Liquid Gold X Balanced Headphone Amplifier from Monoprice by Alex Cavalli

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by jexby, Sep 10, 2019.

  1. Pancakes

    Pancakes Friend

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    That's weird and I wish it wasn't the case because I love everything else about it. I have no idea what the issue is. It was consistent with 3 different DACs (I tried Bifrost MB shortly along with Yggdrasil and onboard DAC) and three different headphones. The only thing I can think of but seems like a real stretch is that my mains are pretty hot at ~126VAC so maybe the PSU is not perfectly happy.
     
  2. Jerseysam

    Jerseysam Rando

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    Great review Pancakes! I agree with a lot of your impressions...minus your findings on bass (seems decently stout to my ears). I find this amp to be an outstanding value at $600 (thanks again for the heads up in this thread RD). There's a richness of tone, clarity/detail retrieval, depth-of-stage that's pretty killer for sub $1K SS...let alone the $600 I paid. However...

    If I had to compare to amps I'm familiar with....the LauX is a bit like 70% HPA-1 and 30% LP G111. It easily bests the G111...it's moved the amp to my Dayton office and taken it's spot in my home office. But while it handily aces tonality, stage (more coherent), detail, etc. to the G111...and trades blows closely with HPA-1 in those categories....it still (to my ears) rolls off the highs and lows. I like how the LauX handles some of the bass/lower-mid elements compared to the HPA-1...there's a 'richer' sound there. To me though...full stop...the LauX is a 'polite' amp. For me it's a genre-specific amp.....specially outside the heavy metal/EDM/whatever-slamin' range. That's not to damn the amp with faint praise....Stephan Micus coming out of the DAC 2541 -> LauX -LCD-X, I like how it handles it's business more than the HPA-1. My 2541 "cluster" is aimed towards Jazz, acoustic, classical, prog, etc....and the LauX is fantastic there. Move into music that thrives more on transients/energy at the ends of spectrum.....no. I find something like the Flux Labs FA-22 superior for that duty in a similar price bracket.
     
  3. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    probably just different preferences or whatever. Yours are totally valid and I’m glad you shared and were honest. Honest impressions are important and I have a lot of respect for that.
     
  4. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    I just had to quote my own post because that typo is too special. :p
     
  5. Pancakes

    Pancakes Friend

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    Yup, as I mentioned in the end, probably the Cavalli sound in general just isn't for me. I keep the LP in large part due to the fact that I bought it during the "Somebody Was Smoking Crack" 1 hour sale for $293 and I don't see a better amp at that price.
     
  6. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    So there is something to be figured out about the Liquid Gold X. I had a mini meet with @loadexfa and @CEE TEE last weekend and we found some very interesting things about the LauX. They had previously had the amp in their home and were not impressed with it with their electrodynamics or HE6. But when they came over, and heard it with my modded Audeze's they thought it sounded amazing. It had none of the downsides they heard with their headphones.

    I'm guessing this is a current/voltage thing, and the LAuX synergies really well with Audeze headphones but I'm not sure. But I think this probably explains why there are differing impressions. It's the best amp I've ever heard with Audeze headphones, but apparently with other headphones it doesn't do so well.

    I highly recommend anyone who owns Audeze headphones to try this amp out on the loner tour, you won't regret it.

    But I don't know exactly what is going on here, it's something that would be nice to verify with more impressions with different headphones and maybe measurements. Can you chime in here @atomicbob ? Do your measurements indicate anything that would explain why the LauX would sound so good with Audeze's (or efficient orthos) but not so great with electromagnetics?

    Maybe @loadexfa and @CEE TEE can chime in with their experiences.

    I do hope some Audeze fans/owners will sign up for the loaner. It's such a great pairing.
     
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    Last edited: Nov 5, 2021
  7. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    Synergy? Perhaps the combination of your source, the amp, Audeze's voicing and good efficiency / low impedance.
     
  8. loadexfa

    loadexfa Friend

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    TLDR; Update to my review, the LauX is fantastic with the LCD-X and LCD-4 and I'd imagine other Audeze headphones as well. If you own (or are interested in) Audeze, I recommend trying the LauX.

