Mark Levinson N° 30 Digital to Analog Converter Reviewed

Published On: February 14, 1992
Last Updated on: March 9, 2022
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Mark Levinson N° 30 Digital to Analog Converter Reviewed

In its day the Mark Levinson N° 30 was the ultimate (without question) Compact Disc transport money could buy. Paired with the No. 31 DAC and you were cooking with serious gas. Today, it still holds its own for CD playback. Read the full Ken Kessler review.

Mark Levinson N° 30 Digital to Analog Converter Reviewed

By Author: Ken Kessler

Ken Kessler is one of the best-known writers in audiophile history. Today, Ken lives in England and works for more than 200 publications, including Hi-Fi News, Wall Street Journal, The Absolute Sound, Hi-Fi Review, Billboard, and SoundStage! Ken has also been featured in the Robb Report Magazine, Stereophile Magazine, and many other publications the world over.
Ken is an avid collector of vintage hi-fi components with a passion for the history of audio. He is the author of Quad: The Closest Approach, and McIntosh … For The Love Of Music, and co-author of Sound Bites and KEF: 50 Years of Innovation in Sound.


Say it slowly: twelve thousand, nine hundred pounds. Crazy, huh? And just how do you approach a D/A converter -- not even a whole CD player -- costing as much as a decent VW Golf or a platinum Rolex? I suppose reverence is a good place to start, but I've been at this for too long to let price tags hammer me into submission. Besides, I have at present two other contenders for DAC of the Decade, so the No. 30 wasn't in for an easy ride. Indeed, it had to work harder than the others, because -- for the same money -- I could buy the Krell Studio and the Vimak DS-1800 and still have enough change for a fabulous transport, some NBS cables, a bunch of CDs, a tank full of Shell and a round-trip ticket to the USA. Oh, and a new laser printer.

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Not that its sheer presence isn't enough to make you go, 'Whoa!!!' Let's face it: no single piece of digital hardware, at least not any I've ever seen, seems so over-engineered, so bomb-proof, so utterly complete. The No. 30 has to be the 1992/3 State of the Perceived Value Art. Two boxes, one holding a power supply fit for an amp, one looking like Darth Vader's laptop. Enough inputs to satisfy a reviewer in the midst of a CD transport survey. Smooth action, wonderful read-outs, the smell of computers, a dark, looming presence telling you that it's a Very Serious DAC Indeed.

But it didn't, well. mo-o-ove me. It's almost too insistent on its own greatness, all but defying you not to like it. Have I the testicular fortitude to stand up against most of this planet's reviewers by not falling in lust with the No. 30? It is, after all, the most detailed DAC I've ever used. The sound, like the unit itself, is so solid and so tactile that you cannot help but hear more of a performance than you might through other DAcs. But now I'm wondering if we do need to hear every mote of dust whirling through the studio when the recording was being made.

Read more about the No. 30 on Page 2.

Granted, the No. 30 retrieved a bit more low-level info than the
other DACs to hand. Granted, it behaved impeccably. But it was more
like a handle-barred Lieutenant Colonel than the young Elvis. Or, to
put it another way, all manners and no soul.

But I'm firmly in the minority. WIth two representatives of Mark
Levinson and Editor Harris joining in, I was the only one who didn't
choose the No. 30 during the tests. On vocals, the it lacked
smoothness. On brass, I missed punch. The No. 30 couldn't be bettered
for bass extension and weight, but the others made rhythm section
gymnastics easier to follow. The funk machine behind Sam & Dave on
'Hold On, I'm Comin'' was my torture test; here the Krell made music.
The No. 30 made sounds.

Maybe what it gets down to is personal taste. The most vivid
contrast of all was spatial presentation, the No. 30's sound in line
with and behind the speakers. The Vimak (especially) spread it out in
front and behind. And it's the latter which rocks my socks, while the
former rocked the other three pairs of foot coverings.

My advice? Make damned certain that you audition this only with the
pre-amp you own; a Mark Levinson pre-amp, for example, was clearly more
in sympathy with the No. 30 than either the Classé DR-4 or the Krell
KRC, both of which favoured with the Vimak and the Krell Studio DACs.
Listen to it in AES/EBU mode. Use Levinson cable. Make certain it's
been on for at least a day.

Who knows? Maybe you'll confirm what many suspect: that I'm deaf as a doorpost.

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