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

MSRP $999.00

“If cash is not any object, these crazy-expensive cans are the most effective you may get.”

Professionals

  • Luxurious sound
  • Very snug
  • Wonderful name high quality
  • Good ANC and transparency
  • Wonderful codec assist
  • 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’ll be able to 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’ll be able to nonetheless spend your self foolish by including valuable metals and jewels, however relating to shopping for an objectively higher set of cans, producers haven’t strayed exterior 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 downside 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 costliest wi-fi headphones you should buy.

Are they value it? Just one technique to discover out.

What’s within the field?

In step with Mark Levinson’s popularity for high-end audio gear, the No. 5909 are fantastically appointed. They arrive nestled in a hard-shell carry case wrapped in a cloth that appears like brushed black metallic however is definitely comfortable 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of the bigger port, a 3.5mm to ¼-inch headphone adapter, and a two-prong airplane adapter for plane that also use this outdated design.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 completely premium expertise, precisely as you need to count on for this worth.

Design

Simon Cohen / Digital Developments

What makes a set of headphones appear to be 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 arising with the design for No. 5909, and it exhibits. It didn’t shrink back from premium supplies like anodized aluminum and leather-based, and there’s a beautiful, seamless line because the tubular headband sliders emerge from all sides after which kind the forks that maintain the earcups — with nary a hinge or wire to be seen. On our Pearl Black loaner (they’re additionally out there in Ice Pewter and Radiant Crimson), the purple headband stitching completely enhances the skinny purple 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, but it surely’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 give the impression of being high quality — no complaints in any respect. However, it’s value repeating: These cans price one clam lower than a grand.

Simon Cohen / Digital Developments

That worth is much more insane if you evaluate them to the extra inexpensive $599 Grasp & Dynamic MW75, which make in depth use of anodized and polished aluminum, tempered glass, and no plastic in any respect. Seen side-by-side, the No. 5909 form of look slightly 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 best way, I’m not bringing the MW75 into this assessment on a whim, or simply for a comparability to a different expensive, high-end set of wi-fi headphones. Their form, weight, headband and slider building, driver dimension and supplies, and loads of different traits are both equivalent — or so shut they could as effectively be. I reached out to each firms 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 assessment, I’ll be calling out the small variations, so you’ll be able to determine if the No.5909 justify their $400 worth premium over the MW75.

Consolation, controls, and connections

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 would possibly sound loopy after I simply advised you ways comparable these cans are, however the No. 5909 are extra snug for longer intervals. Sure, although 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 slightly 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 headscarf’s clamping power over a wider space (whereas concurrently rising grip).

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

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

Simon Cohen / Digital Developments

The controls are easy and get the job carried out. 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 suitable. This provides you all the pieces you should play/pause, skip ahead/again, quantity up/down, name reply/finish, hail your cellphone’s voice assistant, and modify your ANC.

With the non-obligatory ear-detection characteristic enabled, the headphones can auto-pause and resume your tunes if you take away and change them out of your head, however once more, similar 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 start out playback manually.

My one criticism is that it may be exhausting to establish the central multifunction button along 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 want 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’ll be able to join to 2 gadgets concurrently and swap backwards and forwards between them while not having to re-pair. It labored effortlessly between my Mac and my iPhone, in addition to with a Xiaomi 12 Professional.

  • 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 beneath the suitable circumstances. It’s a rarity to see them each supported, as most firms have a tendency to select one or the opposite. aptX Adaptive is newer, but it surely’s not used on Android telephones older than about two to 3 years. With LDAC, even telephones going again to Android 8.0 can get glorious wi-fi sound from the No. 5909. Sadly, even the most recent iPhone — due to Apple’s ongoing refusal to license both aptX or LDAC — will probably be restricted to lossy, 16-bit wi-fi audio. I’ll talk about this limitation extra within the sound high quality part.

Sound high quality

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 fantastically balanced frequencies. They’re marked by a bass response that appears to dwell in its personal separate sonic airplane 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 form of sound that may get smeared by distortion or lose a few of its influence when there isn’t ample resonance. The No.5909 deal with them with hanging dexterity and a depth you’ll be able to really feel in your chest.

