The review unit came with an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze cartridge already installed. So set up was a breeze and I enjoyed instant musicality of the highest order right out of the gate. After some break in the No515 showed itself to be among the best turntables on the planet.
Mark Levinson No515 Turntable
- Great looks
- Solid build quality
- Easy set up and calibration
- Extremely musical performance
- Tuneful, honest bass response
The No515 turntable reviewed here is Mark Levinson’s first turntable release. I reviewed it in concert with the upgraded Mark Levinson integrated amp, the No585.5. This amplifier, which will be the subject of a separate review, includes a fully-configurable phono stage. It makes an ideal partner to mate with the No515 turntable.
When Mark Levinson decided to release this turntable, they famously commissioned VPI to produce a table to Levinson’s specifications. So the No515 is being produced by VPI and it includes some elements from their other high end offerings along with some design elements that are exclusive to the Mark Levinson No515. I respect Mark Levinson’s team for taking this approach and being open about it.
The No515 is a beautiful piece of equipment that is remarkably well made. It features and AC motor with a built-in speed box which drives the heavy aluminum platter via three rubber belts. The Gimbaled tonearm is 3D-printed and my review sample came pre-fitted with an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze MC cartridge. It is optional to order the table with this cartridge but I personally see no reason to mess around with other carts (unless doing mono), this cartridge is perfectly fine.
Belt-driven with AC Synchronous Motor
33-1/3 and 45 RPM (Speed Box Built-in)
Maximum Run Out +/-0.001 inch
3D Printed, Gimbaled
Wow & Flutter:
Dimensions (H x W x D):
7.9″ (200mm) x 21.0″ (533mm) x 15.9″ (404mm)
58lb (26kg) Net; 76lb (34kg) With Packaging
$10,000 (no cartridge) or $12,500 (with Ortofon Bronze Cadenza Cartridge installed) USA
Ortofon Cadenza Bronze Cartridge
20Hz – 20kHz +/-1.5 dB
50 – 200 Ohm
24 db @ 1kHz
1.0 db @ 1kHz
Tracking Force Range:
2.2 – 2.7 gm
(See above for package pricing on table + cartridge purchases)
Mark Levinson, Mark Levinson Turntable, Cartridge, Turntables, Vinyl, Turntable Review 2019
I love the look and design of this turntable. In all honesty, I have never fully understood why people would gravitate to those high end turntables that look like some kind of blingy, bizarro erector set. Turntables are in fact relatively simple devices. I feel upgrades should go into performance and functionality not into flashy finishes. So that is one thing I really liked about the No515 – it was a perfect aesthetic fit with the Mark Levinson No585.5 amplifier in terms of its finishes and workmanlike posture.
This impression reflects one detail that gets lost on a lot of people but is in fact quite important to a quality manufacturer like Mark Levinson. This detail relates to the consistency of the aesthetic. What I’m referring to is LED’s. Yep, LED’s. I’ve reviewed other “matching” components that you could tell were manufactured in different factories. The problem I saw was that the front panel LED’s were part of the “tell”. The LED’s had slightly different colors and brightness level. Mark Levinson is very particular that the LED’s on all their product have the same brightness and color spectrum. The LED’s on the No515 table matched the LED’s on the No585.5 amplifier to a tee. This is a bigger effort than you may think and is just one sign of the lengths that Mark Levisnon goes to in order to produce a super high quality product.
I’ll start my rundown on the design by discussing the plinth. It is a sandwich construction with the two outer layers fashioned from 1/2”-thick MDF. These panels are finished with vinyl sheeting which makes them look nice while adding additional dampening. The center section is a 1/2”-thick stratum of milled aluminum. The layers are bonded with adhesive along with four stainless steel and Delrin® posts, one in each corner.
The legs are formed from Delrin® on the outside with large, rubber shock absorbers on the inside. The legs have hidden threaded inserts to allow fine adjustment of the table’s height and/or level. The feet are machined aluminum with rubber pads and are an exact match to the feet on the No585.5 amplifier.
The platter and main bearing are VPI house designs that are used on a number of their other turntables. The inverted bearing supports the 18 lb, 12 oz platter which is formed from a single machined aluminum billet with a large disc of MDF attached to its underside to improve damping.
The top of the motor housing is the same sandwich construction as the plinth. The motor is mounted directly to the aluminum layer in this assembly. The sides of the housing are constructed of 0.09”-thick aluminum. One advantage of the use of aluminum in this area is that it is non-magnetic so it doesn’t vibrate under the influence of the small, stray magnetic fields that surround the motor.
The drive electronics feature two oscillators, one for 33-1/3 RPM and a second one for 45 RPM. The design is predicated on VPI’s famous Analog Drive System (ADS) but is optimized for the single motor in the No515. There are several advantages to having these built into the motor housing. For example, the connection to the motor is more secure and the shorter leads reduce radiated noise.
