Well, I recently bought a pre-owned Levinson 326S preamp for half of its $10K new price in 2005 and couldn’t be happier with it. That’s about 15 years old so I don’t think you’re totally nuts. The old Levinson gear holds its value for a reason; it’s high quality stuff.
Of course, there’s a lot more that can go wrong with a 30 year old ss class A amp than a ss class A preamp half its age. As I understand it, leaking old capacitors, especially in its power supply section, are the main area of concern with older ss amps. I’d suggest searching out a well respected and perhaps independent repair shop(owned by a former Levinson repairman?) and ask how much they’d charge for a complete 23.5 amp overhaul/restoration.
First, listen to the as-is 23.5 amp with your current preamp and speakers if you’re able. Next, add the rehab and shipping costs to the $2,500 price. The next step would be to make your decision based on your audition and the rehab included adjusted price to value basis. If you think it's worth it, have the rehab done immediately, using it as little as possible in the meantime.
I had the 23.5 for awhile, way back when. I just saw one listed last week (could be the same one), and couldn't believe how much they wanted for it. It was a good amp, especially for driving low impedance speakers. I thought it was a bit on the warm side of neutral. Personally, I wouldn't pay $2.5k for it. I'd rather spend a bit more on something more recent and not worry about what @testpilot mentioned above. If you have to spend another $2.5k down the road to get it fixed, you now have $5k into it. After putting a total of $5k into it, how much do you think you could resell it for? Probably only $2.5k at the most. You could have used that money for something more current (1-10 years old), and better. As Suse Orman would say "Denied".
It is a ’student seeking truth and thinking they found it’ kind of amplifier. (and we are all students)
It is another layer of the onion.
Thus, it is not a perfect amp, it is a step on the stairs upward.
At the same time there is no reason that it should not be purchased and enjoyed. Everyone does it differently and at a different pace.
For some it may be seen as a large enough plateau to have or stage a life cycle upon. That the walls are far enough away that it is not felt to be a box to climb out of, but an open field of dreams.
If one looks with careful enough eyes, and attentive enough mind, then this analogy can be applied to just about anything.
If I wus a rapper it would have to been about guns, weed, da crib, and bitchez .... but I guess it applies there as well...
It also plays into a bit of data that came clear some years back, regarding intelligence as speed of cognition. That the difference is calculated at a halving of rumination time for every calculated IQ increase of approx 5 points. Which means that the difference between 100 and 200 IQ, is a rumination speed differential of approximately 300,000. 100 to 120 alone, is ~ 16x.
And that this applies to the ear/brain combination just as potently as basic intelligence, as associations can go.
So some move past the given thing fast, and some find a life in there. Wherever and whatever the given there may be.
Thus it is impossible to fault a person for their choices, but I will fault them if there is projected impingement, whether they possess awareness of the impingement or not. It’s all fun and games until someone gets their audio poked out.
eg, someone starts a cable hating thread. And they've been given chances before. Thus it is not just ignorance, but projections and damaging levels of impingement.
So one walks them off a cliff with no rancor. Just...get it done.
I'll second comments that its a bit sterile sounding, but i'll also second comments that its well made. And while electrolytic capacitors degrade with age - my experience, having shipped -- and seen the results -- 100s of units is that if you really use top quality parts, and run them well within limits, the problems begin 30 years out - not 15. Yea, i had some cap failures but in retrospect the problem was usually a modest oversight on my part. Ive frankly had more problems with new Chinese capacitors than with old US and European made ones. Or the quality Japanese brands. Caveat emptor w/r/t specs.
Now, on to re-capping without schematics. remove cap. Look at specs. replace cap. Who needs a schematic? yes, they are nice to have to identify critical components - but we're talking preventative replacement of things that go boom - not subtle circuit tweeks.
I'll leave the sonic value judgement to the only one who matters. You.
@itsjustme, search the forum and web regarding recapping and servicing legacy Levinson amplifiers. It’s not as simple as a part swap, the labour to get at the components is outrageous. In addition, Levinson masks parts values etc. A lot of very capable service techs refuse to work on Levinson products. Unfortunately, I know this first hand.
