Mark Levinson: International Man Of Mystery

The Music Direct print catalog is beguiling. Greeted with breathless anticipation each year. It’s fun to turn each page and dream beyond one’s means. Mark Levinson caught my eye and has evolved into an interesting journey. I was intrigued to learn that Mark Levinson, the man, has had nothing to do with Mark Levinson the brand for over 30 years. I’m sure many of you know the story, but for those like me who did not, here’s a brief synopsis.

Mark Levinson was a pioneer of high end audio back in the 1970’s. When a top preamp cost $500, he decided a $2000 one could do much better. As is commonly the case with visionary artists, their business acumen often trails far behind. By the early 80’s Mark Levinson the company was in dire straits and took on an investor. Things went further south and the investor ended up with the company and the Mark Levinson trade name. He then sued Mark Levinson the man to bar him from ever working in audio again on the premise that doing so would irrevocably harm the Mark Levinson brand. The court ruled in Levinson’s favor, allowing him to work in audio, but barred him from using the Mark Levinson name.

Levinson went on to found Cello, whose greatest achievement seems to be the Palette Equalizer which are very rare and sell for $20K these days. Harman Kardon bought the Mark Levinson brand name and have turned it into their Lexus in contrast to their Toyota, with zero to do with Mark Levinson’s actual design ideas.

Fast forward, Cello came and went. Curious to know what Levinson was up to these days, I found several recent interviews on YouTube (links below). The following is my interpretation of his very interesting current thinking.

He has founded a new company called Daniel Hertz in Switzerland ( He seems to think music playback is in the dark ages. That tubes (1940’s) and transistors (1960’s) are ancient technologies that audiophiles get fooled into paying enormous sums of money for. He’s currently interested in the evolution of Class D and has put years into it’s technological development. He believes his version of Class D will make the best possible sound quality available to the masses at very low prices and disrupt the audiophile corporate hustle.

He also thinks our approach to digital playback is backwards. The industry focuses on ever more expensive components to make digital audio sound better, while never addressing the root issue, that PCM is a 1970’s technology. And that every recording is mastered to sound great on the mastering equipment, but given the end listener does not own the same equipment, we end up with an endless hodgepodge of playback experiences. Also, the mastering itself is fraught with inconsistencies. We buy new ever more expensive equipment which moves the marbles around but solves very little.

Levinson’s solution is the software equivalent of the Cello Palette Equalizer. In his belief, the Mac computer is able to produce some of the world’s highest quality recordings, and therefore, the same Mac is best suited to play music back. He thinks this is the dirty secret of high end audio, that the lowly Mac is better at music playback than expensive servers. Interesting a belief that Paul McGowan seemed to agree with before Octave appeared. Levinson has disdain for DSD and says ever higher sampling rates solve nothing. He says the format war is over, PCM is king.

Thus he created the Master Class software for Mac, which costs 600 euros. Somehow, and I’m not sure how, the software claims to take any PCM recording, even MP3, and turn it into something equivalent to an analog master. I have no idea of the usability of Master Class, whether the process is automatic, or if it requires one to essentially manually equalize a given recording. Once done you can “print” an aiff file with the equalization built into the file.

Has anyone tried Mark Levinson’s Master Class software? Is it effective?

If nothing else, I found these interviews very thought provoking.


Isn’t he also a musician, a pianist perhaps, who founded a record company? Something like Red Rose? That all seems to stick in the back of my mind somewhere.

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Yes, I think that’s correct, Red Rose. It’s peculiar that his original company is a big player in the high end market, yet has nothing to do with him. And his post ventures have been obscure, despite his genius.

I did read that Master Class requires one to EQ the file manually, but the file can then be saved with the adjustments intact as a separate file. Just seems it would take professional EQ ability to do it correctly. I see why it hasn’t taken off.

He flatly states PCM is of higher quality than DSD/ SACD.

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I wouldn’t read too much into the fact that he’s no longer involved in his namesake company. That’s not terribly unusual. Saul Marantz left/sold his company. Henry Kloss left KLH. It happens. The circumstances of their departure might differ, but for consumers the only thing that sets ML apart from those (and others) is the price point of the goods.

