Mark Levinson 5805 integrated amplifier – analysis

The Mark Levinson 5805 integrated amplifier brings this legendary company into the modern era!

If you happen to be one of those audiophiles who can reminisce the early days of high-end audio, I would consider you to be quite fortunate, indeed.

Nevertheless, back in those days, when it came to high-end amplification, few brands were as prestigious as Mark Levinson. The company helped establish the foremost ideas of high-end hi-fi in the 1970s and ’80s and despite going through a few fallow periods, Harman is a wholly owned and independently operated subsidiary of Samsung. It remains one of the ‘audiophile enthusiasts’ most shining lights.   

Throughout the ‘70s and early ‘80s, the Mark Levinson brand became the industry standard as best in its class for preamplifiers and power amplifiers. Madrigal Audio Labs purchased the Mark Levinson brand in 1984 and added some extra financial firepower to the brand. As a testament to how well Mark Levinson’s components were made, many are still in use today and if you are lucky enough to find a used one, it will likely be worth far more than its original selling price.

With their success, Madrigal Audio caught the attention of Harman in 1995 who acquired them that year. The backing of a large, multinational company enabled the brand to continue its no-compromise approach. Some of the digital audio products produced by the Mark Levinson brand during the late 1990s and early 2000s once again set world-class standards.

Unknown to most, Samsung purchased Harman International in 2017 and at first, one might have been somewhat wary that they might try to change things too much. We have since confirmed that Samsung really has no influence on the Mark Levinson brand or products. No one in the Luxury Audio BU reports up to or receives direction from anyone in Samsung and there is no shared IP, R&D or engineering.

ABUNDANCE OF FEATURES

First—make note of the fact that the Mark Levinson.5805 is an industrial-grade built and designed amplifier weighing in at 65 pounds so you’d better start working out a bit or get some help when putting the unit on your component shelf!

This includes the current generation ESS Sabre 32-bit D/A converter with jitter suppression which is followed by a fully balanced discrete current/voltage converter. This amazingly executed DAC can even support MQA whereby it fully unpacks the signal.

Mark Levinson 5805 integrated amplifier-back

On the analog section, there are two RCA stereo inputs and one balanced XLR input. Of course, one RCA Phono input (MM/MC) is included for vinyl playback. There is also an analog Home Theater pass through as well as a Bluetooth (which some may find appealing) connection that supports AptX-HD. T

The phono input is a hybrid active/passive RIAA equalizer that uses precision resistors and polypropylene capacitors. The resistance and capacitance are set using DIP switches on the back but the high pass filter, the gain, and the choice between MM and MC can be conveniently controlled from the listening position using the nicely made full metal remote control. All of this can also be controlled via Ethernet by typing in the IP number of the amplifier into any web browser on a computer, tablet, or mobile phone.

This phono stage is especially neat to use. It contains the essential key components from the Pure Phono (500 series) stage – except for the fact that the latter are all discrete circuits. To keep away from any of those inhospitable switching noises there are separate connections for moving coil and moving magnet cartridges. The RIAA equalization stage is also, a hybrid setup: part passive, part active. Loading is more flexible than in most built-in phono preamps:  The back panel contains small dip switches to regulate the loading for MC from one thousand ohms to 37 ohms. The moving magnet section allows you to modify capacitance from 20pF to 170pF.

I recently installed the latest SOTA “Comet” V turntable with an Ortofon X-5 moving coil cartridge. (reviews forthcoming). So far, the results on this combo through the Levinson phono stage have been overtly splendid, as the sound is crystal clear and silky in the highs. The Levinson resistive and capacitive settings are overtly exploiting the best out of this combination and have now pushed me to finally bring out from storage some of my finest, yet hidden sounding vinyl pressings to the limelight!

Some other optional setup features that you may want to configure include a plethora of PCM filters, including your choice of apodizing fast, hybrid fast, brick wall, fast linear, slow linear, slow minimum, and fast minimum. You can, and indeed may want to switch the up-sampling filter completely off. Otherwise, I suggest using the hybrid fast filter as it is arguably, the most “natural” sounding, at least for my needs and within the context of my preferred idea of neutrality within the context of the components I used in conjunction with the 5805.

The Levinson amplifier provides 125W per channel, as it is a direct-coupled, Class AB design. Quite conventionally, its preamp/power amp structure shares its basic power input with a 500VA transformer. Even its headphone stage (now becoming quite popular, though why is beyond me) is a feed from the preamp as a substitute for its amplifier. Most, if not all users will find the available and reserve power from the 5805 to be quite exhilarating and overachieving; being able to meet the needs of the most demanding of loudspeaker designs currently available.

