Monarchy 100 SE Delux Monoblock Amps
List Price: $1,179 each, $2,358 for the Pair
Re-introductory special: $1,000 off, Net $1,358 for the pair
For a number of years now I've been listening to music with a pair of monoblocks I was lucky enough to get in a trade. I was not into tubes at the time and was fairly certain I was never going to be interested.
I went to a yard sale about 4 houses down from my own and found out my neighbor had owned a radio, TV and general electronics repair shop for 40 years or so. He was selling his entire store full of equipment and I was too dumb to take full advantage of that fact. Oscilloscopes and more test equipment than anyone should ever own, PLUS a huge collection of every tube known to mankind. I had no idea how collectible some of the tubes were, or for that matter, if they were sought after at all. I paid $65 for 5 large crates of tubes.
Shortly thereafter, I bought a new amp from Audio by Van Alstine, an Omega 240. I was thrilled with its sound and was quite proud of the match-up with my Mirage 750 speakers. Everything I desired concerning sound, correct tone, speed, everything we strive for while building a system was delivered to my ears. I'd never heard anything better in my home.
Shortly after that, Lloyd Walker told a close friend of mine to see if I wanted to hear what he had first chosen as his reference amps before he decided to go with big tube amps, a pair of Monarchy 100 SE Delux amps. “Use a pair of amps that Lloyd owned...what a trip!”
I ended up giving him those tubes. Actually, I had taken them to his home a few months beforehand, wondering if he wanted them. I've never really regretted giving him those tubes even though I'm nuts about tube gear now.
For me, tubes in the preamp and solid state amps are the best of both worlds. My current Anthem is a fully tubed unit, tubed power supply and tubes in the phono and line stages. The old solid state Monarchy 100 SE amps drive the Infinity speakers. I doubt that I could be much happier. I've had quite a few other amps and integrated amps in my system, all superb sounding electronics, but the Monarchy amps give me the speed, delicacy and detail I desire, and what's far more important...I already own them so there's no need to spend bucks better spent buying more LP’s. Mike's legendary LP collection numbers somewhere north of 10,000 records. He' still accumulating more.... ~ publisher
The new Monarchy SE 100 Delux monoblock (one mono amp for each channel) amps (SE stands for single ended) are the latest iteration of the model that goes back about 15 years. The chassis in both is similar, though the front plate has been updated. These amps run in Class A and put out 100 watts at 8 Ohms and and 160 at 4 Ohms. They idle using180 watts, 250 watts full power. I believe my older model Monarchy's are a bit less efficient; idle a bit higher. The changes made to the new amps include a silent turn-on; my own have a slightly frightening thump upon turn-on. Although my speakers have never been damaged, that thump is nothing to love. The looks, too, have changed, a bit more understated instead of the (some think-I don't) garish look of polished brass. The new handles and insignia are black. I have the feeling that is very similar to my '68 'Cuda. That car looked like a smaller, very pretty family sedan. It screamed! It surprised an awful lot of folks - this amp will do the same.
If this was a stereo amp, it would need an Olympic weight lifting champion to place it in your rack...these things are surprisingly heavy...the toroidal transformer looks immense in that somewhat small environment. Like my older versions, the heat sink fins are a bit sharp, making it a bit painful to lift.
MONARCHY - SOUND FIT FOR A KING
The sound I heard the moment I turned them on, right out of the box, brought to mind the words, leaner, meaner, and cleaner. Not that the first version is muddy sounding in the least, it just seemed to me the II is definitely the better sounding of the two.
I listened to the II for almost two weeks before I began taking notes, my usual method of reviewing gear. I played a variety of records, a huge variety of records from Vivaldi to Bartok, Zappa to the Beatles on the VPI HW19Mk. IV; mine is modified with a variety of changes that make it too, a leaner and meaner machine.