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At one point Paul and Stan had both departed PS Audio…

I NEED tubes!!
btw, thanks for the writeup.
I did not know ML’s story

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While Harman Kardon Mark Levinson might very well be worth every penny, I have no idea, but in general I prefer to follow the chef rather than the restaurant, if given the option.

What I find interesting is that Mark Levinson appears to be a great, visionary chef who seems incapable of running a successful
restaurant. It’s not a commentary on either Mark Levinson, but rather the peculiar nature of life.

Had he just gone back to the Cello concept and followed his original instincts, it would be a successful enterprise assuming he had a business manager.

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Continuing with the Mark Levinson Master Class software exploration, from the manual:

“The analog waveform is smooth. The PCM digital waveform is a step function that only approximates a sine wave. The human brain, like the sine wave, is from nature. The PCM digital audio step function waveform is something made by technology that does not exist in nature. A+ is proprietary algorithm that fills in the “steps” to smoothen the waveform so the brain responds more like if it were a sine wave. A+ uses the original signal to generate the “fill” so there is no non- musical information being added. A+ adds no noise or filtering.”

I find this all very interesting. They offer a 10 day free trial. A+ Waveform smoother seems separate from the 6 band EQ functionality. I wonder if I could skip the EQ part and process my entire local collection of 4000 CD’s in 10 days :joy:.

I wonder if the benefits of the “healed” digital files can be heard when playing back outside of the Master Class software, like in Roon or HQPlayer?

I love the concept behind this, it’s audiophile crack for sure. That said, if it really does turn digital files into analog master quality, why is Master Class so obscure?

@aangen likes to buy stuff, maybe he can try out Master Class for us :joy::joy::eyes:

From Wikipedia
Headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut, Harman maintains major operations in the Americas, Europe and Asia. Harman markets its products under various brands, including AKG, AMX, Arcam,[5] Bang & Olufsen Automotive, Becker, BSS Audio, Crown, dbx, DigiTech, Harman Kardon, Infinity, JBL, Lexicon, Mark Levinson, Martin, Revel, Soundcraft and Studer.

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@Serhan , yes, Mark Levinson (the man) actually probably needs Harman International. Daniel Hertz (aka Mark Levinson) has Levinson’s current line (the Daniel Hertz line, not the Harman line) of speakers and amplifiers listed, but fails to mention where to buy them or the price. A google search unearthed no dealers either. Oy vey.

Parts are from Switzerland, manufacturing is at a piano factory near Prague.

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Pretty interesting. I didn’t know he was still active.

For some reason, I don’t think his approach is snake-oil-ish. Personally, I don’t get software that is this limited in terms of library but they are going for unbeatable sound quality.

I will forever be envious of Levinson because he once was with Kim Cattrall.


While the SW isn’t of interest for me, the article was, thanks! It’s always fascinating to see that companies seem to loose their singularity and their place I sound quality leadership as soon as the are sold to/managed by a larger consortium.

I have always been a huge fan of ML. Years ago I visited him in NY to listen to Cello. Always a fan of his EQs.

I still have Cello Strings cl-2 xlr and rca cables :relaxed: No ,they cant compete with newer and better cables,but anyway…

Cello is still a wanted name with many old school enthusiasts.

Mark plays the Cello which is where the company he started, Cello, got its name.


I guess that’s a good bit better than “Accordion,” or “Banjo.”

I can joke about banjos because I play one. I can joke about accordions because they’re accordions. :wink:

Maybe it was Jim Bongiorno who was the pianist.

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James, Bongo Bongiorno was a fabulous jazz improv pianist.

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Pioneers of the industry no longer associated with the brands that put them on the map could be a stand-alone community topic. Dan D’Agostino comes to mind. Urban lore is he was unceremoniously booted out of Krell. Whatever the reality he has of course moved on establish Dan D’Agostino Master Audio Systems which has a real dealer network and continues the purist high-end audio only design and implementation philosophy Krell in 2021 has abandoned. Today I think of Krell as more home theater oriented and have lost interest in the brand. Sometimes pioneers like Levinson and D’Agostino must cut ties with the brands they founded to pursue their original vision.