Mark Levinson pre-amplifiers compared

On advice from Audiogon discussants...and I thank them....I purchased a ML 523 and have
posted my ML 326-s for sale.

A review of the four ML pre-amplifiers I have owned may interest some.

1. ML 10 pre-amplifier....purchased around 1983 (and returned two weeks later) following a dealer's assertion that it incorporated the characteristics of that brand's more expensive pre-amplifiers, at a much lower price.
False !  It was dull and flat.
2. ML-7, purchased around 1983.  Narrowly chosen over the Spectral DMC-10 (I believe the alpha version).
The Spectral had the ethereal high end which the ML-7 entirely lacked, but at the sonic cost of a 'thin and
watery' mid-range and base.  The ML-7 within its frequency confines was magnificent.
I attempted 12 or so years ago to improve on it, borrowing the top-of-the line CJ solid state
pre-amp for comparison.  The ML-7 easily won.
3. ML 326-s, purchased two years ago.  Finally a conclusive improvement over the ML-7.
The high frequencies were extended and euphonic, the sound more detailed throughout the
sonic range, the tonal balance as accurate as my 'live' music listening experience allowed me to judge.
This is a wonderful pre-amplifier, its tonal neutrality, sweet high frequencies and sonic detail such that if I had not committed to the ML 523 I could forever be happy with it.
4. ML 523.    The sound is immediately distinguishable from that of the 326s.  The 523 offers an 'air transparency' and 'articulate transients' (to quote the Stereophile reviewer) that the 326s cannot match.  This was, to date, most obvious when listening to a choir performance, on vinyl.  The complex tonal characteristics of the different choir sections required no effort of imagination to differentiate, the spatial positioning was equally bold and 'observable', the 'air' around the voices and their high frequency transients a sonic treat.  ML 523 brought something new and irrepressibly enticing to my living room.
I must at the same time comment on the overall tonal balance of the ML 523 which in one sense...and perhaps I am wrong about this.. hewed closer to that of the ML-7 than to that of the ML 326s.   While the ML-7 more or less lacked a top 'top end', it has been described (accurately, I believe) as having 'slam and midrange punch'. The 523 has an overall fuller sound than that of the 326-s. and maintains what one might still call 'slam and punch' throughout the frequency spectrum.

Regarding loudspeakers, the ML 523 makes more evident the high frequency 'ring' and midrange 'bogginess' which render the B&W 802D2's less accurate than their 802D3 successors.  Those faults of the 802 D2's in particular respect of reproducing piano music
bring into perspective an aesthetic dilemma.  The D2's are gorgeous sculpted loudspeakers, D3's close to being eyesores.  Purchase of D2's 'upgraded' with the D3's high and mid-frequency sections, but retaining the woofer cabinetry of the D2, would for me be a no-brainer.  I said as much to B&W in an e-mail, but of course they did not reply.

Would replacing my 532h amplifier with a ML 534 make much difference ?

Thanks to all,

On the speaker's, I agree the new B&W 800 series are borderline eyesore. When I  bought my 800 diamonds, I did so right before the d3s came out. I wanted the rosenut but they were sold out so I had to settle for the Cherry. Definitely not my favorite color choice but still a better looking speaker than the d3s.

I agree it would be nice if you could get an upgrade. My tweeters are the same as the d3s, so I guess the only change would be the mid-range drivers. I am more than happy with my bass drivers!

