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Desktop Amps item created by joe, Jan 23, 2014
Pros - Tube like sweet Mids, dynamic and fast like a thunder.
Cons - hard to find because of the limited production.
Cavali Audio Liquid Gold Review:
i burned in the LAu for 200 hours before i start any serious session. then had few 2-3 hours sessions for my brain to get used to the sound sig before i intend to review it.
this review might see major changes on part 02. for this part i used TH900 alone to see the sound sig changes based on can and be able to spot it.
DAC: Chord Hugo TT.
Headphones: TH900 ,HE-6 Focal Utopia
Cables: Toxic Cable SW22 on TH900 and Toxic Cable BW on HE-6.
Overall sound sig:
The LAu is a SS headphone amplifier which tend to have engaging dynamics yet without boosting anything and staying honest to the recording. The overall sound sig while staying dynamics it retains the Cavali Audio sound sig which tend to have a hint of tube-ish sound without going to the warm side or sacrificing details or dynamics.
i find the Hugo TT to have a very nice synergy with LAu, since both tend to have nice dynamics and control while maintaining superb musicality. they complete each other big time.
TH900 + LAu:
i bought the TH900 like four times, so i keep testing it with many setups, including WA7, WA7tp, WA5, Power Burson and Audio-GD Master 9. every amp had its up and down with TH900,
there was always this one issue that made the combo less than a perfect. the closest to perfect (depend on preference wise, is the WA5.)
With Cavali Audio i found that the TH900 to sound the best, its like when they build this amp they had TH900 on their minds or something. TH900's main issue are the mids, and tubes amps while they solve this issue they tend to lower the fun, specially on the Treble and the Bass won't be as controlled. WA5 solve that but you have to spend like 6000-7000$ in TOTL.
i find the TH900 to have be so open with the LAu, bigger sound stage than what i got from fully upgraded WA5, the difference isn't huge between each but noticeable. it gave me a 3D like
sound sig which i never heard on any previous setup.
The bass with TH900 and LAu is superb! the control is insane and i can pin point the bass notes in the sound, its sound so firm and controlled while staying fast. increasing the volume don't let the bass texture change or lose control.
also while being as punchy (SS amp punchy) its never get that fatigue feeling i get from any other SS amp + TH900 like having Power Burson amp on slightly louder volume for sometime. i am still surprised how can the LAu be so dynamic on fun but with almost zero fatigue and i can tell you its sound as dynamic and punchy as any other good SS amp.
The bass doesn't bleed into the mids, and i can enjoy mid centeric / vocal songs with out worrying about the TH900's Bass to disturb the relaxing sound, and i want to point that this thing is also cable dependent, and i find the cable changes with this setup to be noticeable even further.
so the mids is the point that a lot of TH900 keep changing their setups. i find the LAu to be the best SS amp that i used my TH900 on. the mids are not laid back, nor forward. its fleshed out big time and never sounded as dense or fleshed out on any other setup.
i did consider warmer amps but i was always against losing Treble or Bass. LAu maintain both Fun and the mids have extra sweetness to it, the female vocals sound superb, and the best part i enjoyed the tube like mids and was able to listen to any song and not only fun bass/treble songs.
i enjoyed these mids and didn't find myself in a need for a tube amp, thanks to the sweetness / hint of tube like sound sig AKA cavali sound sig, its not sweeter or as dense as tube amps mids but never lacking which is hard to achive on a dynamic SS amp when paired with TH900.
So many people go with wooden TH900's cups to lower the Treble brightness or make it mellow like. on the LAu this is not needed, you can plug your TH900 and enjoy a world class Treble. its extended, sparkly and with enough quantity to enjoy while never on the harsh side, this beast was able to tame the Bass so i expected the Treble to have a similar case.
LAu offered superb Treble quality as well, the shimmer is there and the Treble never roll off, i was able to enjoy it as much as i did on other SS amps, which was what i missed on many tube amps, so it offer a good Treble for anyone without worrying about switching to tubes.
the Treble with LAu is honest to the recording, i notice that it won't have the sparkling on every song like how it is on a typical SS amp, like the bass the treble was sparkling if the recording tend to have it this way, and when called upon it will be sparkly but without getting harsh or bright.
The LAu is hands the down the best headphone SS amp i used with HE-6, it can drive it without failing, i find that it suit the HE-6 more than WA5 itself, not that WA5 can't drive it, but LAu does it better and the SS amp help to control the HE-6 bass and add the SS punch, which got this magnetic planer crazy epic bass.
the mids on it is fleshed out and so smooth, the added sweetness of the LAu make it even more enjoyable, and the Treble is smoother although i am using open grill mod, so for people who like the fazor mod, worry not about the Treble of the open grill mod because its as fun but ten times smoother.
value wise HE-6 is the way to go, and i find it hard to get a better sound than this unless you are willing to buy Focal Utopia which is as expensive as this amp itself, it wasn't falling behind Utopia big time.
