Mark Levinson No.383 integrated amplifier Page 2

Ergonomic Heaven
That user-friendliness begins with the No.383's size and weight. At 65 lbs, this baby is the lightest and smallest ML amplifier. The 112-lb No.334 ($5900), the 155-lb, 250Wpc No.335 ($7900), and the 165-lb, 350Wpc No.336 ($9500) are so massive that they require two people—both wearing Madrigal's white-ribbed protective gloves, of course—to safely unpack them.

Stacking the No.383 atop a Mark Levinson No.334 made this point convincingly. The No.383 shares most of the No.334's physical dimensions, including its width and depth. It, too, has the rounded heatsink edges and curved silver faceplate trim, as well as the Mark Levinson massiveness and silver-accented art deco curves. Only the No.383's height—less than half the No.334's—suggests that it's the "entry-level" Levinson amp.

Even so, its front panel is a dead ringer for the No.32 Reference stereo preamplifier ($14,000), which so impressed Jonathan Scull (Vol.22 No.1). An AC mains switch sits to the right of the red alphanumeric display, and a standby switch to the left. When in standby, all circuits up to the output stage remain powered, decreasing warmup time and extending average component life. Two large rotary controls—for setting the volume and performing input selection—frame the display. Below the display is a row of pushbuttons for Display intensity, Setup, Enter (for saving setup changes), Balance, and Mute.

But these switches aren't the main user interface. The No.383 is best controlled by its classy remote, ergonomically sculpted from aluminum. This soapbar-shaped device switches the No.383 in and out of Standby mode and adjusts balance, volume, display intensity, polarity, source, and mute. For the first time, from 12' away in my listening chair, I had complete command over source selection, system volume, channel balance, polarity, and mute.

Installation involves running the No.383's setup routine. Like the top-of-the-line No.32, the integrated amplifier is built around a software-based operating system that can be upgraded by loading the update through its RS-232 port. In fact, it's the same operating system as runs the No.32. Stepping through the menus on the front-panel display designates each source plugged into a back-panel input, assigns it a display name, and sets the gain level. Optimum performance settings for each source can be adjusted, titled for the display, and saved. Each line-level input can be customized by name (26 name options included, plus 7-character user-defined names), gain (0dB, +6dB, +12dB, or +18dB), offset (relative gain adjustments of ±20dB in 0.1dB increments), and record output. Only active inputs are included, so that the choices include only those line sources actually plugged into the back of the No.383. Once named on the alphanumeric display, the source can be selected from the remote, which can then control its gain, polarity, and mono/stereo settings. And the Mute mode's drop in volume level can be set anywhere from -10dB to -70dB in 0.1dB increments.

From the start, I liked the No.383's sophisticated operational features. Besides increasing or decreasing the gain from 0dB to +72dB in 0.1dB steps, the control adjusts the rate of volume change, according to the starting gain level and the rate of change in level. Turning the control quickly by hand accelerates the volume change, yet if the knob is spun too quickly, the rate of change decreases, to keep from jacking up the volume too rapidly.

These elements—the operating system's many custom features, individual 0.1dB control over gain, balance, and input offset, full remote control, the ability to work with learning remotes, and the "smart" volume control—make the No.383's user interface a real breakthrough in ease of use, flexibility, and control.

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