Despite having been in business since 1972, Mark Levinson did not release its first turntable, the No. 515, until 2017. This new No. 5105 does not replace the No. 515, nor is it a ‘stripped down’ version of it. In fact, despite the similarity in the model numbers, the No. 5105 is a completely new design, specifically intended to be the analogue front-end for Mark Levinson’s 5000 Series components.
One reason it is a completely new design is that whereas the No. 515 turntable was made in the United States in partnership with turntable specialist VPI (based in Cliffwood, New Jersey), the No. 5105 turntable is made somewhere in Germany, in partnership with a German turntable specialist whose name Mark Levinson is not prepared to divulge.
This makes the No. 5105 something of a multi-national effort, what with US-based Mark Levinson being owned by US-based Harman International, which is in turn owned by Samsung, which has its head-quarters in Seoul, in South Korea.
Unlike the vast majority of turntables, which have their plinths made from timber, a composite material or masonry, the plinth of the Mark Levinson No. 5105 is made from a 50mm thick block of aluminium alloy that is milled from a single solid billet before being bead-blasted and black-anodised. It is supported by three height-adjustable aluminium feet inside each of which is an internal suspension system that Levinson says minimises the transmission of vibration.
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As you can see from the photograph above, a black-tinted glass display panel is integrated into the No. 5105’s fascia. This shows power status (an illuminated red bezel around the Stop/Standby button) and is home to the two speed controls, a 33⅓ rpm button to the left of the Stop/Standby button and a 45 rpm button to its right. Both also have red bezel surrounds that glow to show the selected speed.
Interestingly, you cannot turn the No. 5105 ‘Off’. There is no master power switch, not even on the rear panel. Once connected to the mains 240V power supply, it will always be in ‘Standby’ whenever the platter is not rotating, and that Standby light will always be glowing red.
Using the two speed controls, the speed of the 6kg aluminium platter can be switched between 33⅓ and 45 revolutions per minute, but there is no fine speed adjustment provided — indeed there is no possibility of adjusting speed at all. Nor is there a 78 rpm speed available.
The platter is supported on a stainless steel, vacuum-hardened, diamond-coated spindle that is claimed to be much harder than normal stainless steel and to produce 50 per cent less friction by virtue of rotating on a precise bearing made of a composite material and a sintered brass bushing. And it is driven by a digitally-controlled 12 volt d.c. motor via a rubber belt with a rectangular cross-section that wraps firstly around a thermoplastic motor pulley and secondly around the platter’s periphery.
Levinson’s printed materials say that the bearing is ‘lubrication free’ but there is lubricating oil in the spindle well, and the turntable additionally comes with a small bottle of lubrication oil, the label on which says it is: ‘For use when required’.
Neither a protective dustcover nor phono interconnect cables are included with the No. 5105, but Mark Levinson does include a nicely sculpted, high-mass record weight that appears to have a brass insert.
While the No. 5105 comes with a bucket-load of accessories — an alignment gauge (about which more later), and the aforementioned record weight and spare bearing oil — it does not come with one accessory you are going to need, which is a 1.5mm hex key. This is required in order to (a) free up the counterweight so that you can move it along its thread to set tracking down-force, and (b) to tighten all three grub screws on the counterweight so that it becomes firmly fixed to the tonearm. It also does not come with a 2mm hex key, which is what you’ll need if you want to adjust vertical tracking angle (VTA).
Regarding VTA, we found it rather curious that Mark Levinson’s Owners’ Manual does not mention that the tonearm even has adjustable VTA, nor does any of Mark Levinson’s promotional material mention this feature. Indeed the locking screw is so well hidden away that we only found it because the diagram in the Owners’ Manual that explains how to set anti-skating has an arrow on it with a caption that says ‘VTA Locking Screw’.
