MARK LEVINSON H SERIES AMPLIFIERS PERSONAL REVIEW


So I have been in a long journey looking to find the best amplifiers for my martin logan montis. As you know, the match between an amplifier and speakers has to be a good "marriage" and needs to be blend exquisitely. Right now, I think I might have found the best sounding amplifier for martin logan. I have gone through approximately 34-36 amplifiers in the past 12 months. Some of these are:

Bryston ST, SST, SST2 series
NAD M25
PARASOUND HALO
PARASOUND CLASSIC
KRELL TAS
KRELL KAV 500
KRELL CHORUS
ROTEL RMB 1095
CLASSE CT 5300
CLASSE CA 2200
CLASSE CA 5200
MCINTOSH MC 205
CARY AUDIO CINEMA 7
OUTLAW AUDIO 755
LEXICON RX7
PASS LABS XA 30.8
BUTLER AUDIO 5150
ATI SIGNATURE SERIES 6005

With all that said, the amplifiers I mentioned above are the ones that in my opinion are worth mentioning. To make a long story short, there is NO 5 CHANNEL POWER AMP that sounds as good as a 3ch and 2ch amplifier combination. i have done both experiments and the truth is that YOU DO lose details and more channel separation,etc when you select a 5 channel power amplifier of any manufacturer.
My recollection of what each amp sounded like is as follows:

ATI SIGNATURE SERIES 6005 (great power and amazing soundstage. Very low noise floor, BUT this amplifiers NEEDS TO BE cranked up in order to fully enjoy it. If you like listening at low volume levels or somewhat moderate, you are wasting your time here. This amp won't sound any different than many other brands out there at this volume. The bass is great, good highs although they are a bit bright for my taste)

NAD M25 (very smooth, powerful, but somewhat thin sounding as far as bass goes)
Bryston sst2(detailed, good soundstage, good power, but can be a little forward with certain speakers which could make them ear fatiguing at loud volumes)

Krell (fast sounding, nice bass attack, nice highs, but some detail does get lost with certain speakers)

rotel (good amp for the money, but too bright in my opinion)

cary audio (good sound overall, very musical, but it didn't have enough oomph)

parasound halo (good detail, great bass, but it still holds back some background detail that i can hear in others)

lexicon (very laid back and smooth. huge power, but if you like more detail or crisper highs, this amp will disappoint you)

McIntosh mc205 (probably the worst multichannel amp given its price point. it was too thin sounding, had detail but lacked bass.

butler audio (good amplifier. very warm and smooth sweet sounding. i think for the money, this is a better amp than the parasound a51)

pass labs (very VERY musical with excellent bass control. You can listen to this for hours and hours without getting ear fatigue. however, it DOES NOT do well in home theater applications if all you have is a 2 channel set up for movies. The midrange gets somewhat "muddy" or very weak sounding that you find yourself trying to turn it up.

classe audio (best amplifier for multi channel applications. i simply COULDNT FIND a better multi channel amplifier PERIOD. IT has amazing smoothness, amazing power and good bass control although i would say krell has much better bass control)

This brings me to the mark levinsons h series (532h and 533h to be specific). I have done EXTENSIVE listening with them for the past 2 weeks and i will say that NO OTHER amplifier gave me a better blend of everything as these amps did. They have EVERYTHING from top to bottom. Granted, i still think krell has better bass, BUT the highs and midrange smoothness are UNMATCHED. I really thought that i was going to simply try them and move on to the next amplifiers and i just couldn't. My mind was set that i was going to keep the classe audio, but the levinsons just did everything better. I can't really say anything bad about it other than perhaps some of you might need MORE POWER in a larger room. They are THE ONLY amplifier that i can listen to at low volumes and HEAR everything and each detail. It doesn't lose a thing even at low volume. I have never experienced this before. Very 3 dimensional. Is it worth the retail price? no it is not, BUT if you find it at good deal, make no mistake this H SERIES will beat whatever you have in your set up right now UNLESS you are talking crazy ultra high end units out there. If you can pick up one of these puppies in good shape for under 5,000, i don't think you can do better. It will BEAT any 2 channel amp that you can think of for under 10,000 in my opinion. The only other amp i can't speak of is the plinius sa 103, but if i do find it at a good price, i might have a review for it.
Some of you might be in the quest for a good 2 channel or maybe a 5 channel amplifier in which i recommend what i have which is the 533h and 532h. i am willing to put up money on the table that this 2 amplifiers would be ANY 5 channel amplifiers out there REGARDLESS of the price period. Everything comes to life with these. I can say that if you have money to spend and are ACTUALLY wanting to HEAR an improvement in sound over what you have, DO NOT overlook the h series amplifiers from levinson. It will blow your mind.
whitecamaross
I've had a Levinson #532H for several years now, I love it as well.
i am actually in the process of doing a a/b comparison of the 532h vs the plinius sa 103. It should be one interesting one!
Sounds good! I had a bad experience with Levinson many years ago, so I'm a bit leery to try it again. But, I did hear it at CES in the Harman room driving JBLs, and I thought it was pretty good. Better than what I remember...

