Mark Levinson No.532H power amplifier Page 2

Inputs, Outputs, Controls
Like all Mark Levinson power amps, the H models' front panels have only a single Standby pushbutton. This sits below the on/off power LED, which cycles on and off at different rates under standby or fault conditions. Otherwise, it glows steadily when the amplifier is turned on.

H-series amps are CE-certified so they can be sold in Europe. This requires a rear-panel power switch to disconnect the supervisory power supply from the AC mains without having to unplug the amplifier. Other rear-panel features include single-ended RCA and balanced XLR inputs, and Mark Levinson's traditional curved "Hurricane" binding knobs on the speaker terminals, for making tight contact with speaker-cable terminations. For amplifiers intended to be operated on 120VAC, the speaker posts are hollowed out to accommodate banana plugs. A small toggle switch selects between the No.532H's single-ended RCA and balanced XLR inputs—a welcome improvement over ML's previous models, which employed tiny—and easily lost—curved U-pins to short XLR input pins 1 and 3 when the RCA inputs were being used. Nearby control connectors include an Ethernet 10-Base-T port, and trigger input and output mini-plugs. The ML-Net Ethernet jack allows the amplifier's power status and internal operating conditions to be monitored remotely by a home computer or a Mark Levinson preamplifier; and there's a rear-panel IEC jack for the detachable power cord.

Harman first shipped me a solitary single-channel No.531H, which I returned. When the two-channel No.532H arrived, I was easily able to unpack the 72-lb amp. This was a first among ML amps I've reviewed, which have often weighed 100 lbs or more, and had sharp external heatsinks. I attached balanced interconnects to the ML's inputs, the spade lugs of my PSC speaker cables to its outputs, threw the power switch on the rear panel, and got ready to listen. As always, I used Stereophile's Test CD 2 (Stereophile STPH004-2) to ensure that I'd gotten the channel assignments and phasing correct.

Even though setting up most two-channel, solid-state stereo amplifiers requires little instruction, I enjoyed reading the No.532H's well-written manual, which is informative and detailed. It revealed that the Sleep mode has been eliminated from the turn-on sequence of H-series amps. Pushing the front-panel Standby button of an older ML amplifier would bring it out of Sleep and into Standby for 10 seconds, the power LED flashing on and off three times as the circuits stabilized, before the amp would respond to a second press of the button and come fully on. I was delighted that the No.532H required only a single button press to play music.

The No.532H was in my system for four months during the fierce winter of 2010–2011, surviving any number of brownouts and sudden blackouts without showing any signs of damage, and handling each power interruption by reverting to Standby. During that time, I traveled often: When away for more than a few days, I turned off the amplifier's rear-panel power switch; otherwise, I left it in Standby, its front-panel power LED slowly flashing, to ensure that the No.532H would sound its best when I returned.

I played CDs on a Bryston BCD-1 CD player, and high-resolution digital files on a Bryston BDP-1 digital file player, including 24-bit/176kHz files from Reference Recordings' HRX series, 24/88.2 files of Stereophile master recordings engineered by John Atkinson, a 24/88.2 file of Beethoven's Symphony 3 as performed by Andrew Manze and the Helsingborg Symphony (Harmonia Mundi HMU 807470), and the 24/96 and 24/48 versions of two Chesky recordings: Ultimate Demonstration Disc, Volume 2, and David Chesky's Urban Concertos (both originally released on SACD, on Chesky SACD343 and SACD326, respectively).

I soon discovered that I loved the No.532H's clarity, huge dynamic range, resolution of fine detail, and bass impact. Harman's Jim Garrett told me that the No.532H was designed to produce big dynamic contrasts, and its wide dynamic range became all too evident when I accidentally overloaded—for the first time—the Snell Phantom B7s' twin woofers playing the timpani passage in Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Symphony's recording of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (24/176, DVD, Reference HRX RR-70). Further listening taught me that when musical detail began to disappear, I needed to back off the volume to avoid pushing the amplifier into hard clipping.

The No.532H delivered greater jaw-dropping dynamic contrasts than I'd heard with my No.27 or No.334. The effect was much more than just some extra headroom. Driving the Snell A7 Illusion towers, the No.532H resolved what seemed the subtlest dynamic differences, whether at low or lease-breaking volumes. Take "The Hand-Off," from James Horner's music for the film Sneakers (CD, Columbia CK 53146). Explosive piano scales jumped out of dead black silence on a wide soundstage. Don Dorsey's synthesizer-based "Ascent," from Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops' Time Warp (CD, Telarc CD-80106), erupted with sledgehammer bass pulses and crystalline highs, which then melded into a mix of softer pulses, bleeps, whooshes, and high-pitched tones that swept back and forth across the soundstage. The track culminates in an explosive shot, then finishes with a deep, subterranean rumble that sounded edgy and sinister.

Driven by the No.532H, both Snell models produced startlingly dynamic and powerful reproductions of percussion instruments: the struck chimes that tighten the suspense in "Assault on Ryan's House," from the Patriot Games soundtrack (RCA 66051-2); the pulsing congas that open the "Hotel California," from the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over (CD, Geffen GEFD-24725); the exploding burst of kickdrum and guitar that follows the sleepy opening of David Bowie's "Putting Out Fire," from the Cat People soundtrack (CD, MCA MCAD-1498); and the dead-on pitch definition of the bass synthesizer in the 24/48 download of Chesky's Urban Concertos. Mark Flynn's flash-bang drum-and-cymbal opening to "Blizzard Limbs," from Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (JA's hi-rez, 24/88.2k master file for Stereophile STPH018-2) was more energetic and urgent than I'd heard before.

Mark Levinson by Harman
1718 W. Mishawaka Road
Elkhart, IN 46517
(888) 691-4171