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Mark Levinson No 40 HD Media Console (Surround Sound and Video Processor)

Part I

July, 2007

Sumit Chawla

 

Specifications:

● Codecs: Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX,
   Dolby Pro Logic IIx, DTS, DTS-ES, DTS
   96/24, DTS Neo:6, THX Ultra2, THX
   Surround EX
● 24/192 Differential DACs on Each
   Channel (Eight Channels)
● XLR and RCA Inputs and Outputs
● MFR: 20 Hz - 40 kHz, + 0.5 dB, -1.1 dB
● THD+N: < 0.005%
● THX Ultra 2 Certified
● Zones 2 and 3 in Addition to Main Output
● Dimensions: 7.3" H x 17.8" W x 14.8" D
  (Each Chassis)
● Weight: 40 Pounds (Each Chassis)
● MSRP: $32,000 USA

Mark Levinson

Introduction

Mark Levinson (ML) is a company known for their rich tradition of making two-channel audio components. Some of their products have been reviewed by Secrets, and all of them were received with enthusiasm.

Their entry into the multi-channel arena is certainly not surprising, but what is surprising was the effort which went into the design of their first processor. This product was not just a re-design of an existing component. While the technical prowess of their design team was certainly leveraged and some existing technologies were borrowed, this was a ground up design effort.

The press release for the No 40's announcement dates back to June, 2002 on the ML website. In there it states that it took almost four years to complete the design of this product which was the most ambitious and comprehensive undertaking by the company.

A development cycle of this duration brings with it some uncertainty about the competitiveness of the product at the time it comes to market. This did not appear to be the case with the No 40. The product to this day provides state of the art audio performance, and the user interface is still better than anything else that I have ever seen.

The upgradeable architecture means that any enhancements to the existing specification or support for new technologies can be made when the need arises. The addition of HDMI, an interface not in existence at the time of development, lends credence to the value of this flexible design.

I was particularly interested in using the HDMI card with the new optical playback devices that are now in the market. When the card became available, I requested it for review along with the No 40 that I had already received.

The Design

In the PC world, one is accustomed to seeing a card-based architecture. As new technologies develop or existing ones evolve, one can often buy a new card or update firmware for existing hardware and keep pace with innovation.

The card cage architecture has been less common in the A/V space. One big determining factor is cost as the economies of scale of the PC industry do not apply here. There is also the added complexity of both hardware and firmware design that comes with this architecture. As a result, this architecture has only been embraced by a small group of companies. For ML to have gone down this path for a product which marks their entry into the surround sound processor market is certainly a bold move, and it is one that they have pulled off successfully. It is comforting to know that a product at this price point will be able to support new technologies rather than becoming obsolete in short order.

The Mark Levinson No 40 consists of two chassis: the Audio Processor and the Video Processor. The photo above shows them one (Video) on top of the other (Audio), but you can arrange them however you prefer.

A photo of the audio processor inside chassis is shown below.

Many manufacturers go to great lengths to isolate the audio and video circuitry in order to reduce interference between the two sub-systems. ML has isolated the audio and analog video sections of the processor by separating them into independent chassis, each with its own power supply. The additional chassis and power supply certainly add to the cost. The two processors are tethered by a custom cable over which they communicate.

The video processor sports a color LCD. This display can be used to navigate the menu system or monitor the standard definition video being routed through the video processor. I found this display particularly handy while watching multi-channel audio discs where I was able to navigate the menus on the disc without having to power-on the projector.

The decoding and processing horsepower needed for all the data crunching is housed on the audio processor. Four Analog Devices SHARC DSP chips carry out these tasks. The chips can perform high precision arithmetic in both fixed point and floating point. The processing power exceeds the current processing needs, and the extra power will surely be needed by a future power-hungry application. This is another example of the forward thinking design of the No 40.

Go to Part II.

Copyright 2007 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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