monprice monolith™ liquid spark is a compact and portable headphone amplifier developed by alex cavalli for monoprice.
Disclaimer: The MonPrice Monolith™ Liquid Spark that was sent to us for this review is a paid sample. We thank the monoprice team for giving us this opportunity.
To read more about the monoprice products we’ve reviewed at headfonics, click here.
The world of small powerful amplifiers for the audiophile we choose has become much more powerful over the years. Monoprice has recently launched a number of new products, each one aimed at the ears of a serious fidelity enthusiast… I forgot to mention… Alex Cavalli designed this one. prepare your wallets and paypal accounts for everyone, this is going to be a show.
box and accessories
you don’t get any. you get a power cord and the amp itself. Unfortunately, no RCA cables or headphone adapters are included. however, the box is pretty, I must admit. although, still cardboard, I guess it feels good.
I have numerous cardboard packages of other products from other companies to review here that I can’t stack on top of each other in the review pile due to the poor quality of the boxes. so it might be an oversight in some other parts in the design and release, having a small thick box feels good.
Beyond that, I’m afraid there isn’t much more to say. the experience is very, very basic here and beyond the logos and some text, there was nothing else to talk about. I know this is a $99 amp, but I would have preferred at least one rca cable as the design allows for rca input and also rca output, potentially used as a preamp.
features and design
I am absolutely in love with the form factor and function of the liquid spark design. it looks interesting and could have been such a basic rectangle in the design but they went with some nice curves and some edge work. I applaud them for that.
the unit is very small, but it is rated at 1.3w (1300mw), which is excellent for such a small device. usually at currents this high and in this price range you will get a strong sense of distortion and hiss. however, the liquid spark has virtually no background noise that I can hear.
Also, the amp is incorrectly listed as 1.3 watts into 50 Ω to begin with. it seems that other third parties have measured it at more than 1.5+w and even up to 2 or more watts at high gain. which is absurd, in a big way.
sadly the product only has a ¼ headphone jack and I would have gone crazy for this if it also had a 3.5mm one that didn’t make me search for those ¼ adapters we all lose every 5 seconds.
On the front, you get a nice volume knob that feels very sleek and easy to turn by hand, the gain switch, and the ¼ headphone plug. on the back, one rca input and one rca output used for preamp needs.
monolith and cavalli have designed the amplifier with no capacitors between the signal paths, and no op amps. that lends some credence to why the amp is so quiet, at least in my opinion.
For what it is, in this price range, the experience is something audiophiles want and need. many users don’t want to insert anything into the sound, they just want a real path from start to finish and without specifically altering anything in the signal.
this is not a neutral sound amp for me. sounds natural. I think there is a difference there and I will try to explain why now.
The liquid spark is a joy to listen to and doesn’t feel harsh, icy, sterile or what o2 usually sounds like. Head-to-head comparisons led to the O2 sounding significantly rougher on the top end and lacking a sense of tonal density, heaviness, and weight across the spectrum. this liquid spark sounds more natural to my ears and is more reserved.
If you want total neutrality in a brutal sense, this may only be right for you if you also have a very neutral sounding headphone or amp in your mix. somewhere in the chain above Liquid Spark, where the headphones’ very neutral tenure won’t be as seemingly tempered by Liquid Spark’s more natural approach.
in that sense i think liquid spark is probably a fantastic little preamp and a much much better overall amp than the o2’s out there. the reason being that completely neutral amps don’t pair well with warm, fun-sounding gear. works well only with other neutral products.
those like this liquid spark, a little more in the middle, not too neutral and not too warm, play both ends and is the best all round product, at least in my experience. Tonally wise, this amp sounds very desirable.
