Mark Levinson is one of the venerable brands in the audio industry. The company started over 45 years ago and has earned its place among the upper echelon of audiophile-oriented manufacturers. In the 1990s when I first became acquainted with the company, I was impressed by its preamplifiers and amplifiers, finding them to offer high performance with understated elegance.
So, when I recently was offered the opportunity to review the No.585 integrated amplifier, I was not about to pass up that opportunity. The No.585 is designed to provide audiophile performance for both line-level analog and digital sources. While some audiophiles may scoff at placing the preamplifier and amplifier in the same chassis, contending that there is insufficient separation of power supplies and signal paths, there are also arguments in favor of combining these components. For one thing, instead of requiring two or three (if you are using mono blocks) components, everything resides neatly in one chassis. This benefit is further magnified in the No.585 by the inclusion of a very high-quality DAC.
Perhaps a less obvious benefit is the ability to have all sections optimized to work together to provide the maximum performance within the overall design parameters. The need for the design team to engineer components to work well with a wide variety of other components is minimized when the other components are a known commodity, as you get in an integrated amplifier.
When I select new components, I consider both performance and whether or not a product's range of capabilities suits my system's needs. Priced at $12,000, the No.585 must compete with higher-end components of both the integrated and separates varieties. In this realm, there are plenty of high-performance components to fit a variety of needs and desires--so it's a good thing that the No.585 offers a wide array of features and is customizable to suit the tastes of different listeners.
The No.585 features a large 900VA custom-wound toroidal transformer that powers a pair of 200-watt-per-channel Class AB fully differential amplifier modules, each with a dozen output transistors and smaller local capacitors to ensure sufficient clean and speedy power delivery. The preamplifier section's circuitry is dual-monaural, with fully discrete mirror-imaged circuits. If you decide to utilize outboard amplifiers (whether to integrate this device into a surround system or simply to power your stereo system), a pair of single-ended outputs provides fixed or variable output levels with the option to engage an 80-Hz high-pass filter to accommodate a 2.1-channel system. Lastly, the signal passes through a sophisticated volume control that is comprised of 15-bit R-2R ladders and analog switches, which provides a significant sonic advantage over traditional potentiometers that are more prone to clicks and pops, a better signal-to-noise ratio, and better level matching between channels.
The preamplifier section can be fed by either the internal DAC or analog inputs, which consist of one balanced and three single-ended pairs. The DAC utilizes the ESS Technology ES9018K2M Sabre32 32-bit DAC and a C-Media USB receiver (this information came in handy when installing the drivers on my laptops). The asynchronous USB input can accept signals up to 32-bit/192-kHz and double-speed DSD files. The five other digital inputs include one AES/EBU, two coaxial, and two optical. Those of you who follow DAC specifications will recognize this ESS D/A chip, but the Mark Levinson engineers' proprietary use of five power supplies and discrete current-to-voltage converters extracts maximum performance from the ESS chip. There are also three filter options: fast roll-off, slow roll-off, and minimum phase. Lastly, HARMAN's Clari-Fi feature improves the sound quality of lossy, compressed files by reconstructing missing data.
Everything described above is housed in an elegant chassis featuring Mark Levinson's updated industrial design. Aesthetically, I prefer the current dual-tone, silver-and-black anodized aluminum front panel with twin knobs over the older all-black components. The build quality and finish are excellent, with the controls providing nice tactile feedback. I was initially a bit leery of the retro red display, which sits between the twin knobs, but I found it to be attractive and easy to read from across the room.
There is a lot more to the No.585's design and construction than what I have discussed here. I would recommend spending some time on the Mark Levinson website to learn more, as there's simply not enough space here to delve into all the details.
I was lucky to have HARMAN's Kevin Voecks deliver and set up the No.585 in my reference system, and he was kind enough to bring over a pair of Revel Performa3 F208s to use. My reference system features the excellent MartinLogan Expression ESL-13A speakers; however, these speakers have powered woofers, and I wanted to fully test the No.585's amplification capabilities. In order to acclimate myself to the Revel speakers, I first listened to them for a good while through my reference Krell FBI integrated amplifier before switching over to the No.585.
I primarily used PS Audio's DirectStream DAC and my OPPO BDP-95 as sources. For some high-resolution classical pieces, I also used the USB output of my MacBook as a Roon endpoint. The OPPO's coaxial digital output fed the DAC of the No.585, and the DirectStream's fixed-level balanced output fed the line-level input. I also connected the OPPO's single-ended analog output in order to provide another point of reference. All connections were made with cables from Kimber Kable: the analog cables were from the company's Select Series. Per Kevin's recommendation, I plugged the unit directly into the wall rather than a power conditioner.
The No.585 can be personalized to suit the preferences of the specific listener. Expected personalization options include the ability to name the inputs "PS Audio DAC," "OPPO Disc," etc.; the ability to set volume offsets for each source; and the ability to adjust the brightness of the display. Additional parameters that the listener can select during setup (or manually change during listening sessions) include: which DAC filter to implement; maximum volume; turn-on volume; amount of attenuation to be applied when mute is engaged; volume-control response speed; and the level of Clari-Fi to be applied, if any. During the setup process, Kevin and I selected the minimum phase filter for the DAC (the two other options are fast or slow, which correspond to the roll-off characteristics). I left Clari-Fi off except when playing some lower-resolution files.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...