|Monarchy Audio SE-100 Delux Mark 2 Monoblock Amplifier Review|
|Home Theater Power Amplifiers Mono Amplifiers|
|Written by Todd Whitesel|
|Wednesday, 10 February 2010|
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Guitar music has been running through my head for much of 2010, and I grabbed a handful of CDs representing different styles, genres and time periods to assess the SE-100's way with the six-string.
Masters Of The Guitar is a double-disc Deutsche Grammophon collection of popular guitar works played by giants of the instrument, including Andres Segovia, John Williams, Narciso Yepes and Julian Bream. But what floored me was the artistry of Alexandre Lagoya, known to classical guitar aficionados but new to me. The sound and tone he draws from the guitar is spectacularly sumptuous and musical, as if his fingers were connected to the composer's original thoughts. His rendition of Gaspar Sanz's “Canarios” and duet with wife and fellow guitarist Ida Presti on Domenico Scarlatti's “Sonata in E Major, K. 380, were revelatory and the SE-100 seemed to lift the veil on these compositions as Lagoya and Presti's fingers traced the music.
Charlie Christian: The Genius Of The Electric Guitar is a set of 19 tracks the guitar pioneer recorded in New York and Los Angeles between 1939-41, primarily with band leader Benny Goodman. The collection also features jazz luminaries Lionel Hampton, Fletcher Henderson and Count Basie and is a must for those interested in the rising role of electric guitar as a solo instrument in popular music. Christian's supple tone is never lost, whether he's comping chords in Goodman's Orchestra or in smaller band settings, and his improvisatory flights across “A Smo-o-o-oth One” and “Topsy” are presented with engaging vitality.
Fast forward 30 years and across the pond to Ireland, for some classic blues-rock courtesy of Rory Gallagher. Listening to Gallagher's “Laundromat,” with its blistering guitar lines and other instruments etched cleanly in their respective space, was addictive, as was hearing the crunch of Ted McKenna's drums on Gallagher's “Bad Penny.” The stereo imaging was coherent and convincing. It's powerful music presented powerfully, but without (to steal a Gallagher song title) brute force and ignorance.
My enthusiasm for vinyl continues, and the SE-100 made my favorite music format come alive. Continuing down the guitar path with a few LPs, Muddy Waters' 1977 recording Hard Again brings together the incomparable Waters and fellow blues great Johnny Winter for a glorious slab of old-school electric blues. The re-take of Waters' signature tune “Mannish Boy” is savage, with a monster back-beat bolstered by Winter's joyously unbridled screaming. If this song doesn't shake your core, please check for a pulse. Again, it was the Monarchy's ability to cast a huge soundstage yet keep it all together that impressed - check out the burst from James Cotton's harmonica that starts “The Blues Had A Baby And They Named It Rock And Roll (#2)” for cool handling of hot transients. And with the SE-100's extra power always in reserve I can be forgiven for getting Spinal Tap-ish with the volume. E
Joni Mitchell is rarely mentioned in the pantheon of great guitarists but should be. She is a master of open tunings and influenced countless acoustic players, including Michael Hedges. Her palette of steel-string colors is reflected like a prism on her early solo releases. Rhino Records' recent 180-gram vinyl reissues of Mitchell's works includes Ladies Of The Canyon, Court And Spark and The Hissing Of Summer Lawns. Her voice on “Morning Morgantown,” from Ladies, is so young and spritely that it almost sounds like a different artist from the one who would find radio success a few years later. It doesn't take concentrated effort to hear the breath in Mitchell's singing as she spins the tale of a street-corner clarinet player on “For Free.” The imaging is superb and as close as imaginable to having Mitchell in the room with you. Clear, bright and gorgeous.
I'll end the guitar journey with Uncle Tupelo's swan song, 1993's alt-country masterpiece Anodyne and another Rhino 180-gram reissue. The title track shimmers with Lloyd Maines' pedal steel guitar floating around Jay Farrar's vocal. I've listened to this cut numerous times and have never heard the rhythm guitars so exposed and Jeff Tweedy's bass as present in the mix. Likewise, the manic energy of Tweedy's vocal on “We've Been Had” and the toned-down back-porch stomp of “New Madrid” were delivered with an intoxicating mix of power and finesse.
Even in the face of a challenging economy and what certainly must be rising production costs, Monarchy has somehow kept the SE-100's price in line for a decade and a half. In view of its incredibly low price versus performance level, the SE-100 Delux Mark 2 is an amplifier that belies the old saying, “You get what you pay for.” In fact, you get a lot more. Highly recommended.
Monarchy Audio SE-100 Delux Mark 2 mono block amplifiers
Hegel Audio H-100 integrated amplifier
Emotiva Audio ERC-1 CD player
Better Cables Premium Anniversary Edition Speaker Cables (3 meter/bananas)
Better Cables Silver Serpent Anniversary Edition Interconnects (1 meter pair)
Axiom Audio M80 v2 loudspeakers
Denon DP-500M turntable
Denon DL-103R moving coil phono cartridge
Parasound Zphono phono preamplifier