Born in Oakland, California in 1946, to Daniel J. Levinson and Maria Hertz Levinson, Mark Levinson grew up in the Boston area and later moved to New Haven, CT. His father was a professor of psychology at Harvard for 16 years and Yale University for 24 years. Daniel J. Levinson became a pioneer in the field of adult developmental psychology and was the author of the classic book "Seasons of a Man's Life."
Music (particularly jazz) quickly became the focus in Mark's life. Before the age of 20 he was sitting in, on double bass and trumpet, with the likes of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Johnny Griffin, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett
. Foregoing a college education for music, as a young man he developed himself as a musician, touring Europe as a bassist with pianist Paul Bley.
Already a legend at an early age—he was only 21 when he famously built the stage mixer used at the Woodstock Music Festival in 1968—Mark set out to create no-compromise audio playback equipment that would come as close as possible to recreating the energy of live performances.
A New Era
Founded in 1972, Mark Levinson Audio Systems (MLAS) was the unquestioned leader among many high-performance audio companies that started in that decade. Instead of designing to a price point, MLAS designed to exceed all previous known playback limitations. The company also employed the best available engravers and machinists.
Among the most ambitious audio products ever built, MLAS gear boasted technical specifications rarely equaled in the ensuing three decades. The LNP-2 preamp, for example, had a 140dB dynamic range, 110dB channel separation up to 20 kHz, and channel-to-channel tracking within 0.1dB. MLAS products were the first to use non-degradable metals such as rhodium, platinum, and gold, and the first to use Teflon as an insulating material.
The name “Mark Levinson” soon entered the common lexicon, synonymous with “ultra quality,” to such an extent that someone completely unfamiliar with audio might say something like “That’s a Mark Levinson motorcycle,” or “I love your Mark Levinson jacket,” meaning the referenced objects were not only of the highest possible quality, but were also exceedingly beautiful.
With Cello, the company he formed in 1984, Levinson created radically new audio concepts at stratospheric prices. With gifted engineers Tom Colangelo and Richard S. Burwen, Levinson introduced groundbreaking products such as the Cello Audio Palette, the world’s first audiophile-quality, sonically transparent equalizer.
The Cello Grand Master Reference system included all components—electronics, speakers, and custom-made cables with Swiss-made connectors. Previously, companies built electronics, or speakers, or cables, or source units, but not all. Cello was first with a total system approach. The Grand Master system was the first in the industry capable of generating realistic concert-level sound pressure, while simultaneously conveying the emotional nuances of a live performance.
Among the many music industry companies that purchased Mark Levinson-designed equipment were Atlantic Studios, DMP, MasterDisc, PolyGram, RCA, Sonomaster, Sony Music Studios, and Sterling Sound. Sony’s Mark Levinson-designed reference playback system was used for more than six years by world-class talent including Celine Dion, Harry Connick, Jr., Michael Jackson, Tony Bennett, and many others. At Sony, the mastering room with Levinson’s Grand Master speakers became known as “The Cello Room.”
Red Rose Music
In the late 1990’s, Levinson began a new phase in his career, characterized by a desire to bring no-compromise performance to a wider audience. Red Rose Music was a huge critical success, with amplifiers such as the Affirmation and loudspeakers such as the Rosebud MKII. Red Rose Music’s first power amplifier won the product of the year award from the most respected audio magazine in Italy.
It’s a tribute to Levinson’s obsession with quality that almost all the products built and sold by his three companies are still in use. They rarely come up for sale on the secondary market and when they do, are frequently the objects of bidding wars by music lovers eager to own them.
Mark Levinson is also a formidable recording and mastering engineer. During his almost four decades of designing and marketing high-performance audio products, he also made legendary recordings of jazz, blues, classical, and other artists including some of the greatest musicians of Northern India. He is a longtime student of Ali Akbar Khan, and probably the only musician in the world adept at playing Indian music on the double bass. Mark’s double bass, made in 1680, is one of the masterpieces of Italian string instrument making.
In 1998, he was supervising engineer for the three-CD set of performances by virtuoso violinist Elmar Oliveira, included with The Miracle Makers, a commemorative reference book about Stradivari and Guarneri violins, produced by rare instrument dealer Geoff Fushi, founder of the Stradivari Society. The Stradivari Society has assisted many top artists early in their careers, including Sarah Chang and Midori.
When Sony decided to develop the Super Audio Compact Disc, they needed reference recordings to demonstrate the new technology. They also needed expert recording engineers to prove its value to the music industry. Sony equipped Mark Levinson with one of ten prototype DSD (direct stream digital) recorders. He used this gear to make Live at Red Rose, one of the best-selling SACDs of all time, and the sole demonstration material used by Sony and Philips in their rollout of the format.
Music Maker Relief Foundation
Daniel Hertz S.A.
Levinson is also a tireless supporter of indigenous American music. In 1994, he helped Tim and Denise Duffy found the Music Maker Relief Foundation (www.musicmaker.org
) which assists elderly destitute blues and folk artists primarily in the Southern USA. Music Maker gives money, pays for medical care and expenses, provides instruments, and arranges for performances at clubs and music festivals in the USA and overseas for its artists.
In 2007, Levinson started Daniel Hertz S.A., in Neuchatel, Switzerland, to combine his audio engineering expertise with Swiss-made quality. Located in the historic town of Neuchatel, Daniel Hertz S.A. is working with artisanal companies to create a new breed of audio products.
An Unparalleled Life
Mark Levinson’s life has combined music performance, music recording, music playback equipment manufacturing, humanitarian assistance to destitute musicians, and considerable conceptual advancements to the industry’s knowledge base. His phenomenal contributions have no parallel in the audio industry. Yet despite his greatness, Levinson remains humble, attributing his success to his many brilliant associates and collaborators.