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Engstrom Sound from Sweden - the Pinnacle of Scandinavian School

edited January 2021
There are no formal or any serious reviews of the Lars Type 2 mono tube amplifier anywhere. Given the hefty price tag, it is not easy to understand why. At this price range, Japanese tube amp manufacturers completely dominate in this space. The scarcity of super league speakers to mate with the Lars is another challenge. And the rated output of 36watt is an embarrassing point because hardcore horn guys unilaterally goes for low watt singled end solution. And solid state fanatics would require big power amplifiers to drive sensation home. That could be the reason why there are basically no serious distributors of any sort in Asia/US despite the presence of the Lars for almost 4 years.

At AE, we are not bounded by the rule of “cost effectiveness”. When it comes to audio reproduction, we demand extreme solutions. That is why we commissioned Yamada san of Zanden to build the cost-no-object CHOUKU mono block amplifiers two years ago. They appeared on our Super Hi End Show last year on silent display. The latest update from Yamada san confirms that the Chouku will be shipped to AE within a few weeks. Never would I imagine there is another tube amplifier before the consequential arrival of Chouku could be labeled as “Super League”. I have taken the liberty of categorizing Lars 2 as “Super League” within the sphere of representation in AE all thru the years. I don’t speak this lightly. I repeat that AE is a place for the cutting edge. We are always on the leading edge. There will always be new winners however the vigor of past champion.

In the “tube amplifier domain”, the short answer is that the LARS is the champion of ALL time in spite of the absence of silver transformers/capacitors. And I don’t comment this lightly given AE’s long historical relationship with many Japanese tube amplifiers. The only amplifier that can challenge the LARS at this point is the upcoming CHOUKU by Zanden Audio.

I had never really understood Cessaro before the arrival of the LARS. And what caught me off guard are the seemingly generic design features of it. There are no silver transformers. There are no highlights of exotic components. There are no gimmicks on the website. It is way too low profile compares to the Japanese counterpart such as Kondo where tons of iconic photos highlighting the supreme built quality of internal components. What is Lars really?

AE picks product by person. It is the person who dictates the soul of the electronics. Destiny somehow always arranges extreme perfectionists to meet somewhere in time. I began exchanging emails with Mr. Lars since Munich Show 2013. Mr. Lars consistently gives me a feeling of calmness. There is not a single question he answers without facts. There are no inflation of pros and deflation of cons when I questioned him about the Type 2. When I asked questions during the audition period, he only answered all of my technical questions and never hurried me to close the deal. His timid elation was only suggestive when I made the final decision to bring the Lars on board.

Mr. Lars’ focus is “authentication of tonality”, which is not really easy to understand. It is important to make distinction amongst neutrality, musicality and tonal authenticity. Neutrality assumes everything from the recordings is favorably reproduced with nothing added and subtracted. Neutrality is thus a window. And I attribute it to the speakers that determine almost the entirety of it. The presence of such window does not guarantee musicality immediately. If the recordings standard and the rest of the hardware are up to the standard under a neutrality window, we should be able to consume musicality. Tonal authenticity is one of the many elements of musicality. I believe musicality is also a multivariate function of transient resolution, control of energy, spatial resolution, and tempo. This is the philosophy that I have harnessed from managing two mega systems in the past 5 years. I may be wrong. If reader disagrees, I would like to listen to constructive criticisms.

Unlike other manufacturers, the Lars website does not mention speed, transients and dynamics but just tonal authenticity. As a result, the sole mentioning of this attribute gives me a false impression of it emphasizing tonal richness akin to Da Vinci.

AE has never attained beforehand the reproduction quality that I am experiencing now. The Lars Type 2 amplifier driving the Cessaro masterpiece with vinyl as source reveals layers after layers of tonal structure down to the microscopic stratum with tremendous stability. Macro-dynamics of symphonic recordings are articulated with punch, slam and energy with control at the right place. The performing orchestra is always encapsulated in a spherical “space”. There is no inflation of airiness. Yet the decaying tones of harmonics can always be traced in the “space”. The bass tails are just so well naturally decayed in a continuity manner that must be experienced to understand. The transient speed of Spanish guitar is lightning fast. The textural resolution down to the resonances of the guitar body alongside each different string is kaleidoscopic. The spatial resolution of the recording venue is faithfully reproduced with the right proportion. Some of the live recordings on vinyl can really generate a “spherical” space in the showroom engulfing me within. When the recording venue is switched to a studio with relatively dead acoustics, the spherical feelings are immediately reduced which of course makes logical sense. As far as imaging is concerned, each single key on the piano has its own and rock solid image from the highest pitch note all the way to the lower registers on the left hand side. The soul of the pianist can be felt as though the left hand is talking to the right hand at some passages. This is the real deal. It neither resembles the passion of Wavac nor the mellowness of Shindo. This amp is EGO-LESS. It has no character. It is the first tube amplifier that I don’t quite feel its presence in the chain. It simply disappears into the music. The opulence of tonal color is solely determined by the recording materials.