Utopia wasn't hard to drive at all, which is impressive. the LAu + Utopia is a nice combo, the bass is punchier and more controlled than HE-6 and the Treble extended and sparkle even more while staying even smoother, the Utopia is a fast can yet the LAu is able to let Utopia fly into the space with authority.
the mids on Utopia is like the best part of this can yet combined with LAu its feels like i am listening to a tube amp from the sweetness i am getting, nevertheless the bass, treble, dynamics and speed make is still SS amp like, the mids with this combo felt more tube like than HE-6 and TH900, the amp is capable of producing world class mids but Utopia was able to bring the full potential here.
i would like to add that the micro details and micro dynamics is even more noticeable with this can, i was able to see what can the LAu do on its full potential, i was really shocked on few tracks when i was able to hear the small details but this time it was't vivid or overlapped by the song, it was present big time and more enjoyable.
Audio GD Master 9:
The M9 is hands down my favorite Class A amp, Class A amps tend to be on the warmer side, but what make M9 stand more is its super lush mids and transparency, also its more dynamic than other SS Class A amps. while the mids are on par with Tube amps (i enjoyed it as much as WA7tp) the dynamics wasn't the best.
LAu beats the M9 on Bass punch and control. also on Treble extension yet while it have sweet mids its never like the M9 nor as transparent.
WA5 (300B tubes):
i recently reviewed WA5 , and its hands down my favorite tube amp of all the time. the WA5 is a dynamic tube amp that tend to have different sound sigs depend on the tube sets used.
while WA5 is superb with its relaxing sound sig and over all balance, it cannot control the Bass like the LAu and tend to have less punch, the Treble extend a lot for a tube amp on the WA5 but never as sparkly and extended like the LAu,
still the WA5 wins in the Mids department and its Treble is not bad at all for a tube amp, and anyone (who isn't a treble head) will find WA5 to be a TOTL amp that they can live with for ever. but again this depend on the preference.
i forgot to point out that LAu tend to drive HE-6 even better, and with superb control, i tend to like the HE-6 on LAu more than WA5 fully upgraded. so if you are an HE-6 user then LAu is the way to go. it also provide more power than WA5 to your HE-6. HE-6 sounded better because of the bass control and punch which is hard for the WA5 to pass LAu's level on HE-6.
What to Expect from the LAu?
The LAu will provide you with superb SS amp dynamics, punchy controlled bass, with a very nice texture, the rumbling will be there.the Treble will sparkle and be extended to the max.
yet both Bass and Treble will never be harsh. its more dynamic than any Class A amp or neutral amps that tend to be on the warm side.
the best part is the over all hint of tube like sound sig. so imagine having a superb dynamic SS amp yet its slightly dipped into Tube sound sig which result in eliminating any sigh of harshness while maintaining a similar fun to SS amp. and without losing any Treble or Bass fun.
Pros - Transparency,Musicality and power with finesse,
Cons - Chassis is not bling
Around 2009, the rumbling and chatter at Headfi.org was getting louder… It was beginning to roar. There was mention of a DIY designer who had an amp that would not only change headphone listening but also create an entirely new standard for headphone amplifiers. People were talking about how he was making a difference in the community with his DIY designs. The person they were talking about was Alex Cavalli.
Back then, with the encouragement and support of the headphone community, Cavalli decided to go “commercial” and manufacture some of the designs that had been rattling around in his mind for the last ten years. Alex knew he could build a terrific sounding product. Yet the biggest challenge was to find the right suppliers to make the product to his specifications and quality. This process took eighteen months time to get the supply chain where it was up to Cavalli’s high standards. The searching for and using various different suppliers was painstaking. Finally, Cavalli was able to locate the suppliers who were capable of producing the quality he was demanding of his products. If it was to have the Cavalli name it would have to be the best it could be.
If you have been reading reviews by our team members at Headphone.Guru and more at other sites, the consensus has been that Cavalli products are designed and built to extremely high standards. Cavalli Audio’s goal has been to offer reference grade products that are transparent and without coloration. Alex’s goals are to design components that just get out of the way. His objective has always been is to produce products that have intelligent circuit topology and offer listeners an unbelievable listening experience.
Alex started designing and building amplifiers at the age of ten, stopped for a few decades, and returned in the mid to late 90’s . The Liquid Gold is a result of years of research and development. The goals behind the Gold were to produce an amplifier that would power any current headphone in existence and also be able to adapt to any future headphones that may come down the pike. The vision started in 2010 when Audeze designed its first LCD2 and Cavalli moved forward with the Liquid Fire- a hybrid design that was powerful and could easily drive any of the popular planers that were becoming rampant in the personal audio community.
