Monarchy Audio SE-100 Delux: Class-A Monoblock Amplifiers
|Monarchy Audio SE-100 Delux:
Class-A Monoblock Amplifiers
25 September 2002
Circuit Topology: Two Singled-Ended Gain Stages rated at 150 Watts each
Dimensions: 11" W ×4.5" T × 12" D
Weight: 25 lbs (50 lbs for a stereo pair)
380 Swift Ave., #21
S. San Francisco, CA 94080
So much - from so little!
A couple of years back, I reviewed the Monarchy Audio SE-100 single-ended monoblock amps for another publication, and found them to provide an excellent musical portrait with a few minor shortcomings. Since then, C.C. Poon, Monarchy's CEO, has improved the input circuit topology and has beefed up the output stage with 8 Hitachi MOSFETs per 100-Watt amp. Each MOSFET is capable of dissipating 150 Watts, for a total of 1200 Watts per monoblock. Can you say "Overkill"???
Meanwhile, InnerSound had taken a similar approach in designing its highly-touted ESL amp by supplying a MOSFET output stage that can handle (several times over) all the power its power supply is capable of dishing out. After spending extended time with both amplifiers, I am now a big fan of this type of design; and I'll elaborate more on that as this article progresses.
The SE-100 Delux is a single-ended Class-A monoblock amplifier that employs 8 matched power MOSFETs per chassis and can deliver 100 Watts into 8 ohms, 200 Watts into 4 ohms, and higher power into 2 ohm loads with forced-air cooling. A 450VA toroidal transformer with 60,000 MFD of filtering capacitance is housed within each precision-machined aluminum chassis. There is one balanced and one single-ended input per amp, as well as an IEC receptacle for use with detachable AC cords. Heavy-duty 5-way binding posts are standard. These units are smallish, measuring only 4.5"H × 11"W × 12"D and weighing in at 25 pounds each. They sport very robust faceplates and black-chrome rack handles mounted in gold decorative brackets.
New improvements to the current production of the SE-100 Delux amplifiers include:
Dual low-noise rectifiers
Output relay protection (no turn on thump)
Improved input circuit topology using redesigned circuit board
Higher power Hitachi MOSFETs
The price remains at $1,179 per monoblock
As an extra added attraction for those of you who own speakers with two sets of input terminals to facilitate bi-wiring and bi-amping, C.C. Poon offered me a great hook-up tip for vertical biamping. This can be accomplished using only one set of outputs from the preamp without using any y-connectors and there are two ways to do it. If you are running an RCA-type input to the amp, you can strap its unused XLR input to the second amp using a balanced XLR cable. Conversely, if you run a single XLR balanced cable from the preamp to the amp, you can strap the two unused RCA inputs together with a short interconnect. The only caveat here is that in the case of the XLR balanced connection between the two amps (RCA from the preamp to the amps), you will need to have a pair of XLR cables made up with male connectors on both ends. Still, this set up will reduce clutter and save you from having to purchase two long runs of expensive interconnect cables.
Crux of the Matter
As with all things audiophile, the crux of the matter always centers around the listening experience, and to that end I'm happy to report that the SE-100's did not disappoint. They delivered the musical goods, once again improving upon the weaknesses of previous versions. I recall that the original SE-100's were exceptionally adept at providing a level of immediacy and smoothness on vocals and midrange instruments that was captivating. However, I thought they fell short in the areas of ultimate bass extension and slam and in the fact that they seemed to lack the pinpoint focus and ultimate clarity of the best state-of-the-art designs. Additionally, when I tried to drive the ESL panels of my InnerSound Eros speakers, the soundstage seemed rather closed in-like they were objecting to the 2-ohm load that the ESLs imposed at the highest frequencies. That said, I am happy to report that this latest incarnation is a different animal.
The fact is that they drove my current Eros Mk-II panels extraordinarily well, offering a very wide and deep soundscape, choc-full of the macro- and micro-dynamic signatures of the various instruments on every recording I played. For example, on Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk," from The Dance [Reprise 9 46702-2], a vast writhing panorama of sound took over my room and pinned me to my listening seat for the duration of the performance. A couple of audiophile friends who witnessed the spectacle were likewise flabbergasted by the sheer scope of the presentation. Best of all, the SE-100s enabled the University of Southern California's horn section to maintain its focus and not melt into the Mac like some sort of soppy Burger King sandwich. Bravo Monarchy!
