Comparison and Competition
One cannot discuss the No 533H in a vacuum, for it occupies a place in the market that is rife with competition. On the high-end of the spectrum the No 533H can be compared to the�Krell Evolution 403e, a fine amplifier and one that Home Theater Review Associate Editor, Ken Taraszka, raved about back in March of 2009. He loved it so much he bought it and uses it as his reference amplifier to this day. The 403e has more power than the No 533H, making it better suited for hard to drive loudspeakers; however it costs more than double the No 533H's asking price, not to mention it's about as big as a Volkswagen. Still, despite the lower power rating of the No 533H compared to the Krell 403e, the two have a lot more in common than you would think. Both possess tremendous bass performance, an open and natural midrange mated to a airy top end, though I'd argue the Krell's top end seems a bit more focused compared to the more organic sounding Levinson. Other high end stereo amps from Mark Levinson include the pricey�No 53s�and the�Krell 402e.
There isn't a lot in the three-channel amplifier space right at or around $10,000, which is a little bit of an issue for the No 533H for there are a number of fine amps from Classe including the CA-5200,�Anthem's PVA-7 reviewed�by Jerry Del Colliano and even Harman's own�Lexicon's RX-7�that retail for $5,000 - $8,000 that get you close in terms of sound quality but add two additional channels and in some cases four to power your home theater or multi-channel music system without having to add additional amplifiers to the mix.
As with any high-end product, and believe me the No 533H is decidedly high-end, there are those who will say, "Yeah, but I can get the same thing for under a grand." Well, yes and no. You can definitely find three channel amps that cost less than a thousand dollars but I wouldn't go so far as to call them the same. Comparing the No 533H to, say, an�Emotiva MPS-2�priced at $1,699 is a bit like comparing apples to oranges because of price and channels, but many today are looking for more budget conscious products that offer good bang for the buck. Emotiva is high on that list.
As with any purchase your ears, needs and budget should be your guide; however if you're looking for a little help and guidance in deciding what amp is best for you and your system, check out Home Theater Review's�multi-channel amplifier page.
There's a lot to like about the No 533H, however there were a few issues I took note of that are worth sharing with you. For starters, those of you with uber thirsty loudspeakers may find the No 533H's power output a bit lacking when listening at high levels or when listening to tracks that feature grand, dynamic swings. While I never was left wanting for more power, there were a few instances where I could see how a more power hungry speaker than what I had on tap might tax the No 533H a bit.
Another knock against the No 533H could come from the fact that it is simply a three channel design, meaning you're going to have to buy an additional two channel amp to fully power your 5.1 home theater or in the case of a 7.1 system you'll have to add two more amps to the mix. If you're a cost no object kind of enthusiast, this probably isn't going to be as big of deal to you, for you're most likely preoccupied with getting the utmost performance and to hell with the cost. However for those of you on a budget or tight on space this may be a deal breaker.
Like many big solid state amps the No 533H does take a fair amount of break in and warm up before it comes alive, even if you're the type to leave your amps on 24/7. I found that music and movies sounded noticeably better after about a solid 20 to 30 minutes of playback time.
Lastly while I love the No 533H hurricane style binding posts, they can be easy to over tighten, thanks in part to the kung-fu grip you can get on them. Also, because of their placement and spacing, connecting larger gauge wire like my Transparent Reference cable can be a little tedious, though once the connection is made it's rock solid.
While it would be easy to call the No 533H an upgrade to the old Mark Levinson No 433, I assure you it isn't. While the No 433 was a phenomenal amplifier, the No 533H is an entirely different animal, one that is leaner and meaner with far more punch and swagger than the No 433 could've ever dreamed of. The No 533H's midrange is more open and lucid then before and its bass prowess is on par with the best with added agility to go along with its heft. The high frequencies are truly sublime with tremendous air and extension that I wouldn't normally equate with past Mark Levinson designs.
While its asking price of $10,000 remains unchanged over the No 433 it replaces, rest assured it's about the only thing these two amps have in common. While the No 433 will always hold a special place in my heart and memory there is no way I could live with it long term knowing that the No 533H costs the same and sounds twice as good. Is $10,000 a lot of money for an amplifier? You bet, but considering what I'd stack it up against, it's one of the more affordable multi-channel solutions among its peers.
If you're in the market for a high-performance, reference grade multi-channel amplifier for both music and movies, look no further than the Mark Levinson No 533H three-channel amplifier. It's a goodie.