Soliciting Member Perspectives: Levinson vs Bryston vs Audio Research

Wanting to start a discussion for which there are obviously ZERO absolute answers.  I want to hear various member perspectives on these three marquis brands of audio equipment: pro's vs con's, likes vs dislike & your emotional/visceral experiences.

Why?  #1, I think it would be fun & edifying.  #2, I am contemplating modifying the direction of my primary 2-channel system in my 'Man Cave' & your thoughts & opinions will be useful.

Please try to avoid pretentiousness, condescension & remember, these are your opinions & not necessarily facts.

Thanks in advance & I hope this proves to be as fun as I think it can be.
PreviewAg insider logo xs@2xoldmandave
These products have nothing in common they are only vaguely, loosely, and distantly related to each other if you are seriously considering, contemplating, or pondering they're purchase you would be well adviced to visit a local authorized dealer in Music Reproduction Systems for these aforementioned brands and listen, evaluate, and determine for your self they're suitability, desireability, and compatibility with you're contemplated sysyem changes, alterations, and upgrades.
I like Levinson
ARC is good too
Never been a Bryston fan
Is it even possible to say "Levisnon vs Bryston vs Audio Research" without being pretentious? ;-)

I can't help you because I don't have a lot of experience but I have an old AR LS-16 tube pre-amp. I think it was one of their lower end pre-amps.

It runs through a Madrigal Proceed HPA2 (Dual Monaural, 250 wpc) which was designed by Levinson.

The combo was well researched to go with the speakers I have.

It works for me.

Sound is warm but not overly warm or colored. Bass is superbly tight and clear. Highs are distinct without being overly bright or tinny.

That is the sum total of my experience with these brands.

This is supposed to be a fun thought-experiment that engenders friendly conversations about 3 marquis brands. Please cease with the proselytizing & pedantic lecturing.

oldmandave"clearthink... Please cease with the proselytizing & pedantic lecturing."

it is not for you to limit, restrict, or discourage posters and contributors to this forum from sharing, expressing, or explaining they’re thoughts, beliefs, or opinions its interesting that in the land of "Free Speech" and you’re charished, revered, and holy First Amendment that so many seek to silence those with who they disagree or are offended, insulted, or embarassed.
@n80 The HPA2 is no slouch, I wasn't impressed with the AMP line of Proceed amplifiers, but the HPA's were in a different league.

20 year warranty says a lot about Bryston, Levinson isn't really Levinson anymore can't say much about ARC never owned anything from them. Bryston and ARC have stood the test of time rather well with good customer support and product stability.
@n80 - Sounds like a damned nice rig! Certainly no shame there!!
OldManDave, our friend clearthink starts a lot of his post by putting down our questions and/or equipment others are asking about.  But he/she never goes on to offer his/her recommendations as if afraid to give an opinion or that we won't respect it.  Some of us would like to learn what he likes and positive opinions on gear.

Unfortunately, his paragraph beginning with …." it is not for you to limit, restrict...." is a copy and paste that appears in a number of his/her posts and almost seems computer generated.

All three companies make very nice equipment.  A lot depends on your surrounding equipment.  For example, if you are interested in new amps, then it would be important to know what the pre-amp and speakers are.  System integration is important and the ability to drive difficult speakers makes amp selection very detailed and important.

Unless you are going to remove all of your existing equipment at one time and replace them all together, then you are typically going to replace one piece at a time.  This makes it important to demonstrate that particular piece in your system.  Reputable dealers will allow in-home demonstration of equipment.  This way you can do A/B comparisons vs the original piece in your system in your home.  Listening to a piece in the dealer's show room isn't quite the same and many are very disappointed when they purchase and take it home without hearing it first in their own system.

I've heard many Mark Levinson and Audio Research equipment.  I've never heard Bryston (that I can remember). 

Much depends also on your price point and your existing system.

