Cavalli Audio Liquid Crimson Headamp Review Succinct Stream of Consciousness

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by purr1n, Mar 31, 2016.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Cavalli Audio Liquid Crimson Headamp Review Succinct Stream of Consciousness
    As of March 31, 2016, only 18 days left for the current run

    Re-posting and condensing information from Changstar. There was some discussion of this amp in the amps for the HD800 thread. This is one I can recommend. It also happens to be an extremely flexible amp that can power any headphone planar or dynamic. I don't hear this amp being talked about much. It should really receive more notice

    [​IMG]


    Executive Summary:
    • IMO, Alex's best amp, especially in terms of technicalities that I desire: plankton and microdynamics. I like it, a lot.
    • Very good plankton - one of the first things I've noticed. Robust bass. Sucks you in. Kind of dreamy (with the Telefunken tubes.)
    • Sounded good with all headphones used.
    • Good tonal balance is a given for Cavalli gear; but more slightly more aggressive than LG and LAu (or you can say LG is more laid-back). This is a good thing because it suits my personal sensibilities better. Some people have remarked at the LG was too laid back for them. the Crimson may be the ticket.
    • But still a Cavalli amp which means a nice tonal balance. Robust bass which is not fat or bloated. Some bite, crisp, but none of the sizzly, etched, analytical, SS, abomination stuff. Gentle treble. Tonal balance akin to good tube amps I've heard.
    • Very nice chassis. Small footprint about half the size of full-sized amps. Solid - best design I've seen from Alex. Warren: "Marv, I'm totally with you on the chassis, love the louvered jet intake aesthetic". Yup. I can see myself bringing this to work, whereas not gonna happen with something like that EC ZD which will burn skin off arms in 2 seconds.
    • I'm still listening to it. That must mean I like it. (more on this later.)
    • TUBE ROLLING: (see below)

    Gear Used
    • Theta Gen Va DAC
    • SFD-1mk2 SE+ DAC
    • Paradox headphone (SE)
    • K7XX headphone (SE)
    • ATH-AD2000 headphone (balanced)

    Music Used
    • Muddy Waters Folk Singer MFSL GAIN
    • Talking Heads Speaking in Tongues (remaster from 7 years ago or so)
    • Eva Cassidy Songbird
    • Daft Punk Random Access Memories
    • KD Lang Hymns of the 49th Parallel

    Obligatory Bad Photos from my Phone
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    IMG_1119d9e4.jpg
    IMG_1119d9e4.jpg
    IMG_1116960f.jpg
    IMG_11189027.jpg


    Questhate: You know when Marv likes something or at least finds something interesting because he will keep listening. The longer he stays, the more he likes it.

    LOL. it's funny when your friends know your habits more than you. I'd say that statement is only somewhat true these days. There are many many occasions at meets where I simply want to get out of the chair after 4 seconds, but I know that doing so would probably be rude. So I force myself to look all around and pretend to enjoy when I just wanna get the eff outta there. Life's too short though, so maybe I'll revert to my old standard practice or ripping off the headphones in disgust and leaving.

    I would have to say that I enjoyed listening to the Liquid Crimson so much that I moved the Gungnir and LC over to my computer (I have no DAC/headamp at my computer anymore.) I think I unpacked this amp several hours ago and I'm still at it. Only means the Liquid Crimson does plankton and microdynamics well. The two aspects I treasure the most. Macrodynamics is pretty darn good too. Nice robust bass. The amp does suck you into the music. That's a good thing.

    I knew this was going to be a good amp after a few seconds when I first fired it up. BTW, the Genelex 6922 that is included with the Crimson is a good choice. Probably the best new production 6922 - one that I recommend. The vintage Telefunkens are much better though - sublime is the word.

    I'd say the Liquid Crimson is a slight departure from the LG/LF/LAu which have more laid-back sensitivities. Although the LC is comparatively more aggressive with more incisive attacks and pacing, it's still a Cavalli amp. You are never going to get a cold sterile or aggressive sound. What I really appreciate about the Crimson is the better technicalities all the way around (possibly better than my prior favorite the LG). Although going from memory compared to the LF (even with good tubes), the bass is tighter more articulate, less murky. There's a tiny bit more clarity and quite a bit more resolution, liveliness, and gradations in volume. If the LF lets you relax, the LC engages you, but in a seductive way. Hope that make sense. 6922, E88C, 6H23, 6DJ8. Lots and lots of tubes. You can get mellow to punchy to lively and engaging to warm and rolled. Again, the Telefunkens are pretty darn magical. The great thing is that you only need one tube.

    It's difficult to make a direct comparison because of various reasons, but I'll take a shot. I mostly use the Rag as a speaker amp where I really feel it shines for high-efficiency speakers. On occasion I'll use the Rag with the Abyss (modded), or various headphones. The downside with the Rag is that the balanced outputs must be used to get the most out of it. The Rag's SE outputs are good, but really, and I'll make no bones about it, using the SE output gimps the Rag.

