The Hub: some things get OLDER - some get BETTER

Here's one of those history lessons we mentioned yesterday. Once upon a time in the early days of The High End, back when Audio Research was just beginning to make a name for itself, a young man from Connecticut appeared with a skinny little rack-mount preamp. At a time when the ARC gear seemed impossibly expensive, the young guy priced his new preamp ABOVE the ARC SP3A-1, that awkwardly-named darling of TAS and JGH, which then cost the unbelievable sum of $650.That $650 in 1975 bucks equals $2500 today; even $2500 doesn't sound breathtaking now, but believe us, those were different times. Anyway, the new kid priced his preamp at $950: close to four grand in new-millennium money.

It was sleek and cool and the insides looked like a laboratory instrument. Mark Levinson was as cool as his new preamp, called the JC-2 for his friend and designer, John Curl (about whom, more another day). Our first encounter found him sitting on the floor of an audio-salon, shoes off, in a lotus position. The plan was to compare his black box with the Audio Research; problem was, the switching device was such junk it made them sound alike. Not BAD, mind you, just alike. Mark was not happy, but ultimately, his preamp was properly installed, sounded wonderful, the end.

Mark had an even more staggeringly-expensive preamp, the LNP-2 (Low-Noise Preamp, if memory serves) which looked as though it came out of a recording studio. Indeed, it often did service there. Rarely seen then because of its price (initially what, $2795?, then $3500: which in today's money is A LOT!), you almost never see one now. Yet: here is one For Sale on Audiogon right now. Wow.

As years went by, Mark's gear became justly well-known. As entrepreneurs do, he sold that company, then founded Cello and Red Rose Music, working with designers like the late Tom Colangelo and Victor Tiscareno (now with Apple). And now he's back with Daniel Hertz S.A., based in Switzerland, and tagged with his parents' middle names (website under construction at The company will offer one preamp, one amp, a media PC and three speakers with the surprisingly-high efficiency of 100db/1w/1m. Mark promises unmatched construction and sound. At 63, when most are winding down their lives, Mark has both a new company and a new baby.

Guts, or faith in the future? Perhaps both.
Actually Mark Levinson debuted with the MLC-1 moving coil cartridge and JC-1 preamplifier.

He didn't sell Levinson Audio Systems, he lost it in a hostile takeover and lost the use of this his own name on future products.

Both Sterophile and TAS had stories about what really went down...
The company will offer...three speakers with the surprisingly-high efficiency of 100db/1w/1m.

That alone gets my attention.
An excellent and informative article; thanks! I hadn't been aware of his new venture.

Mark was clearly one of the most influential figures in the evolution of the high end as we know it today. The products of Mark Levinson Audio Systems, Ltd., when it was his company during the 1970's and early 1980's, were instrumental in pioneering and furthering the concepts of minimalist circuit design, no tone controls, no-compromise parts quality and build quality, long-term reliability, and elegant finish and appearance.

His products from that era are highly collectable today, command high prices, and are generally still excellent performers by contemporary standards. Repairs, if necessary, can be a significant issue though, due to parts unavailability.

Lots of additional information, pictures, etc. on the early MLAS products, as well as biographical information on its key people, can be found at (with which I have no connection, btw).

Thanks again!

-- Al
The only cartridges I'm aware of appeared around '79 or '80. I didn't say the JC-2 came first; the JC-1 did indeed appear first, but it was a pre-pre, and didn't cause the shock-waves the JC-2 did.

Neither the stories in print nor what you've mentioned jive with the stories I've heard from insiders.

Thanks for your interest. Your comments are appreciated.
Here's a link:
I found the article in TAS about what happened at MLAS. It's in Volume 10, Issue #37, page 40, if you'd like to read it...
And let's not forget that Mark was married to Kim Catrall, not a bad face plate on that model either.

But in all seriousness, it's marvelous to see you all doing a great feature like this. Let's hope that future installments touch on the designers who were in the operating room when the high end was born. Bruce Moore, David Berning, Andy Rappaport, Roger Modjeski, Nelson Pass, Jim Winney (sp), Arnie Nudell, Harvey Rosenberg, Julius Futterman, Sol Marantz, Avery Fisher, and all the rest that paved the way for the marvelous expericence that we can enjoy today in our listening rooms.
Audiogon appears to be correct about the MLC-1, JC-1, and JC-2 chronology. See the site I linked to, which links to a TAS review that appeared in 1980 of a prototype version of the MLC-1.

