● Output: 100 Watts RMS into 8 Ohms, 200 Watts into 4 Ohms
5" H x 11" W x 12" D
26 Pounds Each
● Output: 50 WPC RMS into 8 Ohms and 50 WPC RMS into 4 Ohms Pure Class A
Input Impedance: 100 kOhms
Input section is Tube-Based Using a Single E288 Per Channel.
● Toroid: 750 VA
● Rated into 2 Ohms
Input Sensitivity: 1 volt for Full Output
Each channel has 12 MOSFET Output Devices
Output Impedance: < 0.1 Ohm
5.5" H x 12.5" W x 15.5" D
● MSRP: $1,999
Last fall, I asked fellow audiophiles to suggest reasonably priced new or
used solid-state amps under $2500 whose presentation came closest to the
liquid musicality of tubes. I had frankly grown weary of operating a Class
A tube amp that used high amounts of current and generated so much heat
that summertime listening, even without clothing, often proved
uncomfortable. In addition, as my system had improved, I had discovered
the amp's absence of deep bass extension and lack of pinpoint focusing an
increasing disappointment. I wasn't desiring the kind of pinpoint, overly
etched presentation symptomatic of digital at its worst, but I was asking
to hear the initial pluck of a guitar string clearly distinguished from
the resonance of the instrument's body. Especially as a reviewer, I needed
a more user-friendly, extended, and accurate amplifier.
Ric Mancuso, a long-time audiophile currently working with Demian Martin's
Element, sent me a list of 8-10 possible amplifiers. Some were quite
costly, and only within my budget if snared used. Others were affordable
new. Amongst the latter were the Monarchy SM 70 Pro monoblocks. When I
learned that C.C. Poon's Monarchy Audio is located in South San Francisco,
relatively close to my Oakland residence, I decided to give a call and
audition the amps at Monarchy headquarters.
In late October, I visited C.C.'s location. Once through a small entryway,
I encountered a large, loft-size warehouse packed floor to ceiling with
boxes, packing materials and other supplies. Somewhere beyond the chaos,
in the very back, I discovered two small, equally congested listening
rooms. One was equipped with huge Sound Lab electrostatic speakers. These
guys sucked so much power that when I tried driving them with my Bruce
Moore Dual 100 amp, its bias went totally nuts, threatening instant
As someone accustomed to an audiophile system that includes attention to
set-up, vibration isolation, after market power cords, costly cabling,
power conditioning etc., it was a shock to encounter a “stick it wherever
you can, use whatever cord is available” demo. Sitting down to listen, I
tried my darndest to figure out what was going on. But without my usual
amp as a reference, I couldn't tell how much of what I was hearing was due
to CC's amps as opposed to set-up and/or ancillary equipment. (We are
talking stock power cords, no vibration isolation, etc.) All I knew was
that I was not transported to audiophile heaven.
C.C. was gracious enough to loan me two sets of Monarchy amps for
audition. He told me that the amps he and Ric thought I would like the
most, the SM-70s, sound best in balanced mode. Since the Bruce Moore
Companion III preamp I was using at the time only offered single-ended
outputs, I let that amp go and chose to audition the solid-state SE-100
Delux (that is the way they spell it) and hybrid SE-160 power amplifiers.
When I first tried the Monarchy amps chez Serinus, my Khorus X
speakers had not yet been upgraded. Since C.C.'s amps are anything but
bright, they did not fare well with speakers that exhibited high frequency
roll-off. I thus put the amps aside until my speakers had been upgraded.
In the ensuing five months, my system changed profoundly. The Khorus X
speakers were upgraded and the frequency response corrected, an Alex
Peychev modified Sony transport replaced my old Audio Alchemy DDS-Pro, the
Theta Gen. VIII DAC/preamp replaced my Theta Gen. Va DAC and Bruce Moore
Companion III/Reflection Audio preamps, power cords were mostly upgraded,
and a tweaked Jadis Defy 7 MK. IV amp ($8500 list many years ago) entered
my life. I thus found myself reviewing amplifiers that cost considerably
less than most other components in my system.
Both models employ single ended circuits. Each has a red-lit
on/off switch on the front; a single set of single-ended and balanced
inputs, and a set of speaker jacks equipped for spade and
banana-terminations. A photo of the SE-160 internal chassis is shown
This review must thus be placed in perspective. The Elrod EPS-3 power
cables I plugged into the amplifiers list for $1100 each. My Elrod EPS
Signature powercords that I use elsewhere in the system cost $1700 each.
