Hyoon, I had a digital ML front end years ago which first got replaced with reference Ensemble pieces and now own the Accustic Arts combo as my reference.
I think you would find high end digital front ends these days would make your ML combo sound somewhat dry, somewhat constricted regarding the size of the soundstage and the air around individual players, and that timbres are more natural sounding with greater overall liquidity.
If you want alot more details go to my thread entitled, Reference DACS: An overall perspective or my reviews of Accustic Arts digital gear.
You have a fine sounding digital combo.Now this is just a suggestion,YMMV. Instead of upgrading the Levinsons, consider trying the Whest Audio Dap-10 processor after your dac,the improvements will shock you. I know, I use one with my Wadia and would not even consider taking it out of my system...
What does a Whest Audio Dap-10 do to the analog signal coming out of your DAC that causes the improvement?
Noticed how Levinson dacs still sell rather quickly? I had a #36 a few years ago and still wish I had it.
THE levinson reference components you have are NOT dry sounding. some of the very best and most expensive of today's players will resolve more information, but having owned a 360s/37 combo, i feel levinson led the way in redbook-cd realism for quite a while. alot of people have never even sat down and listened to the ML gear at length (of course $26K or even $11K retail is not within alot of people's reach), which i feel leads to alot of the negative comments on audiogon about how crummy cd's sound. but now you can get a used ML-390S cdp for under $4k, and it's still an awfully good player. of course if SACD's are at issue, then you have to look around for something else.
Sorry, French fries lets agree to disagree, besides this is all subjective and personnal taste anyways, the ML digital pieces do sound "dry" and lack the liquidity of the best of the reference digital gear today. Even when I had the reference ML front end I added a DCS Parcell umsampler to get alot more of what I call liquidity and a sense of easyness without losing resolution in the total combination. A friend just replaced his ML-390Scdp with the Accustic Arts reference Tube Hybrid and found it hard to believe how much of a qualitative difference/improvement he got in his system.
Having just sampled the last 390S to come off the production line at Madrigal before EOL, it was obvious to me that the 390S is dated in terms of music reproduction. While it may be a decent deal at its used price, in terms of performance it was bettered in every way by an Esoteric UX-1 CDP during a recent audition of speakers (particularly glaring were the non-existent bottom end and complete lack of musicality). Frankly, given how dated most of the Levinson line is, it's not surprising that Madrigal is promising 14 new Levinson product introductions this year.
It never ceases to amaze me how many Levinson haters there are. If someone does not like their products or should I say they already have a preconceived notion they won't, then the negative reviews unjustly fly. I have owned several ML pieces and liked everyone of them. I don't own one at the moment but know several people who favorably do. They all say the same thing about the naysayers. Either they can't afford it or just hate the line. Typical Krell owners.
To tell you the truth a very good friend of mine who has owned more equipment than most of us will in our lifetime says he loves Levinson. He does not understand why people hate them so much. He borrowed my #36 dac a few years ago and did not want to give it back. At the time he had a 331 amp and 38 preamp.
Wow, Levinson defense force mobilize! Levinson makes some good and some great products (for example, I feel that their 326S pre is something special which is why I own it) but that doesn't change the fact that many of their recent line of products simply can't compete in terms of performance with more contemporary products. If that wasn't the case, they wouldn't be updating almost they're entire line this year. afaik, the only products that will remain in the lineup are the 326S, No51 and an updated No40 (True HD and DTS HD MA decoding, etc.); everything else is either EOL (No32, 320S, 390S, 33H, 432) or will be this year (pretty much their entire line of amps).
Frankly, given the performance of the 326S, I can't wait for Levinson's new products, particularly their No33 preamp which will be going up against the Ayre KX-R to find a place in my system later this year (assuming the No33 makes it out in H2 08 as expected). If I didn't have the Ayre MX-Rs I'd also be exited about the No53 and the higher end reference monoblocks. It's time to let the old Levinson out to pasture and embrace the new and improved Levinson which looks like it's going to be a huge step up performance-wise.
I do agree their current line of 400 series amps is something to be desired. I don't know what they were thinking? Levinson used to build large beefy amps with nice big heatsinks. To me that is an amp, not one without them.
great equipment even by todays standards but I prefer the Spectral cd transport and dac, I find them a little warmer sounding
I currently own a ML #35 dac and a Muse Model Five transport. They are connected with an Acoustic Zen MC2 aes/ebu digital cable and all I have to run it is a cheap Denon 1803 receiver. This setup is definitely the most analog, richest, and smoothest sounding I've heard to date but doesn't quite give me the 3d sound and presence that I like. Do you think it would be worth my time and money looking into a separate amp and pre-amp?
