The Monoprice Monolith is the proud exception to the rule that says piling up the features on a product that’s built down to a price must surely end in tears…
- Good specification for the money
- Nicely balanced sound no matter how you access it
- Decent quality of build and finish
- Sound lacks dynamic impetus
- Not quite as plug and play as it thinks it is
- SpeedsSupports 33.3 and 45rpm playback
- CartridgeFeatures an Audio Technica AT-VM95E cartridge
- ConnectivityRCA, USB, and Bluetooth outputs
Monoprice, for the uninitiated, is an American online retailer that has done rather well for itself selling various items of audio/video equipment under its namesake private label. Monolith is the model name attached to quite an extensive range of amplifiers, cables, headphones, speakers, subwoofers… and turntables.
This Monoprice Monolith turntable is specified, and priced, to compete with similar products from the likes of Crosley and House of Marley – but it’s fair to say my experience of this sort of thing hasn’t been all that inspiring up to now. Is the Monolith the product to change all that?
The Monoprice Monolith turntable sells for £249 in the United Kingdom, tops. In the United States it can be had from the Monoprice website for $249. It’s been tricky to establish a price in Australia, to be perfectly honest – but if it’s not as aggressive as the UK or US price, I’ll eat my hat.
If you want an equivalent(ish) product from a brand with, let’s say, a little more hi-fi credibility – like Pro-Ject, for example – it’s going to cost you quite a lot more money. But there are similarly specified designs from Crosley, from House of Marley and from Lenco at more-or-less the same price – so it’s obvious who and what Monoprice’s competition is.
- Amped MDF plinth
- Vibration-absorbing feet
- Clear dustcover
When you’re trying to shoehorn in as much functionality as possible, and you’re trying to do so while keeping the costs down to a minimum, there’s almost certainly nothing left in the kitty for design. And besides, who in their right mind has the time to reinvent the wheel? So as far as design goes, the Monoprice Monolith looks exactly as you’d expect – with a dustcover on top.
Mind you, just because not much design has happened here, that doesn’t mean the Monolith is carelessly built or finished. The plinth, which is available in gloss black as well as the walnut wrap of my review sample, is built from damped MDF and feels both sturdy and reasonably substantial. It sits on three fairly pliant, vibration-absorbing feet, and on top there’s a hinged clear-Perspex dustcover.
The standard of build and finish is everything you could realistically hope for given the asking price. Everything is properly put together, there are no visible seams or sharp corners, and all the controls operate as they should. In truth it’s difficult to know what more could reasonably be expected.
- Audio Technica AT-VM95E cartridge
- Integrated phono stage
- RCA, USB, and Bluetooth outputs
The Monoprice Monolith has all the features you’d expect from a turntable – but it also has a few more for good measure. And even those features you’re expecting to see are specified beyond what you might be expecting.
This is a belt-drive design, and the branded felt slip-mat sits on a low-mass aluminium platter. The tonearm is a very acceptable carbon-fibre design – it’s straight, 219mm long and comes pre-fitted with a proven and extremely capable Audio Technica AT-VM95E moving-magnet cartridge. You’re expected to fit the classic fishing line anti-skate weight, and fit and adjust the counterweight – but after that, operation is automated (up to a point, at least).
There is a stop/start control just beneath the cartridge when the tonearm is in its cradle, and there’s automatic speed-change – on the opposite side of the plinth is a control for selecting between 33.3 and 45rpm. If the Monolith had an auto-stop feature, it would be as painless to operate as these things ever get.
The rear of the plinth lets you know this is, by prevailing turntable standards, a feature-rich device. Reading from left to right, the rear panel features a grounding post, stereo RCA outputs, a switch to enable or disable the integrated phono stage, a USB-B output, a socket for mains power, a Bluetooth indicator light, and a power on/off switch. Which, I think we can all agree, speaks of functionality beyond that offered by your average turntable.
The integrated phono stage means the Monolith can output through its RCA sockets at either line-level or phono-level – which means, in turn, it should be possible to connect this turntable to pretty much any kind of system without too much difficulty.
