For the longest time Mark Levinson was the epitome of high end, and to this day, their products hold their own
Mark Levinson no.390S
Retail price approximately 10.000 euro in 2000
For me this is the best sounding CD player to date. It may not be the most accurate, not the most lightning-fast player ever, but it succeeds in combining many traits like a full tonality with deep and powerful bass with a believable, acoustical midrange and smooth, fluid treble, wrapping all that into a room-filling soundfield to make a musically very satisfying player. It also doesn’t punish you for playing less than perfect recordings. Add to that a super-slick, fastm yet smoothly and silently operating drawer and you’ll understand why I love this player so much.
CDM12 IND CD mechanism, which is basically a VAM1202J laserunit inside a cast alloy base, also known as the CD-Pro. The laserunit may be bought-in but the loader mechanism is all proprietary, and very reliable.
The proprietary loader mechanism is the best I have seen so far: smooth, quick and precise.
Mark Levinson no.37
Retail price approximately 6500 euro
The Mark Levinson 37 is a transport-only version of the 39, which is the predecessor of the 390S as described above. Said by Stereophile to sound even better than the no.31 transport but apparently the 31.5 reference transport restored its status as master of transports. Still, I am not a fan of separate transports and DACs due to the degradation going on over the spdif or AES/EBU connection. Interestingly, the 37 sounded much more upbeat and articulate than my 390S prior to its capacitor replacement. After it was brought back up to spec, the 390S (with original transport) sounded much more upbeat and lively but still the 37 beat it in those areas. When I purchased another 390S after selling my first player and regretting it afterwards, I had it restored, and also had its transport replaced. When I listened to it even straight from cold, I was stunned to find that this 390S when used as a transport sounded even better than the 37! It was at once fast, articulate and dynamic, but also timbrally full and more fluid than then 37. When I asked the repair shop about this I was informed that small differences will always exist. Oh how we continue to be amazed in the interesting world of high end audio.
Above: 390S CD player and 360S DAC. The latter uses 4 PCM1704 multibit DAC chips while the 390S CD player uses 2 AD1853 chips, which are Delta/Sigma chips, so essentially bitstream units. Naturally Levinson did not pick just any 1-bit DAC but opted for a special hybrid multibit Delta Sigma design.
Mark Levinson no.31.5
1996 (31 was introduced in 1992)
Retail price 15.750 euro
Long standing reference in many audio magazines and said to sound better than the no.37 transport. Massive construction with floating clock and hot electronics located in the side pillars. Transport inside is comparable tothe one in the 37, 39 and 390(S), reportedly also a CDM12 IND, but with a different looking spindle. So it may in fact have some refinements that the CDM12 in the 390 et al don’t have.One thing’s for sure which is that it is much more elaborately implemented here. Loading a CD is mushc of a manual process, but the flap does open with a high torque motor. It is not silent but a lot quiter than its predecessor the no.31 which really made a screeching sound when opening and closing.
A bit disappointing for me is the need to apply a puck on top of the CD, which, given the company’s brilliance, really shouldn’t be neccesary. Surely Levinson could also have incorporated the puck into the lid. Take the simple Rega players such as Planet and Jupiter as examples.
31.5 inside: a marvel of technology. The left and right wings contain power supplies.
Above: 31.5 CD-Pro mechanism
Above: 31 CD-4 mechanism
Precision machined buttons
Digital output board with the clock parts floating off rubbers – I love this kind of attention to detail!
Philips CDM12 Ind / VAU1252, same as used in the 37 transport and the 390S CD player. The version in the 31.5 however has a special casing surrounding it.
Underside of the CD-Pro mechanism
Ahhh, the good old days, when transports used to be over-engineered. How I miss those times. Even if a Meridian 808.3 looks the part and sounds marvellous, I feel that its plastic drawer detracts from the pride of ownership. I prefer a solidly made, smoothly working mechanism over a standard CD ROM any time.
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