    Going off of memory (I didn't take notes), I was really surprised at how good both the LCD-X and LCD-4 sounded with the LauX. Months before I tried a stock LCD-X on various amps I had at the time and didn't like it. The LCD-X (modded by RD) with the LauX was good and the mids/vocals were spectacular. I remember female vocals being especially euphoric.

    The LCD-4 (also RD modded) was really good and I liked them better overall. The voices were a bit recessed but RD said he has fixed this in recent updates. Everything sounded very clean, detailed, smooth, and for a lack of a better word, right. It's similar to how I describe good headphone synergy with the Stratus vs other amps. It does something very right in the presentation and I had a similar experience with LauX + LCD-4. I liked them enough to purchase the LCD-4 + RD modding fee. Most likely I'll need the LauX again since this synergy is spectacular but I'll try the MJ1 + LCD-4 first to be sure.

    When I tried the LauX a month ago with my chain, I found it had some etch, possibly in the upper mids which was too much for me. I tried with various headphones and my chain was Pi2AES->Pavane->Freya S (passive) so I doubt that was the issue. RD's chain was Pi2AES -> Yggdrasil A2.

    Fun side note: during the meet, RD tried and enjoyed Pi2AES->SFD-MKII -> Stratus -> Clear. I doubt he'll ever publicly admit to liking a Focal. :p
     
  9. atomicbob

    atomicbob dScope Yoda

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    Two notable measurement differences between LAuX and most other amps are very low output impedance, < 0.2 Ω and exceptionally high bandwidth, DC to >515 KHz. Additionally the LAuX has zero ringing on the squarewave response where most other headamps have at least one cycle of a small overshoot. Audeze are typically around 20 Ω nominal impedance which is a ratio of approximately 100 in impedance difference. Sennheiser headphones seem to synergize well with headamps having 4 to 120 Ω output impedance.
     
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  10. CEE TEE

    CEE TEE MOT: NITSCH

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    Yes, chiming in as well...with my Sennheisers- the LAuX has light bass. Controlled, extended, but light bass. That output impedance interaction makes a difference. I was pretty shocked at how full, rich, and great the bass was with Audeze LCD-4 modded by @rhythmdevils . Definitely recommend that planar heads try the LAuX and if you mostly have dynamics, pull out a planar if you have one to try!
     
  11. mk801

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    I concur with their opinions regarding the LauX + HE-6 synergy, or rather lack thereof. My HE-6 (4S) sounds considerably thinner (e.g., The Smashing Pumpkins "Adore") when driven from the LAuX compared to a speaker amp like my Bryston 3B-ST. Weird that an early reviewer of the LAuX (preproduction and probably the only review of the LAuX for the longest time) was raving how well his HE-6 sounded on it. Still, I do enjoy the LAuX with my HEKv1, Arya v2, LCD-2 (r1 and r2 prefazors), and LCD-3 prefazor.

    Just my 2c.
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2021
  12. Pancakes

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    Curious to hear others' experiences with planars. LAuX was as meh with Diana V2 as it was with HD600.
     
  13. Ksorota

    Ksorota Friend

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    Currently using the loaner unit and I wanted to check if others experience this quirk of sorts.

    At times I am listening to the LGx and its highly engaging and energetic and other times I am left wanting and sonics drop off.

    Spending time tonight I noticed that right around 10:30 on the volume dial there is a transition point where the amp comes to life. Under about 10:30 the sonics have a bit of a blanket thrown on top of them, above 10:30 and macro-dynamics start to really show. Bass gets boosted, mids come forward and treble gains some sparkle.

    This is all while listening to Genesis G phones. Once above 10:30, the LGx rocks!

    More to come, but interested in hearing others experience with the volume dial position.

    p.s. this amp has much better low level channel matching than any LP I have heard, and its been many.
     
  14. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    I haven't experienced this at all using Audeze headphones. There is a sudden surge in volume in the pot at a certain point, and with the very sensitive LCD-X I have to adjust it iike I'm using iems at this spot. I wonder if this is the same place you are experiencing this.

    The varying impressions of this amp are so baffling.
     
  15. Pharmaboy

    Pharmaboy Friend

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    "The varying impressions of this amp are so baffling."

