Engström & Engström The Lars Amplifier

When Lars Engström built his first first amplifier at age 12 in his native Sweden, he could hardly have foreseen where it would take him. But his passion and talent for audio engineering eventually led him to found Engström & Engström in 2009 with his nephew Timo, an industrial designer whose skills complement those of Lars perfectly.

The first fruit of their collaboration was The Lars Type 1, a monoblock, tube-based integrated amp—yep, it includes a built-in preamp—which was quickly followed by The Lars XLS monoblock power amp introduced at CES 2010. They look nearly identical, and both feature triode tubes for the most linear operation and no negative feedback in order to minimize transient intermodulation distortion. The power amp is pure Class A with fully balanced coupling, generating 20W from the Type 1 and 36W from the XLS into 4 or 8Ω (selectable) at 1% THD.

Timo Engström's industrial design incoprorates your choice of several wood finishes in the base and an outer mantle of clear acrylic that protects the tubes while making them perfectly visible. The Type 1 provides four selectable, single-channel inputs on each unit—two balanced XLR and two unbalanced RCA—with an attenuator on one of the units that controls both members of a pair via the special relay cable that connects them together. The XLS provides only one XLR and one RCA input on each unit that are switch-selectable and no attenuator.

So how much are these Swedish beauties? Aye, there's the rub—The Lars Type 1 is a cool $110,000/pair, up 10 percent from last year due to the shifting relationship between the Swedish krona and the US dollar, while the XLS shaves $20,000 from that price. Can The Lars possibly justify such an exorbitant cost? Perhaps so. According to Art Dudley, whose review the Type 1 appears in the June 2009 issue of Stereophile, "To the few who can afford it, E&E's Lars Type 1 will bring extraordinary pleasure. It may very well be the best amp I've heard..."