As it happens, the locking screw on our review model was done up so tightly that we could not unlock it to adjust the VTA… at least we couldn’t without risking damage to the turntable, which we were not prepared to do, given the price of it. And we didn’t need to adjust VTA anyway, as it happens, since it turned out to be correct for the cartridge we were using for this review (a Dynavector DV-20XL2L low-output moving-coil cartridge).
The headshell at the business end of the carbon-fibre tonearm that comes standard with the No. 5105 is not removable, so it will not be well-suited to audiophiles who like swapping cartridges in and out of their tonearms. So if you need to do this an alternative might be to fit a phono cartridge that allows you to swap styluses instead — though this would necessarily restrict you to using moving-magnet cartridges. Whichever cartridge you use, however, it will definitely need to weigh more than 6 grams otherwise you will not be able to get a 2.5 gram tracking down-force, because you will not be able to get the counterweight close enough to the tonearm pivot to achieve it.
Also, if the counterweight does get too close to the tonearm pivot, it will impede the movement of the arm, so maybe Mark Levinson’s German partner should have stopped the thread a bit short of the pivot or inserted a collar to prevent the counter-weight from being located too close to it. Another alternative would be to provide a second, less-heavy, counterweight.
Our hat is off to whoever had the genius idea of designing and printing the Owner’s Manual for the No. 5105 so that it looks exactly like an LP album cover! This is a stroke of genius, not least because it’s so cool, but also because it means you will never, ever, lose the manual, because you would simply store in your album collection, not in a drawer somewhere it could easily get lost.
If you purchase the Mark Levinson No. 5105 with its optional Ortofon Quintet Black low-output moving-coil cartridge, it will already be installed and aligned for you, which is why there’s a premium over the cost of simply buying your own Ortofon Quintet Black and fitting it yourself. If you do choose to install your own cartridge, the good news is that in order that you can do this perfectly, Mark Levinson includes a very high-quality Bauerwald-geometry alignment gauge with every No. 5105.
The particular type of gauge Mark Levinson supplies is very similar to the Dr. Feickert Cartridge Alignment Protractor (if you are interested in checking it out what one looks like on the Internet). The one problem with this otherwise excellent type of cartridge alignment tool is that its accuracy depends entirely on you being able to precisely identify the exact centre of the tonearm pivot… and this is a task that is often very difficult to determine.
In the case of the No. 5105, it is made wonderfully easy because the top of the tonearm pivot has a small conical crater at its exact centre, and the Mark Levinson alignment gauge has a small cone that you position inside this crater. Once you have aligned the gauge with the tonearm pivot in this way, it is a simple matter to correctly adjust the phono cartridge in the tonearm’s headshell so that its stylus is sitting in the small depression punched into the surface of the alignment gauge and the stylus’s cantilever is parallel with the lines etched in the gauge.
Although this is made easy for you, it’s still rather fiddly and a bit time-consuming, which won’t matter at all if you only use a single phono cartridge, since you’ll have to do it only the once (plus whenever you replace it, of course) but it will rapidly become a nuisance if you regularly use different phono cartridges, because you’ll have to do the alignment over and over again, as already mentioned.
If Mark Levinson had instead fitted the tonearm with a removable headshell, swapping cartridges in and out would have been made a whole lot easier.
The damped cueing works exactly as it should, and is able to gracefully and reliably drop the stylus exactly into the section of groove you want, a process that takes around two seconds. The weight-and-string anti-skating mechanism, which is differently arranged from any we’ve ever seen before, does this job rather better than most. At which point we should say that tonearms really do need side-force compensation — despite what some turntable manufacturers who are trying to save themselves a few bucks by not including one will tell you!
Lifting the tonearm with the tonearm lifter was easy and worked perfectly, but every time we used it, we heard a tiny static-y sound whenever we started to lift the lever. We can only assume that this was the sound of surface tension being released in the fluid that is being used to damp the tonearm lifter’s action when it’s dropping. As such, it’s an oddity that might go away after several months of use, and might even depend on the room temperature at the time.
