Fremer lays an Ostrich egg...

From the start, let us say i am a little biased. i read with particular interest the review about the Levinson 53 Amplifiers in the current Stereophile, amps i currently own of course. i also have a Levinson 326S preamp, an EMM Lab CDP, and Von Schweikert VR9SE speakers, all linked up with transparent wire.
my previous amps btw were Levinson 33H mono's which i loved.
According to Mikey, the amps basically suck. no life. no harmonics. uninvolving. flat. they measure great for the most part, except for some anomilies outside of stuff the human ear can detect anyway. they are put together nicely too. But... they have a (dreaded) switch-mode power supply which i get the distinct impression MF decided ahead of time was going to screw up the sound. and so it did (i guess- who really knows what goes on in his head?) so every OTHER sentence in the review emphasizes transparency and dead quiet, neutral sound while the "meat" of the article states the amplifier doesn't have "heart and soul". the Absolute Sound did not reach the same conclusion, but did intimate the amps had an austere quality.
AND THIS is MY review- the ML#53's are not for everybody. they are DEAD NEUTRAL. they are DYNAMIC. DETAILED. my system COOKS when i put on a really good recording of a really good performance. if however the signal lacks in significant areas then I HAVE TO EXTRACT THE MUSIC out of the sound my speakers are making. if i love the performance this is easy for me to do. if i don't care that much about the CD, then it gets sold or just not played that much. other good attributes- the amps never get HOT, they are not impossible to move around (with a little help), they have protection circuitry that kicks in whenever the power goes out. AND FINALLY there is a pair of speakers they won't power up somewhere on the planet. i would like
to see them so i can warn people not to match them up. this could take awhile however.
it floored me when Fremer sold his SF Amati Homage speakers and got Watt Puppy 7's instead. He couldn't say enough good things about the Sonus Fabers, and yet he traded them for a much more analytical sounding speaker, probably for the super-detailed, super focused sound. His reviews of $$,$$$ phono stages are hilarious- what a set of ears he possesses!
when it comes to VPI turntables, he disliked the Aries but LOVED the less-accomplished Scoutmaster. I would guess the Classic-3 is pretty good as well, but i have 0.01% confidence
in M.Fremers' opinion of it. BUT i would welcome anyone ELSE'S professional opinion. At $6,000 it's not an inexpensive investment. add an SDS and a cartridge (and a record cleaning machine) and you're looking at $8500. If in fact VPI (and SO MANY OTHER TURNTABLES) have long engineered an OUTBOARD MOTOR UNIT to isolate noise and enhance the sound, wouldn't you want to know EXACTLY what the deal is with the Classic line? i sure would, and i am a HUGE fan of SOME of VPI's products and i own several.
OTOH, i am a mere peon, peasant, ignorant on the subject of SOTA Analog, and whatever other descripion you might want to label me with. But i think i can say my opinions are consistent and follow a logical pattern.
trying to detect that quality from M.F.'s writings is difficult and at times impossible. and yes, even laughable. i myself have owned (over a long period of time) Levinson, Krell, S. Faber, Pass, and Rowland amplifiers and listened to them in my own home. the ML#53's are very accomplished amps and represent some of the best solid state available, cleaner and faster than the ML-33H's that Stereophile liked so much. Yes they are probably better suited for classical and jazz, and hi-rez recordings are invaluable to bring out the best in them.
but they do not "sound flat and uninvolving". amps don't generally do that anyway- speakers do. Put on a Rachel Podger SACD on Pentatone of Mozart and/or Haydn (or Julia Fisher) and bathe in the warmth of
the sound flowing out of your speakers. Everyone (including ordinary people with ordinary hearing) who have heard my system thinks it sounds "really nice". That's good enough for me. I also think it sounds "really nice".
And i can be pretty picky.
Hi French fries,
don't worry. Who cares what Fremer writes, or others? Please try to detect what would happen with yourself when you are forced to write "reviews" for income? Month for for day ... always the same.
The only way to avoid suicide is having a Fan group which saves the day.
So, please, don't be too picky :-)
Try reading Fremer's review of the Whest 0.20 phono stage for a laugh... First says that it is better than the Boulder, then backtracks furiously, then every Whest phono stage he has since reviewed is so-so.
If you haven't realized that some of these reviewers are just full of it then you have to be a newby to the audio scene.
I've been a Levinson fan and owner for many years, still own the #532H plus a few pieces I don't use anymore. I've heard the #53 many times and in several different systems, I must concur with Mr. fremer.
I'm with Syntax, don't give it a second thought. There are many in the audio community who will never, ever accept so called Class D switching amps no matter how good they get. I have Spectron amps which are of the forbidden Class D switching category and I think they are fantastic. I hope someday I get an opportunity to hear the Levinson 53 amps.

