MARK LEVINSON: The man, ML equipment in the distant past in the UK

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Question for Mr. Popeck. Hi.  You were a Levinson dealer at Listen Carefully. No reviews and no adverts for months. Are Levinson still in business and if so, are they represented in the UK. What is their vintage gear like?

Hmm. In hi-fi terms, Listen-Carefully was a long time ago. However, I’ll do my best to answer.

First, you’re not quite correct. I advertised that I stocked the brand for a short while at Listen Carefully – but never got around to stocking any of it in reality. Here’s the reason. The importer, Symmetry, is the official distributor for Levinson and Ayre. Frankly I thought the sound of the Ayre was not only much more to my taste but was far better value than Levinson. So I didn’t bother.

I must confess though I never had a side by side demo of Levinson versus Ayre here. So my observations (above) are based on having lived with Ayre integrated and pre/power for a long while and loving it and hearing Levinson in a number of homes and being very unimpressed – given what I felt at that time (and possibly still are) were the outrageous UK prices when referenced against the sonic performance.

Incidentally, I resigned being a Symmetry retailer in February 2007. No regrets at all.

Again, circumstances might not have been ideal in that the Levinson gear I heard was driving speakers which I suspect were not showing the amps to their best. These included Wilson 7s. Wilson Audio those days I believe, used Ayre at trade shows around the World. I’ve no idea which, if any, loudspeaker makers use Levinson at shows.

I’ve just looked at the Symmetry site and they are down to just 3 Levinson retailers. I’ve no idea what that means, if indeed it means anything at all. You could try phoning this number for Mr Crump, the founder and owner of Symmetry. The most recent number I have for him is 07831 829798

Way back in the late 1970s at Subjective Audio I was offered a job-lot of Mark Levinson equipment from the then importer/distributor Harman.

I can’t recall the precise details, but I went there with Bob (now Robert!) Stuart of Boothroyd Stuart Meridian to check it out and I think there was going to be some sort of reciprocal arrangement whereby Madrigal, the then US Levinson distributor was going to import Meridian and Meridian (curiously])might import Levinson. Being Meridian’s top performing retailer, Mr S wanted me involved. So off we went in his old Alfa Giulietta, to Slough.

There was a pallet full of ML gear. I took a couple of sample pieces to try. These were the twin mono ML6a preamps and the ML7 single box pre which was in essence the two ML6a in one box.

The sound quality of these two items was astonishing. Not just in the context of what was available then, but as I’ve learned recently first hand, against some of the best available today. The deal didn’t go ahead (can’t remember why) and that pallet of ML gear went somewhere I guess. A landfill perhaps?

Coming more up to date, a few years back I bought an ML28 and an ML26, out of curiosity. This was subsequent to the poor experiences I had heard a couple of years back with the then current ML gear as discussed earlier here.

Those 2 preamps could not compare with the vintage ML6a and ML7.

I concluded, perhaps unkindly, that current Levinson was riding on reputation and, in sonic performance terms, had nothing new to say – and hadn’t for some while. Moreover as far as I was concerned, the decline in value (performance versus price) started somewhere between the end of ML7 production and before ML26 production. I have heard no evidence to suggest that this decline has ceased, let alone reversed.

If it were my money …

Look out for an ML6a pair or and ML7 and partner it with a pair of ML2a mono power amps.

Truly I very much doubt if you’d ever want to change these. I know I wouldn't. But do look out for boy-racer aftermarket ‘yob’ modifications. These come from self-proclaimed experts. Through self delusion they believe they can improve on the genius of Mark Levinson’s original main man, the designer’s designer – Mr. John Curl.

The action of some of these people is like adding a coat of Dulux to the Sistine chapel!

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  • Very nice anecdote about those early days of high-end.
    Must have been a kind of treasure to stumble upon a pallet full of MLAS gear.

    The percepted quality of (some) the Levinson ML series nowadays (newer designs after Madrigal took over from MLAS started in 1985 with the No. 20) is reflected in the demanding high prices for these classic pieces.
    Especially the LNP-2 (professional pre-amp with meters) and ML-6 (a and b versions) will sell for or over their newprice.

    The design credits for that era are somewhat difficult because Mark Levinson himself is not a engineer but a musician in the first place. He did however tell me that he designed the first commercially available pre-amp, the LNP-2, together with Richard Burwen. The latter also did some design work on the mixingconsole for the Woodstockfestival. The second external designer was John Curl and his designs were graced with his initials hence the JC-1 (phono preamp, AC and DC version) and the first slimline pre-amp the JC-2. John Curl did some work on the first power-amp from Levinson the ML-2 (there are some schematics on the Internet which are called JC-3) but most of the work was already done by the new man Thomas Colangelo who was employed as the main designer after John Curl and Mark Levinson parted in disharmony about the royalties of the first. The JC-2 was consequential re-badged as the ML-1 without any changes internally. Colangelo followed Levinson to Cello Ltd. in the beginning of the eighties and was his ‘ main man’ for a long time all in all.

    So the heralded ML-7 and ML-2 are mainly Colangelo designs. (a ML2a never existed, only the ML-6, 7, 10 and 12 pre-amps got an ‘a’ or ‘b(in case of the ML-6a being updated to ‘b’, the ML-6’s are basically two mono ML-1’s). The power-amps did receive various updates also but you won’t be able to recognize that at their frontplates.

    And yes I settled for a ML-7a and a pair of ML-2’s after trying a pallet full of American made electronics of all kinds over the years.

    Greetings and success with the Club.

    Robert

  • The Editor

    Hello Robert. Thank you so, so much for the comment. The OLC team are most appreciative. However of more importance is the fact that our readers have additional information which, as far as we are aware. Is not easily found in the public domain. You changed this!

    Sincerely

    Howard – contributing editor