Design The Liquid Gold is manufactured in Austin, Texas and uses all high quality parts that offer superb performance and reliability. The construction of the Liquid Gold is a labor of love. Cavalli products are offered direct through the website located here. Cavalli amplifiers are not inexpensive and never offered in large quantity. Outsourcing the labor or parts to foreign countries would reduce the cost of the amplifier but Alex also feels that anything built with the Cavalli name has to be exceptional; which is why he demands the most from his vendors and from himself.
Load impedances vary with headphones. They could be as low as 25ohm and also go as high as 600 Ohms. The product would have to be able to adjust to the different loads and also be able to get the most of what each headphone was capable of producing. Many designers have not been able to make an amplifier that was capable to handle all the different load schemes.
High Impedances headphones such as the Sennheiser HD800 and Beyerdynamic T1 with loads of 300 Ohm and 600Ohm respectively, create another set of issues that can be challenging on amplifiers. The Gold to drive both high and low impedance headphones and do it musically and efficiently. As if that was not enough to scare some designers, it was being designed as a true differential balanced amplifier. Many headphones – including the new flagship K812 designed by AKG – are single ended and cannot be changed to a balanced configuration without modification.
The Liquid Gold is a true differential solid-state design. Each channel has its own independent rail regulators. The chassis is in a single package (housing the power supply) in stealth black. The Gold has 9W of power going into a 50-Ohm load. The unique features of the RCA single ended input is that converts to balanced. There is a gain switch on the front of the amplifier for adjusting the gain to accommodate both high and low impedance and various load of different headphones. The gain on low is 4X(12db) and 8x(18DB) making it adaptable for any current headphone designed,except for extremely sensitive IEMs and similar sesitivity headphones
The Gold operates in Class A for the first 2.25W of output power. The power supply is no afterthought. The 35.0000 uf in capacitance is enough headroom to bring the finest symphony orchestra to full crescendos with unlimited headroom. Designed into the Liquid Gold is an auto fault protection circuit. When you power up the Liquid Gold there are two protection circuits that are illuminated with LEDs. The design will show a white light on start up with two red lights and once the amplifiers goes through the warm up the red-light disappear one at a time and change to white. The whole process takes about two minutes to complete. The purpose is to protect the headphones and amplifier. The amplifier weighs in at 12 lbs. and has both a 4pin XLR in the front and two neutrix combo pro jacs. For anyone interested in all of the design principals of the Gold, you can find an excellent white paper if you click other stuff here.
Listening Sessions: The HD800 is perceived to be one of the most difficult headphones to pair with an amplifier. Curious to see how it would pair with the Liquid Gold, the Sennheiser HD800 an easy first test (the Nordost Heimdall balanced cable was used during the sessions with the HD800).
Hugh Masekela album, Hope, has the classic song, “Stimela”, which is a powerful expression of apartheid in South Africa with lyrics talking about the gold and silver mines in Johannesburg. The lyrics are involving and it was easy to get involved with this recording. Masekela’s flugelhorn was pinpoint focused within the soundstage. The instruments were all defined in their own space and the instrument tonality was accurate. Absent from the presentation was any grunge or glare that is common in many solid-state amps. The amplifier had a sound that was very difficult to describe. The notes of Masekela playing the flugelhorn were noticeable and other musicians playing were spread out in a layered soundstage with space and distance within the stage with air around the performers. The drums had excellent definition with good impact. The high-end cymbals and other percussion were all shimmering and sounding what you would hear in a live performance. There was nothing in the way of the music while using the Liquid Gold. The dynamics were explosive. The amplifier easily had speed and finesse to recreate all the dynamics this album provides.
The song, “Birds of St. Marks”, from Jackson Browne’s new album, Standing in the Breach, induced a similar experience. The Liquid Gold once again disappeared and all I was left with was the music and Jackson’s strong vocal performance in the opening track of this great cut. I could feel the performance as if I was there in person. The music was all well defined. The HD800 sounded as good as I have heard it using any amplifier, at any price.
Joshua Redman’s album, Live at the Village Gate, has some of the best live sax I have ever heard on record. Recorded in 1995 at the historic Village Gate nightclub in Greenwich Village, the recording (when played on the right equipment) exudes the excitement of being at the live venue. Closing my eyes on “Jig’ a Jug”, I could visualize the club (as I’ve actually been there numerous times). The venue is a small jazz club and the Gold made the venue come to life. You know something is special when you are completely involved in the performance, with eyes shut and toes tapping and your body moves up and down and totally consumed with the music.
The AKG K812 single ended headphone proved to be an exceptional match with the Liquid Gold. The new reference headphone from AKG (full review coming) has exceptional detail. The bass was a deeper on the same “Jig Jug” track and with excellent definition and focus. I could hear all the acoustic bass notes and the treble was very extended. I never lost the “toe tapping” while listening to the K812. The dynamics and musicality was exceptional. I could hear people moving glasses at the tables and the drum sticks hitting the skins. I could feel the impact of the bass drum and once again, I had that quintessential “I am there” feeling.
