Benchmark Product: Mark Levinson No. 585 Integrated Amplifier

In a word – power, although like most things in audio, the simple answer risks confusing as much as it reveals. Sure, at 200 Watts into an 8 Ohm load and 350 into a 4 Ohm load, the 585 is a serious bruiser that has genuine power on tap – a lot more power than the already impressive 383. But what really counts is not having the power but how you deliver it. The 585 is a classic Levinson, with all of the marque’s bold sense of purpose and drive – and the familiar, slightly rolled top end that brings warmth and body to the sound. It isn’t just powerful, it sounds powerful, with energy on tap and headroom to spare. It handles big dynamic swings with a confident, easy grace and it can throw a huge acoustic when required, all without introducing harsh edges or glare. It surmounts orchestral crescendos with ease and propels rock rhythms with an explosive presence and impact – yet it does small and intimate too. Behind the sheer muscle, that’s the real secret of the 585 – it’s ability to scale its effort to the demands of the music, without you noticing it doing it.

It is also down to the quality of the inputs. With both balanced and single-ended analogue connections as well as the full suite of digital inputs, the 585 is a versatile performer that can handle almost any system requirements, whether in terms of sources or loudspeakers – as essential in its role as ‘audio reviewer Get Out Of Jail Free card’ as it is attractive in the realm of real world audio systems. But whether you are listening via the analogue or digital inputs, it possesses the same fluid authority and musical articulation. Indeed, over the years the on-board DAC has embarrassed more than a few highly-touted standalone convertors, its rich warmth, vibrant tonality and rhythmic coherence making many a high-bit, high-res wonder sound stilted and threadbare. That musical colour and substance is rare in even the most expensive digital components. Close coupled to a genuinely capable power amp it delivers a willing, entertaining and never less than musically enjoyable performance. And there’s the thing; the 585 is never, ever less than fun to listen to – and when you listen for a living and you don’t get to choose what you listen with, that makes this amp worth more than its considerable weight in audio gold.

By its very nature, the 585 has been used with a host of partnering equipment. Indeed, for many a loudspeaker, its output terminals are the first they see on arrival. So perhaps it’s no surprise that there are a number of pairings that really stand out. The Raidho XT5 was an impressive partner, the Wilson DAW found a musically emphatic soulmate while the combination with Stenheim’s A5 was simply spectacular: three very different speakers that each present a very different challenge. But what all three have in common is their exacting nature and the fact that they weigh in at around four times the price of the Levinson! When I described the 585 as “capable” I wasn’t kidding… Whether it’s the rich tonal palette and textural intimacy of the Stenheim or the scale and dynamic discrimination of the Wilsons, the transparency and micro-dynamic resolution of the Raidho XT5s or simply making a small speaker like the Raidho C1.2 sound bigger than it has any right to, the Levinson integrated has an uncanny ability to deliver what the system needs, whatever that system might be. I’ve yet to find a speaker it won’ drive and when called upon it’s yet to disappoint.