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...
One of the first songs I listened to was "Like a Rolling Stone" from Bob Dylan/The Band's album Before the Flood (Mobile Fidelity, SACD). Dylan's voice, with all of its quirks, was solidly positioned in the front of my room and had real presence. When listening to this song, it was very easy to close my eyes and picture myself at the performance. The No.585's speed and micro-dynamics did an incredible job of capturing the vocal nuances that bring realism to the listening experience. The recording does a great job of capturing the drums, which the No.585 was able to reproduce through the Revels with realistic weight and loads of control. I felt the Krell amp had more weight on the bass notes but lost some of the precision.
Turning the tempo up, I listened to an old favorite, "Fallen Angel" off of Robbie Robertson's self titled album (Geffen), which features both Robertson and Peter Gabriel on vocals. The No.585 continued to reproduce vocals with a heightened sense of realism, despite the complex and dynamic soundstage surrounding them.
Now that I knew the No.585 could handle male vocals, I listened to the cover of Radiohead's "Creep"�by Scala & Kolacny Brothers on their self-titled album (Atco). This album features a well-recorded female choir backed by piano. The voices sounded natural, with sufficient detail to discern individual voices. What impressed me the most while listening to this track was the well-defined sense of space. The recording picked up the details that let the listener discern the recording space, and the No.585 was able to reproduce them very well, which goes a long way toward placing the listener in the same space as the artist.
To test the No.585's performance with female vocalists, I played tracks like Bernadette Peter's "Blackbird" and Rebecca Pidgeon's rendition of "Spanish Harlem," as well as more modern tracks like Adele's "Hello" and Camila Cabello's "Havana." While the vocal styles and recording quality varied between these tracks, the No.585 reproduced all the voices with accuracy, delivering the good along with the bad in every recording. I did not hear any added sibilance or other artifacts when listening to these songs at a variety of volume levels.
Next I wanted to challenge the No.585 with some large-scale dynamic pieces. I figured if anything would really challenge the single power supply of an integrated amplifier, it would be pieces like Carl Orff's Carmina Burana and Saint-Sa�ns: Symphony No. 3. I played the traditional version of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana (Telarc, SACD), as well as the Living Stereo recording of Charles Munch conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra playing Saint-Sa�ns: Symphony No. 3 (24-bit/176-kHz AIFF, from HDTracks.com). With the second track, I listened to it played back through both the PS Audio DirectStream and the USB output of my MacBook. I started by listening to Carmina Burana at various volume levels, from much lower than normal to almost uncomfortably loud. The No.585 surprised me as it held its composure without any compression or artifacts throughout this range. In comparison with the Krell FBI, I was able to discern more details at lower listening levels with the No.585. With regard to the different digital inputs on the No.585, the audible differences were small. Sometimes I had to switch back and forth a few times to confirm my impressions. I ended up with a slight preference for the USB input, which surprised me, as I normally find USB inputs to fall behind the coaxial inputs due to jitter issues.
Wanting to get a better feel for the No.585's built-in DAC, I popped Dire Strait's album Brothers in Arms (Mobile Fidelity) into the OPPO BDP-95, and I fed both digital and analog output into the No.585. After listening to several tracks, I found that I clearly preferred the No.585's DAC to the one inside the OPPO--the No.585 was more detailed and had a better sense of rhythm.
However, when alternating between the PS Audio DirectStream DAC and the No.585's internal DAC (via USB)--again using Saint-Sa�ns: Symphony No. 3--I preferred the DirectStream. Don't get me wrong: with both DACs, this symphony sounded fantastic. The pipe organ's bass notes were visceral yet provided lots of detail in their decay notes that gave me a very good sense of scale. The primary difference I heard was that the PS Audio DirectStream DAC was a touch warmer in the midrange and perhaps slightly more nuanced in the treble. This was most noticeable with the strings of the orchestra but also with the cymbals of Robbie Robertson's "Fallen Angel."
During my time with the No.585, I also paired it with the MartinLogan Expression ESL-13As, since I've spent several months with these speakers and know them well. While the powered woofers of the MartinLogans may mask any shortcomings of an amplifier's bass capabilities, they are extremely revealing in the midrange and treble. I went back and listened to many of the pieces discussed above and then listened to them again with the Krell hooked up the MartinLogans. Most of my listening impressions were confirmed, but I found the speed of the No.585's midrange to be even more impressive with the revealing electrostatic panels.�
Last but not least, I played some lower-resolution (128- and 256-kbps) audio files with and without the Clari-Fi circuit engaged at a medium setting. The Clari-Fi circuit reduced listening fatigue when I played lower-resolution files for an extended period of time. It reduced some of the harshness, making the overall sound profile smoother, but it did little to improve detail or imaging.
One final note: The ability to use the volume offsets to level the inputs was something I found very useful when switching between sources, and the ability to customize the volume curve and other parameters made the overall user experience very pleasurable.
As far as I'm concerned, Mark Levinson deserves nothing but compliments when it comes to the No.585's audio quality. I guess there may be some downside to accuracy, as the No.585 does not have any added warmth and may lean slightly toward being analytical or cool in nature. This could be a problem if your speakers lean toward the bright side; that brightness will not be tamed, and the faults of sub-par material will not be hidden.
In the features department, the No.585 lacks a phono stage, but it is available as an option. I don't mind this decision--it means that you don't need to pay for it unless you want it. On the other hand, I would like to see a network input for the DAC and a headphone output. I understand the issues that a headphone jack can cause with certifying products for sale in certain countries; but, given the strong resurgence of the headphone market, it would have been nice to have the ability to listen to headphones without utilizing another device. After all, one of the benefits of an integrated amplifier is reducing the number of components in your system. Likewise, the ability to listen to audio files streamed or stored on a local drive without having a computer next to your stereo would be a nice option for those trying to keep their listening room simple and clean.
Comparison and Competition
The Krell FBI ($16,500) has more power and an equally luxurious build, but it lacks the built-in DAC of the No.585. If a built-in DAC is important, Classe's Sigma 2200i ($5,500) has a networkable, DSD-capable DAC and the same 200 watts per channel as the No.585, but it utilizes Class D amplification. If you are an audiophile purist who shuns Class D, the Pass Labs INT-60 ($9,000) stays in pure Class A for the first 30 of its 60 watts per channel. Lastly, Mark Levinson's own No. 585.5 adds a phono section for an extra $4,000 over the No.585 reviewed here.
The Mark Levinson No.585 was an absolute pleasure to listen to. I found myself getting sucked into listening sessions that lasted much longer than anticipated. Many times, I wound up listening to an entire album, even though I only sat down to listen to one or two tracks. The No.585 is well balanced and neutral, both in tonality and its ability to control speakers, while providing lots of power. Its detail and precision make for well-defined and precise soundstages. I found that the No.585's soundstages were often smaller than those of systems that have more diffuse imaging, but I suspect that the No.585 is probably more accurate in this regard. Overall, if you are looking for an integrated amplifier and DAC that will maximize the performance of your both digital and line-level sources, the No.585 is highly recommended.�
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� Mark Levinson No.526 Preamplifier/DAC Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com