Its been a long time since anyone posted on this product, obviously due to it being several years on the market now. I have read with some amusement the negative reviews some have posted here of the ML333. It can be due to three things:
1) An improperly setup unit, using inferior partnering equipment (much of my review will discuss this)
2) These reviewers rating it poorly are of the new “home-theatre” generation, looking for something ‘impressive’ sounding, with bells and booms and explosions making the walls shake, “Hey, I need to impress my buddies ya know….”
3) Then there are those with hidden agenda’s, perhaps some workers at Kr###, H##cro etc…………(makes you think hey!).
Well let’s get to my system.
I use the ML333 (standard version, not the .5) with Marantz SA-11 SACD player (I also used a CD7 previously), a ML380 pre-amp, and B&W 802d speakers. The interconnects are both Kimber Select KS1130, the black pearl silver Balanced Top of the range from Kimber. Speaker cable is currently Monster M2.4 biwire, but an upgrade to Kimber Select KS3035 (copper-silver hybrid) is imminent after a test in my system.
My listening room is an everyday living area, a lounge combined with dining room. The only room tuning are some metal blinds at the first reflection point on the left hand side, and some Rhodesian Teak wood stands made from railway sleepers (The rough surface has been kept during finishing to act as diffusor) at the right hand side first reflection point, as well as in the back corners. The room is very nicely balanced ito damping (not too damped, I hate that), and can provide fantastic staging at realistic volume levels.
This system sound absolutely fantastic, with the obvious stars being the B&W 802d’s, probably the best speaker ever made for my size of room (only ran close by the Vivid Audio K1’s). The ML333 is superb sounding, but let me explain where the setup comes from.
About eight months ago I bought the ML380 (thanks George!) and the ML333 (Thanks Philip!!!). I took it home and connected it into my old setup (Marantz CD17KI CD, Sonus Faber Concerto’s and REL Storm III, replacing the Marantz PM17KI amp). Sure I expected an improvement, with the PM17 being quite outclassed by the ML combo, but the extent of improvement was quite unexpected!!! The holographic imaging combined with absolute vocal realism was amazing from the little Sonus Faber speakers. Well anyway, I acquired the SA-11 and B&W 802d’s soon after that. After playing them in (Hell, the 802d’s took ±250 hours!!!!). the system really sounded superb. Then I acquired the KS1130 interconnects, and again a massive improvement ito instrument leading edges, placement, height of soundstage (not too high, just very realistic now). Lastly I tested the Kimber KS3035 speaker cables in my system, which provided a massive improvement again, mostly in dynamic range and bringing that ‘live’ feeling into the living room.
Well now, if the ML333 was such a bad amp, all these upgrades wouldn’t have made such big differences then? Hey!. No, instead, the upgrades in the rest of the system changed the ML333 from a fantastic sounding amp into something unbelievably good. I simpy get the feeling that the ML333 will not become a bottle neck in my system very soon. I have had several other amps in my system, the ML333 beats most (see list below), except for the ML336 and ML436 monblocks that sounded very similar to the ML333, (The ML431 sounded MUCH worse). To make an upgrade from here would require going way up towards ML33H monoblocks or ML33 References’ (the last one quite impossible, I would be in dire straits with my wife and bank manager….).
So, in summary, this amp is fantastic, and it would require serious upgrades to really improve on it. To the HT generation who doesn’t think this amp is ‘impressive’ enough…that’s the whole point….in my room the music sounds like the studio engineers intended it to sound like. Please go and get yourself a nice big DISCO amp with zero damping abilities to give you the big, woolly base and extended harsh trebles you are looking for. Save yourself the effort of ever trying to understand what true music enjoyment is all about….
To the ML333 lovers (I see some great reviews here by great audiophiles and enthusiasts), do not spare any efforts in providing your system with the best in cabling (if you have not already done so). The ML333 can handle upgrades to the very best of cabling like I am doing, so try it, you’ll thank me…
Its been a long time since anyone posted on this particular product, obviously due to it being an older product. I also read with some amusement the poor ratings that some give this amp, usually baseless comments made by individuals who most probably are of the new 'HT generation'. These people typically wants something 'impressive' sounding. Its a shame. In some cases the setup of the sound system might have been poor, i.e. using single ended interconnects or poor speaker cables. These can make a huge difference, and a lot of my review is based on this.
OK, towards my system. I use the ML333 (standard, not the .5 version) with a ML380 pre-amp, Marantz SA-11 SACD player (also used a Marantz CD7 before) and B&W 802d speakers. The interconnects are both Kimber Select KS1130 XLR Black Pearl Silver interconnects, and the speaker cable is Monster M2.4 10-ft pair, although an upgrade to Kimber Select KS3035 is imminent after a test with them on my system.
The system is placed and used in an everyday living room, which is an openplan lounge and dining room. Minor room tuning is done with steel blinds at the first reflection point on the right hand side, Rhodesian teak wood stand (rough surface kept during finishing to act as 'diffusor') on the left and some weight in the corners (again some Rhodesian Teak Wood 'sleepers'). I believe this provides enough break up points and eliminates any bass boom, although the speakers are placed well into the open anyway.
