Audiophile Icon Calls Out the ‘Mafia’ Tactics of Luxury Audio Market

Mark Levinson shares his disappointment in the current audio market.
Mark Levinson shares his disappointment in the current audio market.

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An insider’s take on how the industry exploits audiophiles.

Mark Levinson, known for pioneering high-end audio technologies since the early 1970s, recently shared his critique of the luxury audio market. In a video interview with Audiophile Junkie, Levinson shared his frustration with what he sees as “mafia” tactics in the industry.

According to him, these tactics focus on making money at the expense of sound quality and real innovation.

Mark Levinson’s Critique of the High-End Audio Market

Mark Levinson says the "high-end audio world has become a racket." (From: YouTube/Audiophile Junkie)
Mark Levinson says the “high-end audio world has become a racket.” (From: YouTube/Audiophile Junkie)

Mark Levinson’s discontent with the current state of the high-end audio market comes from the big difference between the past and present.

Thinking back to the early days of his career, Levinson reflects on a time when the industry was driven by a love for music and the pleasure of experiencing high-quality audio recordings.

“It was very repertoire-based. You had family-owned record stores, and they knew you. When you walked in, they’d say, ‘Hey, we got this new recording by Ray Charles or something you might want to listen to,’ you know. It was personal,” Levison shares.

He argues that this relationship with music has been overshadowed by a market that takes advantage of consumer passion.

“Today, what I feel is that the high-end audio world has become a racket, a mafia that tries to take as much money as possible from music lovers. It has nothing to do with the original spirit of the whole thing, which was to use engineering and craftsmanship in the service of music and reproducing recordings,’’ Levinson asserts.

One of Levinson’s main criticisms is about the industry’s focus on profit over product integrity. He points out that industry magazines tend to feature products from advertisers, not necessarily those with the best value or performance.

“Why don’t they write about Apple, like a Mac Mini? Because Apple doesn’t advertise in their magazine. So they write about servers because they advertise. And why won’t a store recommend a Mac Mini? Oh, because servers make money. So we’re going to recommend what makes money for us.” says Levinson.

He also claims that advertisers get the recommendations despite the fact that many top recordings are produced on Macs.

Aside from this, Levinson also criticizes the stagnation in technological advancement within the industry. According to him, companies often rely on old technologies. Yet, they repackage these with high price tags and market them as “new innovations”.

“Using this old technology with nothing new, just higher and higher prices, bigger and heavier,” he notes.

Another big issue that Levinson brings up is the cyclical nature of the high-end audio business model, which he says is made to sell the same thing over and over. This model, he argues, goes against the goal of making lasting, quality products.

In the end, Levinson draws an unflattering analogy.

He compares the mainstream high-end audio market to “supermarket pasta,” where all companies utilize essentially the same technology and parts, rather than offering truly handcrafted, unique products.

Levinson’s Philosophy and Approach to Audio Equipment

Audiophile Junkie interviewing Mark Levinson. (From: Audiophile Junkie/YouTube) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tJphNXd80U
Audiophile Junkie interviewing Mark Levinson. (From: YouTube/Audiophile Junkie)

Despite his harsh criticism, Levinson is said to be committed to creating audio equipment that people will not just use but love and cherish for a lifetime, much like a well-crafted piano or violin.

“I’d like to make an instrument that a musician might really love. They don’t have to be changing all the time. If you’re looking for a piano…maybe you fall in love with that Fazioli, you get the Fazioli. That’s it. You’re going to play it, enjoy it for the rest of your life,” Levinson explained.

He claims that his approach is artisanal and focuses on handcrafted quality over mass production. It also prioritizes the individual experience rather than broad market appeal.

As he said, this philosophy is very different from the mainstream industry practices of pushing constant upgrades and replacements.

Levinson’s decision to keep a small-scale operation supports this philosophy. It keeps the quality of his products high, while avoiding the mass-market strategies that are common in the high-end audio industry. This approach makes sure that each product is made with the highest attention to detail and performance.

“That’s another reason that Dan D’Agostino is a small company. We’re turning down a lot of requests for distribution because we don’t make enough product. We just can’t, not at this quality. I don’t want that industrial kind of business. I want to keep this very artisan-like, ” he stated.

He also emphasizes the importance of scientific principles in designing audio equipment, particularly the frequency response, which he sees as crucial for high-quality sound. Based on his observations, this is in contrast to the brands’ tendency to sometimes overlook technical specs in favor of subjective sound interpretations.

While these personal impressions are important, Levinson argues that there should be a balance between the two and that precise engineering shouldn’t be overlooked.

“A lot of people depend on the subjective. ‘I hear this; you hear that. I think this; you think that’ kind of thing. Dick (Burwen) thought that audio is 50% engineering and 50% art. But if you don’t have the engineering, you’re lost,” Levinson explained.

“I think one of the things today is people don’t really understand the importance of engineering and…just get lost in the subjective only. Of course, the subjective is what we want. We value the listening experience, what we like, what sounds best to us. That’s all personal and subjective, but the objective is also very important.”

Consumer Reactions

The public and consumer reactions to Mark Levinson’s critique of the high-end audio market reveal a complex mix of agreement, skepticism, and debate.

Some users noted a contradiction between Levinson’s criticism of industry greed and the high prices of his own products.

“Levinson was always an exclusionary brand. That is, you pretty much had to be rich in order to afford anything at all from this company. Can anyone name any product from Mark Levinson ever that was hobbyist priced; that was reasonably priced?” commented sidesup8286.

However, Audiophile Junkie came to Levinson’s defense. He said that he is critiquing the industry’s focus on high profit margins, and likens it to selling “knockoff Rolexes,” rather than providing real innovation and value.

“It’s a fair point, but remember that these products include multiple products in one, so you save a lot in terms of paying for extra chassis, cables, etc. It’s a bespoke product that isn’t mass-produced, so there will be a threshold of budget necessary.”

💬 Conversation: 5 comments

  1. Mark Levinson’s products have always for me been un-attainable as I have never had the disposable income to enjoy such products, I do however enjoy music and have always tried to own what I consider to be good quality audio and have endeavoured to match each component in the system (musically) to one another, which always is a wonderful challenge. I do think many of the classic companies are very guilty of this as I have never found products from “the big three” have never lived up to their high pricing from a musical perspective.

    1. The Chad Nelson Pass gives his circuits away to diy enthusiasts. The victim Mark Levinson does an an irony.

  2. I think his comment about buying a piano is apt. I splurged a big tax refund in 1980 on a pair of DCM TIme Windows. At the time they were about $1200 a pair (nearly $5K equivalent today). However, I still have them, 44 years later, and they still sound great! Buy good stuff, take care of it, and it will last a LONG time. In defense of the industry though, there IS some good equipment out there, and some real innovation. But, cable lifters and $1K USB or Ethernet cables are not it..

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