Mark Levinson №5909 Noise-Cancelling Headphones Review

Posted on 21st July, 2022

Mark Levinson №5909 Noise-Cancelling Headphones Review

Jay Garrett enjoys music on the move with this premium pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones…

Mark Levinson

№5909 Bluetooth Headphones

AUD $1,599 RRP

Mark Levinson №5909 Headphones Review

Bluetooth headphones are a relatively inexpensive way of experiencing music on the go without getting tangled up in cables. Of course, there are pricier premium models too, featuring improved build quality and materials, the latest aptX HD or aptX Adaptive codec support and noise-cancelling features. But with Mark Levinson's №5909 we have a pair of cans that costs three times the price of highly rated options such as the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2, and twice that of Apple's AirPods Max.

Are we seeing the dawn of a new era of luxury Bluetooth headphones that includes these, as well as the T+A Solitaire T? Well, that's one way to look at it. The other is that owning Mark Levinson equipment has become slightly more affordable!

Mark Levinson №5909 Headphones Review

The №5909 was unveiled at CES 2022 and features a leather-wrapped memory foam headband and replaceable ear cushions, an anodised aluminium yoke and 'automotive-grade metallic painted' earcups. It uses Bluetooth 5.1 for its wirelessness with SBC, AAC, LDAC and aptX Adaptive codec support with music delivered by a pair of beryllium-coated 40mm full-range dynamic drivers.

UP CLOSE

In the sturdy and well-made travel case, you get a trio of cables with high-quality braiding and terminations, as you'd expect with headphones at this price. Your options are between two lengths of 3.5mm to USB-C (1.25m and 4m) and a USB-C to USB-C cable – yes, you can also plug these directly into your computer's USB-C port for playback via USB-C or the 3.5mm cable without Bluetooth and with or without ANC. Connecting via USB-C and 3.5mm with the headphones switched off before hooking them up not only gives you passive analogue audio but also the widest claimed frequency response of 10Hz to 40kHz.

Mark Levinson №5909 Headphones Review

Meanwhile, USB-C to USB-C lets you listen via USB Digital Direct from your computer while also recharging the headphones. The battery is good for around thirty hours, fully charged with ANC switched on, or thirty-four without. In a hurry? A fifteen-minute charge gives you circa six hours of playback from empty.

Noise-cancellation comes in three flavours in the Mark Levinson Headphones app (free for iOS and Android) – Off, On or Awareness – and then Low, High and Adaptive for the level of noise-cancelling, with Ambient and Voice Pass for your awareness options. Additionally, the app lets you select between three Levinson-approved EQ curves, or 'Bass Contours'. You can also adjust how long the headphones remain powered up when not playing and toggle the on-head detection, which works rather well, on and off.

Mark Levinson №5909 Headphones Review

Physical controls are split between the earcups, with the right side home to a familiar three-button strip handling volume up/ down, track forwards/ backwards, play/pause, answer/end call and voice-assistant. Meanwhile, on the left, you have ANC and awareness settings alongside power and Bluetooth pairing buttons. Finally, hands-free calling is assisted by four so-called 'high-tech' microphones that 'listen' to your voice and disregard the ambient noise surrounding you, so all the other party hears are your eloquent words. This worked well both in busy train stations and in the hustle-and-bustle of central London.

IN USE

The compact №5909 is immensely comfortable to wear for hours on end and proved an excellent travelling partner during my recent jaunts to Europe. Clamping force is good, even for my slightly narrow noggin, and getting the right fit was a cinch. This pair of headphones screams quality even upon the closest inspection. Yet even in the metallic Radiant Red finish (Pearl Black and Ice Pewter are your other options) of the review pair, these cans don't have the neon 'steal me now' sign of the likes of Apple, Bose, Sony, Beats, B&W and B&O!

Mark Levinson №5909 Headphones Review

The controls proved responsive and easy to use, and I never had any issue with the pairing between my device (mostly a Google Pixel 6 Pro) or with the app which, while not the most feature-packed of its kind, does what you need. There were minor Bluetooth interruptions in the killing fields of rush hour Liverpool Street, Kings Cross and Waterloo stations, but not as much as I've experienced with alternatives.