Hi Whitecamaross
The Montis are a very heavy load, with low impedances and very high - phase angles, you need an amp that can deliver good current when asked without strain.
This means an amp that can keep near doubling it's wattage from 8ohms to 4ohms to 2ohms
One amp/s that I can think of that's not on your list is the mono block Parasound JC1's and they have the added benefit of a high bias class A switch on the back when your seriously listening. And you can switch it off when just using it for background music.

http://www.stereophile.com/content/martinlogan-montis-loudspeaker-measurements

http://www.stereophile.com/solidpoweramps/774/index.html

Cheers George
Interesting to read you heard a difference between the Levinson 500H series and the ATI 6000 series. I looked at their amplifier modules (both manufacutred by ATI) and they look 99% identical (different colour of circuit board and some tiny wiring differences) with the ATI ones having slightly more capacitance (18 vs 14 capacitors).
It is a shocking similarity:
ATI 6000 platine excluding heatsink
https://www.facebook.com/571448082971855/photos/pb.571448082971855.-2207520000.1424956019./589391737844156/?type=3&theater

Mark LEvinson 531H module:
http://img2.audio.de/image-f960x960-ffffff-C-ef6a4866-69204075.jpg

The 6000 series is also much newer then the 500H series which is a bit older now. I would not be surprised if ATI pretty much based their design on the Levinson 500H design.

That said the manufactures must "voice" their amplifieres differently if you hear a difference.
YES, the levinsons are MUCH better at ANY volume level. The ati needs to be cranked up in order to enjoy it. It doesn't shine during low volume listening sessions.
I doubt your claim given the spec and construction of the ati vs levinson.
Nevertheless due to your raving reviewI will get them both for comparison at home. I hope i am not waisting my time. The levinson looks like a waste of money given identical or actually worse specification.
I HAVE OWNED BOTH. i don't care what the specs say. The mark levinson is voice VERY differently. They sound waaaaay better regardless of the volume level. i speak from my own personal experience and not from some lame magazine review that gets paid to say something good about a certai product. Most people here go by what others say, but i have owned both so i am speaking from first hand experience. The ati signature is VERY BRIGHT sounding and the guy who i sold it to also decided to sell it after owning it for only one month. He went to parasound because he couldn't tame the high frequencies in the ati. I don't care how you present it, the ati isn't the same. Mark levinson simply ROCKS with these new H series and they are extremely reliable.
Whitecam, when I was looking for an amp for my paradigm Signature S6 v2 speakers, I tried Emotiva which was way too bright. Talking to a co-worker, he recommended Mark Levinson with Martin logans. As I already had the $6000 speakers from Paradigm, I kept researching and ended up with Parasound. Your findings mirror mine with the Halo gear, a little warmer but without every last detail. This works perfect with Paradigm Sigs and I've been able to tune the system one way or the other with cables.
I own the martin logan montis and the mark levinson sounds BEAUTIFUL with the electrostatics. I don't even have a real processor yet the amplifiers sound amazing regardless of the volume level. I also think parasound halo is excellent with detail without being too forward. The ATI is forward sounding and will demand a warm sounding processor like the classe SSP. Marantz and ati DON'T GO well together. I prefer to have amplifiers that give me detail without causing fatigue after hours of listening. i love my levinsons and i had heard the entire bad rap sheet that levinson gets due to their high repair costs etc, but the H series is THE MOST RELIABLE amplifiers from mark levinson.
Don't listen to your local dealer trying to tell you the ATI is just a mark levinson, etc. IT IS NOT!. The design might be similar, but the levinsons have more detail and are smoother. i feel they are between pass labs and krell as far as detail. Not too bright and not too laid back.
Well I will demo myself. I can demo quite a couple of the amps you mentioned without needing to buy any of them so I can do an unbiased demo (owning one creates usually bias due to sunk cost). (other then being biased against expensive amps that provide no audible upside).

