It's difficult to imagine a direct-drive TT with more impressive engineering credentials than the GPM on its dedicated stand. Fremer acknowledges the positive attributes applauded by fans of DD(clarity, attack, excitement), while largely dismissing these attributes in the broader context of fatal flaws(dryness & deficiencies of texture & dimensionality.) It is interesting to see DD placed in a wider context by a leading reviewer who IMO has good ears. On the forums there are some very vocal boosters of direct and idler drive. However, it can be hard to judge such opinions, which may as often reflect an attachment to vintage designs and budget price-points, as they do considerations related to absolute performance. With GPM we appear to have a clean-sheet cost-no-object design which comes up short. However, Fremer's current megabuck Caliburn as reference would probably shame any TT brought in for comparison. It would be nice to see the GPM compared to TTs at real-world prices.
I think MF was politely saying its not his cup of tea.
Yes, one of their better issues, especially like the Dynaudio C1. However I feel nowadays they seem to be getting anorexic, or is it just me?
I would sum up his review as "damning by faint praise". This is of course, relative to the normal hyperbole. Kind of like when everybody gets an a in the class, and the dummy gets a B-. "Well its above average"..compared to what we do not know. Certainly took away any interest I might of had in it.
Though it did seem like a nice unit,the asking price was/is absurdly high!I am sorry it did not seem to live up to it's performance potential,according to MF,but I simply don't see "20 large" anywhere in that product.I am sure research was costly,but it still does not equate into such rediculous pricing!...
I too was pretty disappointed with the outcome of the review.... Even though I can't afford the table now, it's design was very interesting.
I have a Garrard 301 that I restored and love (no I didn't do it for love of vintage audio, or because of price... I was just curious). The table sounds better (to me) than anything else I have heard, but does have some trade-offs. Given my priorities I was really hoping the new DD technology would solve all..... Oh well, anyone compared the GPA to the new Teres?
My read on the review is that Fremer thought it was a very fine sounding and well engineered/built product that only paled in comparison to his reference turntable which cost 4x as much as the Monaco. Also, carefully read his comments on the sonic failings of the Monaco. Much of it reads like audiophile audiophile bullshit talk.
Not to change the subject to another product..BUT, MF just did a review of the Merrill-Scillia Research MS21 turntable and also seemed to 'damn it with faint praise". It likewise does not seem worth "24 large". It's interesting to see how many manufacturers are aiming for the above 20K price bracket - the price of a reasonable but not luxurious car.
Ouch is really approptiate. Did anyone read the Merrill-Scillia MS21 Reference Turntable review in the same issue - also by Fremer. Lots of direct comparisons with the Gran Prix. Here is a turntable at about the same price that it seems like Fremer would reccomend.
I have heard the Gran Prix, and really liked it.
Best of luck with your product choices,
Dear friends: I think that the Monaco " takes " by surprise to Mr. Fremer and he " resist " to think that what he was heard is right.
For many years Mr. Fremer, like many of us, were accustom to the belt drive distrortions/colorations, our brain is already equalized to the belt drive " signature " sound and because we are accustom to it we think is the right and only way to heard the analog magic in a TT.
Suddenly Mr. fremer heard something that is really accurate with lower in distortions/colorations ( against a belt drive system, including what he owns. )and these facts are " news " for him/us and does not like him and that's all.
Now, the opinion of Mr. fremer is only one very experience opinion but does not means that the Monaco is not a great top quality performer.
Maybe, IMHO, the question for Mr. Fremer is not what he likes or what he does not likes about the Monaco performance but which one is truer to the recording, the Monaco or his Caliburn?, because one thing is what Mr. Fremer or any of us likes to hear/heard and other very different what is on the recording.
Accuracy is a must on audio and specially on a TT and specially for real music lovers, which one leave us nearer the recording the one with almost perfect accuracy or the one not almost perfect accuracy?. Very hard to say because how Mr. fremer or any one of us could know what is really on the recording, very complex.
Now, like I say Mr. fremer is one opinion, here is another expert opinion: http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue25/monaco.htm
Regards and enjoy the music.
I tend to agree in part with Rauliruegas and I am the one who wrote the review in Stereophile. I do agree that people considering the table should read other full reviews and listen to for themselves, which is something I think should be done with any product being considered regardless of what any reviewer writes.
However, I do not agree that the Monaco is "truer" to the recording. I think it introduces a different set of colorations compared to a good belt drive. In particular, it definitely imparts a "drier" sound and truncates harmonic development. This was repeatable, record after record, and can be recognized even on an MP3, just as, if you read the Kuzma review I wrote, the Airline arm on the big 'table imparted a noticeable brightness compared to my reference and compared to other tables.
It is definitely true that unless one knows the recording it's impossible to tell. However, I can tell you that Greg Calbi, who mastered "Graceland" among hundreds of other LPs heard that album played back on the Caliburn and he was amazed to hear things he did not hear on the master tape. Now part of that was the resolution of my system which surpasses what he had in the mastering suite back then.
In addition, a gentleman who owns a Monaco visited me and while the 'table was gone, when I played him a CD-R of the same material transferred using both my reference and the Monaco, he heard precisely what I described in the review.
Now while I believe what I wrote about the sound of the turntable is accurate (how could I think otherwise?) I tried not to make value judgements because different tastes come into play. My aim was not to "damn with faint praise," I was just trying not to get either too effusive or too damning, which is what I try to do generally.
