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Mark Levinson Sound that Speaks for Itself

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  #11  
Old 03-04-2018, 02:24 PM
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What a cool color. Alexx will be a monster improvement over Sasha's... In my case, even Alexias (v1) were a big improvement over Sasha 2s. And the Sasha's are no slouches!
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  #12  
Old 03-04-2018, 04:09 PM
Karl Maga Karl Maga is offline
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As an owner of these products since their release, I can only say I agree with Georgeís conclusions. Iíve had them paired with B&W 800 D2ís and Revel Salon2ís. In both instances the synergy was exquisite.
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Old 03-04-2018, 04:37 PM
joey_v joey_v is offline
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I was there and I concur with George.

I missed the 601 to ML swap however.

And I’m not familiar with the old pre.

But the details and staging etc I agree with.
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  #14  
Old 03-07-2018, 11:46 PM
Karl Maga Karl Maga is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gadawg View Post
As I posted previously after listening to the No523 an No536's I had no choice but to buy them! While my new equipment is likely a few weeks away, the local Levinson rep has been slow to pick his equipment back up ...No complaints here for sure!

So here are my impressions and the comparisons that a group of us did. Firstly, I did not have the opportunity to compare it to the Ref 52 as the Rep couldn't get his hands on one easily. No matter, the difference between my existing 326s and 523 was large enough that I felt it was likely that any difference between it and the 52 would be minor at best which is also what I was told not only by the rep but the factory guys as well. I've really enjoyed the No326s the past 4 years with sound coming out of a complete black background, with great separation between instruments, really good imaging, and great harmonic texture. The No523 replicated all of that and maybe was slightly better there. What I first noticed when I put the No523 into my system was that the midrange really opened up and the sound stage became much deeper and wider with an even better sense of presence. I think that's likely due to an increase amount of detail the No523 is capable of. It doesn't sound warm or dark like some of Levinson product of the past so be forewarned ... if that was what attracted you to the brand that is gone .... like totally gone. Another thing about the No523 is that its much more dynamic than the No326s in that what used to all come across at a more similar volume may now be cruising along then, wham I had no idea the music had that much extra energy. To be fair some of that was also a result of the amps compared to my 601's but more on that later. I wouldn't call the No523 hyper detailed as much as I'd call it fully detailed. It does greatly benefit from proper cabling of all sorts and the Power Cable made big differences and this was the first time I've played around with high end power cables. So, as a line stage the No523 is excellent and I think is right up there with many of the other leaders today and clearly better than many.

On to the Phono section which I compared to my ARC PH8 which lets just say it ... wasn't a very fair comparison in that the PH8 was a $7000 Phono preamp when it was new and while the phono section in the No523 is good, it's NOT at that level for sure. It did have very good detail, offered as good an image as the PH8 but not near the sound stage size and depth nor the amount of presence. Surprisingly I found the bass on the internal phono stage to be a little lacking compared to the PH8 but I'm guessing the internal phono stage wasn't broken in yet either. I'd put it at the level of my old HEED phono preamp so while it was very good ... it will likely be skipped over by a serious analog user.

For those interested the unit we actually had was the 526 so I had a chance to compare the internal DAC to my EMM Labs DA2 Reference as well. Before any of you get excited that I might sell my EMM Labs DAC now at a bargain price ... worry NOT. The DAC in the 526 is comparable to other $2000ish DAC's I've heard and sounded a lot like my old No360s with really really solid deep bass, and a very refined sounding top end. A lot to like about that for sure. What it didn't do was present the sound stage size in any direction of the DA2 or come close with respect to the decay of instruments. My wife summed it up best when listening to the internal DAC ... It sounds fine but why does it sound so small and flat now? Of course she like myself is used to the ridiculous sound stage created by the EMM Labs DA2 so its not really an insult to say this one isn't close and clearly not a fair comparison. I will say even though I recently sold my ARC DAC9 I would still use that compared to the internal DAC without a second of thought as well so I think the internal DAC will be used most likely by a serious Analog guy who simply wants to stream some background music occasionally and doesn't critically listen to digital.

The remote looks the same as the one for the326s but the volume control does jump faster than I like and there is no mode that is like the mode I had selected on the 326s so if I had a wish ... I'd wish for a future update to add the older 326s volume mode where it goes by .1 db all the way up or down. This one if you hold it down can start jumping in some pretty large jumps and it takes a second for the mute to kick in and out. Not sure why that is and not a show stopper but an observation.

