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Streaming SACD Player

Mark Levinson
No. 5101

Price (in Poland): 23 900 PLN

Contact: Harman International
400 Atlantic Street, 15th Floor
Stamford, CT 06901 | USA


The tested product was supplied by AUDIO STYL


Images: Mark Levinson | Wojciech Pacuła

No 202

March 1, 2021

MARK LEVINSON AUDIO SYSTEMS is a company founded by Mark Levinson in 1972. It is one of the most famous and recognizable high-end electronic brands in the audio industry. Currently, the company belongs to the HARMAN INTERNATIONAL INDUSTRIES group, part of the South Korean concern SAMSUNG ELECTRONICS. We test the SACD / file player № 5101.

HEN IN 2017 THE INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER No. 585.5 WAS LAUNCHED, An expanded with the addition of a phono preamplifier version of the model No. 585, presented a year earlier, it was the last phase of a project initiated in 2014, aimed at rebuilding the lineup of this American manufacturer. The head of the entire venture was TODD EICHENBAUM, director of R&D, who joined Harman after more than twenty years with KRELL.

Already back then work on another project, the 5000 series, was already underway, which was to transfer - as we read in the press materials - Mark Levinson's "brand" sound to lower price ranges. The first device that was presented was an integrated amplifier available in two versions: № 5802 and № 5805. The premiere of both devices took place during the HIGH END SHOW 2019 in Munich. In October last year, the first signal source in this series, the SACD player № 5101, was presented.

JIM GARRETT, Senior Director of Strategy and Product Planning at HARMAN Luxury Audio said at the time:

The № 5101 is a perfect solution for playing CD and SACD disc collections, audio libraries, as well as playing music from platforms offering Internet streaming. For music lovers, it is a bridge between the enormous amount of high-resolution digital recordings available today and the best sounding, most beautifully made audio technologies on the planet.

| № 5101

IN THE MATERIALS PLACED ON THE MANUFACTURER'S WEBSITE, as well as in the title of the manual, there is a full description of this device: STREAMING SACD PLAYER/DAC. Like all descriptive names, it is not very helpful in classification, which is typical for modern audio, but reflects the manufacturer's intention: it was supposed to be a multifunction device. One of the device description sections on Mark Levinson's website is therefore entitled The Flexibility of 3-in-1:

The № 5101 includes a slot-loading SACD player, network streamer and Digital-to-Analog Converter in one beautifully designed component. This means that the № 5101 plays all disc formats, supports high-resolution streaming from major streaming platforms and plays files from storage drives including USB., accessed: 18.01.2021

So we are talking about an SACD, audio files - PCM up to 24/192 and DSD up to DSD128 player and a digital-to-analog converter - all put into a common chassis.

APPEARANCE The appearance of the new device is "compatible" with the 5000 series and differs from the higher series, although - as I wrote in the № 5805amplifier’s test - it is "still, no doubts, Levinson”. Its front panel is divided into two rounded aluminum side elements and an acrylic center. The aluminum, 25 mm thick elements of the front panel are empty - that’s where in the amplifier knobs sit. All the manipulators are placed on a transparent panel in the center.

There we find a large, two-line dot-matrix red display, known from other devices from this company. It displays the selected signal source as well as its type. In the case of files, we know what type they are (FLAC, WAV, etc.), but we don't know a resolution and sample rate. However, the bit rate is displayed, and this is not very useful information. One can connect Levinson to the Internet and this will allow for future possible firmware upgrades. And, to be honest, before I started listening, I downloaded the latest version 18.4.

The display is also used to navigate the menu. And there we can choose the type of digital filter for the DAC section, the PLL loop, the brightness of the display, the time it takes to enter the sleep mode, and even the name of the device. This is perfectly sufficient as long as we do not want to play files from a USB flash drive - we have to do it manually, displaying the names of subsequent folders and then tracks.

Below the five buttons, the middle of which - standby - features a red, illuminated frame, there is a slot for inserting CD or SACD. I haven't found any information about the transport’s manufacturer, so I unscrewed the metal screen attached to the top. It turns out to be a Sony BD-ROM transport, the KEM-48AAA model. Interestingly, it is recommended as a transport replacement for PlayStation 3 and PS4, so there are plenty of replacement parts.

⸜ The Sony transport is mounted using lossy elements, and an aluminum plate that shields the whole thing is attached to the top

The transport is placed in the section shielded from the electronics and is mounted on steel separators that separate it from the housing, and the whole is mounted to the bottom by soft rubber elements. Let me add that a disc is spinning constantly in the drive, regardless of whether we are listening to it or not, so it is worth taking it out after finishing listening.