    Only one of the three headphones I tried was balanced - and at this point in my life I'm too lazy to re-term the others. (The K7XX and Paradox would require major surgery and more than a re-term at the plug end to make them balanced.) So therein lies a disadvantage of the Rag. Sometimes I just want to grab a headphone with a normal phono plug. But it doesn't work this way with Rag. Some additional effort (money and time) needs to be put into the headphone to get the best if using with the Rag.

    Now I can unequivocally say that the Rag with the balanced outputs is the slightly better amp in terms of microdetail and microdynamics. By this I mean the Rag is more able to reproduce fine low level information and especially fine gradations of volume levels. (Again, the difference isn't huge.) The problem with this? The technical advantage of the Rag is significantly lessened when using a typical DAC, e.g., the Gungnir than a uber DAC like the Theta Gen Va DAC. Not everyone has a DAC as resolving and holographic as the Theta Gen V.

    Also, the Liquid Crimson uses tubes. I like tubes - no beans about it. Now the 6922 isn't an especially tubey sounding tube on the LC, but there's still a hint of that tube bloom, inner warmth, etc. which is rather nice. And we can roll all sorts of 6922 type tubes to get some variations on the LC's sound. (BTW, the LC tends toward a robust bass, even mids, and gentle treble - whereas the Rag's tonal balance is more neutral in the bass with some emphasis on the lower mids.) With the LC, there are the warmer Amperex 7308s, lean bright 6922s, some neutral / mellow Telefunkens 6DJ8s, more aggressive Sovteks. Can roll all sorts of plentiful tubes to work with DACs and headphones. The great thing: only ONE tube. No worries about matching = extra $$.

    Now with the Rag, the tonal balance is fixed, so synergies with other gear may be harder to achieve. For example, I really don't like the HD800 from the Rag. Very neutral amp + HD800 = bright or at best dry. I've always been saying I will one day stick resistors in series to see if the HD800 sounds better from the Rag, but I digress.

    Here another example: AD2000. It's a wonky headphone that really likes tubes. All sorts of technical goodies, plankton, liveliness from the Rag using balanced. Not so much from the LC. But the AD2000's tonal balance is just wrong from the Rag. The AD2000 slams more from the LC. It's tonal irregularities are made more palatable with the tube bloom and more gentle treble. In this case, I'll take the LC. If there's one amp that does both technicalities and proper tone with the AD2000, might be something like the EC 2A3mk4 - but that's a huge jump into the next league.

    With the other headphones, K7XX and Paradox (singled-ended), it was a toss up between the amps. But again, the overriding factor is tubes. I mean shoot, once I put the Telefunken in the LC, those headphones are just hard to put down. The Rag is more technically proficient (but again, this is evident only when using the balanced outs.) The LC is more fun, but yet a the same time very solid in terms of technicalities (otherwise I wouldn't have bothered writing all this stuff down).

    The last thing that shouldn't be discounted is that the LC chassis is really really pretty, yet at the same time has a subtle quality where I can put it at the corner of my desk at work without drawing too much attention. Did I say the small footprint he lps? It's just freaky to have something so small to sound so good. Honestly, I can't see myself bring the Rag to work and having to explain to co-workers about the strange workings of 4-pin XLR connectors.

    Can anyone tell me a bit more about this amp. Is this amp like the EHHA? (The EHHA was one of my Cavalli favorites before he started selling stuff.)

     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2016
  2. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Cavalli Audio Liquid Crimson Tube Rolling
    Some notes on tube rolling with the Crimson:

    Genalex Gold Lion 6922:
    [​IMG]
    Slightly on the bright side. The best of the new production 6922s I have heard. Compared to the old stock tubes, not quite as clear and resolving the mids. Definitely worth the price. I don't know why the old stuff always sounds better.

    JAN Philips 6922:
    [​IMG]
    Nothing particularly special but definitely better than most new production 6922s. Mid-centric, but with a touch of warmth and maybe slightly laid back / inoffensive. Not the best at the extremes. The price is definitely right at $30. I'd easily take this in a pinch, especially if I didn't want to pay up the wazoo for the good 6922s.

    Russian 6H23P-EB:
    [​IMG]
    Bassy and punchy. Dynamic with strong impact and attack. Slight u-curve sound. Sometimes muddy indistinct bass - maybe because of its bass presence. Other times a little bit sharp in the treble. A fun sounding tube.

    Sovtek 6922:
    [​IMG]
    Bright or more precisely more upper-mids forward. Good clarity, good bass quality. These use to be new production 10-15 years ago and came as the stock / standard tubes on a lot of pre-amps. I actually like the sound of these and feel that they were vastly underrated. A lot of people felt that they sucked, but I think it's because these tubes do tend to sound brighter than most other 6922s. Obviously, this tube should be matched with appropriate headphone and/or musical tastes. I'm not sure if these are easy to find anymore. The EH replacement for these suck.