You didn't list your price point or your existing system, so you are going to get many responses that are biased based on particular preferences. 

Are you keeping your existing speakers?  if so, what are they?  are you replacing pre-amp and amp and CD transport or just one?  See?  many choices and questions that have to be answered before a more specific response can be provided. 



It just exudes luxury and quality to me.  I love the way the buttons feel, the way the knobs turn, the displays, all of it.  They sweat the details in my opinion.  Pride of ownership is thru the roof.  I also love the sound.  It's smooth and refined yet open and detailed without being in your face.  I also like the flexibility of the SW and .1dB volume increments.  

Audio Research:

I've owned a couple of ARC preamps and enjoyed my time with them but never "fell" for them.  They are excellent pieces but I always worried about tubes degrading which bugged me.  I also think I just prefer a well executed SS preamp.


Again, just never really been blown away by their products but I know lots of people love them.
Oh, I forgot to mention that resale value on the ML and ARC gear is another key factor in my mind.
Wow thats a tough  ill think about it get back to you asap.
@minorl - thanks for your thoughtful post.  However, I am really just wanting people to talk about the three brands so we can all learn from the exchange.  As for specific recommendations pertaining to my direction - no need to worry about it right now.  I tend to collect vintage stuff & have pieces of equipment from all three of the brands I targeted for this discussion.  Eventually, I do plan to re-do my primary system in the brand I am leaning towards...but I do not want to bias the conversation by announcing which.  

Right now, my primary system makes me quite happy.  I am running a Parasound Model 2100 PreAmp & Model 2250 v1 amp into 2 different pairs of speakers [never play them simultaneously]: #1 Klipsch Forte II & #2 Gallo Reference 3.1.  I am running 2 DACs: Levinson No. 36 & ARC DAC-8.  My subwoofer is a Gallo CL-12.  The digital sources are SonyES 608ESD single CD, SonyES C77-ES 5-disc changer, Pioneer Elite MJ-17D mini-disc & Bryston BDP-1.  The analog sources are Nak CR-5A cassette, Marantz ST7001 tuner & an AT LP-1240 TT through a MacIntosh MP-100 phono preamp.  Definitely a mixed bag of toys!  However, they all cohabitate and make wonderful music together.  I am still amazed at how differently the Klipsch vs the Gallo speakers sound.  Also, the substantial difference between the music made by the 2 different DACs.  Thus far, I would be hard-pressed to declare either individual piece in each competing pair to be clearly superior.

Thanks again.

his paragraph beginning with …." it is not for you to limit, restrict...." is a copy and paste that appears in a number of his/her posts and almost seems computer generated."

I will consistently, steadfastly, and repeatedly defend, support, and endorse those who use this forum to share, express, and explain they’re thoughts, beliefs, or opinions even if many seek to limit, restrict, or discourage them because they they disagree or are offended, insulted, or embarassed. If you confuse such action, effort, and determination with " computer generated" posts then you are mistaken, confused, or disoriented.
Levinson isn’t Levinson, ARC isn’t ARC. So, I don’t follow either brand.

These companies do lots of marketing, and sell lots of equipment. ARC does lots of planned obsolescence, with which the audio writers collude by stating that the latest flavor is markedly better than its predecessor. This is straight out of Marketing 101.

Not to imply that all incremental improvements are just marketing. For instance, Bobby Palkovich put decades of research into perfecting his Merlins, but he was following an aesthetic vision.
I owned and Audio Research Amp and pre amp from about 2005-2008.

I liked and enjoyed them, but 300 wpc into 4 ohms was not sufficient for my Maggies.

With more efficient speakers, I suspect I would have not changed them.  Ultimately I went for a McIntosh pair of mono blocks and a tube pre amp.

I have nothing but good opinions of the Audio Research gear I owned and would recommend listening  to them as a possible choice.  Caveat being that was 10 years ago.

