This review may be compact, but that’s not a reflection of how I feel about this player. In fact, this is my all-time favorite CD player, with a solid second place for the Wadia 861. A proper review was just never written because I knew early on that this player was here to stay and I always thought that I’d write a review later.
This is the first ‘S’ category Levinson that I’ve had in the system and I have to say that it seems to really make a difference. It can also be that an integrated cd player is simply more together sounding than separates, with their jitter issues, but this player sounds more agile and timely than both the 36 and 360 DAC did some time ago with several transports. The 390s sound is very organic, with full, agile bass, a very natural mid and airy, fluid highs. It is full, slightly warm and harmonic but uncolored and natural sounding at the same time. It throws a wide and deep soundstage and it just doesn’t sound like a CD player. The only criticism I can have is that it is not the most physical sounding player. It is always well-mannered and simply will not shout at you. But I like that in a CD player:-)
Above: the green-colored board is not the Arlon board and there never was a 390 (non-S version), so this must be the 39.
Above: the beige-colored board is the celebrated Arlon version used as standard in the 390S
The 390S has a high-quality analog volume control that can be switched in- and out of circuit. Unlike other volume controls on CD players, the 390S’ variable level should not be set to 100 for unity, rather somewhere around 63. Importantly, while I am no fan of connecting CD players directly to power amplifiers, the 390S is the best CD player that I have yet heard when connected as such. Unlike CD players with digital volume controls, the sound is always highly resolving, even at very low levels. However, switching the variable volume control in circuit changes the sound. On the fixed setting, the player sounds very smooth, tonally rich and full and quite relaxed, but on variable, the tonality becomes thinner and the whole sound is tighter, less free-flowing. My advice, therefore, is to not use the volume control if a preamp is already in place.
Later I also obtained a 360S DAC and only recently it occurred to me that the 360S 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, but still, bitstream DACs tend to sound different than multi-bit DACs. This will also go a long way toward explaining the differences between the 390S and 360S.