As mentioned, this is a natural sounding amp, to my ear. which can sometimes mean that bass has a very good chance of working well with moderate bass headphones.
liquid spark works very very well with my king bass – jvc sz2000 headphones. i certainly enjoy it, but i know headphones sound a bit more prominent in the low end through something like my very warm airist audio heron 5 amp. while I’m not going to compare the two fidelity factors, I will say that the liquid spark feels less colored at both the high end and the low end.
the amp is fine for headphone bass to start with, you’ll be able to rig if you need to through your source and achieve a solid +3-4db before you feel anything get out of whack which is great for the price. liquid spark responds very well to eq on the bass end, no doubt.
fidelity wise the liquid spark is more of a midfield area, it’s not the most powerful, I think the schitt magni has more power. but, i feel like at 1.3w at least? what exactly are you powering out of planar magnetic headphones that are so inefficient?
at 1.3w and above, it can run a 300Ω dynamic headphone without any problem. I feel like the extra power won’t do much good except for some planar phones which are really hard to handle, so don’t worry.
Liquid Spark feels higher tonal density than usual, has a nice chunky feel to it, and doesn’t feel thin. Combined with the vocal experience, that tonality factor provides a lot of enjoyment and realism for the price and all things considered.
You don’t usually hear an amp in this price range sound this solid, and that alone improves the vocal experience by a significant margin. i really enjoy this amp with my audio technica esw11ltd, which are known for their excellent midrange.
I would call this liquid spark a moderately direct sound, but not quite in the realm of very advanced feel. it’s certainly not embedded either. the sheer quality factor is excellent at the $99 level and impressively so.
As I mentioned, I think it matches very well with models like the sz2000, 11ltd and even my new beyerdynamic dt17xx. this is a solid all round amp that is also boarded up to deliver excellent midrange tonal density.
The upper end of the experience is somewhat reserved. as i was saying before the liquid spark sounds subdued compared to the o2 as well as my heron 5. it doesnt have a brightness factor which i find pleasing and i would consider the entire top end of the product to show a touch for just the right tonality.
the treble end isn’t interesting, it’s clean and clear for the price and never sounds harsh to me. that’s beautiful, of course. but it also means that he is not lively or attractive. it requires a proper balance for me as a listener, but I don’t take points off for that. at this price, as mentioned, that’s the right step to take. I just subjectively prefer something more interesting and brighter.
I’m happy to report that the treble doesn’t hit hard either. the physical attack potential is less than moderate in amount and that also makes me very happy. that means the shudder factor of the amp is nice and not annoying or painful.
As far as quality goes, the liquid spark top is just fine, but its strengths aren’t in the fidelity factor. they’re in presentation appeal, which is, physically at least, a joy to wear for hours. I find the experience a stark contrast to my magni and old o2, both of which sound more metallic and physically harder on impact.
The width and height factor of the Liquid Spark is fine, especially for the price. someone with great sounding headphones isn’t likely to pair with this, but they can.
While emptiness from left to right is fine, as I said, the depth factor is the star of the show. I found it to be very engaging and interesting in the stage appeal, which means the cavern and the expanse and playing the band in the background sense is strong here.
The dynamic potential of the depth of field factor is some of the best at the $99 level that I’ve heard. beyond that, the lightness factor, again, just in terms of stage, left and right, is fine with me. it’s not lacking or overly widespread, which is what I think most soundstage enthusiasts like me would want. but, for $99, I’m not complaining.
The soundstage experience is pleasing enough to wear with your budget of choice at the lower end of mid-tier headphones and not think twice. you probably don’t want to pair it with a sennheiser hd-800, but those with an older ad-700 from audio technica should be more than happy with what it has to offer.
I really enjoy this little amp. it’s perfect and probably the best budget generalist amp I’ve reviewed so far. I love that the preamp is disabled when using the headphone rca, that’s a big plus for me because I like to go from headphones to speakers and can use it as a bridge for amps and testing without as much stress.
The unit is a bit overpriced, to be sure. I will definitely be recommending it to my friends and anyone looking for a powerful device at around $99 that is neither neutral nor sterile nor too warm in tone. however, I really wanted a 3.5mm headphone jack on this. Other than that, I don’t have a single complaint. the amp sounds great, looks good, and performs better than the specs listed for power potential.
monolith™ liquid spark specifications
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