Dr Levinson, I presume?

After trekking through the Middle East hifi wilderness, for longer than we care to mention, T2 finally realised a dream, and sat down to audition a legendary ‘high-end’ audio system: Mark Levinson Reference, is it really you?

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By  Justin Etheridge Published  July 19, 2001

Introduction|~||~||~|When the reporter, Stanley, finally tracked down the infamous Dr. Livingstone on November 10, 1871, on an African hill outside of Lake Tanganyika, he uttered the immortal words, ‘Dr. Livingstone I presume?’ and ensured his place in history forever.

There is something about this meeting of minds that fires the human imagination. It’s the moment when the long chase came to an end. It’s the realisation of a goal, the spark where myth became reality.

The T2 equivalent took place this month, as we sat down to a demonstration of the Mark Levinson reference system. We held our chances of ever hearing such a system to be slim at best.

Go in search of even a mid-range DVD unit in this region and you’ll see for yourself just how many dealers in this region make wildly exorbitant claims about their actual inventory. So, the mighty Levinson Reference? Forget about it.

Or so we thought. An exclusive invite from a kind soul sent our pulses racing. Mark Levinson really has a presence in the Middle East — and someone has invested accordingly. We humbly presented ourselves at a private installation, prepared for the sort of audio encounter that most of us can only dream about.

Mark Levinson is synonymous with the forefront of high-end audio. In fact, Mark Levinson, the man, has long since left the company that still bears his name, most recently moving to Red Rose music.

But the ethos lives on as part of the US giant Madrigal, where Levinson’s reputation is as strong as ever. For all the marketing hype that gets thrown around by costly systems, the term ‘reference’ at Levinson actually means reference: an internal benchmark that represents the culmination of Mark Levinson technical know-how.

||**||Meet the system|~||~||~|Enough background. It’s time to meet the system.

Revel Ultima Salon (floorstander)
Revel’s ultimate speaker, the Salon, was designed to tackle disruptive interaction with the surfaces of your room. In fact, Revel argues that its superior ‘off-axis’ response matches reflected sound to direct sound as accurately as any other model — ever. The 28mm aluminium alloy dome tweeter pushes back the boundaries of high frequency performance, pistonic throughout its operating range and delivering unprecedented detail.
AED 57,040 (1 pair)

Revel Ultima Voice (centre speaker)
This versatile unit offers adjustments for stand mounting, flush mounting, or use on a rear projection TV. The ‘Voice’ stems from advanced Revel research into psychoacoustics — the result is optimal audio even under these wildly dissimilar environments. It also fields the finest mid-range performance that money can buy, thanks to the surprising inclusion of a 38mm transducer.
AED 43,400 (2 units)

Revel Sub 15/LE1 (subwoofer)
The Sub-15/LE-1 amplifier combination packages the electronic section separately from the driver cabinet, making your life easier when it comes to installation. But, aside from physical design, it’s the 15" transducer and low frequency driver that will truly transform your house: expect raw power from the reinforcement drivers plus all the subtlety you’ll ever need for classic sound reproduction.
AED 77,280 (2 pairs)

Mark Levinson No. 33 Reference Power Amplifier
A colossus in performance and aesthetic design, the No. 33 is actually several amplifiers in a single chassis. Fully balanced from input to output, the amplifier uses 60 bipolar output transistors — that’s 15 complementary pairs in each of the two output stages. Each shares the provision of output current, slicing distortion levels in comparison with other amplifiers and avoiding typical thermal-management problems.
AED 386,400 (6 units)

Revel Ultima Embrace (surround) & No. 436 Monoblock amplifier
The Embrace is designed to complement perfectly Revel front loudspeakers, with user-selectable control for dipolar, bipolar or Dual Drive dispersion. The timbre-correct design more than compensates for the effect of on-wall mounting — especially in this outstanding system, where the Embrace are driven by nothing less than Mark Levinson No. 436 Monoblock amplifiers.
AED 61,960 (2 pairs)

