Cavalli Audio Liquid Gold Headphone Amplifier

State of the Art

Equipment report
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Headphone amps and amp/DACs
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Cavalli Audio Liquid Gold
Cavalli Audio Liquid Gold Headphone Amplifier

What do you hear with the Liquid Gold headphone amplifier in play? The first impression is one of tapping into greatly expanded reservoirs of musical information. Timbres, textures, and transient sounds immediately become vivid, pure, articulate, and appropriately rich in tonal colors, conveying an overarching impression of musical “completeness.” For a beautiful example of this, listen carefully to Anne Bisson’s vocal performance on her cover of Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them” from Portraits and Perfumes [Camillio Records] through the Liquid Gold/Abyss combination. You can hear, for instance, how Bisson uses extremely subtle inflections and subliminal touches of vibrato to underscore the dark, brooding emotions inherent in Pink Floyd’s lyrics, as in the line, “Forward, he cried from the rear, and the front rank...died.”

Similarly, you can hear Bisson leveraging the seeming lightness and breathiness of her voice to deftly underscore the darkest bits of Pink Floyd’s sardonic black humor, as in the line, “Listen, son, said the man with the gun, there’s room for you inside.”

The Liquid Gold is exceptionally good at capturing these sorts of light vs. dark or hard vs. soft points of juxtaposition and contrast in music, in the process adding not just sonic but also emotional depth to nearly every playback session. While many good headphone amps show you the general outlines of the music and give some sense of the various music-making techniques at play, the Liquid Gold goes deep and lets you hear the music from the inside out—enabling you to judge and weigh each passage as if from a veteran musician’s expert point of view.

Similarly, note how the Liquid Gold captures not only the performance details from well-made live recordings, but also the reverberant and acoustic qualities of recording venues, conveying an eerily realistic sense of place. A good example would be the ultra-funky percussion track “Stank” from Jamey Haddad, Mark Sherman, and Lenny White’s Explorations in Time and Space [Chesky, Binaural+ CD], which was recorded in a pleasantly reverberant performance-space that has served double-duty as a church sanctuary.

Part of what makes Explorations tick is the fact that you have three masterful percussionists performing together on a wide array of instruments that are spread across the stage in the sanctuary. In a very real sense, the sound of the instruments becomes inherently interwoven with the sound of the room— almost as if the room were a fourth performer in the ensemble. The Cavalli amp makes this fact abundantly clear, rendering the track with a rare combination of raw power and delicate finesse, so that through top-tier headphones (again, the Abyss and others) “Stank” becomes a truly immersive listening experience. You hear the sound of instruments being thwacked with great force, or tapped with the lightest of touches, and everything in between these extremes, all the while savoring the way the sounds merge and seemingly multiply as they interact with the walls, ceiling, and floors of the space.

Just how vivid and intense is this sort of experience? Allow me to supply just one illustration. I played “Stank” for a non-audiophile office mate through the Liquid Gold and Abyss headphones, and as the track unfolded his eyes grew progressively wider. When the track was finished the listener was visibly moved by what he had just heard. He slowly lifted the ‘phones from his head, swallowed hard, and then softly said, “I really had no idea you could capture such an experience in a headphone system—or really in any kind of hi-fi system. That might be one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard.” Moments like these are precisely what make the pursuit of top-tier headphones and the state-of-the-art electronics necessary to drive them worth the effort and expense.

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