Several years ago, I stared developing cataracts. You never notice the colors becoming more and more dull as the lenses in your eyes cloud over. New crystal clear lens implants return the vibrancy of color that one forgets the world offers. In the audio world, a piece of equipment that reveals those musical color changes, the slight nuance of the angle a bow is drawn across the string of a double bass, an emphasis by a vocalist on a single letter in the lyric, etc. The real kicker is the extreme upper notes of a piano. While the original Monarchy amps did not make those keys sound like a kid's toy piano, the II gave color and weight much like those new lens implants after the surgery.
I have to admit at about 3 weeks of listening, I'm frightened about putting the old 100 SE amps up to back in the system; I've fallen in love. Listening, I wondered just what the differences between my old amps and these news ones might be. I took photos of the amps Lloyd Walker had played with and of course, these new ones. As you can see in my photos, the II has more parts than the I...not being an audio designer and knowing only how to screw in a light bulb (or change a fuse in an amp) I thought more meant less purity; or at least the purity of sound could be compromised. I guess that piece of misinformation needs thrown out with the trash.
AN INTERVIEW WITH THE DESIGNER
Mr. Poon, I want to thank you for the opportunity to review your amps, I've loved mine since I purchased them from Lloyd Walker. The speakers I use are quite efficient and possess the ability to handle high power too. The combination of the Monarchy amps with the Infinity P-FR sounds wonderful. The new amps are a bit "cleaner and faster." And of course, the originals were speed demons. Fellow audio enthusiasts who have come over to listen are always impressed with the Monarchy amps...I continue to be impressed myself.
The original 100 SE Delux does not have a shield over the transformer, the II does. Were there any EMI issues reported by users that caused you to redesign the amp?
The new aluminum plates serves a triple purpose:
1: securing the large toroid transformer
2: heatsinking for the dual Low Noise bridge rectifiers
I notice there are far more parts in the II than the first iteration of the 100 SE Delux...is there anything I should share with my readers concerning those changes/additions?
*This Mark 2 is first major improvement after 15 years
*virtually noise free; hum free; thump free
*much more stable(will drive 2-Ohm loads)
*much lower distortion(due to dramatically lower noise floor)
*much improved protection circuitry
*distinctly purer sound
*Dual low noise bridge rectifiers
*same old price, $1179 each
The MK2 now has turn-on time delay to avoid thump and output protection.
What design goals were in mind for the SE II?
The SE-100 has been around for about 15 years.
In the early/mid 90's the rage was for single-ended amps, for their 3-dimensional sound quality.
A company in Hayward, California, called Golden Tube, sold several thousand of their SE-40 tube amps. I was instrumental in providing this company with my sources in the Silicon Valley: machine shops, assembly house, component suppliers, etc. But I did not think the 40 Watts of this tube amp could give adequate power for the more demanding loudspeakers.
I therefore set out to design the SE-100 with the help from Andrew Hefley. Andrew was the original designer of the Ampzilla, highly rated by The Absolute Sound. Unfortunately Andrew left Northern California and I became solely involved in the subsequent updates.
After 15 years I think it's time for a complete update: Hence the Mark 2, with the same design goals: To provide relatively high power, with good 3-dimensional reproduction, at low cost (compared with the likes of Threshold, Krell, etc) Even just through word-of-mouth, we are getting more business than we can handle.
I played a lot of the LP's I'd been listening to of late, but I also was moved to take a few steps backwards. I began pulling out some reference LP's I'd used years ago, Jerry Reed Smith's Strayaway Child (Song of the Wood Records) and the Sheffield Labs' Harry James LP and M&K's Fatha! (M&K RealTime RT5001) I was reminded why I was impressed with what those LP's revealed when first listened to years ago..
Strayaway Child is all about attack and decay...hammer dulcimer being a simple instrument yet one difficult to play well and thankfully, the music on this album is superb; if you enjoy Mountain Music. I wouldn't call it Bluegrass, but you would hear the music at a Bluegrass, rather than at a Jazz, Blues or Rock festival. The Monarchy II amps a lightning fast and those deliciously dulcet tones of the dulcimer were beautifully rendered but not exactly soothing, the sound is to make you want to jump up and do a reel across your neighbor's lawn. I really was impressed with that attack, but what really put the audiophile smile on my face was the decay...unbelievably true and natural.
