Monoprice/Cavalli Liquid Spark Headphone Amp – Review

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by Hands, Oct 4, 2018.

  1. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    6,597
    Dislikes Received:
    15
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Colorado
    Home Page:
    Note: Alex Cavalli contacted me directly and asked if I'd be willing to test and review the Liquid Spark, which I was happy to do. I have on loan a unit with production sound but a non-production chassis.

    It’s a good day for anyone with an interest in inexpensive headphone amps! The Liquid Spark, currently available through Monoprice for a penny shy of $100, occupies the same market space as the Schiit Magni 3. I found the Magni 3 to be a great sounding amplifier, and it really set the bar for amps in its price range. I’m happy to say the Liquid Spark is a worthy competitor. (TL;DR at bottom.)

    The amps seem near identical in form and function. Both are solid state, have pre-outs, have a gain switch, are of a similar size, and utilize an external power supply. I had no issues driving my HD650 with ease on both amps, so they both have plenty of power to spare for about anything you might toss at them.

    That the two products basically do the exact same thing on a functional level is good, because it makes the review easy by allowing me to only focus on sound quality.

    If I had to generalize right off the bat, I’d say the Liquid Spark sounds a little more like a good tube amp, while still clearly not being a tube amp, whereas the Magni 3 sounds a little more like a good solid state amp. That said, they sound more similar than not, especially if you take a step back and hear their similar tone and presentation in a broad scope: slight warmth, agreeable treble, but close enough to neutral to not necessarily be called colored.

    The Liquid Spark has a more spacious, layered sound and gives the midrange more room to breathe as it wishes. It’s a little more laid-back sounding. Again, not too unlike a good tube amp here. The Magni 3 retains a common characteristic I hear from many Schiit amps in that it’s rather forward sounding and a little two-dimensional at times.

    However, the Magni 3 does benefit from its forward nature in that it’s a more dynamic and engaging sounding amp. While I’m likely to give the nod to the Liquid Spark for micro-dynamics and nuances, the Magni 3 excels with a sense of muscle. That’s not to say the Liquid Spark isn’t dynamic. It drives the HD650 without making it sound lean or strained, so it has plenty of weight to throw around on its own.

    Interestingly enough, I find the Liquid Spark to have slightly cleaner, tighter sounding bass. It took me a while to get over the Magni 3 sounding more powerful in the low end, a main contributor to a sense of macro-dynamics, but inevitably the lower octaves on the Magni 3 started to sound a tiny bit rounded and bloomy in comparison. Still, both have that characteristically clean low-end as you’d hope to find in a good solid-state amp, so I’m splitting hairs here.

    Circling back to my comments on the midrange, that’s where I really found the Liquid Spark to do what it does best. The Magni 3’s midrange and treble response can at times sound a bit strained or have the slightest sheen to it, despite being an overall warmer and very agreeable sounding amp. This is the sort of quality you really only notice in direct comparisons, so it’s subtle. The Liquid Spark, on the other hand, has more of an organic ease to the sound, giving everything a natural tone, timbre, and plenty of space to ebb and flow naturally. It has a more natural sense of space, captures reverb a bit better, and sounds a little more graceful overall.

    It’s that quality, along with the spacious, airy nature of the Liquid Spark, which reminds me more of a good tube amp. The downside is one might find the midrange and treble to be a bit softer or bloomier sounding than they would like. Nonetheless, I found the amp to never lose details and nuances, as its overall resolution was quite good and at least as good, if not slightly better, than the Magni 3.

    If I had to nitpick in one other, related area, it’s that the Liquid Spark’s airy sort of nature can at time give the sense that its background isn’t as clear or black as it should be. The Magni 3 does well in this regard. Though it would up the cost dramatically, perhaps the Spark would benefit from a LPSU?