Playing through "Mix One" of Rough Mix [MCA 2295] by Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane, on vinyl, proved enlightening. As it turned out, the SE-100s acquitted themselves by hanging in there note for note with their more expensive hybrid brethren, the Monarchy Audio SE-160 monoblocks. Guitars and vocals were rendered very naturally by both amplifiers with a slight edge in liquidity going to the larger SE-160s. It was a much closer contest then I had anticipated. Any amps that can hang with my reference SE-160s have got to be good!
In addition to using the SE-100s on the Eros Mk-II system, I ran them full range on my B&W CDM 9NT and Magnepan MG 12/QR speakers. With the latter two systems, I compared the performance of the SE-100s to that of the InnerSound ESL amp and made some interesting observations.
The ESL amp is a virtual powerhouse and provides a lot of bass punch and definition-an area where I expected the SE-100s to lose ground. To my surprise, on bass-heavy material, the SE-100s appeared to equal the extension of the mighty InnerSound amp and actually sounded a bit more controlled-perhaps tighter. Acoustic basses, and kick drums were rendered with a touch more authenticity and roundness of tone by the diminutive SE-100s. Individual bass notes could be followed more easily, and I got a better sense of the skins on the drums. Whadayaknow!
Moving to Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records [London-Sire 31165-2], Chris Isaak's vocal on "It Wouldn't Be The Same Without You" had so much echo around it that it sounded as it Chris might be singing from the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It was hauntingly engaging through the SE-100s and the Maggie 12/QRs.
From the same CD, Van Morrison and Carl Perkins' take of "Sittin on Top of the World" sounded great, with the inspired battle of the saxes near the end of the cut coming off as natural and dynamic as you please.
I think I would be remiss if I didn't share with you some sentiments about a recent CD purchase of mine, the soundtrack from Gosford Park [Decca 289 470 387-2]. Frankly I found the soundtrack much more entertaining than the movie. It contains 24 tracks, including a mix of well-orchestrated instrumentals and vocal cuts. The last cut on the disc, "The Land of Might-Have-Been," sung by the film's leading man, Jeremy Northam, is particularly emotive through the SE-100s, which capture the raw emotion in Northam's voice.
Back to my comparison with the InnerSound ESL amp, I'd have to say that the SE-100s lack the tiny bit of vestigial edginess that is evinced on some recordings through the ESL amp. The fact is that I had a hard time finding faults with the SE-100s because I was so wrapped up in the musical cocoon most of the time.
Donning my reviewer's cap, my opinion is that the ESL amp throws a wider soundstage than the SE-100s, with a greater lateral spread of the instruments contained therein. By contrast, the SE-100s portray a good sense of depth, possibly with better center fill than the ESL amp. While the ultimate clarity and degree of focus would slightly favor the InnerSound, the overall sense of musical rightness and plausibility would lean toward the SE-100s. Mind you that both of these models of amplifiers are excellent in their own right and the differences are mostly minor with trade-offs flowing both ways.
If you favor brute force with a lot of headroom and the ability to drive the most difficult loads with ease, and if you prefer crystal clarity and minute detailing over an incrementally more relaxed and musical presentation, you will favor the InnerSound ESL amp. On the other hand, if you like a slightly richer, more harmonically pleasing presentation and don't need the amp to double as an arc-welding device, then the Monarchy SE100s might be the most appropriate Rx to cure your audio ills.
I could live happily with either, but if I were stuck on a desert island and had to choose only one, my slight preference for the musical purity of the SE-100s would float my boat.
The SE-100 monoblocks are excellent amplifiers. They leave precious little to be desired in terms of the accurate musical portrait they paint. In cost-no-object designs, a slightly greater degree of focus and a bit larger soundstage are areas that may be improved upon. At this meager price point, I am almost in awe of what Monarchy Audio has achieved.
The units are physically small, but offer relatively high power, so that employing two pairs in bi-amplified systems may be easily accomplished. They are well-built, with built-in circuit and speaker protection, and performed flawlessly throughout my extended review period.
My best advice is to take a chance and see how great the latest SE-100s will sound in your own system. Having lived with them, I am confident that most will find quite a lot to like.
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