On a general note I find reviews that are able to find some fault with $50,000 components or $100,000 speakers amusing. Kind of like complaining that a Ferarri does not have cup holders.
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Elizabeth is right, if reviewers or friends don't like what you have and it bothers you then you are insecure. I think if you went to CES and then read what people say you would never believe another reviewer. I learned a long time ago, that I answer to no one when it comes to audio. Why do you think there is so many brands out there.
I feel the same as Elizabeth, why do some people feel the need for validation? If you love this amplifiers that all that should matter. M. Fremer heard them in his system and did`nt like them, what`s wrong with that? He gave his opinion, nothing more or less. I dion`t understand the insecurity of some adults just because someone dislikes something you like,very strange.
Would you let someone call your dog ugly or your kid stupid? I hope not! So why let someone call you amp sterile? Not my beloved equipment!!!
Insecurity about his choices is not likely to be the only reason that Frenchfries decided to post this thread. Sometimes, there is something that we enjoy so much ourselves, be it an audio component or a restaurant, that we react emotionally to negative published reviews because we believe that the review will prevent others from discovering the something that we are enjoying so much.
Mr. French Fries- I thought I was insecure...until I read your post. It's OK when someone else thinks less of something than you do.
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"According to Mikey, the amps basically suck. no life. no harmonics. uninvolving. flat. they measure great for the most part, except for some anomilies outside of stuff the human ear can detect anyway"

This is an outrage!! Through all of the undeserved and unprovoked attacks against my person that I have suffered on this site, I could always say, At least they spared my POLKS!!! Now I learn a man's equupment is no longer safe from Elitist audiophile attack. We have to nip this in the bud!!
"but they do not "sound flat and uninvolving". amps don't generally do that anyway- speakers do"

Watch it, Watch it. you are getting close to heresy!! Everything can cause everything!! Even wire.
"the sound flowing out of your speakers. Everyone (including ordinary people with ordinary hearing) who have heard my system thinks it sounds "really nice". "

I realize you are distressed, upset, and seeking support, but let's keep those 'ordinary people with their ordianry hearing' out of this discussion. That's the last thing high-end audio needs.
We can't blame the OP for his outrage, I'm sure most of use here would be tweeked if we had read a bad review about something we had invested heavy in, and must have thought was great.
Too many people think i am personally offended by Fremer's review; Nah, he's irrelevant and has been for years. All i wanted to point out is Stereophile once praised the Levinson 33H amps to the heavens for "not having a sound of their own". OK, so then the #53 amps are modeled AFTER the 33's but lower the noise floor, offer more efficiency as well as more power, they no longer require a 220V power outlet, they don't weigh 300 pounds. By what system of LOGIC do they sound so bad?- Oh, and don't even bother to go hear them for yourself- Avatar Fremer intimates that it would be a waste of time. If what he feels so strongly about were true, then Stereophile has just invalidated many dozens of its OTHER reviews of similar sounding gear. Remember the cover extolling Halcro (and i quote) " the best amplifier in the world"? That was a really dumb thing to do of course, and later on other reviewers found the Halcro's to be "dry" and uninvolving (also).
Opinions are like (______) and everyone has one or five or six. all i am saying is you don't have to love the amps, but don't write an article that closes the door on them altogether.
Some people respect these reviews and believe them to be (mostly) valid. this article doesn't even come close.
French_fries, I agree that you needn't be concerned. It has happened many times before in audio and no doubt will happen many times again. The only thing that matters is whether you are happy. A long time ago I came to the conclusion you will be happy with a choice as long as you decide you are happy. If on the other hand you quickly become bored or tired from listening to your system, something is wrong.

