Mark Levinson No. 5909 Wireless Headphones Review

PRICE $999

Reference-quality sound
Excellent connectivity options
Exceptional ANC

Annoying voice confirmation
Short On-Head detection setting

The first headphones from legendary audio specialist Mark Levinson, tuned precisely to the Harman Curve, the No. 5909 are both exceptional sounding and have excellent ANC properties.

They say money can’t buy happiness. Without a doubt, it can buy the $999 Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones, and without a doubt, these make me happy. The Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones are the first headphones from this elite division of Harman. These over-ear headphones feature adaptive Active Noise Cancellation, USB-C wired connections and wireless Bluetooth with broad codec compatibility. With a simple app to fine tune ANC modes and bass response, the No. 5909 are one of the best wireless noise-canceling headphones on the market.

The Mark Levinson No. 5909 are the first wireless headphones from this company that has always been synonymous with high-fidelity audio. They join amplifiers, pre-amps, CD players, turntables, and of course, luxury car audio systems. That these are tuned to the Harman Curve should come as no surprise and they are Hi-Res Audio certified.

The headphones use 40 mm beryllium-coated drivers for a full-range sound. The frequency response is rated at 20Hz-20kHz in active mode, and an impressive 10Hz-40kHz in passive mode. Maximum SPL is 98 dB, and the input sensitivity is 32 ohms. The wireless system uses Bluetooth 5.1 technology with LDAC, AAC and aptX Adaptive capabilities. It can pair to two devices.

The No. 5909 drip quality and luxury. They’re available in three colorways: black, red, and gray. The colors are just on a small section of the earcup - for the most part, these are elegant, black headphones. While most of the headphone is metal and leather, the plastic on the earcups is finished with an automotive-grade finish that elevates them to match the quality of the rest of the components. The headband is wrapped in black leather and the padding features red stitching in all the colorways.

A matte-black metal piece easily slides out to adjust the fit, with just enough tension to keep them snug and in place. Over the course of a few hours, I did have to adjust them, but it’s much more preferable for them to be slightly loose than too tight. They were also comfortable when I needed to wear reading glasses for an hour. Notably, the earcup pads are replaceable.

There are control buttons on each of the earcups. Blessedly, there aren’t any touch controls - I always end up accidentally changing something when just adjusting the position. The left earcup has the pairing/power button, and another button that cycles through ANC modes. More on that later. The right earcup has volume up/down, and a multi-function button between them. This button is slightly raised from the surrounding volume buttons, making it easy to find and use. All in all, the controls are intuitive. Phone calls were exceptionally clear thanks to a 4-microphone array that helped combat wind noise. Another set of 4 microphones are used for ANC.

The built-in batteries powered through for 34 hours (30 hours with noise-cancellation on). It should be noted that the headphones can’t be used while they are charging except while playing through a USB audio source. Complicated, but not usually a problem because they’ll gain 6 hours of playback after a 15-minute charge.

The No. 5909 comes with a hard-shell carrying case with a rubberized texture - they fold flat for transport. I’m very gentle with my electronics; after four trips carrying it in my computer bag, it only showed minimal wear. The case is packed with a variety of cables and adapters. It has a generously long 13’ USB-C to 3.5mm audio cable, a 4-foot cable with the same, a 4-foot USB-C to USB-C charging cable, USB adapters, and an antiquated 2-prong airplane adapter. (Honestly, I wouldn’t suggest flying on any airplane still using that—who knows what else is obsolete?).

The cables are braided and all the adapters feature the Mark Levinson logo. All but the long cable store neatly in a section of the carrying case.

Setting Up
While you might be tempted to use the No. 5909’s right out of the box, take a minute to download the app. It’s available for both iOS and Android. The app was initially buggy, but a quick update of the software fixed the glitches I was experiencing. The app has four sections: ANC/Awareness, Bass Contour, Auto-off Timer, and On-Head Detection.

The ANC can be turned completely off. With ANC on, you can select ANC High, Low, or Adaptive that adjusts automatically to ambient sounds. In Awareness mode, you can select Voice Pass that emphasizes conversations, or Ambient that allows more background noise to pass through for situational awareness. Once you’ve set the parameters within these settings on the app, the mode button on the earcup cycles through those “preset” selections.

