I must admit, when I found out that there was a small chance that I would get to test the Mark Levinson No. 585 integrated amplifier, I became overwhelmed with immense excitement and hope that it’s really going to happen. Earlier this year in May, I attended the world premiere at the Munich High End. I found myself among journalists who had the opportunity to talk to the chief engineer and the development team and who were among the first people to hear how the No. 585 sounds.
However, to attend a fair is one thing and to have the opportunity to listen to it in one’s own home in familiar conditions is something else entirely. Even more so if you take into account that at this time no one in the world had tested this amplifier before and that what lies before you is an exclusive review of one of the most intriguing HIFI devices that appeared in recent years.
It all started to happen about a month ago when Sigma Audio, a local Mark Levinson hifi devices distributor, informed me that in the eve of Zagreb AV Show, they were intensively working to provide a device for a presentation that I had recently announced on my blog. Regardless of that announcement and because of the limited time, it was still uncertain whether I would actually get to actually test the device.
Ultimately a small window of time emerged and the Mark Levinson No. 585 found itself in my home for 24 hours. I wish I could have kept it for a couple of more days but the time we had together was enough to gain an insight into this amplifier’s possibilities. It must be noted that the device came already with many playing hours so that the testing could begin immediately.
Before I go on, I would like to briefly explain why the big fuss about No. 585. Mark Levinson is one of the few HiFi manufacturers whose name in the audiophile community is pronounced almost in awe. This is the result of years of tradition and placement of numerous high-end devices that made the history of the audio industry. It is almost impossible to list all the awards and positive reviews published over the 40 or more years that the company has been operating.
There have been products that were met with suspicion and a lack of approval, but looking at the whole, the factory in Connecticut has generally released devices that offered advanced technology combined with superior sound. One should also be honest and openly say that the additional fame around the brand was created by the harsh reality and that is that Mark Levinson devices are now available exclusively to audiophiles with deeper pockets.
Prices are exorbitant even for American concepts where these devices can be bought at significantly more favourable conditions than, for example, in Europe. According to my own findings, in Croatia there is only a small group of happy and satisfied customers whose HiFi systems are enriched by Mark Levinson.
How well the equipment is kept and what it means to its owners is perhaps best seen from the extremely rare occurrence of Mark Levinson in Croatian classified section of used devices. When and if it happens, the ad is usually erased within a day or two, provided, of course, that the seller is asking for a reasonable amount.
Mark Levinson did however, at some point try to appeal to a wider audience by introducing the integrated amplifier No. 383. Such a complete solution that brought together a preamplifier and power amplifier was to provide a prospective user with Mark Levinson sound at an acceptable price.
In addition, the integrated solution excluded the link, the interconnectors between the preamplifier and the power amplifier, making the No. 383 even more interesting. This happened some 15 years ago and until today, Mark Levinson has not offered us a successor.
The reasons for this can be found in the reorganization of the company and their waiting to be joined by people like Todd Eichenbaum, who is currently head engineer of the Mark Levinson development team. He is known for his previous work in Krell, another American manufacturer of heavy high-end HIFI artillery.
Anyway, the successor has finally arrived, even if radically different from its predecessor. Apart from being two times stronger (2×200 W @ 8 ohm), the No. 585 has a built-in 32 bit/192 kHz DSD D/A converter (ESS Sabre 32 bit) with balanced topology. Newly developed Harman Clari-Fi™ technology is in charge of enhanced reproduction of lower resolution audio signals.
We are talking about a brainchild that is supposed to use software to restore to compressed music files what was lost during compression. This is most likely intended primarily for mp3 formats, but since I only had the amplifier for a day, I did not intend to waste time on mp3. Besides, I already wrote about how I feel about that particular format in another text.
The amplifier is equipped with six digital and four analogue inputs, including USB, optical, coaxial, AES / EBU, XLR and RCA jack. I would also like to mention the subwoofer output with high pass filter (80 Hz), which places the No. 585 the heart of superior 2.1 system. The amplifier was created in double mono configuration, while an oversized 900VA toroidal in house made transformer is in charge of stability. Its modular design leaves room for an upgrade – the insertion of a phono preamp.
After I brought the amplifier home in the evening, I turned it and left it on until the following day. In this way I ensured the optimal operating temperature for testing that started early in the morning and lasted until late afternoon when I had to return the device.
At that time I managed to listen to dozens of different compositions, jazz, rock, electronic, blues, classical, ethno and who knows what other musical genres. I did not go easy on the amplifier forcing him to really show what it can and cannot do. I listened to recordings of standard CD quality, 16 bit / 44.1 KHz, hi-res, 24-bit / 44.1 KHz all untill DSD128 shots (1 bit/5.6448 MHz).
I must admit that I was thrilled by the fact that, apart from a computer and a set of speakers, I did not need any other device for the reproduction of music. No. 585 actually offers a comprehensive and a very elegant audiophile solution. A complete comfort is brought by a corresponding metal remote that, in addition to standard functions, offers the control of the compositions in the computer audio program. It worked on Foobar 2000 (PC) and Fidelia (Mac).
The sound is very open and detailed. Moreover, there is a shocking amount of details in the recording that No. 585 is able to reveal. An accidental sigh of a musician or the sliding of his fingers across the strings of guitar between the two tones that the microphone ‘accidentally’ picked up during recording, become in this case a part of the composition you are listening to because they are impossible to miss. This is perfectly heard in the introductory part of Rush Hour, by Dominic Miller and Neil Stacey from the album New Dawn (16/44.1 – Naim Records, 2002).
