|Mark Levinson No. 40 AV Preamplifier|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Sunday, 01 June 2003|
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In my opinion, if you are buying a Mark Levinson No. 40, you are likely not going to be setting it up yourself. Dealers can use a PC to pre-program your No. 40 to have all of your preferences in the unit before they deliver it. They can also set up the No. 40 in a way that locks the client out of setup fields and preferences that could get the client in trouble. Depending on you and/or your family’s level of technical sophistication, you can set the lock-out accordingly. The No. 40 also has a way to return to the “non-volatile” system setup, so that you can get crazy with the settings after polishing off too much Batard Montrachet one night and then quickly snap back to the settings that your dealer set for you, without even having to pick up the phone for a support visit.
Going through the setup process does give you an idea of some of the vast capabilities of the No. 40. If you hit the menu button and flip the input knob, you will bring up the main categories of setup and configuration. The first main category is speaker settings. This is where you define levels, distance from your seating position and more. You will want to use a tape measure to measure off the exact position of all of your speakers, including your sub(s), for this setup section.
One of the options of the No. 40 is to set up multiple listening positions. I thought I wasn’t going to like this, but ended up loving it. Historically, audiophiles sit in the “sweet spot” to get the best imaging. With four DSP processors and at least six speakers, the No. 40 can create accurate imaging and shift it to other parts of the room. In my case, I created two settings: one for dead center in the middle of my seating and another for “left couch.” Literally, I measured off the exact positions of my ears when I am sitting on my favorite part of my couch and had the No. 40 make it image in that precise location. I know some audiophiles might scoff at this feature, but I am now a believer. In fact, while in left couch listening position, the center imaging is pretty damn good when sitting in the middle of the sofa. It is of course better towards the left end of my sofa.
The next main mode of setup is sound profiles where you can define your preferences for listening in mono, stereo and multi-channel audio. You can, for instance, decide that you want it to use your center listening position setting for stereo listening material. You might then tell it that mono material gets Dolby Pro Logic II matrix surround and the left couch seating position.
Define Inputs is a very important part of your setup process. This is the section where you name your inputs and define which audio and video inputs are associated with which output. In this section, you appreciate the attention to detail that went into the No. 40’s design, like the ability to name inputs with all sorts of characters and symbols, including lower- and upper-case. You can actually spell TiVo correctly with upper- and lower-case letters, using a very intuitive page on the LCD screen that you can scroll through with one of the knobs and the enter button. It is actually very fast. Another trick feature of the No. 40’s setup is that once you have some music rolling, you can actually use the volume control, even when you are four levels deep on the setup screens. The input select feature is a work of genius, with a graphic interface that literally shows you all of the inputs you have in your No. 40. In order to program your DVD-Audio input, you define its name, then select its audio input by scrolling through the options on the user interface. The graphic interface looks just like the back of your No. 40, so it is pretty easy to remember where you put what. It also helps to make some notes. When you get to, say, audio input No. 5, you’ll see six analog inputs highlighted in yellow. Hit enter and you are done. Then you move on to video. Perhaps your DVD-Audio player is not your reference player, so you might not connect it via component video. Perhaps you’ll use S-Video – you simply choose the S input you plugged into and then select it on your graphic interface. Now you are hooked up. Other cool features include the ability to offset the analog input from your analog sources so that they don’t overdrive your No. 40. Both my SACD and two different DVD-Audio players did that for me. Fixing the problem only took 30 seconds and the problem was gone forever. Other important decisions during the input definition part of the setup include setting which sound profile you want and listening position you want for each position.
The rest of the setup process includes audio defaults, which allow you to switch from one, two and multi-channel speaker modes on the fly. I never really used this, because I had these preferences programmed into my inputs directly. User Options are even more general preferences, such as the speed you use for muting scales down and the exact increments in which it scales down. There are display and remote options found in User Options as well. Lastly, Output Zones allows you to define the outputs for a multi-zone audio system, which I also didn’t use, although they looked pretty easy to set up.
Even though the setup process seems incredibly detailed in this review, it is in fact very simple and could be completed in most systems without a PC in about an hour. If you have experience with the No. 40, you could cut that time in half. You can save your setup on a CD and/or on a hard drive, so that you can always have your setup work ready to upload for whatever possible reason arises.
The No. 40 absolutely leads all other AV preamps and/or any other electronics I have reviewed or even seen to date in terms of physical design. The industrial design of the No. 40 is modern, slick and elegant, but even better is how intuitive it is to use when you consider how flexible and powerful a tool it is. The use of a mere nine buttons and four knobs on the front of the unit is a pleasant departure from the overly populated faceplates of many AV preamps. The No. 40 can be outfitted with a kit for rack-mounting that makes the installation look seamless.
When almost all other high-end preamps need a PC and at least the first year or two of an electric engineering degree to set them up, the No. 40 wins the Steven Jobs Intuitive AV component of the Year award. Things are where they should be and are accessible easily and quickly for day to day and setup purposes. For an AV reviewer, this is truly a pleasure, one that I think will filter down to a more traditional end user who demands high-end performance with simplicity at the same time.