The USB-B output means the turntable can be connected to a computer, and with the use of appropriate software (Monoprice recommends Audacity, which I’m not about to argue with) it’s possible to make digital copies of your vinyl. The Bluetooth indicator light flashes when you first power up the Monolith, and then shines steadily once the turntable has paired with the wireless device you’re using.
- Poised, quite articulate and organised sound
- Tonal consistency across all outputs
- Not the most dynamic listen
Any sensible reader has tempered their expectations by now. After all, when a turntable costs as little, relatively speaking, as this one, and when it’s so extensively specified, well… there’s got to be a trade-off somewhere, right? And sure enough, there is – but what’s striking is just how mild and acceptable a trade-off it is.
A big, heavyweight reissue of Tricky’s Maxinquaye allows the Monoprice to demonstrate its talents nicely. Outputting to my reference stereo system via the RCA outputs, and with its internal phono stage switched on, this turntable is a decently balanced, quite detailed, and properly organised listen.
From the deep, convincingly shaped, and well-controlled low frequencies to the well-behaved top end, the Monolith extracts a fair amount of detail from the groove and arranges everything into a confidently unified whole. The midrange enjoys a little bit of space on the reasonably open soundstage, so the two very contrasting vocal styles across the record are both given plenty of expression.
There’s a fair amount of impact and straight-edged attack at the bottom end, so rhythms are handled naturalistically, and if the treble response is just slightly rolled off then that’s preferable to a thin, hard, or sharp top end. Overall tonality is just slightly on the warm side of neutral, but not fatally so.
Switching the turntable’s integrated phono stage off and letting a (relatively expensive) external alternative do the same job increases the drive and attack of the sound, as well as sharpening up treble response and taking a little of the haziness away from the layout of the soundstage. But at the same time, it demonstrates that the Monolith’s onboard amplification is more than capable enough in the context of the type of system this turntable is likely to be part of.
Unhooking the turntable from the system and then making a wireless Bluetooth connection reveals happily consistent performance – the character of the Monolith doesn’t alter in any meaningful way regardless of the way it connects to your system. The rather full-on process of analogue-to-digital conversion, wireless transmission and digital-to-analogue conversion takes its toll on detail levels and the outright scale of the presentation, and some of the low-frequency positivity goes astray too – but where overall tonality is concerned, the Monoprice doesn’t alter its stance. Which is good news if you fancy exploiting the convenience of wirelessly streaming your vinyl to a speaker, or to headphones.
Using the USB-B output to make digital copies results in slightly less compelling sound, it has to be said – but, at the same time, if you want digital copies of your favourite records then this is a straightforward enough way to get them. Copies are made in real time, of course, and then there’s track separation, metadata and all the rest of the necessary admin to be done – but even though the resulting copies are rather flat and undemonstrative by the standards of the Monolith’s other outputs, they’re nevertheless perfectly listenable.
About the only area in which the Monoprice Monolith isn’t a confident, value-for-money performer is dynamic response. No matter the sort of music you listen to, and no matter the method you utilise to make it audible, there’s a set level of intensity the Monolith performs at and from which it is very reluctant to deviate. It doesn’t really matter how gently and tenderly, or how raucously and vehemently, the musicians on your record are playing, nor how regularly they might switch between those two states, the Monoprice can’t or won’t give much expression to those variations.
Should you buy it?
You want functionality as well as sound quality
The Monolith is as adaptable as it is enjoyable to listen to
You’re after full expression of dynamic highs and lows
This is about the one area where the Monolith seems unwilling to make an effort
Nine times out of ten the combination of extended functionality and very affordable price results in big-time compromise – but I’m happy to say that’s not the case here. The Monoprice Monolith is entirely fit for purpose and will be easy to recommend.
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Tested for more than a week
Tested with real world use
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The best place to purchase the Monoprice Monolith is from the Monoprice website. It is available at other retailers such as Amazon.com but the turntable is often going in and out of stock.