Madrigal MP 9 CRT Projector
CRT projectors are still the technology of choice for high-end installations, and this system boasts no less than a 9 inch monster. Madrigal’s hand in every inch of this system eases integration to dreamlike levels. Aspect ratios in the projector automatically compensate for an anamorphic DVD — and just as easily switch to a 4:3 aspect ratio. It all ‘just works,’ leaving you to enjoy a night in at the pictures.
AED 110,400

||**||Party with Revel|~||~||~| Faroudja DVP 3500 Video Scalar / Line quadrupler
Faroudja’s DVP3500 is designed to enhance any multi-scan projector, be it CRT, DLP, LCD or plasma display. This magic box accepts inputs for HDTV and Progressive DVD formats, before scaling the scan rate for optimal video quality. Forget line doubling — the Faroudja DVP3500 shown here is effectively quadrupling the projector’s scan rate.
AED 110,400

Proceed MDT Modular DVD Transport
The PMDT’s toroidal transformer, and four separate secondary windings, gives independently regulated power supplies for unsurpassed audio and video resolution. Are you getting the best from the DVD format? That’s unlikely without the PMDT, able to extract video, convert the digital signal to analogue and buffer the output with unfaltering detail.
AED 22,080

Proceed PAV Audio Video Preamplifier
Madrigal introduced the PAV as long ago as 1993 — and with it launched a whole new category of high-end surround processor. Many preferences are automated on behalf of the user and it remains the benchmark in analogue audio processing and video switching to date.
AED 15,430

Proceed PDSD Digital Surround Decoder
The PDSD functions like a computer — except that it lacks an interface. Controlled from the Proceed’s PAV, the two devices work as one unit. This half handles all the digital processing for up to eleven music and theatre digital sources. It’s the foundation layer for your multichannel system, even able to link to external control sources like AMX and Crestron.
AED 17,270

||**||Final costs|~||~||~| Mark Levinson No. 31.5 Reference CD Transport
Built on the back of the No. 31 Reference CD Transport, the No. 31.5 goes further still by isolating its critical master clock on a separate circuit board. With a dedicated power supply and enhanced suspension, it boasts unmatched electromechanical isolation. Madrigal’s own Closed-Loop-Jitter-Reduction (CLJR) system actually improves the quality of the digital signal before passing it along to the processor.
AED 34,940

Mark Levinson No. 30.6 Reference Digital Processor and PLS 330 Power supply
The No. 30.6 derives its DC supply from the separate PLS 330, which itself contains three power supplies. Efforts have been made to contain noisy ground currents beyond that of its No. 30.5 predecessor, lowering ripple from the power supply at the DAC by a factor of 100. The processor is proofed for any future DVD-based audio standards, able to handle even a 192kHz signal and possible formats like Direct Stream Digital.
AED 62,375

Mark Levinson No. 32 Reference Preamplifier and No.32 Reference Controller
AC power, supplies, LEDs and anything else that makes noise are housed in a separate chassis, protecting the audio-preamp circuitry. Like other Levinson components, the No. 32 is ready for the future with a software-based operating system that can be upgraded via its RS-232 port. All commands are issued through the simple front panel, finished with a conductive Irridite coating that is unique even amongst the Levinson family.
AED 55,200

With a full afternoon at our disposal, the T2 staff got down to the serious business of listening. Some of our oldest favourites, it has to be said, we heard for the first time.

You might be forgiven for thinking that the colossal physical presence of the Levinson reference is all about volume. After all, Adil Anwar of Dubai Audio Centre — (+971) 4 343 1441 — responsible for the design of this system, jokes that the greatest challenge faced here was the sheer weight of the Mark Levinson No. 33 Reference Power amplifiers. “Each of these 33s weighs 200 kilos,” he says. “Just moving the kit around was no joke.”

But Adil also believes you’d be wrong — morally wrong — to fall into the ‘how loud is it?’ trap. This reference system, screaming volumes in style, is all about transparency. When reproducing acoustics, and this is the whole point, the effortless Levinson fades to reveal a truly faithful performance.

What we know is that the sweet and sultry tones of Ani DiFranco were as close to a live session as we’ve yet had the pleasure to savour. Close your eyes and you’re there at that private gig.

What do you think? Could Mark Levinson be the theatre of your dreams? Should you embrace your passion without limit? Or is there a point at which enough is enough?

Email your thoughts to me at justin.etheridge@itp.net. Best response will be printed in T2 — prizes up for grabs as always!

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