    Indeed they are. I have a new LGX, fully burned in by now (~175 hrs). Last week I listened to it with a high resolution planar I'm very fond of, the Final D8000 (with the Pro's "G" class pads & balanced ForzaAudioWorks Noir HPC MK2 cabling). Due to migraine I couldn't listen very long, but what I heard, I liked a great deal. My main impression was that the D8000 was giving me unusually beautiful sound. I didn't focus on segmenting the bass vs mids vs treble--just listened to a range of music, including some classical.

    "Beautiful" has real meaning for me with this particular headphone, which has such high resolution that it tends to exactly mirror the sound of the gear chain ahead of it. This isn't a headphone that, by itself, brings "beauty" to every chain, though it does have a touch of warmth and a pleasing, organic texture to the sound.

    I'll likely do more listening tonight. I have one other planar, the ZMF Ori, which does bring beauty to every chain, also stupendous bass. That matchup should be interesting. If there's time, I'll move over to another high resolution headphone that brings slight warmth and a cantabile tone with it--the ZMF Verite Open (lovely sounding headphone).

    So between 2 planars and a 300 ohm dynamic, I expect to have a fuller picture of the LGX pretty soon.
     
  16. Ksorota

    Ksorota Friend

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    That is the location I am talking about. That sudden ramp up not only makes the music louder, but also gives a higher level of macro, and sig. boosts the mid range. Up to that point I get more of a sense of dullness. I swear, crossing that point seems like hitting the gain switch, its that dramatic a change.
     
  17. Pancakes

    Pancakes Friend

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    Maybe that's why I never heard any macro...in the quest for macro I was always in high gain so maybe I never got high enough on the pot to reach magic threshold.
     
  18. ergopower

    ergopower Friend

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    I bought one after the RD review. I wasn't as analytical/observant as you guys, but my first listen w/HD6XX after break-in was on high gain; nice, but didn't really think much of a step up from Gilmore Lite Mk2. Switched to low gain and it sounded livelier and overall betterer. So pot position could indeed play into performance. Still doing some comparison to the Gilmore and a Valhalla 2, but thinking it's better than either. Quite neutral but pretty engaging.
     
  19. Ksorota

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    Liquid Gold X


    Big thank you to the Loaner Team of Monoprice, @rhythmdevils and @CEE TEE for setting this up and allowing me to participate.

    I was very interested in trying out the LAuX for a number of reasons, but also had some reservations based on my experience with the LP. But it was getting some strong positive reviews and, well this is the point of loaners, try before you buy! My only disappointment in testing the LAuX is that I did not have a set of planars on hand to try out (round two should fix that though)

    I am going to start this review with my conclusion.

    The Monoprice Liquid Gold X is a good amp and one that I would happily own in a second setup or as my SS option. For now though, it will not replace my Quicksilver!

    Note: I have gone back and forth in regards to the loving and hating tube amps and had considered myself on team SS for a long time. I was convinced to change my ways in part by @Erroneous who recommended the Quicksilver HPA (my current only amp at home)

    So TL/DR I liked it a lot with a few quirks!

    Aesthetics

    I have owned the LP a few times and although it looks better in person, I never liked the form factor and overall finish. The LAuX shares most of the same build, with the same quality and interesting form. I think it looks better than the LP, probably because it lacks the holes for the tubes and thus has a cleaner look.

    The front interface with the button selectors and indicator lights is not my favorite look/feel. I am not sure how to improve the overall look, but the single letter abbreviations for DAC and I/O are not the most intuitive and clutter up the front.

    As with the LP, I am not a fan of the inset volume knob, but that is a personal thing

    Sound

    I had a hard time sorting through the sound of this amp as it was waffling between sleepy and boring and dynamic and exciting. Listening to Soul Sessions I kept writing notes that contradicted the previous track from forward to sleepy. The reason for this indecisiveness was that the dynamics most certainly changed depending on the position of the volume dial. After a point, about 10:00, the amp seemed to open up. Not only did it get louder, but the dynamic swings became greater and overall engagement was increased.

    Above that magic volume level, the amp is very satisfying. All notes are from the volume level being “in the Zone”.

    Rich and detailed with smooth highs and nice full low end oomph. The overall signature seems fairly neutral, not over emphasizing anything compared to the QS...actually the two were very close to one another. The QS does dig a little deeper into the low end, and has better layering, but as a companion amp it is almost too similar. If I were to want to drop out of tubes again, I would very seriously consider the LAuX.

