Mark Levinson’s No. 5101 Plays SACDs Like It’s 1999!
At last year’s Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, Mark Levinson previewed the, the first products in the company’s new, more affordable 5000 series. Both were on display once again at the recent High End show in Munich, alongside a new addition called the No. 5101. When I heard that Mark Levinson would be introducing a digital source component to join the 5000 series, I expected a network streamer, or possibly a music server. What I definitely did not expect to see showcased at the biggest audio show of 2019 was a brand new SACD player from one of the biggest brands in premium audio. But that’s exactly what Mark Levinson has created with the No. 5101, which will sell for an estimated $5,500 starting the fourth quarter of this year. Unlike the SACD players of yesteryear, however, the No. 5101 has a few 21st-century features that should make it versatile enough to sit at the front end of a thoroughly modern digital audio system.
In addition to spinning CDs and SACDs, the No. 5101 has streaming capability built in, allowing it to serve up web-based music services like Tidal and Qobuz. The player can also handle FLAC, WAV, AIFF, OGG, MP3, AAC, and WMA files streamed from a NAS drive, DLNA device, or UPnP device on the user’s local network. In addition to ethernet and WiFi, the No. 5101 has three digital inputs. The coaxial and optical S/PIDF inputs allow the No. 5101 to perform standalone DAC duties for a variety of digital sources, while the USB type A jack can accept a USB hard drive loaded with music files. And of course, the slot-loaded disc drive can play CDs and Super Audio CDs — the latter still having a strong niche following among DSD-loving audiophiles, despite the fact that only about 13,000 SACD titles have been released since the format launched in 1999. Jim Garrett, Senior Director of Product Strategy And Planning at Harman Luxury Audio, had this to say about Mark Levinson’s newest “integrated audio media player,”
“The No. 5101 is a very exciting new product. There are high-end CD players on the market, though few that support the SACD format and feature integrated streaming. The Mark Levinson levels of industrial design and ground-breaking engineering that have gone into this player are remarkable, and we expect the No 5101 will redefine expectations.”
Mr. Garrett makes a good point about the relative rarity of modern-day players that support both music streaming and SACD playback. Sure, there are some examples out there, but apart from the now-defunct Oppo UDP-205, most are very expensive. Even Mark Levinson’s own No. 519 Audio Player, which costs a hefty $20,000 (and which was also on display in Munich), plays only regular CDs, not Super Audio CDs. The spendy No. 519 does, however, offer a couple of important buzzword features that have not yet been announced for the new No. 5101, those being “Roon Ready” and “MQA Certified.” Given that the No. 5101 will not be released for several months, it’s entirely possible that both features will find their way onto the new player’s spec sheet before all is said and done, but for now their absence is noteworthy. As far as the industrial design is concerned, it’s plain to see that the No. 5101 is a sleek and contemporary interpretation of the Mark Levinson house style, complete with the lavish finishes and over-the-top build quality you’d expect from the brand. For example, the front panel is made from a one-inch-thick piece of solid aluminum, which has been “bead blasted, black anodized, and machine contoured,” allowing it to “flow seamlessly into the sleek glass display, which itself is recessed into a bead-blasted and clear-anodized aluminum bezel,” according to Mark Levinson. The slot-loading disc transport is shielded with a steel cover and mounted on threaded steel separators that suspend the assembly above the main chassis, where it floats on a “PVC and styrene-butadiene rubber sandwich.” The buttons and matching custom feet are solid aluminum, and other snazzy details include debossed top cover vents, and screen printing behind the glass display panel.
Naturally, this attention to detail is carried out on the inside of the No. 5101 as well. The player uses the same “PrecisionLink II” digital-to-analog converter found in the No. 5802 and No. 5805 integrated amplifiers. Mark Levinson has chosen an ESS PRO Sabre 32-bit D/A converter chip to sit at the heart of a “fully balanced, discrete current-to-voltage converter.” The exact chip used is not specified, but all of the ESS PRO chips are known for their excellent jitter-elimination circuitry. If at some point down the road you should wish for an audio upgrade, the No. 5101 also features two digital outputs — one coaxial and one optical — allowing you to connect the player to the high-end DAC of your choice. (It should be noted, however, that these outputs can only pass PCM signals, not the DSD layer of a Super Audio CD.) The unit’s linear power supply uses a toroidal transformer mated to 13,600uF of filter capacitance, and individual regulators for each channel. The power supply, transformer, and printed circuit board assemblies used for controlling the player are all encased in a steel cage shield and isolated from the signal path. According to Mark Levinson, the No. 5101’s discrete “PurePath” class A line output stage delivers “exceptional transparency and dynamic range.”
There are a number of ways to control the No. 5101 when it comes time to install the player into your system. You could use the custom aluminum IR remote control, or take advantage of the various system integration and communication ports, including IP (Ethernet), RS- 232, IR input, and 12V trigger inputs. Drivers are available for major control systems, such as Control 4.
How do you see the Mark Levinson No. 5101 fitting into your system? Share your thoughts
Unless otherwise indicated, this is a preview article for the featured product. A formal review may or may not follow in the future.