In fact, a guy who bought a Continuum Caliburn complained to me that my review was too mild mannered. He accused me of "holding back." Remember: I compared the Monaco to both the Caliburn and the Merill-Scillia.
If one wishes for "accuracy," you're better off with a CD player, which "measures" far better than any turntable. Of course speed accuracy is important but given that virtually every record is pressed slightly eccentric, (few are pressed 'dead center' is claimed perfect speed accuracy really the most important consideration?
Ultimately, I think anyone considering the Monaco should try to listen to it. It has many outstanding qualities and I tried to make those clear. It also has a distinctive "solid state" dryness that I could not deny. My reference is both recorded music and live: I attend the symphony monthly and attend other live events.
Yesterday I was at an event in Chicago and brought a CD-R along containing the same material transferred using my reference and the Monaco: same arm (Graham Phantom), cartridge and phono preamp. I played both without comment and the reaction was in line with what I wrote. I am sure that what I expressed in terms of sonics are accurate.
Why does the Monaco sound as it does? Read about Hall sensor commutated motors. The 'table does use sine wave commutation (as opposed to the less expensive square wave commutation) but just as belt drive has 'issues' (that can be addressed but not to perfection, which is what Continuum has done), so can direct drive but NOT to perfection, something I believe it can be inferred, Monaco claims for its design. If you look at how these motors work and do some online research, I just don't think "perfection" is possible and that what I heard is the characteristic of that lack of "perfection." Whatever the cause, I'm quite certain I described the sound accurately (of course I'd think that!).
As for the price, I disagree with whoever wrote that it didn't seem like it was worth the price. It is easily worth the price. The build quality is exquisite and the engineering superb, and everything about the presentation is first class. The 'table is a major achievment, it really is. I just found the sound dry and harmonically "tight." Play a piano recording on the Monaco and then on something like the Merrill. You'll hear it. That said, the Monaco stomped all over the Merrill (and most suspended 'tables I've heard) in the bottom octaves.
I was happy to see the posts here were very thoughtful and didn't attack me personally....--Fremer
Actually Monsieur Fremer, in all seriousness, thanks for giving us a "warts and all" review. Having seen your post, I reread your review... and yes, "damning with faint praise" would be, in retrospect, an overharsh opinion. It is obvious that there are things you have a hard time with on this turntable, and things you really like about it.
The sad fact is, for most of us, we cannot hear 4 tables with three arms and 4 cartridges, etc, the best we can do is maybe a dealer comes with one recommended setup to your house, in my experience. So sadly, we have to depend on turntable, cartridge and arm reviews way more than either you or we would like, I am sure. Many dealers will schlep an amp or a cd player, or ship one for an inhome demo, the same cannot be said for turntables.
Dear Grooves: +++++ " If one wishes for "accuracy," you're better off with a CD player, which "measures" far better than any turntable. " +++++
I don't mean it in that way, I speak of accuracy because reading your review and the white papers of the Monaco design the word accuracy takes a very wide meaning and along with that the Monaco people are experts on damping/vibrations/dissipations devices. His design was very well thinking, unfortunately I never had the opportunity hear it for to have a more precise idea of what you report on your review and what other report on different reviews on the Monaco.
Obviously the Caliburn is a top performer ( well at that price anithing must be. ) and between other advantages it has a vacuum hold down record that is a real advantage over any other TT design with out it.
Any way the Monaco is an audio item that any of us have to hear and it looks like a top TT alternative for any analog music lover.
Regards and enjoy the music.
For the record, I was the guy that visited with Mr. Fremer and that owns the Monaco. First, let me say that he is an extremely nice guy and was kind enough to allow me to listen to albums at his place for an afternoon. Thanks again Mike.
Now, let me give you my thoughts on what I heard. As Mike points out, I unfortunatley did not hear the Caliburn and the Monaco together. I did listen to the Caliburn at his house (using the arm that came with the table) and it is a very fine sounding table. On its own, in a system that is very different from mine, there is no way that I am capable of comparing the two tables based on sound memory.
I did listen to 2 cds that Mr. Fremer put together. One is a comparison of the Caliburn, with the arm that comes with the table, compared to the Monaco with a different arm (I beleive the Graham Phantom). There is one song on that cd - Van Morrison (can't remember the song) The other cd is a compilation of rock, Jazz, easy listening and classical (great selection Michael!). On the first cd (which I listened to at Michael's house), I did hear a difference in the harmonics. The differences were noticable, but not night and day. Keep in mind that there were two very different arms and the comparison was between a $120k table and a $20k table.
With respect to the second cd, I have listend to it close to a dozen times on a very revealing system (Dartzeel preamp and amp and Evolution Acoustic MM3s) and I have to say that it took at least 6 very close listening sessions (going back and forth between the comparisons) and moving my listening seat to the nearfield (as my room is not treated) before I could hear any real difference. Now my ears are not nearly as well trained as Michael's, but I have been in this hobby a long time - listening to vinyl for 35 years, and I really had to strain to figure out the difference. I would describe the difference I heard as a very slight rounding over of the leading edge of the note. I'm afraid I did not, and do not, hear the dryness that Michael hears.
