MARK LEVINSON'S TRANSFORMATION
IS NOT YET COMPLETE
Last year when I discovered Mark Levinson's conversion to tube audio I speculated on this within the broad meta-context of world history.
- Was this the equivalent of Stalin defecting to America?
- Was this equivalent of Arafat converting to Judaism?
- Was this the equivalent to Sonny Barger, the CEO of the Hell's Angles buying a Honda?
This is was the biggest news story of the next millennium of the audio arts. Did this mean that soon Nelson Pass and Danny D'Agostino would soon follow?
I wanted the story directly from Mark so I did the right thing I sent him a copy of my book The Search For Musical Ecstasy, and then sent him an email requesting an interview.
Nada. Silence. No response. I sent him another email. More of the same disrespectful treatment.
Months later I got the "poop" from an "insider": Mark was terrified to talk to me. According to my (anonymous) source, he was embarrassed that he knew so little about tube circuits and was afraid I was going to make him look bad.
Talk about mis-reading my intentions.
Only recently, when I attended the Stereophile show in May, and heard the new Red Rose equipment did I understand his reluctance.
YOU COULD SAY IT IS A MIRACLE OF SORTS
How is it possible to design an "integrated" tube system, consisting of a tube amplifier and speakers that sounds just like the type of solid state system we abhor?
Why would a designer use tubes to create a system that sounds just like solid state?
Is it possible that Mark used his solid state gear as a "tuning" reference? Or, is it possible that Mark has a "solid state" brain and everything he designs is tuned to sound like solid state?
Only Mark knows that answer but let me share with you what I heard at the Red Rose demonstration.
I don't know anyone who has taken a concept which is very popular with mid-priced Japanese speakers: the ribbon tweeter and the dynamic woofer, and made it work right at some higher level of implementation and for good reason.
A simple explanation is that it is like trying to make chocolate covered French fried potatoes taste right. The personality of these ribbon tweeters, in terms of their radiation pattern, harmonics, their impulse response, and spectra of distortion doesn't blend well with dynamic woofers. Notice how few serious speaker designers use these Japanese ribbon tweeters.
For years I was fascinated with these ribbon tweeters and even imported the ultra-expensive Panasonic models from Japan. I used the Decca ribbon tweeters on my Quads, and had plenty of experience with Sequerra Ribbon tweeters. Conclusion: by themselves they sound great, but integrating them seamless into dynamic speakers is almost impossible.
The aural discombobularity that I hadn't heard in years, I heard again with the Red Rose Music system, and it translated into everything from the midrange up sounding metallic, unnatural and "tizzy". It was obvious that I was listening to two distinctly different type of drivers and when listening to voices singing..disaster.
There was also no time alignment between the tweeter and woofer, and you should expect that in expensive speakers.
I don't have a clue about the design of the stereo pentode push/pull amplifier that I was listening to, but I assume it was a classic Williamson type circuit. The speakers were so painful I couldn't tell how refined the amplifier was.
Is something wrong with this $11,000 system?
Evidently not for Mark's target customer.
Before you mis-interpret my comments because I can't imagine any Triode Guild surfer taking Mark's initial efforts with tubes seriously here is the good news:
Consider how serious Mark is about the audio arts. Consider how many decades he has worked at this craft.
Now consider how YOU the gifted amateur can create a far superior tube audio system for a fraction of the cost..THAT IS WHAT THE EXCITEMENT OF THIS TUBE AUDIO REVOLUTION IS ALL ABOUT.
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