The moment of sound when a string is plucked or struck with a hammer and the natural decay as the note fades is of great importance; suspension of disbelief allows us as listeners to enjoy a life-like moment within our listening environment. A system created from well chosen components, set up properly in a room makes this far easier, but we must have great recordings to achieve those moments.
Great recordings containing great music played well is a rarity. Not so rare as to obviate the chance of us ever hearing and experiencing that real moment, but surely it is not common. Those reference recordings we own are the diamonds that make this hobby sparkle. The James LP shows off imaging and soundstage...eerily so. The Monarchy's smile and deliver what Sheffield wanted to astound us with when making that recording. The sense of space separating the instruments; the fact that it was easy to hear those instruments in 3-D, made for lovely listening sessions. More importantly, far more, is the ability to get my toes tapping. Music should make your mind and body dance. The SE100 II makes me want to treat my basement like a ballroom and dance all night long. Rhythmic structure is as good as I or anyone could imagine.
Have you ever heard a well known song on the radio or played on a system that you felt the timing and rhythm was different than you recalled? Slower, fast-forward, it is somehow different and seemingly wrong. Great equipment, regardless of price, should
get the feeling of rhythmic correctness nailed down tight. The SE 100 does it right.
Listening to a few of my CD's revealed some things I'd never noticed about my CDP. I always thought the Audio Alchemy was a wonderful player, time and again when I've reviewed gear I deemed better than my own (sob!), I was able to hear the differences quite easily. I like to listen to how an amp sounds when playing vinyl, as it is my favorite medium. I get off on the tactile stuff.
But CD's keep improving, a miraculous feat, but we all have to be happy the medium is still being explored. When I listen to some of the latest CD's I've bought I'm amazed at their warmth and the musical gifts I receive. Pat Metheney's is a wonderful recording; BOTH the LP and the CD. The attack on Metheney's strings on this CD literally snap like an electrical short. I'd thought my Monarchy amps did that quite well...the II is the winner, hands down on both LP and CD. Every CD I played revealed just how good my CD player still is and how great everything sounded through the 100 SE II. Linda Ronstadt's voice on "We Ran" made my yearnings for her return (when we were both younger). Her voice is so powerful, yet incredibly moving; she's always been able to easily make tears come to my eyes (OK, I'm a softie!). And THAT, my friends, is what music's all about; what musical playback is all about.
Even though the CD title song song grabbed me by the coat-tails and wrung me out to dry, if you like Ronstadt and don't have this CD, for gosh sakes, go get it. I'm told it's on LP, perhaps you and I will get lucky and find it at a yard sale or flea market. Alas, my copy is a reissue and the sound is (was?) horrid, Linda's voice grabs me. An interesting aside... I'd heard in the past, copying a CD into your hard drive and making a CD-R from it can seemingly improve the sound. In this case it did, anyway! It's much more listenable, glare gone. You can't make a Ferrari from a sow's ear, but I threw the original into the “keep but don't play” file. I figured that since it was such a great experience hearing Linda's voice caress me, I should listen to it again with my original amps. I pulled the Monarchy II amps off the rack and put mine back into the system. I had not changed anything when I put the new amps in, the TG Audio Silver power cords and the Tel-Wire interconnects from the pre-amp had remained in the system. I wanted as close of a comparison as I possible could have had. The Monarchy II has the ability to wring more tears from my eyes..
Earlier I had, for a short while, put stock cords on and listened to a few songs to hear if the difference was worth the cost of some after-market power cords. Just like with my own, the Monarchy II amps developed a six-pack tummy with only 6 weeks, 20 minutes a day use of the Power-Flex (OK, TG Silver power cords). I think you'll agree that a better power cord does put a bit of muscle on these amps, but I don't think I would have heard that bit of “strength training” had I never switched
Possessing the extreme bandwidth these amps possess, Monarchy suggests you have a good power filter and a good power cord. I have my amps connected to Brick Wall filters. We have a lot of lightning storms here as well as power fluctuations...my gear wouldn't last long without some sort of protection. I feel the recommendation is NOT a maybe you should, YOU SHOULD!
