstage), but rather about the balances between what a single instrument dose and what is going on around the instrument. In the very same way how a good conductor arranges and tunes his orchestral tempo contingent upon the acoustic of a given Symphony Hall (along with considering the dozens of other parameters) the L2 rearranges the inner-performance’s spaces and distances depends of … I have no idea depends of what, but I hear that it does.
The total effect of these two qualities (that both manifest the “X-factor”): the dynamic wisdom and the ability to reconstruct vectors of space are not minor. To compare L2 vs. with any other preamp (or with no preamp) is similar to compare Sound organization between a High School Symphonic Orchestra vs. Sound of Boston Symphony of 1935: tonal cleverness, dynamic wisdom, balancing of each single expressive possibility - in another word – L2 converts a group of people with musical instruments to a team of musicians that are operating in complaints with the few thousands years of musical culture.
Let me stress it one more time: if you once hear what L2 dose (as I said: most of the people who even have those preamps are still clueless what is going on, I personally met only 4 peoples who had a comprehending of the L2’s benefits), then no mater how many objectively negative sonic characteristics you detect in the L1’s, L2’s you will find the total presentation of L1, L2 very indispensable (of course if you care about the cultural and musical benefits of audio results, if you do not have the barbarism demands of the audio-pterodactyls, and the playback installation can operate at the level where the L2 benefits will not be masked out by the errors of the other components). The L2 is way more actively-motivating then driving amp “direct” (presumably your output is potent), also, if you are a big admirer of the fashionable lately passive units, then you are also off the game – just get better system, better reference points and graduate the preamp kindergarten - the passive units are wasted attempts even at the First Evaluation Level (How to evaluate playback).It would be very interesting to learn what Lamm did with sound to archive the phenomenal and “influential” result of the “X-factor”. I do not know if Lamm pursued “X-factor” deliberately and intentionally or it was just an accidental and just a tangential result. Lamm probably would suggest that it was purely intentional but some of the Lamm’s line-level products are no-X-factor-abled. Also, I witnessed a number of other deeds from Lamm were the purely unpremeditated accidents Lamm proposed as his deeply deliberate results (and wise versa). Go figure! Anyhow, I do not judge Lamm, his sense of self or his marketing effort but rather the epicenter of my attention is the benefits of the “X-factor”, was it consciousness for Lamm or not.
So, how L2 dose it? Dose it do some kinky phase overwriting/correction or any special power supplying? It would be easy to detect it by looking at the L2schismatic but I do not have it. To reconstruct the schismatic from the assembled unit would not be a complicated task but it dose not sound ethical and it is not the direction where I would like to proceed. No doubts that L2 preamp injects (deliberately or not) some hilly useful corrections-distortions into the signal. The question is - which one. The next question would be: if it is possible to inject the similar useful corrections-distortions without the introduction of the non-useful coloration and electronic signatures that L2 unfortunately possess in large quantities (at least in context of my ears and within the demands of my system)
Recently I spent a lot of mine thinking about it. L1 and L2 are the fantastic envelop-pushing playgrounds that demonstrated what might be CONCEPTUALLY DONE WITH SOUND. Over the years, my objectives were changing as well as the capacities of my playback system were growing. Today I need more and I believe that I know what it should be (at least I know hoe it should sound) I question if it is possible to get the L2’s “X-factor” (perhaps with the higher X-factor’s amplitude) but without some negative residues that L2 injects into sound. In addition to it I would like to impose to reproduce Sound some of my own visions, properties and priorities that I would avoid to divulge at this point. I really am not interested to imitate the L2’s benefits but I do find the entire direction L2 leads being a superbly interesting and supremely valuable.
Pretty much my concept of the ultimate preamp would be: the L2’s “X-factor” but without any dynamic degradation, with an enormous dynamic range (a composite perception of all 7 dynamic characteristics), without the thermodynamic distortions and with no miserable solid stage signatures. It should have completely non-auditable ”The Beach Effect” Also, the ultimate preamp should have a totally new level (completely unachievable in any known to me preamps) something that I call “The Super Softness” (however the “Super Softness” sound be presented along with a colossal transient capacity. Furthermore, the ultimate preamp should be able to maintain the certain spatial properties (look for my definition of “Audio Space” in the “Objectives” of the “My Playback” section) but in a totally different way then L2 dose it (L2 too much “try and present”, and it rather “depicture of the Space” instead of throwing “Space” itself: L2 presents the efforts to accomplish a Result bit not the Result itself). Moreover the preamps should produce an effect of something, that I call “Overloading”. Nope, the “Overloading” did not come form the Object-Oriented Programming but rather it derives from my numerous experiments with overloading of phonostages. I do not mean the Overloading itself as a fact, but the recognized by myself specific sonic ingredients of Sound after Overloading was achieved. In another word, the preamp should do the necessary massage - I know what it should do, but still to be completely without “The Beach Effect”.
I have a very good low-gain buffer that drives my amplifiers. The buffer itself has phenomenal sound (still the experiments are in progress) and within any audio dimension my buffer is marginally superior then L2 (the buffer was designed by a friend of mine around 6C19P, thanks Dima!!!). The buffer does very fine (way less “the Beach Effect” then anything I even heard!!!) but it has so far a low ability to facilitate the “X-factor”. I made a number of phase-related experiments with this buffer, compensating the phase shifts within the nodes and many other things. All of them were more or less beneficial but nether of them moved me into the direction neither of the “X-factor” nor to the other directions that I would consider advantageous. I put together some additional engendering recourse, have some interesting standing ideas and the most important has a very clear idea what I search as a result - and what would define the success of the project. I officially opened a hunt - how to train my buffer as something, that would stand up, to the L2’s “X-factor” taking it further away, eliminate the L2 problems and to move my line-level aptitude to a performance level where I feel it should be (or at lease to comfort my sick ego)
Yes, sometimes a preamp is not only a preamp….
I will be there…, I hope
"I wish I could score everything for horns." - Richard Wagner. "Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts." - Friedrich Nietzsche