Now on to the No515’s more distinctive features – they use three drive belts! Their claim is that three belts provides a better connection between the platter and the motor pulley which reduces drag over the use of a single belt. It looks cool and probably helps the performance, but I can say that it was a bit of a hassle getting them all on and spaced. (If you are changing speeds, let the platter stop rotating before selecting the next speed. This will help keep all the belts in place.)
The No515 features a unique gimbal assembly and counterweight that are not used on any other VPI tonearm. The armtube and headshell, which are created as a single 3D-printed unit, are mated to this pivot assembly, forming a proprietary arm just for the No515. One major advantage of this design is that it eliminates one set of connectors in the signal path (the four-pin Lemo® connector between the tonearm and the plinth), so the tonearm wires run directly to the RCA jacks at the rear of the table.
This turntable came fitted with an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze MC cartridge. This is the second from the top of Ortofon’s high end Cadenza line making it one of their most accomplished designs. It features the Replicant 100 stylus and a conical aluminum cantilever. The coil is wound from Ortofon’s highly regarded Aucurum wire which is a gold-plated six nines pure copper wire.
The Replicant 100 stylus has a unique shape and Ortofon offers special instructions on how to properly calibrate the rake angle for this particular design.
Ortofon also states that this cartridge includes a Field Stabilizing Element (FSE) which they claim “is used for optimal linearity especially during complex crescendo passages.”
OK, so I am not sure how many people would purchase one of these turntables and then set it up and calibrate it on their own. Most buyers of this decidedly luxury turntable will have their dealer install it and calibrate it.
In my case, Mark Levinson sent me the turntable already set up and with the Ortofon Cadenza Bronze cartridge installed. The packaging of the table is first rate so when I unboxed the table, everything was intact and functionally calibrated already. I mean, even the thin fishing line and small counterweight for the anti skate were still in place when I removed the deck.
All I needed to do was to pull everything out of the box, assemble the deck, level it up with the adjustable feet, place the motor and belts, plug it in and then fire it up. It really was that simple.
But of course you are dealing with Mark Levinson here. Included in the box was an electronic scale to check/set the tracking force. They also threw in a deluxe, aluminum alignment jig. The setup instructions included with the package were very succinct and actually a little vague as a result. I would like to see some improvement there but I’m not sure how important that is as I’m certain there are a ton of online videos that go into great detail about how to calibrate one of these bad boys. Plus, the team at Mark Levinson is easily accessible and quite helpful should you run into any issues. Suffice it to say that this deck is designed to facilitate full calibration of all the necessary angles and weights.
In my situation, I put it all together and leveled it up, etc. I then checked the alignment and tracking weight. Everything checked out spot-on and so I was good to go. (In case you were wondering, the tracking weight checked out within 0.01 gram of the recommended spec. I wasn’t going to mess around with that!)
Since I was setting this up as a two-channel system, I placed the Mark Levinson No585.5 amplifier in a rack at the front of my listening room. The No515 turntable was then placed on a super sturdy shelf above the amp. This is not a wall-mounted shelf but a very rigid shelf on top of the rack. This was my first time setting up a turntable in this configuration (I didn’t want to move my reference table.) I was concerned because this setup placed the No515 within a few feet of the left channel speaker. I was expecting feedback issues. But, much to my amazement, I didn’t hear even the faintest hint of feedback even when auditioning at high SPL’s. This is a testament to the turntable’s design and isolation. It was in fact a very impressive feat!
The MarkLevinson No515 turntable isn’t the best turntable that I have reviewed. It is better than that. It is head and shoulders the best source component I have ever reviewed (or owned) bar none. I base my assessment on the overall musicality of the performance viewed from a purely subjective standpoint.
There is a nifty little video on the Mark Levinson website that introduces the No515 turntable. In this video Mark Levinson’s chief engineer, Mr. Todd Eichenbaum, discusses the bass response of the No515. He is absolutely spot on with his description.
Take for example the amazing box set Melody Gardot “Live in Europe”. There is an acoustic bass solo on Side 3 that stands out in my mind. This solo isn’t the best musicianship I’ve ever heard and it isn’t without flaws either. But it was so compelling over the No515. After about the fifteenth time I listened to this track during the review, I declared that the No515 had the most ‘honest’ bass response I have ever heard from a turntable.
It was so good that I didn’t want to turn off the system at night but of course I know that I need to work so as to make more money to buy more records. I’d have to force myself to shut it down and go to bed. Then the next day at work, all I could do was to think about how incredible it sounded the night before. The anticipation would be killing me and I couldn’t wait for the whistle to blow so I could shut down my workstation, high tail it home, and put it on all over again! This Mark Levinson N515 turntable became my obsession.
