High End 2015

High End 2015: Harman, Mark Levinson, JBL

Harman-0850

HE15_Logo_GB_01Harman International, a $6B audio company, has a lot of high-end audio brands. Lots and lots. It’s a little intimidating, actually.

Here at High End, Harman was showing off a few not-quite new products.

Introduced at CES, the No 536 mono amplifiers ($15k/channel) from Mark Levinson are designed and engineered in the USA. Each amp is good for 400watts into 8Ω and doubles down into 4Ω, and features a low-feedback Class A/B bias. Availability is scheduled for Fall.

Also new-ish were the JBL DD67000 Everest loudspeakers, now available in a variety of automotive finishes. This availability will be limited, however, as it’s being offered as some kind of exclusive thing.

Some updates to the Concerta Series from Revel were also discussed, including a high-gloss finish, curved sides, magnetic front-fasteners, and an acoustic lens for the tweeter. Towers get a third woofer, bringing the overall sensitivity to 90 or 91dB (depending on the model). Prices for the new line start at $900/pair for the bookshelves, which also includes a shallow-depth version for on-wall mounting.

The JBL-fronted system, played with the new Mark Levinson monos, was surprisingly good. Horns sounded breathy, and there was a good sense of space. The sweet spot was exactingly precise, but once attained, imaging was spooky good. Bass, regardless of the seat, was percussive and persuasive.

Harman-0851

Harman-0852

Harman-0853

Harman-0855

Aurender_banner_forTheAudioTraveler_640x300

Aurender is the Proud Sponsor for High End Munich 2015

Standard
AXPONA 2015

AXPONA 2015: JBL, Mark Levinson Define Legendary

jbl-2

By John Stancavage

If you look at all the automobiles in production today, it’s hard to find many models that are very close to what they were 20 or even 30 years ago. Volkswagen’s Beetle is one classic that has been updated internally but is little changed on the outside, while Ford’s Mustang and Chevy’s Camaro also hark strongly back to yesteryear.

The audio world has a few more timeless classics. Variations on the old Marantz 7C preamp and 8B tube amp can be bought today, for example, while McIntosh’s MC275 amp has needed only a few engineering upgrades.

In the speaker market, every boomer who as a near-penniless kid lusted over the sound of some huge JBL speakers now can fulfill that old dream. The company is tapping this nostalgia by showing more at audio shows in recent years, typically paired from electronics with another name that may not be quite as old, but is no less legendary, Mark Levinson. Both now are owned by the same parent, Harman International.

It’s been a tough few decades for speaker makers, especially those that were known best for their sizable statement models. The home theater craze threatened to vanquish two-channel sound in favor of speakers selected more for their ability to be sunk smoothly into walls and ceilings than for their sound quality. Big speaker cabinets used to be a prestige thing for audio fans, then suddenly small was in.

Today, JBL makes in-wall speakers. But it bravely has decided to damn the torpedoes and get back to its roots with some good, old-fashioned monster transducers. At AXPONA 2015, the brand was displaying two of its top offerings, the Everest DD67000 (now in V2 form, $74,000 a pair). The 300-pound behemoths each feature dual 15-inch woofers, a 4-inch beryllium midrange (up from 3 inches in the previous DD66000 model) and a 1-inch beryllium tweeter. While the beryllium material and some of the innards are relatively new, the exterior cabinet and horn system dates back to the company’s glory days.

Also following in the family tradition was a pair of K2 speakers ($44,000), which could be described as a baby brother to the Everest — it’s just a baby that weighs 180 pounds. It shares its bigger sibling’s horn-loaded midrange and tweeter, but gets by on only one 15-inch woofer.

Powering these two monster loudspeakers were equally formidable amps from Mark Levinson, the No. 53 monoblocks ($49,000 a pair), controlled by Mark Levinson’s newest preamp, the two-chassis No. 52 ($30,000). The company has been introducing increasingly stratospheric-priced equipment in recent years, but at AXPONA it also debuted its new integrated 200-watt amp/preamp/DAC, which was priced at $12,000.