Joe Beck’s new album, Get Me, has some incredible jazz guitar tracks. “Manha de Carnival” is well recorded and the K812 allowed me to distinguish all of Beck’s finger work with his guitar. Beck opens with soft delicate guitar work and when the band joins in the bass guitar was grumbling and had deep extension. There was nothing missing in the track. The K812 is a detail monster and the liquid Gold brought out the best of what the K812 had to offer.
The Beyerdynamic T1 is another single ended headphone, one that is more difficult to drive than the K812 due to the 600-OHM load. The T1 has a reputation of sounding excellent with tube amplifiers. The Beyer T1 has been a love/hate relationship with me for over five years. The T1 can sound stellar with the right amplifier or can be bright and shrill on others. The performance with the Liquid Gold was exceptionally transparent here. Missing was any bright or shrill sound on recordings. “Peel Me a Grape”, from Diana Krall’s album, Love Scenes, sounded exceptional. The acoustic bass on this track is excellent and the notes were deep and Krall’s voice was seductive and involving. The T1 and Gold worked well single ended and once again I was treated to an amazing vocal performance.
The Oppo PM-1 is another planar design that many people feel is restricted in soundstage. Switching to the album, Classics, from the band, She and Him, the soundstage felt more expanded with the Moon Silver Dragon balanced cable and the Liquid Gold and I felt as if a veil was removed with the PM-1. I immediately noticed the increase sound stage extension with more transparency. The music was crystal clear and there was no evidence of any electronic noise in the system. The Silver Dragon with the Liquid Gold made the PM-1 come to life. The music was so involving and Zoey Deschanel’s sexy vocal lured me into the performance. The song “She” opens with an acoustic guitar and M. Ward supplying the vocal, the sound was clean and realistic. I could hear the acoustic guitar in its own space and M. Ward’s excellent vocal as if he was singing this song to Zoey directly. The Liquid Gold was able to just let all of the music come through in a romantic and realistic performance. The music just flowed and had me totally involved in the performance.
The Alpha Prime balanced can be a difficult headphone to drive. Getting the most out of the Prime requires good amplifier matching and power. Amplifiers that are restricted in dynamics and power will not deliver everything the Prime is capable of delivering. The Liquid Gold was able to drive the Prime effortlessly. Kiasmos’ new self-titled album is outstanding electronic music. The track “Looped” showcased the Alpha Prime. There was no shortage of power or any sense that dynamics were lacking in the performance. The performance was outstanding on this track. The melodies sweeping around the bass was exciting and involving. I could feel the impact and delicacy of the song at the same time. The more time listening the more involved I became with the music.
Justin Townes Earle’s new album, Single Mothers and Absent Fathers, is another album that is extremely personal. Justin’s father Steve Earle left his mom at a very young age. This album is redemption for Justin. The opening track “Worried Bout the Weather” is a great opening track and the album is filled with terrific and gifted songwriting. The album is very personal. “Single Mothers” talks about his Dad being absent and you can feel his attachment to his mom and you can feel some of his pain he feels in his expression and lyrics. The songwriting is exceptional and Earle really put his heart and soul into this recording. The Prime and Gold let me become a part of his personal world. Both the headphone and amplifier disappeared. The pairing was exceptionally synergistic together.
Using the Hifiman HE560 (single ended) was similar to the other headphones. The Liquid Gold had no problem again driving the HE560. Listening to the “Suite from Candide” from the Reference Recordings, Bernstein with Eiji Oue conducting the Minnesota Orchestra, is exceptional. The violin sections in the recording are stellar and the HE560 reproduces a violin as good as I have heard on any headphone. The Liquid Gold did not disappoint here. The soundstage was layered and the performers were on the stage in their own space with excellent air and depth. The sections of the orchestra were easily identifiable and never did I feel the Gold was underperforming or leaving anything out of the performance. The HE560 is great on classical music and the soundstage sounded as good as I have heard when using the Liquid Gold. I was able to identify the individual sections of the orchestra. The amp never ran out of steam, as it was able to easily handle the big dynamic swings of the recording and sailed through the music without any distractions.
The Audeze LCD X and LCD XC were easy to enjoy with the Gold. The power requirements were less demanding than the Alpha Prime and overall easier to drive. The 9W Liquid Gold drove both of them effortlessly. Melody Gardot’s “Worrisome Heart” is a stellar recording and showcases this amazing Canadian talent. Her vocal was crystal clear and reproduced with detail and sibilance free with the XC. The soundstage was focused with Melody in the front of the band. There was good space and air between her and the band. The sound was involving and easy to pick out where each member of the band was in the stage.
