It says something about the state of the vinyl revival that established high-end brands which existed in the day of vinyl supremacy are building its first-ever turntables. That is the case with the Mark Levinson No. 515, which is the first turntable to bear that name in the history of the marque. Eagle-eyed record player enthusiasts will notice however that this turntable bears a striking resemblance to those from a well-known US turntable specialist, namely VPI. Mark Levinson make no bones about this and given that developing a turntable that’s worthy of their name would be quite a challenge for an electronics company, the approach makes a lot of sense, why go to so much trouble when an expert in the field is happy to create a custom turntable to your specification. OEM turntable manufacturing has happened in the past, with companies including Rega making decks for other brands, but it’s relatively uncommon now and especially in the high end.
The No. 515 is not merely a rebadged model from the VPI range. Mark Levinson has put some research into the design, and the result has several distinctions not seen in the VPI range. The plinth is a sandwich of aluminium and composite materials with a vinyl wrap, and it’s big, at 533mm it’s too wide for the top of my rack. Four Delrin and aluminium feet keep it perched high enough for the power supply to sit underneath with the drive spindle sticking up at the right height. The way that the motor sits within a niche in the plinth is elegant, and the fact that the power supply is part of the system means that you don’t need to find space for another small box. It does mean a potentially chunky power cable hanging off the back but as the PSU and motor are separate to the turntable that doesn’t provide a direct conduit for vibration. What this approach does mean is that the No. 515’s performance can be affected by the nature of the supporting surface as this provides the energy path between motor and plinth.
Mark Levinson has chosen to drive the platter with no fewer than three belts, which is not a VPI trait. Levinson’s take is, “We use three belts to provide a somewhat tighter connection between the motor and the platter, which mitigates the effects of drag and results in a slightly more extended and accurate bass sound than a single belt. (It doesn’t look half bad either!).” The motor is a high torque AC synchronous type with the requisite power to spin up the substantial platter to 45rpm from standstill; the switch system doesn’t allow you to jump straight from 33.3 to the higher speed, you need to switch one off before using the other.
The platter is a robust and attractively machined lump of aluminium that sits on an inverted stainless steel bearing with a phosphor bronze bushing. The platter has a threaded centre spindle; however, the heavyweight stainless steel clamp that sits over the spindle requires no turning, which makes switching records a much quicker process. A mat made of a synthetic material that’s thicker than the wool variety sits atop the platter.
The tonearm looks very much like a VPI except for one significant variation which is that rather than being a typical JMW Memorial unipivot it has gimbal bearings, an idea that Mark Levinson brought to the table. The other difference is that the tonearm is not a metal or carbon tube but a 3D printed creation; this has the advantage that armtube and headshell are all one piece and means that no finishing is required. I couldn’t find any reference to its effective length in the manual, so I got the ruler out. As measurement required taking the distance from stylus tip to the bearing centre on the arm, it is a bit tricky, but using the supplied (metal) set-up gauge, it comes out at 275mm, which is close to 11 inches (279.4mm). The official word, however, is that it’s a 10inch arm.