On the back there is a group of digital inputs and outputs, analog outputs and a section for "custom" systems control; there is also a socket for a Wi-Fi antenna. The device has a thick, rigid housing finished with a black anode, made of bent aluminum sheets. To reduce vibration, the inside of the top and bottom of the chassis are lined with rubber-like strips. The amplifier rests on four aluminum feet.

FUNCTIONALITY The № 5101 is a device that can play one of three roles: | 1 | of an SACD and CD player, 2 | an audio files player and | 3 | a digital-to-analog converter. All these functions are assumed to be equivalent, but in reality they are not - it is primarily a disc player, then a file player and only than a DAC.

| 1 | The device plays SACDs and CDs, including CD-R/RW. Although the company materials mention "all" types of discs, it is obvious that we will not play DVD-Audio or BD-Audio discs on it, and we also do not have an MQA decoder, therefore the MQA content from CD-MQA discs will not be decoded either. But there is no reason to hold it against this device. The only regret is that the player does not display CD-Tex, neither for CDs nor SACDs - but neither are Ayon Audio players and those of many other companies. We can control the disc playback using a remote control or a special 5Kontrol application.

| 2 | The files player in № 5101 consists functionally of two separate sections. The basic one involves playing files from NAS disks. It allows you to play music from WAV, FLAC, AIFF files (all without lossy compression) up to a resolution of 24/192. To do this, however, we need to invest in a third-party application that controls UPnP playback - I use Bubble UPnP. It seems that in the future Levinson should develop its own application, or to make the device Roon Ready.

It is important that we can also play files from a local disk (HDD / SSD / flash drives) and it offered me much wider possibilities, because in addition to PCM files up to 24/192 I was also able play DSD files in this way . Unfortunately, I had to do it "manually", looking at the display, instead of using an app. I would like to add that you can also listen to music from Tidal through the Bubble application, but without MQA decoding - they will be played as master, i.e. in 24-bit, but with a sampling frequency of 48 kHz.

The entire file player is placed on one PCB, enclosed in a separate screen in the lower, separate part of the housing, shielded with a thick metal sheet from the mechanics and the digital section.

| 3 | The D/A section offers only two digital inputs - TOSLINK and RCA (S/PDIF). Both accept PCM signals up to 24 bits and 192 kHz. Very characteristic is the lack of a USB type B, or "square" input, which would allow to use a computer or an external file player as a source. It is clear that the designers assumed that all files will be played from NAS and HDDs/SSDs, or pendrives. In this section, we can choose one of seven PCM digital filters and one of three analog filters for DSD format.

TO SUM IT UP Levinson's player is solidly built, looks good and is well equipped. It can perform one of three tasks, but its main task is playing physical discs. Which is confirmed by the inscription on its front panel: "SACD PLAYER № 5101". File playback control is a bit more difficult and digital inputs are an add-on.

However, this is Levinson, so we get proprietary solutions, such as the D/A converter called PrecisionLink II, using the 32-bit ESS Sabre from the PRO series, as well as an analog, balanced section with a discrete current/voltage (I/U) converter without capacitors in the signal path, with discrete amplification transistors, built as a dual-mono circuit and named PurePath. The whole is powered by two power supplies - linear and switching mode, and the D/A circuit by five low-noise voltage stabilizing circuits.


HOW WE LISTENED The Mark Levinson player was placed on the top shelf of the Finite Elemente Master Reference Pagode Edition rack. It was powered by the HARMONIX X-DC350M2R IMPROVED-VERSION cable, and the signal to the AYON AUDIO SPHERIS III preamplifier was sent using the RCA CRYSTAL CABLE ABSOLUTE DREAM cable. For the test, I used a SYNOLOGY DiskStation DS410j NAS drive, with four HDDs, 2TB each, configured as a UPnP drive as a source of signal delivered to the device via Ethernet input - and - via an USB port - also an external HDD (1TB).