Furthermore, the sound is fast, dynamic and extremely transparent. No. 585 behaves like a huge balcony door, which when opened, gives you an infinite panoramic view of the city.
As for the lowest registers go, I cannot remember the last time I heard such a superior control of bass areas in this class of devices. If translated this would mean that the bass areas contain additional information that most amplifiers hide. Midrange is also full of information and rich texture. I returned to the composition Down to the River to Pray from the album Oh Brother Where Art Thou? (24/96 – The Island Def Jam Music Group, 2011) several times, so that I could enjoy the subtle transmission of layered vocals.
Treble required an intervention in the amplifier menu. Namely, unlike the rest of the sound spectrum, treble separated itself and slowly started to come into focus which is not good news because it revealed an imbalance. I will use Chopin’s Scherzo no. 4 in E major, Op. 54 (16 / 44.1 – Ivo Pogorelich, Deutsche Grammophon, 1998) as an example in which the piano keys in the highest registers lost definition and timbre, leaving a ‘glassy’ feel.
Then I did the only thing I could – I reached for the manual, which indicated how to set the digital filters for different music formats. I found that there are more setting options, depending on the genre that one is listening to.
The differences are noticeable and a future user simply needs to pay attention to that part if they want to achieve maximum sound quality. I managed to balance the sound and finally the No. 585 started to give its best. And since we mention the possibility of adjustment, I should also mention how apart from the aforementioned filters, it offers equalizing strength of input signals, naming of the individual inputs and outputs, different behavior of amplification, the intensity of the brightness of the display, and so on. All these options affect the sound (more or less) in certain ways.
However, if you consider the sound as a whole, I have to conclude that it is an extremely neutral sound that will not appeal to everyone. Such neutrality is very hard to find and it actually makes the users wonder whether they have spent the whole time listening to an ear pleasing, but colored sound of their own HIFI system.
At one point I had to interrupt the listening session because I was visited by two Slovenian audiophiles and engineers, Vojko Ignjic (Gallus Audio Technology) and Mirko Smolic (SM Audio Design). They came to pick another device up, the Gallus Aquarius speakers, which I had recently tested, and which they were taking to the Zagreb AV Show to exhibit.
When they saw what I was doing they asked – So, how is the Mark Levinson behaving? – I told them that I was surprised by the quality of the sound, but I was not exactly sure if the No. 585 would be my choice if I was buying an amplifier. I pointed out how I missed the involvement in the musical presentation, something that according to my personal criteria is at the top of the list when choosing HIFI components.
And when I had almost decided that the No. 585 was not ‘my cup of tea’, playback of the DSD recordings made me to rethink. While I was listening to the original DSD recordings from Opus 3 publishing houses, the No. 585 showed me where its main advantages lie. This is where we come to the most interesting part of the description.
Apart from discovering a dead quiet background in which each instrument is surgically separated from the next, the first composition on the compilation album DSD Showcase 2 (DSD128 – Opus 3, 2013), Needed Time, Eric Bibb, pointed to the possibility of the amplifier to delineate a fantastic sound stage. Such precision stressed the holographic effect making the insight into the music piece much clearer.
On the other hand, I was surprised by the dose of credibility that all the instruments showed. And not only the instruments, but also Eric Bibb’s voice. This enthusiasm spread to the other compositions and originally recorded DSD albums and I ended up spending enjoyable time with the No. 585. It is obvious that this description changes things significantly because this kind of musical presentation can really drag the listener into the heart of music.
In the end I have to conclude and to emphasize once more that the No. 585 is not for everybody. Some might find its sound sterile and without a one specific aspect to connect to. Furthermore, eventhough the No. 585 showed me its sovereign rule over DSD recordings, you should be aware that currently there are few such records around and that you might be doomed to listen to music that may not be your first choice.
The amplifier of this caliber means that you have the same type of speakers, but what is far more important – an acoustically treated room. No. 585 will reveal the recoding you are listening to up to the last detail, but it will also emphasize which part of the audible spectrum in your room stands out. Otherwise, you might point your finger at amplifier, but that would be unjustified.
The price of 12,000 euro in the context of high-end manufacturers such as Mark Levinson is not high, especially when you consider everything you are getting for that amount: a superior preamplifier, power amplifier and a DSD D/A converter.
You can still listen to Mark Levinson No. 585 tomorrow in Zagreb audiophile club. After that, who knows where and when. If I were you, I would not miss it.
Speakers: Wilson Audio Sophia 3
Power amplifier: Pass X250.5
Preamplifier/DAC: Classé CP-800
Source: Mac Mini (Mid 2010/Maverics)
Software: Fidelia, Audirvana Plus
USB/SPDIF converter: M2Tech HiFace EVO
PSU for M2Tech: Soundness
Speaker cables: Transparent Musicwave Super MM2
Analog cables: Sumić Audio Black Hole 5 Plus (XLR)
Digital cables: Audioquest Raven AES/EBU (XLR), Nordost Blue Heaven USB
Power cables: Audioquest NRG-2, Audioquest NRG-3, Wireworld Stratus
Power strip: Supra MD06-EU MKII
Accessory: Stillpoints Ultra SS
HIFI rack: Rondo
Room: acoustically treated, 28 x 12,5 x 9,2 feet