Here is one of the true survivor brands. Mark Levinson Audio Systems began life in the early 1970s, from the outset as the highest of high-end companies. The company separated from Levinson himself, went out of business, then became part of the Madrigal Group, which became a part of the Harman Group, which itself became part of Samsung relatively recently. The brand had some fallow periods (this is the polite version; the real deal got real nasty), as well as winding up becoming the in-car upgrade for Lexus. At the core, however, is a brand name that bespeaks of the best in high-end audio. And that has never changed.
All of which made the company’s most recent 5000 line stand out from the norm. While not built for economy, the line represents a new entry-point for a brand that frequently pushed the envelope of high-end price structure. As a result, it would be understandable if Mark Levinson 5000 models were in some way ‘Mark Levinson Lite’. That’s not what happens in the No. 5805 tested here. Instead, the No. 5805 and its No. 5802 baby brother represent a deeper change in the way audio happens. It also speaks to a design that needs deep pockets to realise.
At first glance, the No. 5805 is simply another conventional integrated amplifier. It bears a familial resemblance to the more up-scale 500 series, specifically the No. 508.2 integrated. It has many of the same elements inside, too; most notably the phono stages, although the difference between the two is the No. 508.2’s phono stage is fully discreet, where the No. 5805 bristles with chips. The biggest change is a move from essentally an amp with a DAC to a full digital hub. That might seem like a minor change – it’s not.
Plug the No. 5805 into the Ethernet and it has its own IP address with set-up screens you can access via a web browser. Or, you can configure the amplifier in the more conventional way using the front panel and the remote. Either way, you are presented with a host of options for the user, including full input trim settings (so you can control both the starting volume levels and the maximum volume of each source, the speed of the volume level, whether ‘mute’ means ‘shut up!’ or ‘be quiet!’, there’s even options to put it into different types of standby, whether you want to be fully biodegradable and wait an hour for it to come on song, or burn through a few polar bears and have it run on a more juicy standby. You can name sources too, of course, and the loading options of that phono section are far more flexible than usual thanks to the web browser, and you can troubleshoot your system.
This also means the No. 5805 is comprehensively input-ready. It’s got eight inputs in total; four analogue (one XLR, two RCA, one MM/MC phono) and four digital (one coaxial and two optical S/PDIF, USB). Bluetooth is included too. One of the more clever features on the No. 5805 is that you can assign one of seven different reconstruction filters independently to each digital input; so if you think the first coaxial is a bit ‘Fast Linear’, the optical sounds very ‘Brickwall’ and the USB is ‘Apodizing Fast’, you can set these up in that way. Usually, the filter applies globally, so this is a step in the right direction for audio obsessiveness.