While it is obvious that reviews affect sales, one shouldn't put great faith in them. Fremer might feel justified making such remarks, but that may only apply to his system, and even then there may be technical issues not recognized and solved. The same certainly applies to Valin as well, who plays favorites all the time. Bottom line, you might not want to disregard something or become disenchanted with a purchase because a reviewer faults it, and by the same token never make a buying decision based on a review or online comments in lieu of personally auditioning the piece in your own system first.
Follow your ears always,
Put your soul into the blend!
I dont follow reviews no more...
I though the sustance was into the music not the gear or what someone say about what we own...
My 2 cents.
French fries,
Maybe it`s the way your writing comes across on a forum thread, but you do come off as 'personally offended' and hurt by Fremer`s contrary opinion. If I wrong I do apologize.
Hey thanks French_fries I appreciate that coming to our attention. I didn't get French_fries is looking for support or whining about anything. I think he just wants others honest opinion on some equipment and not a boo who party(that I think is for women). I think he is bringing some balance to the reviewers who like to read and hear themselves. Roc2id thanks for a little humor, if your not being sarcastic towards the OP that is.
by giving numerous examples of the blatant contradictions anyone could readily see in Fremer's writings i tried to make a specific point. i also own the amps he is criticising, and in no way do they sound so lacking in realism that they rob the music of its life. the dealers that sell them, me, my friends, everyone who has heard music on my system thinks my stereo sounds fantastic. that's a nice compliment, but of course in the end, after having heard a LOT of great equipment, i feel i made a good choice in buying the #53's regardless of what others may think. but Fremer must be either listening to one that was severely damaged, or his brain is severely damaged. and spouting off in a stereo mag about a reference amp that in his often ludicrous opinion "sucks' is once again an insult not just to my knowledge of high end audio but everyone else's as well. but if people just conclude that i am defending my ego instead of defending everyone here who knows more about good sound than a blowfish like M.Fremer, then you are not reading my comments as colleagues but someone who is rocking the establishment's boat i.e. "whining". why would i go to the trouble for that? it isn't worth it. but if you try to really understand what i am getting at then we can have a meaningful conversation.
French fries, why don't you list your system? It might provide some context for your comments about the sound of the ML amp.
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Your review of your amps is just as incomprehensible as fermer's. What does DRY mean? Dynamic detailed? Neutral? And if you have to have the perfect cd with the perfect music and the perfect performance, for your system to COOK, then maybe fermer is on to something. :) And most things that audiophiles search for and talk about cannot be heard by humans. You should know all this.

How to interpet reviews:
If they don't say anything bad about the item, then it's all good. Now on cheap, errr I mean modestly priced items, after three pages of praise, there will always be the obligatory last paragraph comparison to the $750,000 'reference' system. Ignore that part. That's there so the high-end advertising dollars won't go away.
The words he used to 'criticize' your amps have absolutely no meaning to any rational human being. Wine tasters excepted.
Cheers (up)?
Mr. Fries,

It it's good for you, then it's good. That's all that matters. After three posts, you still sound defensive, hurt and angry. Get over it. There is no such thing as a universal truth or universally great gear in audio.

Michael Fremer is entitled to his opinion, just as you are. The difference is that he is paid to put his in print. Just because it's published does not mean that it is true for you.
Mr Fenchfries,
I think once you have experienced a lot of equipment (like some reviewers) and lived with it, your taste starts to get extreme and changes until it finally settles.

I remember the Halcro at the time on my Magnepans plus active subs. The combination was mind bending. So much speed, dynamics, sweet detail and an utter lack of grain.