Recordings used for the test | a selection

⸜ DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET, Time Out, Columbia Records/Sony Music Entertainment/SME Records SRGS-4535, SACD (1959/2000)
⸜ DIANA KRALL, The Girl In The Other Room, Verve 0602498620465, SACD/CD (2004)
⸜ JOHN COLTRANE QUARTET, Ballads, Impulse!/Universal Music LLC (Japan) UCCU-40001, Platinum SHM-CD (1962/2013)
⸜ PINK FLOYD, Wish You Were Here, EMI Records/Analogue Productions PFR25/19075810342, SACD/CD (1975/2018)
⸜ TAKESHI INOMATA, The Dialogue, Audio Lab. Record/Octavia Records OVXA-00008, SACD/CD (1977/2001)

⸜ DAFT PUNK, Random Access Memories, Columbia Records/HDTracks, FLAC 24/88,4 (2013); ⸜ DEAD CAN DANCE, Anastasis, [PIAS] Entertainment Group PIASR311CDX, „Special Edition Hardbound Box Set”, CD+USB drive 24/44,1 WAV (2012); ⸜ JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, AL DI MEOLA, PACO DE LUCÍA, Passion, Grace and Fire, Philips/Sony Records Int'l SRGS 4587, dsf/rip z SACD (1983/2001)
⸜ SONNY ROLLINS, Tenor Madness, Prestige/HDTracks WAV 24/96 (1956/?)


№ 5101 BY LEVINSON IS, BY DESIGN, a multifunctional device. However, as I have already suggested, the individual functions are not equivalent in it, that is, they are not equally functional, so to speak. Therefore, I think it is best to treat it like a SACD player with additional capabilities. And that's how it was tested.


IT IS A PLAYER THAT OFFERS EXTREMELY BALANCED, full sound. So saturated, dense, but also neutral enough to make it impossible to indicate a range that would be clearly emphasized or weakened in it. It does not mean that it is not so, but that it is an action more complex and "denser" in meaning, so to speak, than the usual "coloration".

First of all, it's a smooth sounding device. Balanced in the sense that whatever kind of music you listen to with this player it is reproduced in a way that is right for the music. So - jazz from Coltrane's and Brubeck's albums in a warm, saturated way, but with a certain dose of "studio-like" sound, by which I mean the fact that direct sound dominated over reflected one, rock from Pink Floyd and Dire Straits in an explosive, strong way, with a shortened kick drum and clear bass, and Diana Krall's voice was both soft and slightly raspy.

So everything was as it should be, and the Levinson player showed the characteristic features of a given disc (recording), which was what its balanced performance was expressed in. 'Balanced' in this case means the same as 'treating each disc in a way appropriate for it' and not 'the same'. Thanks to this, we will not get bored when we have a longer listening session, or when we want to listen to songs from various albums.

But it is also not so, that this device is expressionless. On the contrary - everything I said takes place according to its rules. As part of an well-balanced foundation, a good, healthy foundation, it lays - if I may say so - the walls in his own way. It was audible already with the JOHN COLTRANE QUARTET’s Ballads, but it most obvious with SACDs - a single-layer disc Take Five by DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET and Dialogue by TAKESHI INOMATA.

The point is that the player № 5101 brings the foreground closer and reduces reverbs, preferring strong, dense sound on the loudspeaker line. This is where the "magic" happens, it is there where the events are shown and this is where our attention is focused. The efficiency of Levinson's designers lies in the fact that there is no mess in it, there is no feeling of being lost in these sounds. It is exactly the opposite, it is incredibly plastic sound with a lot of air around the performers. And yet everything I said earlier is also true.

The "trick" is, as far as I understand it correctly, that the player has a high resolution that makes the presentation vivid and vibrant, while remaining on the warm, soft side of the "power". Moreover, the bass is strong and nice in this device. In which it is a bit like the Gryphon Ethos player. The Danish device, however, preferred a harder, drier decay, although the density and saturation were similar. Levinson's bass is softer and more rounded, more - let it be - tube-like.

So we have a warm, vivid sound with a strong foreground. And saturated, strong bass. This is why vocals, like DIANY KRALL’s from The Girl In The Other Room in the SACD version, are close to us, tangible. It is this type of device - it brings everything that is on the listening axis closer, both giving good imaging and boosting the lower midrange. The cymbals are strong, clear, but they are also quite "sweet".


MUSIC FILES SOUND IN A VERY SIMILAR WAY. And this is important information, because they are usually the Achilles' heel of multifunctional players. Here, after switching from physical media to files, the difference was noticeable, especially in the lower resolution of the latter, but the difference was not "decisive", I listened to the CD or files without any problems. What's more, the fantastic dynamics was also maintained - I forgot to mention it earlier - which made CDs and SACDs sound in a lively, carrying way.

So the SONNY ROLLINS saxophone from the Tenor Madness (24/96) sounded excellent - it was strong, dense and close to me. The huge drum opening the title track from the album Anastasis by the DEAD CAN DANCE (24/44.1) sounded as it should, although it was audible that it did not extend as low as it did when played using specialized, free-standing files players. But it was also not bad at all, because everything that was above in the band had beautiful timbres, great dynamics and exceptional vividness.

