Ask 1,000 people at The Mall of the America if $999 is a lot of money for wireless, over- ear, Bluetooth headphones and you might get a fully unanimous 1000/1000 people saying yes. For audiophiles, we often view things a little differently. We might wonder how such an expensive headphone sounds, simply ignoring the cool grand it costs. Mark Levinson is the flagship brand for the now Samsung-owned Harman International, which not only makes high-end, premium, installed car audio system, they also own Revel speakers which, dollar for dollar, are among the best transducers on the planet. Harman also makes possibly the best headphones in the world under brands like JBL and the more professionally oriented AKG. The Harman target curve has become such an industry standard that even other brands advertise their adherence to it. So it’s no real surprise to see the Mark Levinson No. 5909, one of the most luxurious high-end wireless headphones ever made, adhering to this standard for sonic neutrality. I’ve been blessed to hear, test, and review nearly every high-end headphone in this space currently. With one recent exception, the Mark Levinson No. 5909s (buy at Crutchfield) are the high price leader. Are they the performance or lifestyle leader? That’s our task to explore in this review.
What Makes the Mark Levinson No. 5909 Headphones Special?
- For years and years, there were no audiophile-grade Bluetooth headphones on the market at any price. Simply put, Bluetooth didn’t sound all that hot, and while wireless is cool and ANC (active noise cancelation) sure as hell has its place in the noisy world that we live and interact in today, this technology can impact the performance of a headphone. The Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones (along with a handful of other players in the Bluetooth version 5+ department) have changed that. These are high-end headphones with high-end sound more like what you’d expect to hear from a good pair of wired audiophile headphones, just without the wires (unless you want them).
- The Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones pack a 40mm beryllium-coated driver, which is pretty large. There might be a few players in the market with a few more millimeters of girth, but this is a premium driver for a premium headphone.
- There are three modes of active noise cancelation on the Mark Levinson No. 5909, which allow you the ability, with the click of one button on the left ear-cup of the headphones, to block out just the right amount of background noise. You don’t want to be walking down the street in Manhattan and not hear that Amazon truck and get run over. Then again, when sitting in seat 4C directly in front of a crying baby, you will be thrilled to remove as much background noise as possible. There was a time when Sony and Bose ruled the world with top-level ANC, but now everybody has the multi-mic technology that Bose and Sony used to dominate this product category with. The Mark Levinson No. 5909 noise cancelation is on par with all of the best high-end headphones on the market today, meaning that it is simply excellent.
- The Mark Levinson No. 5909 works great for making/taking phone calls or Zoom meetings. My wife uses the Bowers & Wilkins that I gave her on Zoom all day with her work. She has already started poking around about procuring the Mark Levinson No. 5909s. Nope. Not happening lady. I don’t care how useful they are for making phone calls, as I already gave you fancy headphones to use.
- I had the Mark Levinson No. 5909 professionally measured twice and they are the closest performer to the target Harman Curve out of all of the best headphones on the market today. That doesn’t shock me, but it is important news to report for people who are seeking the best of the best. They measured 92-plus percent of the way to a perfect Harman Curve, and that was better than all others in the class today. I also had them measured by two different sources using two different methodologies.
- The Mark Levinson No. 5909 come in a few colors, including Ice Pewter, Radiant Red, and Pearl Black.
- The battery life of the Mark Levinson No. 5909 is reported at 34 hours without ANC and a very respectable 30 hours with ANC engaged. Other high-end headphones might last a few extra hours, but I am not sure that I really care about that as I am never listening to headphones for that long before I stick a USB-C cable into them and power them back up.
- The Mark Levinson No. 5909 pair with my Apple products better than literally any headphone I’ve tested and reviewed. Simply hold down the power button while opening Settings and boom – there it is. Connect and you are done.
- There’s a good number of goodies included with the Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones, including a USB-C to USB-A adaptor, a USB-C cable that good for charging (in case you need it), and a hard-shell case that is pretty nice but nothing uniquely luxurious.
- There is a well-made app in the App Store that allows you to update your firmware, check battery life, run custom EQ and more. Most high-end wireless headphones come with an app these days. The Mark Levinson one is about as well done as they come.
Why Should You Care About the Mark Levinson No. 5909 Headphones?
You care about the Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones because you’re way into superior audio and you are willing to pay to get there. Like me, you likely travel a good bit. When at the gym, you’d love to tune out the meatheads and focus on the motivation that comes from your music collection and curated playlists. Late at night, you might not be able to get the best out of your audio system at low volumes. The Mark Levinson No. 5909 solve that problem, and others, nicely.
Some Things You Might Not Like About the Mark Levinson No. 5909 Headphones
- There are prettier headphones in the space, even far below this price point. While I might have liked red or white options, they all have black hardware and look a little less fashion-forward than options like the Focal Bathys (buy at Amazon) or, say, the Bowers & Wilkins Px8s (buy at Amazon), both of which are co-existing on my desk with the Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones now.
- I don’t mind a few dB bump in the low end on a pair of audiophile headphones and the Mark Levinson No. 5909 have that as part as part of the Harman Curve. Don’t get me wrong, these are nothing like the original Beats, which were simply obnoxious and terrible headphones back when Monster Cable was involved. The Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones are subtle, refined headphones that have some deep bass. Still, some audiophiles prefer less bass, which results in the impression of more detail. If that’s your preference, you might not like sound this robust.