Caribou’s album, Our Love, came to life using the LCD X. The soundstage exploded with the electronic rhythm and vocals. The track, “Cant Do It Without You”, has excellent and grunting bass. The Gold was able to rattle my head with deep extension and I could feel the intensity of the music. The LCD X was really performing well with the Gold. The LCD X and this amp were really playing nice with each other. “The Sorcer’s Apprentice”, from the Mephisto & Co. album, from Reference Recordings, is a favorite of mine to use because it has excellent soundstage layering and explosive dynamics. The LCD X was up to the task and the Gold had enough speed to get the most out of this dynamic recording.
Valentino Dances, another superb recording from the Reference Recording label, is a great test piece for equipment evaluation or for exceptional musical bliss. When properly reproduced this magnificent Keith Johnson recording takes the listener to the venue with the magnificent Minnesota Orchestra. The “Ring of Time” is excellent for listening to treble extension. The chimes in the recording are complex and well recorded. The Liquid Gold was able to deliver a stellar performance with this engaging and beautiful piece of music. I could hear the shimmer of the chimes with extension and the speed of the orchestras this vastly dynamic recording came to life. The Liquid Gold and LCD X were in unison. The music kept flowing and the start and stop of the orchestra was special. I could hear deep into the layered soundstage and the hall acoustics were easily heard. The LCD X delivered all of the dynamics and more so kept me totally involved with the music. The piece is broken into four sections and the chimes are dominant throughout the twenty-eight minute track and the music is very beautifully composed. The Minnesota Orchestra, under Eiji Oue’s direction, nailed the performance. The combination of the LCD X and Liquid Gold left nothing out of this wonderful recording.
Conclusion: Using eight different flagship headphones of various impedance and loading was a tremendous challenge for any amplifier to pass. The amplifier would have to adjust to both using balanced headphones and single ended headphones with ease. The load variances were different with each headphone and some were extremely difficult to drive while others were not. The second part of equation was that the amplifier would have to do all of this and be able to handle the various recordings and different variances. Yet the Liquid Gold never subtracted or added any coloration to the performance. The Gold had no specific sound signature: It was neither warm or cold nor analytical. The transparency was on an entirely other level than what I been accustomed too as it had all the necessary speed to handle the wide loads of different headphones and recordings.
The words, genius and masterpiece, are used frequently in the high-end audio circles. Yet I must admit that the Cavalli rumblings that I had heard in various forums for the past seven years were accurate. Alex Cavalli is a rare talent. He created an amplifier that will work with any high-end headphone available and allows the listener and music to come together in unison.
The amplifier had no identifiable faults, although some may not like a simple chassis designed without all the added bells and whistles. However, if sound is your main objective (as it is for me), the Gold delivered well beyond what I ever thought was possible with a solid-state device. For this level of performance, the $3950 price is a bargain. There are amplifiers in the same price range (with the fancy meters and chassis) that don’t come close to this level of performance and can struggle with different headphones. The Liquid Gold delivered a big performance every time used, no matter what recording or headphone I threw at it.
The tube designs, including my reference Viva Egoista, have character and an identifiable sound. What makes the Liquid Gold so special is the transparency. The amplifier completely disappeared. In all my years of reviewing I have never heard a solid-state amplifier that can do everything the Liquid Gold does with transparency and musicality. If you’re looking for you next fix or if you’re a high end junkie like me, the Cavalli Audio Liquid Gold will give you the highest of highs. The Liquid Gold never fails to perform and has kept me up on many sleepless nights. It is a rare masterpiece worthy of reference status.
Cavalli Audio Liquid Gold: $3950
Headphones Used for the Review:
Sennheiser HD800 balanced
AKGK812- single ended
MrSpeakers Alpha Prime balanced
Audeze LCD X-balanced
Audeze LCD XC-balanced
Hifiman HE560-single ended
Oppo BDP 105
Nordost Blue Heaven
Nordost Heimdall balanced cables
Moon Silver Dragon
- See more at: http://headphone.guru/cavalli-audio-liquid-gold-cavallis-masterpiece/#sthash.6juE6vn6.dpuf
Pros - Outstandingly Musical and Easy to Listen to for Hours. Fully Balanced (w/ 1/4" capability as well). Built Like a Br__house. Looks Fantastic
Cons - Sorry, None. It's too heavy? I can't even say that. This isn't Pandering either.