The AE showroom has already reached the level of “soulful resolution”.
In a few occasions when I was listening to some of the truly excellent recordings, the “resolution of time” is fully felt. That really justifies all the resources I have put forth in this journey.


  • The "consequential" presence of Lars at AE changes its low profile for good. You simply have no idea how many people are following us here.
  • Time flies, I recall Lizst has been in AE showroom for almost 2 years. Of all the amp pairing with it, I like Analog Domain the most. It really lights up whatever music played by this combo with flying colors and totally stress free and compression free music. Since then, PT has swapped many tube amps pairing with Lizst but none of them can deliver the seamless integration and transparency as AD until the advent of Lars. In line with all the selection criteria for products to be carried by AE, PT shared a lot with me on his experience with Mr Lars and how he evaluate his products against the benchmark in AE which is understandably very high.

    I am utterly stunned by the calmness of the amp driving Lizst like a roaring lion on Peer Gynt and turning it to a tamed cat on Szeryng’s violin. One thing I need to point out which make Lars stand out from any tube amp that I have heard in my entire life is its capability to deliver the 2nd order of bass harmonics when playing Peer Gynt. It is an unique experience which I have never heard of. Without the acute response by Lizst and the genius circuitry design on the Lars, I doubt I can never understand what PT means about neutrality at such level of clarity!!

    Specifically i have heard several 300B amps, to my ears, they seldom occur to me that they can deliver highly articulated and dynamic soundsatge. Again, Lars set a new record and totally changes my impression on 300B design.

    Similar to Lizst, Agoria has been in my place for almost 2 years, Lars is probably the most compelling reason (or excuse) for me to fall back to the wide opened arms of Ralph!
  • 我昨天重新再感受過這套超級系統。 首先身為Trinity phono的驕傲用家,也不能不賞識Ultimate Wadax Phono的驚人表演。我好想Trinity可同場一起比較,但當我知道Wadax擁有Cartridge的修正能力後,我不得不能承認Wadax已遠超越現應用在phono的科技框架的硬軟件技術。真係勁中之勁堅,難怪Mr Zanden也轉會。

    Lars呢對300B push pull功放是曠世鉅作。鬆容不迫的控制力尤如1000 watt的Analog Domain Artemis. 呢世人未聽過300B有如此大動態反差,瞬變如閃電,但幼細度又極為純潔。鋼琴演奏快慢有序,不只是型態而是演奏者的靈魂,低音二次harmonic的伸廷非常自然順暢,有層次,有空間感。我和Marvel大哥的聽感一致。

  • To Lars

    Thank you for your great work on Monica preamp/phono. Your intellectual power are understated. The moment when Monica unites with Type 2 driving Cessaro Brahms at my home, I finally understand what you wrote on the website pertaining to the groundbreaking work of the Finnish engineer Dr Otala. And that is not gimmick but damn serious work. You obviously understand and execute them well via your means. I truly respect your original work. You are unusual because you don't really obsessed with components but that is not to say you don't value their contribution. In the commercial world, this somewhat drive you to the corner. But now I understand the deeper force at work here is your genuine understanding of "tonality" that serves as the reference in all of your electronic design. I am not referring to achieving the proper balance distribution in the conventional Hi Fi perspective but you obviously know how different object sounds in real life. I don't know such tremendous capability of yours until yesterday.
  • As soon as I landed to HK on last Friday, I got on a call with my son checking if the LARS Type 2 has been delivered. This is the 2nd time I listen to Type 2 and the first one was in AE Showroom. After the delivery of the Cessaro Alpha2, the magic of Analog Domain pairing with Tidal Agoria has faded. This is somewhat ‘expected’ as the design of this 1000W per channel beast is to tame the most difficult conventional speaker in the world. For a 98db Horn speaker, Ralph told me I cannot even use 1/10 of the capability of this beast and in terms of the optimism in mating with his latest Alpha2, a quality tube amp is still most preferred. So eventuality falls on me that I have to consider a new companion for Alpha2. For those who have interest on a pair of ‘next-to-none’ solid state power amp, please let me know.

    So my story went on on last Friday….

    When I stepped into my home, my son was playing the live concert of the HK band Beyond and I could immediately feel the music is so stressless and flowing everywhere filling up the entire space. Simply put, I feel like walking back to my seat after a toilet break in the middle of the concert. I can hear the audience, the band, the interaction so vividly and feel like part of the audience. The punch of drum, the strings in the guitar, the vocals, they all are bursting out their own energy, generating their own pace and dynamics and riding on their own rhythms and transients from points where I can point my finger to without ambiguity. Lower frequency energy was kind of bouncing freely with sensations. Strings and vocals are with the lyrical elasticity rivaling a true presence next to the performers. Can the current combo exhibits the subtleties on the variations of cello and violin together with the delicate contrasts and minute textures? No doubt about it….the resolution of Type 2 and Alpha combo is top notch spanning out a very dark and quiet soundstage in a 3-d scale which is unprecedented in all my previous setups.