When I visited, JBL reps were playing the big Everest speakers on the big Levinson monoblocks. Whether blasting the feedback-heavy roar of Stevie Ray Vaughan or the more subtle bent notes of Mark Knopfler, the system bright a live PA sound to the material — a little brash, with plenty of bass and powerful transients. This isn’t surprising, considering the company’s frequent use in the pro world.

Such massive speakers may not be everyone’s cup of tea these days, but for those who prefer their whisky straight and rock and roll unpolished, JBL certainly would be happy to bring the party to your house.

jbl-3

jbl-3-3

jbl-3-2

Standard
RMAF 2014

RMAF 2014: Levinson and JBL, peerless

DSC_2991 (1)

Logo - Blue VectorBrighton dealer, Home Audio Sound, got the Golden Shoehorn award this year. Cramming a pair of the big-boned JBL 67000 Everests ($75k) into a standard room in the Atrium is no easy job. Cramming them in so they look like the best fit in the world? That’s what they did, and that’s nothing less than pure art. From the gorgeous, maple veneer, to the open spaces, to the wide open curtains that let the room fill with light, this was easily one of the most inviting show rooms that I’ve ever seen. Laugh all you want, but that kind of thing matters after three days of slogging around a hotel. It was a soothing oasis that promised soulful silence and inner peace.

The gorgeous Everests were joined by a full suite of J-Boat class (if you have to ask, you can’t afford it) Mark Levinson components. A No. 512 SACD player spun discs, A No. 52 Reference Preamplifier managed the volume control, and a pair of the polarizing No. 53 Reference monoblocks drove the speakers. The last gizmo was a White ParaMedic 26 parametric equalizer to help with inevitable room conditions.

Unfortunately, the actual system was not silent when I walked in. It was, in fact, playing Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, and there was much gnashing of teeth. Dynamics were severely truncated, with everything sounding like it had gone through a primitive volume normalizer. High frequencies were outright painful, and tone was… well… There was, technically, tone. Of a sort. I guess. I’m not entirely sure it belonged to a Michael Jackson album. If I weren’t polite, I’d mention that something was aggravating the compression drivers into the sort of hellish breakup that made a good attempt at taking the enamel off my teeth.

If there is to be a pull-quote from this writeup, I would suggest: “The system shown here offered an experience without peer at the 2014 Festival.” I would not, necessarily, suggest linking back to the original text.

Ah… show conditions, the only thing that can take a top-of-the-line system like this and make it sound worse than a defective toy jukebox. Based on previous experiences with the source, the preamp, the speakers, and this dealer’s setup prowess, the sound here was not only a wild aberration, but almost certainly a dangerous portent of the end times.

As Governor William J. Le Petomane said, “this friggin’ thing is warped.”

DSC_2992

DSC_2995

DSC_2996

DSC_2997

DSC_2998 (1)

Standard
CAS 2014

CAS 2014: Stunt Systems, Sight and Sound with JBL and Mark Levinson

DSC_1745

Dyn_CAS-logo-2Again, ignore the misleadingly soothing pianist in the lobby. One of the real pleasures at an audio show comes when the big guns bring out all of their dogs and ponies. Some may systems are stunt systems by virtue of their cost, but they’re otherwise modest and unassuming. Other exhibits are just stunts.

The Excessive Excess full-boat Harman system presented in the cavernous Bayshore Ballroom by Sight & Sound Home Theater was the most traditional of stunts. It was only one of four systems present in the room, and it only played twice per day. It featured the JBL Everest ($75,000), a pair of Mark Levinson No.53 monoblocks ($50,000), and Mark Levinson No.52 preamplifier ($30,000). When I snuck in, music was coming from a Hanss T-60 turntable loaded with a SME tonearm and a cartridge that I didn’t identify. Continue reading

Standard