In today’s feature, we review the Monoprice Monolith Liquid Platinum DAC which is a compact desktop AK4499EQ decoder capable of up to DSD128. It is currently priced at $799.
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The Liquid Platinum Amplifier came out sometime in 2019, and now, a few years later, we have its sibling, the DAC. The Liquid Platinum DAC was actually due out in late 2019 also and I did refer to it in the partnering amplifier review around that time.
However, most likely due to the choice of the AKM chipset combined with the pandemic, the launch was delayed to a little earlier this year. The good news for AKM fans and amplifier owners is that the Liquid Platinum DAC still has the same flagship chipset and seems to be the same promised product from the outward appearance.
Technology life cycles, however, are getting shorter and the choice of DAC in 2022 is diversifying and improving. So, with a higher $799 price is the Liquid Platinum DAC still competitive, or have newer DACs stolen its thunder?
The Liquid Platinum DAC is a pure DAC, meaning it does not have an integrated amplifier nor offers any pre-out or pre-amplifier features.
It is designed to stack very neatly with the Liquid Platinum headphone amplifier but is not exclusive to that combination. Being a standalone desktop DAC, it can technically pair with any headphone amplifier.
The Liquid Platinum DAC accepts digital inputs via USB, optical, and coaxial standards as well as offering analog outputs in fixed line voltage mode via a set of balanced 3-pin XLR and two single-ended dual RCA options.
Although discontinued there is nothing ‘vintage’ about the use of AKM’s former flagship AK4499EQ delta-sigma chipset inside the Liquid Platinum DAC. It’s a top-level decoding chip with excellent stock performance and usually very low distortion levels.
The only curious aspect of the implementation though is the maximum DSD128 decoding capability as I know this chipset can stretch to DSD256 if so required when used with the XMOS XU208 32‑bit multicore microcontroller.
It is set up to do better with PCM though at 32BIT/384kHz and if you plan on using the coaxial option you get the same maximum decoding levels for both DSD and PCM. Switch it to optical you also get the maximum decoding possible via this protocol at 24BIT/192kHz.
If you use something like JRiver or Roon you can set your highest decoding rate in the software layer to handle DSD files greater than DSD128.
For example, my DSD512 files are set to PCM 384kHz in JRiver if no ASIO file is available for native decoding, and in this case, the Liquid Platinum DAC uses WASAPI so it will default to PCM output at the maximum available rate. Alternatively, you can select native DSD in something like Roon and it will downsample anything 256 upwards to DSD128.
If you are the owner of the amplifier version then the design language of the Liquid Platinum DAC will be quite familiar to you.
This is a compact and relatively low-profile desktop unit fashioned out of a two-tone aluminum casing with gunmetal-toned plates front and rear and a black chassis.
There is a degree of edging on the front and back plates but is tastefully done and quite smooth to the touch. The chassis itself is more rounded with two long grilled vents on the top in a very similar fashion to the tube amplifier counterpart.
This is a display-based design with a small active beveled screen of about 1.3″ smack in the center of the front panel. It is quite legible though relatively simple in terms of resolution and entirely black and white.
The Liquid Platinum DAC unit is also relatively lightweight coming in at around 1.3kg on our scales and about 2.9kg for the entire stack when you include the amplifier. This should pose no problems for those building discreet systems in tight desktop setups.
On the base, there are 4 small rubber feet that grip both the desk quite well which is where it will reside since the amplifier is a tube design and needs to go on top. When stacked the vents are not covered so there is plenty of room for it to breathe though unlike the amplifier, the Liquid Platinum DAC stays quite cool during operation.
Again, there is a degree of carryover in terms of available I/O from the amplifier to the Liquid Platinum DAC. One of the things I originally remarked on in the amp review was the dual RAC SE and pleasingly the DAC mirrors that input with dual RCA SE outputs.
The DAC also offers 3-pin XLR if you wish to go balanced and both SE and balanced are positioned right below the counterparts from the amplifier’s rear panel when stacked meaning you only require a few very short XXLR or RCA interconnects to connect everything up which helps to keep cable management very neat and tidy.
Aside from the analog outputs, the Liquid Platinum DAC offers USB, coaxial, and optical options to the right of the rear plate with a DC power 12V 1.0A input meaning your brick is a switching SMPS external wall wart, albeit much smaller than the one that comes with the amplifier.
If you feel you want something a bit better for the power supply I am pretty sure a 12V edition of the iFi Audio Power Elite will fit the bill nicely though it will come at a high price of $299 so it is worth it, if you have a few units around that can use it, but not for just one unit.
All controls are to the front, no sneaky switches to the rear with power, input, and filter, as well as source switching options are all available.
Since it is LCD panel driven the two switches to the far right act as menu navigation tools and are fairly easy to use given the menu system of the DAC is not that deep or complicated. The response rate to any button-activated command is instant also.
The menu options include the ability to switch sources, for example, USB or coaxial as well as a choice of 6 PCM and 2 DSD filters drawn directly from the AK4499EQ DAC.
I am not a huge fan of DAC digital filters, their changes are much more nuanced than PMEQ, EQ, or coloration from any built-in operational controllers. Having said that, AKM filters tend to be more substantive than ESS ones in my experience with both the Super Slow and Short Slow Decay showing a bit more high-frequency roll-off compared to the other 4 filters.
Packaging & Accessories
A compact DAC gets a compact retail box with the Liquid Platinum DAC following a very similar packaging concept as the amplifier a few years before.
This is a medium-sized black stiffened cardboard outer box with plenty of grey polystyrene-type hard foam surrounding the DAC and accessories it does feel well protected. The amp is wrapped in a grey cloth bag, alongside an individually wrapped USB-A to USB-B cable for data transfer, and the power supply.
I must remark that the cloth bag has come in very handy for the amplifier these last few years when not in use. Those grills on the side and the tube holes can collect dust over time and I would presume that will be the same for the DAC. My advice then is to wrap them in the bags when not in use to give them some protection.
What is missing? At this price point, maybe a basic set of RCA cables to get you up and running out of the box would be quite useful. Other than that, it’s a decent package and will get your DAC to you safely.
Click on page 2 below for sound impressions and pairings