In this room this system is absolutely fantastic, with the biggest star obviously being the B&W 802d's, probably the best speaker that has ever been made for my typical room size (only ran close by Vivid Audio K1's). However, the rest of the componentry are all magnificent, and beats anything else I have tested in this room in the same price range.
Most importantly though, the ML333 has been able to deliver improved sonic performance and musicality with every other upgrade I did. I remember connecting the ML333/ML380 combo into my old system (Marantz CD17KI, Sonus Faber Concerto/REL Storm III) in place of the Marantz PM17KI. Surely I expected an improvement (with the PM17KI being quite out'leaged'), but the extent of improvement and realism was totally unexpected. I then acquired the SA11 player and the B&W 802d's, and after the 802d's played in (damnit, it took 4 months!!!!!!) the system really sounded fantastic. Then I acquired the KS1130 interconnects, and boy, again everything sounded better. Its hard to describe the improvements, but the realism, timber, leading edges, vocal emotion are all improved. The KS3035 test showed another SIGNIFICANT improvement; surely the Monster M2.4's are good but the KS3035 cables are close to being the best speaker cable in the world.
Now, if the ML333 was such a bad amp, none of the upgrades I did should have made a difference. Hey? But it did, and transformed the ML333 in my system from a fantastic sounding amp into a gobsmacking stonker of a beauty.
So in summary, don't test drive a Ferrari 430 when it is fitted with el-cheapo Chinese tyres. Similarly, don't test drive an ML333 or any other ML amp when the partnering equipment and cables are not good. By this I don't mean ultra exquisite cables like I'm using, but give it good cables and a good source before you listen and just trash it out of stupidness. Then again, maybe my advice won't help because some people will just trash something regardless....
Lastly, this amp is so good with the partnering equipment I'm using that a very significant upgrade would be required to obtain real improvement. The ML336 sounds the same, very nice, the newer ML436 monoblocks sound similar, the ML431 sounds much much much worse. To get real improvement I would need to look at least at ML33H's, or the ML33 reference (although acquiring these will put me in a really difficult spot with my wife and bank manager and will never happen...).
To all existing ML333 lovers (I see some fantastic reviews here of really knowledgeable audiophiles and enthusiasts), please treat your amp and speakers with the best cable you can afford (If you haven't already). You'll be thanking me...
Note: This is a review of the Mark Levinson 333.5 (an upgraded version of the 333).
Once upon a time, an aging keyboard player with a Master's degree in acoustics began a quest to find an audio system that would let him re-live his days in rock and jazz bands and his time playing saxophone in bands and orchestras. His quest would last for years, he would buy and sell much, and his obsession would consume much of his small fortune.
After a while he acquired B&W 802s and Krell power, and impressed many who came from far and wide - but alas, while the sound was impressive, it was not "real." Wise men explained that digital sources were forever condemned to sound, well... digital. At high volumes the bass was percussive, the highs were brash - initially impressive, even appealing - but in time the sound fatigued our finicky listener.
The wise men who professed that tubes were the only true way and after several purchases, he had acquired a Musical Fidedlity C5. The magical tubes seemed to tame the harshness and calmed the edge that had plagued the voices of the most talented female artists. He found depth and reality he had never before experienced. Life should have been good, yet still he was still displeased.
So he took a leap of faith, and acquired a Levinson 333.5 amplifier. He reasoned that (to some) perhaps a total lack of coloration, an absolute transparency, an absence of anything but music might be perceived as sounding flat, or - dare I say - boring? At last, our hero came to realize that his intuition was indeed correct.
For you see - he abandoned the magic tubes, and once again connected the dreaded digital source - now partnered with his 333.5. Taking a deep breath, what he heard at first appeared thin, colorless, quiet and understated. But wait, could it be that these first impressions were wrong? Could it be that what he had become so accustomed to hearing was somehow not a true standard against which to measure real live music? After hours and hours and hours of intense listening, and many, many excellent (and alas not so excellent) recordings, he realised what was missing - and it was very, very good!
No longer did he hear any harshness, or the blurred imaging created by the tubes. With his eyes closed every instrument, every note, and every percussive strike could be SEEN in a distinct place both left to right and at a precise depth beyond the speakers physical boundaries. The bass was not loud, it was tight and solid - it was REAL! The instruments, body movements and breathing, the slightest inflection and hesitation by the musicians could be felt as well as heard.
Turning up the volume meant more detail, but wait - the fatigue he had associated with loudness was absent - it was as if he moved closer to the performers - not las if they were playing harder and rougher just to be loud. The sound was simply real - nothing more. It was intoxicating!
For you see, our audiophine had come to realize that the highly regarded tubes had been masking the digital harshness of his amplifier by adding soft coloration. It was clear to him that the combination of amplifier harshness and tube softness produced a pleasing effect, one that is highly sought after by many wise men, but to his ears was not "real." To him, two wrongs did not make a right.
To our aging audiophile, the Mark Levinson 333.5 is simply the best, most neutral sounding, confidently powerful amplifier he has yet heard. He takes great exception to those who say this amp sounds "dull" or "lifeless," suggesting that they have simply not taken the time to mate the amp with the right components, to let it warm up, or listen critically to quality recordings.
To his ears, this is the PERFECT amp. Buy one if you can.