Earlier this month, I was presented with a pair of Mark Levinson 5909 noise cancellation headphones for a test. This is the first ever headphone from the iconic American brand. These are expensive headphones, indeed the $1,200 and change retail price, makes these not only the most expensive wireless headphones that we have ever tested, but also around twice the price of competitor brand offerings from Sony, Sennheiser and Audio Technica. Even on sale, which the 5909 are currently on at $1099, they are still a couple hundred bucks more than the next most expensive headphone in the fleet; the Bower & Wilkins Px9.
If we are going to focus on just price, we should start by asking why does a Rimowa suitcase costs $1700 when a Samsonite at the same size costs $200? Why does a Porsche Taycan electric vehicle or a Lucid EV cost north of $200,000 while a Tesla with significantly more battery range can be found for half the cost? I could go on all day making comparisons to the high-end market versus what the rest of us can afford – a Patek Philippe watch can run you north of $150,000 while a Timex that keeps on ticking can be found for $50 at any department store counter. And yet, Rimowa luggage is completely sold out at Holt Renfrew for Christmas, Porsche Taycan’s are the must-have EV in communities such as Oakville and West Vancouver, and while a Patek Philippe may remain in rarefied territory, who doesn’t own a Rolex or an Omega these days? We haven’t even touched on Louis Vuitton handbags in our examples which of note, have recently made the CEO and Chairman of Louis Vuitton the richest man in the world.
What all these examples have in common is a desire for exclusivity, a pursuit for craftsmanship that means that not everyone gets to own such an item.
So, let’s get back to the Mark Levinson 5909 headphones. These over-the-ear noise cancellation headphones are as close to perfect as one can get while listening to a non-wired headphone. Indeed, don’t be bothered testing the 5909 against other Bluetooth noise cancellation headphones for it’s a waste of time – test them against your favourite audiophile wired headphone to get a sense of just how good these headphones are. For the price, comes the highest quality Bluetooth codec with aptx Adaptive and LDAC, while not exactly delivering a streaming source losslessly, comes pretty darn close.
Moving down the feature list, the 5909 noise-cancellation starts off with an advantage even before it is activated, based on the high-density of the materials used in the construction. When activated, the best-in-class noise cancellation can be adjusted to your preference in the Levinson app including an Awareness mode for conversations such as ordering another glass of champagne from the steward while sitting in first class.
Charging the Levinson 5909 is done via a usb-c port and a 15-minute fast charge will give you six hours of listening time with ANC activated. The battery is rated for 30 hours of playback with ANC meaning flying from Toronto to Singapore is well within reach.
The build of the headphones relies on premium-grade leather with subtle red stitching on the headband, an all-aluminum ear-cup construction with automobile quality metallic grey paint. There is a subtle hint of bling with the circular brushed chrome sunburst detail that houses a discreet lower-case Mark Levinson logo. Buttons are simple with on -off and anc activation on the left cup with volume control and pause play (and charging and wired listening connectivity) on the right. Now that I am moving into “old man” category, my eyes failed to find the almost invisible right and left markers to assist me in the orientation of the headphones – nothing as gauche as a big “L” and “R” on these beauties.
For accessories, the headphones come with a hard-shell carrying case, an array of airplane adapters and a high-quality 4m and 2m cable for wired listening along with a usb-c charging cable. The headphone cups have a lie-flat swivel for easy entry into a briefcase but at this price I’d be terrified to scratch the 5909’s so I may finally use the supplied carrying case.
In a world of sameness, the Mark Levinson 5909 transports you from coach to business class and from the Holiday Inn to the rarefied world of the Four Seasons. They sound great as you would expect from such a distinguished brand and with such a high price, you are all but guaranteed to set yourself apart. For all the same reasons that floating through the airport with an all aluminium Rimowa suitcase just makes you feel good, a pair of Levinson 5909’s make you feel special. Sometimes the price of admission is set high for a reason. If you can afford them, buy them.
Demo songs: “Lose My Cool” Franc Moody Remix – Amber Mark, Franc Moody. “Erase / Rewind” Blank & Jones, Zoe Durrant