Listening to the Mark Levinson No. 5909 Headphones…
I’ve been ping-ponging around the vast collection of CDs ripped in AIFF at 1440 resolution on my iPhone 12 and walked into a pure audiophile cliché that I normally would skip for just that reason, but I am not going to this time – for good reason. “Peg,” on the all-time-audiophile classic record Aja (CD resolution 1440 AIFF) (buy Steely Dan’s Aja at Amazon), sounded so good on the Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones that I was taken back. Most notable was the groovy, disco bass and how taut it sounded. The next level of amazing sonic performance was via the incredibly layered and well-recorded backing vocals. On other, lesser high-end headphones you will not hear that resolute, crystalline ringing of the cymbals on top of the vocals and bass. I would play this one track for any audiophile who wants to hear what the Mark Levinson No. 5909 is capable of.
So, what is the perfect antidote to a massively clichéd audiophile track like “Peg”? That’s easy: “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead (buy on vinyl at Amazon). Possibly one the best hard rock songs of all time in terms of both songwriting and overall heavy metal enthusiasm. Is “Ace of Spaces” a pristine audiophile track? No, but you know what it is? It is a killer sounding song that, when played back via the No. 5909, has sonic coherence when played at appropriately loud volumes. Good speakers don’t just sound good on David Chesky recordings or other audiophile bait. Great speakers present all types of music in a balanced and engaging way. That standard goes for headphones too, and the No. 5909 sounds really solid and very enjoyable on good music – not just on good recordings.
OK, I will admit it… I am basically obsessed with An Evening with Silk Sonic (CD resolution AIFF 1440), specifically the song “777,” (buy at Amazon) which is a Vegas-themed, bad-ass, new-school James Brown-style jam. On a more modern recording with top-level performers, excellent engineering and a stone-cold funky jam cooking, the Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones never sounded better. The horns were soaring. The vocals had pinpoint imaging. The Bootsy bass was just delicious. The Anderson Paak drums are tricky, engaging, and just hard to get over. If you want to hear what a good pair of wireless headphones can do, this might be the track for you.
Do the Mark Levinson No. 5909s Have Any Resale Value?
I know somebody on social media who got an open box set of Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones for $700. He was just thrilled at the bargain and called me to tell me not just when he found them but when they arrived. That’s a strong commentary on value for this product.
Personally, I tend to be brutal on headphones, as I rarely use their stock case and am more than likely to jam them my trusty old Tumi briefcase and head to LAX for my next trip. And I am a bad example. More normal and well-adjusted people would never beat their $1,000 headphones up, so most will be in good shape even after years of use. The big issue is the initial purchase price more than the value after the fact, I think.
Who Is the Competition For the Mark Levinson No. 5909 Headphones?
Focal Bathys (buy at Amazon) at $799 are a good place to start in the high-end Bluetooth world. I’ve owned Focal’s Sopra 2 audiophile floorstanding speakers, which are world-class speakers, but Focal is also known for their sexy, French-designed headphones, which until the Bathys’ have been wired. The Bathys are more fashion-forward and pretty. They’re pretty neutral sounding, but not as neutral as the Mark Levinson No. 5909s. The Focals sound a little bit more bass-forward to me, meaning tracks from bass-heavy artists like No Doubt sound great on the Focals. The No. 5909s are strong in the bass but more balanced-sounding overall.
The Bowers & Wilkins Px8s (buy at Amazon) ($699) don’t measure as well as the Mark Levinson No. 5909, but they are head-turners in terms of industrial design. They have bass that is far better than their $399 brethren, the Bowers & Wilkins Px7s (buy at Amazon), which are pretty lacking in the low end but also very pretty looking. The Bowers & Wilkins Px8s measure far better than the less expensive Px7s and are very comfortable.
The sleeper in waiting is sitting on my desk in the $1,600 T+A Solitaire headphones from Germany. They have their own proprietary drivers, which is rare. They have their own amp design, which I’ve never really even heard of in this category. The T+A Solitaire headphones are very comfortable. They are worthy competition for the Mark Levinson No. 5909s – just be prepared to make one of those precautionary calls to your credit card as the T+As are damned-expensive headphones. After a few hours spent with them, I can tell you that they sound very, very good.
Final Thoughts on the Mark Levinson No. 5909 Bluetooth Headphones
The Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones (buy at Crutchfield) are game changers. Yes, they are crazy expensive, but they deliver in terms of quality, luxury, and performance. What is it worth to have audiophile-grade sound at work, at the gym, or on a flight across the country? The price tag doesn’t look that expensive when you look at a pair of high-performance audiophile headphones through that lens.
On paper, the Mark Levinson No. 5909 are the best wireless headphones in the world, but then again, we don’t listen to measurements and measurements alone. What you get with the Mark Levinson No. 5909 headphones is a very well-rounded, fantastically engineered wireless headphone that has made the breakthrough for sound that Bluetooth headphones audiophiles have been wanting for years. Today you can have excellent sounding, comfortable, and well-made audiophile headphones of a sort that we could have only dreamed about just a few short years ago.