As seductively and involvingly as the 436 rendered Latin guitarist Jesse Cook’s “Cancibn Triste” on Obsession: New Flamenco Romance [Narada], I never found this amplifier to be too polite. (In my view, excessive politeness can ofttimes equal boring.) Once again, three-dimensionality, resolution of detail, and separation were superb. I also found the violin to be especially natural with nice texture and tonal color. As amplifiers go, I’d give the 436 very high marks for musicality. And listening to old favorite Nickel Creek [Sugar Hill], I’m not ashamed to admit the vocals on “Out of the Woods” brought a tear to my eye. They were absolutely gorgeous—full, natural, and textured— the best I’ve heard on this recording. The robustness and definition of the midbass also deserve another mention, as they added a whole new dimension to the bass fiddle. The detail and pinpoint imaging of the string plucks were also the best I’ve heard on this disc.
It’s tough to find any fault with an amp like the Levinson. In a side-by-side with the McCormack DNA-500 I did find the high frequencies of the 436 to be just a tad soft. This explains my initial impression that the 436 leaned just a bit to the dark side. (Funny thing, though, after listening to this amplifier for just a day or two it doesn’t seem dark at all.) The McCormack actually performed surprisingly well against the 436 and is in my view a top contender at its price point. But the Levinson in pretty much every regard easily justifies its $5000 premium over the DNA-500.
For me, this hobby has always been about connecting to the music. As ruggedly built and aesthetically pleasing as the 436 may be, it would just be another cold hard piece of machinery full of parts without the emotional connection that it provides, and that I believe we all seek. The exceptional performance of this classic Levinson amplifier will surely impress, but it will be the masterful ability of the 436 to engage the listener that earns it a permanent home in your system. If I were a rich woman, I would buy this amplifier in a heartbeat. TAS