If you really like the sound of tubes, I think you should pick a different amp. The ML is a nice, refined amp, but you would never mistake it for tubes. In your situation, I would check out something from Ayre, BAT or Pass. You'll probably be much happier with the sound of those amps.
it sounds like I was once in your position---but after hearing system after system with ML, Krell, Rowland, (actually owned the JR 7s monos M1 monos, , KMA100 monos, ) I just kept to tubes. for a while I went balls out with huge mono mega watt tube amps, but learned more is not always better --the SS stuff I did sort of like was from Symphonic Line, BEL Labs. As I am using different speakers these days, I still too do wonder about ML 20.5s -I try to let my past experience guide me and keep my finances straight. If I did find a good ML amp super cheap though, I'd probably pull the plug just to satisfy the curiosity.
if you have the Stax F-81/83/8x speakers, (I had the F-81),I reached almost perfection in terms of mid/highs with OTLs. I really miss those speakers.
They are dark sounding...in other words, not the most treble extension which can be good or bad depending on your system balance and room acoustics. I have a 27.5 as a backup from my former system...similar sound, just less power.
Rockitman nailed it. I had the original no. 23 many moons ago, and if you want clarity and top end extension, look somewhere else. I found the 23 to be dull and muffled. Not a very rewarding experience.
The ML23.5 was a great amplifier, but most probably will need a full recap, as all the electrolitic capacitors have lost most (or all) of their capacity. It is a very compact unit with several PCBs in layers and it will be a lot of work.
The ML23.5 is significantly better than the 27.5 or the 23, but is an old fashioned sound - you will need a matching preamplfier that will impart some life to the system.
I have to say that the only amplfier of this family I would love to own is the ML20.6 - a very different amplifier.
No solid state-itis with the 23.5. It is one of the best sounding solid state amps made, but I recommend you use it with the matching ML preamp. I would not worry about a recap. See if you like it. It is a great amp. The 20.6 Microstrip mentioned is Class A monos costing much more than the 23.5.
I respectfully disagree. The class-A Krells of the 80s-early 90s run rings around the Levinson.
Another respectful disagreement, I always found the Levinson's better than the Krell's, past and present.
As far as the 20.6's that Microstrip mentioned, there probably one of the best amps ever made regardless of technology, but are only a 100 watts and run hotter than any tube amp I've owned.
Well I never found any of the ML amps to sound dark. I find them neutral or true to the source. I have owned the 27, 27.5 (step up from 27 and sounds more extended), 334.5, and ML-29 (sweet 50 wpc amp). There are a lot of ML haters here so take advice with a grain of salt. Also it depends on your speakers. Are they dark, neutral or cool sounding? I also in the past find that the 23.5 if priced fair will sell very quickly.
Thanks to all for your comments. I have gone through a succession of tube amps (currently Manley) for the last twenty years, and I have no intention of replacing the current Manley mono's; just thought it might be kinda fun to try a "serious" ss amp again. The last two (twenty yrs ago) were a Rowland, and a BEL.
What would be a "fly off the shelf" price for a sample in very good shape, in the event that I decide to not keep it. I hate to say it, but to me the average BB price strikes me as high for an amp of this age.
The Mark Levinson 23.5 is one of the best amps ever built period. It is significantly better (major upgrades) over the 23, 27, etc. The Krell KSA 250 is also very good. There is a reason why ML upgraded the 23 to 23.5 status and the 20 to 20.5 and 20.6 status. You will find that the 23.5 is an amazing amp and will beat the pants off most high end amps made today. The internal politics in Mark Levinson company caused the company to go in a different direction. I have to tell you, that if you have a chance to get your hands on a good condition 23.5, grab it. The mid bass to upper end definition and extension is amazing and the low bass is incredible. I am hard pressed to find a amp (tube or solid state) that is its better and believe me I have looked (listened) to many. In addition, this amp can drive any speaker very well. If your friend has the amp, the best thing you can do is take it home and audition it in your system and listen for yourself. You will be pleased. Now, I'm not knocking tube amps. what I am saying is that this amp and the 20.6 are the Jewels of Mark Levinson's product line and not much out there even today can beat them. If I can find a 23.5 or 20.6 in decent condition for a good price, I would buy them without a second thought. The same holds true for some very good tubed amps I admire.
How cheap? And are you sure it has "ss-itis"? There are some very, very nice sounding SS amps out there. Also, the Stax electrostats with the "brutal load", are you using tube power amp(s) with those?
My instinct is to tell you to "go for it"--how many really high end components can you buy for super cheap? You may enjoy swapping it in & out with your other amps. Not to mention the advantages of having a "spare" power amp, pre-amp, etc. around in case of equipment failure.....
If it ever requires a service, it won't be so cheap anymore.
Steveaudio, $1400; is that cheap for this amp? Does it have ss-itis? I don't know, but I have never heard a ss amp that didn't ; to varying degrees. Yes, I drive the Stax's with 200 tube watts successfully. My Meitner mono's also did a surprisingly good job of "driving" them, but did not sound nearly as good tonally and spatially.
If you liked the early Rowland design I think you would like the sound of the Levinson, it is closer in tonal balance to the Rowland sound than any Krells I can recall. It, along with the 20.6 and the old ML2, are the best of the Levinson designs, in my view. I'd suggest you try it in your system, though--I think you'll find it more open spacially than the Meitners, not as closed-in or dark sounding. I still think you'll find something missing that you only get from tubes.
Well, fair enough. The Levinson does have its fans as evidenced here, as far as being as good as today's amps, I disagree. I would say the same about the old Krells.
At the time, the 23.5 seemed like a perfect match for Maggie 3's, and probably would still be spectacular with the new ones.
I stand by my earlier comments. I have demo'd the 23.5 vs some of the top new amps made today, and it is still one of the best out there. Also, it was never cheap to get a high end amp repaired. But, as long as the parts are around, a good technician will work wonders. The hard part is getting the schematic. Many competent technicians can reverse engineer a circuit. It takes time, but..