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Mark Levinson No 5909 Headphone Review

Rate this headphone:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 21 11.8%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 53 29.8%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther

    Votes: 83 46.6%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 21 11.8%

  • Total voters
    178

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Mark Levinson No 5909 noise cancelling headphone. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $999.
Mark Levinson No 5909 noise cancelling headphone review.jpg


I must say, I expected something larger and more substantial. Other than the logo, not much oozes luxury befitting of the brand. Expanding the headband causes creaking sound. And overall feel -- whether made so -- is somewhat plasticky. The cups are naturally small and feel that way. Mind you, it is not bad overall. Just doesn't match expectation.

The buttons are cryptic and "overloaded" as far as usage with multiple modes. Power on is press for 1 second. But pairing is pushing longer. Some little LED blinks this color or that and I was not about to memorize what was what. Fortunately there is pleasant voice feedback which helps a ton compared to others that lack it.

Analog input oddly, is provided via a special USB to 3.5mm cable. I appreciated that it was there, not forcing me to use Bluetooth. Plug in an ordinary USB-C cable and the headphone acts like a DAC which is very nice. What is not so nice is that it turns off Bluetooth so the accompanied app no longer works. The app is where you change the EQ settings and such. Why or why is this done? Worse yet, at least on Windows, the volume buttons did not work. I had to use the sound control panel in Windows which made me quite grumpy.

Disclaimer: our company Madrona Digital is a dealer for Harman products in custom install industry. So while we theoretically could source this headphone, it is not something we remotely sell. Still, if you want to read bias into this review, by all means, do so.

Mark Levinson No 5909 Measurements
The small cup and their tendency to lose seal made fitting the headphone on measurement rig extremely difficult. That is, until I realized some of it is inherent to the design and is corrected in digital input mode! Here is analog:

Mark Levinson No 5909 noise cancelling headphone analog pass through frequency response measur...png


Now as DAC device on Windows:
Mark Levinson No 5909 noise cancelling headphone digital frequency response measurement.png


Notice the much improved bass and matching of channels! Shoot, I could have saved half hour if I knew this. There was another major impact and that was in Group Delay:

Mark Levinson No 5909 noise cancelling headphone Group Delay measurement.png


Fascinating!

EDIT: my mistake for not equalizing the vertical axis. That may show both having similar issue.

Back to our frequency response, compliance with our target is excellent as we would expect. There are some kinks to be sure and some resonance in higher frequencies but overall, this is the second best fit I have seen in all the headphones I have tested.

Mark Levinson No 5909 noise cancelling headphone analog relative  frequency response measurement.png


Distortion was the same in both modes:
Mark Levinson No 5909 noise cancelling headphone relative distortion measurement.png

Mark Levinson No 5909 noise cancelling headphone relative distortion Digital measurement.png


As you see, in pass-through analog mode, the headphone went out of control at 114 dBSPL and with digital, it would simply not get that loud. Otherwise, distortion is extremely low. Considering that we don't need to boost anything, this is even better result than it seems. Here is the absolute level distortion:
Mark Levinson No 5909 noise cancelling headphone THD distortion measurement.png


There is one bad peak which we are going to correct anyway. It is bad enough that it is contributing to extra output at that frequency.

Passive mode input has very high impedance:

Mark Levinson No 5909 noise cancelling headphone impedance measurement.png


Which tells me that it is a buffered input of sorts. Sensitivity in this mode is average:
Best noise cancelling headphone review 2022.png


Mark Levinson No 5909 Listening Tests
I started listening before I measured the headphone and it immediately produced that familiar tonality I expect from neutral headphones. Post measurements, I started listening in digital mode that I thought it was a bit cleaner. Same nice tonality although with a hint of brightness. So I pulled out the EQ:
Mark Levinson No 5909 noise cancelling headphone Equalization EQ.png


I tried a second filter at 12 kHz and was not sure if I liked it better. It seemed to be more "accurate" but made the sound more closed. Speaking of which, that is a major problem with this headphone. It has almost no spatial effects. With the small drivers, the sound is coupled claustrophobically inside your head. I switched to my DC Stealth headphone and what a revelation that was in this front.

Another problem in digital mode was lack of volume. Yes, I could get it loud but not enough for bass notes to have any impact. Switching to analog fixed this, allowing me to turn up the volume much more. Still, bass notes lacked impact that Stealth brings. I just couldn't get excited over the experience with the 5909.

Conclusions
Nice to see Harman bringing more headphones out that comply with their own research. Tonality of the No 5909 is right on the money, sans a bit of resonance brightness (which may be fine with others). The issue is that it comes in a small form factor that while good for portability, misses the mark hugely to provide a statement kind of experience. I am sure a Mark Levinson user would not mind schlepping a large headphone on the plane that sounded better. :) As is, from looks to experience, it is that of a $300 headphone, albeit with very correct sound.

I hope I am not being too insulting but I wish Harman would just OEM a headphone from Dan Clark similar to Stealth line. Price it at $4,000 and it would sell similarly to what this is doing. FYI the number of downloads for the 5909 App was "100+" so not that much sale anyway.

