I've owned a number of Levinson pieces, currently:
ML-1 preamp (an early classic, and still excellent)
360 DAC (superb)
Levinson equipment has been variously catagorized as
"dark", "uninvolving", "sterile", "lacking dynamics"
and other disparaging claims. I find it truthful,
with expansive soundstaging, excellent focus and imaging,
and dynamic. It is also among the best in build quality
and quite reliable. The one time I required service it
was done promptly, professionally and at no cost. Could
some of the esoteric names (Burmeister, Jadis, etc) give
a more perfect sound?.....maybe. But on balance for my
purposes, Levinson fills the bill.
Talk about opening up a can a worms!!!
One thing is sure in this hobby, you can always find a critic, especially against the "leaders" in the field.
Audio equipment, like music itself, is subjective, we all have our preferences.
I have to agree with you about asthetics! For a lot of us, our equipment sits in the middle of our living room; but even besides that, when paying these prices there is no reason they can't be attractive as well.
This again is an area that is subjective. I personally like the look of Levinson gear a lot, as well as Classe and many others. (As a side note, I have never paid much attn to Krell, but I was in a store recently that carried their line and I don't know if it's Krell's new look, but they had several Krell units in silver with polished corners that were beautiful!)
I also feel ML is second to none in fit and finish and quality, all functions should work flawlessly.
If you can bring some pieces home and you find you love the sound, I can think of NO reason not to purchase them. There are other fine lines as well.
I have been a proud owner of Levinson equipment, for many, many years. I am currently using a 380 preamp, because I play a lot of vinyl, and 33h monoblocks, through a set of Revel Studios. My previous system consisted of two Levinson 332 amps in a biamped configuration, run through Revel F30's, at first, and then the Studios.
I love the Levinson amplifiers, and I also find their appearance very pleasing.
I have never been a huge fan of their digital front pieces, though. I have used Wadia cd players, for the last few years, and find them to be a lot warmer. I recently sold my Wadia 860, and brought home one of the new 390s cd players home to audition. To me, it was just way to bright with the Studios, which are a little bright themselves, in the setting that I have them in. I took it back and purchased a Wadia 861 from a fellow Audiogon member.
Let me know if you want to biamp a couple of 331/336 series amps. I have a set of y-adapters, from Madrigal, that I am not using.
The 33h monoblocks might be a little bit much for the pocketbook, just starting out, but there are lots of Levinson amps, for sale, here on Audiogon. You are on one of the best places in the world to shop for used Levinson equipment.
Also, if you ever run into any problems with their products, they have a wonderful service department.
Have fun putting it together. Apart from the listening that's the best part for me.
Hope that helps.
You can't beat the versatility of a 38-series preamp.
I own Reference 20.0 amps, 380S pre, 36 DAC, and 37 transport. I am very pleased with all pieces. However, I did own a 38S, and did not care for it. It was too dark and sounded like a curtain had been dropped on the soundstage. I have also heard the 26 (I think that's the right number) pre-amp. It was fantastic, and though I could not compare the 380S or the 38S to the 26, my guess is the 26 and 380S are fairly close in terms of transparancy and imaging. As to the DAC. I've heard the 360S and it is clearly superior to mine--but for critical listening I mostly listen to vinyl. I have heard (mostly on this website) that the Aero Capitole is something to audition for a digital front end. Less money and as good or (most have said) much better sound--leaving you a few more $ for amplifier(s).
I bought a 39 CD player and upgraded it recently to a 390s. The 390s sounds much more dynamic and more detailed/brighter. I really like the build quality, and I appreciate the availability of an upgrade path. ML is a highly reputable manufacturer, a high end boutique producer with the consistency and commitment of a large corporation (i.e., Harmon International). Cosmetically, the unit is OK -- it doesn't look exotic (no blue lights or fancy glass a la MacIntosh or Hovland) or ultra high tech, more like pro-rack stuff that's had its rough edges rounded off for consumer use. This CD player doesn't seem to share many cosmetic elements with ML's basic amps.
I had admired Levinson from a distance for perhaps the last 15 years. Thanks to a great local dealer, I've been lucky enough to listen to the latest and greatest Levinson components and compare them with many of their worthy competitors equipment. I've listened to alot of gear over the years, and what I come away with is that the Levinson stuff does not add or subtract from the source material as it was recorded. Whether your subjective opinion finds that "good" or "bad" is just that - your opinion.
Allow me to continue to overuse some worn-out audio adjectives in describing what I mean. Some people love the "warmth" of tube gear and prefer that "warmer" sound. Tube equipment in general does present a characteristic smoothness to its sound. Some of these enthusiastic audiophiles have been known to characterize Levinson gear using adjectives such as "cold", "dark", or "analytic" by comparison. I won't disagree with their perspective; by comparison Levinson does not exhibit the same velvety sound that some reviewers characterize as "warmth". To be fair though, music in performance does not present those characteristics either. I believe it's just as unfair to claim that a component is "better" because it creates an illusion as it is to claim another is "worse" because it does not.
