Audacious audio: Mark Levinson’s $999 wi-fi headphones are superior, and onerous to suggest

MSRP $999.00

“If cash is not any object, these crazy-expensive cans are one of the best you will get.”

Execs

  • Luxurious sound
  • Very comfy
  • Wonderful name high quality
  • Good ANC and transparency
  • Wonderful codec help
  • Good case, tons of equipment

Cons

  • Over-the-top costly
  • Annoying voice bulletins
  • Wants ANC mode management

In relation to wired headphones, there’s seemingly no restrict to how a lot you may spend. From the hand-crafted expertise of the $59,000 Sennheiser Orpheus HE/1, to the gold and diamond-encrusted $120,000 Focal Utopia by Tournaire, the wired headphone world is a playground for rich audiophiles.

However over within the wi-fi headphones house, issues have been far tamer. Positive, you may nonetheless spend your self foolish by including valuable metals and jewels, however in the case of shopping for an objectively higher set of cans, producers haven’t strayed outdoors of three-figure pricing — till this yr. With the arrival of the Mark Levinson No. 5909 from the Harman Luxurious Audio group, new floor has been damaged. With a listing worth of $999, I’ve no drawback calling these the primary wi-fi headphones to hit the $1,000 threshold. However even in case you don’t spherical up, the No. 5909 are simply the most costly wi-fi headphones you should purchase.

Are they price it? Just one method to discover out.

What’s within the field?

In step with Mark Levinson’s popularity for high-end audio gear, the No. 5909 are superbly appointed. They arrive nestled in a hard-shell carry case wrapped in a cloth that appears like brushed black metallic however is definitely gentle to the contact. Inside, you’ll discover a beneficiant variety of cables, together with a really lengthy, 13-foot USB-C to three.5 mm audio cable; a shorter four-foot USB-C to three.5 mm audio cable; and a four-foot USB-C to USB-C charging cable that may additionally function a digital audio cable. All three cables are braided and tangle-free, with bespoke Mark Levinson logos adorning the USB-C connectors — very slick.

You additionally get three adapters: a USB-A to USB-C in case your charger or PC makes use of the bigger port, a 3.5mm to ¼-inch headphone adapter, and a two-prong airplane adapter for plane that also use this outdated design. Aside from the 13-foot cable, all of those extras are stowed in a central zippered storage part.

It’s a totally premium expertise, precisely as you must anticipate for this worth.

Design

Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones.Simon Cohen / Digital Developments

What makes a set of headphones seem like you simply spent $1,000 — and is that even what you need? Mark Levinson appears to have wrestled with these questions a good bit in developing with the design for No. 5909, and it exhibits. It didn’t draw back from premium supplies like anodized aluminum and leather-based, and there’s a stunning, seamless line because the tubular headband sliders emerge from both sides after which type the forks that maintain the earcups — with nary a hinge or wire to be seen. On our Pearl Black loaner (they’re additionally accessible in Ice Pewter and Radiant Pink), the pink headband stitching completely enhances the skinny pink accent ring on the earcups. However there’s additionally a good quantity of plastic, too.

In some circumstances, that plastic will get dressed to the nines, as is the case with the primary earcup shells, which have been given an “automotive-grade metallic” paint job. It has a pleasant sparkle, however it’s additionally a fingerprint magnet. In different circumstances, chrome accents are used to offer one other automotive-inspired cue, as with the perforated ring that encircles the outer aluminum cowl.

However to my eye, the general impact doesn’t scream luxurious or high-end. They appear superb — no complaints in any respect. However, it’s price repeating: These cans price one clam lower than a grand.

Close up of Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones earcup.Simon Cohen / Digital Developments

That worth is much more insane once you evaluate them to the extra inexpensive $599 Grasp & Dynamic MW75, which make intensive use of anodized and polished aluminum, tempered glass, and no plastic in any respect. Seen side-by-side, the No. 5909 type of look a bit of low-cost — however perhaps that’s simply me.

  • 1.
    Mark Levinson No. 5909 (left) and Grasp & Dynamic MW75.
  • 2.
    Mark Levinson No. 5909 (left) and Grasp & Dynamic MW75.
  • 3.
    Mark Levinson No. 5909 (left) and Grasp & Dynamic MW75.

