The Mark Levinson No. 519 Audio Player combines wireless and wired streaming from networked libraries and streaming services, CD player, and connections for USB drives, digital audio inputs, and Bluetooth with aptX.
Pure Mark Levinson
Just like all of the past Mark Levinson gear, the 519 is built to provide state of the art sound and be a lifetime investment. From its massive power supplies to best in class digital circuitry, it is a masterpiece in sound and design
Access To All Digital Music
From Redbook CD, to 32-bit, 192kHz PCM, double-speed DSD for music files, to streaming services, to Bluetooth, if its a digital music format, the ML 519 will likely play it better than anything.
Designed and Crafted in the USA
We love the way the Mark Levinson products are built with such care and foresight. The 519 is a timeless design unlike the disposable products we encounter daily. Hand crafted in Westford, MA.
Company & Product Overview
Back in the early 1970s, Mark Levinson was working in recording studios in the New York City area. At the time, he was designing mixing consoles, and legend has it that one of his designs was the sound mixer of choice at the Woodstock Music Festival. In 1972, he released his first product, the LNP-1, and followed up the next year with the LNP-2, an absolutely beautiful preamp with VU meters and a separate power supply. He continued to set new standards for the audio world with several preamps and power amps. In 1984, Madrigal Audio Labs became the new owners of Mark Levinson and continued the tradition of sparing no expense for pure sound while wrapping the components in a design that was timeless. As a matter of fact, many of the Mark Levinson products from the 1980s and 1990s, if you can find one, command more than their original price. Harman International acquired Madrigal in 1990 and gave them the backing of a large company to not have to compromise on their standards. During the 1990s, some of the most groundbreaking gear ever came out of Mark Levinson.
Today, Harman is owned by Samsung, with Mark Levinson having two locations in the Northeast. The Mark Levinson team tells us that the Samsung investment has been fantastic as they have improved logistics and want to do everything possible to keep the iconic status of the Levinson products. Every single bit of design takes place in Shelton, CT and their manufacturing facility is in Westford, MA, with almost all of the components sourced from local suppliers
Our review today focuses on the new Mark Levinson Model 519 player. When we first looked at this piece of gear we did not fully understand everything it could do, but once we figured it out, boy, is it something really special! On the outset, it just appears to be a fancy CD player, but it is far more than that. The 519 can be the heart of a modern audio system, and if you are into headphones, it can be all you need.
Design & Build Quality
Ever since their beginning in the 1970s, Mark Levinson gear has had some of what we feel is the best looking and most fun to use products on the market. Their designs have always been a classic black with brushed silver accents and controls, and that continues with the 519. While much audio gear is a pretty basic black box, Mark Levinson gear exudes class, almost appearing as a sculptured piece of metal work. A beautiful 5” display sits in the center, flanked by buttons on either side, with the classic Mark Levinson knobs for volume and source selection are located on the outsides. You really have to see this piece in person to appreciate how well made everything is with just a best in class fit and finish. It is truly a great example of American boutique manufacturing with nothing spared to create a wonderful product. The 519 also totally fits the description of “built like a tank”. How many CD players have you seen that weigh in at 36 pounds?
The Model 519 is able to handle everything digital you can throw at it. From its slot loading CD player, to its full Bluetooth capability, you get several digital inputs, streaming of the popular music services, USB connections for computer music or attached drives, and streaming via ethernet from a NAS drive. Not only is it a full digital audio player, but it can also serve as a preamp in an all digital system. Let’s take a deeper look at what makes the Model 519 so special.
Features & Technology
The Mark Levinson Model 519 is probably the most feature filled Mark Levinson piece we have ever seen. You can control it from its beautiful interface on the front panel, the included handheld remote, or use the super rich control app available for both Android or iOS. We really like the layout of the app and found it quite easy to use.
Input wise, you’ll have a balanced digital input, two coax digital inputs, two toslink digital inputs, a USB input for computer audio, ethernet for streaming from a network drive, and two USB inputs for either an attached drive or USB stick. You also have the ability to use Bluetooth to send music from your smartphone to the Mark Levinson Model 519. In addition, you have Spotify Connect, Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer, Rhapsody/Napster all built in along with internet radio.
