Mark Levinson No.33H monoblock power amplifier Page 2

In the third voltage-gain stage, the signals are converted to a pair of SE signals of equal amplitude and opposite polarity (balanced, as we know it). Each of these signals then moves on to its current gain stage.

Forty output devices (two sets of 10 complementary pairs) are used in the output stage. This means the output terminals do not reference ground at all.

Like its big brother and the rest of the 300 series amplifiers, the No.33H is equipped with Madrigal's Adaptive Biasing system. This maintains a state of equilibrium by referencing both the instantaneous voltage and the current required by the load to constantly determine the optimal bias. Madrigal insists that this maintains a state of equilibrium in which the bias is maintained "continuously and naturally," but that it does not "react"—any more than a resistor "reacts" to a higher voltage by "deciding" to conduct more current. "The one fact inevitably leads to the other," they claim.

High praise
There are those who claim there can be no audible differences between any two competently designed power amplifiers not driven to clipping. For them, the very idea of a $20,000 pair of monoblocks must seem absolutely ridiculous. All I can say is that they should steer clear of the Mark Levinson No.33H, or else risk having their tidy little hypotheses shattered into tiny little pieces.

Because the amazing thing about the 'H isn't that it sounds better than any other amplifier I've ever heard, but that it doesn't sound like any amplifier at all. It sounds like no amplifier. It sounds as much like music itself as anything can that must rely on recordings. So you'll have to forgive me if I come up a bit short in describing what it "sounds" like. (If you think that's too much like some kind of Zen parable, I have to agree—reluctantly, since most of the ones I know end up with the Master giving the disciple a whopping great whack.)

But I'm sure you see my predicament here. If I go on at length about how great the '33H "sounds," I'm forced to admit that it has a sound—which negates my argument that it is the most realistic amplification device I've ever heard. But if I claim that all of this is so subtle as to defy description, and mutter "You just have to hear it for yourself," I'll be rightly reviled as being just too wussy for words. Sigh.

For me, one of the elements that distinguishes live from recorded music is that live music is not constrained. Take Phil Myers, the first-chair horn for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra: Phil is loud. I want to claim that he's so loud that we heard him in New York back when he was playing in Pittsburgh, but that would be a lie. We did, however, hear about him from all the New York players who were gigging in Pittsburgh—"Man, they've got a horn player who blows so hard that if he didn't have his hand shoved up the bell, it would straighten out like a party streamer," one trombonist told me. Of course, Phil is a consummate musician on many levels—he didn't get to be first chair in the NYPO simply by drowning out the competition—but any description of Phil's technique is incomplete if it doesn't mention how hard he plays.

For many years I reveled in Phil's power and clarity—I'd frequently choose to go to concerts simply because the program offered some choice first-chair horn licks. I always knew Phil would deliver. No matter how loud the NYPO, Phil could cut through it like a sword through silk. But recordings seldom possess this kind of limitless dynamic potential. Sometimes you can even identify the precise point at which everything refuses to get louder—to get liver. [live-er?] I never ran into this with the No.33Hs.

Actually, that's not entirely true. Sometimes the microphones used to record the event are the limiting factor, and sometimes, of course, the mastering may be the cause—but in all my listening to the '33Hs, the problem was never the amplifier.

Another distinction between live music and reproduced music lies in how different pitches seem to possess different velocities. You must have heard recordings where the string and woodwind overtones seem to float effortlessly, whereas the lower brass and basses seem to plonk down onto the soundstage and lie there. I sure have. In reality, we all know that tones lack any kind of specific gravity. The sounds emanating from a string bass weigh no more than those escaping from a piccolo, and they float just as gracefully upon the air. But that's not how many systems, and many amplifiers, reproduce them. Through the '33Hs, all music remained as graceful and as free as its most ephemeral components.

This doesn't mean, I hasten to point out, that bass tones lacked power, heft, or impact. That was all there in spades. In fact, you may have never heard how deep and muscular your speakers can sound until they've been taken control of by the No.33H. And swing? Lordy, if you want to become a dancin' fool, just slap something rhythmic onto your front end—just don't blame me if you boogie 'til you puke.

If you wish to check off your favorite attributes, I can oblige. Soundstaging through the '33Hs was phenomenal—deep, detailed, holographic. Tonal balance was natural, and possessed purity and clarity galore. Low-level detail never leapt out at me, but existed naturally within the musical gestalt—but it was never obscured either. There's more, of course, but paradoxically the No.33H exists on a plane where the news isn't about more, it's about less.

It had no grain, no grit, no electronic character that I could detect. It had no "warmth." Neither did it add any chilly sense of "accuracy." It had no MOSFET blur, no transistor etch, no tubey euphony. No heightened sense of illumination into the event. It was practically nonexistent—except that it did what it did better than anything else I've ever heard.

Mark Levinson
2081 South Main Street
P.O. Box 781
Middletown, CT 06457
(860) 346-0896