By the way in which, I’m not bringing the MW75 into this overview on a whim, or simply for a comparability to a different dear, high-end set of wi-fi headphones. Their form, weight, headband and slider building, driver measurement and supplies, and loads of different traits are both equivalent — or so shut they could as effectively be. I reached out to each corporations for his or her feedback. Grasp & Dynamic declined to remark, whereas a spokesperson for Harman Luxurious Audio acknowledged that the 2 merchandise come from the identical unique design producer (ODM).

All through the remainder of this overview, I’ll be calling out the small variations, so you may resolve if the No.5909 justify their $400 worth premium over the MW75.

Consolation, controls, and connections

Close up of controls on Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones.Simon Cohen / Digital Developments

As luck would have it, we’ve hit one of many large variations between the No. 5909 and the MW75: consolation. This may sound loopy after I simply advised you the way related these cans are, however the No. 5909 are extra comfy for longer intervals. Sure, regardless that they really weigh two complete grams greater than the MW75, they really feel lighter in your head. I imagine the key is the No. 5909’s ear cushions, that are a bit of thinner and have a barely bigger opening in your ears.

This mixture does two issues: brings the mass of the earcups nearer to your head, which cuts down on the feeling of weight, and distributes the scarf’s clamping power over a wider space (whereas concurrently growing grip).

The distinction was so noticeable that I needed to double-check the specs — I had totally satisfied myself the Mark Levinsons have been lighter.

All of this to say, they’re extremely comfy. Even after two hours of steady use whereas seated and strolling, I didn’t detect any stress factors. They even appear to do an honest job of dissipating warmth, which is exceptional on condition that they’re leather-based padded and never vented in any respect.

Side view of man wearing Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphonesSimon Cohen / Digital Developments

The controls are easy and get the job accomplished. An influence/pairing button and an lively noise cancellation (ANC) mode button sit on the left earcup, whereas a triple-combo multifunction/plus/minus set of buttons are on the fitting. This offers you the whole lot you should play/pause, skip ahead/again, quantity up/down, name reply/finish, hail your phone’s voice assistant, and regulate your ANC.

With the elective ear-detection function enabled, the headphones can auto-pause and resume your tunes once you take away and change them out of your head, however once more, identical to the MW75, it’s a bit quirky; you solely get a ten-second window to renew, in any other case, you’ll have to begin playback manually.

My one criticism is that it may be onerous to determine the central multifunction button together with your thumb as a result of it’s small and solely barely raised above the peak of the plus/minus buttons that flank it. I favor the format of those controls on the MW75, which separates them into particular person, spaced-out buttons. Plus, the multifunction button stands out extra prominently than the opposite two.

The No. 5909 makes use of Bluetooth 5.1 and enjoys an excellent wi-fi vary and stability. It’s additionally geared up with Multipoint, so you may join to 2 units concurrently and change forwards and backwards between them without having to re-pair. It labored effortlessly between my Mac and my iPhone, in addition to with a Xiaomi 12 Professional.

Mark Levinson app settings page.

Master & Dynamic app.

  • 1.
    Mark Levinson cell app.
  • 2.
    Grasp & Dynamic cell app.

Mark Levinson has thrown the proverbial kitchen sink at these cans relating to Bluetooth codecs. You get ‘em all: SBC, AAC, aptX Adaptive, and LDAC. These final two are key; they’re the 2 most generally used wi-fi hi-res codecs, every able to delivering as much as 24-bit/96kHz lossy audio underneath the fitting situations. It’s a rarity to see them each supported, as most corporations have a tendency to choose one or the opposite. aptX Adaptive is newer, however it’s not used on Android phones older than about two to a few years. With LDAC, even phones going again to Android 8.0 can get wonderful wi-fi sound from the No. 5909. Sadly, even the most recent iPhone — because of Apple’s ongoing refusal to license both aptX or LDAC — can be restricted to lossy, 16-bit wi-fi audio. I’ll focus on this limitation extra within the sound high quality part.

Sound high quality

Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones with ear cushion removed.Simon Cohen / Digital Developments

So, how do the world’s first $1,000 wi-fi headphones sound? In a phrase, very good.