On the output side, you have 3 digital outs should you need to get a digital signal to another system. These are balanced, coax, and toslink. There are two pair of audio outs, one balanced, and one single ended (RCA). In the set up menu you can tell these outputs to be fixed or variable, making the 519 either a CD Player/DAC/Streamer and connecting it to your preamp, or using as a full preamp with variable outs.
If you own a great pair of headphones, you will love the special headphone amp built into the Mark Levinson Model 519. For headphones 32 ohms or less, it operates in pure Class A mode, giving you an incredibly clean sound.
While the 32bit Sabre DAC supports virtually every file type available today, Mark Levinson has future proofed things by putting what is basically a mini computer inside the 519. With its multi core 32 bit processor and 4GB each of RAM and flash, updates to new technologies will be simple for Mark Levinson to push out. As a matter of fact, one of them occurred while we were doing our testing of the Model 519. Roon has become very popular among music lovers with large music libraries as the best possible way to manage a big library. If a product is Roon Ready, it means the Roon operating system resides inside the unit so the Roon app can talk directly the the piece of gear, controlling not only what it is playing but volume. You can also group various brands of Roon Ready gear into a single music zone, which is really cool. Well, as we were writing this, Mark Levinson announced they were pushing out an update to make the Model 519 Roon Ready. That is pretty darn cool!
Another side benefit to having all of this processing power on board is Clari-Fi Music Restoration Technology. This system looks at incoming compressed audio signals like Spotify or Bluetooth. It looks at the signal and tries to figure out what parts of the music were left off due to compression. With the 519, you can turn this process on or off and even adjust the amount of correction it applies to the signal. And we have to say, it does make a difference on things like Spotify.
As you can see, the Mark Levinson Model 519 has wealth of features, but we should stress that the Model 519 is all about the best possible audio quality. No expense was spared from a parts standpoint to allow the 519 to be as close to the recording as possible. The Mark Levinson team calls this their Pure Path circuit design. All inputs use a fully balanced circuit topology. We also love the fact that the 519 is a dual mono design, which means it is basically two complete products in one box with neither channel sharing anything with the other.
Another hallmark of Mark Levinson design is their folded cascode technology. Originally developed to lower the noise floor in early tube radios, the Mark Levinson team has updated this with the use of two different types of solid state transistors, JFETs and BJT’s. This combination used in their cascode design enables them to extract more gain with less noise with a very wide bandwidth that is extremely linear.
If you know much about digital audio products, you are probably aware the quality of the DAC (Digital to Analog Convertor) and the support around the DAC are of ultimate importance. For the Model 519 the best DAC from ESS Technologies is used- their Sabre 32 bit version. For years, this company has produced DACs with the lowest jitter on the market. The DAC compares the incoming signal to its own incredibly stable internal clock and the result when combined with the 32bit DAC lets you hear further into the low level details in a recording. Support for this great DAC circuitry is pretty amazing with 5 independent power supplies for just the DAC alone, then in its true dual mono design, two more for each channels output.
Another pretty cool feature included with the Mark Levinson Model 519 we have seen on a few other units is the option to apply different filters to the incoming signal while still in its digital form. Through blind testing, the Mark Levinson team has determined people have different sensitivities as to how a digital filter effects the sound. The three options available are fun to experiment with on the fly to apply a subtle change to transients.
Of course there are many parts to a great design, the circuit itself, the supporting power supplies, how the circuit boards are laid out, and finally how well the chassis isolates everything from external factors. It is here that Mark Levinson really excels. The US military industry has spawned a new level of electronic components for their super sensitive equipment. These components need to stay extremely linear under all conditions with immunity to temperature changes and magnetic fields. Putting military grade components in a home audio component may seem like overkill, but when you are searching for the best signal path possible, and a better component exists, you use it and the Mark Levinson Model 519 is full of military grade parts all encased in a aircraft grade extruded, machined aluminum chassis.
These technologies allow your music to pass through the Mark Levinson Model 519 with such a revealing and effortless sound, you think the musicians are right in front of you. All of these wonderful design ideas do not come cheap, but boy do they result in a sonic masterpiece!
You would expect a $20,000 component to deserve a great system to be tested in and we had just the ticket in our Raleigh showroom. We had recently brought in the companion power amp, the Model 534 and the Revel Salon2 speakers. The 534 is the same price as the 519, and the Salon2 is $22,000 a pair. All of these are sitting in our HRS rack and cabled up with Transparent Audio along with their power conditioning. The whole system comes in a little under $100k.
