Cavalli Audio



Audio Science Review posted a comparison between the Massdrop CTH and JDS O2. Positive recommendation on the O2, negative conclusions about the the CTH on technical grounds. Your views (and mine) may vary.

Just FYI.


interesting read, I don’t understand half of it… :wink: that being said I have never really paid attention to graphs, I think they are cool, but I trust my ears over a set of graphs. I haven’t heard the O2 but I do have the Element and enjoy that a lot. The CTH is really a nice amp in my opinion, but like anything it has its faults, I’m just not knowledgeable enough on the topic to find them. I honestly think Audiophile gear is the perfect place for “ignorance is bliss” comment. In that if you let someone listen to your high end gear they would be blown away, and not really need to know what all the faults of it are to truly enjoy the experience. It’s us Audiofools that need to keep striving for perfection that are kind of the suckers raises hand lol I’m one for sure, but I think half the fun in this hobby is getting something with flaws and hearing them for yourself, and making your own determination. I think for me that ah ha moment was the HD700 which majority of people hate, and I actually really love. Well enough of a verbal diarrhea from me =)


I agree wholeheartedly @DarthPool. I think far too much time is spent worrying over graphs and perceived imperfections. Before everyone starts to burn effigies of me please let me explain my point. First off I am in no way technically qualified in engineering or audio or anything along those lines. I am just a normal chap so to speak.

I love all the headphones and amps and dac’s that come with the whole audio scene. But it’s as far as I go personally. I know that there are guys out there who measure and fiddle and really love that kind of stuff. Great that’s their kind of thing so I aren’t knocking them at all. But there seems to be certain web sites that take it upon themselves to measure gear and then say that such and such is pure garbage. I really don’t see this as helpful at all. For all anyone knows these said sites may have a hidden agenda. I am sure that all, well most gear has quirks and slightly off measurements from the norm. And don’t forget not all gear from the same batch may measure the same. I may be ranting now and be out of my depth regarding measurements and such but sometimes I just want to listen to my gear and if I like it I will stick with it. I don’t really need someone saying that the gear I choose to listen to is total shite because af something that’s come up on a graph. Let’s just enjoy our gear.



Amir’s work tends to elicit strong emotions, I think in part because he approaches audio from a different perspective than many enthusiasts. I think of him as the audio equivalent of Consumer Reports, which is to say that he focuses on design and construction quality. I’ve read his CTH analysis much as I’ve read many of his other recent work. His number one complaint about the CTH was power supply noise. That seems like something that 1) can’t possibly add anything positive to the experience, 2) shouldn’t be an issue in a $250 product and 3) could probably be easily solved. If Massdrop reacts to this by fixing that problem, it’s a win for customers.

Going back to the Consumer Reports analogy, a lot of Amir’s comparisons read like a comparison between a Honda and a Jaguar. CR will invariably pick the Honda over the Jaguar because it’s well engineered, reliable and more than enough car for most people, whereas the Jaguar suffers from faulty electrical systems and is too darned expensive to repair, though yes it has some sweet power. The car objectivists react with “see, just buy a Honda” and the enthusiasts react with “my Jaguar creates an emotional connection that a Honda can’t match.” Meanwhile, Jaguar quietly improves their electrical systems and over time the reliability gap between boutique brands and the big Japanese firms starts to narrow, to everyone’s benefit.

In my mind, no one is wrong here and everyone wins.


I’d agree with that it can’t add to the experience. But if one is going to apply “science” to evaluating audio gear, then the current work in this space (including acoustics and psycho-acoustics) will also indicate that the “issues” are not going to be audible - something acknowledged in the commentary.

So from an engineering/academic perspective it’s interesting, and from a practical one it’s pretty much irrelevant.

On point 2, as with all engineering-to-a-budget issues, it’s a simple question of trade-offs. Would substituting a better external PSU, or using an internal linear one, or having major internal filtering result in better measurements?


At the same time, if it costs more to do so (and it will, there really are no free lunches in engineering) then some other factor is going to have to change (be it compromises elsewhere in the design/build or an increase to the price), and unless you run all the iterations you can’t say that cuts elsewhere won’t have a bigger
negative impact on measurements and/or audible results.

In other words, it’s about finding the right set of compromises to deliver a product at the intended price. Different people will come to different conclusions as to which compromises are appropriate based on their own particular design goals and engineering biases.

On point 3 , sure you could solve it “easily”. I’ve seen measurements done on the MCTH using a high-quality external linear PSU and, indeed, there was a small, but useful, improvement in the measured results. The PSU required to do that cost more than the entire amp, however, which speaks to the trade-offs in point 2.

This is a long winded way of saying that all products, particularly those built-to-a-budget have trade-offs. There’s no getting around this. You either shoot for a spec, find the best/cheapest way to meet it, and then let that dictate your selling price. Or you pick a price point and do what you can to deliver the best performance you can manage while still meeting that price.

I think a much more telling comparison - as it would speak to different approaches in overcoming a much more similar set of engineering issues, would be to pit the MCTH against the Vali 2, one of the Little Dot amps and some of the Garage 1217 units.


Channeling my inner Amir, I would say that the O2 manages a much better result without an expensive linear PSU, so I bet the CTH could too.

Agree 100%.


As ever you guys can see the technical side and explain it better than I can. And I didn’t really want to set out and disrespect Amir in any way but as @pwjazz says his reviews can elicit strong emotions. I tend to follow the discussions on Reddit r/headphones and that’s where a lot of arguments and sniping tend to play out. He certainly tells it straight and isn’t scared to ruffle feathers. Especially with certain Schiit products he seems to have the fanboys up in arms.



Perhaps, but in reality they have totally different power requirements … so it’s not really a like-for-like comparison. If both were 15v AC devices, or had similar power ratings - then I’d agree … but they aren’t.

