Mark Levinson, Vienna Acoustics, Chord Company system

Integrated amplifiers,
AC power cords,
Loudspeaker cables,
Chord Company Sarum T,
Mark Levinson 585,
Vienna Acoustics Liszt
Mark Levinson, Vienna Acoustics, Chord Company system

Hi-fi, just like any other arcane (and borderline obsessive) activity has generated its own set of ‘rules’. One that pretty much everybody seems to agree on is that the shortest route to sonic suicide is to assemble a system consisting entirely of the latest and greatest. Yet, look at the cast list for this system and you could be forgiven for assuming (admittedly within the context of our own reviews) that this is almost exactly what we’ve done.

Mark Levinson’s No.585 is only the company’s second-ever integrated amp. It steps straight into the shoes of the much-loved and highly respected No.383, a product that enjoyed a lifespan of over ten years, and remained a capable and competitive performer until the day it was withdrawn. Where a lot of companies have looked at reducing product dimensions, often by resorting to Class D output stages, MLAS have headed in the opposite direction. The 585 is an inch taller, an inch deeper and, at 200 Watts Class AB watts per channel, boasts twice the output of its predecessor. At 72lbs it is also around 15% heavier than the 383 it replaces and, if it’s lost one of the 383’s balanced analogue inputs, it’s gained a sextet of digital inputs instead, including the currently all-important USB. That’s ten inputs in all, with three single-ended and one balanced analogue connection, two S/PDIF (RCA), an AES/EBU and two TOSLink as well as the USB – and believe me, those digital inputs are a big, big part of the 585’s impressive performance.

Putting a DAC inside an integrated amp might seem like a good idea, but it’s remarkable how seldom it works, with one half of the partnership seemingly, inevitably upsetting the other, so you either end up with an underperforming DAC or an uncomfortable amp. The Levinson is the rare exceptions to that rule – and how – but as we’ll see that’s something of a theme with this particular system.

Which brings us to Vienna Acoustics’ Liszt, one of a series of recent speaker releases that have both redefined what’s possible for £10K and made it one of the most hotly contested price-points in the speaker market. The striking, slim, and beautifully finished Liszt is very much the conceptual, functional, and aesthetic offspring of the company’s flagship The Music, a speaker that is itself a considerable bargain when compared to the pricier and way-less pretty competition. The junior model shares the overall format, fit, finish, in-house drivers, and remarkable attention to detail of the flagship, at less than half the price. What you lose is a little sophistication in geometric adjustment and a lot of physical volume: what you keep is most of the bandwidth, as well as the same standout, unobtrusive neutrality, and sheer musical integrity. So great looking, with superb performance and domestically unobtrusive, the Liszt might as well have Best Buy carved on its baffle – except that would mar the beautiful piano finish.

The third element in this stellar, three-box, ‘source-plus’ system solution is the least obvious, but in some ways the most remarkable. Cables get a pretty rough time and the higher the price the denser the flak. Chord’s Sarum cables have long represented the sensible face of the silly cable spectrum. They are far from cheap, but they’ve always stood shoulder to shoulder with cables at two or three times the price. Except that now – and very much in the same spirit of ‘trickle down’ that informs the other components in this system – they’ve received a major material and performance boost in the shape of Taylon insulation, previously only (and by “only” I do mean ONLY) present in Chord’s flagship CHORDmusic cables. Nobody else uses this ultra hi-tech, high-performance (and high-priced) dielectric, with its claim of superior, zero phase shift characteristics – at least not in audio circles. Precision guided weapons are of course, another thing altogether. Sarum T looks set to raise the bar in this ultra-competitive sector of the cable market – and not by a little.

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