Mark Levinson No.326S Preamplifier and No.432 Power Amplifier

Equipment report
Solid-state preamplifiers
Mark Levinson No. 326S
Mark Levinson No.326S Preamplifier and No.432 Power Amplifier

The remote control is a beautifully made oval with nice button layout and enough functions to be useful without becoming cluttered. The owner’s manual is also superb. The parts and build-quality are all comparable to the standards set previously by Mark Levinson products. I have, however, two very small nits to pick. The first is that the No.326S’s front-panel power button is a different size, color, and material than all the other front-panel buttons. Given that the No.326S is meant to be left in standby mode, the power button could have been mounted on the rear panel. The second is that the remote control’s battery-access panel sticks out slightly, disrupting the remote’s continuous curve on the back. These are admittedly minor issues, but the company is famous for being maniacal about such details.

Looking next at the No.432, the power amplifier continues a trend started about ten years ago by Madrigal to make Mark Levinson amplifiers more installation-friendly. Among these measures are internal heat sinks, rack-mounting capability, and the ability to integrate the amplifier into a system with control and communication ports.

The No.432 shares the circuit topology of the company’s flagship No.33H monoblocks. The unit features a massive power supply with separate toroidal transformers for each channel. Indeed, the No.432 is rated at 400Wpc into 8 ohms, and can double that figure into 4 ohms. Any amplifier that doubles its output power as the load impedance is halved must have a massive power supply, a robust output stage, and serious heatsinks. High-level signals are routed through the amplifier on large buss bars rather than via wiring. The DC-servo’d input and driver stages are fully balanced. As with the No.326S, the power amplifier employs Arlon circuit boards.

I started the evaluations by inserting the No.432 power amplifier into my reference system and immediately recognized the familiar Mark Levinson presentation. That sound is characterized by an extremely sophisticated, cool, and polite rendering that doesn’t try to impress by hi-fi fireworks. Instead, the No.432 presented a finely woven fabric of musical subtleties that invited me into the music. Although laid-back, the No.432 had tremendous resolving power, but in a much more subtle way than that of most power amplifiers. The sound had an easy-going and relaxed quality that fostered an immediate involvement in the performance. To draw an analogy with pianists, the No.432 was like Bill Evans; no flash, but a wealth of subtlety and expression if you take the time to listen.

The No.432 presented a wonderful impression of space, depth, and dimensionality. This was one of the amplifier’s defining—and best—qualities. The overall perspective was characteristically Mark Levinson—that is, with a feeling of sitting a little farther back in the hall. The soundstage was beautifully rendered, with a tremendous sense of size, air, and bloom. The soundstage had the unusual (unusual in an audio component, not in live music) attribute of a billowy quality at the edges that made the space more like the presentation of live music and less like an audio system’s reproduction of a soundstage. It was as though the soundstage didn’t abruptly end, but extended well beyond the boundaries of my listening room. The No.432 managed to sound simultaneously diffuse and focused, with an overall sense of spaciousness, precisely defined images, and layers of depth between instruments. It was a combination I found extremely engaging.