Levinson Amps: What do they really sound like?

I have never been interested in Levinson amps, because I was given the opinion they were sterile, clinical, & lacked the palpability of other top SS amps. However, I have seen a number of 'Gon members praise them recently.

What is your opinion of their sound compared to Plinius, Roland, Pass, McCormack, Ayre, etc.?
I'm using a Levinson 27.5 amp (vintage 1992-95) which is
100 W/chan @ 8 ohms. It's the little brother of the 23.5
I'm using it with Magnepan 1.6QR speakers, and find it
very musical. It has a clean high end, solid bass,
excellent soundstaging and imaging, and good dynamics.
I've owned quite a number of power amps, and this is
my favorite thus far.
They sound like "nothing". Nothing added and nothing taken away. Alot of people do not like them because it doesn't add warmth and bass bloom. If that's what you're looking for, then it's definitely the WRONG system for you.

If you're interested in the music as it should be heard on the recording. If the recording is sterile, it will sound sterile. If the recording is beautifull, then it will play that way. These amps add nothing as they sound like nothing.

I for ONE can tell you that they do not by any chance sound sterile, harsh and lifeless.

Mark levinson is very good amp, i had owned
the 336 with 380s almost two years ago.

I sold them after 6 months !!

If you want to hear good HIFI buy it !!

If you want to heard music buy JADIS/tube !!
EVERY amp has sonic color, to say that Levinson's don't is wishful thinking. If that was the case, Madrigal wouldn't need to keep coming out with "improved" models. Current Levinson's, in my opinion, offer great resolution, deep soundstage but can also sound soft and dull. A high end amplifier really needs to be matched with the speakers and the individul's taste. Unfortunately there is no perfect amplifier, only those which make less mistakes.
I absolutely agree with the last entry. I have never owned one, but heard them on many occasions. Matched to the proper speaker (Revel Studio or Salon with Levinson is a very hard to beat combination) and they sound as beautiful, tremdendous, etc (choose your favorite adjective) as any amplifier out there (in my experience). Improperly matched (I do not remember the particular speaker that made this impression, but the impression itself was certainly memorable) and the amplifier will make you wonder why anyone would buy one. I personally prefer my Plinius, but if you are interested in solid state, you would be wise to audition a Levinson with the speakers you intend to purchase.

