Stereocheck Reviews:

Mark Levinson No. 526: Preamplifier handcrafted in the USA

The Mark Levinson No. 526 preamplifier is made using a balanced circuit with completely separated channels (dual mono) and is equipped with a stepped volume control. As features, the company mentions...

Mark Levinson No. 526
Mark Levinson No. 526

The Mark Levinson No. 526 preamplifier is made using a balanced circuit with completely separated channels (dual mono) and is equipped with a stepped volume control. As features, the company mentions the ESS Sabre32 Reference DAC (model number not specified), Harman Clari-Fi technology, which improves playback of low-bitrate compressed files, and the presence of a built-in phono stage.

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The Mark Levinson No. 526 has five line-level analog inputs (two of them balanced), a phono input, and six digital inputs, including asynchronous USB, balanced AES/EBU, coaxial, and optical. The company emphasizes the omnivorous nature of the device; it will work with a vinyl player, play music from streaming services, and provide the opportunity to listen to high-resolution recordings, up to PCM 24 bit/192 kHz and DSD 64/128.

Mark Levinson remained true to the corporate design: a sleek black aluminum body with silver accents. You can control the amplifier both from the remote control and from the front panel; The headphone output is also located on the front panel for greater convenience.

The No. 526 preamplifier provides six digital inputs so that you can work with different systems. One balanced AES/EBU (XLR) and two coaxial (RCA) inputs utilize high-speed differential receivers that cut out noise and deliver clean digital waveforms to the Cirrus Logic digital audio receiver IC. The outputs of two additional optical receivers (Toslink) go directly to the digital audio receiver. For direct connection to a computer, model No. 526 also provides an asynchronous USB type B input, the circuit of which uses a CMedia USB audio processor chip. Supporting the USB 2.0 high-speed data transfer standard, this CMedia chip reliably and accurately accepts audio data over a USB connection in PCM (up to 32-bit, 192 kHz) or native DSD at speeds up to and including double (5.6 MHz). The CMedia chip transfers USB data asynchronously: it accepts as much data as possible as soon as it becomes available, rather than receiving it synchronously with music playback; Thus, the load on the computer is reduced, and the freed up processor resources allow precise control of the data flow to the digital-to-analog converter.

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The No. 526 preamplifier has five line-level analog inputs: two balanced (XLR) and three unbalanced (RCA), in addition to the Pure Phono input (RCA with ground pin). The preamplifier provides balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) stereo outputs, as well as a 6.3mm Main Drive Headphone amplifier output on the metal faceplate – a first in the Mark Levinson range. In terms of system integration, it is possible via Ethernet/IP network, RS-232 port, USB connection for control and configuration from a web page, as well as 12V triggers and infrared (IR) input. The included machined metal remote control provides the control precision and rugged feel worthy of this preamp.

The Main Drive Headphone amplifier circuit drives headphones up to 32 ohms from a Class A amplifier circuit, and uses the main output circuit rather than a secondary signal path: this is an excellent example of reducing redundancy in circuit design.

The converter chip for the MarkLevinson Precision Link DAC is supplied by ESS Technologies, a company known for its jitter compensation circuits. Jitter (that is, the inaccuracy in the timing of the discrete values ​​entering the converter) causes distortion. The ESS converter resynchronizes incoming data using its own, extremely stable clock generator. Combined with 32-bit signal resolution, the low jitter stream reduces distortion and reduces noise, allowing you to reproduce atmospheric detail that would otherwise be lost with other DACs.

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The current outputs from the PrecisionLink DAC converter are fed to a fully balanced current-to-voltage (I/V) converter that generates exactly the desired signal level. By maintaining near-zero voltage in current sources, nonlinearity is virtually eliminated, and maximum dynamic range is achieved with minimum distortion. Common-mode interference and distortion are neutralized in a mirror differential configuration. As a result, the original signal shape is preserved with amazingly low self-noise.

Another factor that contributes to the extremely low noise levels of the Mark Levinson Precision Link DAC is its unique power supply configuration: the converter IC alone has five independent power supplies, plus separate linear power supplies for the left and right channels provide operation circuits of discrete current-voltage converters and a low-pass filter to compensate for aliasing.

