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Amp Headache! (involving Bryston and Levinson) Studio Monitors
Old 18th August 2007
  #1
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Amp Headache! (involving Bryston and Levinson)

I have a decision to make over the weekend and I was hoping you guys could offer your expertise:

In the red corner: A brand new Bryston 4B SST. 20 yr warrenty, 500wpc into 4ohms.

In the red corner: A Mark Levinson 331 from 1996. 200wpc into 4ohms.

The big difference for me is that the Levinson will be about £1000 cheaper (approx $2000usd).

The monitors are PMC IB1S and will take 120-500wpc as 4ohm speakers.

I won't be able to compare the 2 amps. I know Levinson is a good name but will the 331's age be shown up by the much newer Bryston?

Could things start to go wrong with the Levinson?

Could the big difference in power ouput be a deciding factor in itself?

Thankyou in advance
Old 18th August 2007
  #2
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I think having a lot of power to spare is a good thing......you especially notice it with bass.

What about something like a second hand Classe or Pass?
Old 18th August 2007
  #3
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Speaking as a fellow IB1 user, of those two, I'd get the Bryston.
Old 18th August 2007
  #4
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If they cost the same then I would automatically go for the Bryston. I am being swayed by the saving...then again who's to say that the Levinson wouldn't be better? I am automatically dubious of 10yr old kit though, whether that is justified or not.

Carl, is it the 4B ST or SST that you are currently running with your IB1s?
Old 18th August 2007
  #5
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ST. It is certainly a good match, though I often wonder about the potential benefits of moving up to an SST. Maybe you should be looking for 4BSTs instead of SSTs?
Old 19th August 2007
  #6
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I like the Levinson and 10 years old is not old for a ML amp. But, do you know what it's been through?

I would shoot them an email and ask for an opinion. With that kind of price difference you may be able to get the ML amp looked at/updated/serviced and check out at the factory and still save money. You would then have an amp that's been brought up to new.

Mike
Old 19th August 2007
  #7
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Quote:
I like the Levinson and 10 years old is not old for a ML amp. But, do you know what it's been through?

I would shoot them an email and ask for an opinion. With that kind of price difference you may be able to get the ML amp looked at/updated/serviced and check out at the factory and still save money. You would then have an amp that's been brought up to new.

Mike
That's interesting Mike thanks. What's your opinion on the power difference though?
Old 19th August 2007
  #8
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Never used the Levinson so I can't comment.

10 years old well maintained kit shouldn't be a problem, after all we use 40years old mics and 30 years old ATRs every day........

I am using a 4BSST and I believe in terms of power to be the absolute minimum (ate least with IB2s)

ymmv
Old 19th August 2007
  #9
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Quote:
Never used the Levinson so I can't comment.

10 years old well maintained kit shouldn't be a problem, after all we use 40years old mics and 30 years old ATRs every day........

I am using a 4BSST and I believe in terms of power to be the absolute minimum (ate least with IB2s)

ymmv
Thanks Riccardo, I reckon that about sums it up. I believe that PMC's recommendations for the IB2's are the same as the IB1's. While they say that as little as 120wpc can be used, Im sure it wont be up to much with that little power. 200wpc from the Levinson just probably wont cut it. Sometimes you just gotta spend the extra cash
Old 19th August 2007
  #10
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How far away are you sitting? How loud do you want to play?

120 wpc will get a pair of IB1 (at 89 dB sensitivity) to 107 dBSPL at 2 m.
200 wpc to 109 dBSPL at 2 m. 500 wpc.... to 113 dBSPL, which is equivalent to a single speaker's max 116 dB rating at 1 m.

Yes, I know about amp headroom, but this is not live SR in uncontrolled conditions. And at this level of quality and cost those amps better run right to their specifications. I think those volume levels would be just a bit of overkill for most mastering studios. My ears aren't going there anyway.

Steve
Old 19th August 2007
  #11
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If there is one thing a ML is known for, it's output current capability.

Both amps are very good. I would go with the ML just because I know the amps better than I know Bryston's.
Old 20th August 2007
  #12
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A lot depends on your speakers.

Levinsons tend to be very conservatively rated. If the baby ML has enough power, it'll most likely sound better than any Bryston.

It will also probably hold its value better so if it were me, I'd go for it knowing I could most likely get back what I paid for it if there isn't enough power.
Old 20th August 2007
  #13
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Quote:
A lot depends on your speakers.

Levinsons tend to be very conservatively rated. If the baby ML has enough power, it'll most likely sound better than any Bryston.

