The Liquid Platinum DAC delivers a powerful full-bodied performance with vocals and upper mids more the fore. It is the perfect complement to the already boisterous energy of the accompanying tube amplifier, doubling down on the low-end weight and teasing out some excellent texture through the mids.
There is a little less treble presence, perhaps not as forward sounding with the Cavalli amplifier pairing but when paired with cleaner solid-state and powerful amps such as the Ferrum OOR you get a lovely balanced tonality sounding neither lean nor sterile in its delivery.
It is an excellent DAC if you want a punchy quality to your music with an excellent fundamental underpinning most instrumental notes and vocals presence front and center. It’s a type of tuning I have always associated with AKM’s more ‘musical’ side to their chipsets.
I am not simply referencing the amplifier’s own inherent qualities either, excitable as it already is. When paired with competing DACs such as the Gustard X18 the Liquid Platinum amplifier sounds a lot more neutral in its imaging and with a flatter bass response.
Imaging in general is more to the intimate side with most pairings offering a deep but forward low-end, an upper-mids lift, and some gentle percussion sparkle. That was consistent with 4 different amplifiers we paired it with, (see in more detail in our synergy section below).
Its one weakness might be a lack of staging spaciousness with a more rounded staging quality and spatial cues that tend to blend in the background rather than shine through. DACs such as the Cayin iDAC-6 MK2 cast a wider and more open-sounding soundstage and in the case of Chord’s Qutest, it seems to have a stronger micro-detail focus.
Like its sibling amplifier, the Liquid Platinum DAC errs to the full-blooded side with absolutely excellent low-end weight and dynamics. I am reminded a little of the Little Dot DAC VII in this regard though not quite as brutal or intense on the lows.
This DAC does ‘drive’, delivering plenty of sub-bass presence and a decent mid-bass punch also that’s quite easy to pick up with headphones like the Audeze MM-500 and the ZMF Headphones Atrium.
Some DACs will sound a bit tighter though on the low end, shortening the decay and introducing a bit more nuanced layering into the sound but if you want fullness and a touch of euphony alongside it the Liquid Platinum DAC will do very well in that regard.
It does have a bit of bloom and warmth coming into the lower mids, but nothing lean here, meaning instrumental timbre has more of an even-harmonic overtone with a smooth but meaty delivery.
Save for a little bit of upper mids sparkle in its percussion and higher pitching vocal treatment, the Liquid Platinum DAC top-end is neutral to slightly relaxed when compared to competing alternatives. Here, I would also pick one of the sharp filters that seem to be better than the slow alternatives for treble extension and presence.
Thus, you get more of a rounded tonal quality to most midrange notes so sibilance will be hard to come by, particularly with the accompanying amplifier. Paired with the Cavalli tube amp the tonal quality is going to come across as sweet and velvety rather than accurate but even with amps like the OOR the sound was still quite inviting rather than cold and abrupt.
Staging & Dynamics
Staging is more intimate and deep-reaching than expansive and wide with vocals more to the fore. This is where I would want to veer to a more open and clean-sounding solid-state amplifier if I wanted to maximize the Liquid Platinum DAC pairing’s instrumental separation and create a wider soundstage than with its sibling amplifier.
Especially with denser or darker-sounding headphones such as the Empyrean where you want as much headroom as possible. It does wonderfully well teasing out the Empyrean’s low-end but with something like the OOR amplifier I get more energy on the peripherals of the soundstage.
Paired with the Liquid Platinum Amplifier it tends to emphasize the bass and vocals or upper mids a bit more with a slightly softer treble that tends to blunt the presence of spatial cues at the very furthest point of its stereo image.
The detail is there its just a bit further back and behind the vocal and bass presence. When you switch to the iDAC-6 MK2 or the Gustard X18 you get a bit more treble shine and comparative staging headroom which fills the soundstage delivering a more holographic presentation.
I would also advise going balanced with the Liquid Platinum DAC and any amplifier you pair it with. The additional voltage greatly improves the potential channel separation and tightens up the bass dynamics a bit more in the process.
For the optical impressions, I worked a DX220 MAX into the rear of the Liquid Platinum DAC and compared it to the standard USB input from the PC.
Overall, the optical performance felt a little blunted, primarily in the treble clarity and presence giving it a more rounded and slightly duller tone. The USB presentation was definitely the more vivid and cleaner of the two inputs.
You could argue the optical is forgiving and smooth sounding but that is stretching it a bit given I already think the USB performance of the Liquid Platinum DAC is to the smooth side, to begin with.
It also feels like optical could be lacking the same level of dynamic range compared to the USB input with some bass notes being perceived as being a little bit shallower or lacking the same weight and punch. I like to call it a ‘samey performance’ i.e., lacking in character and relatively 2D in its delivery.
The coaxial performance was excellent and competitive with the USB alternative. The timbral coloration was perhaps a hair lighter in terms of the instrumental and vocal body using a DX300 MAX coaxial output.
The USB performance was definitely the more robust of the two inputs with vocals showing off a richer texture and a firmer bass response as well as bringing a little further forward in terms of imaging.
The coaxial output sounded sweeter, and a little bit more neutral on the low end. I actually felt I got a little bit of that DX300 MAX magic thrown into the Liquid Platinum DAC coaxial output with that airy and slight mid-to-treble performance.
I tested 4 amplifiers with the Liquid Platinum DAC, 2 solid-state, and 2 tube amps, one of which is the Cavalli tube amp that it is basically referenced for. The other amplifiers included the Auris Audio HA-2SE, Ferrum’s OOR/Hypsos stack, and the Bakoon HPA-01.
Each one brought something different to the table but if you want perhaps the most responsive and weighted bass performance then the Liquid Platinum Amplifier will give you that, especially if you go balanced. It will yield a bit more decay and sound slightly slower though than the solid-state alternatives.
In comparison, the HA-2SE pulled back the bass bloom a little giving a slightly more neutral level of low-end body with the Liquid Platinum DAC. In return, you get a bit more resolution on the top end, also some additional air so the sound is sweeter, less rounded, and a bit more expansive compared to the Cavalli amplifier.
Since you can only go single-ended with the HA-2SE you might be missing out on the full potential of the Cavalli DAC but in return, you do get a very nice midrange presence, which I adored with the Audze MM-500 headphones.
The other tested headphones, the Empyrean were perhaps a bit too forward-sounding with both the HA-2SE and the Liquid Platinum Amplifier. For me, the system for these headphones is one of the cleaner and airier solid-state amps combined with the Liquid Platinum DAC.
Of the two, the OOR/Hypsos pairing brought about some excellent control, sounding punchier with better definition, and also a bit more neutral in the imaging. It also layers the thicker bass response from the Liquid Platinum DAC beautifully.
It’s not a huge soundstage, the DAC will not change that but that inherent forwardness in the bass and vocals from the Cavalli amp is more linear now. You will get nothing sharp or sibilant from this pairing but it does sound more accurate and resolving.
The Bakoon has two flavors with its current and voltage mode so this pairing with the Liquid Platinum DAC will differ slightly depending on which one you use.
So, for example, if you want a bit more sparkle and a more neutral clean, and articulate performance then pick the current mode but be prepared to lose a bit of bass ‘bounce’. The Liquid Platinum DAC will not change that outcome though its smooth delivery will temper any outlier ugly treble overtones that I get with bright DAC paired with the Bakoon.
The voltage mode is excellent if you want a stronger bass performance. It does strip down the performance a little, perhaps slightly less treble presence and a more ‘musical’ offering which I think the Liquid Platinum DAC enjoys a bit more. It is definitely a great DAC for teasing out a strong bass response from amplifiers that can deliver it.