Meet Danial Shimiaei, the technical director of the high-end brand Mark Levinson. During our recent visit to the impressive Harman Luxury Audio site in Northridge, California, we had the chance to talk to Danial about his journey in audio, his taste in music and what makes the Mark Levinson brand so special.
Which Hi-Fi?: What made you interested in hi-fi?
Daniel Shimiaei: Probably when I was about 15 years old, a young feral boy, I was bored and just walking around a small town in Northern California; and I entered a hi-fi shop. It was there that I got my first taste of listening to correct playback.
What have you heard?
It was a Pat Benatar record that had just come out and I was hooked. I couldn’t believe the emotional impact music could have. It was a very, very dynamic song and just captivated me.
What was the first piece of music you bought?
My first two records were [Pink Floyd’s] Dark side of the moon and Steely Dan’s Aja. Being a foreigner who came to America and didn’t speak English well, I was drawn to music that had no lyrics because I didn’t understand them. So even when I listened to music with lyrics in it, I really focused on the music itself, the instrumentation, the frequency, the bandwidth and the dynamics. And of course, at the time, without being trained in it, none of it was calculated for me.
What was your first hi-fi setup?
My first hi-fi was my brother’s record player and receiver, both pioneers. I forget what speakers he had, but that was my introduction. I just sat there for hours and listened to different kinds of music and tried to connect with it and understand the movements. That’s where it all sort of came together.
How did you get into the audio world?
I was still in high school and my first job was working as a component level technician. I had a good sense of electronics and did an internship at a hi-fi store in Santa Monica. The owner took me under his wing and taught me the electro-mechanical side of the business. I first started repairing turntables, then cassette decks and slowly moved on to more advanced parts of electronics, amplifiers and so on.
And at the same time I had a friend who was a drummer. He played in a bunch of different bands and one day he said, “Do you want to be a roadie?” I was, “Okay, sure, I’ll help you lug your drums.” I was maybe 16 years old, and we went to gigs and put things on.
How did you end up with Mark Levinson then?
So it was a long journey. I worked in the music industry for about 15 years and then about 20 years in film and TV post production. During that time I stayed on the technical side, building facilities, listening environments and recording studios, and so on.
About a year and a half ago, an opportunity arose due to Mark Levinson’s move to the Harman campus in Northridge, California, and I joined the company.
What does your job entail?
I’m the technical director of Mark Levinson audio. I have a team of mechanical, electrical and software engineers working on the future roadmap for the products as well as any support engineering needed.
What do you think sets Mark Levinson apart from his rivals?
Pretty. First, we have our DNA – Mark Levinson’s DNA. There’s circuit topology, which we take into account when designing circuits and the integrity of the signal passing through them. We also have many patents on the products we make and are always looking at how we can make something better. At the same time, we respond to what the market is really looking for. In recent years there has been a lot of movement towards streaming and that is how we have the No.519 [music streamer]for example.
What is your favorite Mark Levinson product, past or present?
Wow, probably the new ML 50 mono power amp. Sonically, it’s superior to any predecessor I’ve heard, and the way it controls, and the clarity it delivers, is simply superior. We’ve had a very limited run of demos at various shows, but everyone absolutely loved it.
Measure or listen, which has priority?
Listen. Measurements are needed when we do the engineering work. But at the end of the day, you shouldn’t just look at the chart or a number, you should actually listen to it and see what it can deliver.
What is your reference system for comparing products?
Our own products are really our reference. One of the things that’s really great about our products is that you’ll find Mark Levinson amps in virtually every research room used by the various Harman teams based here. We also use our amps with suitable JBL and Revel speakers (both brands are also part of the Harman Luxury Group) to ensure they work properly.
Which rival do you most admire?
I am impressed with Classé. Very impressed with the products. Overall I find them elegant.
Which system do you use at home?
I have a Mark Levinson system. Currently it’s only the No. 5805 integrated amplifier and a No. 519 music streamer. The speakers are a very old pair of AMT ESS Heil.
What are your three favorite albums?
Ooh, that’s a really hard one.
I would say The dark side of the moon by Pink Floyd. Everything from the police. And from a more modern orchestral point of view, I really love Hans Zimmer’s work.
What will Mark Levinson’s products look like in 20 years?
They’ll be a lot smarter. We are clearly looking at improving performance as much as the technologies and capabilities within our supply chain allow. However, there will be a lot of cleverness involved in how we interact and communicate with each other.
Read our review of the Mark Levinson No. 5909 Wireless Headphones
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