AXPONA 2017: New products gush from Mark Levinson

Mark Levinson has been on a comeback in recent years, adding top staff and developing an ambitious plan to revitalize its brand in the luxury home-audio market.

Those moves started about five years ago when parent Harman International hired Todd Eichenbaum from Krell as director of engineering and set up a 12-person design and development team. A new plant also opened in Connecticut, and Harman gave Levinson access to a $400 million R&D budget.

The fruits of those efforts are coming to market now in a flurry of new products. At AXPONA, dealer Audio Solutions of Indianapolis, Indiana, showed Levinson’s No. 523 preamp ($15,000) and No. 526 preamp/DAC ($20,000).

Visitors also got a glimpse of Levinson’s first turntable, the No. 515 ($10,000 without cartridge, or $12,500 with an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze). The turntable, developed jointly with VPI president Mat Weisfeld, could start shipping in several months.

Levinson also has created the No. 519 media player ($20,000), a unit I got a sneak-peek at last year. It features a DAC, CD transport, streaming, network playback and a circuit that tries to improve the sound of MP3 files.

All the new electronics have the classic Levinson contemporary-industrial styling — black casing, large white knobs and red illuminated displays. Inside, the circuits are said to blend basic topologies from some of the company’s classic models with numerous enhancements.

Audio Solutions had several systems set up in its large room. One had Levinson sister company Revel’s Salon 2 speakers ($22,000 a pair). Another was built around a pair of JBL (also a Harman holding) Project Everest DD66000 transducers ($75,000 a pair as finished). Amps were the No. 536 monoblocks (400 watts per channel, $15,000 each).

I listened to tracks from Allan Taylor and Leonard Cohen on the Everest rig. The new Levinson components seemed to have the excellent tonal balance, ultra-quiet background and midrange purity of the company’s beloved older models.

Instead of their predecessor’s slightly dark “house sound,” however, there was a livelier presentation with vocals placed slightly more forward. This served the Taylor and Cohen tunes especially well.

Six months before AXPONA, it was announced that Harman had been acquired by Samsung Electronics for $8 billion. In the press release, Samsung stated that

Harman’s home-audio lines would “greatly enhance the competitiveness of Samsung’s mobile, display, virtual reality and wearable products.”

Audio Solutions’ Victor Gazarek told me he hasn’t detected any changes in the Harman brands since the acquisition. With Levinson on the rise again with a painstakingly revamped catalog of good-sounding new products, hopefully it will be allowed to build on that momentum.

AXPONA coverage generously provided by NOBLE AUDIO.