Mark Levinson 5805 integrated amplifier- inside

ASSESSMENT and COMPARISON

Initial set up connections for the Levinson were straight forward in assessing this fully integrated unit as a whole, starting with digital playback. Later on, its DAC and phono stage were separated and individually evaluated. My Audio Note CD3.1×2 was linked via Wireworld’s Starlight Seven coax digital cable while the newest and quite profound Silversmith Audio Fidelium ribbon speaker cables and the Inakustik LS-400’s was employed and connected to the Stirling LS3/6 BBC monitor speakers (Review forthcoming) as well as the Audio Note AN/ED loudspeakers as well. My Wyred 4 Sound 10th Anniversary DAC was also pressed into service.

I make no apologies in proclaiming that although bi-wiring was initially used with the Stirling loudspeakers, (via Silversmith’s prototype cable jumper), delivering excellent results, when switching back to a single wired format…. the sound was just as good- if not better!! On the other hand, the AN/ED’s intuitively “came to life” with their Lexus Cables in bi-wired format. It became quite apparent that with some loudspeakers, their respective driver and crossover designs have a greater propensity toward bi-wiring or not, primarily due to crossover complexity and bass driver size/quantity.

First impressions are always noteworthy, but with more listening time, things can change dramatically with any high-quality piece of audio equipment. The Levinson immediately showed its muscularity by understatedly throwing out a distinctively fine, somewhat analytical yet absorbing sound presentation. Using Redbook CD’s and a plethora of high definition (96Khz/24bit) downloaded FLAC ripped classical music files, the sound quality was expansive, clean, and somewhat analytical, while still maintaining a beautiful sense of mid-range ease, refinement and a firm, accurate bass response. Below were a few of my program sources:

The sound was never bright or harsh and it presented a stern sense of refinement and smoothness as it emanated into the listening room. It revealed a fast sense of dynamics to orchestral and vocal recordings and contrary to many amplifiers, it was meticulously easy to listen to for long periods of time. Soundstage width and depth were fine; arguably a bit less expansive and “reverberant” (which could be good — depending on your room acoustics!) with some recorded program sources, yet quite authoritative and amazingly “clean” sounding in its presentation of the studio and live acoustical recording locational settings. (could one ask for more than this?) Stereo images were beautifully laid out with discreet vocals emanating from the center or center-left when depicted and firmly placed; not to forward or conversely, pushed back from the speaker’s lateral placement. So, this amplifier displayed exactly…what the engineer wanted of a particular recording.

DAC EFFICACY

When activating separate DACs into the 5805, in this case, the Wyred 4 Sound 10th Anniversary, or using my Audio Note CD3.1×2 directly into the Levinson line inputs, the overall performance attributes did change, in some small areas of the overall sound presentation. I am confident these were small differences between the designs of all three DACs involved.

Both aforementioned DACs may have brought a minuscule amount of more “spatial” cues into some well-recorded classical material presented in the evaluation. Not surprisingly, even on some “decently mastered” pop music recordings, it was always harder to detect or differentiate much audible information that was noteworthy on such program material. However, there were a few exceptions to the rule here as pictured above starting with an excellently remastered SACD by the Carpenters, music by Sinatra and some outstanding classical re-mastered program sources.

Invariably, the above sound characteristics were admirably intertwined within the full soundstage representation and did not at all obscure the specific stereo locational instrumental and vocal placement, which was excellent on the Levinson. Most ironically, the explicit quality of the Levinson made it much easier to differentiate many poor recordings and their substandard properties, as well as with other components in the chain, because it made it so easy to expose the horrific and manipulative additions of many poorly mastered recordings.

These audible cues defined by the other DACs mentioned above were generally related to recording ambiance, decay, and the atmospheric audible impressions on the recordings. Yet ironically, the Levinson did generate a slightly “coherent” sense to the soundstage atmospheric presentation. This is hard to portray in writing, or in audible terms, but your aural senses will ultimately be the deciding factor as to what you, the listener, will subjectively find to be a more “neutral” sound representation on your preferred system and listening preferences.

In that sense, if we then go back to a comparison of the .5805 as a total unit in itself, it was somewhat different from my excellent Peachtree Audio Nova 300 (2019) integrated amplifier concerning the above-listed soundstage spatial ambiance, decay, and concert hall reverb found on some of these recordings. The longer I listened to the Levinson preamp section with my Audio Note CD player as well as the Wyred 4 Sound DAC, it became apparent that I preferred the Levinson preamp section with these DAC’s, overall. It was a bit smoother and cleaner on transients, had a somewhat more immaculate midrange, and although I would have liked a touch more instrumental decay and overtones, it remained truthful to the overall sound presentation.

