• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required as is 20 years of participation in forums (not all true). There are daily reviews of audio hardware and expert members to help answer your questions. Click here to have your audio equipment measured for free!

Monolith Liquid Platinum Balanced DAC by Alex Cavalli Measurements (DAC)

VintageFlanker

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Sep 20, 2018
Messages
3,045
Likes
9,730
Location
Paris
Monolith Liquid Platinum Balanced DAC by Alex Cavalli Measurements

main.jpg


Hey folks,

It is time for a new measurements-based review. Today, I've got my hands on the (hold your breath): "Monolith by Monoprice Liquid Platinum Balanced Limited Edition DAC by Alex Cavalli (AKM4499)" for its official, and quite meaningful name. This DAC has been announced way back in late 2020, but does seem to have been launched only a few months ago. The "Limited Edition" stands for the lack of availability of the D/A chip it is based on, the AK4499 from AKM. It is a kind loan from @Audiophonics and costs actually 1049€ tax incl. As usual for Monoprice products, our US fellows may buy it cheaper straight from the manufacturer.​

front2.jpg


The Liquid Platinum comes in a beautifully finished and quite solid case. It is a raw DAC, meaning it really has no extra features: no volume control, no remote, just digital inputs, analog outputs, the end. The little screen is used to display its quite minimalistic UI. Apart from input and sample rate, you may only see switches between inputs and PCM and DSD filters using the two buttons on the left, which by the way don't have a great feeling when pressed. That being said, the overall build quality is indeed quite good.​

Back.jpg


Looking at the back, I was first surprised to not see an integrated PSU when considering the Platinum's weight and size. Nothing really exiting to cover there, unless the weird presence of a second single ended output, which I'm not sure to understand its purpose... Remember these are all fixed output working in the same time, so maybe this is intended to feed both an integrated and a headlamp, I don't know. These screws and "monobloc" assembly are by the way too intimidating to try a teardown.​


Measurements

Disclaimer: Measurements you are about to see are not intended to be as precise or extensive than what you get from a 30k€ AP. There is obviously both hardware and software limitations here, so not quite apples to apples comparison with Amir's testing. Still, this data is enough to have a pretty good idea if the gear is bad or not, stellar, broken, or sub-par...

- ADC : E1DA Cosmos (Grade B). Minimum phase filter.
- Software : RMAA 6.4.5 PRO, Multitone Loopback Analyzer 1.0.15 and REW V5.20.7.
- Method : 8 runs for each test, then I choose the closest to the average. All regular tests are running 24bits / 44.1Khz except for Jitter and Multitone ones.
- I did not use the Cosmos APU for this product yet, I'm still seeking for its proper wiring.
- Monolith: (fixed) XLR outputs and USB input unless specified otherwise.
- Measured output with a DMM. XLR: 4.238Vrms (L), 4.256Vrms (R). RCA: 2.119Vrms (L), 2.128Vrms (R).​

Summary

Test
Results (Stereo)
Results (Mono)
Rating
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB​
+0.02, -0.02​
+0.02, -0.02​
Excellent
Noise level, dBA​
-124.9​
-126.5​
Stellar
Dynamic range, dBA​
124.2​
125.8​
Stellar
THD, %​
0.00004​
0.00004​
Stellar
THD + Noise, dBA (RMAA)​
-115.8​
-116.8​
Stellar
THD + Noise, dB (REW)
/​
-119.8
Stellar
IMD + Noise, %​
0.00031​
0.00029​
Stellar
Stereo crosstalk, dB​
-123.9​
/​
Stellar
IMD at 10 kHz, %​
0.00026​
0.00023​
Stellar

OK... here we go again. Results are so good that I reached the limits of my Cosmos ADC in Stereo Mode. I then had to switched to Mono Mode to have a closer watch at its potential performance. Last time it happened was with the Topping D90SE, and Monolith Platinum's competence is indeed very close to it. THD, for example, is ridiculously low at only 0.00004%. Using REW RTA, we got THD+N of 119.8dB (really, 120dB SINAD) which is what you get from the best DACs available today whatever their price :​

REW FFT
REW Mono Left.jpg


For the RMAA battery of tests, I switched back to Stereo to have a better look at eventual channel disparities.​

