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Amplifiers - Mark Levinson 20.6
THE LEGENDARY MARK LEVINSON ML-20.6 MONOBLOCKS

Serial number of the unit(s) reviewed: #573 and #574
Reviewed by: Florent
Associated equipment: See Reference System #2
Source: KRELL MD-10R with Stereovox XV-Ultra, DAC DIY
Preamplifier(s): JADIS JP80MC (upgraded to 25th Anniversay special edition)
Amplifier(s): MARK LEVINSON ML-20.6, KRELL KSA-50 MkII
Speakers: Apogee DIVA
Modulation cable(s): Siltech 4-80S, DNM
Speaker cable(s): Siltech LS-090
Power cord(s): JORMA Super Power Cord
Power conditionner: BlackNoise
Stands: Finite Element Pagode Signature
Accessories:
Retail price: only available on the second hand market. Usually $5.000 per pair


Over the past decades,there are a few products that have reached the "star" status as soon as they became available on the market: this could be named « the Sharon Stone syndrom » as she immediately became a star after the "Basic Instinct" film...
In our domain, we immediately think about the WADIA 9, the KRELL KSA-100, the NAKAMICHI Dragon, the JBL Everest, the INFINITY IRS Beta, the JEFF ROWLAND Coherence One, etc... because they are still alive in our memories like a delicious dream that we would have when we were younger...

In addition to a reputationthat is still at the top, these products keep a high value on the market even 20 years later (!) whereas most (if not all) the modern production devices loose most of their value in a couple of years... Some of these mythics devices have even seen their value start to increase again in the recent years: is the market becoming crazy ? surely not, this is simply because the quality of these mythics products is simply outstanding and not equalled by most of the modern ones.

The MARK LEVINSON brand is probably one of the very most famous brands of the Hi-Fi golden age, and its founder, Mister Mark LEVINSON has an impressive backgroung.

 

A photography of Mark Levinson nowdays:
MarkLevinson.jpg


With the help of his guife, Richard (Dick) S. BURWEN, he founded MARK LEVINSON AUDIO SYSTEMS (MLAS Ltd)  in 1972.

His first major "hot product" was the ML-2 (Monoblocks) class A amplifier: this worldclass amp was a worldwide success and is stil considered as one of the best transistors based amplifier ever made. This amp is still so regarded that it is extremely difficult to find on the second hand market: prepare yourself to wait for many years before seing one for sale....
Following this ML-2 amplifier, a lot of products were released, all of them being complex but extremely good, and all of them have successfully acclaimed by the critics all around the world. Particularly, we have to mention their preamplifiers that became a worlclass reference in their high end category.

The founder Mark LEVINSON left the company he had created anf founded another company named CELLO, approximately in the same period where Nelson PASS left the THRESHOLD company to create PASS Laboratories. After a period during which he worked for a company naled RED ROSE MUSIC, he currently works for a company named Daniel HERTZ having not yet reached the same notoriety than the old MARK LEVINSON company. The "MARK LEVINSON" brand is no longer the property of Mr Mark LEVINSON but is own by a very large electronics group named "HARMAN". This group is known for having bought a lot of very famous brands, such as INFINITY, REVOX, REVEL, JBL, AKG, etc..., but  these very famous high end brands have been pushed in another direction than high end fidelity, most of the time they have been push to the consumer electronics (for the masses) market, and their legendary names have suffered from this move... Recently, we have opened the chassis of a few recent MARK LEVINSON devices, and we have been disappointed because we did not feel the same high end quality than the one belonging to the original ML products.

But les us go back to our mythics MARK LEVINSON ML-20.6 ! These monoblocks were made during a relatively short period of time: from 1990 to 1995, these years being known to match with a high quality production process in the MARK LEVINSON factory.
It is not the first time that I lesson to a MARK LEVINSON, but my feeling has always been not completely positive: the devices were superb, the look is very nice, the sonics are precise with a lot of speed, but... I did not found the global restitution "funny enough" : I mean that I had not been enthusiast, nor immerged into the music, and nor captured by the music flowing out of the system. the passion was lacking.
I should recall that I use to lesson to a KRELL KSA-50 Mk-II , that is known to be very seductive, maybe too seductive to be 100% honest, but my ears are used to get this seductive aspect.

These ML-20.6 monoblocks have become extremely difficult to find, their price is still high, matching the high weight... But this weight is easily understable as soon as you know that each block delivers 100W in class A. So many watt in class A cannot be achieved by the designer without a huge expertise and a solid knowledge of the high end amplifiers...

ML206_front.jpg
 

and here is an internal view of the monsters:

ML206_interieur.jpg

ML206_back.jpg

The ML-20.6 belongs to a highly regarded category of amplifiers: the « monsters », the mythic devices that have contributed to establish the solid brand image of a company. As previously said, they are extremely difficult to find, partly becauseonly a few of them have been solf (their price was equivalent to a car price tag...) and partly because their happy owners do nt sell them : they keep them like a treasure issued by the golden age of the HiFi....

