audience

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MARSHALL NACK'S SYSTEM

LOUDSPEAKERS
YG Acoustics Anat Studio III.

ELECTRONICS
mbl 6010D preamplifier, mbl 9008A monoblocks and Soulution 710 stereo amp. ASR Basis Exclusive phono preamp.

SOURCES
Dr. Feickert Blackbird turntable, Shelter Harmony cartridge, ModWright SONY SCD-XA5400ES SACD player

CABLES
Interconnects are Kubala-Sosna Elation! and Kharma Enigma. Digital cables are Kubala-Sosna Elation! and Kharma Enigma. Speaker wires are Kubala-Sosna Elation! and Kharma Enigma. AC power cords are Kubala-Sosna Elation! and Tara Labs Gold.

ACCESSORIES
TAOC Rack and TITE-35S component footers, edenSound TerraStone footers, CORE Designs amp stands, Vibraplane ELpF Isolation Platforms, Acoustic System Resonators and Sugar Cubes, Argent Room Lenses, Echo Buster & Sonex acoustic panels, TARA Labs PM/2 and IDAT power conditioners.

 

Positive Feedback ISSUE 61
may/june 2012

 

 

monk-audio

Phono Preamplifier

as reviewed by Marshall Nack

 

monk phono

Now here's an unusual product: the new MONK-AUDIO phono preamp from Germany. It is a small, black utility chassis only 8.6" W x 3.1" H x 12.2" D (220x80x310mm), weighing just 6.5lbs (3kg). But the front panel on that undersized box looks like a mixing board.

monk phono

There are knobs for everything:

  • A choice of five equalizing curves

  • stereo, mono, left, right channel selection

  • two-stage gain adjustment: MC gain up to 70 dB

  • three phono inputs

  • impedance settings: 15 kΩ, 33 kΩ, 47 kΩ, 56 kΩ, 100 kΩ, 220 kΩ

  • capacitance settings: 47 pF, 100 pF, 150 pF, 220 pF, 470 pF, 820 pF

How's that for options? And all adjustments are made from outside the chassis. Suffice to say, the website proclaims universal adjustability was the aim. In addition, it is designed with conventional all-discrete circuitry and custom-made, high-quality MC step-up transformers. The manual is surprisingly comprehensive and has lots of useful info. Did you know there are technical reasons why selecting “mono” mode optimizes playback of mono LPs—in mono mode, “most of the inversely phased noise components mutually cancel each other…” Swapping among these EQ curves makes quite a difference.

Do you think an MSRP of $3000 is asking too much for all this? (Ha, ha.)

Functionality aside, it happens to be a top-notch performer at this price. I analyzed its performance and, try as I might, could not come up with any vices. This was unsettling because gear at this price level ALWAYS has issues. Plug the solid-state Monk in and you'll hear something that only hints at transistors. Perhaps that's because of the MC step-up transformers inside. (I always find transformers have this effect of reducing the solid-state signature.) The Monk's frequency response is even and it throws a soundstage that I would describe as holistic. Image borders tend to bleed into each other and it has a little more reverb than it should. But most everything you need to hear is there—no omissions—and it treads lightly; there's nothing to suggest a heavy footprint.

asr phono

ASR Basis Exclusive (2008 model)

Compared to my reference ASR Basis Exclusive, it is less resolving, dynamic and refined. I'd estimate it offers about 80% of the ASR. (My ASR is the 2008 version; current 2010 version Basis Exclusive's have a $9650 MSRP. I also use a K-S power cord, $1800/meter.) That means it competes with units in the $6K-7K area. It's worth checking out if you're shopping in this price range.

Acoustic Systems International Footers

However, the Monk's case becomes a lot more compelling with the addition of a set of Acoustic Systems International Top Line footers. (MSRP $750/set of three. Acoustic Systems International and MONK-AUDIO are both imported by Avatar Acoustics.)

asi footers

ASI footers

Slipping a trio of these footers under the Monk is like spending an additional couple of thousand dollars for a more expensive, tubed phono preamp. The solid-state signature becomes virtually undetectable.

Impressions

One sunny Saturday afternoon, I had Lynn and her oboe instructor sit down for a listen. For our first comparative selection I used the heavyweight, 1986 Chesky Records reissue of the Sibelius Symphony No. 2, with Sir John Barbirolli conducting the Royal Philharmonic (Chesky CR3). First we listened with my ASR Basis Exclusive in line.

sibelius

It sounded very good, especially as the front-end was the Dr. Feickert Firebird turntable. Barbirolli builds up a lot of momentum and tension, so you're sitting on the edge of your seat. We were sucked in by the interpretation. We had a few sonic quibbles: this reissue has an edgy quality and the strings were a little wiry.

When we swapped over to the Monk with the ASI footers in place, the first thing we noticed was how clear the stage became—those bleeding borders firmed up. Plus the timbral colors increased. The oboes, in particular, sounded less blunt than they did with the ASR. Both micro and macro dynamics improved. We all agreed the Sibelius was decidedly more listenable through the Monk than the ASR.

monk phono

Next I put Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington, a fine early Original Master Recording, on the platter (MFSL-2-155). Through the Monk, bass was powerful and slightly boomy and the Duke's piano had a peculiar, old-timey tinkly sound that nagged a bit. Nevertheless, the performance was compelling.

We swapped to the ASR and, wouldn't you know it, the bass calmed down and acquired more overtones. Meanwhile, the piano sound opened up and lost some of that honky-tonk quality. We all agreed the MOFI recording was decidedly more listenable through the ASR.

Conclusions

So, what can we conclude from all this? Sometimes things are not straightforward. I think, depending on the LP and how your system is voiced, you're equally likely to prefer either phono stage. The point is that the Monk was not out of place in my reference system where all the other components cost at least three times its price (excepting the Modwright Sony SCD5400 SACD player).

The ASR is honest, but it can be resolute. Given the way my system is voiced right now, it could stand to loosen up and become a tad more forgiving to accommodate the ASR. Maybe I'll try putting those ASI footers under the ASR. But this may be just your cup of tea.

If I owned the Monk, I would definitely get the ASI footers for the acoustic boost they provide. In my system the Monk benefited from AC conditioning, with further improvements in resolution and dynamics.

How to Get the Most from the Monk

AC plug polarity is critical. The Monk's two-prong power plug will fit into a 3-prong receptacle in either direction, but one direction will sound much better. The importer has placed a black dot where the ground pin should be as a guide to correctly orienting the plug. Use this to orient the plug.

monk phono

Try experimenting with power conditioning. The Monk's sound will change noticeably.

One of the most popular tweaks in all the land is RCA Covers for unused single-ended inputs/outputs. I used the #1 input for the phono cable and covered the other two inputs. BTW, I also do this for all other components.

I recently developed a three-tier component classification scheme. Components costing up to $5K I arbitrarily assigned Entry Level. The Mid Level ranges up to $10K. The Monk is the immediate exception that pushes beyond its MSRP into Level Two. With the addition of the ASI footers, it settles in the center of that category. It is one of the best buys at its price point. Marshall Nack

Monk Audio phono preamplifier
Retail: $3000

ASI Top Line Footers
Retail: $750/set of 3

Manufacturer

Monk-Audio
www.monk-audio.de

Distributor Information

Avatar Acoustics
www.avataracoustics.com

 

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