Monarchy Audio is one of those companies that has been around for awhile and which you probably have already heard about. You can see their products at trade shows or if you are lucky enough to live nearby you might just set up an appointment to go visit their showroom. C.C. Poon, is the designer and founder of the company. Having known him for awhile I always found him to be informative as well as eager to talk about his audio gear. To give you a little history about my own experience with Monarchy Audio I was a customer of Mr. Poon and had purchased many items from him before I had written any reviews. It has been my pleasure to have purchase their DR-1 Digital interconnects, DAB-1 speaker cables, AC-1 power cords, SM-70 Pro amplifiers, Dignity Audio (imported by Monarchy Audio) DA08SE monoblock 300B tube amplifiers, SE-250 Hybrid mono block amplifiers, the DIP Classic (for use with CD transports) and the DIP 48/96 Upsampler. Being a good customer and living so close by I was also able to audition, in the privacy of my home, their model SE-160 Hybrid mono block amplifiers, Model 33 preamplifier, NM24 preamplifier/DAC, M150 Dual Isolation AC supply and the original version of the SE-100 mono block amplifiers.
Today though let us take a look at the Monarchy Audio SE-100 Delux MK2 monoblock amplifiers which first came into production fifteen years ago but has just recently gone through a factory upgrade. Physically they sport the same basic look as their predecessor, except for oval handles on the front plate, laser engraving on both front and rear panels as well as twice the amount of vented slots on the top cover. The extra ventilation is always welcome as these100-watt at 8 Ohm (200-watt at 4 Ohms) single-ended Class A amplifiers run a bit warm to the touch, as is quite normal with Class A amplifiers. They also still sport both single-ended and balanced inputs plus an IEC connector so you may experiment with different power cords. Although some Monarchy products (such as their AC-Regenerator) are now subbed out to China for final assembly the SE-100 Delux MK2's are still built right here in California.
On the insides they have gone through some changes as well. With the use of improved layout and wiring techniques to reduce hum, a time-delay relay to eliminate turn on thumps and positive over-drive protection for clean clipping, we now have an amplifier that is much quieter than previous versions. The MK2's are also rated to handle difficult loads down to 2ohms. One more point of interest is that the new MK2's are priced at $1179 each ($2358 a pair) exactly the same as when first introduced fifteen long years ago. For C.C. Poon to offer these amplifiers to the consumer at prices from yesterday while improving the product and keeping it handmade in the USA is quite a feat indeed. For this review the amplifiers were run only through their single-ended inputs (as my preamplifier with balanced inputs was no longer available).
A Visit to Monarchy Audio
Mr. Poon's warehouse/showroom setting is actually more of a warehouse/master tinkerer environment. There are audio parts everywhere when you first walk through a large open room with a small pathway leading up to two smaller listening areas at the back of the warehouse. Both these rooms are also filled with more parts, projects in various stages of development, and audio gear not only of Monarchy design but many others as well. Here in one room I sat down on a chair with four Advent loudspeakers, one on top of the other on both the left and right sides in front of me. There surrounded by audio parts, partially assembled equipment, listening without the aid of a vast open area between the loudspeakers and with no acoustic panels to help tame the effects of the room or audiophile approved footers underneath equipment, I first heard the New MK2's. It was actually quite fun listening to the two pairs of Advent loudspeakers, designed by Henry Kloss from the 1970's, stacked on top of each other. It made me feel like a kid in his first apartment getting setup to throw a party. Even in this setting the MK2's amazed me as they poured forth music to sooth even the most savage of beasts. While listening for the very first time to these amplifiers I glanced over to see Mr. Poon with his soldering gun as he put the finishing touches on the very first production unit of his new DAC/Upsampler Combo ($399), a unit he would soon loan me for just a short while. It was interesting to note that Mr. Poon felt comfortable enough in the abilities of the MK2 amplifiers to let me listen under such unusual circumstances. However a proper setting for a formal review is still in an environment one is familiar with so as to note differences new equipment might bring, so a return trip home was in short order.
The Music Begin
Ah but the best was yet to come, for now we shall visit with the Eagles' DVD-Audio classic Hotel California [WEA 60509-9]. Here within the title song "Hotel California" guitars sounded quite distinct while percussion by Don Henley was powerful to the point of shocking. This was perhaps the best I had heard this CD in my listening room. It was not that just one aspect of the song was bold and clear but rather it was everywhere at once with a nice touch of silence between instruments and vocals. In fact the background vocal singers and lead singer were layered perfectly and in perspective. Not to be overlooked was the string section on "Waisted Time (reprise)" as it was quite expansive in its presentation as strings can sometimes be. While being high pitched the strings never sounded annoying. The string section, while sounding as one unit playing together, still could be heard as individual performers. That is to say that the layering of musicians on the soundscape was quite good indeed. Feeling I was on a roll I had to test the MK2 units further with another DVD-Audio, Neil Young's Greendale [Reprise 48533-9]. Here the amplifiers showed me what I had been missing as the song "Leave The Driving" made me almost feel as if the drums were in the room with me. I hope Steven Rochlin, editor of "Enjoy the Music" (being an accomplished drummer himself) will forgive me for this little bit of an exaggeration as nothing I have heard yet truly sounds like a musician actually being there. Still the MK2 amplifiers gave it a great try and accomplished quite a lot towards that ultimate goal as they reproduced not just drums but music and vocals in general. Once again the amplifiers were impressive with a natural feel to their sound that was not sterile or overly euphoric but rather with startling accuracy.