Over the years, I have been lucky enough to hear some of the finest turntables in the world (e.g., the SME 30, the Brinkmans, the Kuzmas, the Walker the Rockport and now the Caliburn). Each has its strong points and its shortcomings. What I heard in the Monaco was something really special. I think it is one of the most transparent and neutral turntables I have ever heard. It does not sound cold to me and to my ears does a fantastic job at harmonic development. Sometimes the piano sounds so real it is scary.
One thing I was wondering about is whether the cartridge used by Micheal was a good match for the table. I use the Dynavector XV-1s.
Bottomline, is the Monaco a match for the Caliburn? I don't know, I wasn't able to compare the 2 live and did not find the cds conclusive. One thing is for sure, there is no way I would spend $120k for a turntable. I do beleive that the Monaco is a great table that beats much more expensive tables I have heard. I had to laugh when I read some of the comments above that stated that the author was writing the turntable off their list because of the review. This is as bad as buying a turntable without hearing it because of a good review. As in every case, you need to listen to the equiptment with gear and software that you are familiar with. I would find it hard to believe that anyone could listen to the turntable in my system with the Dynavector cartridge and call it cold or harmonically challenged. Indeed, If some of you would like to join me for an evening to give a listen, you are more than welcome (assuming you bring the vino)
I think the simple answer (which unfortunatley isn't easy to do) is to let a mastering engineer hear the table and compare it to what's on the master tape.
There has to be some objective truth as to what provides the most faithful reproduction of the master tape. (objectivity in what is most faithful to live acoustic music is more difficult)
Perhaps an LP mastered from digital recording could be compared with the SACD release. In that instance, the SACD should be a closer estimation to what the 96 or 192K master sounds like rather than a downsampled CD.
Maybe even better would be a Linn records release that was offereed in LP and 96K/192K download because they seem to be offered in their native sample rate, and I read one post that seemed to indicate that those high res downloads sounded better decoded by a PS audio DLIII than the SACD's
Forgive the digital diatribe, I'm just trying to see if digital comparisons can help us make better assesments of our analog playback systems.
I am sorry to disagree with you Mikey.I am entitled to my own opinion.
Understand,when I read how a product,like the "beautiful" Monaco does not sound so hot,and does not "appear" to be extremely costly,from a parts standpoint(at least not 20 grand),it is not too big a stretch to think it is over priced.I don't buy the direct drive reason for this either.Carbon fibre...maybe-:)
Looking at another very precise design,like an Oracle Delphi MK ( "what ever is the latest"),something I don't own btw,and seeing the Monaco costs FOUR times it's asking price,I feel(only an opinion)that the Monaco is way too expensive.
Both designs are precise,and beautifully made,but the Delphi "sounds good"!
Sorry,and I understand the "nickle defense" of a mfgr,but you owe your readership something as well!
No wonder High End is in the state it is in,and so many mfgrs are hurting!Do you remember the OLD TAS?I cannot believe "that" scribe would have had nothing to say about "this" asking price!
Sorry for the sarcasm,but I/we don't have to go gracefully into "over priced land" without an occassional objection!There was a time that the journalists of the day were on our(the consumer's)side!
BTW,I am not in condemnation of you,as a reviewer.Just your last post!It cannot be easy being in your shoes,and you "DO" do a credible job.
Good for you, Rauliregas, for coming out and saying that you had not heard the Monaco.
Mr. Fremer, thanks a lot for taking the time to post the horse's-mouth info this discussion needed (and outing your nick).
Its all about system matching. Get the right cart with the arm, TT AND phono, you will hear magic. Get it wrong, and nothing you spin will sound right.
I believe that up to a certain price point, any TT worth its salt, should perform at the top level, class "A" or whatever you like to call it.
Grooves / Michael, I disagree that hall effect commutation has the effect you say it has, I think the problem is much simpler and was first "outed" by Sansui's engineers 20 years ago. It comes down to Newton's Third Law (you know the one, equal and opposite reactions etc)
The motor control electronics continually vary the drive to the motor to keep the platter speed constant. Any competently designed servo loop does this to an exquisite degree, virtually eliminating speed variation as a concern, but the variation in drive simultaneously torques the motor's mounting in the opposite sense.
By definition in a direct drive this counter torque is transmitted to the turntable chassis whence it proceeds to wreak havoc. How the designer copes with said havoc defines the success of any DD effort and it means that the designer is faced with a very different set of challenges from the designer of a belt or idler drive TT.
"That said, the Monaco stomped all over the Merrill (and most suspended 'tables I've heard) in the bottom octaves."
I am having a philosophical struggle as to how a table can play the bottom octaves exceptionally and not the rest of the spectrum.
Two things occur to me: 1) the Monaco is really not playing the bottom octaves correctly but is coloring them in a desirable manner for bass. If this is true then the coloration may also be affecting the middle and upper octaves.
2) On the other hand, one could say the exact same things about the Merrill: it is not reproducing the middle and upper octaves correctly but coloring them in a desirable manner.
A turntable, among other things, has to spin accurately through groove modulations and drain external and internal vibrations. How does a Monaco do this correctly for bass but not for the mids and highs? And how does a Merrill does this correctly for the mids and highs but not for the bass?
Or could this have nothing to do with the turntables which are both reproducing very accurately but the downstream components? I know Mike did a lot component matching but maybe at this level the components have to be exquisitely matched for balanced results. I know that when I tweak something on my table/arm/cartridge it can take many hours to dial it in to where I feel I have maximized that tweak.
