Review: Mark Levinson No. 5909 Noise Cancelling Headphones
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Meet The No. 5909
Say hello to Mark Levinson’s first-ever headphones, the No. 5909: a reference-quality, high-resolution, wireless, over-ear headphone with adaptive noise cancelling.
These are high-fidelity headphones crafted from premium materials with the comfort, features, and performance to back up the premium price point. With up to 34 hours of playback, a nice selection of adapters and a hard-shell case, these make for a great packable travel companion for music lovers on the move that will appreciate the incredible level of audio reproduction.
This article takes a deep dive into these new, luxury wireless headphones and includes my detailed testing notes where I apply four different core use cases and review how they perform across each (Bluetooth vs. USB-C vs. USB-C to 3.5mm cable, for example).
Who is Mark Levinson?
Let’s start with giving some context to the brand...
Founded in 1972 by its namesake, Mark Levinson, a recording and mastering engineer, Mark Levinson the brand is an established American audio brand, based in Stamford Connecticut, that has had a position in the top tier of 2-channel audio for decades.
Well-known for their reference-level 2-channel audio components, their current line-up consists of amps, preamps, integrated amps, turntables, and streaming CD players. You will even find their 17-speaker luxury audio systems in Lexus cars.
If you’ve had the opportunity to experience Mark Levinson gear first-hand, it’s pretty evident that they are committed to performance and build quality.
The 5909s are Mark Levinson’s first-ever portable offering.
The fact that Mark Levinson has introduced headphones to their portfolio is pretty freaking cool. As an elite 2-channel leader, Mark Levinson’s engineers are devoted to mastering the reproduction of music in a way that doesn’t sound reproduced... but sounds like you’re in the room right there with the artist. That means uncovering detail, nuances, and texture in the music and keeping it pure and free of distortion and interference. Think: an artist’s breath before a verse or another layer of harmony you’ve never noticed before.
The No. 5909 Basics:
The Mark Levinson No. 5909s are wireless, over-ear headphones with adaptive active noise cancelling. They are available in three colors: Pearl Black, Ice Pewter, and Radiant Red.
No. 5909 notable highlights include:
- Bluetooth 5.1 technology with LDAC, AAC, and aptX codecs.
- Four-microphone array with Smart Wind Adaption for crystal clear phone calls.
- Adaptive Active Noise Cancellation with three modes for premium sound isolation.
- Ambient Aware for situational awareness in one’s surroundings.
These headphones offer impressive playback time delivering up to 30 hours of reference-quality audio over Bluetooth with Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) enabled or up to 34 hours with ANC off. The Noise Cancelling and Awareness modes use the four-microphone array which draws more power. So, i f you want the No. 5909's batteries to last longer and you’re in a quiet environment, the passive mode will give you more time before needing a recharge. If you’re worried about charging time, a 15-minute charge will give you 6 hours of use.
The No. 5909s come with a lightweight, textured, hard-shell carrying case, which I've found is resistant to the oils of your hands so it doesn’t get riddled with fingerprints. The case has two zipper pulls with a “water-proof” zipper protector, which protects your precious cargo while traveling. And the case has my favorite discrete addition: the case within a case. Perfect for keeping cables and accessories tidy and organized without getting in the way of the headphones.
There is an assortment of cables and accessories, and I'll go over how you can use them a little later in this article.
There is a...
- 1.25m USB-C cable (which is more than just a charging cable).
- 1.25m USB-C to 3.5mm stereo cable (Which is great for travelling with an analog connection)
- 4m USB-C to 3.5mm stereo cable. (Which I think is better for at home listening than traveling unless you want to use it to stay in shape and jump rope).
One thing I wish Mark Levinson would include would be cable organizers. I went ahead and added them myself as you can see in the video above.
As for adapters you’ll have...
- 3.5mm to 6.3mm adaptor (more commonly called an 1/8” to ¼' stereo adaptor used to connect to home stereo components).
- USB-C to USB-A adaptor (for older chargers or computer connections).
- Airplane audio adaptor (a 3.5mm stereo to dual mono 3.5mm connector).
The case also has some room for other accessories you may want to use. I’ve already added a USB DAC and Lightning to USB-A Adapter.
There is a microfiber polishing cloth, to keep your investment looking good.
If you like to read instructions, there is a quick start guide and a safety and warning booklet.
Also included in the box is a 3-month subscription to Qobuz, a Hi-Res music streaming service so you can get the most out of the Hi-Res features and you can check out the playlist I created on Qobuz to evaluate these headphones.
Design and Build
As expected with any pair of premium headphones, Mark Levinson did not skimp on materials or design, with a serious focus on comfort. The 40mm Beryllium coated drivers are tuned to what is called the “Harman Curve”, a target frequency response that is the optimal sound signature for headphones.