The ML-20.6 are absolutely superb, both in terms of look and in terms of manufacturing quality: finding this level of quality nowdays is more than difficult ! This is easy to show, for example by looking at the driver stage card:

 
ML206_driver.jpg

 
 
Regarding the Power Supply, each block hosts:
  • 2 x 24,000µF (althought this is acceptable, we have already seen much more in many other amps with a similar power), As a comparison, the THRESHOLD SA/6e offers 2.6 times bigger caps with 125.000µF per block instead of these 48.000µF.
  • 2 x 600VA transformers (2 per block), meaning 1.2kVA per block ! and you only need one hand to count the amps having so big transformer(s) on the planet: the PARASOUND JC-1 monoblocks and the THRESHOLD SA/12e monoblocks are amongst them
  • The THRESHOLD SA/6e (125W class A per channel) host only a 800VA transformer per channel.

Most of the modern amplifiers are paying more attention to the external look than to the internal parts...As we all know, the Financial Directors are true experts in the electronic design and sound quality areas...

Provided that these devices are old, the aftersales service has become complex and difficult to get. Although the MARK LEVINSON company is still very active, repairing these beauties through the ML company can cost a fortune: most of the time it is much more efficient (and reliable...) to ask a specialized technician: we invite to have a lokk to this page, that lists the experts able to repair the world's high end electronics. But be aware that these electonics are very very reliable (their operating temperature does not exceed 55°C), even if these ML-20.6 are more complex than most of their competitors such as the Thresholds or Goldmund devices....


THE ML 20.6 LISTENING SESSIONS.


It is one of the first time that I am puzzled by a listening session: these ML-20.6 are particularly neutral, and it is a  huge compliment. They do not amphasize on a given spectral aea, they reflect the reality with a surprising sens of ...reality !

The ML-20.6 are particularly « honest » n the way they locate the various instruments or people. The level of detail that they provide is ampngst the best curretly available on the market and they clearly belongs to the best MARK LEVINSON electronics: the group of ones that establish the ML brand in the firmament of the high end companies.
They are not too cold, not too sweet, they just sound as realistic as possible. The power seems limited with "only" 100W per channel, but here you get Class A watts, feed by a huge power supply and a world class design.... There is no chance at all for a modern chinese amplifier to compete with these state of the art amplifiers... No chance.

These amplifiers belongs to the not so long list of world class amplifiers made during the golden age of the High Fidelity, when the engineers were leading the designs, and before the marketing or financial people start to believe that they wer the only ones to understand how to manage a company business. Just have a look to the most famous audio companies that have be bought by the large groups, and just ask yourself: how these companies have evolved since then ? Just have a look to Mark Levinson, Infinity, Cabasse, and so on: they have all lost their soul, they just became basic companies unable to issue new high end devices. The large groups have bought the brand, the name, with no intention to maintain the quality.

We have to mention that these ML-20.6 monoblocks use proprietary CAMAC connectors, which is particularity that is not appreciated by most of us.

These ML-20.6 were very expensive in the States, but they reached a stratospheric price in France: thanks to the importers and distributors... Their street price was around 110,000FF a pair in 1992 ( ! ), that is just a bit less than the THRESHOLD SA/6e which were sold around 120,000FF (thanks again to the importers and distributors...). The current projected price would be between 26,000€ and 30,000€...

Even if a few modern electronics are beyond this stratospheric price, like SPECTRAL, BURMESTER or GOLDMUND, would they be able to compete with these legendary ML-20.6 ?
We do not know, but be sure that these ML-20.6 are a true mythic monoblocks amplifiers and belongs to the very best devices that have existed on the planet...

Pros:
  • a king in the transistors amps kingdom
  • very beautiful
  • superb midrange
  • very very stable
  • very precise
  • a lot of detail
  • no fan
  • a state of the art design achieved by Mark Colangelo and John Curl...

Cons:
  • 55°C operating temperature, but this is absolutely normal for a class A amp
  • 41kg per block...
  • the design and the circuitry are very complex
  • repairing these beauty require a lot of skills and expertise: refer to our dedicated repairing page.
  • « only » 100W in class A: but god, these are state of the art watts...
  • CAMAC proprietary connectors
  • needs to be powered on a long time before listening
 
TL_5stateart.jpg

This article has been written by Florent (provence13 on our Forum) - November 2013.
 

Creation date : 17/05/2013 @ 22:38
Last update : 12/01/2016 @ 17:47
Category : Amplifiers
Page read 12624 times


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Reactions to this article


Reaction #1 

by teiki_arii 25/12/2013 @ 01:12

Bonsoir à "Nounours" et "Provence", leur souhaitant un joyeux Noël 2013 et les remerciant de toujours nous tenir en haleine avec les "nouveautés" testées. J'ai toujours eu une attirance pour ces blocs, mais grâce à vous deux, j'ai fait, comme vous le savez, l'acquisition de blocs Mono Threshold SA/6e que j'ai fait rénover avec succès...  Et si ces blocs Mark Levinson pouvaient me faire de l’œil, compte tenu de leur embonpoint, je me "satisfais" parfaitement des Threshold couplés aux Magnepan3.7/JBL Array 1400...
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