    Overall, the Magni 3’s characteristics are a little more brute-force-like. This plays into its strengths (power, macro-dynamics, engagement, clarity, sharpness) but also its weaknesses (a little too forward, slightly bloomy bass, slightly strained mids and treble in specific use cases).

    The Liquid Spark seems internally work with more ease and less intense focus. Again, its strengths are the tube-like midrange and treble performance, clean bass, spaciousness, nuance, and so on. But those wishing for an incredibly sharp and focused sounding amp may want to look elsewhere.

    Personally, I’m a little fonder of the Liquid Spark’s presentation. It strikes a really nice balance across the board to my ears. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s outright better than the Magni 3, because tastes will play a big role here. Simply put, they’re both excellent amps with an insanely low price point. I’m still amazed at the sound quality both amps offer given their price relative to common offerings from even a few years back. Take your pick, and either will suit you well!

    TL;DR

    - Comparing to Magni 3, since they basically occupy the exact same space in market (price, function, etc.).
    - Spark is a little more tube-like, with a more spacious, layered sound, liquid mids and treble, and a more graceful sound overall. Better micro-dynamics. But some may find its mids and treble just a hair too soft.
    - Magni 3 tends to brute-force the sound more, being more forward, aggressive, having greater macro-dynamics, but also has the benefits of sounding more focused, sharper, clearer, and having a blacker background. But it does sound a little strained compared to the Spark.
    - Both have similar overall tone, i.e. slightly warm, agreeable, but not too far off neutral.
    - Magni 3 may have slightly more rounded bass.
    - Both are a steal at $100. Just pick what suits your preferences best.
    - Spark may benefit from LPSU, but you’re looking at a significant price bump then.
     
    h2rulz, Torq, smallcaps and 22 others like this.
  2. Ice-man

    Ice-man Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2015
    Likes Received:
    2,282
    Dislikes Received:
    6
    Trophy Points:
    113
    @Hands did you have a chance to listen to the spark with iems. Just wondering if the spark could be a match for the Andromeda
     
    StrangeBrew likes this.
  3. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    6,597
    Dislikes Received:
    15
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Colorado
    Home Page:
    IEMs don't like me, and I don't like IEMs. I'm not going to do the community a disservice by trying to pretend otherwise. i.e. I'm not the best source to trust when it comes to anything remotely akin to reporting on IEMs. :)
     
    Kattefjaes, bengo, westermac and 3 others like this.
  4. Ice-man

    Ice-man Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2015
    Likes Received:
    2,282
    Dislikes Received:
    6
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Fair enough. Do you happen to have specs on the amp?
     
  5. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    6,597
    Dislikes Received:
    15
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Colorado
    Home Page:
    Copy/Pasta from the review over at Enjoy The Music:

    Type: Solid-state stereo headphone amplifier
    Rated Output: 1.35 Watts @ 50 Ohm
    Output Impedance: <0.1 Ohm
    THD+N:
    1VRMS (20mW) - 0.007% THD at 1kHz both channels.
    5VRMS (530mW) - 0.035% THD at 1kHz both channels
    Dimensions: 4.5" x 3.75" x 1.5" (WxDxH)
    Weight: 252 grams
    SMPS: 36V @ 1.5A
    Price: $99
     
  6. Ice-man

    Ice-man Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2015
    Likes Received:
    2,282
    Dislikes Received:
    6
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Thank you for this Output impedance looks fine for the Andromeda
     
  7. StrangeBrew

    StrangeBrew Rando

    Joined:
    May 4, 2018
    Likes Received:
    21
    Dislikes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    8
    Location:
    NH
    Thanks for the great review.

    " Spark is a little more tube-like, with a more spacious, layered sound, liquid mids and treble, and a more graceful sound overall. Better micro-dynamics"

    Sounds like I'll enjoy it a lot as I prefer these attributes.
     
