Liquid Spark vs Monolith THX 887

I’m thinking of upgrading from my Liquid Spark to THX 887. Anyone have experiences using both and if the sound performance is worth the extra $$? It will be paired with an Audeze LCD-X + Topping E30 DAC.


You’ll find a lot of backlash against the THX amps on this forum, so will get a lot of “no” I expect.

I don’t agree with the backlash necessarily but probably end up agreeing with the “no”. Unless you’re experiencing ground loops and want the “balanced” (in quotes) connection, or unless you have headphones that need more power than the Liquid Spark provides, and you run those balanced, the Liquid Spark will sound as good and provides more power (I believe) than the THX887 does single-ended.

That said, I don’t know the power requirements of the LCD-X offhand; and in terms of bang for buck , you can get more powerful single-ended amps cheaper than the THX887.

On the other hand, if you want the versatility of running headphones out of both single ended and xlr jacks, if you have or expect to get headphones that will require or benefit from running balanced, and if you will get a DAC that you can connect balanced , in think the 887 is a good choice. (And here’s where others will disagree most with me, I expect!).

Especially given your DAC and its lack of a balanced connection, I’d still land mostly on “no” . Full disclosure - I have both the Liquid Spark and the Monolith 887.

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Like previously stated most including me aren’t big fans of the thx amps in this forum… Thx amps lend themselves to being neutral bright amps. The liquid spark is a warm smooth amp so there is a difference in the inherent sound signatures right away. With thx amps you contain more features like balanced but in general there are other alternatives that will do just that but better

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@wagstaff is on point when he says the Monolith 887 will not be an upgrade from the Liquid Spark via single ended performance. I also say it’s arguably not a meaningful upgrade even via balanced, but I am one of those THX naysayers :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:. For about half the cost of the 887 there is the Schiit Asgard 3. It will handle pretty much any headphone you throw at it reasonably well and give you better spatial re-creation than the Spark. At the price point of the 887 options include the RebelAmp, Lake People G111, Rupert Neve RNHP, and Schiit Lyr 3 if you are interested in a hint of tube flavor. Disclaimer: I have not heard those 4 amps personally and know of them only by descriptions from other listeners I trust. The RNHP can struggle with some planars because it’s not the most powerful amp in that quartet. However, IIRC @DagoRed, @ValentineLuke, and @M0N have heard the RNHP + LCD-X combo and have good things to say about it. That’s from memory though so I tagged them so they jump in and either confirm or correct my memory.

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I was going to rush in and suggest the Liquid Platinum since you like the Cavalli sound. But of course the DAC precludes that. I had a THX amp (SP200) and I was very disappointed.

Although I haven’t heard it, the Asgard 3 seems to be a really solid SE amp, with tons of power and a GREAT price.

As a huge Violectric amp fan, I would think that Lake People amp is worth looking at too.

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The Liquid Plat isn’t completely out of the question. It will accept a SE signal from a DAC and perform pretty close to its max performance. The big no-no with the LP is using its SE headphone output. If the OP is willing to buy a balanced headphone cable for the LCD-X then the LP is a solid choice and leaves room for a future dac upgrade. I can confirm the LP + LCD-2 sounds :ok_hand:. The LCD-X is tuned differently than the LCD-2 but both are still Audeze.

That’s right. I had fogotten about that. I thought about it months ago when I was debating on using SE out on my DAC to drop the voltage and hopefully reduce the gain. But I still haven’t tried it yet.

From the Head-Fi thread:

"The Platinum uses two differential amps, one per channel. The Balanced is, obviously, taken between the two outputs of each amp. The SE, however, is taken from one output of each amp to ground. This means that SE can only output 1/4 the power into the same load. This is shown in the specs on MP website.

Human hearing, being logarithmic, doesn’t really notice the power difference that much, especially when listening power is usually quite low and you can always change the volume setting. But I think the Bal out is a hair more dynamic than SE. And I have a general philosophy that a balanced amp should be run fully balanced in and out to get the best. Though this last idea is more of a personal thing than something measured out in detail.