Over the years we have had a lot of different set ups in our primary listening room, ranging in price from more than double this number to a bit less. As you might would imagine, our whole staff was very interested to hear how this system performed. After about a week of things breaking in and many hours of playing around with speaker placement, we finally had things dialed in. Most of the people in our company who have listened to this system think it is the best our main audio room has ever sounded. This same feeling has been echoed by some of the more frequent visitors to our showroom. The system is just magical in its ability to get you involved in the music, painting a huge soundstage in front of you. If you are lucky enough to live near our Raleigh store, we invite you in to come experience this extraordinary system.
While we did change out every single component in this system and its hard to place the improvements in any one piece, we do know that if you do not have a great source, which in this case is the Model 519, you’ll never have a good outcome. We have played a ton of various kinds of music on the system and the sound is always just totally effortless, with dynamics and bass impact we’ve not had before in this room.
We’ve played such a variety of different things and enjoyed every one of them so much, no one cut in particular stands out, they all do! Another thing we have observed is how well the 519 keeps the timing of the music in perfect sync. Our favorite DACs in this respect up to this point have been the big Naim gear and the Chord DAVE. The 519 keeps up with their very high bar and in some ways goes beyond. The soundstaging is another thing that will hit you immediately. The way all of the instruments float in front of you in such an effortless manner is incredible when you shut your eyes to listen.
We also love that the Mark Levinson Model 519 has a CD player built in that can incorporate all of the technology of the 519. So many DACs and DAC/preamps these days leave off the CD player and a lot of us still have more than one or two of those shiny discs we enjoy using.
Controlling the 519 is probably best experienced using the app. We only had one glitch using it which had a simple fix. As most new products these days have, there is an option for putting the unit into a sleep mode after inactivity. We had to turn this off to make the app work reliably, and after that it is very simple to use and worked perfectly every time. You can easily access the streaming services or music on an attached drive or network drive. Another thing we found pretty cool is the fact it will display the cover art when available on the front panel and even go out and find the art for the CD you have inserted along with all of the song names.
All in all, this system with the Mark Levinson Model 519 just makes listening to music a ton of fun, and that is what it is all about!
Obviously at $20,000 the Mark Levinson Model 519 will not find its way into a large number of systems. However, if you have the means, and appreciate amazing sound, with the side benefit of some of the best designed gear on the planet, we can not recommend the Mark Levinson Model 519 higher. It can serve as either an add on DAC/CD player if you have a need for analog sources, or if not, we highly recommend you let it also take over the role of preamp as well. Plus, it is just a real joy to both look at and operate!
- Pure Path discrete, direct coupled, fully balanced, dual-monaural signal path
- Plays up to 32-bit, 192kHz PCM, double-speed DSD, CD, and virtually all two-channel formats
- Six high-resolution digital inputs: balanced, coaxial, optical, and USB asynchronous
- Plays from networked drives and devices, streaming services, Bluetooth, and connected media
- Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer, Rhapsody/Napster, internet radio, and podcasts built in*
- Analog output volume control for direct connection to amplifiers or active loudspeakers
- 32-bit Precision Link DAC with three selectable filters and seven power supplies
- Class-A Main Drive Headphone output for up to 32-ohm headphones using main circuit
- Designed and handcrafted in the USA
Pure Path Circuit Design
Since 1972, Mark Levinson has been dedicated to the uncompromising art of sound, with the guiding principle of musical purity above all else. To achieve that goal like never before, Mark Levinson engineers scoured company archives, ultimately developing a circuit-design philosophy called Pure Path. On a conceptual level, its hallmark principles include a discrete, direct-coupled, fully balanced, dual-monaural signal path that delivers unrestricted, uncompromised sonic purity. Far from merely arranging high quality components in an intelligent manner, Pure Path is the meeting of science and art: Mark Levinson engineers are tasked to create the best possible measured AND subjective performance. To quote Albert Einstein: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." Pure Path highlights in the No. 519 include folded cascodes, the acclaimed Mark Levinson Precision Link DAC, and Main Drive Headphone amplifier output.