It will also probably hold its value better so if it were me, I'd go for it knowing I could most likely get back what I paid for it if there isn't enough power.
I keep going backwards and forwards over this but my time is almost up (at least for a decision on the amp anyway heh)

A review I just found for the Levinson suggests that the 331 was preferable to the Bryston 3B ST. But I know that Bryston have improved their range with the SST series.

My real concern though is buying the Levinson and having some technical issue with it due to its age. Can anyone give me an insight into what could go wrong with a 10 yr old power amp? Or specifically a 10 yr old Levinson power amp?
Old 20th August 2007
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mosrite View Post
I keep going backwards and forwards over this but my time is almost up (at least for a decision on the amp anyway heh)

A review I just found for the Levinson suggests that the 331 was preferable to the Bryston 3B ST. But I know that Bryston have improved their range with the SST series.

My real concern though is buying the Levinson and having some technical issue with it due to its age. Can anyone give me an insight into what could go wrong with a 10 yr old power amp? Or specifically a 10 yr old Levinson power amp?

A lot depends on its life up till now - Was it left on 24/7 if not how much was it used. In 10 year old electronics the most probable components to go bad would be the capacitors but ML used very good components. It is impossible to surmise what COULD go wrong.

Think of it as a car. If you asked someone what could go wrong with a 10 year old car they could come up with all kinds of things that maybe wrong with it but until you drive the car and figure out what is wrong with it you have nary a clue. With a car you can have a good mechanic look under the hood and advise you. Maybe do the same with the two amplifiers you are thinking of buying? Having an electronic tech look at them maybe money well spent.

Brystons have a 20 year warranty that is transferable to the new owner so you are covered for the 20 years. ML warranty is ??????? and while Bryston uses parts that are readily available ML uses some pretty exotic parts that maybe harder to get. I personally have always liked the sound of the ML stuff I have heard but I am a Bryston amp owner so I would probably suggest the Bryston.

Best of luck!
Old 20th August 2007
  #15
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Quote:
A lot depends on its life up till now - Was it left on 24/7 if not how much was it used. In 10 year old electronics the most probable components to go bad would be the capacitors but ML used very good components. It is impossible to surmise what COULD go wrong.

Think of it as a car. If you asked someone what could go wrong with a 10 year old car they could come up with all kinds of things that maybe wrong with it but until you drive the car and figure out what is wrong with it you have nary a clue. With a car you can have a good mechanic look under the hood and advise you. Maybe do the same with the two amplifiers you are thinking of buying? Having an electronic tech look at them maybe money well spent.

Brystons have a 20 year warranty that is transferable to the new owner so you are covered for the 20 years. ML warranty is ??????? and while Bryston uses parts that are readily available ML uses some pretty exotic parts that maybe harder to get. I personally have always liked the sound of the ML stuff I have heard but I am a Bryston amp owner so I would probably suggest the Bryston.

Best of luck!
Thomas, thank you for your input.

I have actually managed to borrow the ML for a week before deciding and was wondering if there's anything I should look for / listen out for to determine any problems?
Old 20th August 2007
  #16
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The obivious...

Hum, buzz, distortion, graininess, frequency balance, listening fatigue, overheating, weird sounds like transformer laminations buzzing, grittiness, overly bright sound, etc.,etc. The problem will be that the minute you buy either amplifier then something will probably go wrong with it. (been there-done that)*. What kind of guarantee are the two owners offering you? Most places in the US of A offer a 30 day, excuse the automobile reference, bumper to bumper warranty so if ANYTHING goes wrong in that time period they will fix it.



*but hopefully this will not happen to you.
Old 20th August 2007
  #17
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Quote:
The obivious...

Hum, buzz, distortion, graininess, frequency balance, listening fatigue, overheating, weird sounds like transformer laminations buzzing, grittiness, overly bright sound, etc.,etc. The problem will be that the minute you buy either amplifier then something will probably go wrong with it. (been there-done that)*. What kind of guarantee are the two owners offering you? Most places in the US of A offer a 30 day, excuse the automobile reference, bumper to bumper warranty so if ANYTHING goes wrong in that time period they will fix it.
Sorry should have made it clear: the Bryston would be brand new (at £2400) while the Levinson is 2nd hand from a private seller (at £1600). The price difference alone was enough to make me consider the Levinson (difference works out about $1600 of your US dollars). But now Im hearing that the Levinson might even be a better amp than the new Bryston which pushes me that way even further.

Even although the Bryston has a 20 yr warrenty I presume it would still have to go back to Canada from the UK.
Old 20th August 2007
  #18
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Just hooked up the Levinson and have been listening for the past hour.

Wow. Now the speakers are also a new addition so it's hard to determine what is providing me with what in terms of resolution but the resolution is astounding with this combination. At first I felt that it was a little bright but once I repositioned the speakers (not toed in) things improved. The brightness was also more apparent from mid 90's recordings and sounded suspiciously like poor ADC's. The thing is my last setup didn't really let me hear this!