No need to apologize for disagreeing! However, looking at the Monaco close up, examining the build quality and taking into account what must have gone into designing, building and actually manufacturing such a product, I don't think it's overpriced. The computer box, which looks like nothing, is packed with a sine wave commutation computer, which alone, is expensive. In fact, some experts with whom I consulted doubted it could be sine wave commutated because of the price of the product. Sine wave commutation is expensive....Mr. Lloyd didn't specify the system until his manufacturer's comment.
The Dynavector is the cartridge I'd recommend using with the Monaco... and did in the review!
Grooves,I understand your point,and must admit that having just purchased a Transfiguration Orpheus,one can make a good case for high pricing there,too!Maybe I was a bit harsh,and for that I am sorry!
No problem. I can take a punch. It's part of the job. The Orpheus is fantastic! The other part of the job, hearing all kinds of great stuff, is the best part...
well if some kind soul would compare TWO $20K TURNTABLES, one with the dreaded belt, and the other with the equally dreaded direct drive, one might be able to at least decide how well each of the two manufacturers spent their money (and time) to get the most musical presentation. and i recall reading about the SME-30 which was compared favorably to the far-more-expensive rockport sirius in a previous review, as in "it doesn't get any better than this".
then there are all of "us guys" out there with an aries or a scout (or a basis or a merril)that are tickled 5 different shades of pink over what we're hearing. i'm sorry, but i'm VERY CONFUSED about a very-good $3000 rig that TAS is doing flips over (the VPI) in a recent discussion, and turntables that cost FORTY TIMES as much that can somehow extract bloody miracles from a five dollar record.
what's even MORE CONFUSING is, NOT ALL THAT LONG AGO, how the heck a plastic garrard record player with a $50 dollar cartridge used to keep our feet tapping year after year after year. none of us heard any significant rumble, distortion, or speed variations; even the records survived fairly well after being played over and over on these ridiculously cheap systems. finally i got a THORENS mostly because i hated all the plastic parts on the garrard...
but in conclusion, (please) compare apples WITH apples.
There's something else I'd like to add to this discussion that I didn't delve into in the turntable review. My Lloyd requested I use his stand and I did. It is a lightweight carbon fiber "A" frame design with "lossy" Sorbothane pads in between the frames, with thickness specified by the weight of the gear placed atop each shelf (the proper implementation of Sorbothane which acts as a terrific energy absorber under pressure and a high frequency spring not under pressure, which is why different thickness Sorbothane discs are provided).
The stand also was supplied with the top of the line carbon fiber shelf. If you put a finger on the top shelf you can easily move the shelf. and laterally deflect the entire stand. This is purposely done and if you look at Grand Prix's website at the "shaker" tests, you will see its effectiveness. However, what didn't make sense to me, was putting a spinning object atop such a stand since few such objects, no matter how well machined, are perfect, (like car wheels, which require lead weights and dynamic balancing to not vibrate as everyone reading this knows). So I wondered how the top shelf was behaving with a spinning platter atop it. I conjectured that it would move as the platter spun, which would not be a good thing.
I procured a pair of calibrated B&K accelerometers and attached one to the top shelf of the Grand Prix stand and started the platter. I was both surprised and impressed to find that the start up was so smooth, the accelerometer didn't register even a blip either upon start up or when the platter was at either 33 or 45! That was impressive and proved both smooth start up and superb platter machining or casting (I don't recall how it was done).
However, I then decided to test the stand's ability to deal with airborne vibrations. My thought was, the stand's carbon fiber is stiff and light and thus moves the resonant frequency way up so that combined with the properly implemented Sorbothane, low frequency vibrations would be prevented from entering the system and getting to components on the shelves either from the floor or the air and in fact that was the case. The stand's ability to reject low frequencies was outstanding.
But, when I ran an 800Hz to 20kHz sweep tone through the speakers at around 89dB I was literally shocked to find that the stand's resonance was directly in the midrange and was both broadband and high in amplitude. Based on what I saw with the accelerometer taped to the top carbon fiber shelf, the stand "sang like a diva" throughout the midrange! Given the stiffness and lightness of the construction, perhaps this should not be surprising. In addition, the shaker stand really only measures lateral, low frequency performance.
From that part of the test I concluded that the stand's midband performance in the presence of typical musical content was poor and that those who like what they hear from it, are hearing and preferring a midband coloration of some sort. I cannot come to any other conclusion.
Furthermore, given what I heard from the turntable, my initial conclusion was that the loss of harmonic and decay resolution was possibly a result of the stand's behavior. Now you might say I should have removed the table and put it on my Finite Elemente stand, but Mr. Lloyd insisted that his stand be used and that his stand was better and better suited to the turntable. This was not a review of the stand so I found myself in a quandry.
I then decided to put the accelerometer on the Monaco's armboard and repeat the test. I found what I was expecting to find: the Monaco's plinth is a beautifully designed dual carbon fiber shell with a visco-elastomer damping material between the shells (something the stand does not include). And guess what? The accelerometer on the armboard showed a significant attenuation of the resonance, but it was still present.
Next I put the accelerometer on the top shelf of the "stiff," heavy, aircraft grade aluminum, turnbuckle "stretched" Continuum stand (okay, it sells for 25,000 dollars), which features a magnetic repulsion system with zero physical contact, which Mr.Lloyd had said was the wrong approach when he examined it, and it greatly attenuated midband frequencies by comparison.