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HARMAN Clari-Fi music restoration technology analyzes compressed digital audio files during playback (in real time) and restores a significant portion of the components lost during the compression process. Clari-Fi’s sophisticated processing algorithm is implemented on a powerful Analog Devices SHARC DSP (Digital Signal Processor) chip. Unlike simple frequency correction, Clari-Fi continuously automatically adjusts the intensity of the reconstruction to the compression ratio of the audio file. The No. 526 preamplifier features an intensity control that allows you to fine-tune the amount of signal reconstruction performed—or turn it off completely if you prefer.

Like all Mark Levinson products, the Model No. 526 is designed and handcrafted in the USA. The dedicated Engineering Technology Center in Shelton, Connecticut conducts all engineering research and development of Mark Levinson products, and in neighboring Massachusetts, in Westford, at the Mack Technologies factory, a team of skilled craftsmen who create all Mark Levinson products is engaged in it small-scale production.

Characteristics Mark Levinson No. 526

Gain on the line section, at normal gain settings: 13.5 dB balanced; 7.5 dB unbalanced
Line section frequency response, 20 Hz to 20 kHz: ±0.02 dB
Line section frequency response, 0.4 Hz to 370 kHz: +0.1 / -3 dB
THD+noise at 1 kHz (2Vrms single-ended or 4Vrms balanced output): <0.003%
Signal-to-noise ratio (relative to 2Vrms single-ended or 4Vrms balanced, max. volume): >115dB at 1kHz
Transient Attenuation at 1 kHz: <-107 dB
Channel separation: Below noise floor (>115 dB at 1 kHz)
Input impedance: >45kΩ
Output impedance: <80Ω unbalanced, <160Ω balanced
Maximum input level, at normal gain settings: >10V RMS, unbalanced, >15 Vrms, balanced
Maximum output level: > 11 Vrms, unbalanced, >22 Vrms, balanced
Headphone output impedance: switchable; <3Ω or 75Ω
Maximum headphone output, low impedance mode, 30Ω (0.3W), 20Hz to 20kHz, <0.1% eff. harm. Distortion: >3V rms
Maximum headphone output, low impedance mode, 300Ω, 20 Hz to 20 kHz, <0.1% eff. harm. Distortion: >9V rms
Total Harmonic Distortion+Noise Headphone, 20 Hz to 20 kHz, 2V rms: <0.03% at 30Ω, <0.01% at 300Ω

Phono Section

RIAA Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz, ±0.3 dB
Subsonic filter: switchable, 15 Hz, 2 orders (12 dB/octave)

Moving magnet mode MC

Input impedance: 47 kΩ
Input capacitance: switchable; 50,100, 150, 200 or 680 pF
Gain: 40 dB at 1 kHz
THD+NO, 20 Hz to 20 kHz, 2V rms: <0.03%

Moving Coil Mode MM

Input Impedance: Switchable; 20,33, 50, 66, 100, 200, 330, 500, 1000, or 47 kΩ
Input capacitance: 50 pF
Gain: switchable; 50, 60, or 70 dB at 1 kHz
THD+NO, 20 Hz to 20 kHz, 2 Vrms: <0.02% for 50 or 60 dB settings, <0.04 for 70 dB settings

DAC

Sampling rates pcm/bit: 32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4 or 192 kHz; up to 32 bits
DSD: native or DoP (DSD to PCM), single or double speed (2.8 and 5.6 MHz)
Analog inputs: 2 balanced (XLR), 3 unbalanced (RCA) line, 1 unbalanced (RCA) grounded turntable input
Digital inputs: 1 balanced (XLR); 2 coaxial (RCA); 2 optical (Toslink); 1 asynchronous USB-B
Analogue outputs: 1 balanced (XLR); 1 pair unbalanced (RCA), 1 headphone (¼ inch, 6.3 mm TS)
Control connections: Ethernet (RJ45), RS-232 (RJ12), trigger in and out, IR in, USB-A, Mini- USB

Power: 100 VAC, 115 VAC, or 230 VAC (factory installed)
Power Consumption: 0.4 W Green Standby, 5 W Power Saver, 67 W Normal Standby, 75 W on idle

Dimensions: Height (with legs): 10.2 cm, Width: 43.8 cm, Depth: 45.7 cm
Net weight: 17.7 kg