I do alot of live recording - using some of the finest microphones and electronics available. My opinion is that Levinson presents the recoded source as accurately as is imaginable. Music that was artfully performed, recorded, and mastered takes on a holographic image in the listening room - it doesn't sound warm, it sounds REAL; and there is a difference. Unfortunately, the other edge of that sterile blade is that it leaves any blemishes on the source program nowhere to hide, and perhaps that's where Levinson rightly acquires the "analytic" moniker. From a listener's perspective this is viewed as either a good thing or a bad thing (and may very well sum up much of the controversy in the audio camps).
Two years ago I made the plunge and I was only sorry that I had waited so long to do it. I currently own a 380 pre-amp, a 332 power amp, and a 39 CD processor that I just sent out to be upgraded to 390s status. I am presently running these balanced (highly recommended) using Transparent Reference cable throughout. Am I a happy with my system? Let's just say that I'm chomping at the bit until I get my 390 back.
One of my favorite system is a combination of Levinson reference gears + transparent reference cables + Revel Salon. I heard it few years ago at the Stereophile show in LA. I felt this system had the ease of pace, and very true soundstage. Female vocal was excellent. Although the room the system was in was a bit small in my opinion, I felt this system sounded much better than the Martin Logan statement/Wilson Grand Slamm they had in the bigger conference rooms. I spent quite a bit of time in this room that weekend.
I've also heard the Levinson #33h driving the Nautilus 801s at the local dealer. It sounded pretty impressive as my first impression. I had meant to go back and spend more time with this setup as I had been considering upgrading to the 801s or the Salons.
I currently have the Levinson #333, #37 in one system, and #36 in another system. I think the Levinson gears are very neutral and polite. If you like to sit in the front row of a concert, or get that "in-your-face" sound, this amp might be too polite for you. But if you tend to sit in the middle rows of a concert hall, I think the Levinson amp would be an excellent match for your speakers.
Many critics complained about the lacking of midrange bloom with Levinson amps. I recently added analog to my rig, and I found the mids to be very sweet. I would think this comment is more of an analog-digital argument rather than an attribute of the amp.
I own 30.6 / 31.5 / 32 / 335 with B&W 802N. Will buy the same (except may be 33h instead of 335) without second tought. How good ML is becomes only clear when I compare them to my previous gear (KRC-HR & KSA-200S which I still have). The ML fit-n-finish is examplary, service is first class. Best of all, ML is known for its upgrade paths. If its sound fits your tastes (it does to mine), you need not to hesitate.
I have owned a number of pieces of Levinson gear, from their pre-amps to their transport to their CD players. All in all there was a distinct lack of musicality, warmth and sweetness. I will admit that the 39 was an exceptional CD player, but overall I found the ML equipment lacking. I was simply not being involved by the music. In this day, it seems that one can spend far less money in order to put together a wonderfully musical and involving system, than just a few short year ago. Rogue Audio, Blue Circle, Antique Sound Labs, Audio Refinement are but a few brands, that may provide you with more musical satisfaction for your money.
I own the ML 37 transport and 360S DAC connected with a Cardas AES/EBU cable and consider the combination excellent. BTW, when connected with Madrigal's own AES/EBU cable music became too analytic. I auditioned a 331 amp-- in home for a week and did not care for the "big bloom" it created-- but that was in a different system. I like the attractive-- somewhat industrial-- look of the Levinson components. No regrets about the ML gear I own. And BTW, finding a used ML37 transport is damned hard! Cheers. Craig
I'm a 'hybrid" Levinson guy. I like to use BAT tube preamps in front of Levinson solid state amps. I own a classic ML3, a 333 and a pair of 33H now.
Two different systems, One with Infinity Betas and another with Aerial 10t's.
Had lots of solid state amps over the years, the Levinsons have never let me down.
My first high end system was ML 20.6 mono amps and a ML 26S pre-amp with the teflon boards. You never forget your first love, and I have only fond memories of that Levinson based system. I have listened to the newer ML gear, and to my ears, the sound is less involving when compare to the older ML series, although my first hand experience is limited to the above mentioned two ML pieces and the ML 23.5 amp. When it comes to looks and build, ML gear is first rate, although it cannot compare to the seductive glow of tubes.
I own a 37 transport and 36S DAC. I have owned a Theta Basic III and a Timbre Dac. The Levinson bettered both in my system. I found it to be neutral, slightly laid back, with excellent resolution of detail. I heard more of the recording than with the other two. The Theta had an "in your face" presentation which I tired of over time. The Timbre sounded comparatively dark with not as much resolution. I am very happy with this setup and have no plans to change it. Hope this helps.
Hey Beemer, what amp do you use to drive those Infinity Beta towers??
I know it has been some time since your post but I just found it and would like to provide you my experience with Levinson. Skipping all the amps I have used in the past, McIntosh, Krell and Levinson amps are still with me. I used to have a McIntosh MC2205 as my main amp for my living room system's front speakers (Legacy Focus). Once I located my Levinson, it found its home on my main speakers and the McIntosh has become the amp for my bedroom system (which only gets used to sleep and at very low volumes).
