I think it is also a very good value when you consider everything that it offers. This amplifier has all the bases covered from high resolution digital to sumptuous yet accurate analog playback. It would serve indefinitely as the hub of a high quality playback system.
This is a review of a high end integrated amplifier. There are some people out there who may say calling an integrated amplifier “high end” is a misnomer. They can’t be high end if they aren’t separates, right? I do not agree. Some of the very best systems I have heard are based around integrated amplifiers. Integrated amplifiers are quite convenient in that they save space, money, and can provide performance qualities commensurate with separates. The first system I ever owned was based on an integrated amplifier and, by the way, I love integrated amplifiers.
One argument in favor of separates is that they allow for more upgrade paths. That is definitely true, but why worry if you can get an integrated amp that is a mature product from a high end company. I am talking about the Mark Levinson No 585.5 integrated amplifier, of course. This amplifier has plenty of power to drive every consumer speaker on the market in any sort of domestic environment I can imagine. So no need for more power than is already on tap.
Then they add in a superior quality DAC section along with a phono stage that is so good it could win awards as a stand-alone product any day of the week. All you need to do is add in a few source components and speakers to get to a system that rivals so many much more complex arrangements. This will get you to audio nirvana pretty fast and it’s why a product like the Mark Levinson No 585.5 is in fact an excellent value considering all you get; not the least of it being world-class performance.
I reviewed the No 585.5’s predecessor a few years ago. This was dubbed the No 585 and it shares many of the same design and build elements as the No 585.5. Here is a link back to that review which culminated in a 2015 Best of Award as voted by the Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity editorial staff:
7.6” H x 17.1” W x 19.9” D
74 Pounds Net
Mark Levinson, No 585.5, Stereo, Amplifiers, Integrated Amplifiers, Phono Stage, Class A, Dual mono, ESS Sabre DAC, USB asynchronous, Amplifiers Review 2019
This new integrated amplifier from Mark Levinson is in large measure predicated on the design of the much heralded Mark Levinson No 585 integrated that I reviewed for Secrets of Home Theater and High fidelity back in 2015. The No 585 proved to be so amazing that it earned our Best Digital High-End Integrated Amplifier award that year.
The new No 585.5 under review here offers two very significant upgrades over its predecessor. The most significant is the inclusion of a high end, fully configurable phono stage. And the other is in the area of the remote control. The new remote is a weighty, ergonomic piece of modern audio art.
Let’s discuss the phono stage first. According to Mark Levinson, “[the] Pure Phono stage is a discrete design with no op-amps and operates exclusively in Class A throughout, employing tantalum nitride thin-film resistors and polypropylene capacitors with exceptionally low tolerances.”
This is the same phono stage that first appeared in the Mark Levinson No 523 and No 526 preamplifiers. It is shielded and isolated inside its own case within the No 585.5 integrated amplifier. Of course, judging by the description above, this phono stage spares no expense in reference to its design, build, and the selection of parts that make up the entire package.
The phono stage is natively dual-mono with a symmetrical layout on the board. It offers three gain settings and 10 resistance matching choices for the MC loading. On the MM side of things, the No 585.5 is flexible enough to allow five input capacitance settings making this among the most flexible of all the built-in phono stages that I have reviewed.
The phono stage also features an infrasonic filter. This defeatable filter is a 2nd order filter at 15 Hz. It compensates for rumble and warped records. I left this on most of the time during the review and turned it off now and again to evaluate its effect. With good quality records, the filter didn’t have any audible effects on the sound. Warped records on the other hand benefited from its use. Filters like this protect your speakers and amp from inaudible noise so I left it on most of the time, irrespective of the record being played.
The other significant and noteworthy upgrade over the No 585 involves the remote control. This remote’s case is cast aluminum. It is designed to fit comfortably in an adult hand which means it is much larger (and weightier) than most. It also has a rubber-like strip on the bottom to prevent it from sliding off the arm of your easy chair on its way to the void between the cushions.
