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Mark Levinson No. 333 Dual Monaural Power Amplifier Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 January 1997
ImageHaving all the power you need is such a wonderful luxury. Imagine being able to sleep in whenever you wanted, never having to answer to your boss, or driving as fast as you'd like on the freeway. This is what it is like to own a Mark Levinson No. 333 dual monaural, 300 watt into 8 ohm stereo amplifier.

I have had the No. 333 in my reference music system for exactly one year and I can say it has been the strongest single component in my signal path. I have driven a number of lofty, high end loudspeakers including the 90 dB efficient Martin Logan Re-Quests, my former reference loudspeakers the 93 dB efficient Cello Stradivari Legends, and the super efficient 94 dB efficient Wilson CUBs. The one constant in all these was that no matter how loudly I played Stravinsky, Prong, Stevie Ray Vaughn or even Pink Floyd, I never heard the end of this amplifier. It never even came close to cliping.

The aesthetic of the Mark Levinson No. 333 power amplifier is stunning. The curved silver face plate with black ridged heat-sinks make the No. 333 a conversation piece even for non-audiophiles. The attention to detail in the design of the 300 series amps is phenomenal. For example, the amp stays powered down in standby mode until your ready to listen. In ten seconds the amp powers up the power supply gently, so that the amp is at optimum performance quickly. The standby feature allows the 300 series amps the ability to conserve power while reducing wear and tear on the amp during charge-discharge cycles. It also allows remote power switching from Levinson and Proceed preamps and control systems.

The Mark Levinson No. 333 is outfitted with the single best speaker connectors on the market. They accept various sizes of cable but need no wrench to tighten. They are ergonomically designed so that absolutely anyone can perfectly tighten their speaker cables to the perfect pressure without tools. A link to the Madrigal site for more technical details on the Mark Levinson 300 series amps is found at the end of this review. How good does the No. 333 sound?
Oh it is good. Really good. No matter which speakers I drove, the No. 333 had a reserve of power that made my system sound as if it could play at high volumes with tight, controlled dynamics. The imaging was crisp, focused and polite. The Mark Levinson No. 333 never imposes its flavor on the sound, but rather gives your system the resources to excite the air particles in your room to a heightened frenzy, matched by few other amps.

During listening tests I chose some truly complicated source material, I wanted to push both the resolution and dynamics of the No. 333 to the limit. On Pink Floyd's "Time" from Dark Side of the Moon (MFSL) the No. 333 was able to resolve the chimes in the intro as I have heard no other amp do. But when the bass kicked in, my ears witnessed an impact and full-bodied sound which would make Dark Side's engineer, Alan Parsons proud.

During the most intense selections of Stravinsky's "L'oseau de feu" (Deutsche Gramophone) the No. 333 powered through the material as I have never heard before in my system. The deep bass of the timpani drums was the most controlled I heard on either the Cello Stradivari Legends or the Wilson CUBs.

The cacophony of horns and strings found during "The Dance of the Firebird" normally blurs, distorts and clips on many of the best high end amplifiers, but not here. The level of power and finesse with the No. 333 was unprecedented-to date.

I used 10,000 Maniacs "Like the Weather" from MTV's Unplugged (Elektra), to test the more subtle details of the amp as opposed to thrashing and crashing of the Stravinsky cut. The imaging and layering were impressive. Natalie Merchant's voice was sweet and properly positioned while still layered delicately over the cut's well-spaced guitar, organ, bass and drums. The presence and low level detail you can achieve on music like this also makes the argument for having a 300 watt amp in a system even if you do not play your music at extreme volumes. The extra horsepower does not go to waste.

The Downside
The Mark Levinson No. 333 amplifier does have its downside. Compared to a tube amp (like the Sonic Frontiers Power II I am currently auditioning) the No. 333 is not nearly as sweet or as warm. The No. 333 is very close to neutral sounding, where other amps have an distinctive, if not flavored sound. The Levinson No. 333 is best described as polite and never interferes with whatever genre of music you choose to listen to, a luxury you will not receive from a lower powered, more idiosyncratic amp.

Another downside is that the No. 333 is a pain in the back to move, literally. It takes two strong people even to move the amp around your house, mainly because there are no handles to grab the over one hundred pound amp. Reportedly, there are straps in development so that you can get a better grip on the No. 333, but until they're available you need to be very careful.

Finally, the No. 333 is $9,450 in the US. That is a lot of money to invest into an amplifier. There are lesser expensive models available like the Mark Levinson No. 332 ($6995) and No. 331 ($4995) which are similar in design, but offer less power to make up for their lower price. If you can afford the No. 333 you will never regret the purchase, yet even a No. 331 is likely to be able to drive a tough load without any problems.

The No. 333 is a true high end performer, capable of doing it all. Resolute imaging, dynamic orchestral blasts all with an overall musicality found only in the elite of high end amps. If you're of the means and are looking for an amplification system that can drive your loudspeakers without compromise, The Mark Levinson No. 333 deserves your attention and audition.

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