April 22, 2011
| by Robert Archer
When it comes to solid-state, high-performance audio, there’s little debate that Mark Levinson pioneered the category.
Once the home theater market started to take over for two-channel audio, the company made what some say was a mistake by taking a wait-and-see approach. But Levinson has made a strong comeback through its No.502 media console device and state-of-the-art No.53 digital switching monoblock amplifier, and now with the five-channel No.535H amplifier.
The 535 is rated to output 200 watts per channel into an 8-ohm load. Levinson says the amp employs independent power supplies for each channel that provide improved channel separation and imaging qualities.
The amp uses an isolated chassis and signal grounds, which Levinson says helps minimize noise and offer more detail and transparency. Other features included unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR connections, and the company’s proprietary web-based monitoring functions.
At nearly 100 pounds, the 535 took a good effort to lift out of its box, using the supplied white gloves. After removing my Bryston 9B, the 535 slid into the rack space and I connected it to my Bryston pre/pro using Transparent XLR cables. I connected my Transparent speaker cables to the easy-on-the-fingers hurricane binding posts and plugged in a Straight Wire power cable.
High-power in four channel configurations
Independent power supply for each channel
Isolated chassis and signal grounds
Ethernet and 12V Trigger control capability
I ran a Cat 5 from the rear Ethernet port of the 535 to an eight-port network switch, and I began initiating its web-based system status capabilities. The manual provides a choice of setups, but ultimately I gave up trying to complete the process after unsuccessful tries to access the amp’s web server using the web portal and crossover cable connection options.
Listening to source components that ranged from vinyl to full lossless multichannel DTS and Dolby components, I found the amp didn’t really open up and show its character until I put 100-plus hours on it. But my initial response, using Pink Floyd’s The Wall, was that straight out of the box the amp was eye opening. The sound bloomed from my speakers with a warm midrange and detailed top end.
Later I listened to some vinyl that included Led Zeppelin’s debut album and Cream’s The Best of Cream and found the amp to resolve every little detail from these late 1960s recordings.
On CDs and home theater content, the 535 filled my room with an effortless and balanced sonic image. Playing Van Halen’s Balance on a Cary Audio 303T CD player, the amp highly impressed me with its smoothness and ability to deliver micro-detail.
Theater content like How to Train a Dragon also sounded powerful and enveloping, which provided a strong sense of “being there” during the movie’s opening dragon attack on the village.
I was thrilled with the 535, despite my issues with the networking functions. The amp retains the Levinson hallmarks of build quality, industrial design and sound quality in a product that harkens back to the company’s illustrious past without getting stuck in the nostalgia of what use to be.
Bob is a dedicated audiophile who has been writing about A/V for Electronic House sister publication CE Pro since 2000.