CES 2016 • Best of Show

Anyone who has had the chance to hear an ber-expensive audio system knows that the experience can sometimes be disappointing. Expectations are understandably high, while, at the same time, one's sense of skepticism is on red alert. Given this particular degree of difficulty for show presenters, what Lamm Industries accomplished with its flagship system was truly remarkable, exemplifying the very best of high-end audio.

Walking into the large luxury suite on the 35th floor of the Venetian was a bit like entering a church. At the edges of the altar were two massive Kharma Exquisite Midi Grande speakers ($225,950/pair, with F-Driver), in the middle were Lamm ML3 Signature amplifiers ($139,490/pair), and to the right were an LL1.1 Signature four-chassis preamplifier ($45,390/pair), an LP1 Signature phono stage ($35,690), and an LP2.1 phono stage ($8990). Vinyl was spun on an EMT 927 turntable ($50,000, but not a current product) with two SME 3012 tonearms ($3000 each, also not in production), a ZYX UNIverse Premium cartridge ($14,495) and a ZYX Omega Premium cartridge ($6995). Digital tracks were delivered by an EMM Labs TSDX CD/SACD transport ($17,000) and DAC2X stereo D/A converter ($15,000). Both units were equipped with the latest firmware and the just-released MDAT2 DSP. Interconnects, speaker cables and power cords were Kubala-Sosna Elation ($130,600). All of that brought the system's total retail cost to $733,880.

So how good can a three-quarters-of-a-million-dollar audio system sound? Based upon two lengthy listening sessions, the answer can be summed up in one word: amazing. Hearing Louis Armstrong's band perform "St. James Infirmary" from Satchmo Sings King Oliver was like being transported to the 1959 recording session. Armstrong's chortles and gravel-laden inflections induced goose bumps, and his bandmates' instruments and vocals were strategically placed in three-dimensional space around the room, just as they would have been in the studio. When Elina Lamm played "Il cammello e il dromedario" from Musica Nuda's Live Fip CD, we could hear the subterranean depths and wooden resonance of Ferruccio Spinetti's bowed bass lines and vocalist Petra Magoni move energetically around the stage during this thrilling performance.

We weren't listening to an audio system; we were listening to pure music.

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