Power Amplifiers

Mark Levinson Nº 531H Monoblock Power Amplifier

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One of the major lessons I've learned about building sound systems is that it is very important to get enough power. If you think you need 50 watts per channel, then get 100 watts instead. If you think you need 100 wpc, then go get 300 wpc. And that's where the Mark Levinson Nº 531H comes in to the picture. While these amps aren't super duper powerful, 300 watts is still a substantial amount of power by any measure. The extra headroom this provides against 100 watts isn't there so you can play the music louder. Instead, the extra headroom does help you get the most out of your system. This is true even when you're listening to a small ensemble like we have here with the John Coltrane A Love Supreme SACD.

Mark Levinson Nº 531H Monoblock Home Theater Amplifier

Straight away, you could tell that the Nº 531H amps had a firm grip on the speakers. There was an almost dead silent background. The low noise floor in a sound system is like the black level in a monitor. It is the foundation that supports all the action. The dark background of the Levinson Nº 531H became an ideal launch point for every transient. Any comfortable listening level was so well within the design parameters of the amps that system-induced distortion was essentially negligible and inaudible

The Mark Levinson Nº 531H amplifiers were so much smoother and warmer sounding than Class D amplifiers. The music simply swirled out of the speakers. I can't remember ever enjoying the bass solo at the end of Track 3 more than I did through the Nº 531H's. Then on Track 4, "Psalm", I was simply blown away by the expansive stereo image that was also amazingly rock-solid. I could literally pinpoint every sound on the CD. This may be the cleanest treble ever from my system. But it also let the tape hiss shine through. And that just made me feel even more nostalgic . . .

Mark Levinson Nº 531H Monoblock Home Theater Amplifier

So I reached for another SACD of an old-timey group: Moody Blues The Days of Future Past. The sound of the orchestra was surprisingly 3d for such an old record. The instruments existed in a three-dimensional space as well as any two-channel system I have ever had. Take "Sunset", for example. The claves and triangles were all about the room. And this is the stereo layer?

Once again, the speaker drivers were expertly controlled by the Mark Levinson Nº 531H's. On "Tuesday Afternoon", Justin Hayward's voice was so very pure and simply floated above the imaginary stage. Then on "Nights in White Satin", one of the greatest closing songs on any rock album ever, the ethereal mix preserved all the clarity in the highs. This was an expansive sound in every possible way.

In 2006, Sir Colin Davis conducted the London Symphony Orchestra on a live recording of Handel's Messiah. It is a sort of high resolution reprise of his highly acclaimed 1966 conducting job of the same works. This is a modern recording and it shows. The first thing you notice is the total lack of tape hiss and even more silent backgrounds in general

Mark Levinson Nº 531H Monoblock Home Theater Amplifier

Likewise, the first two discs above were presented with a broad soundscape, but this disc was even better. I generally prefer surround at this point in my life. Even on music. But as I listened to these SACD discs in stereo over the Mark Levinson Nº 531H's, I started wondering about the value of surround sound. These discs sounded so broad, that surround sound was almost a totally moot point. The landscape of instruments was rock-solid, wide and high. So maybe I just need a couple of Levinson monoblocks and a decent pair of speakers and I'd be all set.

The Nº 531H's kept a great deal of power in reserve which is important when playing back the human voice at near live volume levels. The human voice tends to require more "music power" than most people probably think. And this is true at lower listening levels too. Consequently, No. 48 "The Trumpet Shall Sound" was an utter and total delight over the Mark Levinson Nº 531H's.

Mark Levinson Nº 531H Monoblock Home Theater Amplifier

I closed out my critical listening with the Blu Ray of Rob Thomas Something to be Tour: Live at Red Rocks. On "3 a.m.", the bass guitar provided a super solid foundation while the steel string guitar moaned mournfully. I loved the intro with drums and piano in a sparse arrangement on "You Won't Be Mine". The piano was nice and clean sounding. By the time Rob Thomas performed "Bent", the crowd was really getting into the concert. And he performed this tune with lots of emotion; all the while, his acoustic guitar shone over the Mark Levinson Nº 531H's.

The disc's cover highlights an all-acoustic version of "Smooth". I was skeptical at first, but now I must say that it is a fresh take on this Rob Thomas standard so it deserves special mention here. The acoustic guitar was again thoroughly captivating over the Mark Levinson Nº 531H's. This disc contains a bonus music video, the "Streetcar Symphony Video". This music video had the whole big band playing and was totally majestic thanks to the power and control of the Mark Levinson Nº 531H's.