I doubt anyone could have really criticised it especially at the time. I heard comments about the Halcro being cold etc. but to me it was silky smooth and glorious. Even warm!

The next time I had the halcro in my system was with the AG Trio. After living with SETs and Class D amps for years I'd become used to other aspects of amp performance. While there are many variables that one could start pointing at, my taste had shifted. Even though the Halcro was an amazing amp, when I compared it to a simple 45 SET amp (with great tubes), the 45 won hands down!

These speakers are very high sensitivity so power was irrelevant, but there was an overall involvement from the SET that the wonderful Halcro couldn't even get close to.

While the class D had much in common with the Halcro like the amazing noise floor and extension, both were rendered monochrome by the 45. The Halcro had timbre, unlike the more grey sounding class D, but neither, for all their other wonderful attributes, sounded alive. This maybe what MF is referring to with his review of the ML53. This is where words like "dry" come in I suspect.

So the "best" amplifier in the world was toppled by a 2nd world war amp design in my set up. But I still remember the uber sound of the halcro with various speakers over the years. It was truely amazing, I had just moved on.

So we are talking taste. But I would also say if something in the back of your mind is nagging you like his comment, something probably isn't right, because when its right you are not listening to any part of your hifi. You listen to music.

I had that sound where each recording was rendered so perfectly that you had to pick and choose by recording quality. Those systems don't last and the upgrade path inevitably drags on...

You need the balance between detail rendering and soul IMHO. Somewhere in there lays the magic!
Although I've not been a big fan of Mr. Fremers, he should get a pat on the back for telling like it is. Not many reviewers have the stones to say something negative about a large manufacturer, and Harman's got to be one of the biggest.

We should all keep in mind that these opinions are all personal preferences and don't matter in the least if we are happy with what we own.
Nice post!
I think you nailed what M. Fremer was trying to explain.
The Halcro is a good example.An amplifier that meets many hifi criteria but just seems to lack that essential sense of life,involvement and emotion.As you say, it has no(or little) soul.This perception will obviously vary among listeners.
Does anyone wonder if there may have been something wrong with the specific amplifiers that Fremer reviewed?
If the amp in question sounds like other ML amps, I would agree with the assessment.

Yes, enjoy your amps and don't worry what anyone thinks. Even without ever hearing them, I have no doubt that your amps sound very fine. Remember, it is all relative, and your amps will sound (given their pedigree) superior to a lot of amps out there. However, if your goal in this hobby is to continue learning and truly improve the sound of your system it might behoove you to take a closer look at the "evidence":

A reviewer like Fremer gets to listen (for more than fifteen minutes at a show or dealer) to more equipment of the highest pedigree than the vast majority of us could ever dream of. Wether many of us would like to admit it or not (I call it "reviewer envy") the guy has great ears, and anyone who has done so much to keep the analog flame alive should be listened to; IMO.

****the amps basically suck. no life. no harmonics. uninvolving. flat****- Fremer

****the amplifier doesn't have "heart and soul****- Fremer

****the amps had an austere quality**** - The Absolute Sound

****if however the signal lacks in significant areas then I HAVE TO EXTRACT THE MUSIC out of the sound****- French_fries

I don't know about anyone else, but I definitely see a pattern.
1) no piece of gear has a sound alone. It has to be in a system. The system as a whole determines the results.

2) there are many different flavors of systems. SOme may be more like vanilla or chocolate but few always prefer the same kind.

3) Peoples tastes and preferences change over time.

So I would take thing swith multiple grains of salt, trust ones own ears, and go from there.
Just more solid state amps that sound so "neutral" you simply cannot enjoy your music collection. When you sell every CD that doesn't sound good through these, you may have nothing left.
"Just more solid state amps that sound so "neutral" you simply cannot enjoy your music collection."