This remote appears to be sparse but, in conjunction with the unit’s front panel display, it has a big impact. You can use the remote to access the menu tree and make the whole range of adjustments available without getting up from the aforementioned easy chair.
In particular, this remote has three direct selection buttons that are a Godsend for any audiophile. The one I used the most was the balance control. Oh how I love a remote with a balance control! I used it almost every time I listened to the No 858.5. Channel balance can drift based on many factors such as your seated position, how your ears are working on any given day, and due to issues with any particular recording or playback device. The No 585.5 allowed fine adjustments of 0.1 dB. This makes it even that much easier to get the balance just right so everything would lock into place.
The second adjustment I liked to play with involved the polarity. You can directly toggle polarity from this remote. Changing the polarity made a subtle change to the sound and it was sometimes hard to decide if I preferred normal or inverted. But it was fun to have that control and I usually went with what felt right at any given moment.
The last direct-input button that was quite useful was the button that engaged/disengaged the Clari-Fi® algorithm. This is a Mark Levinson exclusive system that enhances the musicality of compressed audio files. I used Clari-Fi® quite often when listening to mp3’s.
The remote also had full transport controls for play, pause, etc. for controlling USB sources.
So I’m finished discussing what are the major differences between the No 585.5 versus the No 585. More details about the remaining circuitry can be found by revisiting my earlier review of the No 585 here.
For convenience, I will go ahead and highlight some of the significant, common design features in each of the two amplifiers.
The power amp section is a fully-differential Class AB design with a single 900 VA power transformer with individual secondary windings for each channel. The signal paths are short and the heatsinks are mounted to the amp modules to promote efficient heat transfer.
The chassis utilizes a card-cage architecture not unlike what is seen in a computer tower or server. This offers many advantages but the most important cited by Mark Levinson is that it isolates the low-level analog and digital circuits from the power supplies and amplifier modules.
Each analog input is controlled by its own switching relay and all analog circuitry features discrete designs throughout. For example, the critical volume control is a discrete R2R ladder design with low-noise analog switches which offers excellent channel balance over time with low noise and wide bandwidth.
If desired, the built-in amps can be driven from a built-in 80 Hz high-pass filter for satellite speakers, while the pre outs can be run full range to drive a powered subwoofer for a proper 2.1 system setup.
The unit has a home theater bypass option so you can use it for home cinema applications, lending more flexibility to its design.
The unit’s “Precision Link DAC” centers on an ESS Sabre DAC. This 32-bit capable chip features proprietary jitter elimination circuitry and fully balanced, discrete I/V circuitry. This DAC forms the heart of the digital audio processing stage. The ESS Sabre DAC used here is widely regarded as the pinnacle of DACs on the market. The implementation accommodates DSD up to 5.6MHz and PCM signals up to 32 bits and 192KHz. The DAC chip operates from five dedicated power supplies, while the analog stages are powered from four more!
The unit features Ethernet control along with a 12V trigger and an IR repeater input in the rear of the unit.
Build quality-wise, this is a massive component that barely fit into my cabinet. It is heavy too. I think this amplifier could realistically offer a lifetime of trouble-free enjoyment to the consumer.
As I mentioned above, the No 585.5 is a large and heavy component. It required a certain amount of effort to get it out of the box and into the rack. I placed it on the lower shelf of a Salamander rack. The amp was physically deep such that the only way it would fit was to remove the back panel of my rack. So the feet rested on the shelf but the back part of the chassis protruded outwardly by a few inches.
I connected three source components to the No 585.5. The first source was the amazing Mark Levinson No 515 turntable that I recently reviewed. This table came with an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze cartridge that is a moving coil design.
The next source was a Windows-based laptop that was connected via USB. The third source was an Oppo BDP 83SE connected via S/PDIF. I use this player when setting up a two-channel system in the front of the room. This player developed the bug where the tray wouldn’t open so I had to return it to Oppo during the review period to have it serviced. As a consequence, this was the least used source during the review. And it would have been regardless, because the No 515 turntable was so good, I hardly stopped listening to it!!