Stream, Spin, Connect
The No. 519 ushers in a new generation of music access and enjoyment with Mark Levinson. Far from merely a network player, the No. 519 is a complex, yet easy-to-master unit containing a complete, embedded Precision Stream Linux computer running a custom Mark Levinson version of the operating system to deliver outstanding headroom for flawless performance, regardless of configuration.
In addition to its ability to browse, access, and play music from a variety of connected sources, the No. 519 is also a complete Mark Levinson digital preamplifier and DAC, which is able to directly connect to amplifiers or active loudspeakers without need for a preamplifier for those seeking to create a concise music system.
The No. 519 plays from network-connected devices and drives including NAS, using its Ethernet wired and Wi-Fi wireless connections. It contains a slot-loading disc drive for enjoying disc collections of standard Redbook and MP3 compact discs. A full complement of digital inputs enables connection of external digital music sources, including an asynchronous USB connection for streaming high-resolution PCM, DSD, FLAC, ALAC, WAV, MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, APE, AIFF, and WMV files from computers; and a Bluetooth receiver with the aptX AAC high-quality codec enables convenient, instant wireless music connection from virtually any handheld, tablet, or computing device. Two additional USB ports enable local connection of hard drives and thumb drives. With all of these methods for accessing and playing music, the No. 519 is truly the music player the world has been waiting for.
In addition to robust support for virtually all methods of playing music from local and networked sources, the No. 519's Precision Stream also contains a wide range of embedded streaming music services. Built-in Spotify Connect, Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer, Rhapsody/Napster, plus thousands of internet radio stations and podcasts deliver hundreds of millions of tracks in standard and even high-resolution formats, on demand*. And because the No. 519's Precision Stream is a powerful internet-connected computer built on a 1GHz ARM Cortex multicore 32bit processor with 4GB each of RAM and flash, its feature and content portfolios will continue to grow over time. Mark Levinson is committed to delivering continued feature and content expansion over the player's lifespan. The No. 519 is updateable over its network connection, and by inserting a USB drive containing software updates – a familiar and intuitive process that has been painstakingly crafted to be easy to understand and complete.
Mark Levinson components are designed around a Pure Path amplifier circuit concept that makes heavy use of a circuit design element called a cascode. Originally created for improving the bandwidth of vacuum tube circuits in radios, Mark Levinson engineers deploy cascodes in Pure Path circuit designs to both improve bandwidth and enhance linearity. A cascode combines two transistors so that they operate as a single composite device that functions like a single transistor, using the wanted characteristics of each component transistor, and rejecting the unwanted characteristics.
Mark Levinson engineers began their design of the gain stage with pairs of JFETs (junction field-effect transistors), chosen for their low noise and high gain. JFETs achieve these characteristics in part by being large, and with their large size comes nonlinear gain – or distortion. To mitigate this, BJTs (bipolar junction transistors) were added to the circuit. The BJTs exhibit very low input impedance and very high output impedance, which translates to excellent bandwidth and linearity. By creating a cascode of the JFETs and BJTs, they created a design with the best characteristics of both sets of devices.
Engineers than connected the output of the cascode to another transistor of the opposite “gender." Current flows through it in the opposite direction to “turn around" the direction of the signal current. This special connection is called a Folded Cascode and it is a hallmark of the Pure Path circuit: high gain with low noise, wide bandwidth, and excellent linearity.
Military Grade Components
All Mark Levinson equipment employs electronic components carefully chosen for their specific task. Gain-stage JFET pairs have high gain, low noise, low distortion, and because they are encapsulated in the same package, the two devices operate under nearly identical conditions. Capacitors used in critical filtering locations are film types, noted for their consistent performance regardless of temperature and frequency. Finally, resistors in critical gain-setting and feedback locations use tantalum nitride thin-film elements. An extremely costly material, tantalum nitride typically finds use in sensitive military equipment because it is unusually stable with respect to temperature, exhibits very low noise, and is unaffected by magnetic fields. In fine audio equipment, those characteristics make the sound even more revealing and effortless, free of the low-level nonlinearities caused by lesser resistive materials as they heat and cool under dynamic conditions. Housed in an aircraft-grade 6063-T5 extruded aluminum chassis, the No. 523 features extremely high build precision, to exceedingly low tolerances.