It’s much easier to stick a couple of linear regs and some decent caps on a 15v AC wall-wart and get very low noise results when you’re not having to deal with voltages over 15v which is what the O2 has to deal with.

Power requirements for tube amplifiers are very different. Voltages are much higher (either direct or boosted), and there’s a greater variety of derived voltages required. Current demands are different. And that assumes similar output ratings for the amp, which is also not the case here.

Regardless, for a similar quality supply, two things are generally true … more power drives the price up, and more power drives the size of the supply up. That alone means you’re generally not going to get the same quality of power supply for a 40w unit as you will for the same price when you only need 7.5w. Nor are you going to be able to filter it as well for the same price/parts.

Such is the problem with apples-to-oranges comparisons.


Good point.


I enjoyed reading this latest chain of comments on here. Good discussion =)


Experiential comments on noise: I recently performed A/B testing with the most resolving equipment I own (and neither my hearing nor my sources nor my equipment are top of the line). The setups were as follows:

FiiO Q5 2.5mm Balanced Amp Out -> XLR adapter -> Focal Elex
FiiO Q5 DAC -> Line Out -> MCTH -> Focal Elex

My initial takeaway was that the MCTH has a swirly, hazy gray noise floor. This was quite apparent and disconcerting after listening to the Q5 balanced output. After this I spent a couple evenings listening to the same albums through both methods. In most cases I preferred the simple Q5 balanced as more authentic, but the MCTH added life to dead, monotone masters (e.g., Tracy Chapman, the first Smiths album). The MCTH mainly accentuates transitions and adds zing, which can indeed be more enjoyable overall (contra the ASR review).

Note that the Q5 balanced out is more defined and punchy than its 3.5mm unbalanced output. The 3.5mm is a bit thin and dry.

Finally, the MCTH softens the harshness of some headphones. I actually prefer it to the Q5 for the HD-600 series.


So, I just started messing with this and with my most sensitive IEMs (Andromedas) even on complete zero volume with the MCTH I can hear the music pretty well too…which to be fair the Andromedas are very sensitive. Now that being said, I get the ants walking on snow sound permeating everything on the MCTH, until I turn the volume up a bit and the music covers it up. I think that the CTH adds a nice vibrant sound to the music, and with my other headphones I think it sounds great. now with the Element it is inky blackness with the volume completely off, but I can still hear the music when it is playing. I don’t really recommend playing with the Andromedas like this because that is a lot of power really fast for them even on low gain with the element I barely have to move the knob for it to be loud. I’m no scientist but throwing the ifi Imatch on the CTH cut out the ants in the snow noise which was pretty cool experimenting with it. It didn’t do to much for the Element though.


Massdrop has the Toppings D50 back up…I almost picked it up because I want to see what all the hub-ub is about…but the new Lego Voltron set just dropped as well…and Voltron wins!!!

I mean seriously look at how awesome this Lego set is!!!


I enjoyed Voltron immensely in my college days, when properly lubricated. After my roommate Nick explained that the show was actually created by splicing footage from a defunct series and then overdubbing new vocals, it took on a whole new dimension. Watching colors noticeably shift mid sequence was just one of the many little joys!


I grabbed the Voltron as well. Happy Early Christmas to me! It is awesome!



Edit: sorry for the derail, Back to Cavalli Audio!


Yep, the box was a lot bigger than I expected!


My Liquid Spark arrived (@antdroid beat me to this, as you can see here). This was not something I was going to really play with, but having briefly gotten my ears on the Liquid Platinum at CanJam this weekend, I was sufficiently intrigued to give this little guy a try.

Two days later, and here it is … paired with something a bit unconventional (for me) …

Note that running the D50 at -3 dB seems to reduce the level of hash and grain I hear with it when run at 0 dB (especially when dealing with lossy content - which I try not to do). It’s a much more enjoyable listen run this way than at 0 dB … which is counter to my normal experiences in which I do NOT want digital/software control involved … especially when there’s an analog amplifier in the chain.

I generally consider the D50 to be rather on the bright and tetchy side of likable (other issues not withstanding), so I was very surprised to see how rich, warm and generally smooth this combination sounded … even when paired with a neutral headphone (Focal Clear).

I will let this sit and play for 100 hours or so and then come back and see if I still hear it the same way. As well as pairing the little Spark with some other headphones and sources.

So far, though, it’s quite an engaging little thing …


Man this picture really strikes home how small the D50 is!


Wow didn’t realize the D50 was so small! My impulsive purchase of the LS is turning out pretty good. I am enjoying it as a small little amp to use at work. I had previously had a SMSL VMV VA2 and a Schiit Magni 2 at work but sold both and just stuck with my Onkyo DP-S1 DAP for work use. After using just that and then using it plugged into the LS, the warm, rich, and smooth (as you described it) was very audibly apparent. It makes the Onkyo, which uses dual ESS chain, sound very lean in comparison.

I have been primarily listening to it using the Audeze Sine headphones since they are my closed backs of choice for work, but did also try using them with the BGVP DMG I recently posted about and currently trying it out with the Focal Elex. I am really enjoying this change of pace sound from my usual fare of the Onkyo DAP and the Topping DX7, which to me, share the same sound profile with the DX7 having significantly more power/headroom.

I had built the Starving Student Tube Hybrid to pair with the DX7 as a way to smooth out the sound for the HE560/Elex I have but this Liquid Spark is doing a heck of a job so far for $100. I have the Massdrop Cavalli Tube Hybrid downstairs but haven’t listened to them side-by-side yet. Maybe that’s my next thing to do this weekend.

I did notice that the Spark was pretty treble harsh out of the box but I don’t notice that anymore at all after letting it warm up for a couple of hours.