I am kind of afraid that this intial brightness is an issue with the amp itself but the fact it seems less prevalent with certain recordings surely means not right?

I wish that I could test this Levinson against a Bryston 4B SST but it wont be possible. So do I assume that the Bryston can only sound worse not better and take the plunge on this Levinson?

(also the condition of the amp seems superb. Original box, very few marks, VERY low level hum from box and equal and very low hiss from speakers)
Old 21st August 2007
  #19
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I've never heard a Levinson sound bright unless the recording was bright. Of course I can say the same about the Benchmark DAC-1 which would only be emphasized by a bright amp.

Flattering is not the same thing as accurate.
Old 21st August 2007
  #20
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I started to jump right in and recommend the Bryston 4B SST, as we use one in our B Room, it has tons of power, and sounds great.

But I resisted the urge because I wanted to see what you had to say about the Levinson.

How's the Low end?

JT
Old 21st August 2007
  #21
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Quote:
I've never heard a Levinson sound bright unless the recording was bright. Of course I can say the same about the Benchmark DAC-1 which would only be emphasized by a bright amp.

Flattering is not the same thing as accurate.
Hi Bob,

yeah I realised quite quickly that it was the recordings itself not the amp.

Quote:
I started to jump right in and recommend the Bryston 4B SST, as we use one in our B Room, it has tons of power, and sounds great.

But I resisted the urge because I wanted to see what you had to say about the Levinson.

How's the Low end?
Everything seems great (including the low end). Of course without comparing directly to the alternative (Bryston) it is impossible to say. Im working on getting a demo Bryston and hopefully can compare, will report back for sure
Old 21st August 2007
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mikeg View Post
I like the Levinson and 10 years old is not old for a ML amp. But, do you know what it's been through?

I would shoot them an email and ask for an opinion. With that kind of price difference you may be able to get the ML amp looked at/updated/serviced and check out at the factory and still save money. You would then have an amp that's been brought up to new.

Mike
Levinson is good but a lot of the older stuff is more veiled in comparison to the modern stuff. For me I love my Classe stuff and running pure Class A power is hard to beat. Many other good brands but I really would try and get a comparison.
Old 21st August 2007
  #23
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Mosrite, what are you using for speaker cables? Can be huge differences in the EQ curves from swapping those around IME. But I have always felt the PMC tweeter is relatively bright anyway.

Steve
Old 21st August 2007
  #24
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Quote:
Mosrite, what are you using for speaker cables? Can be huge differences in the EQ curves from swapping those around IME. But I have always felt the PMC tweeter is relatively bright anyway.

Steve
Hey Steve,

Can't remember the name of this cable (borrowed, I used to run actives). It's not bell wire but it's not made of pure platinum / gold / uranium / kryptonite either heh

I hear that about the PMC tweeters too. I believe that this is why a lot of folk seem to suggest a straight ahead firing config as opposed to 'toeing in.' Mine are currently halfway between those extremes and don't sound too bright.
Old 22nd August 2007
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mosrite View Post
Mine are currently halfway between those extremes and don't sound too bright.
Yes, that is about the position I ended up with when I was using the TB2+, made a big difference. Spreading them out a bit helped too. I think it is a very fine line between 'detailed and present' and 'bright'.

And it can be frustrating to discover that with speakers/amps of this quality and sensitivity, that all that chasing the last few percent of performance can be very simply wiped out or completely altered just by changing the cables. Like most audio things, it is the final *system* that counts, not just the individual parts. I'm not advocating exotic wires, just some basic experimenting to find what can get the overall blend to be nice.

Steve
Old 22nd August 2007
  #26
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Thought some of you might be interested in my initial impressions of the ML 331 vs Bryston 4b SST that arrived today.

Initial impressions are that there is absolutely no contest. The Levinson has absolutely blown away the Bryston especially in terms of clarity, speed, transparency and resolution.

Details that I got used to hearing with the Levinson appear masked by the Bryston. The Bryston appears slightly sluggish. My friends first question when I switched from the ML to the Bryston was if the recording of Schubert's 'Death And The Maiden' was a different, slower interpretation!

The Bryston sounded somewhat congested in comparison, depth of field also suffered.

The low mids on the Bryston seemed indistinct and heavy. The highs lack the sweetness and air of the ML.

All of the above has led me to believe that the Levinson is just much more transparent. There is much less between me and the music.

I am very suprised. I, obviously wrongly, thought that 10 years of amp technology might have made a difference.