The No.5909 ship an intoxicating mix of precision, element, and superbly balanced frequencies. They’re marked by a bass response that appears to reside in its personal separate sonic aircraft of existence — it’s tight, quick, and by no means obscures the mid-tones. It’s additionally deliciously articulate. The opening notes of Depraved Video games by We Are Wolves are a salvo of deep electronica — the type of sound that may get smeared by distortion or lose a few of its impression when there isn’t enough resonance. The No.5909 deal with them with placing dexterity and a depth you may really feel in your chest.

They’re, by a really small margin, one of the best wi-fi headphones I’ve ever worn.

That’s with the bass contour EQ setting within the Mark Levinson app set to “enhanced.” If you choose one of many different two tweaks (impartial or attenuated), you may ease again on the bass throttle, leaving the whole lot else completely intact.

It’s price making an attempt these modes for content material, like spoken phrase or classical, however as somebody who loves it when bass is completed proper, I stored the improved mode on for many of my time with these cans.

  • 1.
    Mark Levinson No. 5909 (prime) and Grasp & Dynamic MW75.
  • 2.
    Mark Levinson No. 5909 (prime) and Grasp & Dynamic MW75.
  • 3.
    Mark Levinson No. 5909 (left) and Grasp & Dynamic MW75.

The soundstage might be regarded as fastidiously executed. By that, I imply it’s beneficiant sufficient to ship a way of house and immersion, however not so huge that it turns into distracting. A lot of the perceived sound lives someplace between simply inside your ears to a few foot outdoors your head, or no less than, that’s the way it felt to me.

However what actually caught my consideration is the way in which you may discern the vertical house inside that stage. There’s a second in Really feel It Nonetheless by Portugal. The Man, across the 0:49 mark once you hear a high-pitched trilling, and I swear it felt like I might measure the space from the ground to the place that sound was coming from.

That’s the type of efficiency that makes you wish to pull out each single one among your favourite tracks and hearken to them another time, in case the No.5909 reveal a delicate element you’ve by no means heard earlier than.

They’re, by a really small margin, one of the best wi-fi headphones I’ve ever worn.

Front view of man wearing Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphonesSimon Cohen / Digital Developments

However, there are just a few extra issues that have to be stated concerning the sound on these cans.

First, codecs matter — large time. I used lossless 16 and 24-bit tracks from Amazon Music and Apple Music for many of my testing on a MacBook Air M1, an iPhone 11, a Google Pixel 5, and a Xiaomi 12 Professional. The Apple units couldn’t maintain a candle to the Android phones with their LDAC and aptX Adaptive codecs, respectively. It was evening and day: higher readability, extra element, larger dynamic vary.

I’ve stated earlier than that these high-quality codecs can solely be actually appreciated on high-end headphones and earbuds, and the No. 5909 strengthened that perception. When your gear is able to resolving that further element, you may hear it.

To get an equal stage of sound from a Mac, you’ll want to make use of the included USB-C charging/digital music cable, however that trick received’t work on an iPhone. As an alternative, you’ll want to purchase an exterior DAC/amp and use the included analog cable.

The No. 5909 are improbable for calls in any surroundings.

Second, ANC issues; this was a shock. Turning ANC on and off considerably impacted sound, principally within the decrease registers. With ANC off, a few of that wonderful bass simply disappears. The identical is true once you use the cans with the ability turned off through both analog or digital cables.

Third, and maybe most significantly, they do sound a bit higher to me than the Grasp & Dynamic MW75, even if each use a virtually equivalent set of 40mm beryllium drivers. However, it’s an enchancment you may solely respect by going forwards and backwards between these two superior headphones over quite a lot of tracks, and even then, it may be fairly powerful to qualify. Barely higher readability, a wee bit extra element, a touch of additional oomph within the bass: To somebody with golden ears and a fats pockets, perhaps these tiny increments are completely price 4 extra benjamins, however I can not promise, in good conscience, that you just’ll really feel the identical method.

Lively noise cancellation and transparency mode

Close up of headband on Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones.Simon Cohen / Digital Developments

The No. 5909 are excellent at canceling noise, however don’t anticipate any miracles. You get three ANC modes to select from within the Mark Levison app — excessive, adaptive, and low — and I didn’t discover a lot distinction between them.  Most background sounds, from espresso home chatter to droning equipment, are considerably diminished. It’s not so good as what you’ll get from the Sony WH-1000XM4 or XM5 or the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700, however it does the job.