Enjoy your journey!
I owned a Bryston 4BST stereo amp and then 7BST monoblocks for several years powering Thiel CS7s. The 7BSTs were eventually bettered by a Krell 400cx stereo amp, if only for its ability to better drive the low impedance. But the Brystons were very musical. They were fed by a Bryston BP25 preamp via balanced cables. An audio friend of mine has a 100 WPC Audio Research stereo amp driving Vandersteen Quattros that sounds fantastic.
I have not heard any of them in a home music reproduction system. I'll be buying Bryston however. 20 yr warranty and common use in professional studio settings is enough to sway me.
Clearthink, it's "their" not "they're".  
I own an Audio Research SP6 and D75 tube pre/power amp. Along with a Bryston .5 pre and 3B power amp. All excellent products, yet as different as apples and oranges!
I had a Bryston 3B - thought it was really harsh, dry and screechy - replaced with Classe D class - love it. I have had an ARC LS27 for all of two weeks. I am really enjoying it. My only complaint  is that the volume is on the left side. I keep reaching for the right side knob and it changes the input. I am not sure I would buy an ARC new. Never had Levinson or Bryston preamp.
Bryston:  quality components that have good support and a decent sound.  Usually last forever.

ARC:  hard to buy a better product, but they vary.  Audition some in YOUR ROOM before you make that big investment.  Typically, with ARC, the more you spend, the better the product, but NOT ALWAYS.  Still about the best going even with the buyout.  Older stuff MAY be better at a lower price, but if you can afford the best, go for it.

Levinson:  Long relationship with them in the old days.  Bullet-proof parts and construction--usually, as they break, too--but the sound is, well, let's be nice and say it is an "acquired taste" and leave it at that.  Try it in YOUR ROOM and decide.

Most of all, enjoy the MUSIC the way YOU want to.

Post removed 
I have owned lots of ML stuff, including the rear stuff from way back when. I found it well built,reliable but while it seemed " accurate" it never had as much soul or musicality as I look for today. I also owned a AR SP 10 which was at the other end of the musical spectrum. It was very warm and natural sounding but not as detailed at the frequency extremes as I like. I know this is a very small sample size, but this is what I have found in  my system. As for Bryston, I have never owned or spent enough time with any of there products to have a valid opinion. 

                                                   my best to all, Jerry
I have a great opinion of ARC only because I have owned a SP3-A1 for 36 years. I also own a D100B. With Maggie’s 1.7I speakers, I can’t say enough about the combo of the old classics with the new technology speakers. The Cambridge CD player the 1/2 track Revox and the new Rega P3 make me very happy. The most important part of a system IMO is the speakers. It will only sound as good as the speakers. I have no experience with Bryson or ML.

Happy listening 
Bryston seems to be a preferred name in the UK. Curious about that one too. They have a tie-in with PMC speakers which I currently have a crush on. AR stock seems to be descending. Dealers here are not pushing it. Levinson-well I have it in the car and enjoy that but their gear is beyond my budget. 
Ericshch; Thanks for the heavy lifting. All those grammatically incorrect posts are unnerving to me also. Their just too many of them. haha


I like your mixed-bag of gear.  At this level, you could not go wrong. It is a matter of taste between the ARC/Bryston/ML. Be certain to listen to these excellent brands prior to any purchase. An in-home audition is preferred. Do not over-look cables and power cords. Keep us posted.

Happy Listening!


Thanks, I am rather fond of my "mixed bag" of equipment too.  Like I mentioned above, have always leaned towards more vintage stuff.  My favs being 70's Yamaha [CA-1010], 70's/80's Carver [C-1/M500t] & 80's Nakamichi [CA-5/PA-5] & have PreAmp/Amp or integrateds from each that I thoroughly enjoy.  
Of late though, I have been bitten by the bug & wanting to move up to ML, ARC &/or Bryston...the more vintage pieces of ML & ARC, of course.  Mostly, I enjoy having fun conversations with other audiophile nerds, like myself, but sadly find that my home geography suffers a severe lack of us.  That has prompted me to engage in A-gon's forums, which I am thoroughly enjoying.

