I've owned the 20.6 and 23.5 and have heard the 334 at great lengths and if it were my money I would buy a "real" Mark Levinson and go for the 23.5 or if you really want to treat yourself, find a pair of 20.6! The 334 are bit more transparent than the older ML but they lack soul and emotion. I use to be a big fan of ML until they started gouging the customer for repairs.
I had the 23.5 probably 10 years ago, it's no comparison by today's standard. At that time, it was easily over taken by Clayton Audio M100, I lost a lot of money selling the 23.5.
BRF I have to ask, how does the 334 lack soul and emotion? I have heard it and used to own a 27.5. Personally I liked the 334 better and thats not saying the 27.5 sounded like chopped liver. I thought the 300 series just sounds a bit smoother and more refined. It is system dependant but I think if your speakers are a tad on the warm side you might like the 23.5 or 27.5 better. If your speakers are more on the neutral or cooler side then the newer 300 series might be the ticket. Of course this is a matter of preference :)
"BRF I have to ask, how does the 334 lack soul and emotion?"
The 334 never engaged me with the music. I have long since moved over to SET, therefore, you could say my preference is biased more to the organic side of neutral. My experience with the 300 series vs. 23.5 is quite different than yours as I found the older 20.6 and 23.5 to be a warmer sounding amp than the 300 series. We do agree that system matching is the key. I had my ML 23.5 and then 20.6 pair with Wilson WP3/2 which benefited from the ML warmer nature.
As stated above, I would not touch a ML product due to their poor reputation for lack of customer support for out of warrantee products.
Just my two cents ...
I truly loved ML equipment abd think thry have designed some of the finest components around but I would not consider purchasing them anymore. They have essentially turned into throw away items. Repair is so expensive its just as cheap to replace the unit. Throw away is okay if its a Walmart item but certainly not for gear that costs what ML costs. I suspect their association with Lexus and car audio has turned them away from their roots Take a look elsewhere.
If you can buy parts from Madrigal then I would have a reputable repairmen replace the parts instead of sending back to factory. I had a ML 29 repaired by a reputable shop a few years ago. He replaced the caps and I can't remember the other part for about $300 including shipping both ways. I talked with Madrigal extensively when I ordred the part and they were very helpful. They even sent me blueprints of the 29. Maybe in the last couple of years the support is changing for their products I don't know, but I think ML products always have their naysayers. Personally I find their amps very good and basically on the neutral side sonically.
It's not just a parts issue. I had a coversation with the repair tech when I had to sent my ML333 in for repair. The entire 300 series suffered from a design flaw that blows up capacitors. Mine had been repaired 3 times.
And as Patrickp indicated above, the service has been going down the toilet after the company was sold to Harmon Kardon.
I have owned a 27, which is the same topology as the 23.5, just less wattage and the .5 models were a slight upgrade, and the 334. For my money, there is no doubt the older model is a more musical amp. I loved the 27, kept it for years even after switching to tubes. I used the 334 for a few months and sold it because I didn't care for it at all. The 27 was a warm, musically satisfying amp. The 334 was cold and analytical to my taste.
As for problems with the 334's, early models had problems with the caps, which were replaced in later models. ML even offered the cap upgrade to out of warranty failures because they recognized the defect.
A friend had a 23.5, which he used until switching to tubes. We both like that amp very much.
I don't post often but I feel I must post on this issue. First, the 23.5 along with the ML-2 and 20.6 are the best ML products ever produced. I owned most of the ML amplifiers over the years with the final one being a ML333. The caps went on the amp and ML wanted $2500 for the repair sight unseen. I ended up selling the amp as is for $750. I will never again buy a ML product due to the way they treat their customers. Audio is not like cars where you hope to make your money on the maintenance and repairs. Just say no to ML, there are a lot of excellent products to choose from. Look at Bryston amps, they have a warrantee and repair policy that is 180 degrees to that of ML!!
Absolutely agree with testpilot. ML is what got me into this hobby in the first place and I still have a softspot for it, but ever since Harman bought Madrigal, their service policy has been one of the worst I have ever seen (and that's saying a lot). I will never buy another ML gear - new or used - until they improve their service.
The only reason why I still own Levinson is because I put soooo much money into the amp repair I feel I am now committed to the amplifier for life (or until it dies again). I do love the sound; however I would I have to warn people that buy Levinson used, ultimately you do run the risk of throwing good money after bad.
You don't have to get it repaired at the factory for goodness sakes. There are plenty of other avenues to take for repairs. It sucks that you had to pay that much for repair and Harman is not supporting their products but its obvious your are jaded by your experience. I would be to somewhat but ML amps are very good amps and can be kept going like alot of other past/older products. Another poster did say Levinson did admit to a design flaw and were honoring replacing the caps for the 300 series.
Have you tried fixing the big solid state amps or complex digital gears such as a transport and a DAC without schematics? If you know of a tech who can fix a Levinson No.360s dac and a NO.336 amp, please share it with us. Reality is they are impossible to repair unless you have the full service documentations and access to proprietary parts, which unfortunately only two authorized Levinson service centers have.
I did obtain the schematics thru Levinson when I had my amp repaired. They were very helpful and I contacted them several times and they always returned my calls if I had to leave a voicemail or left a message with someone. They told me what exactly the parts I needed and they were shipped promptly. Maybe I just got lucky???
You can email me offline and I will give you the name of the tech or repair person I used. It has been about 3 yrs ago so I am not sure if he is still in business but I would guess he is.
Obviously you are the exception, not the norm. Harman International does NOT support older hardware AT ALL today. All the repairs on the old models are contracted out to one shop in Texas and another in east coast. The communication from those two repair centers are horrible, and they charge exorbitant amount for the common capacitor repair. They are NOT honoring the extended warranty unless you can provide ten different documentations to prove you are the first owner, in other words, it's worthless. I've asked around locally to see if anyone can take a look at 33x, but nobody would touch it. When the amp dies it's a good boat anchor at 100+ lbs, but it's pointless to try to revive it by paying 50% of the cost for the repair.
Well it's been a little over 3 months and I purchased the 27.5 that was just listed. I was unable to find another 23.5. The wait time was worth it. The 27.5 never gets hot, unlike the 23.5 which ran hot all the time. The 27.5 sounds excellent. Maybe I'll get lucky again and find a 23.5 in my neighborhood. I wish Madrigal was still around they were the best. The 27.5 was hand delivered and it is MINT, I see why some say this is the best 2 channel amp Mark Levinson ever designed.
Just purchased a MINT 23.5 from David at WEINHART DESIGN on Audiogon. Now I have a 27.5 and 23.5 all I can say is that I am no longer tempted to listen to a 334 or 335 anymore. They both sound that good and the 23.5 does not heat up, both sides are mildly warm unlike the one I returned that had a left channel that would burn your hand. Anyway if anyone knows a good ML repair man in New York just in case down the road I need service would be nice. Thanks all.