When I finally got to sit down with Alex Cavalli and hear his Liquid Lightning and Liquid Gold I had unreasonable expectations. I love a combination of tubes and solid state in my reference systems. The sonic pairing of the body and warmth of tubes with the speed and precision of solid state, when executed properly (or just the right complementary components) have delivered some of my favorite, most musically transparent listening sessions of my life, period. I'm talkin' from six-seven foot speaker towers and amps the size of lobster traps to the smallest of portable solutions: I'm a music freakin' addict. And while I don't always understand people who aren't as deeply into music as my friends and I are (which is obsessive I'm sure, to say the least, but...) I don't necessarily have a a definitive answer for my preference either: Why I always prefer, when available, the combination of tubes and solid state in systems. My in-room stereo system has always had a combination of tubes and solid state - it sounds right. It sounds more natural to me. So, knowing that Dr. Cavalli had the Liquid Lightning at CanJam at RMAF last year, I wanted to hear that before anything else on his tables, but a couple were busy having fun with it, tube-rolling with someone working for Alex. So he asked if I wanted to hear the Liquid Gold. No! C'mon, of course I will! I had my trusty Audeze LCD3's with me in their road case, and he had the powerful Abyss headphones and LCD-3's as well. Unfortunately I only had a WyWires prototype cable with me that was terminated 1/4" - I forgot my Moon Audio Silver Dragon cable with adapter system in California! What can I say, I'm a dumb a__. Luckily Alex got a pair of Moon Audio cables (don't remember which ones - I think they were Black Dragon) with a 4-pin XLR, and I was cookin'. Now, the tubes are inside the enclosure/chassis of my E.A.R HP4 and 868 pre-amp, and I didn't know anything technically regarding the Liquid Gold. All I knew was that a couple of good friends, here and elsewhere, told me to give it a shot. And please pardon the pun: A freakin' shot in the arm is exactly what it was!
I thought it was a hybrid amplifier. I assumed there were a couple of tubes hiding in that brushed-black finished hood. It was modern beauty, simple and elegant. I loved it within 5 minutes. Now, having done this for twenty plus years, I also know you can't judge anything (or at least I can't) entirely on a first impression. The Liquid Glass sounded terrific too by the way, I shouldn't minimize that. Even Alex Cavalli told me "you were really lost in it there for a lil' bit". He was right. But when I heard the Liquid Gold was a differential solid state amp, I had to hear it again. Alex was gracious in getting a review unit out to me as soon as the guy before me sent it back. Now, I feel obligated to tell you that loving another expensive desktop reference amplifier was actually something I was trying to avoid! I got my dream gear last year: My E.A.R HP4 and ALO Studio Six (and been through lots of tube-rolling) - and admittedly I got industry accommodation pricing on those, but they're still expensive for me! Loving the LAu (Liquid Gold) has been a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because it transports me elsewhere when I'm listening to it. This happens with most of the headphones in my collection, my two favorite DACs right now, and my analog front-end in the home office/Sonic Satori Personal Audio Lab! I'm thankful for the RCA unbalanced inputs for that. My Unison Research Simply Phono tube phonostage has single-ended outputs. Since it's been installed and running everyday (since late February) it continues to break-in and wow me. I've used the following associated gear during my time with the Cavalli Audio Liquid Gold Thus far:
MacBook Pro Retina SSD running Amarra, Audirvana, MOG and Spotify Premium +
McIntosh D100 DAC (w/ balanced and SE input)
Mytek Digital Stereo192-DSD DAC
VPI Traveler turntable w/ 2MBlue Ortofon cartridge +
Unison Research Simply Phono tube phonostage
Audeze LCD-3, X, and XC (balanced)
Audio Technica AD900X (SE)
B&O H6 (SE)
Grado 325i (SE)
Mr. Speakers Alpha Dogs v1 (SE) & Mad Dogs (balanced)
Sennheiser HD800's (balanced)
for the Audeze's:
Double Helix Molecule w/ Fusion 4-pin XLR
Double Helix Complement 2 prototype (dual XLR) - Silver Peptide (pure OCC Silver litz cable)
Moon Audio Silver Dragon with adapter system (4-pin XLR)
WyWires 4-pin XLR
for Sennheiser HD800's:
Cardas Audio/Headroom FatPipe Dual-XLR
Double Helix Complement 2 prototype (dual XLR) - Silver Peptide (pure OCC Silver litz cable)
w/ Sennheiser adapters from Double Helix
ALL other headphones have stock cables
System wired with Nordost Heimdall 2, from USB to analog interconnects.