The thing with vintage Levinson amps you should be aware of is not the power supply capacitors but the EMI suppression caps (Rifa PME271) across the mains voltage. These apparently do not age well and fail short, creating a fire hazard. I had one of these fail on my Levinson 20.6 -- saw a wisp of smoke and shut it down, and still there was burn damage on the pcb. Then I replaced all those caps in both amps.
(Here is a picture of a 23.5 for sale as is for parts:
the fire started at the front of the amp where the power supply board is located).
When I got my 23.5, the first thing i did was to replace all of the EMI caps. It was a bear of a job because both heat sinks had to be removed to get to the front board and then there was the spaghetti nest of wiring to contend with. The power supply caps were easy to replace since they are held in place by cap brackets and the wires are connected by screw terminal to eyelet lugs. You can move the heat sinks out of the way without desoldering any wires since there is JUST enough play in the wires for the caps to clear.
Worth it? IMO you would have to spend upwards of $20k to get the same kind of low end unlimited current delivery performance.
Yes, taking anything apart can be a pain. Try real consumer gear, made to NOT be fixable....
But I would not have expected them to obscure parts values, unless its a very unusual, secret way of using a part. But cap voltages? really? That also means they are buying custom runs - which simply drives up cost on parts that one ought to be able to get from distributor stock.
I had a JC-1 and some later stuff that was clear as day. But that, admittedly, is ancient history.
Anyway, if they are, its a good point.
I'd just measure the DC values and work backwards though. they can't obscure those!
I did it. I bought it for 2 grand. Its playing now over the the Martin Logans. Thought it would be harsh with the Logans. It's not. Its lush. I knew my Logans where an open speaker but now its wall to wall soundstage. The delicacy and detail of instruments. The air. Oh, and in all the excitement I forgot to hook up the REL SUBWOOFERS. Thought they were playing the bass is out of this world. 30 year old amp? Bring over anything to try beat this!!! Oh and MEYER AV in Los angeles is one of the few authorized service centers for Levinson will do a rebuild for 2 grand. Its going there this month. I will be in it 4 grand. Doubt anything can touch it. LEVINSON IS THAT GOOD!!!
Check the capacitors for leaks, bulging, etc. If you don’t see any problems, you should be good. It is one of the better amps around and can drive pretty much any speaker. And it has a beautiful midrange. This amp bring the best out of voices with tightly focused image and clearly defined boundaries.
It has plenty of slam. Don’t worry about some of the issues mentioned above. If it ain’t broken, don’t try to fix it. When the time comes, it will let you know if things needs to be changed/upgraded.
Considering the age of the amp, my suggestion is turn this off when not listening and turn on about 30 mins before a session. There are reasons to leave solid-state amps on all time. But not this one. Heat from the unit can do more harm to the older electronics.
We listened to ML amps when we built some of the stands for his HQD system in the 1970's:
Compared to Audio Research (tube, of course) and Bryston, as well as Crown, SAE, and other solid state amps of the day, it was OK. The Bryson's sounded better to us, but you have to judge. I was very unimpressed with them on Maggies for all the areas you look for. They were a bit shrill, slow, and sounded hollow to me. Reminded me of the difference between a Nakamichi 1000 and the vinyl (no digital in those days). The Nak was perfect in reproducing what was recorded, but had a "hollow" backsound to it. ML amps did the same for us, but you decide.
As others have posted, it is a very expensive part to service regardless of the downstroke (initial price). I think for 2500 you could get a better product, but you have to decide.
Have you heard one on your system IN YOUR ROOM? Makes all the difference, of course. Be bad if you got it and it did not meet your needs or expectations.
Finally, why so inexpensive? Buyer beware!
