I've said this before, I know, but I think it's worth reiterating: One of the ongoing conversations that we higher-ups here at Home Theater Review continue to have is about the place of luxury electronics in a market that is forever trending toward higher performance at lower prices. Should we even be discussing $30,000 speakers when $5,000 alternatives sound practically perfect? Or, more to the point, should we knock something like Mark Levinson's $8,500 No. 5805 Integrated Amplifier when there are so many other fantastic integrated amps out there selling for a third or less?
I know I fall on the other side of the argument from so many of our readers here, but I think there's plenty of room in our hobby for products exactly like this. Make no mistake about it: Mark Levinson's No. 5805 is a luxury. Then again, so are the $150 polyhedral dice that my wife bought last week, despite the fact that her $10 Chessex dice roll just fine. So too is the $25 Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable brush I bought myself for my birthday to replace the two-buck synthetic brush I purchased at Michael's a year ago. Have my painting skills suddenly improved substantially upon acquisition of such a fine instrument? Nah. It just holds a little more paint, dries out a little less quickly, and I wanted something fancier and easier-to-clean for a change.
So, what does Mark Levinson do to justify the price of its No. 5805? The most obvious thing is its impeccable build quality and undeniably Mark Levinson aesthetic, not to mention its pedigree. The 5805 is an analog and digital integrated amplifier with support for 384kHz/32-bit PCM and DSD 11.2MHz, Bluetooth with aptX-HD connectivity, and Full MQA decoding. It's also a full-featured phono preamp and headphone amplifier. In short, aside from integrated music streaming, there's very little this unit won't do from a two-channel audio perspective.
For a reasonably mid-sized chassis that measures just 5.72 inches high by 17.25 inches wide and 19.98 inches deep, the 5805 tips the scales at a back-breaking 62 pounds, largely due to the goodies under the hood. A large part of that is the oversized (>500 VA) toroidal transformer, which features individual secondary windings for the left and right channels.
The chassis itself is a wonderful blend of beefy/inert and polished/refined. Square in the middle of the inch-thick, bead-blasted, anodized aluminum black front panel, you'll find a flush-mounted glass façade that houses the display, the standby button, the menu button, and a quarter-inch headphone output.
The sexy refinement continues on the No. 5805's beautiful and well-appointed back panel. In addition to its unique array of analog inputs (one pair of balanced XLR line-level inputs, two pairs of single-ended RCAs, one MC phono input, and one MM phono input), the No. 5805 also shares a good bit of digital connectivity with its more-affordable sibling, the $7,000 No. 5802. This includes two Toslink inputs, one asynchronous USB port, and a digital coaxial S/PDIF input (the No. 5802 also ups the coax count to two). Both chassis also include a pair of single-ended line-level outputs and stereo speaker-level outputs by way of straight-up sexy five-way binding posts, as well as RS-232 connectivity (DB9), IR input (3.5mm), programmable 12v trigger connectivity (input and output), and an RJ-45 Ethernet connection.
In contrast with the black aesthetic of the rest of the casing, the back panel also sports a high-contrast white background with black lettering that definitely comes in handy when it's time to hook everything up (or, at least it makes it easier for someone with eyes as old as mine). That's especially appreciated given how heavy the No. 5805 is. Generally speaking, once you get this thing in place, you're probably going to leave it there given its heft; lifting it or tilting it to make interconnections isn't an easy task.
In my case, connections were minimal and pretty simple. I connected a shielded USB cable from my Maingear Vybe media and gaming PC to the No. 5805, and added my Oppo UDP-205 to the equation via a pair of Straight Wire Encore II RCA-to-RCA interconnects. I also connected the 5805 to the Cisco eight-port network switch in my home office/two-channel listening room so I could take advantage of app control, as well as local IP access to the amp via HTML.
The latter is really only helpful for diagnostics and loading or saving configuration files, and the Mark Levinson 5Kontrol app for iOS devices doesn't offer much more than standby, source selection, mute, and balance controls. So, the bulk of setup was handled via the sleek IR remote control provided with the Mark Levinson No. 5805.
Although I like the remote for day-to-day operation, I do have some quibbles with it when it comes to navigating the 5805's rather dense menus. In lieu of a proper directional pad, the remote forces you to use the Input up and down keys to navigate the setup menus once you're in them, and the volume up and down keys in combination with the Enter button below to toggle specific options. It can be a frustrating and unintuitive process, but thankfully the 5805 is the sort of device you tend to set up once and then leave alone, other than source selection and volume control.
Setup options include your choice of three different power modes: "Green," which minimizes power when in standby mode, meaning you can only power the unit on with IR, 12v trigger, or a double-tap of the standby button on the front panel; "Power Save," which cuts power to the audio circuits but keeps control circuits up and running so you can bring the unit out of standby via IP; and "Normal," which simple turns off the display and mutes output, but keeps the amps and audio circuits warmed up at all times.
Other important setup options that you'll definitely want to configure include a plethora of PCM filters, including your choice of apodizing fast, hybrid fast, brickwall, fast linear, slow linear, slow minimum, and fast minimum. The hybrid fast filter worked best for my purposes and for my musical tastes, but your mileage may vary. There are also DSD low-pass filters, options to turn upsampling on and off by input, and SSP (or home theater pass-through) for the analog inputs. There are also numerous configuration options related to the phono input stage and other options with limited (but welcomed) use cases, so at the risk of turning this review into a brochure, I recommend downloading the user manual from Mark Levinson's website to see which apply to the unique needs of your system.
While you're there, you'll also want to download the USB driver for the No. 5805, as well as the latest firmware, should you choose not to update the latter via your network. Throughout the course of this review, I relied on several speaker pairings, relying mostly on Focal's new Chora 826, but also spending some appreciable time with my tried-and-true Paradigm Studio 100 v5s, as well as the GoldenEar Triton One.Rs that normally reside in my media room, as well as a smaller pair of Triton Sevens.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...