It pains me to not recommend a headphone that hits the magical tonality curve but here we are. I want the headphone experience to do things that even good speakers can't. And we simply are not there with Mark Levinson No 5909 headphone.

-----------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 

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Drengur

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Disappointed by the looks, pleasantly surprised by the measurements. You say they sound closed, do you mean there is a lack of a sound stage in front?
 

Rja4000

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It pains me to not recommend a headphone that hits the magical tonality curve but here we are. I want the headphone experience to do things that even good speakers can't.
Thanks for this review.

The above comment raises, as usual, the question: what measurement would show this limitation ?
The issue is the SPL level, I guess.
So how to show it with figures rather than with words ?
(I know you have the clip at 114dB)
 
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amirm

amirm

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Disappointed by the looks, pleasantly surprised by the measurements. You say they sound closed, do you mean there is a lack of a sound stage in front?
I don't get the front localization from any headphone. What I do get with larger drivers is spread around my ears and larger separation between instruments. This is what I am not getting from 5909. It sounds like a classic headphone used to.
 
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amirm

amirm

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So how to show it with figures rather than with words ?
Spatial qualities requires having heard a Sennheiser HD800S and experienced its amazing quality to separate instruments. I am sure this is an artificial effect but it is the closest thing as a replacement for the imaging of speakers. This, combined with strong bass response and dynamics is what puts a massive smile on my face. Sadly few if any measurements back these things. As I say, headphone measurements are the most incomplete/variable of all the things we test.
 

neutralguy

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With the small drivers, the sound is coupled claustrophobically inside your head.

It's clear that there is more to enjoyable headphone sound than the Harman curve. Here we have the perfect specimen in terms of frequency response adherence to the curve, and yet there is a large difference in enjoyment compared with the equally compliant DC Stealth. The Rtings website has a PRTF score derived by comparing measurements with and without pinna (ear chopped off dummy head), and comparing the difference with that of speakers. I believe this gives some insight into the headphone's spatial qualities. At least some of their conclusions, such as rating the Sennheiser 800S on top for spatial quality, seem in agreement with my experience.
 

Toni Mas

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Mark Levinson No 5909 noise cancelling headphone. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $999.
View attachment 215166

I must say, I expected something larger and more substantial. Other than the logo, not much oozes luxury befitting of the brand. Expanding the headband causes creaking sound. And overall feel -- whether made so -- is somewhat plasticky. The cups are naturally small and feel that way. Mind you, it is not bad overall. Just doesn't match expectation.

The buttons are cryptic and "overloaded" as far as usage with multiple modes. Power on is press for 1 second. But pairing is pushing longer. Some little LED blinks this color or that and I was not about to memorize what was what. Fortunately there is pleasant voice feedback which helps a ton compared to others that lack it.

Analog input oddly, is provided via a special USB to 3.5mm cable. I appreciated that it was there, not forcing me to use Bluetooth. Plug in an ordinary USB-C cable and the headphone acts like a DAC which is very nice. What is not so nice is that it turns off Bluetooth so the accompanied app no longer works. The app is where you change the EQ settings and such. Why or why is this done? Worse yet, at least on Windows, the volume buttons did not work. I had to use the sound control panel in Windows which made me quite grumpy.

Disclaimer: our company Madrona Digital is a dealer for Harman products in custom install industry. So while we theoretically could source this headphone, it is not something we remotely sell. Still, if you want to read bias into this review, by all means, do so.

Mark Levinson No 5909 Measurements
The small cup and their tendency to lose seal made fitting the headphone on measurement rig extremely difficult. That is, until I realized some of it is inherent to the design and is corrected in digital input mode! Here is analog:

View attachment 215171

Now as DAC device on Windows:
View attachment 215172

Notice the much improved bass and matching of channels! Shoot, I could have saved half hour if I knew this. There was another major impact and that was in Group Delay:

View attachment 215173

Fascinating!

Back to our frequency response, compliance with our target is excellent as we would expect. There are some kinks to be sure and some resonance in higher frequencies but overall, this is the second best fit I have seen in all the headphones I have tested.

View attachment 215176

Distortion was the same in both modes:
View attachment 215177
View attachment 215180

As you see, in pass-through analog mode, the headphone went out of control at 114 dBSPL and with digital, it would simply not get that loud. Otherwise, distortion is extremely low. Considering that we don't need to boost anything, this is even better result than it seems. Here is the absolute level distortion:
View attachment 215181

There is one bad peak which we are going to correct anyway. It is bad enough that it is contributing to extra output at that frequency.

Passive mode input has very high impedance:

View attachment 215183

Which tells me that it is a buffered input of sorts. Sensitivity in this mode is average:
View attachment 215184

Mark Levinson No 5909 Listening Tests
I started listening before I measured the headphone and it immediately produced that familiar tonality I expect from neutral headphones. Post measurements, I started listening in digital mode that I thought it was a bit cleaner. Same nice tonality although with a hint of brightness. So I pulled out the EQ:
View attachment 215185

I tried a second filter at 12 kHz and was not sure if I liked it better. It seemed to be more "accurate" but made the sound more closed. Speaking of which, that is a major problem with this headphone. It has almost no spatial effects. With the small drivers, the sound is coupled claustrophobically inside your head. I switched to my DC Stealth headphone and what a revelation that was in this front.