The Legacy Focus loudspeakrs are very efficient so the Levinson has obviously no problem with them at all. Before the Focus, I had Infinity Kappa 8 (original series). These speakers let you know if things were to bright with their Emit K ribbons but the low impedance required the amp to really work. The Levinson again had no problem handling the low impedance and took complete control of the speaker system. Regarding sound quality, the Levinson amps probably one of the smoothest sounding solid state I have heard. It is very transparent, spacious and linearly flat at all listening levels.
Moving back to the Focus as the listening speaker - I listen to music including classic rock, disco, hip hop, jazz, and easy listening sound quality recordings. I listen at many different levels. The Levinson makes the Focus fill the rooms with sound at very low levels in which you can easily follow any instrument without loosing focus. It has the energy to produce low frequency bass at very low levels at the right level compared to the mids and highs. When I turn it up, the Levinson doesn't even budge. As loud as I can take it, the sound appears crystal clear and more importantly, linear. Again, any instrument you choose to focus on is clear and reproduced at the right volume compared to other frequencies. The McIntosh has a more brighter sound at high volumes much like a Bryston. The Levinson provides the same audio experience at any listening level. I really do not know how loud it can play and continue to produce sound as I am describing because at the levels I stop, there is no sign of distortion even when the most dynamic passages scare the ---- out of me!
As for integration - I use the Levinson to power my main speakers and I have a Krell 3-channel to power a center and rear surrounds when I use the system for home theater. The Krell appears to blend more naturally with the Levinson than the McIntosh amps I have tried.
I have no idea how the Levinson would sound on a dynamic set of horns but it allowed me to easily get lost in music on Infinity Kappa 8 and Legacy Focus loudspeaker systems.
For a budget of 10K I'd recommend:
- Levinson 390S
- Levinson 436 monos
If you get them both on Agon, not only will you stay within your budget, but you'll have a killer system that you could potentially keep for a lifetime with no fear of "a better sound" out there.
Ive owned a few 3 series ML amps. Good stuff, and its a great match for Revel speakers. May want to strongly include the Aragon Palladium True balanced differential Monoblocks though. I actually upgraded from an ML 334 series amp to these. $10k can get you a nice used Wadia source with a pair of these new for under $10k. I paid about $9k for the monoblocks and 861se. Incredible sounding with Salon's. Ill post the RTA shot later tonight on the system's natural frequency spectrum in room. Truely amazing.
I couldn't agree more with Thesaint519. Especially on the 436's. They are incredible amps and you can get them for very reasonable prices these days on Agon. I've compared them to the 335/336 and there is no comparison. Also compared them to much talked-about amps from Theta, Musical Fidelity etc. You just can't beat the Levinson sound... there's a reason why they are the largest manufacturer of high end equipment in the World.
Thanks for the support Jeffrey123. I totally agree with you.
Iam thinking of buying the 333 amp, was there any
problem noted on this amp?Is this a good amp compare
to the 335.Thanks
I have a Ref. No. 32 preamp (includes phono stage). In terms of flexibility and ease of use this thing is hard to match (very similar to BAT linestage in this respect). I initially thought the .1db volumes steps was silly, but when one is fine tuning channel balance, .2db is easily discernable.
As for the sound, it sounds more relaxed and less exciting than the Placette active it replaced. The soundstaging is also not as wide. But, the more refined presentation has grown on me. I am not a fan of most solid state components, this is the exception (the No. 32 feeds a push pull triode tube amp with 45 tubes -- about 5 watts output).
If you like muddy undefined sound, of the amp that tries to mimik the tube sound. Sorry but that was my impression of ML house sound. You are better of with Plinius, McCormack, SimAudio MOON and Odyssey amps.
I can only say that I have regreted the day I sold my ML gear years ago. I find that they are one of a few manufacturers that have produced exceptional sounding gear.
One day, when I hit the big one, I will again own ML equipment.
Along with ML I consider McIntosh and Audio Research as reliable gear with great sound.
I have used the following ML equipment,
transport: 37, 31.5
pre: 380s, 32
I love all these except the transports!
Both the 37 and 31.5 have disc reading problems, although they did sound good when they work.
The other ML components I owned, provided me with a combination of high quality and well balanced sound (with little additive!), convenience and reliability.
If anyone is thinking of grabbing a ML amp, you want either the 334,335,or 336 or 33H. Stay away from the newer 4 series(ala Proceed HPA series)rack mounted ML amps, as your paying now over double what they used to sell for under the Proceed name(with a few improvements, but not twice the cost improvements or anywhere near close to it)unless you dont mind paying alot more for rebadged Proceed equipment.
I owned the 802N from 1999-2005. These days it is a very
poor speaker in timing and control in the low freq. I even
think the Revel is a better option. I am in this business
for over 16 years of time. I have listend to ML at many
shows and clients. I never had the feeling; This is good, I
First of all I miss the emotion in sound. Second the
sharpness for individual focus of instruments and voices is
not of the level I demand. And there are many who are
superior in depth and width. Even for free I would not want
it in my house!