More significantly, when the accelerometer was placed upon the Continuum's armboard (which features a 3 dimensionally suspended, dual magnesium pod, damped armboard using Kevlar straps and an energy absorbing magnetic attraction system (patented), the attentuation of airborne musical content was nothing short of astonishing. It was almost complete.
No doubt this system is responsible, in part, for the Continuum's amazing sonic performance. However, an examination of the Continuum stand's low frequency performance showed the Monaco stand to be superior in rejecting LFs. This was puzzling but after the accelerometers were gone I discovered that the perimeter air tube that surrounds the platform had deflated. I should have inflated it before doing the tests but I cannot say whether or not the Continuum stand is capable of matching the Grand Prix stand's superb low frequency rejection.
However, in the end I chose not to deal with the stand issues as the review was not of the stand but of the 'table, used on the manufacturer's stand as requested.
I have no doubt that some of you will come back at me now saying I should have brought all of this into the review and/or moved the 'table to my reference Finite Elemente stand, but I chose instead to review the 'table as requested by the manufacturer. That is how he usually sells it, and how it's shown at shows.
In the end, I conclude that the shaker test on the website is really an incomplete and not necessarily relevant methodology for testing the stand's effectiveness in the presence of a complex, wide band musical signal, while it does demonstrate the stand's effectiveness with laterally generated low frequency vibrations, which are a small part of the overall picture.
And you think this job is easy?
Finally a disclaimer: I am not a resonance control engineer, or an engineer of any kind, for that matter and I invite anyone with engineering experience in this field to comment or dispute my conclusions based on the tests, which I'd be happy to email.
I'd like to conclude by saying my only goal is to review gear honestly and completely, while avoiding mindlessly parroting manufacturers claims. I have tried to do that with this review, and describe as accurately as possible the sound that the product(s) produced in my system.
If anyone reading this wishes to hear the MP3 comparison, email me through my website (www.musicangle.com) and I'll send them to you so you can describe what you hear to others. I did this for one reader (not the one quoted in the review) and here's what he said (note: the MP3s were not identified as to which was which and I won't do that for you if you wish to hear them).
Here's what the last guy said, not knowing which he was hearing:
"In my opinion this mp3 had more life in the music, more depth in Van's voice. You could hear the instrumentation more clearly, what it truly sounded like where it was placed and yes their are female backup singers."
"In my opinion initially this mp3 had a little more lower bass but only in the beginning .Otherwise it was dryer less lifelike"
When I compared the Merrill-Scillia and the Monaco, I ended up preferring the Monaco's bass performance and rhythmic certainty, and the Merrill-Scillia's smooth and rich harmonic presentation from the lower mids and up.
I should also add that John Atkinson went to listen to the Monaco at RMAF and was "more impressed than (he) was expecting."
By all means go listen to it. It is a great turntable and I didn't mean to imply anything less, but it does have a personality as do most audio products and while it will be to some people's liking it won't be to everyone's. So be sure to listen and listen beyond your first impression!
Dear French Fries: I did just what you're axing for in the latest ish of Stereophile: the Monaco and the Merrill-Scillia, both around 20K reviewed in the same issue.
The Scoutmaster is a great 'table. I reviewed it. You should be tickled. But it's impossible to line 'em all up and list them by merit. It just doesn't happen. However, I doubt I wrote "It just doesn't get any better than this," as aside from being a cliche, it tells you zilch....
Resonance has a dramatic effect on everything. The improvement that the Gingko platform did for my Superscoutmaster was astonishing. I also allow all my electronics to roll as opposed to putting them on spikes or blocks. I know it makes little sense, however it seems that decoupling everything works better than tight lock-down.
Dear Mr Grooves and everyone following this thread. Without the benefit of heaving read your review of the Monaco turntable, I thank you (Grooves)for your elaborate explanations above. They are insightful and valuable to anyone interested. I've been reading your reviews for many years now and I think your job is not always easy.
I am a relatively "new" member in this hobby (about 2 years now) and in this audiophile business its tough to get set on the right path, if there is such a thing. Too many personalities with very strong opinions with the widest offering of products can really make you loose your way if you're not careful.
When I started this hobby I purchased the ML 32 pre-amp, 33H power amps, NO Valhalla ICs and SC, SF Stradivari speakers and an Accuphase DP77 source. I wanted the best first time around. But this system left me wondering if that was all there was to it...my expectations weren't met.
My dealer really just wanted to sell me the gear.
Then I met another dealer (Transparent Music Systems in PA) who showed me the Emmlabs source, Dartzeel combo, Evolution Acoustics speakers and the GPA Monaco tt. When I listened to this system, my jaw dropped to the floor like a brick. I'd been following threads on the Gon with people with exactly this setup, and I knew it was something special. But I actually verified and listened multiple long sessions at my dealer. So I changed my system to match my dealers reference system and I started a vinyl collection! Thanks Barry for turning me analog :-)
In my opinion the GPA Monaco turntable with Dynavector 507MK2 arm, XV-1s cartridge connected by a Stealth Hyperphono (beta)cable to the battery powered Dartzeel Pre-amp with its fantastic phono board connected with Zeel cable to the Dartzeel power amp and in turn connected to the Evolution Acoustics MM3 loudspeakers with EA cabling, ICs and PCs, Finite Elemente MR HD04 rack & Cerabase feet(GPA Amp stand for the NHB-108) is the best way to listen to the 17 Fone records I just aquired (all highly recommended). I'm done changing gear, now its time for the music, more analog music too.
