Meet Daniel Shimaie, director of engineering at high-end brand Mark Levinson. On our recent visit to the impressive HARMAN luxury audio site in Northridge, California, we had a chance to chat with Daniels about his journey in audio, his taste in music, and what makes the Mark Levinson brand so special.
What is Hi-Fi?: What got you interested in Hi-Fi?
Daniel Shimaie: Maybe when I was about 15, a young wobbling kid, I was bored and just hanging out in a small town in Northern California; And I went to a hi-fi store. That’s where I got my first taste of hearing proper playback.
what did you hear?
It was a Pat Benatar record that had just come out and I was hooked. I couldn’t believe what an emotional impact music can have. It was a very dynamic song and it 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 caste, Being a foreigner who came to America and didn’t speak English properly, I was attracted to music that didn’t have lyrics, because I didn’t understand them. So even when I was listening to music that had lyrics, I really focused on the music itself, the instrument, the frequency, the bandwidth and the dynamics. And of course, at the time, without being educated in it, none of it counted for me.
What was your first hi-fi system?
My first hi-fi was my brother’s record player and receiver, both of whom were Pioneers. I forget what speakers they had, but that was my introduction. I would just sit there for hours and listen to all kinds of music and try to connect with him and try to understand his movements. That’s where it all came together.
How did you get into audio?
I was still in high school and my first job was working as a component level technician. I had a good knack for electronics and started interning at a hi-fi shop in Santa Monica. The owner took me under his wing and taught me the electro-mechanical side of things. I first started repairing turntables, then cassette decks and slowly moved on to more sophisticated parts of electronics, amplifiers etc.
And at the same time I had a friend who was a drummer. He was playing in two different bands and one day he goes, “Do you want to be the roadie?” I was like, “Okay, sure, I’ll help you move your drums around.” I was probably 16, and we’d go to shows and set things up.
How did you end up working for Mark Levinson then?
So it was a long journey. I worked in the music industry for about 15 years and then in film and TV post-production for about 20 years. Until then I stayed on the technical side and got involved with production facilities, listening environments and recording studios, and so on.
About a year and a half ago, an opportunity arose due to Mark Levinson relocating to the Hermann campus in Northridge, California, and I joined the company.
what does your job involve?
I’m the director of engineering for Mark Levinson Audio. I have a team of mechanical, electrical and software engineers working on future roadmaps for products as well as any kind of continuous engineering that is needed.
What do you think sets Mark Levinson apart from his competitors?
Very little. First, we have our DNA — Mark Levinson’s DNA. Circuit topology is what we take into account for circuit design and the integrity of the signals going through it. We also hold a number of patents within the products we manufacture and are always looking at how we can make something better. At the same time, we react to what the market is actually seeing. There has been a lot of movement in the direction of streaming in recent years and so we have number 519 [music streamer]For example.
What is your favorite Mark Levinson product, past or present?
Wow, maybe the new ML50 mono power amplifier. Sonali, it is better than any predecessors that I have heard, and the way it controls, and the clarity it provides is much better. We’ve had a very limited run of demos at various shows, but everyone has been thoroughly impressed with it.
Measuring or Listening, Which Takes Priority?
Listen. Measurement is essential when we are doing engineering work. But at the end of the day, you don’t just have to look at the charts or the numbers, you have to actually listen to it and see what it is capable of delivering.
What is your reference system for comparing products?
Our own products are really our reference. One thing that really speaks highly of our products is that you will find Mark Levinson amplifiers in each of the research rooms used by the various Harman teams that are based here. We pair our amplifiers with suitable JBL and Revel speakers (both brands are also part of the Harman Luxury Group) to make sure they work well.
Which opponent do you admire the most?
I am impressed with the class. Very impressed with the products. All around, I think they’re elegant.
Which system do you use at home?
I have the Mark Levinson system. At present, it is just No.5805 Integrated Amplifier and No.519 Music Streamer. Very old pair of speakers AMT ESS Heil.
What are your three favorite albums?
Oh, it’s really hard.
i will say the dark side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. anything by the police. And from a modern orchestral point of view, I really love the work of Hans Zimmer.
What will Mark Levinson’s products look like 20 years from now?
They’ll be smarter. We are clearly driving performance as far as the technologies and capabilities within our supply chain allow us. However, there’s going to be a lot of smartness about how we interconnect and how we interact with it.
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