Good luck!!
I also agree to what Blackie wrote.How can one know that an
amp doesn´t change the signal of recorded music?
What will the comparison be,no amp at all? But then there will be no sound´....
In reality, all components in the reproduction chain seems
to affect the sound of the reproduction.And while some component´s contribution will probably be so small that
we can ignore them (at least at thise time of development),
all amps seems to have some sort of sonic signature, and they do interact with the preamps as well as the loudspekers we use!
I´ve heard the Levinsson 334 a few times, with Revel speakers,Levinson CDP and preamp, and to my ears that system was a rather easy-listening system,althought it didn´t got up so much of details.Dynamics was good,without
beeing outstanding.At the same time, there may be systems
that are slightly more true to the reality.But I can´t say
how a Levinson amp sound by itself, and Levinson also have their reference line.
I don't own one, but seriously considered the No. 336 after two long weekend home auditions. I agree with Blackie that its greatest attributes are resolution and soundstage. It also has very deep and full bodied bass. Ultimately I felt the Levinson was to polite and reticent in the mids for my tastes. I auditioned the No. 336 with Thiel CS7.2s.
I used to love my ML#331 (not the current line) until someone told me to try the Pass Labs Aleph line. I sold my 331 for the Aleph 4 because it sounded even more natural and real. You won't go wrong with ML, but you might still prefer some others. I have not heard the current line (334-336) or the reference line.
I agree with most of the above comments. The problem, once you already have the speakers you want to use, is getting one-three dealers to lend you three or four (or with monoblocks, seven to eight) huge amps and drag them home to listen. And then there is the problem of comparison: see how fast you can substitute a pair of Levinsons for a pair of Krells, warm up the second pair, and then try and remember what the first pair sounded like! Then switch them back to check yourself! There is a shortcut--call the speaker manufacturer and ask them (a) what amp(s) they voiced the speaker on, and (b) what their reactions to the newest amps on the market are. Manufacturers lend each other equipment, or sample what's around, to see what changes they might want to make to their own lines, and this gives you a big leg up in deciding what 150 pound monsters to lug home. (Oh yeah, I don't have them, but Levinsons have sounded great when I've heard them on B & w's and Revels.)
I have had a Levinson 27.5 and now have a 334 with Audio Physics Avanti Centuries and have found both amps to very detailed, outstanding soundstage, with great bass, warm mids and highs. I do believe you need a good cables with the Levinson. I am using Audioquest Diamond X3 and Dragon speaker cables. You also need a very good input source, the amp is VERY detailed and will reveal any other input weakness. But in the end everyone has an opinion and thier own preferance. With a good name like Levinson or Krell you can always get a large portion of your money back if you want to change or upgrade. Hope this helps.
I own a Levinson 331. Nothing in a vaccuum. Get your warmth from your tube preamp and interconnects, they do it better. Look to your amp to give you power(tightness at high volumes without warbling or distorting, and cleanliness.)This may make it sound sterile, add your tubes and warm cables like Cardas or Aq, and you achieve a balance. With transport,pre,amp,cables,speakers, you're always simply trying to acheive a balance. Warmth or precision or detail. Pick your favorite,most expensive piece and move from there. Every new piece will add or subtract from the total.
Ok here it goes. I owned a 331 for 2 years and sold to upgrade to the 335 and when I did my mouth hit the floor with the improvements Levinson had made. Prior to owning the Levinson gear I had a Krell Ksa 150 which was nice but the Levinson killed it. I had the 335 with The lEVINSON 39 CD PLAYER and a pair of Martin Logan Ascents. It was truly amazing. I was out of the hobby for a while and in the process of buying a home and decided to sell my Levinson gear. I did. When it was gone I really missed it. So I bought another 39 and instead I bought a krell FPB 200c and I still have my logans and at first I didnt like it but now that everything has warmed up it is awesome. As far as Levinsons sound it doesnt add or take away from the music and thats why I owned it for 5 yrs. I will buy it again some day but it will be the monos. I thik Levinson soundsd better than plinius the mcomack and the pass. Levinsons customer service is the best in high end audio today and I really miss having an all Levinson system. Liquid mids deep wide soundstage ultra smooth sounding.( providing the recording is smooth) deep bass. Waht more can I say buy and you will love it if not put it on audiogon and you will lose nothing. Good Luck Dan
There is much good advice here. The synergy with the speakers cannot be understated. In my case the VT 100mk2 I had simply wasn't up to my Wilson 5.1's. The 335 was clearly a better match, but it took about three days for all the votes to come in. The superior bass control was very obvious immediately but it took a few days for the 335 to open up and reproduce the air around the instruments I was used to. After many months there is no doubt the 335 is a great match with my Wilson's. The comments about the 335 being polite may simply be saying it depends on the speaker. With the 5.1's polite is good.
I agree that the Levinson's sound clinical. Like a guy in a white lab coat with an oscilloscope. There is the high end argument of adding nothing to the sound, the system will play exactly what is on the recording. Well, that may be, but I am just a yuppie with a CD collection. I would hate to spend $$$$$$$$$$$$ on a system, and have half my CD collection sound dissappointing, or unbearable. I have
been looking over the used high end listings all over the internet, and I see an awful lot of levinson gear....
I had a 336 and replaced with Halcros, the Levinson gear are sensitive to up/down stream components. I found that the 336 was a pretty good match with my gear but a tad bright due to the Wilson Watt/puppy 6 I own. Mythtrip has a point that he raises that all high end gear should not color music in any way..To some of us that is the ultimate goal, well, mine at least and if you listen to metal and hard core rock...uncolored music has little impact compared to lets say Bill Evans at the Vangard (Jazz), I found that the Lev did that for me better then any other amp I had owned/tested....for Jazz, Pass Labs X350 was a close second in taste but I found the amp a little too mellow and warm compared to the Lev. The Halcros, a few notches above and, well, unbelievable detail and sound.