When I met Alvin earlier this year and had the opportunity to listen and discus with him on his theory of the development of the Monaco tt I was immediately intrigued by his fresh approach. Before then I would have been more interested in say the new digital gear developments. But this turntable is a modern work of art with a high-tech approach. And as soon as we listened to Diana Krall on SACD (Emmlabs CDSA SE) and then the record version, it was so abundantly clear which was the -much- better sounding version. Vinyl was the winner handsdown. And this was only one example of many.
Now, as to how the Monaco tt compares to others, Continuum, SME 30, Walker, Transrotor, DPS, Avid is difficult to say. As you put it you can't possibly test all combinations of gear. But I have heard the best Walker tt at twice the price sound POORLY in another system.
The Continuum table/stand for me would never be able to justify their price, not once you've heard the Monaco in my system. The Continuum alone costs as much as my whole system!!!
No, for me I heard the MAGIC, disbelieve in suspense, shivers down my spine, goosebumps the size of n*ppl#s... But don't take my word for it, the best advise is always to listen for yourself, go check out the size of your goosebumps!!!
Mr Grooves, what you say about my first steps on the road to analog bliss? Did I make the right choices? Any areas for improvement?
(a happy GPA Monaco tt customer)
I've heard a Monaco a couple of times and didn't get it. I applaud Fremer for speaking the truth. As he perceives it.
Fremer should be reviewing the new Sota Cosmos IV with SME V and Dynavector ZV1's. On second thoughts NO. He would probably thrash it because it's not worth $150,000.
Grooves, Are you an acquaintance of Jonathan Valin's? As you know he claims the Continuum is nothing special. (I am not sure, but that may be an exact quote.) But it does not seem as though he's heard one in a well set up home system and certainly not in his own system. Have you discussed with him his failure to fall in love with the Caliburn and his apparent preference for the Walker Proscenium? It is my opinion that once one is considering turntables that cost more than $15K or $20K, it's a crapshoot, in that there is nothing like a linear relationship between goodness of sound (pardon the semantic) and price. Among the really excellent products, it's finally a matter of one's own opinion and what other gear one is using. Or do you think that the Continuum represents an audio absolute?
I'm also wondering whether the qualities of the GPM that you do not like so much have anything to do with the "sound" of carbon fiber.
After reading Mr. Fremer's views on the Grand Prix stand, I thought I should share my view on the stands. I have owned the GPA stands for about 3 years now. Prior to that I have had a number of the top-line stands, including the top Finite Elemente stands. While all of them were good, they did not make a really noticable difference in the overall sound quality of my system. I had the Finite Elementes and found they made some difference (a good thing given the expense), but I kept hearing from different sources about these new stands that made a real improvement in the sound quality. (I should point out that up until recently, I had the racks between, and about 4 feet behind the speakers) I finally tried the GPA racks and could not beleive the diffence. This is not hyperbole. The sound was cleaner (a layer of hash swept away), more solid and more dynamic. Moreover, there was a sense of ease that was not there before. I can't explain why this is or why Mr. Fremer's tests show what they do. All I know is what I continue to hear from the racks. Indeed, everyone I know that has tried these things has had the same view. Based on his results, you would think I would hear real confusion in the midrange (particularly given where my rack was located), but in fact the opposite was true. As I said, I can't explain it, but I definitely like what these racks do.
- I have the Grand Prix rack & amp stands, and my impressions of them correlate precisely with Cohnaudio's...superb gains in bass clarity as Michael Fremer mentions, but also in the mids & treble - I do not hear any resonance or lack of clarity whatsoever. Mine has the cheaper acrylic shelves, not the carbon fiber which Michael had for test.
- As a fan of Grand Prix Audio/Alvin Lloyd and a guy who'll be in the market for a "lifetime" 'table in the next year or so, I eagerly awaited MF's review and was disappointed in the results - especially because I like my music as juicy, fleshy & harmonically ripe as possible. But he sent me the MP3 comparison of the Van Morrison track, referenced above, and the differences were blatantly obvious, and just as MF described - and this over the cheapo speakers in my laptop! The Caliburn (as well it should, for the coin) was much more harmonically developed, and the music just breathed...the same track as played by the GPA was rhythymically superb, but sounded bleached out by comparison. What I won't know until I hear the Monaco in person is whether this result is an Achilles heel, or just a $20K 'table falling short of a $120K(?) alterntaive, but fully competitive with others in its price class.
Thanks, by the way, to MF. A true keeper of the flame, to be sure, but also a genuinely nice guy who goes out of his way to do things right.
Cohnaudio, proving the axiom of "horses for courses", my impression of the GPA racks was just the opposite of yours. I used GPA racks for 4 years and I have nothing negative to say about them. They are superb stands. But I prefer the Finite Elementes and now use a MR HD13.
My GPA Monaco/TriPlanar VII/Benz LP was delivered this weekend and like you and Mtkhl57 think it the finest turntable I have ever heard. It is probably the most remarkable audio device I have owned. The TriPlanar, like the Dynavector arm is especially well suited to the table.