Mofi is correct that the sale of MLAS by Mark Levinson was not simply a "sale" on his own initiative. As I recall reading in TAS and elsewhere at the time, there were severe financial problems, followed by necessary infusions of new capital, followed by power struggles and conflicts between Mark and one or more of those involved in the capital infusions.

As MoFi indicates, the result of that was Mark's loss of not only the company, but the right to use his own name on future products.

Best regards,
-- Al
A good begginning. Informative and with pictures, Alice always believed a book or story was better with pictures, and some actual interactivity going on. My hope is that this not only continues but maintains and improves its apparent standars. Nice start and good going.``
Thanks for the nice comments. We will be reviewing the past, and interviewing the designers of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

As to the exact events of the takeover/sale of MLAS? Expect it to be like Citizen Kane: you'll hear numerous accounts, each differing from the other. And the truth?

Kierkegaard wrote, "Truth is subjectivity." Who am I to disagree with Kierkegaard?
What appropriate and wonderful subject matter...Good job!

Like an old high school sweetheart, my audio heart still belongs to a few key moments and more in particular, a few key designers and their masterpieces in audio history.

There have been three true loves in my life (soulmates if you will) that I find it impossible to let go of; Levinson, Pass and Nudell.

These audio mavericks were to me what Farrah Fawcet was to many others (okay, I had her too, but for some reason her poster just never sang to me like Levinson, Pass and Nudell did musically speaking that is...).

Levinson in particular holds that number one spot in my heart with the No. 20-series. No other product in my audio experience has struck a chord like the sonic standards set by this line up and in my humble opinion the No.20.5 and No.20.6 amps are at the pinacle of that audio nirvana for me.

Although these products date to the somewhat blurred Levinson/Madrigal years, they still came at a time when the parties involved made significant attempts to maintain a certain musical standard and philosophy.

All the confusion and here say created by the partnerships, mergers and eventual takeovers (let this be a lesson to us all folks, the financial struggles and corporate nightmares we see today are nothing new. Even our beloved audio world has been riddled with this sort of thing from the begining), seem to be in every great designers history.

I suppose it is somewhat universal in that most truly great artists/genius' ride some fine line of insanity, and that while they are absolute in their endeavors, suffice it to say that their histories have been quite the tumultuous rollercoaster ride. With Levinson leading the pack on this front, it also appears as though he has lead a full and colorful life to the Nth degree. Our own audio Errol Flynn if you will.

As sure as our earth revolves around the sun, you can rest assured that my audio world has more than one time revolved around Levinson. He as been the epicenter of my most enjoyable audio experiences and to this day has set the standard by which I judge all others. I, like many other staunch Levinson fans will be happy to know that his talents will always be at large somewhere out there in this crazy old world.

On a closing note, I would like to say that in no way does the Madrigal 'lesser than' customer service and their continuing expansion of "Limited Support" equipment influence my opinion of Mark Levinson and his wonderful accomplishments. Rock on Mark and keep living the dream. I will always remember you as Forever Young. We should all be as fortunate to live our lives as full as you have. Best to you and yours.

Yikes! Now there's a REAL fan.

Glad you liked the piece; your Errol Flynn analogy certainly seems apt.

We will be visiting other landmark pieces and their creators in months to come. Hope you'll keep reading.
Nice start Audiogon. I look forward to more.
Excellent reading.Keep it up.I love Mark Levinson components,I got the 27.5 and I will never let it go.
Best regards
I just finished my third day of demonstrating the debut of the Daniel Hertz line (Marks newest and greatest creations) at AXPONA 2011 in Atlanta. The system is slaying hearts and minds with its unbeatable dynamic range. Hopefully people who heard the room can comment. I got nothing but smiles, tapping feet and bobbing heads along with many looks of utter disbelief. In Marks words "my best creations in no compromise audio design after 40 years of being a musician, recording engineer, mastering engineer, and audio designer". Hes not kidding. This new gear is absolutely the Lamborghini of audio.

Cheers !

Mike Powell