KGSSHV vs. Cavalli Liquid Lightning Mini-Comparative Review
After many days (a few weeks really) with the both the Liquid Lightning and KGSSHV in house I’m ready to share my thoughts on these two solid state options to drive Stax headphones. For this comparison, I used my beloved Stax SR-009s. My sources were both the W4S DAC-2 and most recently my new Bryston BDA-2. I used both CDs and hi-rez files through iTunes/Amarra via USB on my 2012 iMac.
Here is a photo of my KGSSHV. It was built by a local builder, Head-fier (and friend) GeorgeP. This is his second KGSSHV and he’s already built the might T-2 (which I hope to hear soon). It’s the 450V with 1968 Sanyo parts version. As well, the current has been increased to 9mA. It’s a monster of an amp as you can see and the build quality is top shelf:
The Cavalli Liquid Lightning is the MK1 version released just last year. I’m told the only differences are the chassis design (with new inputs) and a PCB board layout change. However the circuitry (netlist and component bill of materials) remained unchanged. I gotta say that the case work is a good step up from the LF that I previously owned and it’s quite a bit smaller than the KGSSHV and thus more “rack friendly” (and a whole lot lighter) than the KGSSHV:
First I’ll start with the Liquid Lightning (LL). Yes, it does sounds better than the current crop of Stax manufactured amps that I’ve tried (namely the SRM727II and to a lesser extend the SRM007tII)). But that bar isn't really set that high; especially if one read’s Tyll’s excellent multi stat-amp shootout on innerfidelity.com.
One thing I really didn’t like was just how tight the 5-prong plugs were to insert and remove into and out of this amp. The SRM727II was hard to work with, but this was next to impossible. I was worried that over time it would eventually strip the gold plating off the pins or worse yet, pull one of the pins out completely. Hopefully this was addressed on the LLMK2.
I paid approximately $2800 for it and maybe it's worth that price, but at $4800 that it was listed for this past October...I would have been quite disappointed for the performance that I heard. Next to the KGSS and especially the KGSSHV, its sounds a bit smeared sound (across the audible spectrum) and made my SR-009's lose some of the magic that makes them so darn special. I have recently sold my Liquid Lightning in a local deal, but I took a $300 loss on the resale, $85 on shipping and an additional $200 loss on HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) when I imported it into Canada (from the US). So I’ve definitely put my money where my mouth is as they say. I really wanted to like it and make it my final end-game solid state Stax amp, but after many days of listening and A-Bing and B-Aing, then A-Bing again (against the much better KGSSHV), it became blatantly obvious that this amp really didn't cut the mustard.
The bass also seems to cut out at 80Hz on the LL and didn't go appreciably any deeper. On the KGSSHV, the SR-009s hit hard down low; close to my LCD-3s in fact. Hard hitting bass with substantially better definition is very hard to find both in one single amp. Usually, its pick one or the other; but not both. Thankfully on the KGSSHV, I can have my cake and eat it too. The mids and treble on the KGSSHV are a cut above, no questions…as is the imaging and transparency. This is truly one magical amp for the SR-009s.
My Liquid Lighting experiences were very similar to my Liquid Fire experience. I had to drop in a quad of Siemens E88CC tubes ($500 worth) to even get it to sound close to how a $2000 amp should (too bad it cost $3250 brand new with JJ tubes). I sold it a few weeks after my GS-X arrived...it wasn't even close in many of the same ways noted above. However, the LF did instrumental separation better with my HD800s than the LL did with my SR-009s. I was really disappointed with this characteristic on the LL. On the KGSS and especially the KGSSHV, the instrumental separation and clarity is truly something to behold with the SR-009s. Best I’ve heard by a very good margin. (Heck I even think from memory that the SR727II was better in this regard too).
Well, now here I sit with my “end-game” setup of my SR-009s – KGSSHV – Bryston BDA-2 and I couldn’t be happier.
Forgot to add this to my original impressions. Half way through my comparisons I did upgrade my DAC from the W4S DAC-2 to the very excellent Bryston BDA-2 (review in progress FWIW) and the differences between these DACs was very much apparent with the KGSSHV. With my W4S DAC-2 there was a definite upper mids/treble "shout" with my SR-009s (and there with my GS-X MK2 / HD800s and LCD-3s). But it certainly wasn't anywhere as apparent as with the blurry presentation and shaved off the top LLMK1....among many other improvements that weren't fully picked up with the LL.
That's the one issue with highly transparent gear....let's not forget the source....it's very important in the chain as well and very much when one considers both the SR-009s and HD800s IMO.
Edited by MacedonianHero - 1/8/14 at 12:42pm