THE LISTENING

Before going untethered, I tried the №5909 plugged into several devices. Switched off and connected by the 3.5mm cable to an Auris Euterpe via an adapter with a Chord Qutest crunching digits from my PC, Marillion's Kayleigh sounded vibrant with plenty of detail. It was a little less laid-back than my Ultrasone Edition 15 Veritas that lives in my office. As no EQ was being added by the active electronics, what I was hearing was the beryllium drivers and my system. I felt my purpose-built wired sets imaged better than the ML headphones, but even though the №5909 weighs 20g more than the Ultrasones at 340g, the Levinson cans felt lighter to wear.

Mark Levinson №5909 Headphones Review

In a similar scenario, I plugged them into a Chord Mojo 2 using the same cable, this time with the headphones switched on before connecting, letting me toggle between the ANC settings. Meanwhile, the ML's Bass Contour defaulted to the last one selected via the app. As the input was now EQ'd, there was a different character to the sound compared to when in passive mode. However, it was still pleasing, with a reassuring amount of detail. Finally, going via USB-C into my Asus ZenBook Duo laptop while watching Moon Knight on Disney+, the №5909 gave me wonderfully cinematic bass with dynamic explosions and effects alongside the option to add noise-cancelling to block out my family for uninterrupted viewing. While I was doing this, the cans were also recharging.

Going cable-free didn't lose vast amounts of fidelity; the clarity was actually quite remarkable, even more so as we're dealing with Bluetooth here. This pair of headphones was able to extract even the most subtle information from the depths of a recording while remaining unfatiguing at all times. To this end, Radiohead's 15 Step is a real workout for even the most adept wired headsets, yet the Mark Levinsons were able to impart this multi-layered musical offering in a hugely enjoyable way.

Mark Levinson №5909 Headphones Review

Rhythms were excellent, too. Is It All Binary by Soulwax is a feisty percussion-driven track, and I soon found myself bobbing my head as I made my way through Soho. Need a bit more slam to the lower frequencies? A quick nudge on the app adds a satisfying bass-drum thump that's sometimes required when out and about. For the most part, however, the low end is well judged with healthy extension and natural sounding attack and decay.

The story is also pretty much the same up top. Treble isn't overly bitey to give an instant impression of detail, nor is it all shimmer and shine. Moreover, it's not rolled off in the name of stamina. As a result, what the listener gets feels pretty much as the artist intended. Indeed, the crashing cymbals through The Dead Weather's 60 Foot Tall could be painful through harsher headphones, but I heard a well-balanced and considered mix inside a nicely-arranged, believable soundstage. Yet the midband skills really do the talking. The close-mic'd stylings of Billy Eilish was a case in point as every breath, inflexion and phoneme was faithfully transported to my lugholes in a goosebump-inducing manner.

Mark Levinson №5909 Headphones Review

So, is the ML №5909 perfect? Well, not quite. Where the beam-forming mics did a stand-up job of imparting my dulcet northern tones free of background noise, the noise-cancelling was good rather than class-leading. Yes, on flights and trains with a relatively consistent level of noise – such as engine drone – it performed well, but it seemed the system could be easily thrown if given plenty to deal with. So, anyone looking to be entirely cocooned by ANC can find better at a lower cost. However, what I did like was that the acoustic character did not change with ANC engaged - the same cannot be said for some other brands.

THE VERDICT

Value for money is a tricky phrase when looking at luxury items, which is where the Mark Levinson №5909 is pitched. Let's face it, one person's Tissot is another's Vacheron Constantin. However, middling noise-cancellation aside, this is a great-sounding pair of headphones when given a decent source, wired and wireless. Furthermore, active and passive wired listening are proper options rather than merely a failsafe should your battery run out.

Is the №5909 able to replace a serious pair of wireless travel cans and a good set of wired home headphones? I think so. Add good looks, excellent build and a highly respected boutique brand, and there is much to like about this product. If you are looking for a statement pair of multi-purpose headphones and have the budget, then this svelte, classy design ticks the boxes.

Visit Mark Levinson for more information

    Jay Garrett's avatar

    Jay Garrett

    StereoNET’s resident rock star, bass player, and gadget junkie. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.

    Posted in:Headphones Applause Awards 2022 Headphones Over / On Ear Noise Cancelling Bluetooth / Wireless
    Tags: mark levinson  convoy 



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