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Mark Levinson No. 40 AV Preamplifier Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 June 2003
Article Index
Mark Levinson No. 40 AV Preamplifier
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The Downside
Allow me to wipe the drool from my chin long enough to pick fault with the Mark Levinson No. 40, because while it is certainly great, it isn’t completely perfect. First off, the No. 40 has no matching Mark Levinson DVD/DVD-Audio/SACD player that can be connected digitally. Meridian has an AV preamp DVD/CD/DVD-Audio (sans the SACD) combination at the reference level for about the same price as just a No. 40. Moreover, the Meridian components can connect digitally, which requires a “proprietary” connection these days but some day will work via Firewire. The No. 40 has the room to take a Firewire card, yet the Meridian, because it has both components and its own connection, can do it today. The performance difference that achieved with an all-digital connection is really nice.

The preamps and the DACs in the No. 40 are very good on paper and certainly in practice, but those who are looking to compare and contrast preamps and DACs as they upgrade from a high-end audio system to a multi-channel system will find No. 40’s lack of an analog pass-through to be a disadvantage. For example, with an analog pass-through, I could have compared the internal DACs in the Meridian 800 with the ones inside the No. 40. In reality, everything that goes into the No. 40 analog is upconverted by the DACs inside. Madrigal’s argument is a good one in that that their DACs are excellent; after all, all analog sources sound better upconverted. Also, according to Madrigal, even one analog pass-through would defeat the bass management of the No. 40, and you certainly wouldn’t want that.

Beyond downsides, the things I would wish for on the No. 40 include better screen savers. Madrigal could license high-end photos to fill the LCD screen when it goes to sleep. Apple does this successfully with their OSX. Lastly, I would like to see simple Internet connectivity for the No. 40 for upgrades and dealer support. I never really want to get my email with the No. 40, but it would be nice to have the periodic software updates download if I want them via an onscreen prompt, much like my TiVo provides. If I had issues with the No. 40 and needed help, it would be nice to have a dealer or Madrigal download my settings from even a simple dialup modem.

There are few who would argue with the statement that the Mark Levinson sets an entirely new standard for high-end AV preamps. It merges more than 20 years of audio and video design knowledge with a rich tradition of no-compromise audio components. Ultimately, the No. 40 took forever to come out and for good reason. In terms of reliability, it is rock solid, unlike Madrigal’s much-maligned (but recently and finally fixed) Proceed PMDT DVD transport. Madrigal knows that high-end enthusiasts want the highest performance from a Mark Levinson branded AV preamp and they give us that with room to spare.

When a reviewer breaks off a check to buy a single component that costs over three times more than my first car, readers should interpret this as the compliment to the product that it is. It has been a long time since I have owned a phenomenal preamp and outrageously good DACs, and I never want to go without them again. I mean no disrespect to the Proceed AVP, which served me well and neatly managed my growing AV system for years, but the No. 40 is just that much better. When you consider the No. 40’s absurdly high cost, its overall advantages and its disadvantages, there just isn’t a better AV preamp on the market. I encourage existing owners of Mark Levinson electronics, even the two-channel guys, to start negotiating trade-in values with your dealers. You will want a No. 40 the second you see it.

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