I'm familiar with all three.  I owned ARC, including the Ref. 10 Preamp, and others in our local audio club have owned the other two.  Personally, I'm not impressed with any of the three brands relative to other better brands.
@oldmandave :

"but sadly find that my home geography suffers a severe lack of us"

Relatively speaking I think our home planet suffers (maybe not the right word) a severe lack of us.

I have a large home office I work from. I sit and listen to my system maybe 45 minutes a day, but it runs pretty much all day as I work at my desk or relax with home theatre. System is Vandersteen 5a’s with Vandersteen center, sub and surrounds, Bryston 6BSST (3 channel) for front, Bryston 4NRB for rears (the original Bryston I bought around 1990 to drive B&W 801 II), Bryston SP 1.7 (running in pass through since 1996), Bryston BDA 3 and BDP 2 playing back thousands of Hi Rez downloads and ripped SACD’s and CD’s. I enjoy this system musically - but you can see I buy always for the long term. The reason I went Bryston for digital was the incredible service I had received through the years from Bryston for repair, upgrades and warranties on pre and amps. I’ve never known a more responsive company, whether directly on the phone or through the AudioCircle groups. This has proven true with their digital products. For someone whose priority is a system that turns on everyday and runs without complaint all day, Bryston’s been the lasting solution for me. Best of luck as you find what works for you.
I have loved the Bryston amps I have heard many times at The Show with Magnaplanars. In fact, was a complete Bryston system and breathtaking. My only local high-end dealer has Acoustic Research and those were fantastic with Aerial speakers. I love the 7Ts; maybe one day. Here at home, I lucked out with a Levinson #336 driving my ADS L1230s. I've had several amps before; Mac 2105, Bedini 250/250, Krell KAV-300il (horrid), Sumo Andromeda, & Nine Class A. I used to bi-amp with a pair of Nines but the Levinson just blows away everything I've ever heard. Completely invisible, effortless, and dimensonal. Even my tube loving goldern-eared friend said it was the only solid state amp that did not offend his ears. So I have never been able to compare these amps in the same system and environment but you picked some very good amps to choose from I think. I'd also check out Conrad Johnson and PS Audio amplifiers and the Merrill Class-D Veritas monoblocks impressed me as well. It's all about the synergy of system and room and your personal taste. I'd definitely get a tube preamp with whatever amp you choose would be my advice.
I think the original owner of my system was aware of some synergy with Aerial Acoustics, Audio Research and ML. The components seemed to have been carefully selected and matched. My AR LS-16 runs into the Proceed via balanced XLR and drives the Aerial Acoustics 7Bs.

I can say a lot of things about the SQ of this system that may or may not be accurate or relevant based on my inexperience. But the one thing I can say with some certainty is that the system is invisible or maybe transparent. The speakers simply disappear and there is never a sense that sound is 'coming out of them'. It is just right there in the middle of the room.
Finally, a thread I can contribute to ...

When I was auditioning equipment for my current system 25+ years ago, I compared Bryston and Levinson amps. I had a hard time hearing much difference between the Bryston 4B and whatever the corresponding Levinson was, especially enough of a difference to justify the huge cost difference. I also compared the Bryston 12B preamp against a Conrad Johnson preamp that was a little more money (sorry, don't remember that model, either). The CV was noisy to the point of interfering with my enjoyment of the music. The Bryston was noticeably absent from the sound, meaning it didn't add any coloration. These auditions were through Martin Logan Quest speakers. I purchased the 12B, 4B, and Quests.

Fast forward to a year ago. I finally acquired a pair of ML CLS IIz speakers. I hooked up my Bryston equipment and compared to the Quests, the CLS sounded edgy. I got listening fatigue fairly quickly. I put the 4B in my theater system with the Quests and got an ARC D240 amp. It is a much better match with the CLS as the sound is musical again. I love the CLS speakers; still some of the best speakers I've heard.

