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November 2009
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
World Premiere!
Monarchy Audio SE-100 Delux MK2 Monoblock Amplifiers
A revised edition of a fifteen year production run.
Review By Anthony Nicosia

Click here to e-mail reviewer

 

Monarchy Audio SE-100 Delux MK2 Monoblock Amplifiers  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.

Monarchy Audio SE-100 Delux MK2 Monoblock AmplifiersOn 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
Monarchy Audio SE-100 Delux MK2 Monoblock AmplifiersWhile the Monarchy Audio SE-100 Delux MK2 may sport a very similar name as its predecessor the SE-100 Delux, trust me it is quiet different. As soon as previous customers had heard of the new upgraded SE-100, and its relatively low pricing, off went their older versions for sale on the used market and in came orders for the newer MK2's. For those that know Monarchy Audio products, and Mr. Poon's reputation for producing quality equipment at affordable pricing an audition or even waiting for a review to appear was just not necessary.  Driving the short distance from my house to Monarchy placed me in a very unusual setting to audition music. What is meant by unusual is that it was a far from your typical environment where you would think to audition equipment direct from the factory.

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.

 

Let The Music Begin
The CD River of Dreams [Columbia CK 53003] is indeed a beautiful collection of Billy Joel songs. So much so that it got him the nomination for the1994 Grammy awards "Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male".  "River of Dreams" is  the title of the Cd and also a really great song. Here with the MK2's Billy Joel's voice  has just a little extra clarity while the piano keys seemed more "live" than ever given to the amplifiers ability to produce a proper amount of detail in each performance. Drums and percussion could be characterized as deep yet quick, not heavy or slow.  While clarity, power and detail are strong points of the MK2, a wide spacious soundscape proved to be its best trait. With the song "Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)", with the orchestra in the background as the piano played, there was an excellent width with the soundscape the same as with the song "River of Dreams".  Both sounded wide as a river if you will excuse my analogy. A quick listen to Shady Grove [Acoustic Disc B00000391J] and you will be treated to a very detailed rendition of Jerry Garcia playing acoustic guitar and banjo while David Grisman plays along with guitar, banjo, mandolin, mandola and mandolin-banjo. Here these two displayed their talents at quick picking especially on the Civil War ballad, "The Sweet Sunny South". With this song the MK2 gave a sharp clear three-dimensional imaging that made you want to stand up and applaud. Rather than being labeled as forward sounding these amplifiers can be categorized as smooth, but not laid back, as they gave a very realistic presentation of music.

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 MK2 Amplifiers
Turning now to my turntable, the Oracle Delphi MK1, we are about to explore an old favorite of mine. Out from its sleeve I pulled the original Broadway cast vinyl recording of 42nd Street [RCA CBL 1-3891]. Here on the opening track "Overture" we hear the horn section and various other instruments reproduced with an exacting truth to their tone. While moving onto the song "Audition" we get the feel of a true Broadway show performing in front of us. There is just the right amount of echo, as if in a large hall, as the dancers tap on stage in a long chorus line. The echo was not just from the hall but the floor beneath them as well causing the stage to vibrate as the many dancers seemingly danced wall to wall in front of me. Turning up the volume on the MK2's and listening to them tap and sing reminded me of the Broadway plays I attended in my youth back in New York City. The real feel to a live stage performance though was when Tammy Grimes sang on "You're Getting to be a Habit with Me". Here there was a true sense of the performer on stage as the orchestra seemed to play from the pit below  yet slightly in front of her placing them between her and myself just like at the performance. With this my room took on the sound of a larger more spacious hall.

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.

 

Changing Associated Equipment
Monarchy Audio SE-100 Delux MK2Just to see what the MK2's were really made of, off came the two thousand dollar loudspeaker cables, two hundred plus dollar apiece interconnects and digital cables. Then of course out came the transport, DAC and DIP/Upsampler. Taking the place of all this was an under three hundred dollar CD player, loudspeaker cables running close to $300 and interconnects (two pairs) at around $100 a piece. This exchange was done in an effort to see if it was mostly the upscale associated gear that impressed me or did the MK2's actually measure up to my initial impressions based upon their own merit. As expected the new setup was not on par with the equipment it replaced which of course had nothing at all to do with the MK2's ability as an amplifier. Still the Monarchy Audio SE-100 Delux MK2 amplifiers displayed the ability to connect with the emotional content of each song. As is the mark of good amplifiers they found a way to bring joy to the music without the necessity of being surrounded with highly expensive gear.

 

Final Thoughts
So if you do not want to spend a great deal of money on amplifiers plus having to load up on  equally expensive trimmings like cables/interconnects etc just to be able to enjoy the music, well maybe the MK2's are for you. It was not that they were not enhanced by expensive gear but rather did not need them to present us with a quality audio presentation. Why they sound great even in Mr. Poon's small listening workshop which was filled with odds and ends. With the MK2's I never felt I was missing much. Of course there was that last octave or two of deep bass and perhaps a little air on the top end that separated these from the very best, very expensive amplifiers but for what you pay they deliver the goods and then some. For only $2358 you are buying two attractive, rather powerful amplifiers, that claim to drive difficult loads down to 2 ohms and give you all the flexibility of being placed close to the loudspeakers (so as to keep the cables short and IC's long) while offering both single-ended and balanced inputs. For me I liked the MK2's and would rather spend the money I saved with buying them, on better loudspeakers and source components. Before this my previous choice of amplifiers with which to review  equipment had been Monarchy's own SM-70 Pro's but after spending time with the SE-100 Delux MK2's, I am not so sure. On the company website Monarchy Audio displays the motto "High End at Low Cost" which is a very appropriate description of the  new MK2's.

 

The Listening Environment
The review room is eighteen feet eight inches long by thirteen feet wide with the loudspeakers and equipment kept on the short wall. The cathedral ceiling starts at eight feet and sloops up-wards to thirteen feet at its peak in the middle spanning across the short length of the room for the full thirteen feet height. The hardwood floor has a nine by six foot oriental rug lying down the long ways facing toward the system placed dead center in between, yet not under, the listener and the review equipment The room has no doors but there are two openings. One opening is in front of the right Legacy Focus 20/20 loudspeaker to gives access to the hallway while the other is behind the listening position and opens to a formal dinning area. The room is treated with three floor standing acoustical panels, one behind each loudspeaker and one in between both of them (although I have been known to move them), while all audio equipment is located in a Cherry Synergy Twin S30 Salamander audio rack against and in the middle of the short wall.

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.

 

Review Equipment
Monarchy Audio M24 preamplifier

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.

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear  
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Monophonic solid-state amplifier
Output Power: 100 watts into 8 Ohms
Inputs: Single ended via RCA  and Balanced via XLR
Protection Fuses: Three
Available in 117 or 230V versions
Front Panel: 9 x 12 x 4 (WxDxH in inches)
Weight: 25lbs each
Price: Re-introductory special: $1,000 off, so final cost is $1358 per pair

 

Company Information
Monarchy Audio
380 Swift Avenue #21
South San Francisco, CA 94080

Voice: (650) 873-3055
Fax: (650) 588-0335
E-mail address: monarchy@earthlink.net
Website: www.monarchyaudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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