I heard a pair of 33h,s and BW 801,s Never so dissapointed, I didn,t look at the source or cables, I just wanted to get out of there.
I would like to here a proper Levinson system. I sold my Pass X350 and went back to tubes. SS can,t compare to tubes.Ya there picky but so is a Shelby Cobra SC.
Like the above post, If you want high end, buy SS. If you want music GO TUBES.
IMO, you cannot generically say Levinson amps sound like XXX. Levinson has been around a very long time and my guess is that they have evolved over time, therefore the current amps will not sound like older ones.

From what I have read from users, it appears the current 300 line, 334/335/336, is a great improvement over the prior 300 series.

One thing is sure about Levinson, it is very popular, which causes a couple things:
1) Allows for the possibility of a lot available on the used market. (To answer Mythtrip.)
2) The popularity evokes some negative reactions from some, whether they have heard any Levinson gear or not. Some people just like to take shots at those at the top. More than once I have read someones glowing review of a product and they state, "it blows the Levinson XX away". Depending on the situation, I find this a compliment to Levinson, as they singled out Levinson.

Like any company that makes a lot of products and/or has been around for years, a product they produce may be outperformed by another company. Basing your opinions off one product may not always be fair.

It seems to me that Levinson has earned it's reputation for making great equipment.
Regarding used Levinson equipment, I just want to add that I've always watched for the new 300 series on Audiogon. I don't see a lot of them listed all the time. When they do get listed, they're picked up rather quickly, especially if the price is good.

There are a handful of items that people are always looking for on the used market and used Levinson 300's seem to be one of them.
I recently heard a Levinson 335 amp with a pair of Revel Ulimate salon's. All Cabling was with Transparent Audio and the associated gear was a 380s preamp, NO. 37 transport and 360S DAC. I listened to this rig for quite awhile and was impressed by all the things that it did right, but vocals sounded thin and artifical. The sound was dry, sterile and artificial like a steak cooked in a microwave. I told this to my friend and he agreed. A few weeks later he purchased a pair of Eggleston Andras. Instantly the sound was much more livelike and the music was beautiful and full bodied. The low end seemed alittle lacking but the system sounded so much better. I found this interesting, because Levinson and Revel are owned by the same company, Harman International and the sound was boring. Just goes to show that system synergy and individual tastes will dictate the proper components for you.

Hope this helps,

I listened to a pair of tall Levinson monoblocks once. They were ok, but too gray and boring for the money. I prefered Classe's Omega which was scary-good in comparison. Classe, however, comes with as many critics as Levinson, so go figure.
I listened to a complete Levinson CD/preamp/amp plus big Revels with (I think) megabuck Transparent cable in a purpose built listening room. I listened to my classical disks as well as the jazz the owner spun. My female companion and I both felt it sounded very "electronic" (no matter what its clear benefits were.) This fact alone disqualified it from consideration. Frankly I was very surprised because I really wanted to like the system based on reputation, value and so on. IMHO.
i think that levinson does sound clinical to me as well . i stated that after hearing the grand slams with the 33hs that it sounded sterile. the 27.5 and 23.5 i remember sounding much more musical. but i have to say as someone else already said here ; got to have my tubes.
I've been searching for a stereo amp for about 6 months now. I own a ML 360S dac, a 37 transport and a 380S pre-amp. I have not heard any cd player or combo I like better. Although I do think it's a relatively poor value because you can get close for a lot less money including ML's own 390S. I say that to convey that I love ML gear but I'm not bowled over by their amps for my personal taste. I've thoroughly listened to the 33's, 33h's, 336,335 and 334. They are all nice and get better going upward in price with the common ML amp attributes such as resolution, sound stage and transparency. However why people tend to call them analytical is because they lack emotion. Unlike faster amps like Naim or Plinius they tend to round off the attack of notes. Everything is crystal clear but soft in it's delivery. Therefore I, as a listener, do not hear the tension in the music that excites me. How can you listen to Tower of Power with no attack. It just dosen't work for me. But I can see where it would work for somebody else. If you're a smooth jazz fan or light classical person, It's perfect. But if timing and pace float your boat the ML amps might eventually bore you. I currenty own my 2nd Naim 250 but I'm ready to upgrade for more power. I've auditioned Bryston 4b, Plinius mk100, Aragon Paladium, Krell 350, Spectral 150, YBA, and Pass Labs monos. The Plinius mk250 was definitly leading the way as my Naim replacement. I intended to audition the Sim Audio W5 ,Conrad Johnson, McCormack, Bel Canto and Gamut. I picked all based on reviews I'd researched looking for references to speed because that's one thing I tend to equate with being musical, especially in the lower register. However I listened to a pair of Halcro mono amps just because of what a dealer just kind of said on a whim and he did not sell them. I found a dealer and I was stopped immediately in my tracks. I ordered the stereo amp version on the spot.
Jhardy, I found your statement to be true, however, one needs to bring up that speakers are also a very important component in the final anaylsis.

