Steppin’ Out…

Music on the v3.0 is more vivid and more lucid than the v2.0. It encourages you to reach for new discs and more music. The tonal range, natural separation and sense of instrumental or vocal colour added to the increased sense of presence and immediacy, whether you are talking the Academy of Ancient Music’s original instruments and tuning or the sparse cello/vocal pairing on Sarah Jarosz’s cover of Dylan’s ‘Simple Twist Of Fate’ (Build Me Up From Bones, Sugar Hill Records SUG-LP-4093). These were not subtle changes, or the result of masking, meaning that when you go back to the original unit in the ABA cycle you hear what you previously missed. These differences were easily heard, quantitative and qualitative benefits, with greater resolution, more information and a more natural arrangement/presentation of that information. We were hearing more, it was making more sense and it was musically far more compelling.

Of course, one of the questions begging to be answered is the price and value of any upgrade. In practice, the obvious superiority of the v3.0 renders such concerns moot, but I had brought another v2.0 owner along for the ride, just to gauge his reaction to the retail prices involved, especially as one (considerably easier) option might be to upgrade the ‘brain’ and leave the v2.0 arm-board and main-bearing in situ. With that in mind we tried comparing the performance of the v2.0 with the upgraded control electronics to the performance of the full v3.0. Although the new processor and software did improve the v2.0 considerably, the gap between that combination and the v3.0 served to underline the significance of the main-bearing’s contribution, especially in terms of the noise-floor, resolution and absence of grain within notes or the spaces between instruments. The bearing is establishing the foundation of this performance, the improved electronics are building on it. Not surprisingly, our v2.0 owner was as shocked by the musical results as I was and is already arranging for his deck to make the trans-Atlantic trip.

If the v2.0 punched well above its weight before (‘weight’ in terms of physical size and price, that is – the Monaco is astonishingly dense for such a compact design) it’s even more remarkable now. Discovering just how far its performance extends will have to wait for longer listening once my v2.0 ‘transitions’ to the new reality. But even a single day spent in the company of the v3.0 leaves me in no doubt that it represents a paradigm shift in performance. This may actually be a linear development of the v2.0’s already impressive delivery, but it is also fundamentally more communicative and expressive, elevating the musical performance and access onto a whole new level.

The Monaco v3.0 retails at £50,000 in the UK (without the battery supply but including 20%sales tax). That represents a 20% increase over the cost of the v2.0. At that price it’s an even bigger bargain than it was before, especially given the way that new entries to the ‘serious analogue’ category all seem to start well into six figures! Bear in mind also that adding the new Motor Control Unit to an existing v2.0 will cost £20,000. The Monaco v2.0 is well able to embarrass those contenders, while I suspect the v3.0 will simply crush them unceremoniously. The upgrade price is yet to be set and will be complicated by the option to incorporate the new armboard arrangement (or not). I’ll add those details as soon as they are available, although final cost will vary due to the hipping requirements, whether you are in the US or elsewhere. Even so, owners of existing v2.0 ‘tables should start planning for the upgrade. “No brainer” fails to adequately describe how obvious and how great the benefits are. The Monaco v3.0 is a serious assault on the very best in vinyl replay. It’s small for a reason and that’s one of the reasons it sounds so good. Its price tag is also relatively small, when compared to the completion and its astonishingly natural and musically engaging performance. For once in audio, the more affordable, more sensible option is the one to choose. The full review will follow, but that will just fill in the detail. The conclusion is already smack you in the face obvious!