Mark Levinson No. 436 Monaural Amplifier Reviewed
* October 13, 2008
n the history of high-end audio, few brands stand above the crowd like Mark Levinson. Today, famed as the high-end car audio system inside of Lexus, Mark Levinson is still the gem of the Harman Specialty Group brand lineup. Despite their success in the OEM car audio business, the mere mention of Mark Levinson audiophile components makes audiophiles drool. The brand's appeal is just that powerful and alluring.
At the top of the amplifier line is the rack-mountable $6,250 Mark Levinson No. 436 monoblock. Packing almost 400 watts of power from its mono four-rack-space-high chassis, the No. 436 can be configured for stereo or audiophile systems on full display on the floor, or neatly set up in a custom install rack as a pair, a trio, a five-channel system or, for total extremists, a seven-channel configuration. A lot of the technology from the Class A Mark Levinson No. 33 amplifiers trickled down to these Class AB power amplifiers, as they now sit atop the Mark Levinson lineup of amplifiers. Thankfully (and unlike No. 33s), the No. 436 amps can be stored reasonably in an equipment rack.
Sonically, the Mark Levinson No. 436 is pure, well, Levinson. Powerful and fast, never loosey-goosey with control, these amplifiers have a death grip on your speakers that can make even demanding impedance loads from offbeat audiophile speakers perform wonderfully when playing the most extreme music and/or film soundtracks. The highs on the Mark Levinson No. 436 are open and pleasantly quiet. I wouldn't describe them as sweet in the manner of what you'd hear from a comparable a tube amp, but they don't suffer from the same coloration you will experience when listening to tubes. Without question, a pair of Mark Levinson No. 436s would reproduce a wider range of music more faithfully than other, more esoteric audiophile amps. On the low end, the Mark Levinson No. 436s are at their best providing quick and decisive power. Whether it is for a pair of MartinLogan Summits or Wilson WATT Puppy Version 8s or even Harman's own Revel Salon2s, the bass is taut and accurate. It's that sports car suspension feel and sound that Mark Levinson enthusiasts love.
• The bass control is awesome on the Mark Levinson No. 436s, deep, controlled and fast.
• The build quality is topnotch. There is no plastic feel here. This is all-American handmade luxury.
• The customer service from Mark Levinson (not that you will ever need it with their amps) is second to none. They treat you like you are the king of the world if you ever need anything and, at these prices, that is exactly what you should expect.
• The addition of both a DC trigger and an RS-232 control of the amps is a very thoughtful touch for those controlling their systems with a Crestron, AMX or Control 4 system. The days of leaving your amp on all day are so over when power is as expensive as it is today.
• While the power on this amplifier is pretty beefy, you can find (or, I should say, I have found) the end of this amplifier in certain systems with less-efficient loudspeakers. These are extreme situations, but it is important to note this detail, compared with much larger Krell and Classe' amplifiers that I have tested in the past.
• The weight and placement of these amps is a consideration in any rack installation.
It just doesn't get much better than the Mark Levinson No. 436 power amplifiers. When it comes to openness, power, control and musicality, you just can't beat the sound you get from the Mark Levinson No. 436s. Pair these with a Mark Levinson No. 502 AV preamp, a Blu-ray player and the speakers of your choice and prepare to get the musical and theatrical soundtrack performance of your life.