These headphones are durable.. The No. 5909s are constructed with core aluminum components. The earcups are coated with automotive-grade paint and the band and the connector are anodized aluminum. The subtle red stitching on the headband and the red aluminum accents that surround the laser-etched Mark Levinson logo are two really nice details that remind you these are a luxury piece. The soft, black leather headband and leather earcups feel luxe and are comfortable in all the right places and the earcups provide plenty of room for your ears to breathe and stay cool. The headband yoke slides up and down to adjust to your head size and ensure pressure is distributed properly, which helps to prevent discomfort and fatigue from extended wear. I’ve worn them all day long without getting irritated, which again makes them a wonderful choice for travel.
The earcup pads are replaceable, which if you’ve owned and loved a pair of headphones for years, the earcups will eventually start to show signs of wear and it’s a great way to keep up with your investment. The No. 5909s are a fold-flat design with swiveling earcups so the cups will sit flat on a surface and in the carrying case. The controls on the left cup have your Power button / Bluetooth connector which you press and hold to activate and an Active Noise Cancelling button to toggle between Passive, Noise Cancelling, and Awareness modes. The controls on the right side are your volume up and down and in the center is your play/pause button. They are all physical buttons which make it easy to know which button to press without having to look.
Active Noise Cancelling
How do they sound? We’re not there, yet. Let’s talk about what you will not hear, and a little about the Active Noise Cancelling or ANC.
The No. 5909s have an array of (4) microphones to allow for adaptive active noise canceling. There are three different settings of Active Noise Cancellation depending on the level of noise in your environment. And, an Ambient Aware mode lets you easily talk to those around you without having to remove your headphones.
Out of the box, these headphones come with the ANC High by default, and it’s perfect for noisy environments. I was impressed the first time I put them on with just how much background noise disappeared. You could say I was even excited. I was at my desk listening to music at an office appropriate level (because I'm not a monster) and everything in the background vanished. The noise from my computer fan was gone. It felt like I had walked into an acoustically treated room and everything that gets in the way of good sound had vanished.
In addition to ANC High, you have two additional settings: Adaptive and Low. To be able to change between these three ANC settings, you have to go into the app.
In the middle is the Adaptive setting. Adaptive adjusts the level of noise cancelling based on the noise levels picked up by the microphones from your environment. If the microphones pick up too much noise, they will adjust the settings to better compensate for the environment. If you are in a quieter environment, they will reduce how the active noise canceling compensates.
Finally, there is the Low mode. Low uses the least amount of correction and is good for environments that are not too noisy.
The awareness mode allows the outside world to pass into the headphones. The opposite of noise cancelling, but it’s good if you need to have conversations without having to take your headphones off. The awareness mode has two settings. Voice Pass focuses on allowing conversations to pass through more easily, and the Ambient setting allows the entire environment to pass through.
Of course there’s an app, but Mark Levinson kept it simple. They didn’t go overboard with needless adjustments and the user interface is intuitive and straightforward. Everything is pretty much ready to go once you connect the No. 5909s to Bluetooth. After they’re connected, it will reach out to the Mark Levinson servers and detect if the No. 5909s are on the most recent firmware version. If a new version is available, you will be prompted to download. Once it's confirmed you’re running the most recent version, the settings page has (5) options: ANC, Awareness, Bass Contour, Auto-Off Timer, and On-Head Detection.
- ANC High (Perfect for noisy environments like airplanes or crowded places).
- Adaptive (Automatically adjusts ANC to your usage and environment, perfect for on-the-go)
- ANC Low (Recommended for less noisy environments)
- Voice Pass (Provides improved awareness of conversations around you).
- Ambient (Provides improved awareness of your surroundings).
- Enhanced (about a +3db increase at 20Hz and then slopes down to match the neutral curve at 100Hz).
- Attenuated (about a –3db decrease at 20Hz and then slopes up to match the neutral curve at 100Hz).
Auto-Off Timer: 30min/1 hour/3Hours/Never
On-Head Detection: This is pretty straight forward, and the name is what it is: On-Head Detection. This uses a sensor to determine if you are wearing headphones and will pause audio when it senses you’ve taken them off. It resumes the audio when the headphones are back on your head. You have the option to turn this feature on or off. I prefer off, because I want to control when I stop playing something. If you find you’re taking your headphones on and off a lot, you may want to turn the feature on to help preserve battery.
How Does The No. 5909 Sound?
Let's talk about how they sound and how I tested them out. The sound is, as Mark Levinson advertises, reference quality. To meet the standards of Hi-Res Audio certification, these headphones include LDAC audio codec digital circuitry compatible with 24-bit/96kHz processing, and acoustic response out to 40kHz. Listening to the No. 5909s, there is an incredible amount of detail. They are tuned very neutral so there isn’t too much bass and nothing is overwhelming. If you do want more or less bass, the app will allow you to contour the low end to meet your desired level. You’ll hear the most in small portions of songs, that would normally pass by unnoticed but shine with the No. 5909s like they would with any good two channel system. You’ll hear all the tricks and nuances that are mixed into music to give it that special feeling that you’re being entranced by the sound.
