Mark Levinson No. 5805 integrated amplifier

Integrated amplifiers
Mark Levinson No. 5805

There is also an Ethernet port, but it’s for control (along with RS232 and USB-A) rather than streaming, which is a shame given its flexibilty elsewhere. It has a home-theatre by-pass though, which with the absence of Ethernet streaming does suggest it’s targeting a very traditional audio buyer with a more non-traditional design. Streaming aside, I think that its range of inputs and outputs (there’s a 1/4” headphone jack on the front panel) give the No. 5805 decent flexibility.

The amplifier delivers 125W per channel, in a direct-coupled, Class AB design. For all its modernity in installation, the amplifier itself is relatively conventional and relies on an internal preamp/power amp architecture that shares a common power input with a 500VA transformer. Even the headphone stage is a feed from a preamp rather than its own amplifier. The circuit features a voltage-gain layout that connects to an eight-transistor output stage, with two out of the eight running in pure Class A. The bias of this output stage varies according to temperature. Mark Levinson suggests that this power amplifier architecture is derived (‘descended’ according to Levinson) from the company’s No. 534 power amplifier, in a trickle-down manner. This is not a bad starting place for an amplifier.

I used the Mark Levinson No. 5805 with a range of components fore and aft. The amp more than delivered the good when used with the Audiovector R1 Arreté tested in this issue, as well as the outgoing Magico A3 and the resident Wilson Audio Duette Series 2. It was fed by the USB output of a Melco N10 and the RCA sockets of the Innous ZENmini III tested next issue. I also used it with my Kuzma Stabi S/4Point9/CAR 40 vinyl front end. Cables were cycled between Cardas Clear, Ansuz D2, and Nordost Odin 2 (although with each cable costing more than the amp, this was taking things a little too far!). The amp arrived with some miles on the clock so running in wasn’t an experience to have, but on EU-friendly standby levels, it definitely improved from a cold start after half an hour or so. The amplifier rarely got above comfortably warm, save for the times when it was sweltering in 30°C heat during the UK’s mid-summer heatwave.

I’ve had some experience of Mark Levinson products in the past, but the accent is on the past. Although I’ve spent time listening to the latest iterations, they are more passing aquaintances than close friends. Even so, that classic Levinson dark, rich, and powerful sound continues to run through modern Mark Levinson devices.

But not here.

This is Mark Levinson rebooted, with a sound more in line with what the modern audiophile wants from their equipment.  The almost brooding sound of the more upmarket models is replaced with a more immediate and forward presentation. It still retains that large and powerful sound that characterises Mark Levinson’s soundstaging properties, but where once Mark Levinson passed majestically between musical themes, on the No. 5805 it bounds more vigourously. It’s a ‘younger’ sound than I expected too; more forgiving of signal compression, more energetic on rock and dance music, and perhaps ultimately more Little Simz than Little Feat.

I don’t think added pep in its step is a bad thing, although Mark Levinson purists might not agree. Where the traditional Mark Levinson sound is ideal for accompanying long late-night sessions, the No. 5805 is great for plenty of quick-fire listening. I don’t want to overstate this; it’s not that the existing equipment can’t use party as a verb, or the newer models are too excitable to work in a late-night all-of-Yessongs [Atlantic] playing session, just that the No. 5805 plays to different strengths. And that really is a good thing.

 The central aspect of the No. 5805’s performance that shines through on analogue, digital, and LP sources is its infectious, boppy sense of rhythm. OK, not quite in the manner of something like a similarly priced Naim rig, but the Mark Levinson keeps time well, and in an upbeat rather than a measured way. This makes the tribal, Iran-meets-Cuba in a London basement rhythms of Ariwo’s ‘Alafin’ [Ariwo, Manana, CD] have more drive and energy. You can’t help but tap your foot to the track. Move this over to bigger sounding systems and it sounds bigger, but slower. You are perhaps less likely to notice they are playing kitchen utensils, though!

That said, the No. 5805 is extremely detailed, and given the chance to show off with impressively recorded music, it does just that. Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances [Zinman, Baltimore SO, Telarc] is played with gusto and verve, and the Mark Levinson amp reproduces that and the dynamic range exceptionally well. It also creates a good stereo soundfield, albeit one that is more about width than depth. However, the detail and spatial aspects don’t tend to lay poor recordings bare, either. It just brings out the best in a track.

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