Monarchy Audio SE-100 Delux Mark 2 Monoblock Amplifier Review 
Home Theater Power Amplifiers Mono Amplifiers
Written by Todd Whitesel   
Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Monarchy Audio is a San Francisco, California-based concern founded in 1979 by C.C. Poon, an audio enthusiast with a technical bent who began his business selling amplifier kits from Japan. By the 1990s, the company had shifted focus and began manufacturing its own audio gear, including DACs and amplifiers, all under a banner of “High End at Low Cost.” in 1995, Monarchy introduced the SE-100 mono block amplifier, a Class A model whose design remained in production unchanged for nearly 15 years. In late 2009, an updated version of the SE-100 was released under the moniker SE-100 Delux Mark 2.

Features & Setup


Measuring 11 inches wide, 13 inches deep and just 4 inches high, the Mark 2s are relatively tidy in dimension yet still tip the scales at 21 pounds. The construction is tank-like and these amps can pump 100 watts into 8 ohms and 200 watts into 4 ohms – enough power for most home systems. The Delux sports a bevy of betterments, including improved output stage, new protection circuitry, dual low-noise bridge rectifiers, lower distortion and faster operating speed, a time-delay relay to prevent turn-on “thump,” cascaded driver to preserve signal integrity and ability to handle 2-ohm loads. Cosmetically, the amp now sports oval handles, laser-engraved front and rear panels and a top cover with twice the vent slots as the previous model. Here's the kicker: The amps are offered at the same price as they were 15 years ago - $1,179 each – an incredible feat considering they are still hand-made in California.

The SE-100 Mark 2 Delux is a true Class A amplifier, which means that it operates continuously at full power, regardless if a signal is being transmitted. Virtues of Class A operation include low distortion as there is no cross-over as signals travel from input to output stage and low output impedance. The downside is that Class A amps are inefficient operators and generate large amounts of power, which is lost as heat. To keep cool, each side of the SE-100 sports 20 heat-dissipating fins, and the top cover now boasts twice as many vents as the previous model. The amps release 200 watts idling and get warm but not dangerously so.


The SE-100 Mark 2 Delux, like most mono block amplifiers, is characteristically frills-free when it comes to buttons and other front-panel gadgetry. Aside from the twin handles, the front panel has a power switch only – any tone, loudness or volume controls are left to the pre-amp. The rear panel is equally spartan, with a single connection for RCA or XLR, one pair of speaker outs, an AC fuse and outlet for detachable power cord.

The “SE” in the SE-100's name stands for “single ended,” and to that end the amp is designed for RCA connection. If your system requires XLR connections, the SE-100 can accommodate but to no sonic advantage. And if you're into bi-amping, the SE-100 can be mated to a pair of its own for more power and separation of the high and low frequency spectrum. For this review, I used Hegel Audio's H100 integrated amplifier as a pre-amp and connected each mono block via the RCA connections.

Listening


Mono blocks can be thought of as single, self-contained amps, each with its own transformer and power supply. Such an arrangement, theoretically, affords better channel separation, imaging and a deeper soundstage. The SE-100s were my first foray into the mono block world, and what impressed me most was the degree of separation I heard in every recording. Monarchy recommends letting the SE-100 warm up for 30 minutes for best sound. Although the amps are touted as “virtually noise free,” there is a definite degree of hum when first powered on and warming up. That hum never goes away totally but decreases substantially - a power conditioner could probably smooth out the last bit of roughness. Even so, the Delux is smooth, clean, open and transparent and well suited for big and bold as well as intimate and delicate. The SE-100's specs suggest an amp that delivers distortion-free sound, even at full-rated power, confirmed by my experience.



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.

Final Thoughts

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.

System Setup

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





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