November 03 2010
How would £25,000 worth of amplifier from possibly the world’s best hi-fi manufacturer actually sound? Like angels singing in your ears? Like discovering a new colour? Or just loud?
High-end audio is an endlessly fascinating subject to me, because there are few empirical rules or guidelines. It’s like faith or comedy, coloured – no, dominated, in truth – by personal taste, emotion and even national culture. Americans love hi-fi that looks and sounds big. This magnificent-looking twin 400w-power amplifier, the Mark Levinson No 532, in combination with its recommended preamplifier, Levinson’s 326s, weighs in at 69kg, or just under 11 stone.
I went to the basement hi-fi den of John Bamford, the revered features writer for HiFi News, to hear the Levinson combo playing into the £28,000 (and 26 stone) JBL K2 speakers I wrote about in July. At this exalted level, a few thousand pounds extra can increase enjoyment by a mere fraction. And, interestingly, a CD you previously thought was good can sound lacking. So you get into fretting about the quality of recordings, which is a very high-end thing to do.