  8. northernLights

    northernLights Rando

    Joined:
    May 8, 2018
    Likes Received:
    5
    Dislikes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location:
    US
    Would you say the Liquid Spark will go well with the HD 600 as it might take the edge off treble given its tuby nature? And Magni 3 will remain a better choice for the HD 650 given the 650's slightly subdued treble?
     
  9. westermac

    westermac Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2016
    Likes Received:
    874
    Dislikes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Milly-wau-kay
    This makes me excited. Magni 3 already has such enjoyable bass for a $99 amp.

    Very curious about this as well, and will find out for myself once the LS arrives. I've historically been more of an HD600 guy and love it on the MCTH, but the Magni 3 I've found too forward for the the (already forward) HD600, so my HD6XX has lived permanently tied to the Magni 3. If the LS plays nice with the HD600 then it's back to HD600 land for me! Such a beautiful, faux-marbled place.
     
  10. dBel84

    dBel84 Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    716
    Dislikes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    93
    I can assure you that the spark plays nicely with modded HD600..dB
     
  11. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    6,597
    Dislikes Received:
    15
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Colorado
    Home Page:
    Yeah, Spark should work well with HD600. Pairs well enough with HD650 too.
     
    Vordhosbn, cskippy and westermac like this.
  12. rtaylor76

    rtaylor76 Can't wipe his tag

    Friend
    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2015
    Likes Received:
    1,007
    Dislikes Received:
    34
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Nashville, TN
    This is good news.

    I found the Magi 3 probably more glaring than Hands. I found it had a synthetic sound I did not like and things did not sound natural. It had plenty of gain and excitement, but just overall artificial sounding.

    This seems like a good alternative for a small solution, but does not want to mess with tubes.
     
  13. StrangeBrew

    StrangeBrew Rando

    Joined:
    May 4, 2018
    Likes Received:
    21
    Dislikes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    8
    Location:
    NH
    I prefer HD600 also but with Valhalla 2, HD6xx is not what I reach for usually. Hopefully Spark plus HD6xx will become the bedroom setup.
     
  14. Ice-man

    Ice-man Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2015
    Likes Received:
    2,282
    Dislikes Received:
    6
    Trophy Points:
    113
    @Hands at your leisure...how do you compare the Spark against Vali 2?
     
  15. roscoeiii

    roscoeiii Acquaintance

    Contributor
    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2016
    Likes Received:
    50
    Dislikes Received:
    8
    Trophy Points:
    18
    I'd disagree. Based on the thread here and elsewhere the sweet spot for Andros is 1 to 2 ohms. Lower than that is to bass heavy. Above that too much treble. I'd get an IEMatch if you want Andros with Spark. Unless you prefer your Andros bassy.
     
  16. jexby

    jexby Loves propane and propane accessories

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2015
    Likes Received:
    2,814
    Dislikes Received:
    7
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    CO
    ^This

    IEMatch is a must have accessory for Andro quality, and (amp) flexibility.
     
  17. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    6,597
    Dislikes Received:
    15
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Colorado
    Home Page:
    Oh, yes, then this will probably do the trick for you.

    Well, I don't have a Vali 2 to compare it with. But if memory serves me right, Vali 2 is more tubey and more spacious, but Spark might have better low-end extension and overall cleanliness due to being full solid-state. Just a guess.
     
    StrangeBrew and rtaylor76 like this.
  18. Type35

    Type35 Rando

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2015
    Likes Received:
    6
    Dislikes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    3
    It's great to see a good Cavalli amp for smaller budgets.
    Did you have a chance to compare the Liquid Spark with the Massdrop Cavalli designs: Tube Hybrid and Liquid Carbon X?
     
    StrangeBrew likes this.
  19. Ice-man

    Ice-man Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2015
    Likes Received:
    2,282
    Dislikes Received:
    6
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Modi 3 and spark could be a very nice budget or work stack
     
    StrangeBrew and Type35 like this.
  20. smallcaps

    smallcaps Rando

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2018
    Likes Received:
    6
    Dislikes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location:
    Singapore

Share This Page