The Mark Levinson Precision Link DAC
First introduced in the multi-award-winning, critically acclaimed No. 585 Integrated Amplifier, the Mark Levinson Precision Link DAC transforms digital data streams into analog audio art. Like every other element of a Mark Levinson component, it combines unique Pure Path engineering design approaches with painstakingly selected components to deliver impeccable performance than can be appreciated both on the test bench and in the listening room.
The converter chip in the Mark Levinson Precision Link DAC comes from ESS Technologies, a company known for jitter-elimination circuitry. Jitter – inaccuracies in the timing of samples arriving to the converter – causes distortion. The ESS converter resynchronizes incoming data to its own extraordinarily stable clock. Combined with its 32-bit resolution, the low-jitter stream reduces distortion and noise, allowing remarkable retrieval of ambient detail that other DACs simply miss.
The Precision Link DAC operates the converter's outputs in current mode, where they are fed into a fully balanced current-to-voltage (I/V) converter that provides the exact signal level desired. Maintaining near-zero voltage keeps the current sources virtually immune to nonlinearity, maximizing bandwidth and minimizing distortion. Common-mode noise and distortion are cancelled in this mirror-imaged, differential configuration, resulting in a pristine signal with a vanishingly low noise floor.
Also contributing to the Mark Levinson Precision Link DAC's low noise floor is its unique power supply configuration: five independent power supplies operate the converter chip alone, and individual linear power supplies for the left and right channels power the discrete I/V and antialiasing filter circuits.
An Array of Pure Path Digital Inputs
The No. 519 offers six digital inputs for system flexibility. One Balanced AES/EBU (XLR) input and two Coaxial (RCA) inputs use high-speed differential receivers to reject noise and provide clean digital waveforms to the Cirrus Logic digital audio receiver chip. Two additional Optical (Toslink) receivers drive the digital audio receiver directly. For direct connection to a computer, the No. 519 also offers an asynchronous USB Type B input built around a CMedia USB audio processor chip. Using the high-speed USB 2.0 standard, the CMedia chip reliably and accurately receives audio data over USB in PCM format at up to 32-bit, 192 kHz; or in native DSD format at up to double speed (5.6 MHz). The CMedia chip transfers USB data asynchronously: it gets as much data as possible as and when it is available, rather than transferring the data in sync with the music playback, which reduces demands on the computer and instead allows the processor chip to precisely control the flow of data to the digital-to-analog converter.
HARMAN Clari-Fi Music Restoration Technology
HARMAN Clari-Fi music restoration technology analyzes compressed digital audio files during playback, in real time, and reconstructs much of what was lost in the compression process. The complex Clari-Fi processing algorithm is implemented on a powerful Analog Devices SHARC DSP (digital signal processor). Unlike simple equalization, Clari-Fi continuously and automatically adapts the amount of reconstruction it performs to the degree to which an audio file has been compressed. The No. 519 offers an Intensity control, enabling fine adjustment of the amount of reconstruction applied to the signal or bypass if preferred.
Completing the Signal Path
The No. 523 offers five line-level analog inputs: two balanced (XLR), three single-ended (RCA), in addition to the Pure Phono (RCA with grounding pin) input. The preamplifier delivers its signal to balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) stereo outputs, as well as a 1/4-inch (6.3mm) Main Drive Headphone output integrated into the front panel metalwork – a first for Mark Levinson.
The Main Drive Headphone amplifier circuit drives up to 32-ohm headphones in class A by employing the main output circuit rather than a secondary signal path: a perfect example of reducing clutter in the circuit design.
A selectable fourth-order, 80 Hz high-pass filter enables seamless integration of a single or dual subwoofers for full-range performance with a wide range of loudspeaker setups. System-integration connectivity includes Ethernet/IP control, RS-232, USB for monitoring and configuration via web page, plus 12V triggers and an IR input. An included machined metal remote delivers the robust feel and precise control befitting of a component of the preamplifier's caliber.
|Storage||4GB RAM and 4GB Flash|
|Sample Rate||32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, or 192kHz; up to 32 bits|
|Signal To Noise Ratio||> 120 dB (A-weighted)|
|Controller||iOS, Android, web browser|
|Outputs||Digital: 1 balanced (XLR), 1 single-ended (RCA), 1 optical (Toslink). Analog: 1 balanced (XLR), 1 pair single-ended (RCA), 1 headphone (1/4", 6.3mm TS)|
|Roon Status||Roon Ready, Roon Tested|
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