Congrats on the Levinson preamp! FYI, I have a mark Levinson number 32 and it is incredible!!!!
Oldschool, thanks for your reply.
Regarding once more the B&W loudspeakers, swapping d3 for d2 midrange and high frequency sections would avail the listener of
the thicker tweeter enclosure, with reduced 'ring', and of the aluminum midrange enclosure with thickness-modulated and otherwise newer cone material.  As you know, B&W is now Japanese owned and impervious, I surmise, to input such as our's.
Regarding once more ML pre-amps, the 523 brought a grand piano into my living room, for the first time in 60 years of hi-fi listening.  I had a similar sonic impression only when auditioning a 'no cost constraints' system that prominently featured the 'Goldfinger' MC cartridge and Spectral DMC 20SV pre-amplifier, the latter boasting extraordinarily quick transients.  Paradoxically, the Spectral brought an unpleasant graininess to the one digital source the dealer chose to demonstrate.
I might again ask if 'upgrading' the ML 532h amplifier would produce audible difference.  The ML 532h has power to spare, and this is now 'audible' and, looking back decades at underpowered amplifiers, comforting.
I went from a ml 532h to a 534. Very noticeable difference in sound. I'm using Focal Sopra 3 which go down to 3.1 ohm. 
The new 534 is a much better amp especially in the bass and treble. 
Stronger, tighter and more detailed bass and the treble was more extended and smoother. Detail all around was better but still had the great organic mid range that the 532h has. 
Thanks for the 532h-534 comparison.
Does the 534 have or seem to have the same 'bottomless' power reserve that the 532h does, and have you 'noticed' or otherwise been concerned by what one review described as that amplifier's 'running hot'?  
Your comments surprise me insofar as I had assumed that 'upgrading' amplifiers already at this level would produce little if any noticeable again thanks.
Yes unlimited power even thought it's rated lower. actually seems like more with the stronger bass. Mine runs warm but not to hot.
I have mine out in the open so there's plenty of air. The 532h also ran warm and this isn't much more than that. 
I thought the bass would be better due to the higher current for my speakers but was surprised how much better the treble was. 
Soundstage is very similar as I thought the 533h was excellent in that area.
 There is more detail and air throughout the entire frequency range.
If you like the sound of the 532h the 534 just ups everything. 
Your last comments offer what may be a viable however expensive solution to the dilemma inherent in appreciating the B&W 802 d2's visual aesthetics while attempting to tame their high frequency 'ring'.  Of course the midrange could be tighter, as the d3's offer, while few object to their lush base.  The d3's apparently tame the 'ring' by thickening the tweeter enclosure, as their product launch emphasized.  Assuming my floor can take the weight I'll see at what price a 534 may be available.  Again thanks for very relevant and helpful discussion.
hmm, @seventies, I'm not sure where you are getting your info, but B&W is owned by a California company as of 2016 (they operate as a software startup in the SF Bay Area as well), and were previously owned by a UK-based holding company. 

Also, while aesthetics are certainly personal, and I do think the 800 D3 series has perhaps a polarizing look, I personally find the 800 D2 series particularly ugly. It looks like a speaker designed in the late 70s and early 80s (subjectively the worst 20 years of design in history), whereas the new D3 has a more modern look (and even matches well with my mid-century modern furniture. 
Hi, mayoradamwest.
I enjoy opinions such as you just provided, and trust you do as well.
Regarding B&W, a recently retired high end hi-fi store owner elaborated to me the history of B&W, noting that they'd spent a small fortune on researching and initiating production of the d3 line and that the most recent owners of that 'name' were less likely to
consecrate similar amounts to R&D.  My own audition of the 802d3's confirmed their sonic excellence.
Regarding aesthetics, and of course degustibus non est disputandum, I wish the announced price for the forthcoming 'prestige' version of the 802d3's were less. I wonder how the current rosenut d2's would look with a coat of French polish applied.  Your comment on mid-century modern furniture brings a chuckle insofar as 55 years ago a college friend who acceded to directorship of a British bank showed off the reproduction antique furniture in his Manhattan apartment and then a room whose furniture he described as 'early Eisenhower'.  As I write I ascertain that the ML 534 can be had for below list price, am attempting to sell both my 326s and 532h towards that purchase....after which I shall give further thought to a d3 purchase.  mmceylea's comments regarding the 534's treble was the mainspring for this effort.

@seventies for what it's worth, I'm planning on buying 802 D3s to replace my 805 D3s as my main 2 channel in the next year. They show up here on Audiogon fairly regularly for at least 30% off MSRP, which seems like a pretty good deal. At their $22k list price, it's a bit out of my comfort zone, but 14-16k I can somehow justify (especially given the resale value). Good luck on the pre-amps! They all sound excellent, and you plan seems sound.
I await your opinion of the 802d3's.  I note that mmcelyea is using
sopra 3's with the Levinson 534 amp and is very pleased.  The sopra 3's. which I'd not previously know of, have a similar retail price to that of the 802d3's.
As I considered purchasing the 802d3's I could not decide between the black and the seems to sell for less.
Many years ago I took home a pair of B&W bookshelf speakers, the
nautilus series, hoping to save space and mate them with a subwoofer.
Within a few days I'd returned them and purchased the nautilus 802's,
the immediate predecessor to the 802D, and happily lived with those for
over a decade.
I will report my own experience with the ml 534 if I succeed in selling my 532h for a decent price.
I was able to sell my 532h fairly easily. The sopras and the 802 are priced similar and both have high end tweeters. Since you are most interested in that part I'll give more detail. 