At one point a while back I almost decided to remove the SE jacks from any future Balanced amp that i would make. A little extreme, I know, and others talked me out of it. :ksc75smile:

If you use the Platinum SE I think you’ll be very happy with what it’s doing. It sounds great. I just think Bal out adds just a tad more to the experience. Subtle but hearable if you really try.

Input doesn’t matter. The amp should perform the same regardless of Bal or RCA ins. The RCA in has a built-in splitter so that the lower level SE signal is doubled to be more consistent with the Bal input. I have a DAC where the Bal out outputs twice the amplitude of SE. When using the Carbon (with a similar arrangement) I can live swap from one input to the other and I, honestly, can’t even tell that the switch has occurred.

Oh. One interesting thing. With the Carbons there were quite a few questions about not being able to switch the output from Bal to SE and back using the input switch. So, just to maybe anticipate one or two of these, the button on the right only swaps the input selection. Both output jacks are live all the time."

This was written by the man himself, Dr. Cavalli.

So yeah, my advice is to get the Liquid Platinum if you like the Cavalli sound. :grin:

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The LCD-X is one of the more efficient headphones in Audeze line-up (i.e. it doesn’t need much power to reach 120 dB SPL to give you max headroom). At 20ohms and with 95 dB/mW sensitivity, the LCD-X only needs 315 mW of power (0.13 mA of current) to reach 120 dB SPL. With 1.3W available for a 50ohm load, the Liquid Spark should be plenty of amp for the LCD-X. The question is whether you are completely happy with the synergy of your E30+Liquid Spark setup with the LCD-X. I have the THX AAA 789 that gets little to no use these days compared to my Cavalli Tube Hybrid and Liquid Platinum amps. The THX amps are likely going to be more sterile sounding. Compared to my Liquid Platinum, the dynamics of my 789 sounds more more compressed.

If I had to take a guess, the Cavalli Tube Hybrid (CTH) is likely a side-grade at the very least to the Liquid Spark since it offers a more tube-like experience than the Liquid Platinum (LP) when rolled with the right tube. The LP is probably more of an upgrade to the Liquid Spark sound offering more detail in the typical smooth Cavalli way. I wish I had an Liquid Spark on hand to make this comparison more valid.

One thing I do like to add is that the CTH and LP are not without build problems, mainly their respective volume pots that Drop and Monoprice elected to use. Let’s say that the volume pot on the CTH is crap and becomes scratchy with time (it took mine about a month to develop massive scratchiness). Opening up the CTH and applying a healthy application of Deoxit (the liquid kind not the spray) to the volume pot solved the problem.

For the LP, the lack of a gain switch means that volume tracking is not linear and you’ll hit the dreaded 11 o’clock position which causes a huge jump in volume. For example, from 9 o’clock to 10 o’clock, the volume changes minimally if not at all, and then a huge jump at 11 o’clock. In my first LP unit, there was channel imbalance one you hit the huge volume jump and then quickly turn down the volume knob. That volume pot on my first LP unit was trash. The second LP from Monoprice was significant better (no channel imbalance) but the 11 o’clock volume jump remained (less so though). There is a workaround for this issue, but that would require a preamp. In other words, it is best to buy LP direct from Monoprice for their warranty service, which is fine in my experience (I live in the same state as Monoprice).

Lastly, my THX AAA 789 developed the scratchy pot syndrome a little over a year, which is beyond the 1-yr warranty provided by Drop. Monoprice’s warranty is considerably longer. Again, opening up my 789 and applying liquid Deoxit solved the problem (for now).

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Thanks all for the responses! It seems the general consensus is to get the Liquid Platinum, but that’s $500+ which is a substantial investment for an amp considering I have a $100 amp currently. You guys also recommend a balanced DAC to complete the setup which would be another $200+, plus a balanced cable. Total, that’s about $800 for this type of setup.

What are the advantages of using a balanced DAC compared to single-ended w/ a balanced AMP?

Any other recommendations that won’t break the bank? :slight_smile:

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Wait. So much of this hobby is being patient. The LP is the right choice, buy it once. I know it’s a sucky answer but man it will save you lots and lots and lots of money over time.