The Bass Contour cycles through neutral, enhanced or attenuated, boosting or cutting 6 dB below 100 Hz. Given the reference curve of the No. 5909, the enhanced setting gave a more modern sound, albeit less accurate.

The auto-off timer will save battery life, adjustable from 30 minutes to never. There’s also on-head detection, that pauses the audio for about 10 seconds if the headphones are removed. After 10 seconds you have to manually start the playback.

I do love these headphones, but after playing with the settings, one gripe becomes glaringly obvious. Every adjustment, on the app or the headphones, has voice confirmation. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely female voice with a slight British accent, but if I’m seeing a visual confirmation on my phone as I’m adjusting within the app, I don’t need them talking to me. I found it very distracting and I hope there will be an option to turn it off in future software updates.

The Harman Curve was developed by Harman, now a subsidiary of Samsung, to have the sonic characteristics that subjective test after test determined to be the most pleasing to the largest audience. “The Harman Curve is an acoustic response curve that achieved the highest subjective scoring across listening tests developed over decades of research by HARMAN into listening preferences and the science of acoustics.”

Having worked for decades with both Harman engineers and Samsung engineers on sound quality and sonic tuning of their products, I am quite familiar with their preferred tuning, and can attest that yes, the No. 5909 sound exactly how I would expect. Controlled but detailed bass, a warm midrange and pleasant and clear high-end treble. The No. 5909s have nailed it.

I started out listening to “Just Say I’m Sorry”, a duet by P!nk and Chris Stapleton. The opening guitar immediately showcases the detail and nuances of the No. 5909s. The reverb and upper harmonics resonate beautifully. The two vocals are clearly in separate spaces, with P!nk’s vocals much more closely mic'd, while Stapleton’s has more space and air. The No. 5909 are quite truthful and accurate. The Harman Curve is bright, with a slight emphasis on the high-end, but it never tips into harshness.

From the same album Trustfall, I skipped over to “Long Way to Go '' featuring the Lumineers. The bass accompanying the opening piano is understated yet controlled and smooth while the background vocals show off the accurate yet wide soundstage as they’re panned hard left and right. In the final choruses, the sound stage expands nicely and in the second chorus, the emphatic bass kicks in strongly, but stays restrained.

The title track really shows off the wonderfully accurate bass response. I switched off the enhanced bass contour and the kick remained tight, punchy and impactful – all good. Even more impressive, the bassline maintained a musicality on “Never Gonna Not Dance Again” a 70’s inspired track. However, for these more upbeat tracks, I preferred to have the bass enhancement on.

Next I queued up U2’s Songs of Surrender, a reimagining of many of their biggest hits produced by The Edge. This “unplugged” set is dividing fans, but I’m enamored. “Where the Streets Have No Name” is one of my favorite U2 tracks, and I thoroughly enjoy this version. An older Bono has a grit to his voice, and the sparse mix lets his voice resonate on its own, and the detailing in his voice over the 5909’s is just spectacular, especially as he stretches for the higher notes in the song.

“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” takes that sparseness up a notch. With a beautifully recorded guitar, set against the simple lead vocal, it definitely seems like a nod to the late great Johnny Cash. This is one of just a few tracks that feature a drum track. The deep tom-tom and bass is so rich and musical, standing out against the lower guitar notes.

“With or Without You” is probably the ideal track from this 4-disc set. The stereo mix features very wide panning, and the No. 5909s create an immersive soundstage, delivering a very intimate sound. The stripped-down mix builds slowly in intensity and volume, but again, the detailed response of the 5909’s handles it all fantastically.

In-flight, the ANC was very effective, amongst the best I’ve auditioned. Did it completely eradicate the ubiquitous baby crying a few rows up, or the loud conversation one row behind me? No, but they were adequately muted, and more important for me, it did remove most of the engine roar, even on a smaller jet where I was seated near the wing/engines.

Does everyone need a $999 pair of headphones? Of course not, but for people who want an accurate, reference-quality headphone with ANC, phone capabilities and wireless Bluetooth v5.1, it’s worth it. The 5909’s have some of the best and most effective ANC I’ve tried, and it was invaluable on the four flights I’ve already taken them on. They have a variety of connection options, a variety of ANC modes and I’m not sure what more you could ask for from a headphone. Is it worth the price? To me, yes.