This suckers' got juice for days. It's also, as I stated above, as solidly built as any other solid state headphone amp I've spent time with. It also comes with a nice dust-cover. A very nice choice, especially for places like my office, which is an older addition on the house, and while the dedicated power is great, the people driving up and down the dirt paths at the nearby winery fields tends to leave a layer of dust sooner than I'd like it after I dust. Thank you Dr. Cavalli for that nice touch. It's the little things... The great thing about this amplifier however is far from anything little. It's the LAu's huge and powerful sound that shot through all the cans mentioned above and performed beautifully whether mated with my McIntosh D100 or Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC. It also sounded as soulful as I've heard in a headphone amp when playing artists like Joni Mitchell , Dusty Springfield, or Ani DiFranco on vinyl. It actually reminds me of my E.A.R HP4 in that way, and indescribable way. How can you quantify soul? I'm not sure I can, but those two amps ooze it. The Liquid Gold also seems to play nicer with a wider variety of headphones than other reference amps I have, which can, at times, be more finicky when pairing them with different styles of cans. Now, out of all the headphones I tried with the LAu, my three favorites were my Audeze LCD-X, XC, and Sennheiser HD800. Using these headphones with the LAu reminded me of why I got so deeply into personal audio in the first place: The immediacy and fluidity of the sound, the power, the realistic dB levels, the dynamics and soundstaging brought me back to listening to giant loudspeaker systems with Harry Pearson at The Absolute Sound! Everything is huge, and I don't mean exaggerated, so perhaps I should say things seemed life-like in size and scope. There is also a textural quality, and sort of roundedness to the sound of this amp, the dimensionality (that is: the presence of space between sound/instruments in the soundstage) in my system was sublimely executed. It continues to be so - as I'm listening right now, to Recondite's new LP: Hinterland - via Audeze LCD-X's/Wywires 4-pin XLR cables, and McIntosh D100 DAC, MacBook/Amarra rig and it's breathtaking. This album is a drivy, kick drum-heavy atmospheric underground tech-house monster. It's also recorded beautifully. I can't stay still as I type this. I'm moving around in my office chair like I'm sitting on something near a Funktion One speaker stack in a club bangin' away. My heart and my body have to follow the beat. This is, what I believe Hp (Harry Pearson) used to refer to as the "twinkle dust factor" or "TDF" as they used to call it at The Absolute Sound until the mid-nineties. The sound transcends the system, and I'm caught up in this flowing, meditative sort of head-bobbin', body-moving rhythm that only special components like this grant me! It's like being at DC-10 in Ibiza at 9:00AM and Damian Lazarus of Crosstown Rebels is gettin' nasty on the 1's and 2's...
Using Digital front-end:
While using my Audeze LCD-X + Wywires cable the sound was nothing short of hypnotic. Recondite's kick and wavy bass on "Leafs" bumped so fluidly I couldn't help myself: I had to get up, grab the Sennheiser HD800s, Double Helix Cables Complement OCC Silver litz prototype (dual-XLR) and grab my wife. She put on the headphones and danced next to me like the time we spent in Ibiza I mentioned above. And we're both rockin headphones! Realize this is something I never imagined a few years ago. Admittedly we've done this before: had our own silent rave in my home office, but this could possibly be the closest I've felt to dancing in a club. The momentum of the sound is so powerful, so enrapturing, I couldn't sit down anymore. Now if that's not an indication of the magic of this amplifier than I'/m not sure what is! I'm not sure what else could possibly trounce that feeling. This may seem like a cop-out. But wholeheartedly: It isn't often that I feel that compelled to actually get up and move to the music via my digital front end. I mean I've also had wonderful listening sessions in the chair, who hasn't? But this sound grabbed me do deeply in the gut I had to cut loose and get my wifey dancing with me. She's been sick for so long, I knew this sound would get her moving. That also beats my musings about the soundstage and the tonality and all that: Alexandra has been battling a still un-diagnosed auto-immune disease for a year. The most she can do is work in the garden to get some relief from the pain. But music, played on the right system, can get her movin'. The Liquid Gold and Audeze LCD-3's (what she was wearing, as I rocked the LCD-X) had us entranced. Sorry, but f___ audiophile vernacular right now. This is what it's all about for me. Take that as subjective garbage if you want. Me, I'm havin' a blast dancing with my wifey right now, rockin' the Liquid Gold and Audeze's...
I also tested the single-ended outputs of the LAu. I love the fact that he chose to use the dual Neutrik outputs that accommodate XLR and 1/4", as well as the 4-pin output. I believe he's also added additional outputs on an updated version of the amplifier. For the 1/4" output I chose Grado 325i's, B&O H6, and, thanks to the suggestion of a fellow Head-Fier (will post user name ASAP) my Audio Technica AD900X. Some people expressed concern over a hiss in the amplifier with different impedance's, and so a few asked me to try other cans than my top two references (Audeze and Sennheiser) and this particular user asked me to try the 900X because people reported hearing awful noise with it on the LAu. I'm not sure if it's because I've got clean power in my home office, or if the Nordost Quantum power products I have underneath the whole system kept the noise level down - but while I heard a slight hiss with the 900X with no signal playing, the moment I fed a signal through the amp it became inaudible. So that issue didn't bother me. I also came up in the home stereo era, so a lil noise when no music was playing was sometimes part of the game unfortunately. As I said in my response in the thread regarding the reported noise with the 900X and LAu: I'm not concerned with the noise or the performance of the amplifier on a bench or when there's no music being pumped through it. I care when the music plays! And with the music pumpin', the AD900X was airy, dynamic, and magnificently spacious. The Grado's were fantastic with singer/songwriter stuff, rock-n-roll, and even ambient electronic. The B&O H6's displayed extension in the lower frequency extremes with the Liquid Gold that I've never experienced before with those headphones. When playing albums like Shlohmo's Bad Vibes on the H6's the bass was far more impressive, with regard to detail and transparency as well, than I've given these cans credit for in the past. Nothing like the power and clarity of a new amp to show you what your cans can really do! By the way: I used high gain for the Audeze's, HD800's, 900X and Grados. Low gain on the others.