Contrast that to the price of the amps. It is doubtful that many
audiophiles who own $16,000 speakers, a $10,000 DAC/preamp, over $20,000
worth of cabling, a custom transport, and a kaboodle of tweaks are likely
to set their sites on these diminutive amps. The odds are that
they'll go for the bigger stuff.
It is equally questionable whether mating C.C.'s bargain products with
such revealing components does them an ultimate service. More modestly
priced components rarely offer consummate resolving power, and are
generally more forgiving of amps built to a price point.
I shall forego long technical descriptions of these amps. They can
be found on the Monarchy Audio website, especially in the host of other reviews posted
for your edification. Be forewarned when you check out the Monarchy website that each time you click on a page, you will
hear music blaring from your speakers. I can find no provision on
the home page to silence this annoying musak. However, if you quickly
scurry to the bottom of the page and hit pause, you'll be spared.
The SE-100 Delux employs two Singled-Ended Gain Stages driving a
complementary Class A Output bank, which incorporates 8 matched Power
MOSFETS rated at 150 Watts each, for a total dissipating power of 1,200
Watts. Construction is 3/8” thick aluminum extrusion (totally free from
magnetic hum), a 450VA toroidal transformer, 60,000 µF of filtering
capacitors, and mil-spec transistors, all built on a precision machined
These solid-state monoblocks immediately impress with their power and bass
extension. Given their size and price, these babies deliver a great deal
more than one would expect. For anyone just starting to build a high-end
system, the SE-100 Deluxes will prove eye-openers.
However, as someone accustomed to the liquidity and spaciousness of far
more expensive tube amplifiers and preamps, a listen to Hilary Hahn's
Brahms Violin Concerto failed to deliver the color and air I expect. All
the notes were there, but the music did not sufficiently engage me on an
emotional level. What orchestral detail I did hear seemed mushed together
into a rather flat, tonally undistinguished presentation.
On Terry Evans' excellently recorded “Puttin it Down,” the XRCD's normally
three-dimensional presentation sounded much flatter than I'm accustomed to
hearing. This was due in part to a lack of brilliance and extension on
highs. (Lack of extension tends to homogenize and gray the colors of
voices and instruments). I heard impressive bass extension, but the
cymbals did not sizzle. Everything felt a bit sluggish and thick.
Turning to soprano Karina's Gauvin's chamber ensemble reduction of
Canteloube's gorgeous Songs of the Auvergne, I missed the air I'm
accustomed to hearing between sounds. Lacking as well was a clear
differentiation of timbre. Through the Jadis Defy 7, I've heard distinct
differences between the colors of the various brass horns dialoguing with
each other from different places in the soundstage that I failed to hear
with the Monarchy amplifiers.
When I played Rosa Passos and Ron Carter's superbly recorded Entre Amigos
from Chesky, I again realized that the leading edge of the tone was not
fully there. The voice, cymbals, and other high-pitched sounds seemed
muted and lacking color because the leading edge of the tone was smoothed
over. Without treble crispness and pointed focus, the body of the tone
seemed somewhat spread and blurred. What on the best systems often sounds
like silence and space between voices and instruments with the SM-100
Deluxes seemed somewhat clouded and gray.
One change between my current reference system and the system of October,
2003 is that the Theta Gen. VIII DAC preamp offers both single-ended and
balanced outputs. Wondering if the SE-100 Delux amps sound better in
balanced mode, I connected them to the Theta via a 1.5m run of balanced
Acoustic Zen Silver Reference II interconnects.
The answer is yes. Balanced mode certainly lowers the amps' noise floor,
allowing more color to emerge. I could hear more orchestral detail in the
accompaniment to Hilary Hahn's Brahms. Nonetheless, the beautifully
focused ring on tenor Rolando Villazon's voice that won me over when I
first heard his debut recital on Virgin Classics was replaced by a less
focused, more metallic sound. With orchestral color still not up to par,
the emotional impact of this man's world-class singing as well as Hilary's
tonal and emotional shifts was not the same.
Lest this sound too damning, let me note that I've just listened to a demo
of the unusual B&O Beolab 5 speakers. These speakers, which include a
built-in 24/192 DAC, employ a revolutionary technology developed by Manny
LaCarrubba, a member of the Bay Area Audiophile Society. The transport and
Elrod EPS-2 Signature cable employed in the demo were my own, loaned out
for the occasion.