I plan to in the future but I want a good foundation to start on first. It is to my understanding that I have a fairly good digital cable so I hope there's no problem there. It is also to my understanding that the 30.5 trounces the 35, but I can't afford a 30.5. My first setup was a Marantz cd-67 se used as a transport feeding the signal to a Theta DS Pro Basic dac.
That setup was nowhere near as rich, detailed, smooth, and analog sounding as the ML 35 I have now, but it had some decent presence and to me was quite vivid. Somewhere along the upgrade path I lost my way. Should I try a different transport? Or is the ML 35 simply not capable of delivering the vivid 3d sound stage and presence which I desire? I was thinking about possibly trying an Accustic Arts dac-1 if I can find one in my budget range ($1500-$2000). Suggestions would be most welcomed and greatly appreciated.
dear mr. teajay,
i have no problem having a disagreement with an experienced listener such as yourself. there is no question, as i stated previously, that some newer players (many of which cost upwards of $10,000) offer more detail and in many audiophiles' opinions a more musically realistic sound than the ml-390S. BUT a used 390S is comparitively inexpensive, built like a tank and is (STILL) an awfully good-sounding cdp. i too have upgraded my m.levinson 360s/37 to a newer, "better" digital front end- EMM labs DCC2-SE/CDSD-SE. I immediately noticed a marked difference- the EMM stuff uses a whole different set of mathematics to convert the ones and zero's which can sound "odd" to someone (like me) who had never heard this before. it also revealed more details, had a lower noise floor, and therefore i was fairly satisfied with my (not so cheap) purchase. but guess what? IMHO it did NOT make my levinson gear sound "unmusical" in any way, shape, or form. the ML components still, in my frame of reference (otherwise known as my opinion), had superb bass, very open and airy sounding, and very smooth. the EMM's treble WAS cleaner and less hashy, but not night and day- more like "X" percent- i would have a hard time stating a "number" here, but it would not be all that large.
if i took the levinson stuff out of the closet and re-installed it, my 30 or so SACD-only discs would get dusty, but i would still have music, GREAT sounding music, to enjoy just as before. i have very good wire, ML-33H AMPS (OH, OF COURSE, THAT MUST BE THE PROBLEM RIGHT THERE!), and von-schweikert vr-9 speakers, which are sufficiently revealing, so perhaps the problem is my hearing, which i am the first to admit is not as acute as some people i know (or at least they seem to hear minute differences i cannot).
anyway, all this does not make me right or anything like that, but every review i've read in both audio mag's over the course of several years has had positive impressions of levinson digital, and often IN COMPARISON with other, sometimes very VERY expensive digital gear. so if someone was dumb enough to spend $4000 on a used 390S just because i said go do it, they might hate the sound, but perhaps 7 or 8 times out of 10 they might agree with me that they DID NOT have to spend $10K, or even $20K, on esoteric or emm or whatever (how much was the acoustic arts player you now enjoy?) to play redbook cd's and get a very big chunk of the available information off the disc. another point i might make here is that even compared to my aries turntable, the levinson front end held its own providing the cd was recorded in a competent manner. gee that's odd, i spent just around... $4000- for the aries/arm/cartridge (a benz M-09).
i use a lucaschek phono stage, which is supposed to get the job done with minimal fuss (adjustments).
anyway, i would sincerely hope that if someone who has actually done the comparing can pick out some cdp's in the $3k to $5k range (used, so we are comparing apples to apples), that sound markedly better than the levinson, then that would obviously be preferable. i just don't think it would be an easy task.
And I would add, the 30.6 DAC and 31.5 do very well against today's competition. Very few DACS today are built to the exacting standards of the 30.6 with a three dedicated power supplies one for the digital, one for the left channel, and one for the right. I previously owned both the #39 CD player(now the 390s) (which was used by itself and as a transport with the #360s DAC). I then upgraded and used the #31.5 transport with the #360s. Finally after much searching I found a #30.6 DAC and sold the #360s. The #360s while very good (and a great buy) cannot not touch the #30.6 in terms of resolution, liquidity, soundstaging, and nothing I've heard touches the bass. I've compared the unit to a newer Meridian player, Accustics Arts Drive 1 transport, and the Esoteric X-O1 which is also highly regarded. The Levinson easily equaled or surpassed the two newer players in dynamics, soundstaging, and resolution. The CD playback was easily the most listenable and had an ease and liquidity the other two lacked. I was impressed with SACD on the Esoteric, and am curious as to what Levinson might have accomplished if they had brought out a SACD player, but as SACD seems to be faltering, to me SACD is not worth the investment at this time. At any rate, I hope this reassures Levinson owners and potential Levinson owners to listen carefully before selling or buying before listening for yourself.