Frequency response
fr.png

Left​
Right​
From 20 Hz to 20 kHz, dB​
-0.05, +0.02​
-0.01, +0.06​
From 40 Hz to 15 kHz, dB​
-0.02, +0.02​
+0.03, +0.06​

Noise level
noise.png

Left​
Right​
RMS power, dB​
-123.1​
-123.9​
RMS power (A-weighted), dB​
-124.5​
-125.2​
Peak level, dB FS​
-89.0​
-88.6​
DC offset, %​
-0.0​
+0.0​

Dynamic range
dynamics.png

Left​
Right​
Dynamic range, dB​
+122.9​
+123.5​
Dynamic range (A-weighted), dB​
+123.9​
+124.3​
DC offset, %​
-0.00​
+0.00​

THD + Noise (at -3 dB FS)
thd.png

Left​
Right​
THD, %​
0.00004​
0.00004​
THD + Noise, %​
0.00018​
0.00017​
THD + Noise (A-weighted), %​
0.00017​
0.00016​

Intermodulation distortion (swept tones)
imdswept.png

Left​
Right​
IMD + Noise at 5000 Hz,​
0.00026​
0.00024​
IMD + Noise at 10000 Hz,​
0.00024​
0.00022​
IMD + Noise at 15000 Hz,​
0.00029​
0.00028​

Intermodulation distortion
imd.png

Left​
Right​
IMD + Noise, %​
0.00031​
0.00030​
IMD + Noise (A-weighted), %​
0.00020​
0.00018​

Stereo crosstalk
cross.png

Left​
Right​
Crosstalk at 100 Hz, dB​
-124​
-123​
Crosstalk at 1000 Hz, dB​
-123​
-122​
Crosstalk at 10000 Hz, dB​
-110​
-107​

Bottom line: Fantastic performance in every test, with no significant difference between channels. Looking at frequency response, there is however a little mismatch between Left and Right of only 0.05dB, that could be related to the 0.018Vrms measured difference between both. Nothing that could be any sort of audible matter, anyway.

Let's see how S/PDIF performs against USB:

S/PDIF VS USB
Test
Coaxial
Toslink
USB
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB​
+0.01, -0.02​
+0.01, -0.02​
+0.02, -0.02​
Noise level, dBA​
-124.2​
-124.1​
-124.9​
Dynamic range, dBA​
123.7​
123.4​
124.2​
THD, %​
0.00005​
0.00005​
0.00004​
THD + Noise, dB (REW - Mono)​
-118.2​
-117.0​
-119.8​
IMD + Noise, %​
0.00035​
0.00035​
0.00031​
Stereo crosstalk, dB​
-122.4​
-122.5​
-123.9​

Pretty much on par. Toslink however, showed constantly worse THD+N by 2.5 to 2.8dB, which is not insignificant and would need further investigation. More on that later, when measuring jitter...

What about unbalanced outputs?

RCA VS XLR
Test
RCA
XLR
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB​
+0.02, -0.02​
+0.02, -0.02​
Noise level, dBA​
-121.5​
-124.9​
Dynamic range, dBA​
121.2​
124.2​
THD, %​
0.00006​
0.00004​
THD + Noise, dB (REW - Mono)​
-115.7​
-119.8​
IMD + Noise, %​
0.00039​
0.00031​
Stereo crosstalk, dB​
-114.4​
-123.9​

That is honestly an expected drop in performance, and probably the maximum I can measure out of a single ended output with my actual rig. Nothing worrying to mention when looking at RCA FFT. 50Hz and 100Hz hum are common in my environment :

REW FFT - RCA
REW RCA.jpg



A quick capture of the six filters available:

Filters frequency response
fr.png

This is typical FR behaviour from AKM filters, which usually bring more differences than ones from ESS, or say, drop earlier in the spectrum. Super Slow shows indeed everything to "sound" different (and certainly not transparent).

Jitter
(48Khz, 1-24Khz bandwidth, 16 averages, 262K FFT)

USB
Jitter USB 1.png

Fairly good performance, yet with some peaks. When looking at their level relative to the signal, it still is, in fairness, quite respectable.

