Mark Levinson No.5105 turntable

Before returning home from the EISA convention in Antwerp two years ago, I spent a quiet, relaxing afternoon in The Loft, a luxurious shared space reserved for first- and business-class travelers, presented by Lexus and Brussels Airlines.

In addition to surprisingly good food and free-flowing alcoholic beverages, some airport lounges contain some really useful traveler amenities, like private showers and beds. The Brussels/Lexus space went above and beyond. I thought I'd had too much to drink (which I had) when I peered into the room and saw a Mark Levinson audio system featuring the No.515 turntable that Harman introduced in 2017. It was Mark Levinson's first turntable ever, and it cost $10,000 without cartridge. It is still in production.

A turntable-equipped listening room is something I'd never seen before in an airport lounge, nor have I seen another one since—not that I've seen the inside of any airport lounge recently.

"Finally," I thought, "someone has put a high-end audio system in a high-traffic, mainstream place so that people unfamiliar with vinyl could experience true, high performance audio!"

But no. The door was locked. Neither I nor other travelers could hear the system. It seemed like a good idea; perhaps a few broken styli had caused second thoughts. Or maybe it was reserved for times when a DJ was available to play records. I'd have happily volunteered.

Mark Levinson home audio was in the Lexus Lounge because the Mark Levinson brand engineers and supplies audio systems for Lexus cars. The turntable looked an awful lot like a VPI—because it was built by VPI, to Harman's specifications. There was no hiding familiar VPI elements including the vinyl-wrapped MDF/aluminum sandwich plinth sitting on familiar-looking feet, the high-mass aluminum platter riding on an inverted bearing. You'd have had to remove the platter to see that, but anyone familiar with VPI's designs would know it was there, and the even more familiar (and far more visible) JMW Memorial 3D-printed tonearm. Harman didn't hide the VPI connection; it was acknowledged in a CES 2017 press release. "It was conceived from the beginning as more of a co-marketing project," a Levinson spokesperson told me recently. It was Levinson's first turntable, after all, so presumably they thought the VPI connection didn't hurt.

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I thought it appropriate that the quintessentially American company Harman, founded on Long Island as Harman/Kardon by the late Sidney Harman and Bernard Kardon, should choose an American company to build the first Mark Levinson turntable. McIntosh, another American icon, went to Germany's Clearaudio for its first-ever turntable. Clearaudio has outstanding manufacturing capabilities and makes some fine turntables, but to me it was as if Harley-Davidson had asked Suzuki, or maybe BMW, to make one of its motorcycles. It just didn't seem right.

Later, McIntosh, too, went to VPI, for the mechanical guts of its integrated MTI100 turntable. (In the late '70s, under the late Gordon Gow, McIntosh toyed with the idea of marketing Bob Graham's original tonearm, but with CDs on the horizon, Gordon and the company thought better of it.)

By the way: Since 2017, Harman International has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Samsung. Did you know that Samsung began in 1938 as a grocery store selling dried Korean fish and vegetables? From small, dried fish come giant flat-screen TVs and tiny cell phones.

Anyway, Harman's going to an American company for its "first-ever" turntable was commendably "brand conscious." It made sense. I was told, however, that its resemblance to VPI's regular offerings created some retail dustups.

The No.5105 turntable
In 2017, the No.515 was billed as "the perfect complement to the Pure Phono stage included in the recently released No.526 and No.523 preamplifiers." Similarly, the No.5105—also available as the No.5105 MC, which has an installed Ortofon Quintet Black phono cartridge—is billed as "the perfect complement to the 5000-series phono stage included in the No.5805 integrated amplifier and the No.5206 preamplifier." The new 'table takes its visual and construction cues from the 5000-series electronics, but it's the phono cartridge—not the turntable—that must match the phono stage. I don't have either component here—neither the No.5805 nor the No.5206—so I can't judge.

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The No.5105 costs $6000. The MC version, with the installed cartridge, costs $7000. You don't get a cartridge discount when you buy the package—the Quintet Black costs $999—but you do get it factory installed, and for vinyl newbies, that's essential.

Harman went to Germany for the new turntable (the rear panel says "Made in Germany"), but the press release for the No.5105 doesn't divulge who built it. Whichever turntable manufacturer did, any clues are well-hidden. I have a hunch, but I won't speculate.

The No.5105 is a high-mass (75lb) turntable. It is solidly built, beautifully finished and well-engineered. It's also handsome, and it does match the Mark Levinson "look"—particularly that of the 5000 series. The 'table features an inch-thick, bead-blasted, black anodized, solid aluminum front panel machined and contoured to fit a sleek, tinted-glass display recessed within a clear-anodized aluminum bezel (sounds more complicated than it looks). Three panel-mounted, illuminated buttons select the speed: 33 1/3 rpm, 45rpm, or Off.