Levinson in a way removes the inferior elements of the sound from the field of view, boosting the midrange and deepening the bass. The highest treble is not very active, a side effect of which is the absolute "compliance" of all recordings and lack of any aggression in the sound. The latter is probably crucial for understanding this presentation. The device is not a sleep machine, but it also doesn't get us to the point where we'd like to turn off the disc (file) trying to keep everything - especially with the files - in the middle.

Moreover, it builds a very wide sound stage, going far beyond the loudspeakers, and when necessary - as in The Game of Love from the Random Access Memories album of the DAFT PUNK duo, also around us. It was the latter that was best heard with deepened, strong, warm bass - an element of sound that many audiophiles and music lovers are looking for and which convinces them to spend money. Here we get it as a bonus. This is not a neutral sound, to be clear, because - for example, the guitars from the Passion, Grace and Fire by the guitar trio JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, AL DI MEOLA, PACO DE LUCÍA, played from a DSD (dsf) file, sounded bit lower than usual. But they sounded as nice and as addictive as from a high-class turntable.

| Summary

MARK LEVINSON № 5101 IS A DEVICE that is really good at everything. I enjoyed the files streamed from Tidal the least, and SACDs and CDs the most, so it was as it should be. So - this is a true SACD player that also plays files very nicely. It sounds warm, "analog", giving a huge perspective in width and focusing our attention on the tangible foreground.

Operating it is not very convenient - I'm talking about playing files - and sooner or later the company will have to prepare its own control application that will give us easy access to everything. I think that they should also make their device Roon Ready. But here and now Levinson shows once again that musicality is the key for them. And they do it brilliantly!

Technical specifications (according to the manufacturer)

Supported discs:

Supported files:
FLAC, WAV, AIFF, OGG: 32-192 kHz, 16/24 bits
AAC: 32-96 kHz, 16/24 bits
DSD, DSF: 2.8/5.6 MHz, 1 bit
MP3: 32-48 kHz, 320 kbps
WMA: 32-48 kHz,192 kbps

Output signal:
THD: RCA <0.004% (20 Hz-20 kHz) | XLR <0.003%
S/N (unweighted): RCA 94dB | XLR 106 dB

Power consumption:
standby: <0.4 W | operation: 32 W
Dimensions (W x H x D): 438 x 124 x 466 mm
Weight: 16.2 kg


Reference system 2021

1) Loudspeakers: HARBETH M40.1 |REVIEW|
2) Line preamplifier: AYON AUDIO Spheris III Linestage |REVIEW|
3) Super Audio CD Player: AYON AUDIO CD-35 HF Edition No. 01/50 |REVIEW|
4) Stands (loudspeakers): ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom) |ABOUT|
5) Power amplifier: SOULUTION 710
6) Loudspeaker filter: SPEC REAL-SOUND PROCESSOR RSP-AZ9EX (prototype) |REVIEW|
7) Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|


Analog interconnect SACD Player - Line preamplifier: SILTECH Triple Crown (1 m) |ABOUT|
Analog interconnect Line preamplifier - Power amplifier: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RCA-1.0 Absolute-FM (1 m) |REVIEW|
Speaker cable: SILTECH Triple Crown (2.5 m) |ABOUT|

AC Power

Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - SACD Player: SILTECH Triple Crown
Power (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - Line preamplifier - ACOUSTIC REVIVE
Power Reference Triple-C (2 m) |REVIEW|
Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - Power amplifier - ACROLINK Mexcel 7N-PC9500 |ARTICLE|
Power cable | Power Receptacle - Mains Power Distribution Block: ACROLINK Mexcel 7N-PC9500 (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power Receptacle: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE |REVIEW|
Anti-vibration platform under Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE: Asura QUALITY RECOVERY SYSTEM Level 1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RPC-1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RAS-14 Triple-C |REVIEW|
Passive filter EMI/RFI: VERICTUM Block |REVIEW|


Speaker stands: ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom)
Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|
Anti-vibration platforms: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RAF-48H |ARTICLE|

  • HARMONIX TU-666M "BeauTone" MILLION MAESTRO 20th Anniversary Edition |REVIEW|


Phono preamplifier: Phono cartridges: Tonearm (12"): Reed 3P |REVIEW|

Clamp: PATHE WINGS Titanium PW-Ti 770 | Limited Edition

Record mats:


Headphone amplifier: AYON AUDIO HA-3 |REVIEW|

Headphones: Headphone Cables: Forza AudioWorks NOIR HYBRID HPC