Another box set that I like to use for turntable evaluation is Ryan Adams “Heartbreaker – Deluxe Edition”. I just love “Oh My Sweet Carolina”. The strings on the guitar sounded so real and present. Plus who could resist the distressed silk tones of Emmylou Harris in this duet? The Mark Levinson turntable put all this right out there for me to enjoy. This tune unfolds with a slow perseverance which allows the listener to marinade in all the rich sonic tapestry as it builds to its closing crescendo. You could stick a fork in me as they say.
I’m a member of a local audio club. Our group has expanded quite a bit over the years and we have a number of very experienced listeners in the club. I like to have the fellas over whenever I have a great product in for review. So I had a group come over to check out the No515. The new deck was very well received. And one of the guys liked it so much, he came back over a couple of more times to give it another listen. This is a guy who has a background in high-end sales and has keen listening skills. He is the kind of guy who can encapsulate what he is hearing in a few choice words and always hits the nail on the head.
He came over one day with a fresh pressing of ZZ Top’s “La Futura”. The very first song is “I Gotsta Get Paid (25 Lighters)”. It was so rich and dynamic sounding over the No515. We were drawn in immediately and sat there fixated as we enjoyed the three hombres all the way through to the end of the album.
My buddy liked it and my system so well, he said that he “wouldn’t change a thing”. Now, let me ask you, how many times have you heard an experienced audiophile say anything like that? It was a first for me, ha!
One of my neighbors swung by one day and dropped off some old records he thought I might like. Among these records was an old Christmas album with a compilation of Christmas classics. It is titled, “The Instrumental Christmas Favorites” and features several big band orchestras including Jackie Gleason, David Rose, and Stan Kenton among others.
The arrangements on this album are very ‘groovy’. This record is an example of natural instruments being recorded live and then mixed down to a stereo master. This is something of a novel idea by today’s standards.
I checked out this album during the holidays and found it to be very fun and engaging. Of course the No515 deck brought out the best in it. When we had my wife’s family over on Christmas afternoon, this was one of the albums I played during their visit. Everybody took note of the excellent sonics. It became more than just background music and soon enough there was a small group gathered around enjoying the funky arrangements. The next thing I knew, my mother in law said she could “listen to this all day”. That was another first!
The below graph shows the spectral results of a 3,150 Hz sine wave being played back at 33-13/ RPM. This test is used to get a visual on the wow and flutter. The “shoulders” on either side of the peak waveform are indicative of the amount of wow and flutter the table produces in operation. This is viewed by looking to see if any of the traces rise above the imaginary lines from the 3,150 Hz peak to the background noise levels at 3,150 Hz +/-100 Hz. The No515’s trace does show some of the lower level parts of the shoulders breaking past this line.
I directly measured the wow and flutter with an app called “RPM Pro” which I installed on my iPhone X. The measured wow & flutter was 0.13% at 33-1/3 RPM and 0.08% at 45 RPM. The measurement at 33-1/3 RPM was slightly over the manufacturer’s claim while the test at 45 RPM was better than claimed. Neither one of these were in any way audible during actual use.
I measured the actual frequency output during this test which indicated a speed accuracy that was slightly fast but within 0.16% of the specified speed at 33-1/3 RPM
I also measured channel separation (not shown) and the result was much better than the claim and registered 30.6 dBu at 1kHz.
This last graph is the distortion spectrum of a 1 kHz sine wave. The measured result was below audibility at 0.88%. This is more a test of the cartridge than the table and can be considered a very good test result.
The results of my objective testing were mixed bag. The distortion and channel separation were very good as was the speed accuracy. The wow & flutter at 33 RPM was a little out of spec but inaudible. This is an all around positive set of test results.
The MARK LEVINSON NO515 TURNTABLE with Ortofon Cadenza Bronze Cartridge had the best musicality I have ever heard from any source component I have reviewed or owned.
- High levels of musicality
- Wide range frequency response
- Excellent soundstaging
- Engaging and natural dynamics
- The most honest bass I’ve heard in vinyl
- Easy to set up
- Great looks
- High torque motor
- Dustcover (even if it is “optional”)
I don’t know where to begin in wrapping up this review. What should I discuss first: the look, the design, the customer service, the quality workmanship? Of course this is a Mark Levisnon product so all of those factors are well covered by the No515. This turntable is definitely built like a tank and it’s a beauty. It would fit in with any high end system but most especially surrounded by other Mark Levinson pieces.
The No515 proved to be very simple to set up and the calibration controls are among the best out there which further aids the user in eeking out the highest degree of performance with the fewest possible headaches.
So all of those are good things but I’m a pragmatist and my natural bias as an engineer is to focus on the performance. That’s what it’s all about in my estimation. So my conclusion is what I stated earlier, the Mark Levinson No515 turntable is the best source component I have ever owned or reviewed. (I’ve been reviewing high end equipment for over 10 years now.)
The No515 had honest bass response, clean and transparent mids, and delicate, sparkly highs. It was so addictively musical that I became obsessed with it during the review period. I am nominating this turntable for all the applicable product awards that will be handed out at the end of the year. It is that good.