I connected the speakers using gold-plated banana plugs on both ends because when you are a reviewer, banana plugs are the easiest way to switch out components and are therefor a productivity tool. I used several different speakers for this review, but mostly a pair of Technics SB-C700’s or a pair of GoldenEar Triton 5’s. I did use the line outs to drive a MartinLogan Dynamo 1600X powered sub for a time. I did this to test and evaluate the high pass crossover functionality of the No 585.5. It worked as advertised but I much prefer a straight two-channel set up for music so it was a relatively brief experiment.
As mentioned above, I have more detailed information in my review of the No585 but want to mention a few highlights here –
The remote does not have direct input selection which I like because you can rename the inputs and that is a better set up for the rest of my family who can’t always remember which input is which. The inputs are configurable in other ways, including offset to balance the gain among devices.
You have three choices for the PCM Filter. One has a steep roll-off, a second has a gradual roll-off, while the third, known as Mphas, is a minimum phase filter. Mark Levinson makes cursory recommendations on when to use each and then they go on to say that it all comes down to your personal preference. I preferred “slow” which was the mode that had the gradual roll-off.
The No 585.5 also has four selectable frequencies for the DSD filter: 47 kHz, 50 kHz, 60 kHz or 70 kHz. Again, this is selected based on personal preferences. I don’t listen to DSD files all that often but I did find that I preferred the 50 kHz setting the most out of these four.
As mentioned above, the No 585.5 includes Mark Levinson’s trademarked Clari-Fi® circuitry that is used to reconstruct much of what is lost when audio files are compressed. I used this often and it has an intensity control that you can adjust. After trying out the different intensity settings, I wound up keeping it at the factory default.
As mentioned previously, the No 585.5 includes a very flexible phono stage. It’s great that it is all controlled via the front display. There is no need to open up the case and toggle dip switches. Nice. Besides all the available settings discussed above, the unit also had a balance offset for the phono stage. Typically one would ensure good channel balance by properly adjusting and calibrating their tonearm/cartridge but in some cases, certain phono rigs have a characteristic channel imbalance. This is where you can make a default setting that varies by up to +/- 3 dB in 0.1 dB steps.
The No 585.5 features flexible volume control functionality which includes volume limiter, start-up level, mute level, etc. One thing about this volume control is that it moved in 0.1 dB steps. It would move slowly at first and as you kept the button depressed, it would accelerate. I found it to be a little tricky to avoid sudden blasts of loud music. So I would up invoking “Mode 3” which functions as described by Mark Levinson, “[w]hen increasing the volume the volume changes quickly through the low volume range, and then decelerates in the higher range, for precision adjustments. When decreasing the volume the control works in the opposite fashion . . .”
The unit also had a range of power management settings that by and large help reduce power consumption when the unit was idling. You can also change display brightness and time out in this section of the menu tree.
There are also options to invoke the 80Hz high pass filter on the main channels for use when setting up a 2.1 system. You can also make the line outs fixed or turn off the internal amplifier.
I reviewed this amplifier in conjunction with the new Mark Levinson No 515 turntable. I just issued a rave review on the No 515. It’s the raviest review I have written in over ten years of reviewing high end audio. I couldn’t get enough of that turntable. I loved it. The fact is that much of the magic I enjoyed could be credited to the No 585.5 integrated. The No 585.5 amp and the No 515 table were kind of developed to be paired together and it was a match made in heaven!
In this situation the whole was indeed greater than the sum of the parts. I can’t think of a better launch point for someone wanting to get into vinyl. Or, if you are like me, you are a veteran who has listened to countless systems and you just want to take your personal musical enjoyment to the next level. Either way you approach this, Mark Levinson proves that very high quality sound reproduction at the pinnacle of what is possible is attainable in a simple to implement package that doesn’t cost any where near as much as you could spend on decidedly lesser brands.
What Mark Levinson gives you is quality design, implementation, and workmanship without skimping on the internals. If a relay is needed, put one even if it costs more than other options. If you can choose discrete components, select them even though the cost is more than integrated chips, etc. My point is that Mark Levinson doesn’t cut corners on their products and this is where they are a top value for you, the music lover.