Optical
Jitter Toslink.png

Ouch! That is absolutely not how it should be. You got plenty of spikes not only around the 12Khz tone, but also everywhere in the spectrum. While these could not be audible at the end, there has clearly been a design misconception implementing toslink. Quite a departure from the stellar results measured until then...​

Coaxial
Jitter COAX.png

Very similar performance to USB: nothing broken, nor the best I've seen either.​


Multitone 64
(192Khz, 20Hz-22Khz bandwidth, 10 averages, 262K FFT)

XLR
Multitone.png


RCA
Multitone RCA.png

Stunningly good scores with balanced, as it should be. RCA is obviously quite a bit noisier, but remains a competent and perfectly transparent solution.


Conclusions
The Monolith Liquid Platinum DAC has been quite a surprising and interesting product to test. One thing that I did not mention earlier is that the manufacturer gives literally no specs about any kind of claimed performance. Not a single digit about THD, DR, SNR... none. That way, I had honestly no idea about what I was dealing with and started measuring blind. First results put a smile on my face, seeing how good it did on the bench. We are kind of living in the era of SINAD race, which is certainly not a bad thing for competition and constantly evolving performance/price ratios. Yet, I did honestly not expect this level of accomplishment coming from a western design nowadays. It indeed brings solid technical strengths to the table and finally measures pretty close, if not similar, to the very best DACs out there. Now, I can only regret that toslink input dramatically failed the J-Test. For this reason alone, the Liquid Platinum falls short of my expectation to get the "State Of The Art" rating. Anyhow, I still give it my recommendation for its overall performance.

My sincere thanks again to Audiophonics for sending it to me.​

Flanker rating: Almost perfect
 
Last edited:

Matias

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 1, 2019
Messages
3,309
Likes
6,154
Location
São Paulo, Brazil
Thanks to both you for the effort in measuring and reviewing, and @Audiophonics for lending the DAC.
 

DWPress

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Forum Donor
Joined
May 30, 2018
Messages
569
Likes
695
Location
MI
Seems quite competent as a DAC. Curious about the extra unbalanced outputs as well given the lack of other bling. Easily wins my prize as one of the ugliest DACs (subjective, I know) out there and that's saying a lot since I cringe every time I see a case with extruded aluminum sides.
 

DWPress

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Forum Donor
Joined
May 30, 2018
Messages
569
Likes
695
Location
MI
No, curious as to why it has dual A and B to begin with. As you theorized, perhaps for a separate headphone amp...,
 

Jimbob54

Master Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Oct 25, 2019
Messages
8,795
Likes
11,043
Great review but products like this confuse me. Its got a decent look and (mostly) performs well, but it is function limited and costs 3x more than it should. I just dont see the market or need for such items.
 

Veri

Master Contributor
Joined
Feb 6, 2018
Messages
8,676
Likes
10,750
Great review but products like this confuse me. Its got a decent look and (mostly) performs well, but it is function limited and costs 3x more than it should. I just dont see the market or need for such items.
On some monoprice items price can dramatically drop over time, though. I've seen the liquid platinum tube amp drop to -50% levels in its lifetime. If one were to wait for an eventual sale you might be able to grab one for a better price.. although these are "limited" so who knows.
In any case good to know this product seems to perform really well :) thanks for the great work @VintageFlanker!
 

Snoopy

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Jul 19, 2021
Messages
654
Likes
337
Seems quite competent as a DAC. Curious about the extra unbalanced outputs as well given the lack of other bling. Easily wins my prize as one of the ugliest DACs (subjective, I know) out there and that's saying a lot since I cringe every time I see a case with extruded aluminum sides.
I really like the design. Bests everything from topping and smsl in my opinion
 
OP
VintageFlanker

VintageFlanker

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Sep 20, 2018
Messages
3,045
Likes
9,730
Location
Paris
Its got a decent look and (mostly) performs well, but it is function limited and costs 3x more than it should. I just dont see the market or need for such items.
I beg to differ. As you probably noticed, I don't consider price in my final rating. Whatever how much a product cost, my goal is to find out if it is properly designed or not.

I guess many customers will still buy DACs based on subjective reviews or their own interpretation of sound quality. Better for them to buy at least a transparent converter and then imagine whatever their want about sound signature. For others, looking for an objectively top-performing DAC-only, I call the Monolith as fairly competitive against the Topping D90SE or S.M.S.L M400 at the same price (if ingnoring toslink). Remember, back in 2019, Amir measured the first DAC to reach 120dB SINAD in ASR reviews and it costed twice as much as this one.;)
 
Top Bottom