By Dan Browdy
Cavalli Audio is one of the premier manufacturers of headphone amplifiers. The Liquid Gold is arguably one of the best solid state headphone amplifiers money can buy. If you prefer to roll tubes, or use an electrostatic headphone, Cavalli offers amps for that too.
But that legendary Cavalli quality and sound comes at a price and it’s one that many of us can’t afford. In an attempt to remedy that, Cavalli Audio announced two new amplifiers earlier this year in a more attainable price bracket – the Liquid Carbon and the yet-to-be-named new portable amp.
The petite Liquid Carbon was designed using tech from the Liquid Gold and Liquid Crimson and the family resemblance is easy to hear. It sounds fantastic, with a very transparent tonality and soundstage. It’s fully balanced with all discrete circuitry, putting out over 2.5W per channel into 32 ohms. It has enough power to drive anything but the most difficult headphones well. If all that isn’t enough, this amp is very small and light for a desktop amp. It’s being called transportable and I think that’s an apt description. It takes up very little space, so it’s great for those who don’t have the surface area for something bigger. As a thank you to the community that supported them over the years, Cavalli Audio is offering the initial run of 500 units for only $599 each. The price on subsequent production runs will be higher. These are expected to ship in November and there are still some pre-order spots left.
The new portable amp was also available to demo. This amp has been shown previously in a very early form but this was the first time the final prototype was on display. It shares the Cavalli aesthetic both visually and audibly. Visually, it shares the same flat black aesthetic as the bigger amps, as well as thoughtful design touches like the groove running down the sides so it’s easier to pick up and hold. While this is slightly bigger than the average portable amplifier, there are plenty that are even bigger. The good thing about the size is that it allows a beefy battery; during testing, the amp drove an HD800 for 15 hours in a single charge. It has the ability to be charged from a “wall wart” or a USB cable in a pinch.
Dr. Cavalli told me that he had planned to build a portable amp years ago but the project fell through for various reasons out of his control. When it came time to try his hand at it again, he had a stroke of inspiration that led to the current design. Designed with technology used in the Liquid Glass, the new portable sounds astonishingly good for something so small. It uses all discrete circuitry in a single-ended topology to output 360mW per channel into 50 ohms. Somehow, it drove everything from the HD800 to the HE-1000 with authority. Getting all that power with the Cavalli sound into a portable package is truly inspired.
Cavalli Audio will be holding an independently-judged naming contest in the coming months, so keep an eye out for that. If you’re not lucky enough to win a unit, preorders are expected to open on the first of January. The pricing hasn’t been finalized yet, but it will be less than $700.