The Beolab 5's bass control is awesome, their sound dispersion like
nothing else I've heard. The technology behind their design is in many
ways ground breaking. But at least in this demo, I heard distinct midrange
colorations and a pervasive grayness. There was a lack of silence and
space between instruments, a uniformity of color and presentation that,
combined with a lack of depth, failed to deliver the excitement
experienced with the best audiophile systems or in live performance. As
with the SE-100 Delux amplifiers, the fabled “blacker black” was nowhere
This inability to approach the transparency heard in live performance
remains a pervasive problem plaguing many audiophile sound systems. (Jack
Bybee has built a career on purification devices that lower the noise
floor.) For those accustomed to boom boxes and entry-level high-end
equipment, the SE-100s will unquestionably sound great. But for those
spoiled by live performance and costly sound systems, they may come up
SE-160 Hybrid Amplifiers
When I visited C.C., he also urged me to try his hybrid amplifiers.
Knowing that I was accustomed to the sound of tube amps, he thought the
SE-160s might prove to my liking.
C.C. was right. These guys have a much warmer sound than the SE-100
Deluxes. They may cost more, but I find them far more musical.
A case in point, Hilary Hahn's violin and orchestra sounded far more
liquid than with the SE-100 Delux. They did not necessarily sound more
colorful, but hearing more of their natural warmth and liquidity rendered
them far more musically engaging.
I loved the warmth on Rosa Passos' voice. Ron Carter's deep bass didn't
seem as solid or as controlled as with the 100s, but the warmer and more
ingratiating body of sound was certainly inviting. Though the leading edge
of the tone lacked ideal focus, the musicality of presentation went a long
way to compensate.
Karina Gauvin's voice didn't seem separated from the chamber ensemble that
backed her; sounds seemed smeared together. Unless the volume was turned
way up, the piccolo didn't resound freely and cut through the air, and the
drum seemed to lack focus. Still, the results were most listenable and
I also returned to tenor Rolando Villazon. The man's voice was undeniably
beautiful, but the varied colors of orchestral accompaniment were still
homogenized. Especially wanting was the mesmerizing effect Villazon's soto
voce has on me through the Jadis Defy 7.
If you scan reviews of C.C.'s amps posted on his website, you will find
many strong endorsements. There are qualifications, of course, but the
conclusions are generally quite positive.
There could be many reasons for my reactions. Perhaps the amps aren't
flattered by Nordost's ultra-fast, supremely transparent cabling or by
David Elrod's power cables (though both sound supremely open, neutral, and
flattering with other gear I've reviewed). Maybe I'm too spoiled by live
performance and the high-priced spread. Maybe the moon is in the wrong
I believe C.C.'s basic design is quite sound. Though I am not one to
perform modifications on my own, a year's experience with upgrading the
Bruce Moore preamps suggests that anyone willing to replace Monarchy's
Belden hook-up wire with superior Cardas silver, and exchange stock
capacitors and resistors for higher quality parts will likely experience a
marked increase in transparency, color, and resolution.
Please see my Bruce Moore Companion III preamp review for a detailed
discussion of what parts upgrades can accomplish. Note that the Talon
Khorus X upgrade also included changing capacitors in the crossovers,
again to great effect. Finally, go to Wyetech's website and note the parts
comparison for their four preamps. In all cases, more costly parts result
in greater transparency and resolution, lower noise floor and increased
C.C. Poon definitely has a good thing going with his products. In the
right systems, his power amplifiers will deliver much pleasure.
- Jason Victor Serinus -
Digital Front End
Sony 707ES transport modified by Alexander Peychev of APL Hi-Fi
Theta Gen VIII DAC/Preamp
Jadis Defy 7 Mk IV modified with a Siltech silver harness
Talon Khorus X speakers (with latest modifications and Bybee filters that
render its response even across the spectrum and greatly improve the bass)
Nordost Valhalla single-ended interconnects and balanced digital
Nordost Valhalla bi-wired speaker cable
Acoustic Zen Silver Reference II balanced interconnects
Powercables: Elrod EPS-1, 2, and 3 and EPS-2 and -3 Signature on main
chain plus Harmonic Tech, Nordost, and AudioPrism SuperNatural S2
PS Audio P600 Power Plant power synthesizer with MultiWave II
PS Audio Ultimate Outlet; PS Audio Power Ports
Michael Green Deluxe Ultrarack, Basic Racks and room treatment,
Michael Green Audiopoints, Ganymede supports. Marigo supports and Black
Diamond Racing Cones
Bedini Quadra Beam Ultraclarifier
Marigo Stealth Mat for CDs
Ayre demagnetizing/break-in disc
Analog (hardly the strong suit of the system, not used for review
Sumiko Blue Point cartridge
Classe 6 phono preamp with optional umbilical cord
Interconnects: Tara Decade and Nirvana SL-1 to phono preamp
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