Chambers machined out of the solid, 2"-tall aluminum chassis hold the 12V DC synchronous motor and integrated power supply; no wallwarts need apply. Power is via an IEC jack on the rear panel. The chassis sits on three height-adjustable aluminum feet with internal "mixed material" suspension systems; Levinson does not specify the precise materials and mechanism.

The mechanical system includes a 13lb, 11.75" diameter, 1.33"-tall aluminum platter to which is attached a stainless steel, vacuum-hardened, diamond-coated spindle that is claimed to be much harder than normal stainless steel and to produce 50% less friction. The bearing in which it rides is paired with the spindle during the machining process. The thrust pad material isn't specified. From what I can see, this is standard, well-executed stuff.

The accompanying printed material—a 12" × 12" gatefold record jacket containing a thin elastomer platter mat topped with a carbon fiber–ish imprint in one pocket and setup instructions in the other—incorrectly claims the platter rides on an inverted bearing. M-L is aware of the error and will fix it next printing. Drive is via a grooved, unidentified thermoplastic motor pulley and a square belt fitted around the platter's periphery.

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The arm has a 10" effective length and features a rigid, glossy carbon fiber tube on which rides an aluminum headshell with an integrated finger lift and at-the-headshell azimuth adjustability. The gimbaled-bearing system feels precise, and the arm allows for every setup parameter including VTA/SRA (although not "on the fly") and thread-and-weight antiskating.

Setup and use
Setting up the No.5105 MC was especially easy because the Ortofon Quintet Black comes factory installed. The Quintet Black is a low-output (0.3mV) moving coil cartridge with a Shibata stylus fitted on a sapphire cantilever. It is capable of delivering detail, spatial depth, and, if properly set up, timbral accuracy. Usually, though, it is on the slightly "cool" and "fast" side.

After leveling the plinth—easy, thanks to a built-in spirit level—you install the platter: Just slide it on. Even the VTF comes preset, since the counterweight ships securely fixed on the counterweight stub. Neither a dustcover nor phono interconnects are included, but Mark Levinson does include a nicely sculpted, high-mass record weight that appears to have a brass insert.

All that's left to do is remove the stylus guard, install the antiskating string, and connect your favorite RCA-plug phono interconnects from the 'table to your phono preamp (or phono input on a full-function preamplifier or integrated). Plug it in, and you're good to go.

COMPANY INFO
Mark Levinson
Harman International Industries
8500 Balboa Blvd.
Northridge, CA 91329
(888) 691-4171
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
davip's picture

Plastic motor pulley
Undecoupled motor
Plastic-wrapped plywood plinth (sorry, 'medium-density fibreboard')

$10K.
Absurd.

Mark Levinson, the OEM reseller of this sees buyers coming at that price. Is gluing two bits of Aluminium to fibreboard what passes for turntable engineering in this new century? Nope, it's just cheaper and easier to bolt a motor to a piece of plywood and bask in the profit-margin.

Thank heavens for Linn and SOTA...

mtrot's picture

$10k is the price for the 515. The retail price for this 5105 is $6000. Yes, the way reviews here are written does sometimes make it take a while to figure out what the actual price is of the item under review.

Jim Austin's picture

... in the Specifications sidebar.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

John Atkinson's picture
mtrot wrote:
...the way reviews here are written does sometimes make it take a while to figure out what the actual price is of the item under review.

As well as the price being listed on the Specifications page, as Jim Austin points out, Mikey discusses the price of the No.5105 in the paragraph beneath the photo in the section titled "The No.5105 turntable."

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

dial's picture

For me a turntable or cartridge MUST be beautiful and I think this one is a classic design, seems it sounds good TOO (cherry on cake), only complaint no detachable headshell (I just built one in clear PVC) & also prefer Quintet red. Because it plays also old discs full of pops in an almost perfect way.
That said, can't find a reason for the price difference with the older 515, sure sound tested with same cartridge of course could only be pretty damn close...

helomech's picture

It has an Acoustic Signature tonearm. The other giveaways are the square belt, pulley diameter, 13lb platter, and record weight.

shawnwes's picture

Speed control seems to be the one thing that many manufacturers need to work on. I get similar results to the "after the belt was cleaned" measurement Michael got from my 40 yr old Ariston RD11 Superieur on it's original motor.

I wish I could remember the table but I read one review recently of a budget table (well under $2k IIRC) that had rock solid speed control. In the ML snack bracket and higher I would expect the same.

dial's picture

It doesn't look like the AS TA 1000 tonearm.

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