Mark Levinson No.32 Reference preamplifier Page 6

Why even put it that way? Because I think the idea of "where it lives" is important, and relates to that primitive sense humans seem to have for sound and music. It's alive! The closer a component gets you to that feeling, the better it is, in my book. I was completely captivated listening to "Secretly Happy" from Fascinoma. At that point, I'd have told anyone how happy I was!

Spoiled. K-10 and I are so spoiled.

Studio Traps or no, I found the very top of the No.32's frequency band a hair less alight and bright than those of some other preamps. But again, the beauty of the overall gestalt was perfectly served. My toes wriggled with pleasure during the flute solo on "Happy," the track's analog hiss very much a part of the total sense of ambience—almost, I thought, appropriate to the music.

Although a lot of people gasp at the depth typically heard from our system, to me the No.32 sounded only medium-deep. This in itself means nothing except to be taken note of. Each manufacturer has its perspective, its take on the ideal listening position—row B, row M, whatever—and, I suppose, they consciously or unconsciously tune for it. Or perhaps it's a result of the characteristics of the circuit. The Nagra PL-P sounded very much front-and-center, as did the Class&233 Omega preamp. The YBA 6 Chassis sounds more mid-hall in perspective, the BAT VK-50SE somewhere in between.

The No.32's view was, like everything associated with it, carefully thought out and presented. The resultant sound was intimate and seductive in that way. The listener is cordially invited in to enjoy the musical experience. I imagine the No.32 saying, "No no, not to worry; if you can afford me, I expect you'll enjoy it."

Analog doings
I picked up A Jazz Portrait of Frank Sinatra (Japanese Verve UMV-21) for four bucks at a local street fair. Score! Recorded in Paris on May 18, 1959 "under the personal supervision of Norman Granz," with Oscar Peterson on piano, Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums. I can't remember "seeing" and hearing Oscar so totally enjoying himself making music. It was as if the No.32's phono section allowed me to hear the very weight and momentum of his hands and arms, his very body behind the keystrokes. I found it easy to experience his movements as he jived around, stabbing joyfully at the piano. Man, it was organic!

I followed with my fave, Bags Groove (OJC-245), with Miles and company, then the delicious Ellington Jazz Party in Stereo (original six-eye Columbia CS 8127). Greedy for more, I spun Miles' Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (Fontana 836 305-1) and Johnny Griffin's Studio Jazz Party (Riverside RLP 9338).

Almost sated, I spun Basie Jam #2 (Pablo 2310-786), from that same heavy-duty street-fair score. I found the ability and ease of adjusting cartridge loading on the fly totally fabulous, and settled generally on 330 ohms to sufficiently damp the soupy roar of RFI that exits between the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center—a torture test if ever there was. Nor did 330 tamp down the top end too much. This was fine with the Grasshopper IV GLA, and, depending on the time I was listening—late nights and weekends were slightly less noisy—1k ohm sounded a shade better with the Clearaudio Insider and the Koetsu RSP.

But all cartridges loved the No.32. On the Basie disc, the No.32 set up a well-populated, airy soundstage. The naturalness and shimmer, the elegance of the sonic edifice the No.32 created were wonderfully palpable.

I reeled from the joy of all this sonic nirvana. I wondered—what have I done to deserve this? I'm sure many of you will shout "Not enough!," and I almost might agree. I can't remember the last time I gorged on vinyl like this or enjoyed it so deeply. Kathleen had to force me to shut down the system and go to bed.

It definitely adds up to more than 32
I have a friend, a Juilliard graduate with a great pair of ears. (His taste in cigars isn't bad either.) His first reaction on hearing the No.32 Reference at full tilt was to drop his jaw at its ease of presentation. After a few more minutes:

"Hey, this is the one! Where can I get it? When can I afford it?" he wailed.

I know what he means. Audio is hell.

Except in the best gear, greater apparent detail is often thrust at the unwary listener as thin, bright, over-etched sound—although I'm bound to note that, in the High End, this is becoming far less the case than ever. Compared to only a few years ago, outstanding performance is available for quite modest prices. (And kudos to the industry for the convergence of solid-state and tubed sound, if at varying levels of overall refinement.)

But when you shell out the long green for gear like the Mark Levinson No.32 Reference preamplifier, you get a product that delivers on that promise of More and Better like nothing I've heard to date—a true Reference product whose name matches its performance. Bravo.

Mark Levinson
2081 South Main Street
Middletown, CT 06457
(860) 346-0896