Another problem in digital mode was lack of volume. Yes, I could get it loud but not enough for bass notes to have any impact. Switching to analog fixed this, allowing me to turn up the volume much more. Still, bass notes lacked impact that Stealth brings. I just couldn't get excited over the experience with the 5909.

Conclusions
Nice to see Harman bringing more headphones out that comply with their own research. Tonality of the No 5909 is right on the money, sans a bit of resonance brightness (which may be fine with others). The issue is that it comes in a small form factor that while good for portability, misses the mark hugely to provide a statement kind of experience. I am sure a Mark Levinson user would not mind schlepping a large headphone on the plane that sounded better. :) As is, from looks to experience, it is that of a $300 headphone, albeit with very correct sound.

I hope I am not being too insulting but I wish Harman would just OEM a headphone from Dan Clark similar to Stealth line. Price it at $4,000 and it would sell similarly to what this is doing. FYI the number of downloads for the 5909 App was "100+" so not that much sale anyway.

It pains me to not recommend a headphone that hits the magical tonality curve but here we are. I want the headphone experience to do things that even good speakers can't. And we simply are not there with Mark Levinson No 5909 headphone.

-----------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
Bottom line, though the measurements (the objective part of the review) are blameless, the subjective part of the review makes impossible recommending the product... No comprendo nothing...
 
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amirm

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Bottom line, though the measurements (the objective part of the review) are blameless, the subjective part of It makes impossible recommending the product... No comprendo nothing...
Owner is going to play with these before deciding to keep them or return. Will see what he says when he gets them.
 

Helicopter

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I am impressed with performance. I am not sure what to think of price; not bad for second best tonality measured, but not good for something that feels like $300.

I wonder how this compares to Bose QC45, with build, tonality, and especially with noise cancellation.
 

PeteL

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I am am confused here, Is there 2 inputs or one (not included Bluetooth)? What is the Analog input? I understand there is just a USB input and they provide a ADC cable no? If not how could you have a "Bass enhanced mode" With analog? I mean if there is latency and Bass enhancement the DSP is clearly engaged. What is the first graph? Stereo Jack to USB? or Bluetooth? And from which of those graph comes the Deviation curve for Analog input Enhanced mode?
 

Robbo99999

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Interesting notes on the soundstage/spatial listening test - that it didn't perform well, in terms of it felt closed in.......and given it had a good measured frequency response, does seem to tally that soundstage is related to "physical design structure" of a headphone rather than strictly it's measured frequency response on a dummy head.

Even though the frequency response is following close to Harman, I don't totally like the look of that response above 10kHz in the imbalance between channels up there and the high peaks up there that are more severe than some other headphones measured (even though I'm aware the measurements are less accurate up there). Doesn't fill me with a fuzzy feeling even though it's close to Harman. Don't like what it does between 500Hz-2kHz either. Too expensive for me too, combined with the lack of soundstage noted in Amir's listening test. Not bad, but expensive.
 

_theLaughingman

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I am perplexed with the channel imbalance, is this an issue for just this unit aka innate to this particular headphone?
 

Garrincha

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So this might be hard to swallow for the stalinist, reductionist, hardcore Harmanians who claim that adherence to the FR is all there is. Here we have it and the headphone still does not sound good. Many people also have claimed that soundstage is just a characteristic of the FR curve, well this seems to have gone up in smoke...
 

Garrincha

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Yes, I saw that. I have work to do figuring this out if I can.
But interestingly I have made the opposite experience recently, I listened to my $25 Blon BL-03 IEM recently, which I bought just to check it out and take on the street with the risk of losing it or getting robbed (I live in Rio de Janeiro), and with EQ I had no complaints whatsoever, detailed, clear and dynamic and engaging sound, I couldn´t say my more expensive IEMs sounded better. But with IEMs there is no huge soundstage anyway.
 
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amirm

amirm

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I am am confused here, Is there 2 inputs or one (not included Bluetooth)? What is the Analog input?
It has a single UBC-C jack that is multi-function. If you use the included cable, it goes analog pass through from that special USB-C cable directly to 3.5mm connector. This is what I call analog.

If you use a normal USB cable at both ends, and connect the other side to your computer, it acts as a DAC+headphone amp. So you can play content digitally to it. This is the digital in, in my tests.

Bluetooth is also provided but I only used that for control/configuration. It can of course be used for wireless playback. But I did not test that as it uses lossy compression and is more of a pain to test.
 
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amirm

amirm

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So this might be hard to swallow for the stalinist, reductionist, hardcore Harmanians who claim that adherence to the FR is all there is. Here we have it and the headphone still does not sound good. Many people also have claimed that soundstage is just a characteristic of the FR curve, well this seems to have gone up in smoke...
Well, if you put it next to a headphone with bad frequency response, it is likely to sound a lot better. My comparison is with another headphone with same tonality but much larger drivers which imparts its own pleasing, subjective effect. Same is true of other headphones with such drivers, once you use EQ to correct their tonality.
 
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