I arranged a demo of the ATI in the 7 channel config vs. Mark Levinson 532H vs the new Krell Duo (vs potentially Classe-CA2300).
For ultimate comparison I will compare all of those to my current Gryphon Antileon Signature (pure class A) stereo amp which cost 3x as much as any of these so there will be a proper comparison opportunity (i actually want one of those amps to sound better or equal to the gryphon...) ;-)

Demo will be with my Classe SSP800 as processor/dac and wilson benesch (Chimera) speakers which use a silk dome tweeter so both front and speakers are not on the bright/edgy side such as Marantz or beryllium tweeters.
ATI oems for Levinson so I am not surprised that the innards are almost the same.
yes, ATI builds for levinson because they had to go to a reliable manufacturer and not keep making the same mistakes of building unreliable units since that was clearly hurting them. I can tell you that these amps sound VERY DIFFERENT. I do find it funny how the vast majority think that because ati makes it, then both amps must sound the same. However, what people DON'T realize is that they are voiced VERY VERY differently. The ati is more forward as I stated above so maybe it would benefit from a laid back preamplifier. I would take the classe 5200 or 5300 ANY DAY over the ati. Why? I am not a fan of bright or forward sounding amps. The most I can handle are the high frequencies from Krell. That is as far as I want to go. The BEST multichannel amp I have heard is the classe HANDS DOWN. However, a 3ch levinson along with a 2 channel would beat a classe 5200 or 5300. I have done this comparison.
kaifupdaddy, did you ever get a chance to do the demo of all the amps you wanted to do? Cant wait to read your review!!! So far I have owned ATI At6003 amp and find whitecamaross review of that amp spot on, thank you whitecamaross!!! Sold ATI now thinking whether pass labs 250.8 or  mark levinson 532h....any input whitecamaross?
Ottablue,
i sold my 532h last month and owned the 350.5 soon after that. I loved the 350.5 so much that I went for a 250.8 which is what I currently own as of 3 weeks ago.
Spectacular sounding amplifier. Far superior to any amp I’ve owned. I can give you more of my opinion if you want. Message me directly.

whitecamaross

I would be interested in your comparison between the 532H and Pass Labs
250.8 -
Happy Listening!
Are you selling your levinson 533h whitecamaross? 
whitecamaross

I sent a PM to you a few days ago. Are you going to address my query?
hi all,
i have been away from this thread for over a year. During this time, i have been through quite a few amps and speakers (Salon 2s,GoldenEar Triton 1s, Dynaudio C4s, B&W 803 D2s, B&W 800 Nautilus) i now own the Martin Logan Renaissance speakers which totally destroy my former Dynaudio C4s and totally squash the Salon 2s. So far, these are the amps that i can remember off the top of my head:


  • PS AUDIO BHK 300 MONOBLOCKS: Amazing amps. Tons of detail and really amazing midrange. the bass is amazing too, but the one thing i will say is that those of you with speakers efficiency of 87db and below you will not have all the "loudness" that you may want from time to time. These amps go into protection mode when using a speaker such as the Salon, but only at very loud levels. Maybe 97db and above. If you don’t listen to extreme crazy levels, these amps will please you in every way.
  • Plinius Odeon 7 channel amp: This is THE BEST multichannel amp i have ever owned. Far , but FAR SUPERIOR to any other multichannel amp i have owned. In my opinion it destroyed all of the multichannel amps i mentioned above and below. The Odeon is an amp that is in a different tier group and it is in a league of its own. Amazing bass, treble and it made my center channel sound more articulate than ever before. The voices where never scrambled with the action scenes. It just separated everything very nicely.
  • Theta Dreadnaught D: Good detailed amp. Looks very elegant, has a pleasant sound, but i found it a tad too bright for my taste. I thought it was also somewhat "thin" sounding lacking body to the music. could be that it is because it is class d?
  • Krell Duo 300: Good amp. Nice and detailed with enough power to handle most speakers out there. I found that it does have a very nice "3d" sound through my electrostatics. Nothing to fault here on this amp.
  • Mark Levinson 532H: Great 2 channel amp. Lots of detail, amazing midrange which is what Mark Levinson is known for. It sounds very holographic and will please those of you looking for more detail and a better midrange. As far as bass, it is there, but it is not going to give you the slam of a pass labs 350.5 or JC1s for example. It is great for those that appreciate classical music, instrumental, etc, but not those of you who love tons of deep bass. It is articulate sounding too
  • Krell 7200: Plenty of detail and enough power for most people. i found that my rear speakers contained more information after installed this amp. One thing that i hated is that you must use xlr cables with this amp or else you lose most of its sound performance when using RCA’s.
  • Krell 402e: Great amp. Very powerful and will handle any speaker you wish. Power is incredible and with great detail. That said, i didn’t get all the bass that most reviewers mentioned. I thought it was "ok" in regards to bass. It was there, but it didn't slam me to my listening chair.
  • Bryston 4B3: Good amp with a complete sound. I think this amp is more laid back than the SST2 version. I think those of you who found the SST2 version of this amp a little too forward with your speakers will definitely benefit from this amp’s warmth. Bryston has gone towards the "warm" side in my opinion with their new SST3 series. As always, they are built like tanks. I wouldn't call this amp tube-like, but rather closer to what the classe audio delta 2 series sound like which is on the warm side of things.
  • Parasound JC1s: Good powerful amps. Amazing low end punch (far superior bass than the 402e). This amp is the amp that i consider complete from top to bottom in regards to sound. Nothing is lacking other than perhaps a nicer chassis. Parasound needs to rework their external appearance when they introduce new amps. This amp would sell much more if it had a revised external appearance because the sound is a great bang for the money. It made my 800 Nautilus scream and slam. Again, amazing low end punch.
  • Simaudio W7: Good detailed amp. This amp reminds me a lot of the Mark Levinson 532h. Great detail and very articulate. I think this amp will go well with bookshelves that are ported in order to compensate for what it lacks when it comes to the bass. That doesn’t mean it has no bass, but when it is no Parasound JC1 either.
  • Pass labs 350.5: Wow, where do i begin? maybe my first time around with the xa30.8 wasn’t as special as it was with this monster 350.5. It is just SPECTACULAR sounding with my electrostatics. The bass was THE BEST BASS i have ever heard from ANY amp period. The only amp that comes close would be the jC1s. It made me check my settings to make sure the bass was not boosted and kept making my jaw drop each time i heard it. It totally destroyed the krell 402e in every regard. The krell sounded too "flat" when compared to this amp. This amp had amazing mirange with great detail up top. In my opinion, this amp is the best bang for the money. i loved this amp so much that i ended up buying the amp that follows below.
  • Pass labs 250.8: What can i say here. This is THE BEST STEREO AMP i have ever heard. This amp destroys all the amps i have listed above today to include the pass labs 350.5. It is a refined 350.5 amp. It has more 3d sound which is something the 350.5 lacked. It has a level of detail that i really have never experienced before and the bass was amazing as well. I really thought it was the most complete power amplifier i have ever heard HANDS DOWN. To me, this is a benchmark of an amplifier. This is the amp that others should be judged by. NOTHING is lacking and right now it is the #1 amplifier that i have ever owned.
  • My current amps are Mcintosh MC601s: i decided to give these 601s a try and they don’t disappoint. They have great detail, HUGE soundstage, MASSIVE power and great midrange/highs. The bass is great, but it is no pass labs 250.8 or 350.5. As far as looks, these are the best looking amps i have ever owned. No contest there. i gotta be honest with you all, i never bought mcintosh monos before because i wasn’t really "wowed" by the mc452, but it could have been also because at that time i was using a processor as a preamp which i no longer do. Today, i own the Mcintosh C1100 2 chassis tube preamp which sounds unbelievable. All the amps i just described above have been amps that i auditioned with the C1100 as a preamp. The MC601s sound great without a doubt, but i will say that if you are looking for THE BEST sound for the money, these would not be it. However, Mcintosh remains UNMATCHED when it comes to looks and also resale value. Every other amp above depreciates much faster than Mcintosh.

That said, my future purchase (when i can find a steal of a deal) will be the Pass labs 350.8. I am tempted to make a preliminary statement which is that i feel this amp could be THE BEST stereo amp under 30k dollars. Again, i will be able to say more and confirm once i own it. I hope this update can help you all in your buying decisions!



Hi all,
I've started a new thread for those of you who want to follow me and my experience with amplifiers. 

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/my-long-list-of-amplifiers-and-my-personal-review-of-each
Wow thats so cool.
Very nice write up- Happy Listening!

Thanks for the review whitecamaross,

did you find the XA30.8 lacking in power or were the X350.5/250.8 simply better sounding?

Please see my other thread.