What I did discover is that they behave equally to the three ANC modes on the MW75, which is to say, they produce a small however noticeable quantity of hiss when music isn’t taking part in, and once you change modes, the headphones take two seconds to take action, throughout which period your music is interrupted and a voice proclaims the brand new mode. Grasp & Dynamic allow you to flip these voice prompts off, however Mark Levinson doesn’t.

Transparency modes (voice move and ambient) are additionally excellent, supplying you with a robust connection to the skin world once you want it.

However, for some motive, the No. 5909 didn’t borrow one of many MW75’s greatest options: There’s no method to decide on the ANC modes which might be cycled once you press the ANC button on the left earcup. It’s all the time ANC > transparency > off. On the MW75, the app enables you to select any two, or all three. Hopefully, Mark Levinson will problem an replace to its software program that may repair this omission.

Name high quality

Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones, lying down, earcups pointed upward.Simon Cohen / Digital Developments

Given what I had skilled to date, I wasn’t anticipating the No. 5909 to supply considerably higher name high quality than the Grasp & Dynamic MW75 — that are good however not nice — however I used to be pleasantly shocked. The No. 5909 are improbable for calls in any surroundings.

Throughout my check recording strolling down a busy road, I used to be amused as a really loud truck handed inside inches of the sidewalk, and even stated, “Nicely that’s going to be an excellent check.” Later, once I performed it again, all you might hear was my voice — the truck had been solely erased.

Not that situations have been particularly windy whereas I used to be testing, however there wasn’t even a touch of wind noise.

This places the No. 5909 among the many easiest wi-fi cans for calls, neck and neck with the Sony WH-1000XM5, Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, JBL Tour One, and Apple AirPods Max.

The one caveat: When calling, the No. 5909 mechanically shut down ANC and allow some passthrough audio so you may hear your voice extra clearly. You’ll be able to’t change that, so in case you plan on calling from loud areas, your callers won’t concentrate on the sound, however you’ll.

Battery

Mark Levinson claims as much as 34 hours of battery life with out utilizing ANC and 30 hours when it’s turned on. From what I can inform, these numbers are virtually bang-on and perhaps even a tad conservative when your quantity is ready at 50% or decrease.

It hardly holds a candle to the exemplary battery lifetime of the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wi-fi at 60 hours of ANC-enabled play time, however it’ll get you thru a full day (or flight) with ease, and for most people, that’s sufficient.

For those who run low, a 15-minute fast cost gives you an additional six hours of time, which can also be excellent for a set of wi-fi headphones.

Our take

The Mark Levinson No. 5909 are luxurious, comfy, superb-sounding wi-fi noise-canceling headphones. If you need one of the best, that is it. However I don’t suppose there’s sufficient of a distinction between them and the very similarly-equipped $599 Grasp & Dynamic MW75 to justify that worth.

Is there a greater various?

By now, in case you haven’t already guessed, I’m a fan of the $599 Grasp & Dynamic MW75. And whereas they aren’t nearly as good for sound high quality and name high quality, there’s no method that the No. 5909 are $400 higher.

It goes with out saying that in case you merely need an ideal set of wi-fi headphones for $400 or much less, our regular suggestions nonetheless apply: You’ll be able to’t go improper with Sony’s $400 WH-1000XM5, its $348 WH-1000XM4, or Sennheiser’s $350 Momentum 4 Wi-fi.

How lengthy will they final?

The No. 5909 are very effectively constructed, from high-quality supplies, and the ear cushions are simply changed in the event that they put on out. The battery is large enough that even when its capability drops by 50% over time, they’ll nonetheless be completely serviceable for all however the longest listening periods.

With a really protecting hard-shell case, I see no motive why these dear cans shouldn’t final for a really very long time.

Harman Luxurious Audio backs them with a two-year parts and labor guarantee, which is double the usual one-year guarantee.

Do you have to purchase them?

If dropping a thousand {dollars} on a set of headphones is one thing you’re prepared to do with a view to personal one of the best, even when it’s solely a bit higher than the next-best-thing, go for it. You’ll in all probability sleep effectively at evening understanding that you just’ve acquired one of the best that cash should purchase.

However in case you suppose that investments of this nature must be proportional, save your self some cash and go for one among our different suggestions. It’s the rational factor to do.

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