The No536 amps ... well well well. I had really loved my 601s for the past 4 years and wasn't entirely sure the new Levinsons would be able to best them. It took all of the first few seconds of the first track to realize that these amps are in a different league both in terms of detail and speed. One of the guys there who also has 601s said the 601 sounded a tiny bit muddy compared to these. I had to agree they were very different but maybe rather than the 601's being muddy which I don't really agree with I'd say that the No536s had a startling level of clarity that the 601 simply couldn't replicate. They also heavily contributed to the overall gain in dynamics that I was noticing. I constantly found myself turning the volume to a lower setting as the range from quiet to loud was much larger than my previous setup and while exciting is taking a bit of getting used to. Other than better Clarity than the 601's I noticed again a larger sound stage overall and better bass extension than the 601's not that the 601's were slouches there by any means. I thought briefly about keeping my 601's to start building a home theater system around in another room but decided for me that's overkill and it took exactly a day to get my 601's sold and I'll always remember them fondly as one of my favorite amps of all time and will miss the dancing blue meters ... however, the No536s are simply at a different level. The Levinsons reminded me of a recent audition I had with some of the Class A Pass Labs amps. While they don't reconstruct the musical event as completely as the Pass Labs XS300s they are also less than half the price. Compared to the more reasonably priced Pass Labs amps all I'll say is I'm very pleased with the new Levinsons. The amps like the preamp have a standby mode that keeps the circuits completely energized so there is no warm up time and I really like that although you do have to change that setting as the default out of the box is the "green" setting that is now required in some countries. Easy enough to change though so no issues there.

Overall the new No536s are an awesome match for my Wilson Sasha 2's and I'm sure will work as well with the Alexx when I upgrade down the road a bit. And yes ... I'm leaning towards Seafoam Green Alexx as well! Matched with the No523 I think it deserves it's rating as a Class A product in Stereophile. Of course we all like different things so an audition is a must before purchasing as I said, these don't sound like the Mark Levinson's of old for sure. Some will like these better, others not as much. For those that have speakers and other components that synergize well with the new ML components, you are in for a real treat ... black backgrounds, excellent imaging and a soundstage that doesn't seem to have limits in any direction, awesome detail and a bottom and top end that seem complete but never exaggerated at all. BTW ... Just got the text from my local rep he wants his stuff back so I'll be without for a few weeks until my new gear gets in. LOL!
George, I got to thinking about your comments regarding the DAC in the 526. Did you try the different filters to see if any sounded better than others?
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  #15  
Old 03-08-2018, 12:16 AM
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I did ... the differences were small to nil. I can't promise the DAC in this unit was broken in ... I'm going to ask the Levinson rep that question when he picks up his gear. He's been very kind to leave it with me while mine has been on order which will be in tomorrow! With as big a difference as there was though I can't imagine the break in making up that much ground. Again ... Not really a fair comparison I'll admit as I've very quickly gotten spoiled to the EMM Labs DA2 Reference. I just don't see someone spending $15k on a preamp then settling for what amounts to a couple thousand dollar DAC. I'm guess we will see many more 523s in the market as opposed to the 526s. If I'm not mistaken it's either very similar or the same DAC that's in the 585 integrated. Makes more sense there I think although a good external DAC there is very audible as well as I did hear an EMM Labs DAC the first time with the 585 and the Focal kanta's and there was an audible difference there as well. The 585 with great partnering equipment really is very nice. Sorry for the rambling answer!
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  #16  
Old 03-08-2018, 12:42 AM
Karl Maga Karl Maga is offline
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I appreciate the details! I had been considering a 519, but the DAC is the same throughout the product line. I hadn’t reached the point of auditioning yet, but your observations are concerning. The single professional review I read of the 519 proclaimed it as exceptional, including the DAC.

I’ve heard the 585 with B&W 805 D3’s and I thought the combo was top shelf.
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  #17  
Old 03-08-2018, 09:23 AM
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So I'm not saying it's a bad DAC by any means ... just that everything I've compared it to sounded better! Granted they were all more expensive Dacs so really no different the built in phono or not decision ... decent performance with built in but far better performance can be had with an upgraded DAC. If the 519 is exactly the same then I would be very concerned about the price - value ratio.
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  #18  
Old 03-08-2018, 01:08 PM
Karl Maga Karl Maga is offline
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Digital is my preferred format, so the DAC is important to me. My current DAC Ė Bel Canto 2.7 gives me as much as what Iíve heard from the Mytek Manhattan II (excluding MQA Ė another consideration for SOME) at the dealer.

Obviously, for a new DAC Iím not interested in ďas good asĒ. If itís not better, then there is no point for me to part with the funds. Iíd be expecting a lot from the 519 at its price point. Iíll have to verify that the DAC is the same in the 519 as it is the 526, though Iím confident in my current belief that it is.
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  #19  
Old 03-08-2018, 07:26 PM
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Yeah and at that price range there are some real heavy hitters out there for sure.
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  #20  
Old 03-12-2018, 07:31 PM
tdimler tdimler is offline
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Great system! I recently had the 523 in house for an extended audition and thought it was a top shelf piece. I agree that the new Levinson stuff is the best they've ever made....supposed to be highly reliable as well. I'd really love to try the 52....sonics aside, it really has the cool factor!
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