Getting back to my experience with the No 585.5 integrated, I am reminded of my review of the No515 turntable. In that review, I stated how “honest” the bass response was. This was true on vinyl of course but it was apparently a family trait because I heard honest bass on digital music as well. So the No 585.5 was a co-conspirator in the excellent bass performance.
The strings had a natural air. The percussion had a metronomic but human timing and pace. This is Willie Nelson’s style, a pacing that is just enough “off” that you know it isn’t computer generated. So the No 585.5 communicated this musical style without undue editorialization.
This whole album came across as riveting when listening over the No 585.5. I really didn’t hear any weaknesses in the performance of the No 585.5. The sound filled the room and swirled around my head as if I were listening to ten speakers, not two. I am not sure how this happens. But there are certain systems that are processed by your brain as surround despite coming from two speakers. I think the trick is phase integrity; when all in-phase recorded sounds have that phasing preserved throughout the frequency range, then the sounds propagate into the room in a coherent fashion. Then your brain processes it as a broader musical tapestry. So the No 585.5 represented the convergence of bass, mid, treble, and soundstage thereby providing a ripe, holistic performance that was hard to walk away from.
Track 4, Les jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este embodied all that I loved about the No 585.5: the delicacy, the pitch integrity, and the truthfulness to the source. It was as if the piano were right there in front of me. For piano, I evidence this through the system’s ability to clearly differentiate both the percussive and the melodic qualities of the piano. The No 585.5 really shone on this recording.
I can’t conclude my review without mentioning some kind of cinematic experience. I mean, even music lovers enjoy watching a movie every now and again. This time around, I watched the Blu-ray of “A Star is Born” with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in the lead roles. I played the disc on the Oppo BDP 83SE and let the player downconvert the audio from DTS HD Master to 2-channel PCM.
This movie slays me every time I watch it and tonight’s screening was no different. When evaluating a home cinema experience, I feel that voice intelligibility is paramount. Of course a highly accomplished product like the No585.5 isn’t plagued with the type of peaky response that is known to muddy vocal clarity so that part of the performance was a non-issue.
The No 585.5 is a very refined product and it wasn’t to be tripped up by any sophomoric test. But more than this, I was really amazed at how well the No 585.5 rendered all the rich tapestry of instruments, drums, and vocals in the live performances. The system painted a beautiful aural picture during the screening. It stepped aside and simply let the story unfold. This ability for the electronics to fully disappear meant that I could just kick back and enjoy the movie without distraction. I was drawn in. Simply put, it slayed me.
This is one of the most comprehensive and accomplished integrated amplifiers I have ever reviewed. It is designed and built to be the hub of a truly high-end system and should offer the owner a lifetime of musical enjoyment.
One major argument for separates versus integrated amps is that separates provide better isolation between the line level and speaker level signals. The other case for separates revolves around the power supplies being typically more robust and isolated among the various components.
I definitely get that, but the Mark Levinson No 585.5 overcomes these issues by physically shielding and isolating each of the more delicate circuits within. The card cage architecture furthers this isolation concept.
The No 585.5 also features individual power supplies parsed in a most logical way. Take for example the Precision Link DAC which features five dedicated power supplies for the DAC chip alone, while the analog stages are powered from four more dedicated power supplies. Mark Levinson has gone to great lengths to design a product that leverages the economy of an integrated amplifier but without compromising performance over what you would get in separates.
The pay off is an amazingly well executed product that can match up against anything anywhere near its price point. Even separates costing much more may not bring this level of overall satisfaction. And the No 585.5 is economical. Where else can you get so much performance for the price? Think about how much you would spend to get comparable performance – DAC, Phono Stage, Preamplifier, and a Power Amp. You would need to spend many times more money to get equivalent performance anywhere else. I am not sure you could eek out any better performance either. The Mark Levinson No 585.5 is a giant-killer.
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