Another point Mr. Poon makes is that although there are XLR connections along with RCA's, you may not achieve better sound as this is a single-ended amp. I used TelWire ICs from my preamp to the Monarchy II power amps. The connections on the amp are good, very solid connectors. Don't expect audio jewelry on equipment that's available at this price.
But that brings us to another one of Stereomojo's famous (or infamous) audio industry....
Just because a component has XLR connectors, it does not mean it has a balanced circuit. A component that is truly or "fully" balanced has a completely separate circuit path for the XLR connectors that is quite different from standard RCA unbalanced circuits. There are several ways to electronically achieve a fully balanced scheme, but what you really need to know is that many components come with XLR connectors that are just adaptors from the 3 pin XLR to the 2 conductor RCA, the type you can buy at any guitar shop for cheap but do not transform (literally) the unbalanced signal to a balanced one.
True balanced circuits lower the noise floor by using two different signal paths plus one ground (thus the 3 pins) where the noise present is canceled out of the music rather than transmitting it on like an unbalanced circuit would. They are much more immune to the additional noise that can be picked up from the environment, especially in longer cable lengths. Balanced lines have been used in recording studios and concert venues for decades where long cables are necessary for that very reason. It's almost certain that every recording you have, where CD, SACD, LP, cassette or 8-track (maybe not 78's!) were made with balanced cables.
The problem or "Dirty Little Secret" in the high-end audio industry is that not all, perhaps even most, companies do not tell you that their XLR festooned amps or players are not really balanced. They just let you assume they are. True balanced circuits are much more costly, especially in tube amps, than unbalanced. It is really a deceptive practice, but it's out there. The truth is that an unbalance circuit that introduces an XLR adapter into the scheme can actually sound worse than the unbalanced circuit in the same amp!
As we've already mentioned and to is great credit, Mr. Poon makes no attempt at deception. He says right up front that this amp is not fully balanced. In fact, he goes further to state "You may not achieve better sound as this is a single-ended amp". Cheers for Mr. Poon. We wish everyone shared your honesty.
Do I recommend these amps be placed in your living room along with the rest of your beloved gear? While I haven't heard too many solid state amps at this price (there really aren't too many in monoblock form), I think it's safe to say these amps are a steal at full price of $1179 each and even more of a bargain at the special offer, $1358 for the pair.
I still love my old ones and I'll start saving my pennies for the upgrade. Looking through the Monarchy site I found my amps and everyone else's can be upgraded to today's specs for only $300 plus shipping. That's a steal, folks! So...what are you waiting for...the price to go UP?
Frequency Response: -0.1 dB from 20Hz to 20KHz at 1 Watt
Signal-to-Noise Ratio: Greater than 120 dB below rated FTC Full Bandwidth Power
Slew Rate: 50V microsecond
Input Impedance: 40K Ohm
Input Sensitivity: 1.5Volt Peak-to-Peak for full output
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): Less than 0.01% at full rated FTC power from 20Hz to 20KHz.
Intermodulation Distortion (IMD): Less than 0.05% from 250 mW to full rated FTC power
FTC Output Power:
100 Watts RMS on 8 Ohms (Both Basic and Delux versions)
160 Watts RMS on 4 Ohms (Delux version)
200 Watts RMS on 4 Ohms (Special Edition, consul factory for details)
Power Bandwidth: -3dB from 5 Hz to 100KHz
Damping Factor: Better than 100
Voltage Gain: 26 dB.
Warranty is 1 year. The purchaser has a thirty day buy-back protection; if the amps don't make your heart flutter you can return them within that period for a full refund minus a 15% re-stocking fee.
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