Brandi Carlile’s "Looking Out" [The Story, Columbia] has an opening acoustic guitar that sounded very well balanced. This track exhibits a tearing sound in the high frequencies that the Cavalli rendered clearly and cleanly, and without becoming upset. Again, instrumental separation was excellent.
As always, I start with the standard caveat that value is a function of your budget and your needs. Speaking outside that context, we can use the “show me better for less” test. On that basis, I think the Cavalli Liquid Fire fares quite well. You will have a hard time finding an amp that offers a more balanced set of sonic characteristics for less, and I would go so far as to say that you will likely have a hard time matching the Liquid Fire, even if you’re willing to spend more.
You can, of course, find an amp that costs less. At that point, determining whether the Liquid Fire is "worth it" is a matter of weighing the value of the sonic subtleties that are the hallmark of this design.
Consider this headphone amp if: you want an amp that avoids distortions and artifacts across the entire frequency spectrum, sounding natural with a wide variety of headphones.
Look elsewhere if: you’re looking for an amp to correct a particular deficiency of your headphones, or one which has a sonic character that pleases you, albeit without being particularly accurate. The Cavalli is committed to sonic neutrality on a 24/7 basis.
Ratings (compared to similarly-priced headphone amps)
The Cavalli Liquid Fire offers state-of-the-art performance as judged against the key parameters we find most important for headphone amps. It hews toward naturalness rather than offering (or imposing) dramatically shaded colorations.
Cavalli Liquid Fire Hybrid Headphone Amplifier
Circuit Concept: 6922tube voltage gain, Transistor/MOSFET power output
Input: unbalanced RCA connectors
Headphone outputs: 2 X 1/4" unbalanced (second output offers choice of impedance)
Dimensions (H x W x D): 14” x 10" x 3.5"
Power Output: 4W into 32 Ohms/650 mW into 300 Ohms
Weight: 8 lbs.
Power: 120V/240V, 60Hz/50Hz
Warranty: Two years, parts and labor; 90 days on tubes
Price: $2750 as tested (introductory price for initial production run, which has recently sold out), $3250 for subsequent production runs.