    Telefunken EC88CC/6922:
    [​IMG]
    A touch warm and laid-back along the lines of the JAN Philips, but so much better sounding. Great extension / performance at the extremes. The most nuanced and resolving of the bunch here. Tends to fool you into thinking it might be too laid back, and then at the last minute surprises you with its technicalities. Just beautiful sounding.
     
  3. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    I want this one back...
     
  4. cskippy

    cskippy Creamy warmpoo

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    I want this but damnit it's too much money! Is Mjolnir 2 the poor man's Crimson?
     
  5. brencho

    brencho Friend

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    wow, great writeup @purrin ! really useful comparisons to things like the LG and the Rag. i wonder, what's your take on its sound and abilities in relation to its similarly-priced brethren, e.g., the ZDS, Stratus, etc?
     
  6. microCuts

    microCuts Acquaintance

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    Does crimson pair well with Ether? Or may i just get rid of the Ether and get the hd650 instead due to its scaling ability? Someone is offering a crimson in my area, quite tempting, although I am leaning to stax setup more.
     
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2016
  7. BioniclePhile

    BioniclePhile The Terminal Man - Friend

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    If I were going to stay in the headphone game, looks like this is the amp I'd be ending with. But I'm moving into speakers after this. $2,400 is just too much for something for only headphones for me.
    But I'll always lust for that amp. Holy balls will I lust..
     
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  8. hifi01170

    hifi01170 Facebook Friend

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    I think the price is close to $3000... not sure you can find it at $2400

    But same here, I will keep on lusting over this amp... I prefer to have a great preamp or DAC for my speaker setup at this price.
     
  9. BioniclePhile

    BioniclePhile The Terminal Man - Friend

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    Liquid Carbon price deal thing. Takes $600 off.
     
  10. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    I wish I could afford this, but I'll have to make do with a Carbon. Maybe eventually someone will sell a used at at a deep discount and I can snag it.
     
  11. TwoEars

    TwoEars Friend

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    Did you have to place it on top of the xbox? That thing is fugly.
     
  12. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    It's the best headphone amp I've heard, personally.

    Basically a Master-9 with much better sound-stage and some toob godness. Like being there, with the HE-560!
     
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  13. Gravity

    Gravity Friend

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    Finally some Cavalli stuff! Sounds like LAu and LG is more to my liking but I still really wanna hear this. Fortunately there will be both a LG and this at the next meeting I'm attending.
     
  14. EraserXIV

    EraserXIV Friend

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    How does the Amperex 7308 sound in it?
     
  15. JWahl

    JWahl Acquaintance

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    I had the opportunity to listen to this on my own setup at a recent meet. The guy who brought it, got it last minute as a loaner, and didn't bring a front end, so I let him hook it up to my Gungnir MB and got to compare it head to head with my Valhalla 2. Interesting comparison given the price difference, with the Crimson seeming to do very well with Planars.

    In particular, the HE-560 was really good with it. And the amp seems to dig really deep in the Bass. Tried a few different headphones, HD-800/S, HE-X, HE-560, HD-650 and my current Grado RS2E (Yeah, yeah, I know lol) I thought the HE-560 synergized the best with it. I still preferred the Sennheisers with the Valhalla 2. HE-X was driven well, but might be too warm, and romantic for some.

    Disclaimer: I'll note separately that it almost seemed to have a sort of over-smoothed reverb-y sound to it, but the person who brought the amp had it hooked up to some crazy looking interconnects, with the boxes in the middle (Something like MIT I think). I can't help but think they were messing with the sound, as opposed to the simple Schiit PYST I was using to my Valhalla 2. Both amps were driven from the Gungnir Multibit's Single ended outputs at the same time.
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2016
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  16. Asgeir101

    Asgeir101 Rando

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    I have the Crimson ether 1.1 pairing fronted by a geek pulse xfi infinity. I feel it pairs really well and gives the ethers more body and drive. I have also consistently seen Dan audition his cans with Cavalli gear so it can't be a coincidence.
     
  17. Asgeir101

    Asgeir101 Rando

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    I also recommend exchanging the stock tube. The golden lion is good but a telefunkeln E88CC or my personal favorite Vokshod/National 6n23P from 70's takes it to another level
     
  18. Luckbad

    Luckbad Traded in a unicorn for a Corolla

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    I should have one of these bad boys on the way this week! Since hearing this at a meet a year or two ago, it's been right up at the top of my list alongside the likes of the DNA Stratus (another amp I heard and fell in love with). Really looking forward to this one. Unless I'm getting scammed, in which case I'll be sad.
     
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2017
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  19. Walderstorn

    Walderstorn Friend

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    Welcome to the club @Luckbad, i also fell in love and besides this amp i only want the Super 7, which seems an impossible dream. Stay away from the Crimson if you have sabre dacs though, word of advice.

    Regarding tubes the forementioned Telefunken EC88CC (unfortunately mine has a problem at this point) and the Siemens CCa are something to try, if you can find a good deal.
     
  20. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

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    hm may have a matched pair of Siemens Cca I could sell. let me check the box o tubes next weekend.
     

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