I matched my Levinson with ProAcs and found them to be a suberb combo, however the ProAc lacked punch when I was not listening to Jazz. I picked up a pair of Wilson Watt/Puppy 6es and voila..the sound I was looking for. I did notice that the Wilson were a bit dry and tight at the top end when matched with the Levinson amp.

I too picked up a pair of Halcro DM58s and well...sweet...
I use one 27.5 with Magnepan 1.6QC and a CAL AUDIO tube DAC...
I get the warmth of tubes and the power of solid state.
I love the combination !

I got a 27.5 too.This amp along with the 23.5 are concidered one of the best solid state ever.
To my ears Levinson amps are very listenable and musical.
I work from home and am able to listen all day long. I never find my ears fatigued.

I will agree that they may not give you the "excitement" that you hear with some amps - but I think that is the key to the fact that I can enjoy listening for 8 hours or more.

I have compared a couple of very well respected amps in my system and typically my experience goes something like this.

"Wow - this thing is great - it sounds more open and unveiled than my amp". Then about 20-30 minutes in - I sense a throbbing in my ears and suddenly I simply cannot enjoy the music because I am so distracted by it. I don't know what exactly is causing it - but I would suspect the upper frequencies. The amps I've compared are NOT described as "bright" mind you.

It may be that I'm just very sensitive - but I've repeated this with several different amps always with similar results.

When I plug my Levinson back in I breathe a sigh of relief and go back to enoying the music. To me that's what it's all about - to other they live for the absolute minutia of detail and attack. I would say that Levinson is not for them.

Levinsons better amps give you the details - but does so with smoothness - at least to my ears. I have heard a few Levinsons that I didn't care for as much as my 336.

My amp has a wonderfull fullness and weight - especially in the mid-bass and bass. The top end is probably a bit rolled off compared to the other amps I've tested - but again I think that is the key to my enjoyment. The mid's are smooth and liquid.

Here's the rest of my system - I wouldn't consider any of my components inherently "bright" or "fatiguing" in nature.

Linn Unidisk (Source)
Meridian 861 (Pre/DAC)
Aerial 10T's (Speakers)

In summary - it really depends on what type of system you are trying to build and what you want out of it. For me the Levinson fits just right.
I have owned or listened to the 27, 27.5, 29 (recently sold to a happy buyer) 331, 331.5, and 336. I know what people mean by sterile, cold, or analytical but it depends on your other components including cabling. I find ML amps neutral meaning what you feed them is what they will play back. They can be non-forgiving with the wrong speaker but you will not find a better built amp. I love them especially the look of the 300 series. IMO they are a work of art and put a smile on your face just looking at them while listening. Levinson has been around a long time and look at the resale on the used market. Some amps have gone up in value especially the older .5 series. When I sold my 27.5 two years ago it sold within an hour. Impressive, and they still are snatched up quickly if the price is right and not blown out of proportion like some idiots think they can sell them for. I say buy one and don't look back.