Mark Levinson No.532H power amplifier Page 3

Soundstaging, too, benefited. The No.532H enabled my Quad ESL-989 electrostatic speakers to project a broad, detailed, involving, three-dimensional soundstage with vivid dynamics that equaled, and in many cases bettered, the soundstage created by my ML-2 monoblocks. "Breathe," from the SACD remastering of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (SACD/CD, EMI 2435-82136-2), presented a wicked brew of throbbing helicopter blades, jackhammers, footsteps running across my listening room, dive bombers, and announcements made on the PA system of a railroad terminal—all on a wide soundstage, to create a cinematic effect.

I easily heard the senses of space and instrument placement in the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over—the No.532 achieved a well-defined positioning of audience sounds, acoustic guitars, and conga drums set on a very wide soundstage. Listening to a 24/192 digital file of "Kote Moun Yo?," from Markus Schwartz & Lakou Brooklyn's Equinox (also CD, Soundkeeper SR1002), I was again stunned by the width and depth of the soundstage, the totally "black" background, the great dynamic range, the silky-smooth highs.

The No.532H's bass response was outstanding. Driving the Snell A7 Illusions, the Mark Levinson produced tuneful, solid, punchy bass with great pitch definition. Snell's smaller Phantom B7 also shone, tracking the deepest synthesizer notes in "Silk Road," from I Ching's Of the Marsh and the Moon (CD, Chesky WO144). As for room lock—a level of deep bass sufficient that the low frequencies can be felt as a pressure wave—both Snell models outdid themselves in reproducing: the 32Hz pedal note that ends organist James Busby's performance of Herbert Howells's Master Tallis's Testament on the collection Pipes Rhode Island (CD, Riago 101); the sustained, massive pressure wave generated by the low G played by the double basses in the Introduction of Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra, on Kunzel's Time Warp; and the power and presence of the deep pedal chords in Gnomus, from organist Jean Guillou's performance of his transcription of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (CD, Dorian DOR-90117).

This level of pitch definition let me discern: Jerome Harris's careful acoustic bass guitar work weaving in and out of his quintet's playing, as well as the different tensions of the heads of Billy Drummond's tom-toms, in "The Mooche," from Rendezvous (CD, Stereophile SPTH013-2); the sound of a fabric-covered drumstick striking a large bass drum in H. Owen Reed's La Fiesta Mexicana, from Howard Dunn and the Dallas Wind Symphony's Fiesta! (CD, Reference RR-38CD); and the characteristic synthesized bass pulses that drive the rhythmic power of "Something's Wrong," from Randy Edelman's score for My Cousin Vinny (CD, Varèse Sarabande VSD-5364).

My speakers' midrange response blossomed when driven by the No.532H. Whether the volume was low or high, I discerned delicate differences in the tones and timbres of male voices, and piano and other percussion instruments. In this regard, it reminded me of my ML-2s, especially when listening with the Quads. Keith Jarrett's piano playing in "True Blues," from his The Carnegie Hall Concert (CD, ECM 1989/90), was clean and translucent, with normal emphasis in the presence range but no sodden overtones when he used his sustain pedal. Suzanne Vega's a cappella performance of "Tom's Diner," from her Solitude Standing (CD, A&M CD5136), became a three-dimensional image of her voice centered between the speakers with chilling realism. The trumpet and trombone solos in the Jerome Harris Quintet's recording of "The Mooche" blossomed into the full, biting, "brassy blattiness" that the late J. Gordon Holt claimed can be heard only with the finest high-fidelity systems.

The No.532H's superior midrange reproduction greatly benefited the soundstaging so important to choral music. I heard separate and exacting placement of the different ranks of singers in the Turtle Creek Chorale singing Rutter's The Lord Is My Light and My Salvation. Rutter's A Gaelic Prayer, from the same disc, had new clarity and balance, and superb pitch definition of the organ's pedal notes. The lilting tenors of the vocal group Cantus singing Edie Hill's A Sound Like This, from their While You Are Alive (24/88.2 digital file or CD, Cantus CTS-1208), had wonderful clarity and timbres.

Similarly, the No.532H transmitted more of the timbres and harmonics of solo male voices, without tubbiness or midbass emphasis. José Carreras's light, lyrical tenor remained pure during the Kyrie of Ariel Ramirez's Misa Criolla, as conducted by José Luis Ocejo (CD, Philips 420 955-2); Willie Nelson's voice in "Getting Over You," from his Across the Borderline (CD, Columbia CK 52752), was palpably present in my listening room as a sonic hologram; and Harry Connick Jr.'s voice in "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," from the When Harry Met Sally . . . soundtrack (CD, Columbia CK 45319), was transparent and free of extra resonance.

The No.532H's upper midrange and treble responses were commendable, especially when cymbals were center stage. I heard subtle instrumental harmonic overtones, such as: the sweet, translucent cymbal notes in the drum solo in "Nardis," from Patricia Barber's Café Blue (SACD/CD, Premonition/Blue Note/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDSACD 2002); the sounds of cymbals stoked softly with wire brushes in "Fruit Forward," from Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall; the subtle dynamic shadings of the fading cymbal sounds that end the overture from A Chorus Line, on Beachcombers, with Frederick Fennell conducting the Dallas Wind Symphony (CD, Reference RR-62); and the metallic cymbal sheen that opens "The Mooche," from Jerome Harris's Rendezvous, which the No.532H rendered as a shimmering sound rather than as soft, hissing static.

The Mark Levinson No.532H may not be strikingly beautiful to the eye, but its sound won me over time after time. Its superior bass slam, soundstaging, treble detailing, midrange pitch definition, and jaw-dropping dynamic range equaled or exceeded that of my other ML amplifiers.

The No.532H's price of $8500 makes its purchase a serious decision. One must consider this amplifier's superb build quality and impressive dynamic range playing hi-rez digital files. The No.532H made my Snell A7 Illusion and Phantom B7 dynamic speakers sound more alive and more authoritative than ever before, with bass slam galore, while coaxing dynamic musical contrasts and subtle timbral textures from my more sensitive, electrostatic Quad ESL-989s.

Perhaps it's time to add another Mark Levinson amplifier to my collection. Meanwhile, I'm recommending we give this relatively affordable stereo amplifier with the plain-Jane exterior and stunning inner beauty a Class A rating in Stereophile's "Recommended Components."

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