I just sent in my BP12 for an overhaul; second time in the 25+ years that I've owned it. I think it's a great preamp (others will no doubt point out preamps that they like better). It's got a nice phono stage for my moving coil cartridge (AT OC9) and I like having balanced outs for the amp. I find the music very engaging and lifelike in my rig.

When I called Bryston about the repair (wish I could remember who I spoke to), I asked whether I should consider upgrading given the age of the preamp. His response was "Absolutely not." When I pushed a little, he replied "Enclose a letter saying you'll sell it to the repair tech for $5 and I'll gladly take it off your hands." That made me laugh and reaffirmed my desire not to change a thing. No audiophilia nervosa here. :)
I have owned Levinson 27, 27.5 and 29 amps and 36 DAC.  All are great products and pride of ownership high.  Have never owned ARC until recently when I bought a Ref 110 amp. I have to say it is the best sounding amp I have ever owned but I like tubes.  Bryston never owned any.  The older Bryston amps were too harsh or detailed for my tastes but the newer ones much better I hear. 
Post removed 
Replace tubes every year? The tubes in my LS-16 are original. Maybe they sound terrible? I don’t know.
Post removed 
Would you replace them at their hour rating or when they failed? Some people change the oil and filter in their car every 3500 miles even though it is almost never necessary or even beneficial. Not questioning your approach or math, just wondering. 
The thing with preamp tubes is that they usually have a rated life of ~5K hours, which can lead to them being effectively ignored. They go south so gradually that you might not notice it until you swap in new tubes and then it's "holy crap!"

On the original question, I have more experience listening to ML than the others. Dad's system for 15 years was all-ML driving Wilson WP5s. No. 27, then a 27.5, then a 331 amp (which suffered from the cap failure and was repaired and fine thereafter), with 37 transport and 36 DAC, 38 pre (or was it a 38S?). Detailed and resolved, dynamic, yet also smooth and a tad polite (which was not incompatible with those Wilsons IMO). Downside to me was a sort of clinical sterility. I always thought a tube pre would have done wonders there, but Dad liked the all-ML system integration and aesthetics, and it's not like it sounded bad. ML amps of that era had high enough input impedance to work with most tube pres, not sure if that holds true of their more recent designs.

I now have the WP5s but none of the ML gear (system split up, divorce casualty). In shopping for amps I was looking at used gear. Would have grabbed a ML 334 if one came up in my time frame (didn't happen) because they're built like tanks and those tended to not have the capacitor failures. The large electrolytic caps they use are not ones you can just buy off the shelf in non-bulk quantity, and even though I've been building & fixing various electronics gear since before I had hair on my balls, they won't sell the caps to end users so you're looking at $4-figs for authorized service. Been a while since I heard one but the more recent 532H sounded very good and has supposedly been near bulletproof, but they're still not inexpensive on the used market.

You didn't ask, but I'll volunteer and not be offended if you ignore... I've become a big fan of Pass Labs. Nelson is generous with his time and advice, the amps are reliable but also easy to work on and source components for (mostly) should it become necessary. And most importantly, sound-wise, they generally tick the right boxes for me. A touch of warmth without being dark or veiled, all the bass slam and depth and resolution I need, lively without being too forward, just a nice balanced sound to my ears. Caveat for system matching is that they tend to have lower input impedances typical of most SS amps (20/30K), so you have to pay some minimal attention if you intend to pair them with a tube pre. Depending on the model, they can also throw off many more BTUs than ML or Bryston.

Bryston gear a few generations ago was somewhat harsh and not very detailed or resolving, but their recent stuff I've heard at shows (SST3) doesn't sound (on brief listening) like it has those faults. The 20-yr warranty is laudable.

Never spent extended time with ARC.