In previous reviews from our sister magazine Playback, Cavalli Audio headphone amplifiers have essentially gone two for two in terms of earning approbation as true state-of-the-art products. First came Cavalli’s Liquid Fire hybrid headphone amplifier ($3250) and next came Cavalli’s Liquid Lightning solid-state electrostatic headphone amp ($4250), both terrific products that offer enviable openness, transparency and sonic neutrality. For RMAF, however, Cavalli introduced a conceptually different high-end amplifier: the Liquid Glass hybrid tube/solid-state headphone amp/preamp ($3750) created by and for serious “tube rollers.”
For those not familiar with the term, “tube rollers” are audio enthusiasts who love fine tube-powered designs, but who specifically delight in substituting various types (and brands) of vacuum tubes in their amps to see what the effects on sound quality might be (and yes, those effects are plainly audible). With the Liquid Glass, Dr. Cavalli has created one of the most versatile tube rolling headphone amps to date. Thus, the Liquid Glass features both octal (8-pin) and noval (9-pin) tube sockets, user selectable 6V and 12V tube plate voltage settings, and auto biasing, meaning the amp can be used with a remarkable variety of tubes. Cavalli had a good selection of tubes on hand and deliberately demonstrated the amp with multiple tube types—showing how different tube selections managed to draw out subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) different characteristics in the music. The amp is so transparent that it really lets you hear exactly what each type of tube has to offer, which is precisely why Cavalli created it.
CEntrance has shown us some very impressive personal audio products in the past, including the portable DACport Mini and the desktop DACmini CX and DACmini CX, but for RMAF 2012 the firm rolled out what is surely its most ambitious portable product to date: the new HiFi-M8 single ended/balanced output headphone amp and iDevice-compatible/general purpose, high-resolution DAC ($699). In simple terms, the HiFi-M8 appears poised to become one of the (if not the) most versatile and full-featured portable amp/DAC on the planet.
Where to begin? Let’s start with inputs: the HiFi-M8 provides two USB-type digital audio input jacks—one specifically for use with the iDevices and the other for use with Macs or PCs. The DAC section supports data rates to 24/192 resolution and claims “unmeasurable” jitter of <10 ppm. Next, let’s look at outputs: the HiFi-M8 provides full-sized single-ended (1/4-inch phone jack) and balanced (multi-pin XLR) outputs, meaning the headphone amp section can be used with most any earphone, custom-fit in-ear monitor, or full-size headphone on the market (including those that flat out demand to be driven by balanced output amps). The headphone amp is a pure Class A design with no capacitors in the signal path. Third, let’s consider user controls: the HiFi-M8 provides controls to support selection of three levels of output impedance, three levels of headphone gain, three possible bass shaping curves (including a neutral setting), three possible treble shaping curves (including a neutral setting), plus a power supply selector that allows the amp/DAC to be driven either by its on-board battery or by its (included) wall-wart-type power supply. What is more, it is possible to re-charge an attached Apple iDevice through the HiFi-M8 whenever its power adapter in engaged.
At this stage, CEntrance is still working to settle on final options for I/O jack configurations for the HiFi-M8. Several variations are possible, such as one balanced stereo output with separate left/right 3-pin XLR jacks, plus dual single-ended stereo outputs via a pair of ¼-inch phone jacks —the configuration shown at RMAF. But another, simpler alternative may be to have a single balanced output via a 4-pin XLR jack plus a single unbalanced output via a ¼-inch phone jack. In any event, we can’t wait to hear this product in action.