Mark Levinson isn’t known as a budget brand, and most people would not consider $8500 a budget price for anything short of a new car. One could argue, though, that Levinson’s new No.5805 integrated amplifier ($8500 with DAC and phono stage) is a budget component—combining high performance and build quality with a price tag that’s moderate by hi-fi standards. Plus, there’s a lot of functionality in one box.
Say you want to build a very good audio system in the fewest possible steps and boxes. The 5805 includes a digital source, MM+MC phono stage, a preamplifier, an amplifier, and a headphone output, all in one product. That’s five major functions at an average cost of $1700 per function—significantly less than the average cost in the relevant categories of Class B of Stereophile’s Recommended Components list—and think of all the money you’ll save on interconnects! The No.5805 starts to look like quite the bargain, assuming it works well and sounds good. So . . . does it?

The very model of a modern integrated amplifier
The No.5805 is large—a typical 177#188;” wide, but deeper than usual at a shade under 20″—and distinctly heavy, at 62 lb. It’s also nicely styled, its matte-black surfaces set off by red lights, hourglass-shaped knobs, and glass and brushed-aluminum accents.

But it’s the feature set that impresses most. The Levinson’s eight inputs are evenly split between digital and analog. The former include one USB 2.0, one coaxial S/PDIF, and two TosLink S/PDIF, while the latter include one balanced (XLR), two line-level unbalanced (RCA), and two phono (MM or MC, both RCA, although only one of them can be used at a time). There’s also the apparently obligatory home-theater bypass mode, and an Ethernet port for control, not music. Output choices are typical for an integrated: one set of loudspeaker connectors, a set of variable preamp outputs (RCA), and a ¼” headphone jack (footnote 1).

The preamplifier circuit is based on Levinson’s proprietary, discrete, direct-coupled, dual-mono architecture. The volume control uses a resistor network coupled to the preamp’s single gain stage—not the traditional amplify-then-attenuate volume control. The volume can be adjusted in 0.5dB steps, which is small enough.

Levinson says that the phono (pre)amplification stage is similar to the highly regarded circuit used in their 500-series preamplifiers—but there it’s all discrete, while here some integrated circuits are blended in to control costs. The RIAA equalization stage is also, in its way, a hybrid: part passive, part active. Loading is more flexible than in most built-in phono preamps: In MM mode—which, according to company specs, has 39dB of gain—resistive loading is set to 47k ohm, but there are four capacitive-loading settings. MC cartridges, for which 69dB of gain is available, can be resistively loaded at between 37 and 1000 ohms. There’s a defeatable rumble filter and a phono-specific ±3dB balance control.

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Those digital inputs accept PCM up to DXD level (32/384) and DSD up to 11.4MHz (4xDSD)—the latter via PCM (DOP) or native DSD. PCM processing allows a choice of filters: seven for PCM and four for DSD. For PCM, upsampling is offered to 352.8/384kHz, but it’s user-defeatable. Upsampling is available for DSD, too, to 4x. The No.5805 can decode and render Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) encoded audio.

Unusually for a hi-fi product, if less and less so in recent times, the No.5805 does Bluetooth—specifically, Bluetooth aptX-HD, which is marketed as “lossless” and claimed to be capable of high-quality audio. The hitch: While the No.5805 will do Bluetooth with any Bluetooth-enabled device, only devices with a certain Bluetooth technology can send data via aptX-HD. That includes Android devices, but apparently not iPhones. (I’ve read that you can set up a Mac laptop to send data that way, but it requires some technical sophistication—and time constraints prevented me from doing so for this review.)

Why do I care about Bluetooth? Because I don’t care about video. I own a television, but it mostly sits in a corner, disconnected. Except for social watching—the occasional movie or sporting event with family or friends, for which I’ll pull out the TV and connect the sound to my stereo system—I watch movies and sports alone on my MacBook Pro, sitting in a chair with my feet up. My viewing chair is my listening chair, so it’s great to be able to toss my computer’s audio over to my audio system wirelessly, with negligible levels of latency. I may watch movies on a 13″ screen, but at least I get good sound.

The No.5805’s fully discrete, direct-coupled, class-AB-biased amplifier section is claimed capable of 125Wpc into an 8-ohm loudspeaker load and almost twice that into a 4-ohm load. The single mains transformer, with separate output windings for each channel, is rated at 500+VA, enough current to make the amplifier “stable” into 2 ohms, according to the manufacturer. The voltage-gain topology, which the manufacturer says is “descended from” Levinson’s midlevel No.534 power amplifier, is mated to an output stage featuring eight transistors, two of them operating in class-A. Output-stage bias is autocorrected in response to temperature, which I think is important. Claimed output impedance is low, about a tenth of an ohm across the audio band.

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The control system is feature-rich, including adjustable input pads so you can match the volumes of your various sources and set a maximum volume. The Mute function can be set to quiet the volume rather than silence it. “Taper” allows you to set how fast the volume changes when you turn the volume knob. There’s an auto-off function that turns off your car—kidding—that powers down the unit after 20 minutes of inactivity. There’s a choice of three standby modes: one consumes just 7W of power, thereby satisfying EU environmental rules, another that keeps the control system active to receive commands from the remote, and a third that consumes 70W and is recommended if you don’t want to wait an hour for the amplifier to warm up before you can get optimal sound.

If you’ve utilized that Ethernet port to put your Levinson online, you can set all this up with a web browser; otherwise it can be done via the remote or the front panel.

Listening
Not many people buy a full-function integrated amplifier to utilize just the preamp or the DAC (footnote 2): They buy it to use it as the core component in a relatively compact audio system. So I started by listening to the No.5805 as most listeners surely would, making full use of its internal DAC and preamp and sending the amplifier’s output directly to the loudspeakers. (I ran USB cables from my Roon ROCK server to my PS Audio DirectStream DAC and the Levinson No.5805.)

Footnote 1: There’s no separate headphone amp—just a robust preamplifier that shares duty driving headphones.
Footnote 2: There are exceptions, but usually they’re vintage. The Audio Research SP-10 comes to mind: Some people buy it—used, obviously—for the phono section.

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