    On the 2 following days, I listened to many of my favourite CDs and LPs. I am stunned by the spatial transparency and liveliness rendered by this combo and cannot agree more with Ralph, once again, that ‘the sounds are good with Analog Domain, but it would sound even better with tube amps’. This is not a light weight statement which I now truly understand. If the bass energy is slightly overdamped by the power amp, the result could be detrimental to any frequency above it making the midrange and treble compartment sounds harsh and constrained.

    This is just a short encounter of type 2 and reluctantly I have to return the Type 2 back to PT, my pair will arrive in 1 month time and I will reflect more by then....not sure what the synergistic effect would sound like when Lars preamp Monica is delivered but this would be sometime next year as this year's budget is already used up to the deficit level. I cannot even queue up for the Extreme LineBacker for this year....

  • Marvel,

    Had you experienced already the complete Lars suite? It is magical.
  • Marvel兄長,請問你對瑞典國寶Lars mono 功放有什么意見? 我知道你的Analog Domain功放在找買家中,所以想問下Lars和它的分比? 聽聞貴公子是唯一的一個聽過一套Lars 前後表现,而且有著十分亢奮,此事屬實嗎?
  • Hi,
    When I agreed to take on the Cessaro Alpha2 about 6 months ago, I was assured by PT/Ralph that Cessaro is now designed to mate well with Solid State amp, in fact, Cessaro used Soulution mono amp to drive the same Alpha 2 in a show exhibition. At the same time, I was also advised upfront that Cessaro would mate better with tube amp.

    When Ralph was setting up the Alpha 2 for me, his comments were still the same, the overall sound performance is very good using Analog domain and could be better using tube amp. I listened before Lars driving Lizst in AE Showroom with stunnng performance especially on the 2nd order harmonics delivered by Lars. Between Lars and Amati, I decided to go for Lars because I have also ordered the Monica and with both preamp and power amp running on a truly push pull amplification, the synergistic effect could not be undermined.

    There is no slight doubt that the Lars type 2 drive superbly well Alpha 2 in my listening space with mind boggling details and transparency at a level even better than the Agoria/Analog Domain combo. I am utterly satisfied with the matching recommended by PT but frankly my curiosity also makes me think what it would sound like if I use Amati....One thing I would like to add which is not a insignificant point for user of Type2. there is a ground wire post which is a banana plug, when I connect 2 Thais ground wire into this outlet, the background of the soundstage just punch deeply into the z-axis and heightened noticeably. This was not the case which i was casually inserting the spade connector of the ground wire to the RCA input of the amp. If I have the funding to get new ground wire, I will order banana connector on one end to maximise the transmission speed of the ground noise.

    In short, Lar2 is genuinely a jewel in the tube amp world delivering tremendous amont of spatial information and tonal signature of each instruments, performance, audience and ambience of the original recording via Alpha 2.

    All I need is the final tuning by Ralph next time when he visits HK as I find it is still not in the optimal angling and positioning....more to come...

    You are welcome to pay a visit to my current setup if we can find a common and convenient timeslot next time when I return back to HK....Check with PT.

  • Marvel兄長

  • 乙女,

    妳能細說其言論的建基嗎? 在下喜見不同意見在這裡發表。
  • 請問你有冇聽過高文功放匹配Kharma音箱? 我的評價是極不平行的能量三角形。中低音冇衝撃力, 低音被囚在音箱裡,最后袛有高音在響。無論1000,2500,也是一樣。但是在國內,眾多發燒朋友仍為是十分匹配,我只可以沉默,然后在沉默。
  • Hi,

    Sorry that I can only use English to respond as I don't have any Chinese typing capability on my PC.

    For the Goldmund amp, I have used 29.4M which I think is quite balanced and musical. Subsequently I also heard their Telos 2500, it is a bit going to the extreme speed response giving very clear midrange and treble. To my ears, the bass extension is not enough and sound rolled off too early. Echoing on what you said, the triangular balance of the energy from treble to bass is not there for Goldmund. On this front, Analog Domain gives a more solid and balanced energy distribution and bass is just released at ease with the right rhythmic propagation, not the 'squeezing out' type. In terms of mating with Kharma, I am quite sure Analog Domain will lead a long way.

    Fortunately and unfortunately my Tidal Agoria has gone, otherwise, I would definitely hold another comparison between the Trinity poweramp and Analog Domain and likely as Uncle Raymond, get poisoned by Trinity....I will see if PT can give me a try in my current Lars/Cessaro combo....

  • Marvel兄長,

  • Marvel

    I really like the aesthetic design of the Lars amplifier. When will the Monica preamp arrive?I would like to audition a complete suite.
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