Mark Levinson No.383 integrated amplifier Page 4

Most listening was done in the nearfield of my current reference loudspeakers, the Revel Salons. These sat on a circular area rug, 63" from the rear wall and 36" from the sidewalls. Imaging and soundstaging were optimized when speakers and listening chair described an 8' equilateral triangle, measured from the tweeter centers.

The good news is that the No.383 played with clarity, transparency, liquid mids and highs, and an ability to render dynamic contrasts second only to that of the Mark Levinson No.334. Whether driving the Dynaudio Contour 3.0s, Quad ESL-63s, B&W 805 Nautiluses, Dynaudio Evidences, or Revel Salons, the No.383 sounded powerful, fast, smooth, articulate, and dynamic—clear and in complete control. The midbass and midrange were smooth and grain-free. Driving the huge Evidences that I reviewed in May, their sound was fast, detailed, and smooth, with extended highs.

The No.383 delivered solid, dynamic sound without being edgy or analytic, and with a bass response that was both controlled and detailed. The bass notes in Massive Attack's Unfinished Symphony (Circa WBRX2) were driving, taut, solid, and punchy. The soundtrack from My Cousin Vinny (Varese Sarabande VSD 5364) had slam, punch, and drive. Deep synthesizer notes, such as the entrance of the ghosts in the Casper soundtrack (MCA-11240), were solid and ultra-deep with great pitch definition, all set against a deep, wide soundstage. The substantial weight of the distant bass synthesizer on "Silk Road," from I Ching's Of the Marsh and the Moon (Chesky WO144), was offset by the song's soft, rainy acoustic landscape.

Then there were the deep, defined bass notes I heard on Patricia Barber's Companion (Premonition/Blue Note 5 22963 2), recorded live at the Green Mill in Chicago. The stand-up bass on "Use Me" vibrated all my cabinets. "Like LJ," the album's instrumental, was stunning in bass drive and tautness, and the pitch definition of Michael Annope's string bass, Ruben Alvarez's bongos, and Eric Montzka's drums. My notes: "This bass swept me away..."

Big-band drumming was as good as it gets. The No.383 put me in the catbird seat when I listened to Buddy Rich wail on his drum kit during his 1961 recording of "West Side Story Medley" (on Swinging New Big Band, Pacific Jazz CDP 8 35232 2). Backed by Jim Trimble's hot, brassy trombone solo and the front line of Bobby Shaw, Sohn Sottile, and Yoshito Mohrakami, Rich's kick drum races ahead, propelled at a much, much faster tempo than contemporary solos.

Vocal and jazz recordings were precise, defined, and smooth. Harry Connick, Jr.'s voice on "I Don't Get Around Much Anymore" (from the When Harry Met Sally... soundtrack, Columbia CK 45319) was smooth and pure without sounding tubby or nasal. The stunning, realistic rimshot that closes this song has to be heard to be believed. Whether it was Marc Anthony's clear, pure tenor blending with Ruben Blades' baritone in "Time is an Ocean" (from Songs from The Capeman, Warner Bros. 46814-2), the blending of Emmylou Harris' and Buddy Miller's voices in "The Maker" (from Spyboy, Eminent EM-25001-2) as they sing the words "Cold river rise from your sea," the distinctness of each singer's voice, contrasted with the other, made for a highly realistic and involving listening experience.

The No.383's extended, transparent upper register allowed me to hear both the cymbal sheen on Wynton Marsalis' "The Resolution of Romance" (Marsalis Standard Time, Vol.3, Columbia CK 46143) and the shimmering sound of the opening cymbal work from "The Mooche" (Rendezvous: Jerome Harris Quintet Plays Jazz, Stereophile STPH013-2). Piedmont blues guitarist Etta Baker's "I Get the Blues When It Rains" (Railroad Bill, Cello Music Maker 91006-2) transfixed me with the rich harmonies of the guitar's metallic strings. The No.383 helped the Revel Salons create a realistic illusion of a waterfall spilling into a pool when playing I Ching's "Running Water" (Of the Marsh and the Moon). The image—so three-dimensional and real—was typical of the No.383's detailed soundstaging.

Although I greatly enjoyed listening to the No.383, one thing was missing: more power. The integrated was perfectly capable of driving the Revel Salons, but not to disco levels. Only powerful separate amplifiers like the Bryston 7B-ST could re-create full-volume percussion in my large listening room without compression. To its credit, the No.383 smoothly limited rather than clipping audibly when I cranked up the volume during the opening timbale solo of "Tito," from Arturo Sandoval's Hothouse (N2K 10023). Tito Puente's explosive rimshots softened but did not choke or blur.

At $5990, the Mark Levinson No.383 is expensive. But if you're looking for a solid-state integrated amplifier that's well-built, flexible (six inputs, balanced and single-ended), and engineered to pay careful attention to the purity of the incoming line-level signal, the No.383 merits serious consideration, whether or not its cost is an issue. It's that good.

It's such a good value because it combines the user-friendliness and customizability of the Mark Levinson No.32's software interface with the ultra-rugged, over-designed dual-mono power amplifiers of the company's 300 series. Add the compact size, excellent sound, and a five-year warranty, and you have one very desirable product.

Madrigal's gamble of going against their traditional product image is likely to pay off. Be sure to get in on this sea-change: Audition the No.383 integrated amplifier.

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