Vinyl And The
Feeling good about playing some older music I pulled out four different copies of Victory at Sea [RCA LSC-2335] but chose to play the "true stereophonic recording" version Conducted and Arranged by Robert Russell Bennett with the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra. The opening score of, "The Song of the High Seas", is quite famous and easily familiar even to those who have not seen the movie as it has been used many time since in countless other places. Harps, horns, percussion, drums all give rise to an eerie feeling of loneliness the ship must have felt while sailing in dangerous waters deep at sea. Imagery was excellent as different sections of the large orchestra could be heard displaying their full dynamics while transitioning from soft to loud passages back to soft once again. In the ending of the album with the song "Victory at Sea" the MK2's gave a grand display of a full scale orchestra with images of various layers of musicians playing in rows before me. As previously mentioned, the Monarchy Audio SE-100 Delux MK2s were no slouch when it came to layering and spaciousness.
While my loudspeakers are efficient they also can handle a lot of power which the MK2's never seemed to run out of, at least not in my room. Lastly comes an album most people that I have met seem to have not heard of. The House of Sleeping Beauties [Private Music 1601] composed by Lucia Hwong. She is a descendant of Madame T.C. Lu who was her grandmother and a Chinese opera star. Lucia Hwong plays the Zither, Kayagum, Pipa and Synthesizer. Listening to this vinyl recording one can hear the strong influence of classical Chinese music, although she was also trained in traditional Western classical music as well. Here with the songs from the "Tibet Suite" which seemed to blend beautiful into one another, each instrument would hang in the air for just a little extra amount of time adding to the beauty of the setting. There is a part where a female vocal is quietly singing in the far off background for what seems like an eternity as her voice slowly fades into silence. The synthesizer, percussion and wind instruments added elegance and grace of the music. At one point the bass was so powerful it shook the floor in a tight controlled sense. To hear this album with the MK2's ability to produce a strong open soundscape and controlled mid-bass was indeed a treat to the senses.
Hearing the singing voices of Willie Nelson and Whitney Houston through the MK2's showed that these are very natural sounding accurate amplifiers that can especially get both male and female vocal content right . On the CD Whitney Houston [ARCD 8212] with "You Give Good Love" her voice was not just strong but you could clearly hear its many different fluctuations throughout the song. As for the background singers they were astonishing as they seemingly floated behind her remaining clear and detailed with an eerie sense of three dimensionality that was just beautiful. With Willie Nelson Super Hits (CMG A 705812) once again his background accompaniment sounded quite vivid indeed as his own voice displayed all the power and beauty he is well know for.
The Listening Environment
I have two power conditioners which plug into a PS Audio Power Port receptacle located behind the audio rack. I also use two Blue Circle Audio MKIII Power Line Pillows one on each of two outlets on the long walls next to and behind each loudspeaker. The Legacy's are located about six feet seven inches from the rear wall to their front panel and twenty one inches from the rooms side walls to the middle of each loudspeakers. The loudspeakers are placed twelve feet apart forming a triangle with the listening position that is also angled at twelve feet from loudspeaker to listener. In the corner of each short wall behind the Legacy Focus 20/20 loudspeakers are a pair of Klipsch Klipschorn loudspeakers which are also sometimes used when reviewing audio gear. If the Klipsch loudspeakers are used I then reposition the three acoustical panels to slightly behind the listening position one to the left, the other to the right with the third being placed in the opening leading to the hallway just right of the right loudspeaker.
Samsung HD-841 CD/SACD/DVD Audio universal player (used as a transport)
Monarchy Audio Combo DIP/Upsampler
Oracle Delphi MK 1 turntable (with custom made phono interconnects), Grace 707 tonearm, Denon-301 MKII Moving Coil cartridge
Whest PhonoStage.20+MsU.20 power supply
PS Audio power port receptacle
Two Blue Circle Audio Mk III power line conditioners
Interconnects: Kimber Kable Hero and Monarchy Audio DR-1 (Digital Cable)
Loudspeaker cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA with Kimber Kable 4TC jumper cables
Power Cords: Tek Line PC-8 Signature (2), Monarchy Audio AC-1 (2)
Cherry Synergy Twin S30 Salamander audio rack
My ratings: Please take into consideration that the equipment under review is being measured in my room, with my equipment and heard through my ears. As always you should be the final judge as to what works for you in your environment and measured against what traits you value most. The following was how I rated the equipment based on a rating system that does not take in to consideration the cost of the product, until the very last question, "Value For The Money". Before that all products are rated against others in its category, regardless of financial considerations.