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Comparisons of the Liquid Lightning and KGSSHV Solid State Stax Amplifiers

post #1 of 210
Thread Starter 

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:

 

1000

 

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.

 

UPDATE: 

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
post #2 of 210

First! great review!!

 

i did not like the LL when i heard it with the SR-009, I think Kavalli amps are overpriced. the LAu wasn't very impressive either.

 

Seeing what was possible on the GSX MK2, i can only imagine how good the KGSSHV must be, transparent, musical, and very well designed.

anyways, i like the cables you got, alot like mine :tongue_smile:


Edited by Dubstep Girl - 9/15/13 at 9:26am
post #3 of 210

very nice Peter! Im happy you didn't pull any punches. Though, this just makes me even more anxious to get my 009s from Price Japan!!!

post #4 of 210
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by SoupRKnowva View Post
 

very nice Peter! Im happy you didn't pull any punches. Though, this just makes me even more anxious to get my 009s from Price Japan!!!

 

Thanks Chase. I was trying to be fair, but yet honest at the same time. :o 

 

Any word on ETA on your SR-009s? 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dubstep Girl View Post
 

First! great review!!

 

i did not like the LL when i heard it with the SR-009, I think Kavalli amps are overpriced. the LAu wasn't very impressive either.

 

Seeing what was possible on the GSX MK2, i can only imagine how good the KGSSHV must be, transparent, musical, and very well designed.

anyways, i like the cables you got, alot like mine :tongue_smile:

 

Thanks. Yes, I would say that the KGSSHV is very much like the GS-X MK2 in terms of transparency and still musical with plenty of power. And yes, the Audioquest King Cobras are a "sweet spot" for sure IMO.


Edited by MacedonianHero - 9/15/13 at 8:04pm
post #5 of 210

Good review, Peter. Makes me that much more anxious to get my KGSSHV. Also, weird to see the LL fall soo fast.

 

How much time did you put on both amps with the BDA-2?

post #6 of 210
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by paradoxper View Post
 

Good review, Peter. Makes me that much more anxious to get my KGSSHV. Also, weird to see the LL fall soo fast.

 

How much time did you put on both amps with the BDA-2?

 

Thanks!

 

Several days. It wasn't really close with either DAC. :o

post #7 of 210
Quote:
Originally Posted by MacedonianHero View Post
 

 

Thanks Chase. I was trying to be fair, but yet honest at the same time. :o 

 

Any word on ETA on your SR-009s? 

 

Nope, they don't really give you updates as you go unfortunately. I just wait till they message me saying I owe the balance cause they are ready to ship.

post #8 of 210
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by SoupRKnowva View Post
 

 

Nope, they don't really give you updates as you go unfortunately. I just wait till they message me saying I owe the balance cause they are ready to ship.

 

Good luck!

post #9 of 210

Great review!  :)  Based on the full schematics and measurements Kevin Gilmore has compiled from the LLmk1 I bought I'm not surprised by Peters findings. 

 

I should have my LLmk1 next week and I'll post impressions here if Peter doesn't mind.  Currently have 3 KGSSHV's and 4 KGSS's to compare against.  :o 

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by SoupRKnowva View Post
 

 

Nope, they don't really give you updates as you go unfortunately. I just wait till they message me saying I owe the balance cause they are ready to ship.

 

They always do that but is must be frustrating with the 009.  They always come through in the end though. 

post #10 of 210

Thanks for the review MacedonianHero. I think that's the first time anyone has written more than a couple of sentences about the KGSSHV - no doubt I'm about to get corrected. We need more great Solid State options to choose from.

 

When I saw the LL at a show last year, it looked pretty big to me - made the amp section of my BHSE look petite in comparison. So the KGSSHV must indeed be a bit of a monster.

 

I also wasn't hugely impressed with the LL's SQ  on a brief listen: pleasant enough, but I think I actually used the same "smeared" word as well. But others like it a lot, and some say that the LL2 sounds quite a bit better, even though the design hasn't changed drastically. I guess the devil is in the detail.

post #11 of 210

@MH - I thought you had a Spritzer built KGSSHV. What ever happened to that?

post #12 of 210
Thread Starter 
Quote:

Originally Posted by spritzer View Post
 

Great review!  :)  Based on the full schematics and measurements Kevin Gilmore has compiled from the LLmk1 I bought I'm not surprised by Peters findings. 

 

I should have my LLmk1 next week and I'll post impressions here if Peter doesn't mind.  Currently have 3 KGSSHV's and 4 KGSS's to compare against.  :o 

 

They always do that but is must be frustrating with the 009.  They always come through in the end though. 

Certainly don't mind. :smile: It's certainly on-topic. 

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by TheAttorney View Post
 

Thanks for the review MacedonianHero. I think that's the first time anyone has written more than a couple of sentences about the KGSSHV - no doubt I'm about to get corrected. We need more great Solid State options to choose from.

 

When I saw the LL at a show last year, it looked pretty big to me - made the amp section of my BHSE look petite in comparison. So the KGSSHV must indeed be a bit of a monster.

 

I also wasn't hugely impressed with the LL's SQ  on a brief listen: pleasant enough, but I think I actually used the same "smeared" word as well. But others like it a lot, and some say that the LL2 sounds quite a bit better, even though the design hasn't changed drastically. I guess the devil is in the detail.

 

Being now into SS amps exclusively (after being a long time tube-guy) I'm enjoying the "easy life" without buying/rolling tubes, having them go microphonic, warming the amp for a long time, etc... The KGSSHV is truly end-game level and I couldn't be happier.

 

As I mentioned, from my understanding is the only thing to have changed between the LLMK1 and LLMK2 is the chassis and the board layout was altered. But the netlist and Bill of Materials internally remained unchanged. Not sure how much moving traces around can affect SQ drastically? But if it did, I would be sorely upset if I bought a LL brand new for $4500+ and only to have the MK2 announced a few months later. 

 

From Tyll's innerfidelity.com review:

 

"The amp reviewed here is the first version of the amp, which is now undergoing a second revision with an expected release in April of 2013. Alex tells me the new amp is largely a cosmetic revision and will be in a machined aluminum case similar to his Liquid Glass amplifier."

 

http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/listening-stax-sr-900-and-great-headphone-amplifiers-cavalli-liquid-lightning

 

and from the Cavalli website:

 

"Liquid Lightning has undergone some design changes, mostly to the enclosure. LL MK II is now in the new CA stealth black finish. It has more inputs, front panel input switching, and better ventilation including vent slots on both sides. Internally, LL MK II is the same circuit as MK I, but with less parasitic capacitance on the amplifier board.
 

LL MK II the LL MKI in a new enclosure with some new features. Those of you who liked or wanted a LL MK I should like the MKII."


Edited by MacedonianHero - 9/15/13 at 12:06pm
post #13 of 210

Thanks for this review. I newly got the SR009 and the SRM727. I am currently building a KGSSHV and after your review I am even more eager to hear it!!!

I'll be using the Invicta as a DAC. I hope this will be my endgame setup.

post #14 of 210
This review made me a bit sad....

Because it will be a while till I finish my off board KGSSHV.

Btw what happened to Spritzers KGSSHV?
post #15 of 210

The LL v1 definitely had some issues in the extremes.  I didn't notice anything wrong with imaging though.  I'd like to hear a LL v2 someday as the impressions are more favorable for that unit.  I wonder just how much capacitance Alex was able to shave off.

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