    The LAuX has great separation and imaging and can resolve the micro details well. My last SS amp was the Ragnarok 1.5 and Mj1 before that. Both of those amps almost forced you to pay attention, but not in a harsh way...more of an extroverts way of controlling an audience. While the LAuX is every bit as detailed as those other two amps, the presentation is less forced/extroverted and more subtle. I found it equally enjoyable during background listening as I did during more focused listening.


    Listening Notes:
    Some of my impressions that were written in my listening notes are:
    • Silky,
    • vocals forward,
    • Blackground dark
    • tighter than QS
    • Play loud
    • Clean
    Test Track scribblings:

    We are Leaving by The Naked and the Famous
    Not as extended in the lows as the QS, but very clean and good percussive instrument textures. Vocals are just perfect tone and richness, smooth.

    Driving by Hans Zimmer, Live in Prague
    Good separation of instruments, crowd noises are clear, good bass presence, excellent sparkle in the upper mids and mids pushed forward. All the micro details are accounted for, satisfying energy and toe tapping performance.

    Fell in Love with a Boy - Soul Sessions
    Lively, engaging and vocal presence are excellent. Next track please!

    Too Much to Think by 311
    Cymbals and tambourine sounds fall a bit short, sharp...to clean, Amp is concise with high frequency. The QS expands the stage beyond what the LAuX can and brings you closer to the band. Floor position, fun.

    Dislikes
    • The volume control is not linear, and its a bit sleepy sounding under the ramp up threshold at around 10:30.
    • The DC spike when changing gain level seems like a misstep. I just left the amp on Low gain for all my listening. Mostly to avoid the sharp snap when switching gain, but also to get the volume knob position up.
    • Front plate a bit cluttered looking
    • Volume knob is a bit small
    Likes
    • Versatile amp with black background and plenty of power for everything i tried (genesis G, ESX 900, Utopia, HD800)
    • Sonically very pleasing, rich tone, smooth and a bit warm of neutral, but linear across the FR
    • Easily an amp I could imagine keeping for a SS setup
    • Amp looks and feels better in person than in photos
    My setup is Mac Mini > Apply Music > Spring 2 KTE > MP LAuX > Genesis G/HD800
    My reference amp is a Quicksilver Audio HPA

    Thanks again
     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2021
  20. Pharmaboy

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    I've done more listening to my LGX in recent weeks. I started out with the ZMF Ori because it's a power hog planar, one that tests low- and medium-power amps. Not surprisingly, the LGX lit it up. I love the sound of this headphone, particularly its impressive bass register (classic pressurized planar bass in spades). The LGX drove it as well as any amp I've heard, including my V281 (my best SS amp, also a system preamp).

    The voicing of the LGX is quite pleasing. It's slightly warm, does bass extremely well, is very dynamic, has a wide and detailed midrange, and a merciful upper register that's detailed but never bright. The upper mids have a nice little bite when the music calls for that--nothing close to SS brightness, just a little flame underneath certain notes in that area. In direct comparison to the Liquid Carbon v2 last week, I heard subtle but distinct improvements in everything the LC does well--a very good thing for me, as I love the sound of the LC. The LGX and LC are sonic brothers, but the LGX is the bigger brother; it really can thump.

    Things got even more interesting with my other planar, the revealing but also very musical Final D8000. I heard the best sound yet from this beguiling headphone on the LGX, better even than the V281 (I can't remember a time any amp bested the V281 IMS). The sound via the the LGX was downright beautiful--a ravishing, singing tone on classical music. Of course, that's partly due to the D8000. But it tells me the LGX is one of those amps that holds something special in reserve--revealing it if you match the impedance and power just so.

    The one criticism I can make is a significant one--that sudden change in sound quality at ~10AM on the volume pot is totally real. For any headphones whose sensitivity + impedance land their critical volume ranges on or near that spot, the sound can be quite variable--quieter below 10AM, then suddenly too loud but also more dynamic and authoritative above that point. For an amp with this quality and refinement of sound, that volume pot thing is a barrier: I can work around it by careful selection of headphones, but it's a barrier nonetheless.

    If I knew how, I'd either change the volume pot or pad this one down with resistors to push the effective volume play to between ~10:30AM to ~12. That would work for me all day long...
     

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