This 30 year old LEVINSON is AMAZING!!! LEVINSON IS GOD!!! HAIL TO THE 23.5!!!! What for 2 grand new could even come close to this? I cant believe the clarity of this old amp. Vocals pop right out and are smooth with no grain. The bass is extraordinary. I had an ELECTRON KINETICS EAGLE 2 once which is know for its bass and this LEVINSON 23.5 blows it away!!! Dont know how long I will have till she pops and I will have to take her to George Meyer for a 2 grand fix, but until then this oldie but goodie can still rock!!!
ML23.5 and it’s sibling 27.5 are great amps.
@ozzy says ’sterile and lifeless’ Really? Have you had one at home and if so what amp did you compare it to. I notice you did not provide this information.
I own both but the 27.5 no longer works. Will get on to it soon because it is definitely worth repairing. What would one have to spend to equal this performance, let alone surpass it?
Because the 27.5 is much lighter I have hefted it along to friends systems and in every case it has bettered the competition. This includes Threshold, McIntosh, etc. It embarrased a big Bryston to the point where it’s owner wanted buy my ML there and then. Better mids than Krell KSA100. The one amp that challenged it for musicality was one of Bongiorno’s, a GAS son of ampzilla.
Make sure your 23.5 is well ventilated and leave it permanently on. Has plenty of reserve power and usually does not have to work hard with the average speaker. Responds well to a good power cable.
The operational condition of the piece should be verified. I had one and enjoyed it very much. It had one failing that I only discovered after upgrading to a much better speaker- it didn't throw that 3-D image people refer to as a soundstage. But IMO it was powerful enough to drive anything and
brought out textural information a lesser product would lack. It's also
a classic looking amplifier that is well built without flashy cosmetics used
by some (otherwise) great companies. You know what I mean. The company has had it's ups and downs, but in the end I would say it's stilla great choice regardless of all the jillions of other products out there.
The Mark Levinson 23.5 is one of the very best amps that Mark Levinson ever produced. It is wonderful. It is as good or better than most amps produced today. Period. It can drive any speaker quite well.
Yes, it is a serious PITA to repair because of how the company put it together. But, not impossible.
If the amp was in good shape and well looked after and the caps and other components are in working order, don't replace the caps.
There was an upgrade to the 23.5 (yes, the 23.5) that was required by Mark Levinson that only authorized repair shops know about. So, if you have the cash for the cap upgrade and decide to do it, then request the upgrade also.
I vouch for George Meyer AV in Los Angeles. They do very good work on pretty much any equipment. They are authorized by Mark Levinson, Audio Research and many others. Fortunately, when I don't want to work on equipment myself (quite rare), I have no problem using George Meyer technicians. They are open, friendly and know their stuff.
I know you have already purchased the 23.5. But for anyone else considering it, if the heat sinks are black and the amp works and is in good shape, you are hard pressed to find a better amp.
even today. This is one you absolutely hold on to.
There are others out their that if found, grab. like Bedini amps (the 25/100/250 amps are great), Threshold, etc.
anyway, enjoy your 23.5.
+1 on minorl’s comments. I have a 27, and Meyer quoted $2k+ to recap and update the boards with some parts replacements they would not describe. I decided to recap the amp myself, and waited over 3 months for a new run of capacitors to be manufactured. I replaced every electrolytic in the amp, as well as some slightly burned resistors, and as it happened, every output transistor, because 30% of them were substantially out of spec. Rather than just replace that 30% and try to match the new ones to the 30+-year old outputs, I replaced them all.
Schematics for the 27, 27.5, and 23.5 are out there, but adjustment procedures are not well documented and because of the complicated design, are not similar to many other amp designs. It was the most difficult, and least enjoyable amp that I’ve worked on because of the complicated design and construction.
Before the recap and parts replacement, I was really disappointed with the amp, and would have agreed with the negative comments here about the amp performance. At 100 wpc, it was not as powerful as my others (I have 8), but it lacked dynamics and definition. After all of my work, the amp sounds incredible. Working properly, these are wonderful amps, just a bear to work on and expensive to have work done by qualified Levinson techs.Have fun with your 23.5, but my recommendation would be to have the work done sooner than later to reduce chances for failures that could be even more costly, and I think you will then want to keep the amp for a very long time.
