When I learned that Madrigal Audio Labs was marketing their first integrated amplifier, the Mark Levinson No.383, I felt this was a big change for the Connecticut company. Mark Levinson literally started the high-end marketing revolution back in the early 1970s by manufacturing cost-no-object separate amplifiers and preamplifiers. The purist designs had one overriding rule: employ the simplest circuit path possible. Each amplifier or preamplifier used only individual circuit-board components (no integrated circuits) and had a minimal number of controls, eschewing elaborate switches and tone controls. Mark Levinson Audio Systems and its successor, Madrigal Audio Laboratories, has continued this philosophy of separate components for the past 25 years.
Although Mark Levinson Audio Systems components continue to be produced, the company's headquarters moved in late 2003 from the Madrigal plant in Middletown, Connecticut, to Harman Specialty's facility in Bedford, Massachusetts. There ML shares manufacturing and sales space with Harman's other high-end lines, Revel and Lexicon.
All high-end audio companies turn over their product lines periodically. Even those amplifiers I have depended on as references go out of production. Although my reference amplifier can remain a part of the reviewing sequence, readers won't be able to purchase a discontinued model and get the results I describe. Thus I am compelled to get a review sample of a new amplifier or speaker, and hope for the best.
The $25,000, 500W Mark Levinson No.53 digital-switching reference monoblock amplifier made its regular non-playing appearance at CES 2012 but this time with an illuminated cutaway display, allowing its lead design engineer, Mark Seiber, to walk me through its circuitry. The transparent panel, which the display used in place of heatsinks allowed me to easily see the No.53's four major subsections (analog input stage, modulation, amplifier output stage with its eight air-core inductors, and power supply section, which is at the bottom of the chassis.
"Larry, you have too many amplifiers!" exclaimed John Atkinson during a recent visit. This surprised meI didn't think it was possible to have too many amps. While I'm not going to open an amp museum, I do have a starter collection of Mark Levinson amplifiers from different eras. This either makes me exactly the right or the wrong person to size up Mark Levinson's new No.532H.
"You certainly love weird music!" my wife yelled from the kitchen. This just reconfirmed my suspicion that reviewing subwoofers is a lonely job that brings no respect. What's so weird about the droning of Tibetan temple horns accompanied by the chants of Tibetan Gyuto monks, all framed by a powerful synthesizer in Philip Glass's soundtrack to Kundun (CD, Nonesuch 79460-2)? What's so strange about the karate-like cries of the drummers in the Kromata Percussion ensemble as they smash away at their timpani and gongs in Yoshihisa Taira's Hierophonie V (CD, BIS CD-232)? What's so odd about the shuddering majesty of 25Hz notes played by Harry Partch's one-of-a-kind Eroica Marimba, heard on his Delusion of the Fury (LP, Columbia M2 30576)? Why would any spouse object to the primitive, driving synthesizer growls and screams from Morton Subotnick's The Wild Bull (LP, Nonesuch H-71208)?
Electrostatic speakers are my passion. Why else have I put up with their high prices, unreliability, low power handling, tendency to arc, high-frequency beaming, limited bass response, and widely fluctuating impedances?
MBL’s Corona Line C-15 class-D monoblock amplifiers ($12,500 each) are rated at 500W into 4 ohms with low distortion, and none of the rising distortion with frequency found in other class-D designs. In addition, the distortion is load independent. This is a result of the circuit design MBL calls a "Linear Analog Switching Amplifier Design” (LASA). MBL designer Jurgen Reis was proud that the amplifier had been designed to meet the stringent South Korean "KT" consumer standard regulations, and "was on the way" to meeting the even more stringent "CCC" Chinese consumer requirements. Although the switching occurs at 300kHz, the amplifier is free of RF emissions up through several MHz because of extensive mu-metal shielding. The amplifier and preamplifier are available in several different cosmetics including a white or black chassis with center section in gold or chassis color. Matching C-11 preamplifier and C31 CD player, with price points are also available.
It was good to visit McIntosh Laboratory's 35th floor suite at the Venetian Hotel and spend a few minutes with Ron Cornelius, the product manager, discussing our shared experiences with the legendary McIntosh MR-78 FM tuner. Ron showed me the latest iteration of the company's MC-275 tube amplifier. Now released as version 6, 50th-Anniversary 275, priced at $6500, it reminded me that the amplifier was first shipped in 1961.
McIntosh demonstrated a vacuum-tube version of its C1000 preamplifier in its two-channel audio room at the Alexis Villas. Retailing for $9000 and weighing in at 54 lbs, the C-1000T has fully balanced, dual-mono, MC and MM phono stages, balanced and single-ended inputs and outputs, and a front-panel window to show off four of the eight 12AX7 tubes. Mirrors create a barbershop effect of endless reflections, suggesting the presence of many more tubes than are actually there. Even so, I found the effect pleasing.