Digital sources

When I reviewed Mark Levinson‘ s No.519 flagship digital player I made the remark about this player exuding dignity, authority and sovereignty, all these just by looking at it and touching it. The No.5101’s physique is not less impressive, though it is less heavy (16kg) and less bulky.

Funkce a forma


For a player it has surprisingly large footprint, almost square with 438mm width and 466mm depth, so check first whether your rack can accommodate it. The front panel is both iconic and iphonic, a combination of bead-blasted and black anodized aluminum with “Gorilla” glass with a display behind it. The red symbols of the display are easily legible but not dimmable, although the display can be switched off completely if needed. The craftsmanship extends to the top cover with industrially designed vents that are both functional and cool looking. The remote controller is a solid piece of aluminum too, although with too many buttons that are difficult to navigate in dark. Fortunately Harman offers a free download of the Mark Levinson 5Kontrol app that can control the No.5101 in much friendlier way; if you want to use the in-built streamer functionality to stream from a NAS or use the No.5101 with services like Tidal then the best way is to install MusicLife app on your control device. The player does not feature any Bluetooth protocol so to make the app work the player must be connected to the same network as the smartphone/tablet because the communication goes over IP address. The No.5101 does not feature a USB-B port either, nor there is a headphone output (which I see as a bigger omission) so it is not really a plug & play device and you must think of what to connect and how well ahead. However, once set, the connections work reliably.

Nízké frekvence


The slot-loading transport of the No.5101 allows playback of SACD, CD (including CD-A, CD-R and CDRW), and burnt in FLAC, WAV, AIFF, OGG, MP3, AAC and WMA files. Other than that the No.5101 can stream from NAS drives, DLNA and UPnP devices, as well as it can allows playback from external drives connected to its USB-A input, like flash memory cards. Unfortunately this input is on the back panel and as such difficult to access when you want to swap to another flash disc. Usual S/PDIF and Toslink inputs are also present.

All the digital bits are sent to Mark Levinson’s Precision Link II DAC based on ESS PRO Sabre 32-bit chip. The menu settings allow user to select one of the 7 digital filters for PCM and one of the 4 low pass filters for SACD.

Throughout this review I used Mark Levinson connected via its XLR analogue outputs for two reasons. First, it is a fully balanced device, and second, when I tested its RCA outs, the voltage dropped quite significantly. When I checked the manual it indeed says that the No.5101 provides 6.0V via XLRs and only 3.0V via RCAs.

Čistota rozlišení


Curious how the No. 5101 performs from its USB-A input I cued Kari Bremnes’ Kanskje FLAC from a connected flash disc. The sound that I heard was remarkably different from what I had heard 3 months ago from the Mark Levinson No.519 flagship player.

The No. 5101 lacks the spacious airiness and seductively luminous presentation of the ML No.519 flagship player, nor has its dynamic mastery. This is not criticism as the No.5101 is 25% of the No.519´s price. So how does the No.5101 sound?

Quite good, actually. It has a warm and rich character that is built around rather accomplished midrange. No wonder that vocals sound terrific. They have a slightly forward projection which makes them stand out and they become tangible. Thus the voice of Kari Bremnes contrasts beautifully with the rather clinical electronic arrangements in the background, and Lera Lynn´s timbre is complemented with a tubed guitar combo.

During my time spent with the No.5101 the player was growing on me. It did not take long before I realized that it was a very detailed player. It provided a very good insight into how recordings were recorded, mixed and mastered, it let me hear clearly whether they were digital or master-taped. Listening to samplers was quite revelatory as the Mark Levinson clearly differentiated the tracks and studio errors were brought forward. This is not to say the No.5101 is an analytic sounding player – it is anything but.

Tonální věrnost


As I flagged, the ML No.5101 build its sound from the midrange and does not have the airy top end of the No.519 nor its tight lows. The music flows nicely from the speakers with the No.5101 without trying to impress and stun. This definitely helps making lesser recordings sound digestible. Listening to Savage Grace´s After The Fall from Grace album is such a case. The album´s sound is overproduced (at 80´s standard) and thin sounding. It was quite good through the No.5101. Terrorizer´s Darker Days Ahead is overproduced (at modern standards) and compressed like hell. It was quite good through the No.5101 too.

If you upgrade the program material to some really nice sounding tracks like Antoine Tamestito´s viola in Bellini´s Norma (from Bel Canto, Harmonia Mundi) you will hear a full, rich and singing voice of the opera diva that is substituted here by the full, rich and singing voice of Stradivarius ´Mahler 1672´ viola.


Šířka scény
Hloubka scény

It is rare to see new SACD players on the market and when Mark Levinson announced the No.5101 two years ago it caused correspondingly strong stir in audiophile community. The slot loading drive of the No.5101 works reliably and reads disc information fast, however, it is noisy. Not that it is noisy on loading (which it is no more than any other cheap drive), but it is noisy in operation. The spinning disc is audible even from distance and this becomes rather annoying during late night listening sessions when the volume is at soft levels.

The Mark Levinson´s Precision Link DAC proved its qualities many times in the past, at least to my ears. I like the way it lets me hear the soundstage that is spacious with plenty of depth and accurate positioning of instruments within it. It this aspect the No.5101 is not different and throws rather big and attractive soundstage that borders panoramic with some music material. I like that the No.5101 has no problem with spatial relations of a violin and a piano in an acoustic recording, and I like even more that both instruments have their respective depth, that they are not two dimensional images only. What I don´t understand is why, with the No.5101 as a source component, there is so little ambient information. The softest ambient clues - like reverbs from the walls that were picked up by microphones – are diminished in their presence. The more I was listening to various naturally recorded music the more I was missing the clearly audible variations between small dry studios, spacious cathedrals and concert halls. Although the No.5101 could throw a lot of loight on other details, the ambience was partially homogenized. The most interesting thing is that I am not sure whether it is positive or negative as the No.5101 lets me focus on the music instead digging into sound. Yet, for a high fidelity device at this price point, I would prefer more transparency. Perhaps this is also the reason for CD and SACD layers of hybrid discs sounding alike? Other players, including Mark Levinson´s own No.519, let me hear the superiority of the DSD encoded files much more clearly.

Harman International delayed the official launch of the No.5101 into distribution network several times. However, not a single exhibition opportunity was missed to show off the No.5101 to trade visitors and build the expectations. It remains mystery to me why these auditions and test sessions were not used to address some software and hardware issues that the No.5101 has. Perhaps it is just the expectation bar that has been raised too high.

Cena v době recenze:162 000,- Kč

Doporučení prodejci

Absolute Audio s.r.o., Praha, tel. +420 777 739 377 

Nisel SK, Bratislava, tel. +421 905 203 078

Připojené komponenty

  • Sources: Accuphase DP-720, Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC
  • Amplifiers: TAD M-2500, Leak Stereo 130, Van Medevoort CA470/PA472
  • Interconnects and speaker cables: AudioQuest Dragon Bass | Zero, Krautwire Numeric Digital, Krautwire MAX-S, Ansuz Signalz C2, Ansuz Signalz D2, Accuphase RCA, AudioQuest Carbon
  • Loudspeakers:  TAD Evolution One E1, Sonus Faber Gravis I
  • Power conditioning: Block Audio Snakeblock, Shunyata Research Denali, Synergistic Research Atmosphere Level 2, Nordost Qv2, Stromtank S-1000 a S-2500 Quantum, Shunyata Research Omega XC



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