Before starting any turntable review we always check for speed accuracy, and when we did this with the No. 5105 the strobe immediately showed that the platter was rotating just a tad faster than 33⅓ rpm and also a little faster than 45 rpm — about 0.65% fast in both cases. This isn’t of much consequence in terms of musical pitch, because it means the music you play will only be about one tenth of a semitone higher than it should have been. We suspect that replacing the supplied rectangular belt with a smaller diameter round profile belt would drop the speed back closer to 33⅓, due to it being able to sit further down in the ‘V’ of the drive pulley, but we didn’t have one on hand to try this out to see if we were right.
The platter’s mass means that it takes around nine seconds to come up to 33⅓ rpm from stationary, and just a tad longer if you’re playing 45s. When you are changing LP sides, you will have to wait for 13 seconds for the platter to come to a stop, though we know many audiophiles who are quite happy to swap LP sides while the platter is still spinning… and the excellent slip-mat on the No. 5105 will enable you to do this quite easily.
We initially wondered how quiet the power supply inside the No. 5105 might be, since it’s rather unusual for the power supply to be built inside a turntable. Most manufacturers use external power supplies, both to keep mains hum away from the phono cartridge and to make it easier to use the turntable across multiple countries, many of which have different mains voltages and frequencies.
We needn’t have concerned ourselves — we could hear no noise from the power supply at all. We also couldn’t hear any noise at all from the turntable bearing. And, to complete the triumvirate of noise-lessness, we could not hear any noise from the drive motor either. This is a very, very quiet turntable.
It is also a turntable that keeps wow and flutter down below the threshold of audibility, which is just as it should be. We check for wow and flutter using slow piano music, since this is best music and instrument to reveal if either or both are present, and one of the best slow piano works we know of is French composer Erik Satie’s famous Gymnopédies.
And one of the best versions of Gymnopédies is the one by Dutch pianist Jeroen Van Veen, recorded on a Brilliant Classics double-LP set titled ‘Erik Satie Slow Music: Gymnopedies, Gnossiennes, And Other Works.’ Van Veen achieves a sublime perfection that eludes most pianists. We suspect the perfection of his performance might be because he is not only also a composer but is also considered by many experts to be one of the leading exponents of minimalism in the world today. These traits, along with the fact that he’s also a great pianist, are obviously those that are required to make Satie’s music work!
On this album van Veen stretches Satie’s concept of slowness to the extreme. One critic wrote of his performance that: “he creates an hallucinatory effect, a kind of minimal music avant la lettre.” We experienced this hallucinatory effect ourselves when listening to the Mark Levinson No. 5105, and an integral part of the experience was no doubt due to the fact that we could not hear any wow and flutter effects on the music at all, despite van Veen’s incredibly slow tempi.
The incredibly high mass of the turntable (34kg) also means that it’s excellent at preventing external air-borne or surface-borne vibrations from reaching your stylus where they could potentially intermodulate with whatever music you might be playing, though this would also be ameliorated through the use of those specially-designed feet.
Overall, this is a superbly engineered turntable, built like the proverbial battleship, and one that is more than ready to be passed down through the generations of your family. It’s also an award-winning turntable, having very recently been declared the winner of a Sound+Image Award in the ‘Turntable of the Year category.
MARK LEVINSON No. 5105
• On-board power
• Plug ‘n’ play
• Fixed headshell
• Speed adjustment
• Protective cover
Drive type: Rectangular belt
Motor: 12v d.c.
Tonearm effective length: 254mm
Pivot-spindle distance: 237.8mm
Dimensions (wdh): 438 x 395 x 108mm
Ortofon Quintet Black Specifications
Type: Moving-coil, low-output
Frequency response: 20Hz–20kHz ±1.5dB
Channel balance: <1.0dB (at1kHz)
Channel separation: >23dB (at 1kHz)
Output voltage: 0.3mV (at 1kHz re 5cm/sec)
Recommended load: >20Ω
Stylus: Nude Shibata Diamond
Contact: Convoy International
Telephone: 02 9774 9900
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