I am looking for another 23.5 to purchase so I have spare parts or if this one blows and cant get fixed I have a backup. 2500 bucks is nothing nowadays for an amp. This amp is seriously good for a 30 year old design. My neighbor was intrigued with the sound and somewhat shocked that it could sound as good as it did. He had to being his D'AGOSTINO MOMENTUM over to bring me back down to earth but I am still happy with my purchase and I didnt have to spend 200 grand for an amp.
I read this thread with a lot of interest and appreciated all of the responses, even the naysayers. I bought a 23.5 last Fall as part of the system I put together that was purposely vintage 90's gear (380s preamp, 360s dac, 37 transport). My goal was nostalgia for when I worked at a high end store during 1994 and 1995 in high school and couldn't afford this stuff. My other goals were sound quality and build quality. Although I didn't cross compare other gear like Krell and Classe (i knew from the get-go that i was seeking out vintage Levibson gear) I have still been very impressed and satisfied with my investment. Jeff congrats on getting your 23.5 and it is great to hear your impressions so far. Like you I will also be planning a tune up and electronic component work on mine and you know what, I'm fine with that. It is worth keeping going another 20-30 years with a $2k or so investment.
The question is, what will I use for an amp while my 23.5 is out for repair? Maybe I'll buy something else that I can use for a while but still easily resell.
I am so into this vintage thing now that I have heard what this old 23.5 can do. Just got done with a 3 hr listen and let me tell you I am now a Mark Levinson fanboy. If they built a amp to last 30 years and STILL sound good then this must be one of the greatest amps of all time. I am looking for a Mark Levinson preamp to match this 23.5 and I have located at 360s and 37 transport for super cheap. I see a place has a no 38s preamp for 2500 bucks so I think I am going to snag it. What's next? Vintage Krell stack? 400cx amp with a KCT preamp? KSA 80 with a KSL? THEY DONT MAKE EM LIKE THIS ANYMORE BOYS!! Well, they do. It's just SUPER EXPENSIVE.
Jeffvegas: I'm sorry to hear about your situation. This is a very bad condition for quite a lot of people and unfortunately many won't recover.
Jobs are being lost at an alarming rate. I'm sorry you had to liquidate your equipment. Sigh! on top of losing income, to lose a favorite hobby of listening to great music hurts also.
Hopefully, you will recover.
If you do that, then for that price he’s replacing the electrolytic power supply caps (and all others).
Get him to replace the (high esr) big power supply caps per channel with banks of many 105c low esr caps instead, the amp will transform in the bass and speed of dynamics.
4 x of these would be great (120000uf per channel!!) 105c if mounted vertically in place of the big slow old caps, he may even be able to use the rectifiers on them or bypass them and use the original ML ones.
Or these even better from the same guy "if the voltage is high enough" for 160000uf!! per channel note they are all high quality Nipon Chemi-con 105c Capacitors
George Meyer told me to do NOTHING to the amp unless it breaks. I wanted to replace caps etc. The tech there owns a 23.5 himself and told me to do NOTHING to the amp till it breaks. The engineers at MADRIGAL designed the 23.5 to last a LIFETIME. Which iN electronics terms is 50 YEARS. It could be the best built amp of all time.
George Meyer told me to do NOTHING to the amp unless it breaks.I wouldn't either, but the way you were talking sounded like you were going to. If you do then do as I said with the cap banks.
The 23.5 also killed a MACINTOSH mc402 . The sound of the 23.5 was far more open and detailed.
Of course it did, just about anything does. But the MC275 is a different story.
I just bought one with a mint exterior and an original interior. Still sounds good, but I'm going to pony up the scrilla to have it refurbished so the insides match the outsides. Legendary kick ass amp deserves a chance to drive a current pair of high current demanding legendary kick ass speakers. Cost is unimportant, we're all addicts here, aren't we?
Good thing we still have two official old school Madrigal era service shops around.