Review: Levinson No-331 Amplifier

Category: Amplifiers

I mostly listen to small ensemble jazz, jazz vocals, pop and classic rock.

I test equipment mostly using analog sources. ie:vinyl. Classical music and female vocals are to me the best music for equipment analysis.

What I look for in evaluating equipment is inner detail, proper image placement and most of all musicality and "sweetness" to my ears. When everything is right, my ears are buzzing with gratification. I hate overly bright sound. also veiled sound that sounds muffled and unclear.

The levinson 331 has been in my system for only a few months and I am still evaluating it with my Apogee Caliper Signatures which I love. I had a Audio Research D400 200 watt per channel amp prior to my purchase of the Levinson, a 100 watt per channel amp.

The 331 has a much different sound as compared to the AR.

I would describe it as less up front, a little bit darker, with better image front to back imaging. Also, when I first hooked it up, it had a sweetness to the highs that I would describe as "silvery" which is characteristic of most Levinson amps that I've listened to in the past. I really like this effect but I am not sure if it is accurate. Also the upper to mid bass is a lot more detailed and controlled compared to my old amp. This I like a lot! The Levinson amp mates very well with my tube preamp, an Audio Research LS16. Tube preamps mate with SS amps very well.

If I had the cash, I would go with a higher powered Levinson amp. The Apogees will distort when the music is pumped up to really high levels. I think they are crying out for more power.

Associated gear
Preamp: Audio Research LS16
Speakers: Apogee Caliper Signature
Analog: Oracle Delphi/Linn Ittok/Grado Reference
CD: JVC 1010 and Audio Alchemy 3.0/2.0
SACD: Sony

Similar products
Audio Research D400 solid state
Threshold S300
Levinson 27.5
You like the 331 better than the 27.5 and S300 you list?
There's a lot that I liked about the S300. It seemed to have loads of power and control and never made my Apogee's object. However, it just sounded too dry and bright most of the time. I was always trying to tame the highs with cables etc until I gave up and got the D400. I never did get to try it with a tube preamp (I did not have one at the time).

I've never owned a 27.5, but have heard it on my system. It has the Levinson characteristic in the treble which I like so much, however, as I remember less control in the bass. It seems to me the 331 has everything the 27.5 has but with more bass control.
Thanks, I ask because it seems the 27.5 (and 23.5) are desired amps, yet the 331 has more mixed feelings. (As you say, if cash wasn't an issue, it would seem the 334 would make you quite happy.)
Yes, I noticed that Audio Review had a few negative comments on the 331 which I really don't understand. This amp could be more speaker and system sensitive than the older Levinson series. However, every professional magazine review on the 331 that I've seen has been positive including Larry Greenhill's in Stereophile which gave it a class A rating at the time.
You might give the new Pass XA200 a try. Pure class A, and if it's anything like the X350 I own and use on Mageneplanar MG20Rs, you're in for a treat. Check out the Pass X350 review thread for some further thoughts on Levinson amps. You're perception of the synergy of a well-matched tube preamp/ss power amp is right on the money. If it's feasable, sniff around for a used ARC LS22 or LS25. You'l like what you hear. Also, speaker cables can make a HUGE difference with revealing speakers like yours and mine. Those big ribbon drivers won't deliver their best unless the cable/interconnect combo is complementary. I'm getting fabulous - no, jawdropping - results with a new set of Cardas Golden Reference biwire cables. Cardas Golden Cross interconnects compliment the rest of the system. I'm about to move up to Cardas Golden Ref balanced (XLR)interconnects between amp and preamp, so we'll see what's what there. Given the results I've gotten with Cardas so far, I don't think that this is much of a gamble.
The Pass xa-200 costs 28,000 dollars! Thats a whole other ball park. He hopes to get a 334 which is 6000.00. I'm not sure if his money is best spent there....
Yeah, the XA200 is very expensive, and huge. I auditioned the 334 at length and did not like it as much as the McIntosh 352 in the same exact setup (we just swapped the amps out) of B&W N802s and Proceed CDP. I was surprised because I really wanted to like the big Levinson. The Mc also sounds exquisite with tube preamps like the Mc C2200. The detail, control, coherence, and holographic imaging captured my heart. Just a thought.