Mr. Fremer, I found your review to be honest and informative. You say many nice things about the table and the review really is balanced but for some reason it leaves somewhat of a bitter after taste that belies all the certainly not faint praise you gave the table. Go figure.
I completely understand why you reviewed the table on the GPA stands. I think you missed out by not listening to it on your Pagode since you, like me seem to prefer that stand.
And thanks for "keeping it real" with the review. It's especially helpful in analog to assist us with determining what combinations of tables, arms, cartridges and stands might work for our own tastes, which as this thread illustrates, will always vary.
Grooves. re: your accelerometer test. A three axis accelerometer would be capable of measuring both airborn and structureborn noise at the same time, but you can also just move a single axis acceleromter and make corrections for the published difference that Bruel and Kjaer notes for axis discrepancies , which by reading your report I am assuming you did. As a consultant and test equipment provider on way more structureborn and airborn vibration testing than I ever wanted to be, I can concur with you that a shaker test tells only part of the story. On measurements of transformers designed for nuclear subs, truly, as you suggest, lateral displacement is not the defining problem. When you add the effect of airborn noise (ie driver output) on a phono cartridge with sensitivity in the millivolt range, and complex air and structurborn waveforms that are arriving out of phase on all axises,( the same signal arriving at the speed of sound in air, while also arriving at the speed and r at a different time depending on the flooring, adding the flooring resonance) one can definitely theorize that more than lateral shaking should make for a better test and hence, product. However, one manufacturer I spoke with who sells his racks for upwards of 5k each considered $750 for a precision accelerometer and charge amplifer way too much of an investment. Kudos to Monaco for at least attempting to make some scientific, repeatable measurements. They, at least can prove that there is some definable, measureable resonance and vibration control on their stand although pseudo-random shock testing would most probably be the way I would start. (read footsteps and broadband) Good for you for taking the time to make some measurements and sharing them with us as well. Me, I am like the carpenter who comes home and doesn't fix the kitchen cabinet until I end up sleeping on the couch ;)
To take the alternative view, for an owner of the GPA to achieve this "harmonically ripe" sound, one could simply acquire a Koetsu, perhaps a RSP, and match it with an equally competent tube phonostage and you would feel any lack of harmonic development, nor will your wallet be so challenged.
Triode, did you hear the "singing diva" on the GPA Monaco MP3 in the background? It may explain some of it, LOL!
One thing IS apparent, listening to an MP3 on a cheap PC, is NOT a professionally accepted way of auditioning (anyone, correct me if I am wrong here) $20-120k components.
But seriously, there are many more professional reviewers (Bolin, Weaver, Merod, Ebaen, Jensen, Abbate just to name some) that did not report over the past few years what MF heard from the GPA rack he used for his review. Which means that something else was not right...??? What could that be??? Maybe room acoustics???
Which in turn means that the detail setup and testing of components by professional reviewers, as experienced as they may be, is not an exact science and is DEFINITELY NOT AN EASY JOB. Maybe MF consulted for a second opinion with his collegue Mr Bolin, who gave the rack an excellent review 5 years ago without finding it singing like a diva?
Wow! Now we can compare two state of the art turntables with an MP3 file sent by e-mail. Thank goodness for the internet. Just think about it, I can have a dealer set up two systems, send me an MP3 of the systems via e-mail and purchase the better one without ever leaving my home to actually go LISTEN to the products. You're on to something Mikey! Look- I know you actually tell people to go listen, and some people such as Triode are smart enough to actually go and listen, but enough of trying to validate the results of your review by e-mailing people an MP3 file. There are just too many variables to make it a credible process.
With respect to you last post, there are a couple of obvious questions that struck me. How the heck did you know what you were measuring with respect to the stands and armboards if you are not an engineer of any type? (Kind of like me playing with an EKG machine and telling people their heart is in trouble.) I thought JA did all the measuring for Stereophile? Did an outside party come in and guide you through the process? If so, shouldn't you disclose who they were and if they have any affiliations in the industry? Did you ever use the Monaco on another stand or put the Merrill on the Grand Prix stand to see if it was really the possible cause of some of the faults you heard? Did you ever discuss these results and the measurement procedures to obtain them with Mr.Lloyd? I'm sure he'd like to know that his stands "sung like a Diva". How can you reject his methodology for measuring his own stands and validate your own methodology and want to send out the results via e-mail when the whole procedure appears suspect? If you want to review "honestly and completely", then disclose the entire measurement procedure or don't mention it at all. Anything else is disingenuous since you've reached your own personal conclusions from this process on how the turntable sounds.
I really look forward to reading your columns every month Mr. Fremer, honestly, but you really lost me with this one.
Yes the Cosmos IV is a great table(I own one),and it has gotten amazingly good,and well deserved press(see latest rave in "10 Audio").What I like about MIke's coverage(in general)is the exposure to newer product offerings.
dying in the pages of an audio mag for the sins(or nature) of all direct drive tables had to happen to somebody at some point.
Khrys - I'm the dealer who Mtkhl567 (Hi Henry) is referring to. I use the Grand Prix Monaco table in my personal system and am in total agreement with you regarding the table. I'm using it on a Grand Prix Monaco with carbon fiber shelves. Myself and others that have listened to the system do not hear any of the shortcomings as described in the review, even using the same GPA stand. Did you replace the Avid Acutus with the Monaco? Curious to know how you would describe the sonic differences (with same arm and cartridge I would assume?)