It’s worth noting that the Peachtree Nova 300 is a stereo Class D integrated amp that can deliver a resounding 300 watts per channel into eight ohms and is priced at 1/3 of the Levinson, any way you look at it. The Mark Levinson is, by contrast, a dual monaural Class AB integrated amp, with a rather conservatively, rated 125 watts per channel into eight ohms. However, and quite interestingly, it is one of the few integrated amps I have listened to recently that have me reconsidering some of my thoughts on Class AB vs the finest CLASS D amplification. In this case, when returning the CIA 100S power amp as well as my PS Audio M700 monoblocks, I was reintroduced to that familiar, small amount of a homogeneous and perceptible quality that can induce mere touches of audible hall reverberation on many program sources. On the other hand, the Levinson brings up food for thought as to which sound presentation may be a more ‘accurate’ rendering of the aforementioned musical program sources. (?)

Mark Levinson 5805 integrated amplifier

WINDUP

This Mark Levinson.5805 is an extremely transparent, musically focused, and comprehensive amplifier for the audiophile who demands a quality of refinement and purism along with build quality that is unimpeachable in almost every area. Its polished and pure sounding power will go a long way towards satisfying the hunger of the most demanding speaker system loads and loudness requirements while its hallmark is a sense of total finesse and control with the utmost in discernible refinement.

While the Mark Levinson . 5805 is priced on the higher side, it is a product that will captivate users who want the maximum in luxury and quality. It has Style, great ergonomics, and a meticulously crafted feel as well as looks; all of which has historically been the trademark of a Mark Levinson product. You can add to this the fact that it is not as expensive as their.585 (200 watt) amplifier while boasting almost as many discerning features. As such, you are getting here a bundle for the money!  

If there were anything to nitpick about the .5805 it would hardly be right to call it criticism. This would only involve the units’ detailed setup and menu process which may take some early listening time away from you. Once this is out of the way, its day-to-day use will be smooth sailing. This is the integrated amplifier to have for the “normal” music lover and audiophile. Why is normal in quotations, you may ask? (We audiophiles are quite a complex group of individuals; would you not agree?) Because if your prime interest is just sitting long hours and enjoying beautiful music while equipment tinkering takes the back seat in the car, the “normal” audiophile may just find the Mark Levinson 5805 integrated amplifier to be the quintessential addition to his system

EVALUATION SYSTEMDigital ~~ Audio Note (UK) CD3.1×2 player /Wyred 4 Sound 10th Anniversary DAC/ Innuos Zenith Mk.3 server/streamer/ Analog- SOTA Comet 5 TT/Ortofon X5 moving coil cartridge ● /Amplification ● Peachtree Audio Nova 300 (2019) / CIA 100S stereo power amplifier / ● Loudspeakers ~ Spendor SP1, Sterling LS3/6 BBC monitors/ Audio Note AN/ED loudspeakers ● Cables – Conditioners: Mad Scientist “Black Magic” USB cable/ Inakustik AC-3500p power station & LS-4004 speaker cables, AC-2404 reference Air Power Cord/ Silversmith Audio ‘Fidelium’ loudspeaker cables/ Audio Note (UK) Lexus bi-wired speaker cables / Wireworld Eclipse 8 Silver interconnects & Electra 7 power cords/ Audio Art 1 e” AC Power Cord.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Type: Integrated amplifier with built-in DAC and phono stage

Power output: 2 × 125 W into 8 Ohms

Minimum load: 2 Ohms

Analog inputs: 1 pair balanced, 2 pairs unbalanced. Phono: separate MM and MC (the only one can be connected)

Digital inputs: 1 asynchronous USB 2.0 B Audio, 2 optical, 1 coax (S/PDIF)

Sample rates/Bit depth: PCM up to 384kHz up to 32 bits. DSD: native of DOP, single, double, or quad speed. Full MQA decoding

Control inputs: Ethernet, RS232, and USB A 

Input Impedance: 20k ohms (balanced) 10k ohms (single-ended)

Phono: MM: Input resistance 47k ohm. Input capacitance: selectable. Gain: 39dB. MC: Input resistance: Selectable. Gain: 69dB

Weight: 28.1kg 

PRICE $8500 USD

Web: Mark Levinson Audio Systems/ ~ HARMAN International https://www.marklevinson.com/in-lexus.html
400 Atlantic Street
Stamford, CT 06901, USA

Contact: Caroline Bresler carolineb@brand-definition.com | 503-688-3662

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