The Characteristics
(Dec 6): Founded in 1972 and acquired in 1990 by Harman International Industries Inc., Mark Levinson is synonymous with high-end sound. Its eponymous founder, an aspiring musician said to have built a stage mixer at Woodstock, jump-started the craze for premium home audio equipment. To commemorate its 45th anniversary this year, the brand teamed up with another top-rated manufacturer, turntable maker VPI Industries Inc., to create its first record player, the No. 515. A 20-pound platter rotates on an inverted bearing to make it the most precise deck on the market. The reinforced base tamps down resonance to create a warm, clear, analog sound.

The Competition
At $10,000, the Mark Levinson No.515 has been measured to be 0.01 percent better at reproducing pitch than VPI’s own top-shelf $6,000 Prime Signature turntable. Both have a massive aluminum alloy platter and layered plinth design, but flourishes such as a 3D-printed tonearm and Levinson’s trademark black anodized chassis give the 515 more polish. McIntosh Laboratory Inc. makes the platter for its $6,500 MT5 out of 5 pounds of glow-in-the-dark silicone, but aluminum’s fidelity, over time, tends to be better. Technics, the Panasonic brand behind the SL-1200, a durable DJ favorite, is expected to release a new player next summer.

The Case
Fans of Mark Levinson amplifiers such as the 523, 526, and 585.5 who’ve wanted an end-to-end, vinyl-focused, hi-fi stereo system now have a turntable to match. The uncompromising engineering and VPI’s impeccable craftsmanship produce some of the most neutral sound possible in a phonograph. It’s a system that values the record-playing experience, delivering rich sonics that trounce the clinical tones created by digital files—whether you’re rediscovering Paul McCartney’s ingenious bass lines or Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool, which Levinson himself remastered.