• Monolith Cavalli Liquid Spark Review

    October 12, 2018 Luckbad 0

    When I heard that Alex Cavalli was ready for retirement, I was sad. My favorite all-around amp of all time is the Cavalli Liquid Crimson.

    I’d heard rumors of a compact Liquid Spark and balanced variant of the Liquid Crimson that came to be known as the Liquid Platinum. I was tremendously excited to see him evolve the gear.

    Then he announced his retirement and the closure of Cavalli Audio. The headphone industry took a major hit that day.

    But then Monoprice and Massdrop both had a few things to say about Cavalli retiring. The Massdrop Cavalli Tube Hybrid was the first offering to come from post-retirement partnerships, and it was amazing. The MCTH plus a linear power supply is one of the best sub-$1000 headphone amps you can find.

    Then Monoprice announced their own collaboration amplifiers, and the first to hit the market is the Liquid Spark. Or, more precisely: “Monolith by Monoprice Liquid Spark Headphone Amplifier by Alex Cavalli

    The Liquid Spark is just $99. Can’t be that great, right? Let’s get this out of the way: It’s really good.

    Between the Liquid Spark and the Schiit Magni 3, there are now two amazing options at the price point. You can’t go wrong with either one, and which you prefer will come down to personal preference.

    Which do I prefer? Let’s also suspend the suspense: The Liquid Spark

    This has the effortless fluidity that is a hallmark of Cavalli’s amplifiers. It is spacious, airy, and has a touch of tube-like mids. It’s essentially neutral, but could be described as having a bit of warmth with slightly softer treble (a quality I value).

    The Spark is clean and dynamic with no sense of strain to its presentation whatsoever. It ticks off all the marks for me. Natural, organic, fluid. It is able to drive everything I’ve thrown at it with grace.

    How the heck does this cost $99? I’d take it over most headphone amplifiers I’ve heard, full stop.

    It’s fully capable of pushing Sennheiser HD650s while being equally excellent at delivering enjoyment on my Future Sonics MG5 HX custom IEMs.

    I should note that with sensitive IEMs, you might want some additional attenuation depending on your preferred listening volume. I tend to listen to mine quiet most of the time, so I either use Harrison Labs attenuators (-12dB ) or a Garage1217 attenuator cable with mine.

    The issue isn’t with noise or anything of that nature, but you get minimal play with the volume knob on sensitive earphones. While I was surprised to find that I could turn it quite low before perceiving any channel imbalance, I still like having a little extra room for adjustment.

    Inside

    Let’s take a quick look inside, shall we?

    Those are some highly optimized Liquid Spark internals. It’s amazing what you can do with those tiny surface mount components compared to large through-hole.

    Discrete front to back, no op-amps in the signal path. Lovely.

    And some specifications:

    • Power: 1.3W @ 50R
    • THD+N:
      • 1VRMS (20mW) – .007% THD at 1kHz both channels.
      • 5VRMS (500mW) – .035% THD at 1kHz both channels
    • Output Impedance: <0.1 ohm
    • Gain: +3,+6
    • Input: RCA Unbalanced Audio
    • Outputs: Single Ended ¼” headphone Jack, RCA Preamp out
    • Output Protection: Delay and Offset Protection
    • Dimensions 4.63″ Wide x 3.73″ Long x 1.5” High;
    • Weight: 9.56oz

    Why trust the creators when you have the likes of atomicbob to perform real world tests?

    Reference levels :
    +9 dBu 300R 16.00 mW – 110 dBSPL @ 98dB/mW
    0 dBu 300R 2.00 mW – 101 dBSPL @ 98dB/mW
    -10 dBu 300R 0.20 mW – 91 dBSPL @ 98dB/mW
    -20 dBu 300R 0.02 mW – 81 dBSPL @ 98dB/mW

    +9 dBu 30R 160.00 mW – 110 dBSPL @ 89dB/mW
    0 dBu 30R 20.00 mW – 102 dBSPL @ 89dB/mW
    -10 dBu 30R 2.00 mW – 92 dBSPL @ 89dB/mW
    -20 dBu 30R 0.20 mW – 82 dBSPL @ 89dB/mW

    Reference data on two headphones:
    HD 650 impedance 300R, sensitivity 98 dB/mW
    HE-500 impedance 38R, sensitivity 89 dB/mW

    Highlights
    Square wave response is very near that of the Liquid Crimson.
    Bandwidth is extraordinary for an amp at this price: DC to > 1.5 MHz
    Well done Dr. Cavalli!

    Please see the full post, complete with lovely graphs, at Super Best Audio Friends.

    What else is there to cover beyond the amazing value and wonderful sound of the Liquid Spark?

    Ah, yes. The stock SMPS (switched-mode power supply) vs. a linear power supply. At $99, using a linear power supply would be utterly ludicrous. This thing sounds excellent stock, and the value is through the roof.

    That said, I just so happen to have a couple of linear power supplies that work with it. So let’s do this thing!

    Differences? Little enough that I could boil it down to placebo. If anything, the already tight bass is even tighter with a touch more impact and the background is even more of a blackground. Marginally cleaner with better-delineated lines as well.

    Should you spend $100+ on a linear power supply with the Liquid Spark? No, don’t be foolish.

    Save your scratch and look forward to the Liquid Platinum, which I’m hoping to get my hands on and test with the LPSU as well.

    Buy/Don’t Buy

    Simple. Buy. It’s an absolute no-brainer if you have a spare $99 and have even a remote need for a headphone amplifier. To my ears and for my preferences, the Monolith/Cavalli Liquid Spark is the best bang-for-the-buck amplifier on the market. Period.

    Don’t forget to pour one out for Cavalli Audio while enjoying the lovely amplifiers he continues to give us.

    Categories: Amp, Gear, Reviews

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