Cavalli Audio is a well-respected producer of DIY headphone amplifier designs. As is often the case, these designs are the product of a particular and dedicated person, in this case Dr. Alex Cavalli. Cavalli has decided to move beyond the DIY market with the introduction of the Liquid Fire amplifier, which a fully finished (not kit-built) high-end amp available directly from Cavalli or from certain dealers.
The Cavalli Liquid Fire is a hybrid headphone amp, meaning that it uses a combination of tube- and solid-state-powered output circuitry. While hybrid circuits are not new, there are several aspects of the Liquid Fire design that are distinctive, as we have reported previously:
In a move that I consider near-genius, Cavalli offers the amp with two headphone jacks, one providing 1/4 ohm output impedance and the other sporting your choice of 1/4, 50 or 100 ohm output impedance.
The amp strives to provide a best-of-two-world’s design, combining the transparency, harmonic richness, and sonic liquidity of great tube circuits with the cleanliness, precision, and control of great solid-state circuits.
The design reflects this approach. Some tube amps cultivate a deliberately retro, son-of-1950’s-vintage-McIntosh-amps vibe, but the Cavalli Liquid Fire sports a distinctly modern design. The moderately sized amp is housed in a matte black enclosure that sports two front panel tube viewing windows, upon which is imprinted Cavalli’s signature “yin/yang” logo. If you look closely, one side of the yin/yang panel features the schematic symbol for a vacuum tube, while the other features the symbol for a transistor. The Yin/Yang theme is repeated in the top cover ventilation scheme.
Balancing all those goals is a tall order, though Chris Martens’ First Listen article suggested good things ahead. In any event, I was anxious to see how well Cavalli succeeded.
The Liquid Fire is one of those extremely good amps that is hard to review because it really doesn’t contribute any obvious or readily identifiable sonic “flavorings” to the music at all, which is a good thing. If you think about it, you’ll realize that in some sense the perfect amplifier would have no sound of its own—it would simply get out of the way and let the music through. The Cavalli more closely fits that ideal no-sound-of-its-own paradigm than other amplifiers I have reviewed, though the Woo WA22 has a similar “issue” (i.e., offers similar sonic neutrality).
Still, it isn’t very interesting or helpful to just stop the review here, leaving the reader with the obvious implication to run out and buy this amp. Anyway, the Cavalli doesn’t sound like the Woo, so obviously there is something more to say. And, despite its sonic righteousness, I don’t think the Liquid Fire is the amp for everyone. More on that anon.