The 534 treble is more extended and detailed but not bright. There is less hash with the 534 less digital sounding treble is how I describe it. Smoother over all with more ambiance. It's a very quiet amp.

It's not just the topend  that's better, every area is but I was most surprised by the treble
You have persuaded me to purchase a 534 as soon as I have sold
my 532h and hopefully my 326s, both of which I just advertised on Audiogon, US Audiomart, and Craigs list but to date without
viable response.  I have not previously sold on Audiogon so am 'learning the ropes' Advice in that area would be welcome, as you are to call me at 978-4756987. 
On another 'note', the 802d2, 523 and 532h combination reveals certain virtues and defects of digital sources that I could not previously appreciate.  For instance, I just received box sets on Decca of Chopin and Schubert solo piano music, excellent artists but poor recordings, the piano sound coarse and tinny, and inferior that on CD's of the old Anni Fischer Beethoven sonata recordings.  So a question that may go unanswered is whether recordings companies such as Decca's 'bargain' offerings are inferior to the (same) recordings sold earlier as individual CD's or part of more expensive collections. 
mmcelyea and others,
I can now report my experience with the ML 534 as replacement for the ML 532h.  Indeed the 534 'ups everything' but in a manner which
greatly surprised me.  The 534's improvement on sonic clarity and reproduction of transients struck me as equal to that brought by replacing the ML 326s with the ML 523.  (I'd long believed that the pre-amplifier contributed well over half of sound amplification's net quality.)
Only once before, auditioning a 'cost no object' Spectral/Rockport based system, did a piano sound to me like a fine piano.
On connecting the ML 534 I suddenly had that piano in my living room.
The sound was immensely pleasurable, as perhaps only those who have sat within several feet of an expertly played Steinway or Mason and Hamlin piano can fully ascertain.
The sound was different from that produced by the Spectral-based system.  The transients were not as quick, but the midrange was fuller and more satisfying, and the shape of the piano notes, the sculpted legato sound that pianists strive for, was equally or more audible.
And in the same context as the foregoing comparison, as one might suspect, the ML's reproduction of digital music was smoother, less 'grainy', and more pleasing.
Comparison of the ML 534 with the 532h independent of sonic 'clarity' is evocative of comparison of the ML 523 with the ML 326s.
In both instances, Todd Eichenbach, the chief ML designer, has returned to ML's roots, as once brilliantly exemplified by the ML 7.  The 326s and 532h had an open and uncolored sonic quality with seemingly flat response throughout the frequency range, but at the expense of 'meat on the sonic bones' analogy one might extend to British as opposed to American loudspeaker preference.
Regarding amplification-transducer paring, the 523-534 combination does much to address the exaggerated brightness of the B&W D3's.  Perhaps more interesting, and insofar as improvement in one part of a system exposes flaws in another, the ML 523-534 are suspect of delivering more detailed information to the B&W D3's midrange drivers than those can optimally reproduce.  One asks to what extent a better midrange cone material might redress that issue, as B&W attempted in replacing Kevlar with 'Continuum' in the D3.
So I will seek rosenut 802D3's at a bargain price, and accomodate their esthetics.  Could those be improved with a few coats of lacquer over the factory finish ? Might a pair of 'prestige' 802 D3's become available at a bargain price ?  Might a subwoofer-803 D3 combo equal the performance of the 802 D3's ?
Readers of the foregoing, forgive my error.  I was referring to the exaggerated brightness and ? suboptimal midrange clarity of the B&W D2's, not the D3's, which
are alleged to remedy this potential flaw.
Seven ties
My 326s just got taken out by a lightning strike, I am still waiting for the tech to declare it dead or not. If it is dead, I will then find out exactly what Allstate means by "replacement cost" insurance.