Can anyone concur with any of this? Am I nuts?? Would the Bryston shine with different speaker cable whereas the Levinson is less fussy or is that crazy thoughts?

(another thing is that both amps have a low level hum that emanates from the units themselves. The Brystons hum is a fair bit louder and would make me wonder if it will be audible in the suite that I move into soon)
Old 22nd August 2007
  #27
Gear Nut
 

power supply, power supply, power supply.

The main reason the ML is as big as it is. It makes a difference. You can have the best circuit in the world but if the supply isn't up to task it won't matter and there is no such thing as a power supply to big.

Amp technology has improved some. Check out the Audio Research, ML, Parasound, McIntosh and other hi-end amps.

Bryston makes a nice amp but I debate whether I would place them among some of the best "audiophool" amps out there. (let the flames begin) The one thing about Bryston I do like is that they are virtually bullet proof.

Until recently my favorite has been the Krell KSA100 which goes back to the early 90s. It's hard to beat 100 watts of class A but the cost of running it is getting out of hand.

What replaced the Krell as my favorite is a kit.
Old 22nd August 2007
  #28
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I have an IB-1/Bryston 4B set-up now and have owned Levinson 333 and 336 amps in the past - I'd go with the Bryston - my 2 cents. The PMC's are voiced with those amps and the combo just sings. reliability wise - the Levinsons are prone to power supply issues (my 333 died on me and I learn it wasn't the first they'd heard of the issue) - damned heavy to ship as well if that's a concern--Steph
Old 22nd August 2007
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mosrite View Post
Thought some of you might be interested in my initial impressions of the ML 331 vs Bryston 4b SST that arrived today.

Initial impressions are that there is absolutely no contest. The Levinson has absolutely blown away the Bryston especially in terms of clarity, speed, transparency and resolution.

Details that I got used to hearing with the Levinson appear masked by the Bryston. The Bryston appears slightly sluggish. My friends first question when I switched from the ML to the Bryston was if the recording of Schubert's 'Death And The Maiden' was a different, slower interpretation!

The Bryston sounded somewhat congested in comparison, depth of field also suffered.

The low mids on the Bryston seemed indistinct and heavy. The highs lack the sweetness and air of the ML.

All of the above has led me to believe that the Levinson is just much more transparent. There is much less between me and the music.

I am very surprised. I, obviously wrongly, thought that 10 years of amp technology might have made a difference.

Can anyone concur with any of this? Am I nuts?? Would the Bryston shine with different speaker cable whereas the Levinson is less fussy or is that crazy thoughts?

(another thing is that both amps have a low level hum that emanates from the units themselves. The Brystons hum is a fair bit louder and would make me wonder if it will be audible in the suite that I move into soon)
Bryston 4B owner here and I have never heard those kinds of problems with the Bryston but you are the final ears that have to be pleased. I would try some different cables to the amplifiers (we use CANARE AES/EBU cables for the inputs) and try some different cables for the speakers.

Are the PMCs tri or bi wired? or are you running one set of cables to them and everything else is internal. I know it made a VAST improvement in our ALON IVs when we went to tri wiring.

The Levinsons that I have heard are very open very good sound stage amps with lots and lots of power when needed without sounding strained. The Brystons are very open, very good sounding very transparent amplifiers built like a MAC truck and just keep giving us good sound day in and day out. Again you are the one that will be using them day in and day out and you are the one that has to be pleased.
Old 22nd August 2007
  #30
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Quote:
I have an IB-1/Bryston 4B set-up now and have owned Levinson 333 and 336 amps in the past - I'd go with the Bryston - my 2 cents. The PMC's are voiced with those amps and the combo just sings. reliability wise - the Levinsons are prone to power supply issues (my 333 died on me and I learn it wasn't the first they'd heard of the issue) - damned heavy to ship as well if that's a concern--Steph
Hi Stephen,
My first thought uopn getting the PMCs was to go Bryston as that is what they recommend and the company that they work with etc.

But my ears are telling me that it is the Levinson that is making these IB1s sing.

As you have owned both, I am curious as to whether you heard any of the things that I decribed in my previous post?

Also, regards the power supply issues, this amp seems to have gone for 10 yrs with no issue. Surely I can assume that it means it's pretty solid from that fact alone?

Thomas, I am just running single wire to them. I am going to come across as real ignorant now but the Levinson actually has 2 sets of binding posts on each channel. Does that mean I can Bi-Amp the PMCs? In the literature I cannot find an explanation for this extra pair of posts!!

Don't get me wrong, the Bryston is obviously a great amp. But after a few days of getting used to this Levinson the transparency is addictive! I simply cannot hear the detail with the Bryston that I can with the Levinson. Maybe the Bryston is a broken unit?
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