FWIW the SS amps I use may be the most neutral I have ever owned and I enjoy all my CDs these days more than ever for what they are, rather than trying to make them into something they are not, which is often a recipe for failure.
Dump that piece of junk power amp. If Fremer says it sucks, then it sucks. It's just that simple. Get one of the ampsthat he says is better and your system will sound much better! Mikle knows what he is talking about.
I hardly ever agree with Mr. Fremer on favorite gear, but, I appreciate that he is willing to more directly speak his mind in a review than most reviewers. I also appreciate the comments of those who disagree with reviews. I find it interesting that people can come to diametrically opposite conclusions about the same gear.

My own experience mirrors, to some degree, Chadeffects. I too find my preference evolves over time. I tend to listen at lower volume and I find that certain tube gear sounds much more dynamic and harmonically flesshed out at lower volume than solid state. I particularly like low-powered SET amps (45 and 2a3), but, I also like OTL amps and certain low-powered pushpull amps. The amp I currently run is a pushpull amp that uses the 349 output tube.

I have not heard the Levinson amp in question. I am familar with the Levinson house sound. I still own a Levinson No. 32 preamp (being used by a friend). In a lot of ways the sound is quite good--smooth, lacking in artificial edginess or brittleness, not harmonically threadbare, and lacking in other offensive qualities. But, for my taste, the sound is a little dull and too polite. I suppose that in the right system it can tame certain excesses, but, to me, most modern speakers also seem to challenged when it comes to delivering realistic dynamics at the lower volume levels. My friend also concurs that the Levinson No. 32 is a little dull sounding with most of his gear. But, it works far better than anything else he has driving one particular amp (old RCA amp with transformer inputs); in this case, compatibility far outweighs any supposed intrinsic quality.
Levinson hasn't been particularly relevant in 10 years....and TAS review was a "read between the lines" less than stellar review as well. Kudos to Mikey for calling out a product he doesn't like. Sorry if it offends owners, but we need more of this. You can always agree to disagree- they obviously sound great in your system. Raves for every product in a magazine doesn't help anyone. Worse are reviewers who don't compare products.
Ive got news for you. You don't like your new amps. Either that or you're not a writer. I'm totally confused about this post. You're willing to allow your system to dictate what music you listen to? What's the fun of that? I thought we were suposed to be enjoying our favorite artists and welcoming them into our homes, not getting out of our chair to put the disc or album in the sell it on ebay pile. If one of my favorite Cd 's or albums sounded bad at my house its not the music that gets walked out the door. Life is WAY to short for that. If you calm down and read your post Im pretty sure you'll realize you don't like your amps.
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This thread is a real puzzler. On the face of it,the OP seems to be saying that he has a different opinion of the sound of his ML amps than MF's review in the latest S'phile. Or, he is upset and cannot accept the review that MF wrote. Either way, I can see no real problem with either point of view. If the OP likes what he hears from his amps, then that's a good thing. If MF's review is accurate, then the potential Buyer of this product only has to be sure to listen for themselves, to see if this particular amps strengths and weaknesses are to their liking. IMHO, nobody in their right mind buys a product like this, at this kind of pricing, without first listening to it, and preferably in their own system. If MF is correct in his findings, then any reasonably able listener is going to have the same issues as he did, and the amp will be returned. If the problem doesn't exist, then a favorable opinion will probably result in a sale. Now, let's talk about another possible motive of the OP, that is concern about his re-sale value. Which, IF this is the case, I say too bad, as that is the risk one takes when one buys a product of this caliber. If an amp cannot stand on its own merit, then one shouldn't buy it in the first place if the issue of re-sale is a concern....regardless of any type of review it may or may not receive. That's my 2cents.
yeah, i can see how truly perceptive many of you "fellow audiophiles" are.
if i criticize an authority figure like Mr.Fremer (oh no! take it back you blasphemer! burn in Hell for all eternity! ) someone who actually has a nice well matched system which i built up over 25 years with these "terrible sounding amps" must be terribly insecure, whiney, tin-eared, and hiding behind a elaborate agenda to compliment an expensive piece of junk. when i go to sell them i can get top dollar, but only if i drag Mr.Fremer's sterling reputation through the mud because after all HE KNOWS. and if a poorly recorded CD of a piece i don't like or got tired of goes on sale, it's OBVIOUSLY because my amps have (sob!!) let me down again! i mean, why bother? go build a shrine in HIS honor. send him your rare Bob Dylan mono bootleg, one of only 50 that were ever pressed! don't listen to me. And definitely don't bother to read what i actually wrote. NO, psychoanalyze me because i am a twisted psychopath who goes around short-circuiting SET amplifiers for kicks. If it sounds better than my stuff i fly into a rage and have to be held down and injected with Haldol, etc.
have i missed anything folks? i mean y'all know me so well, i might as well turn myself in for shock treatments before it's too late.... (great forum btw)
If you live by hanging onto every word of the gurus, for guidance and 'truth', you must abide by the judgments of those same gurus when it goes against you. I think they are frauds no matter what they say. I don't think they know anymore than I do. It's the only sensible course.
I have talked to Mr.Fremer on more that one occasion. I have found him to be a very reasonable person. He is entitled to his opinion just as you are entitled to yours. Everyone hears things differently. Everyone's set up is different. Everyones rooms are different. If you enjoy the sound of your equipment, great. What Mr.Fremer, or any reviewer says shouldn't upset you. I take most reviews with a grain of salt. I listen for myself, and make my own decisions. Enjoy the music. Life is short.
"I have to extract the music..."- Mr. Fenchfries.

