Mark Levinson ML5802 Integrated Amplifier Review
ML5802 Integrated Amplifier
AUD $12,495 RRP
Once happy to sit at the very top of the high-end hi-fi tree, Mark Levinson is making its products more accessible, and why not? No longer can audiophiles cite the cost of the company’s kit as a reason not to buy – or at least, it’s less of a reason. There are two new so-called “entry-level” amplifiers out – the Nº 5802 at $12,495 and the Nº 5805 at $14,995. Whereas the former – as tested here – is designed for digital sources only, the latter sports old fashioned line-level inputs and an MM/MC phono stage.
Design for life
The Nº 5802 and 5805 are unmistakably Mark Levinson products, blessed with the company’s distinctive visual look. Both are reminiscent of the Nº 585.5, thus sporting a cleaner and less cluttered appearance than products of yore. The so-called “bold new industrial design” shows a cleaner and simpler style, with smaller silver highlights and frame which to my eyes is a success. The front panel is a chunky one-inch thick, bead-blasted, black-anodized, solid aluminium sculpture with the hallmark twin silver dials on a black background and red coloured display. The front panel also features a headphone output, a single 6.35mm jack. An elegant 5000 Series aluminium IR remote control is included, which is lovely to use.
The rear panel is unusually bare in having no inputs other than the digital variety. They include 1x AES, 1x USB 2.0, 2x coaxial S/PDIF and 2x optical S/PDIF ports with 192kHz/32-bit PCM and DSD 5.6 capability. MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) decoding is supported on all digital inputs, including asynchronous USB. Bluetooth audio input is built-in with support for the excellent AptX-HD codec.
There’s a set of high-current binding posts for connecting loudspeakers and a single variable RCA stereo output for connection to an auxiliary power amplifier. The rear panel also has an Ethernet (RJ45) jack suitable for firmware updates, an RS-232 (DB9) connection for third-party automation control, a 12V trigger input/output and an IR input via 3.5mm jack. The amplifier was designed, engineered and made in the USA, and the quality, fit and finish is exactly as you'd expect of Mark Levinson.
Being tied to the digital domain, the Nº 5802 uses the Mark Levinson Precision-Link II DAC at its heart. This is based on an ESS Sabre 32-bit DAC chip, bolstered by special jitter elimination circuitry. It’s an ultra-low distortion and noise design with a claimed signal-to-noise ratio of 120dB. The direct-coupled, Class AB power amplifier section is fed from a large 500+ VA toroidal transformer with individual secondary windings for left and right channels; these are fully discrete via four 10,000-microfarad capacitors per channel. The power of the amplifier is rated at 125W/channel at 8 ohms, and a healthy near 250W/channel at 4 ohms. It is said to be stable in operation down to 2 ohms, so should comfortably drive almost any loudspeaker. The whole package weighs an osteopath-friendly 27.6kg.
Setup is simple, with your choice of digital source plugged into one of the many digital inputs, power via an IEC mains cable and connection to your loudspeakers. The amp responds well to both warming up and running in, and there are menu options to let you choose what level of standby you prefer. Indeed, in standby mode it can be set to ‘power save’ which leaves some control circuitry on, but I preferred the ‘Normal’ mode which switches off the display but keeps all audio circuits constantly active. It’s nice to have the choice.
I used a variety of sources and digital inputs with remarkably similar results, and the Nº 5805 didn’t sonically favour any particular digital input. All inputs operated faultlessly and remained stable, with an almost instant digital lock, indicating good design. With Nomad’s Fade Away, I was greeted with a lovely transparent wall of sound, a deep soundstage and loads of detail. This amplifier is instantly appealing, and had no trouble digging deep to reproduce that rumbling low bass. Indeed, its low end proved clean, extended and punchy, although it doesn’t quite have the fleet-of-foot feel of my reference Cambridge Audio Edge A amplifier (reviewed here), or its Mark Levinson Nº 585.5 cousin (reviewed here).
Caroline’s voice was nice and clear, hanging in space, well distanced from the rest of the instruments, with the synths having a pleasant texture just as they should. Tonal balance proved neutral and poised, and in fact better than I remember from its bigger brother, the Nº 585.5. There’s nothing dark about its character that certain older Mark Levinson amplifiers seemed to have. My reference Revel F228Be loudspeakers worked well with this amplifier, and it shone with a number of other designs too – thanks in no small part to its approachable nature and unprejudiced, neutral sound.
Ahmad Jamal playing the piano to the tune of I Remember Italy from the Blue Moon album is a tasty smorgasbord of sounds. The beautifully recorded piano came alive in my listening room. This Mark Levinson amplifier was really in its element and delivered the full range of dynamic shading present in the track. The tonal inflections as he plays up and down the keyboard sounded incredibly realistic. He runs the range of the piano a number of times, and it was a pleasure to hear each one – particularly because of the amplifier’s accurate tonality. The reverb tails of the piano notes, as they erupt and then disappear within the room, were all convincingly reproduced too.
Like many jazz tracks, this is some thirteen minutes long, and after the five-minute mark the percussionist begins to use a wide range of effects. Besides the brilliant piano playing, listening out for the chimes, rattles, chirps and/or shakers was definitely a highlight. Indeed the way that the Nº 5802 presents Ahmad and his band is quite special. For example, the soundstage is tall, deep and wide, with excellent instrumental separation and location. You can really hear the room that they’re playing in, and the amplifier delivers everything on the track without editing or revising the sound. It’s accurate enough to serve up a pretty literal rendering.
Dynamics are also a highlight, with plenty of power on hand to reproduce transients. With a quoted power of 125W/8ohms/channel, I felt that it’s easily powerful and loud enough. When it was being played loudly, it didn’t get harsh or compressed. Rather it played cleanly, pretty much as loud as you would reasonably like, with no drama at all. Indeed the manner of its power delivery is noteworthy, so let me give you an example. Pitch Black’s Transient Transmission – Deep Fried Dub’s Battered Mix is electronica with a reggae swagger. The amount of control in the bassline and the attack of the notes was rather special, and all the more so as I started to crank the volume dial higher. The rest of the track stayed together with total control over the imaging and the mids and highs, regardless of volume setting.
As you would expect from a product boasting extensive digital connectivity, the Nº 5802 is equipped with a Bluetooth interface which supports the aptX-HD codec for 24-bit music quality. The pairing and connections with my Android mobile phone proved prompt and virtually seamless. Sound quality was surprisingly good – indeed I’m a big fan of the aptX-HD because subjectively it’s very close to having a wired connection. Given that this standard is becoming increasingly common, it is really a must-have – your dinner party guests will thank you.
The Mark Levinson brand brings to mind the attributes of exhilaration, quality, longevity and musicality – and the Nº 5802 carries on this tradition. It is a welcome addition to the new 5000 generation of Mark Levinson products that is sure to introduce new customers to the brand portfolio – not just for the heritage but also for the sound. There’s certainly no doubt in my mind that this amplifier is a thoroughbred Mark Levinson product, albeit a fresh interpretation with a stylish twist.
It seems to me that the company has kept an eye on the past while living firmly in the present. Is this the start of a new generation of Mark Levinson products that represent better value than their older counterparts, being more attainable and hence more desirable for those of us who haven’t traditionally been able to stretch to the company’s classic products? Although this integrated amplifier isn’t as powerful as the Nº 585.5, it has a more instantly likeable and accessible personality, and is sure to partner with a wider range of loudspeakers. To conclude, I enjoyed this new product immensely. The only downside is having to decide whether this digital input-equipped version is the one for you, or whether you should opt for the full fat analogue version.
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Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early ’80s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now splits his time between professional reviewing and AV consultancy.