Austin, TX-based Cavalli Audio, which has earned a reputation as a manufacturer of world-class headphone amplifiers, had two key products on display at the meet. The first was Cavalli’s Liquid Glass hybrid vacuum tube/solid-state headphone amp ($3500) which specifically targets enthusiasts who want a ultra high-performance amp that support (and indeed embraces) the concept of “tube rolling.” Accordingly, the Liquid Glass incorporates a tube-powered front end, complete with user adjustable settings for tube heater voltage and tube bias voltage, and included dual sets of octal (8-pin) and nonal (9-pin) tube sockets. Backing up the tube section is an ultra easy-to-drive, low-noise, and low-distortion solid-state output stage. According to designer Dr. Alex Cavalli, the amp makes it extremely easy to hear subtle, low-level distinctions between one tube-type and another.
Also debuting at the Austin meet was Cavalli’s brand new Liquid Lightning II solid-state electrostatic headphone amp ($4850), which is geared as an ideal companion amplifier for the incredibly good Stax SR-009 electrostatic headphone ($5250). Based on a brief listen, we would say the Liquid Lightning II takes audible steps forward vis-à-vis the already superb Liquid Lightning.
Charlottesville, VA-based Head Amp is perhaps best known for its terrific Blue Hawaii SE hybrid tube/solid-state electrostatic headphone amplifier and for its exquisitely made Pico-series portable amps and DACs (seriously, you’ve really got to see and hold the Picos in your hand to fully appreciate the workmanship involved).
But for the Austin meet Head Amp was proudly showing its new two-chassis GS-X Mk2 solid-state, balanced-output headphone amplifier ($2495). The GS-X Mk2 was very favorably received by listeners at the meet, some of whom noted that the amp captured more than a little of the flavour and feel of the firm’s Blue Hawaii SE electrostatic amp, but in an amp designed for conventional rather than electrostatic ‘phones.
Lake Oswego, OR-based Jena Labs was showing a small portion of its product line in cooperation with Cavalli Audio, demonstrating the firm’s Symphony interconnect (starting at $800), Ferrite Low-Noise Power Cord (starting at $500), and 822 Headphone Cable (~$800 with connectors configured for Audeze planar magnetic ‘phones).
Jena cables leverage considerable know-how drawn from the founders’ extensive work in the aerospace industry and upon their deep knowledge of cryogenic processing techniques said to go far beyond most cryo-processing efforts used in the audio industry. The result is a cable that exhibits a high degree of purity and transparency, but that is also quite free of edginess and glare—a highly desirable combination for high performance headphone applications.
Austin, TX-based Leckerton Audio specializes in the “design of audiophile-quality portable headphone amplifiers,” and though Leckerton was not directly exhibiting at the meet it was ably represented by a local headphone specialty retailer named Nice Cans.
On demonstration was the versatile little Leckerton UHA-6S.Mk2 ($279), which incorporates a 16-bit/48kHz USB streaming input, a 24-bit/96kHz S/PDIF input (with both optical and coaxial jacks), and a high quality headphone amp. Our thought: this ruggedly made little component serves up an awful lot of functionality for the money.