Do yourself a favor and listen to Taylor Swift’s All Too Well (10-minute version) and listen for the subtle sounds as the song begins. You’ll hear someone picking up an instrument, the soft strumming of a guitar before it really kicks into the song, the detail of fingers sliding across the strings as it changes notes, a slight tickle of piano keys like you can feel that someone is getting ready to play as it slowly builds to the beginning of the song. It’s 30 seconds before you hear a voice and 45 until the song kicks in but it’s creating the anticipation of the song. As the song plays there are whispers of chimes playing for only moments, that will slip by if you’re not paying attention only to be played with more veracity only seconds later. If you’ve never heard something that puts these little nuances to the forefront, you’re really missing out on hearing the layers that put a song together.
With enhancements from the No. 5909’s active noise cancelling, you’re enveloped by the sound. If music is something you’re passionate about, the No. 5909s will not disappoint. They have incredible separation of vocals and instruments and have a real presence. Because they can highlight every little detail and tune out the outside world, you’ll really get lost in what you’re listening to.
From another song on my playlist, Sing with Me by Bad Cop/Bad Cop, that has a wonderful three-part harmony, the No. 5909s presented their voices where you could distinguish between all three vocalists where in other headphones they would meld together. And this was over a Bluetooth connection – so not even the highest resolution connection.
I was using songs that were at minimum CD quality (16bit/44.1kHz) and at maximum 24bit/192kHZ, but the majority were 24bit/96kHz. If you’ve watched my other videos on World Wide Stereo's YouTube channel, you’ll know that I use Qobuz as my source material. I think it’s by far the best sounding and best selection HD library out there and is my preferred go-to among the (4) streaming services I use. For evaluating the No. 5909s, I used my Roon as my audio controller so I could have visual confirmation of the audio quality I was getting in my different test setups.
I used Bluetooth to my iPhone 11, the 1.25m USB-C to 3.5mm to an iPad (for analog connection) and to an AudioQuest DragonFly Red (for a DAC connection), USB-C to USB-C to a MacBook Pro (for direct digital connection), USB-C to USB-A with adapter to Windows 10 PC, and the 4m USB-C to 3.5mm with the 6.3mm adapter to the Headphone output of my MAC6700. I have some screenshots that we’ve included so I can “show my work”, but you’ll have to trust me, too. I tried almost every connection I could think of so I could really put the No5909 through its paces. I won’t go through each one at length, but I'll talk about the (4) core uses I believe people will try.
- Easiest to use. It’s untethered, so you’re free to move around.
- Of all the options it’s the “Lowest” quality with a 4:1 compression ratio but it utilizes 24bit/96khz DAC of the No5909s to improve sound quality.
- If you listen to higher quality sources, you’ll still see the benefits.
- I’ll put them on real quick so you can hear the Bluetooth quality for yourself.
- Because it’s Bluetooth, you’ll also be able to use these for your Phone Calls / Virtual Meetings
- You’ll have the clearest sound in the Zoom call
- And the No5909s have “Smart Wind Adaption” so if you’re walking down the street they will adjust the microphones so you don’t have to mute your call because you’re interrupting the meeting or your phone call.
- Still portable and will give you an HD capable connection at 24bit/96Khz
- Good connection to new computers
- The included adapter will help you connect to an older style USB as well.
- It did not lip sync with the video I watched, and I'm not surprised. Hopefully there’s a future firmware update to correct this, but for right now if you’re watching video, switch to Bluetooth.
USB-C to 3.5mm 1.25m Cable
- Connection for standard headphones jacks on your devices or USB DACs (DIGITAL TO ANALOG CONVERTER)
- I use this the majority of time when I'm travelling with my headphones because I love the sound that my AudioQuest Dragonfly Red enhances, but it’s bulky, cumbersome, and drains your battery quicker than normal. It’s not ideal for everyone traveling.
- It is definitely good for a stationary space where all the extra pieces won’t feel like too much.
USB-C to 3.5mm 4m Cable
- Not portable at all. Mostly used for a dedicated space in a home listening area.
- This setup let me connect to my Two Channel setup so I could listen to 24bit/192khz files and see the depth the No5909s could offer.
- The cable was actually long enough that I could stay connected to my HiFi system and cook dinner at the same time.
- This let me listen to records as well without monopolizing my house.
- A great setup for sure.
I've seen a few other reviews out there label the Mark Levinson No. 5909s as “Travel Bluetooth Headphones”, which yes, they are great for travel no doubt... but they’re so much more than that. These are outstanding hybrid headphones that do a lot of things... and do them all really, really well. Something I have not seen a lot of in the market. They are great Bluetooth headphones for high-quality on-the-go listening with reference quality sound reproduction, but they are also a great pair of headphones for listening to a dedicated Headphone DAC or directly to your computer with the USB-C cable and utilizing the internal 24bit/96khz DAC in the No. 5909s.
If I have learned anything about the No. 5909s during my evaluation it is that they are versatile and will adapt to any scenario you throw at them, while reproducing reference quality sound.