Lets be fair to Mr. Fremer. He did NOT at any time suggest that reviewing of the GPM or any other product can or should be done by listening to a CD-R copy. What he did say (better you should read what he said above) is that he made such recordings at very high bit rates and bandwidth of the same music being reproduced by BOTH the Caliburn and the GPM, that to his (very experienced) ears these recordings preserved the differences between the two turntables as he heard them and that others to whom he sent or demonstrated the CDs also heard the differences, even though those individuals were not told what they were listening to or what to listen for. It is a well accepted fact that high resolution digital recordings (not talking about RedBook here) can preserve the sonic character of LP reproduction. (Read about the Tascam and Masterlink on the Vinyl Asylum.) I know those of you who own or sell the GPM are anxious to repair any possible damage to the reputation of that product, but give Fremer a break. He did his job properly. That does not invalidate your buying decision in the least.
No one has commented on my question regarding using digital playback sources to determine the sonic additions/subtractions of a vinyl playback rig.
Since MF is stating that digital recordings of the table's signal can detect a signature, doesn't it seem that a digital release can be compared for some insight?
I'm also a bit dissapointed that the discussion here has been so civil. No death threats, name calling, etc. I guess there's the H-cat thread for that.
Also in case anyone is a structural engineer, please see my "jackhammering" thread in "tech talk" forum about some upcoming construction that might damage my gear.
A "digital release" is likely to be produced according to Redbook specifications. Then you are back to the same old hash. There are people in this universe (if you can imagine it) who prefer RBCD to LP, because they are obsessed with surface noise. If you refer to DVD-A or SACD "releases", there are lots of folks who prefer one or the other of those sources to LP. Then it boils down to a matter of opinion. But there are several posters on the Vinyl Asylum who use Tascam or Masterlink digital recordings to preserve their vinyl in hi-rez. Most claim that those (not too expensive) devices do generate copies that are indistinguishable from the LP source. I've heard some such recordings on a friend's rig, and they are indeed remarkable, but we never sat there and compared the digital recording to the original vinyl played on the same system. Mike Fremer appears to be someone who also believes that hi-rez digital reproduction captures the essence of the best vinyl reproduction. I don't think he mentioned what device he uses to make his digital recordings and at what resolution.
While a CD made from vinyl does not sound as good as the live source, it does sound better than commercial CDs for whatever reasons. I made a CD-R of Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks" (original Warners-7Arts label) for some Warner Brothers executives who told me it sounded much better than their commercial release...
"One thing IS apparent, listening to an MP3 on a cheap PC, is NOT a professionally accepted way of auditioning (anyone, correct me if I am wrong here) $20-120k components"
Could the point be that if a preference can be demonstrated with a recording on the lowly MP3 then it must be real?
"I'm also a bit dissapointed that the discussion here has been so civil. No death threats, name calling, etc. I guess there's the H-cat thread for that."
I'm thinking that perhaps the LP listener is a kinder, gentler sort of audiophile?
I really felt compelled to comment regarding the less than stellar stereophile review especially since I am one of the very few people that has spent some quality time listening to the Grand Prix Table.
I found it very interesting that Fremers review was almost the opposite of David Robins review in Positive fedback. Both use top class reference tables (Walker and Caliburn).
Fremer described sonic limitations, such as "somewhat cool, dry, harmonically somewhat bleached, reduced depth and air, tended toward the one dimensional, etc."
David Robinson raved about the table. He mentioned things like "emotionally connects me to the music. Excellent staging/imaging, Texture and nuance to burn, fusion of lushiness and harmonic rightness, belongs in the first rank of turntables."
Based on my experience listening to the table in my friend/dealers personal system, I for one do not hear anything that Fremer describes. Of course, I am not comparing the Grand Prix to anything and possibly missing some of the nuances. However, when listening to analog through the Grand Prix, I hear a fantastic sense of depth and spacial cues. Harmonics are so natural with you are there focus and 3 dimensionality. You can basically reach out and touch the performers. Couple that with see through transparency and a soooooo quiet black grainless backdrop.
The common denominator is that David Robinson's review table and the table that I am familiar with both use the Dynavector 507II arm and XV1S cartridge. I do find it hard to believe whether that can make the difference between both reviews.
Bkonig, yes I did replace my Acutus with the same arm and cartridge. The differences were not subtle:
The Acutus is an aural hologram.
The Monaco is a sonic time machine.
of course listening to an MP3 is not a "professionally accepted" way of auditioning anything. I didn't use MP3s to audition the 'table or any other product. However, I was fascinated to find that even reduced to an MP3, numerous correspondents were able to describe the Monaco's sonic character listening "blind." I certainly think the Monaco is a "top tier" 'table and never meant to imply anything but that. Same with the Kuzma ref and Airline arm but that system sounds bright on top as did the Avid Acutus I reviewed. Audio products have sonic character. If you remember I suggested the Dynavector XV-1s cartridge as the ideal compliment to the 'table's character. I agree with whomever described the Monaco as a"time machine." Its rhythmic sense and pacing abilities were clearly outstanding as was its bottom end extension. However, I believe part of that is because of the midrange issues I described, that are in part due to the stand issues I noted with the B&K accelerometers.