EDIT: BTW if you become a member in the monoprice site I think they display a cheaper price. If you decide to hunt around you can get one used for give or take $400 usd.

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Lol, this hobby gets expensive quickly! My original comment about RebelAmp, G111, RNHP, Lyr 3 is that those amps are typically found <$500 and thus close in price to the Monolith 887. That becomes even more true if you’re willing to buy used.

I don’t think we recommended a balanced DAC, actually. We had a discussion as to whether you need a balanced DAC yet and the answer is no. Even if you go with the Liquid Platinum amp (Amazon currently has 2 ‘used-very good’ LPs listed for $452), you’re perfectly fine to use a SE DAC (like your E30) until you’re ready to upgrade down the road. If you go with the Liquid Plat, you will need to get a balanced Audeze headphone cable (I recommend checking out Hart Audio Cables), which will drive up the cost of buying the LP.

In terms of pure sound quality there really isn’t a true audible difference. Well-designed balanced and SE amps/dacs/preamps can both sound phenomenal. However, if you buy an audio component, particularly one <$1K that has balanced inputs/outputs, you should do your best to use those balanced connections. That’s because it’s very likely more care was put into the balanced portion of the design and the SE portion was added as a convenience (although according to Alex Cavalli, the Liquid Plat doesn’t care if you use its balanced or single-ended input, just be sure to use its balanced headphone output). Balanced connections are better if you have ground-loop problems in your circuitry, though. Because each channel connects to ground they are more noise-resistant. However, if you have no noise issues than you’ll never hear a quality difference between a well-designed and built balanced system or a well-designed and built single-ended system.

I put one in my original response with the Schiit Asgard 3 amp. It’s $200. It is audibly superior to the Liquid Spark, IMO. But, you will get another jump in quality if you go with any of those ~$500 amps I mentioned previously. I own both an Asgard 3 and a Liquid Platinum. The LP is the better amp and the one I use most often. The A3 is no slouch though and will handle the LCD-X well.

However, I think I agree with what @db_Cooper just posted. The LP is probably the amp you want. Wait until your money situation is such that you can comfortably get that amp and a balanced headphone cable for the LCD-X.

Happy hunting! Please report back what you decide.

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Thanks for such an in-depth answer, @WaveTheory! I’m going to buy a used LP for $452 since it’s under Prime. As for the cable, is this the correct one I need for LCD-X?


Yes! But you must also get one of these interconnects:

@brux (the mastermind behind Hart Audio Cables) uses a modular system for his cables. So if you ever need to go back to a single ended or ever get a mobile amp with a different balanced connector, you need only get the appropriate interconnect from them rather than buy a whole separate cable. Saves some real $ in the long run.

Enjoy the new toys! Please tell us what you think of the sound after you’ve had a proper listen.

My 2 cents? Get a RNHP secondhand (around $300-350) and pair it up with a geshelli enog2pro for the balanced dac connection until you can upgrade to a bf2. This combo will have great synergy with the LCD-X and not be too expensive. Great price to performance and you won’t have to buy balanced cables since the RNHP is a great SE output amp.

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As mention earlier, the Asgard 3 is a killer deal at $199.00. I haven’t heard one personally, but I have Never read a bad review on it.

You don’t need balanced. It is just that if you buy a balanced amp, you should use the balanced output as it will be the better option.

Perfect. I’ve made both purchases (Liquid Platinum + XLR cables)! Will report back how it all sounds once I have a good listen!

Thanks all for your recommendations!

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You mean XLR headphone cable right?

Yeah, these:

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My Topping E30 has a preamp… can I just use that? What would you suggest I reduce the dB by?

There is no set answer for this question. Set it to what works best for you. I use an XLR switch to switch between an SMSL SU-8 DAC and an iFi Zen DAC, both of which have preamp functions. The SU-8 has 38 volume intervals and I have it set it 30. The Zen has a potentiometer and I leave it at about 2:00. Those settings smooth out the LP’s volume jump between about 11:00 and 12:00 fairly well.