They’re, by a really small margin, the most effective 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’ll be able to ease again on the bass throttle, leaving all the pieces else completely intact.

It’s value 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 saved the improved mode on for many of my time with these cans.

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

The soundstage may be regarded as rigorously executed. By that, I imply it’s beneficiant sufficient to ship a way of house and immersion, however not so broad that it turns into distracting. Many of the perceived sound lives someplace between simply inside your ears to a few foot exterior your head, or at the very least, that’s the way it felt to me.

However what actually caught my consideration is the best way you’ll be able to 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 if 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 form of efficiency that makes you need to pull out each single considered one of your favourite tracks and take heed 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, the most effective wi-fi headphones I’ve ever worn.

Simon Cohen / Digital Developments

However, there are just a few extra issues that should be mentioned in regards to 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 gadgets couldn’t maintain a candle to the Android telephones with their LDAC and aptX Adaptive codecs, respectively. It was night time and day: higher readability, extra element, higher dynamic vary.

I’ve mentioned earlier than that these high-quality codecs can solely be actually appreciated on high-end headphones and earbuds, and the No. 5909 bolstered that perception. When your gear is able to resolving that additional element, you’ll be able to 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 gained’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 incredible for calls in any setting.

Second, ANC issues; this was a shock. Turning ANC on and off considerably impacted sound, largely within the decrease registers. With ANC off, a few of that superb bass simply disappears. The identical is true if you use the cans with the facility 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, although each use a virtually equivalent set of 40mm beryllium drivers. However, it’s an enchancment you’ll be able to solely recognize by going backwards and forwards between these two superior headphones over a wide range of tracks, and even then, it may be fairly robust 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 value 4 extra benjamins, however I can’t promise, in good conscience, that you just’ll really feel the identical means.

Energetic noise cancellation and transparency mode

Simon Cohen / Digital Developments

The No. 5909 are excellent at canceling noise, however don’t count on 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 inferior to what you’ll get from the Sony WH-1000XM4 or XM5 or the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700, but it surely 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 if you change modes, the headphones take two seconds to take action, throughout which era your music is interrupted and a voice broadcasts the brand new mode. Grasp & Dynamic allow you to flip these voice prompts off, however Mark Levinson doesn’t.

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

However, for some purpose, the No. 5909 didn’t borrow one of many MW75’s greatest options: There’s no means to decide on the ANC modes which are cycled if you press the ANC button on the left earcup. It’s at all times ANC > transparency > off. On the MW75, the app allows you to select any two, or all three. Hopefully, Mark Levinson will situation an replace to its software program that may repair this omission.

Name high quality

Simon Cohen / Digital Developments

Given what I had skilled to this point, 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 incredible for calls in any setting.

Throughout my take a look at recording strolling down a busy avenue, I used to be amused as a really loud truck handed inside inches of the sidewalk, and even mentioned, “Nicely that’s going to be a great take a look at.” Later, after I performed it again, all you could possibly hear was my voice — the truck had been fully erased.

Not that circumstances had 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 best possible 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 routinely shut down ANC and allow some passthrough audio so you’ll be able to hear your voice extra clearly. You’ll be able to’t change that, so in case you plan on calling from loud places, your callers won’t pay attention to 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, but it surely’ll get you thru a full day (or flight) with ease, and for most folk, that’s sufficient.

In case you run low, a 15-minute fast cost offers 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, snug, superb-sounding wi-fi noise-canceling headphones. In order for you the most effective, that is it. However I don’t assume 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 different?

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 means that the No. 5909 are $400 higher.

It goes with out saying that in case you merely need a fantastic set of wi-fi headphones for $400 or much less, our regular suggestions nonetheless apply: You’ll be able to’t go unsuitable 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 classes.

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

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

Must you purchase them?

If dropping a thousand {dollars} on a set of headphones is one thing you’re keen to do with the intention to personal the most effective, even when it’s solely a bit higher than the next-best-thing, go for it. You’ll in all probability sleep effectively at night time understanding that you just’ve obtained the most effective that cash can purchase.

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

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