Mark Levinson No.436 monoblock power amplifier Page 3

The No.436 produced fast, solid bass with great pitch definition, and had no problems reproducing the solid, sustained pedal chords of the Lay Family Concert Organ during John Rutter's "The Lord is My Light and My Salvation" (CD, Reference RR-57CD). The explosive plucked bass and synthesizer notes that open "Something's Wrong," from the My Cousin Vinny soundtrack (CD, Varèse Sarabande VSD-5364), were stunning. Terry Dorsey's "Ascent," from Time Warp (CD, Telarc CD-80106), rumbled through my listening room. Each change in synthesizer pitch was clear and authoritative in "Behind the Veil," from Jeff Beck's Beck's Guitar Shop (CD, Epic EK 44313). The deepest notes, such as the thudding vibrations during the entrance of the ghosts in the Casper soundtrack (CD, MCA-11240), were ultra-deep, and set against a wide, deep soundstage.

The bass response also had considerable pitch definition and even imaging. The distant, ethereal drum pulses in "Silk Road," from I Ching's Of the Marsh and Moon (CD, Chesky WO144), were set perfectly in the song's soft, rainy soundscape; the deep, defined bass notes on "Use Me," from Patricia Barber's Companion (CD, Premonition/Blue Note 5 22963 2), recorded live at the Green Mill, Chicago—or "Like LJ," were stunning in the drive, tightness, and pitch definition of Michael Annope's string bass, Ruben Alvarez's bongos, and Eric Montzka's drum kit.

Bass lines were easily resolvable. The deep pedal notes on Jean Guillou's transcription for pipe organ of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (Dorian DOR-90117) were clear and defined. Glen Moore's plucked double-bass notes on "The Silence of a Candle," from Oregon's Beyond Words (CD, Chesky JD130), had taut, well-damped tonal steps. Playing Stravinsky's Firebird Suite (tracks 3 and 5) or Rite of Spring (tracks 21-24) from Eiji Oue's recording with the Minnesota Orchestra (CD, Reference RR-70CD), I was able to easily distinguish the overtones of the bass-drum head from those of the timpani.

The No.436's dynamic range was every bit as impressive as its bass response. Like the Krell FPB 600c and the Bryston 7B-ST, it was capable of reproducing full-volume percussion without compression. Dynamics are what make Tito Puente's timbales solo on "Tito," from Arturo Sandoval's Hothouse (CD, N2K 10023), so exciting. Over the Bryston 7B-STs, Puente's rimshots were as fast and explosive as gunfire. I could easily hear when each of the drums in his kit had different placements across the soundstage, as well as differences in head sounds when two different drums were struck simultaneously. During Patti Austin's solo, "Only You (No Se Tu)," the No.436 gave the singer the pleasing forwardness and wide dynamic range also heard with the Bryston 7B-ST. Austin's effortless dynamics were involving and downright pleasurable.

The No.436's midrange had the usual Levinson warmth and forwardness, which added to the enjoyment of my favorite recordings—the hot, sizzling trumpets on Oue's Rite of Spring, for example—but it was vocal music that benefited most. Whether it was Marc Anthony's delicate tenor mixing with Ruben Blades' baritone on "Time is an Ocean," or Paul Simon's clear, powerful tenor singing "Trailways Bus" (both from Simon's Songs from the Capeman CD, Warner Bros. 46814-2), or the blending of Emmylou Harris' and Buddy Miller's voices in "The Maker," from Spyboy (CD, Eminent EM 25001-2), or in "Cold river rise from your sea," or the Thompsons singing "Dimming of the Day" on the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood soundtrack (CD, DMZ/Columbia CK 86534), the No.436 was second to none in its rendering of warm, seductive vocals.

The pair of No.436s projected a huge, wide soundstage and pinpoint, three-dimensional imaging. This was just as true with my Quad ESL-989 speakers as with the small Totem Acoustic Model 1 Signature two-ways. An LP of Shostakovich's Symphony 6 (RCA LSC-3133) projected a wall of sound while capturing the lush midrange dynamics and timbres typical of the Chicago Symphony under Leopold Stokowski. Mary Gauthier's voice on "A Long Way to Fall," from Filth and Fire (Signature Sounds 1273), was immediate and holographic. The No.436s rendered great depth and space surrounding the singers on Cantus' ...Against the Dying of the Light (CD, Cantus CTS-1202). And Emmylou Harris' voice was luminous and transparent on "Prayer in D," from Spyboy.

And the highs? The No.436 had an extended, translucent, sweet treble register driving the Innersound Eros Mk.III electrostatic speaker. This combination revealed the cymbal sheen on Wynton Marsalis' "The Resolution of Romance," from Standard Time Vol.3 (CD, Columbia CK 46143); the sizzling cymbal work on "The Mooche," from Jerome Harris' Rendezvous (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2); the extended, translucent sopranos of the Harlem Boys' Choir singing "A Call to Arms" on the Glory soundtrack (LP, Virgin 90531-1); and the shimmering tonality of guitar strings when Piedmont blues guitarist Etta Baker plays "I Get the Blues When It Rains," on Railroad Bill (CD, Cello Music Maker 91006-2). And the No.436s helped the Revel Salons create a three-dimensional illusion of a waterfall spilling into a pool when playing I Ching's "Running Water," from Of the Marsh and Moon.

The No.436 takes the Mark Levinson amplifier line back to its earliest origins in pro audio, when founder Mark Levinson designed equipment to go on the road and record live sound. While it is the most powerful amplifier in the 400 line, the No.436 is half the weight of its dual-mono predecessor, the No.333. And while it continues the black-and-silver theme of the previous generation of ML monoblocks, the absence of those earlier amps' bulging curves and design accents makes the No.436 trimmer, lighter, and more subdued in appearance. It also continues the Mark Levinson credo of ruggedly designed audio products with high price tags: a pair will set you back $12,500. For that you get an amplifier whose power and headroom ratings are greater than those of all but a few more expensive flagship monoblocks, including Krell's Master Reference and Levinson's own No.33.

The Mark Levinson No.436 retains the No.334's terrific soundstage depth, deep-bass capabilities, midbass punch, and ability to drive 2 ohm loads. It's clear to me that the No.436's trimmer chassis, cooler operation, and convenience give the owner even more value than earlier ML amplifiers, and that it represents evolutionary progress in practical amplifier design. I recommend it without qualification. It is one of the best amplifiers I've heard in my listening room.

Footnote 1: During the upgrade of my No.331 to No.331.5 status, it took me more than an hour to dismantle the amplifier to install the new front panel. I had to remove the top and bottom panels and the voltage amplifier boards to access the screws securing the front-panel switch. I very much depended on the detailed instructions, color pictures, and special tools included in the upgrade kit, but even so, taking the No.331 apart and rebuilding it was like solving a puzzle. The No.436 is much simpler.

Mark Levinson
Harman Specialty Group
3 Oak Park
Bedford, MA 01730
(781) 280-0300