I don't want to put words in your mouth, but this above phrase you used is interesting. You say this about recordings that are not very good quality, but in my experience this is where I would start to worry.

Let me explain...

Of course your system sings when you put on great quality recordings(!) but a balanced system means that even the bad recordings are allowed to live.

A decent hiend system should get to the heart of the musical expression otherwise it is just expensive junk.

I liked ML. I used to have their reference system, but as I mentioned above there are other standards. I can assure you my system does not dictate which record I play. You should be sucked into the recording.

In the past when things were not right this kind of murdering of music would indeed happen. Thin treble or lack of harmonic texture (dry) and lack of soundstage layering are sure signs of it. I guess other words are "mechanical" or "uninvolving".

Please don't take offence but as someone who has been through it, and from the little information you have given us, I suspect you haven't found the right balance or magic yet regardless of MFs opinions. I am not sticking up for reviewers but there is something I feel I recognise in your post.

Who knows if its your amp or something else? Maybe MF knows? But you will know the sound when you have it, because you will be blurry eyed at 4am forcing yourself to go to bed with album covers all over the floor. From what you say I fear this is not happening very often.

Audiophilia is an illness caused by lust worthy equipment that has no soul. When I was a kid people queued for the lastest music release, now people queue for the equipment to play it! Doesn't that say something?
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Too much "ink spilled" on two diverging opinions already. I would not hang my hat on the words of any reviewer.

For me a review is a starting point, not the destination. I would certainly want to hear something based on a great review but would not refrain from buying something I loved simply because it either has no reviews or a bad review. Ultimately, after the purchase, reviews seem to change character from a possible recommendation into validation.

Turn to a happier place and think of this hobby as an ice cream shop. The reason why there are so many flavors is because not everyone likes the same thing. Find some music that you connect with, put it on, loud or soft, lock in and tune out everything else.
When you post on an open forum you must know you`ll be subject to all manner of responses. Some replies have been sympathetic toward you and others not.Were you expecting more solidarity and understanding? No one here seems to be worshiping the reviewer of your amplifiers.

The fact is M. Fremer called it as he heard it, he said the amps are`nt very good,simply his conclusion. You either concur or not.As many here have written, if you like your M.L. amps then Fremer`s finsl verdict is unimportant to you(or should be). You seem disappointed with the reponses stated on this thread. Were you expecting a different outcome? Based on your followup posts it appears elizabeth is on to something
Why do you even care what Fremer has to say? Do you get pissy when some reviewer doesn't like your favorite music?
" I can assure you my system does not dictate which record I play."

That's always a good indicator that things are going as they should!

"Why do you even care what Fremer has to say? Do you get pissy when some reviewer doesn't like your favorite music? "

Good point. I might. Then look for a different reviewer......