Using Analog Front-End:
Man, playing underground dance music on this rig was scrumptious. Especially with the Audeze LCD-XC's and Double Helix Cables Complement OCC litz prototype cable (dual XLR) and the Wywires 4-pin XLR cables! The HD800 was also thumping and smooth as silk. One of my favorite albums to listen to on this rig was Nosaj Thing's Home LP on 12". The sound was liquid and wide-open at the same time. Like water spreading out evenly over a sheet of glass. The audible ripples moved seamlessly, it was aw-inspiring. One of my favorite tracks on the record is "Glue" a track that's got terrific depth of field on a killer sound system. There are these synth stabs and pads that are seemingly triggered all over the soundstage. It's like sonic popcorn going off occasionally in this black background. The sound is captivating. I've heard systems that aren't resolving clog up the dimensionality of this effect. No such worry with the Liquid Gold. There was tons of room, tons of space, and the elements all had space to breath and exist apart sonically, while remaining within the musical composition, keeping the rhythm flowing. For a change of pace I pulled out my James Blake 7" UK single pressing of "Limit to Your Love". The man does things with the Roland TB-303 on this track that truly boggle my mind. This track has become well-known for its bottom-end power in the two-channel audiophile space. Listening to it on LCD-X and XC's was like hearing some of the most musically engaging two-channel in-room systems I've heard: Especially when they pressurize the room nicely. The weight and velocity of the 303 wobblies in the bass-line were over-powering, but not aggressively so. There was a smoothness and continuous-ness to the bass that made it resplendent. I couldn't get enough. It slammed with authority and control. What a sonic treat.
Then I had to check things out with softer, singer/songwriter material. I wanted to feel the emotive capabilities of the amp in the system. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I wanted to test if the amp, playing music that gets to me emotionally, would help make that magical connection. I grabbed my LCD-X and Double Helix dual-XLR cable for this one. The first thing I had to hear was Ani DiFranco's "Hearse" of What Side Are You On? on 12". This record is a wonderfully stripped-down, splendid showcase of DiFranco's poetic and musical talents. "Hearse" has become our song: Alexandra and me. It's a drop-dead gorgeous love song. It's got everything you need in a great love song: A Big heart; through minimal elements. There's plenty of space between the notes, allowing for my mind to wonder, considering great memories, and not-so-great ones, while listening to the song at the same time. It's beautiful. Honestly, and you can call me a lil' b____ for admitting it: But sometimes I tear up listening to this song. But only with a resolute system that's also got soul - that intangible thing I mentioned above: The sparkle in the system that connects you so deeply to the music you forget about analog vs. digital, and technical specifications and all the BS, and it's just you and the music left. With my trusty Audeze LCD-X, the Liquid Gold pulled off, perhaps, the most emotively charged presentation of Ani DiFranco's "Hearse" that I've ever heard (I haven't heard her do this one live yet). Again, there I was, calling in the wifey. She put on the LCD-3's (via Wywires 4-pin XLR cables) and we both sat there, eventually laughing through tears - as we watched each other start to lose it, we laughed our asses off. It was an awesome moment. You don't get much better than that. I had equally engrossing experiences using Mr. Speakers Alpha Dogs (via single-ended- I need a balanced cable for these suckers) and Mad Dogs (balanced). In fact there wasn't a headphone mentioned above that didn't marry well to the Cavalli Liquid Gold. That's another knotch for the LAu: As mentioned above - it plays well with others! From DAC or phonostage - to various musical genres! It just goes about its business and does its job better than almost every other amplifier I've heard. Perhaps the most musically engaging of them all actually - but I'm still figuring that out!
Overall, I can't find a single thing to gripe about with the Cavalli Audio Liquid Gold. And for the objectivists: Sorry, we just experience things differently. I'm a music addict, no-joke. I need it on all the time. Especially if the TV's not on or I'm not reading something. Yeah I'm OCD, mixed with a bunch of other weirdness believe me. But I love music. I can say that with all of my heart. With the Liquid Gold, listening to music was (and is: I'm listening to it right now - back to Recondite's Hinterland LP through Audeze LCD-X's) as pleasurable and exciting as it gets for me outside of the dance-club. As a matter of fact, at times I thought I was in the dance club listening to this work of audio art! If you wanna hear the bleeding edge of solid-state in personal audio, check out the Cavalli Liquid Gold. I mentioned that loving this amplifier was a blessing, and a curse above, but I never mentioned why it's also a curse. It's a curse because I have to figure out a way to buy it now!