Monoprice Monolith Turntable Review: A Gateway To Vinyl Addiction
“If there’s a better turntable for the price than Monoprice’s Monolith, we haven’t seen it yet.”
Several cartridge options
Built-in preamp and USB outputs
Tricky initial setup
No RCA cable included
The market for entry-level turntables is almost an embarrassment of riches. Our list of the best turntables you can buy features several great low-priced models to choose from, and these are just part of a massive offering from multiple brands. But the one thing too many entry-level turntables get wrong is an upgrade path. This is why I think the Monoprice Monolith turntable is such a smart choice. It offers a solid foundation to get you hooked on and an easy upgrade path to nurture what will likely become a long-term vinyl addiction.
I spun the Monolith turntable for months to determine if it would put new owners in the groove on the downside, or cause them to ignore the idea of vinyl playback altogether. In the end, although it takes a bit more hands-on effort than I would like, I think the Monolith turntable is one of the best starter pieces you can buy. Here’s why.
Choose your poison
Table of Contents
When choosing a Monolith turntable, you have two decisions to make: the first comes down to aesthetic preference, but the second is a bit more critical.
The Monolith turntable is available in two finishes: glossy black and walnut. Although I haven’t experienced the gloss black option myself, the quality of the walnut finish on the sample I received is surprisingly impressive considering the cost of the turntable. Although I still like the somewhat utilitarian look of my daily-driver Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USBthere is no doubt that the Monolith Turntable outclasses it in the area of looks.
From there, you can choose to have the turntable ship with one of two pre-installed cartridges: the version with the ubiquitous Audio-Technica AT-3600L costs $200 (out of stock at press time), while that the version with the revered Audio-Technica AT-VM95E costs $250. Considering the AT-VM95E is considered one of the best cartridges you can buy for under $100, I consider the second platinum option well worth the premium. Not only does it sound pretty good, but you can easily switch styli.
Of course, if you or whoever you’re buying the table for is likely to experience a quick upgrade, it might make more sense to get the cheaper option and save $50 on buying one. best cartridge on the road.
The set up
When your Monolith turntable arrives, you will have some unboxing, parts analysis, manual reading, assembly and setup to perform. I found most of this process fun. I mean, a big part of enjoying vinyl is the whole physical/tactile involvement experience, right?
What I didn’t find fun was the instruction manual decoding experience. Figuring out how to release the pre-installed belt to spin the platter wasn’t a big deal. Figuring out that the tonearm counterweight was installed backwards and needed to be removed and then reinstalled seemed a little odd, though I got away with it with minimal hassle. But the anti-skate weight? All that threading of the fishing line through the little holes was downright frustrating given that the instructions didn’t explain the process to me at all. But if you can take this step (and you can, I trust you), you will soon be rewarded.
A few design features worth mentioning: The monolithic turntable uses an external power supply, which I think is great for noise reduction, but the wall wart is significant and probably won’t fit into the last outlet available on an already crowded power strip, so be prepared by clearing out the outlet space before you have to plug into the mains, lest your immersion into vinyl bliss be disruptively delayed. Additionally, the Monolith turntable comes with a felt mat, which is common, but not the best choice. It will suffice for you, but an easy upgrade would be to replace it with this one cheap cork tray mat.
And while we’re talking about accessories here, I’ll add that the box is obviously missing a set of RCA analog audio cables. Maybe you already have a set of cables in that rat’s nest that you refuse to recycle, but if you don’t, be sure to buy a set if you’re connecting the turntable to an integrated amp, an affordable stereo receiver, A/V receiver, or outboard phono preamp. If you plan to rip your vinyl digitally, the required USB cable is in the box. Another accessory worth having on hand is a strobe disc to check the speed of a turntable. I mention this because if the belt on this turntable is not in the ideal position, the gear will be disabled. You’ll hear something wrong when you’re listening to a record (probably), but knowing you’ve got the perfect 33 1/3 RPM is great for peace of mind.
As the resurgence of vinyl has taken place in the digital age, turntables have moved beyond the simple mechanical tools they once were. The Monolith turntable has everything you need for the modern era of vinyl playback. This includes a passable built-in phono preamp so the turntable can be connected directly to a stereo amplifier, even if it doesn’t have a Phono input. If so, however, a switch on the back of the Monolith turntable allows you to switch between a phono output and a line output. Also on the back of the table is a USB output for connection to a PC so you can extract audio, or to the USB digital input on a set of powered speakers. If you’re looking for Bluetooth output, however, you won’t find it here. And it suits me very well.
The controls of the Monolith Turntable are simple. You get a two-speed selector on the left side of the table and an on/off switch on the right. The real star of the show, however, is the carbon fiber tonearm – a virtually unheard of inclusion at this price point. A removable reading head allows for easy cartridge upgrades.
I’ll break this section down into three parts, covering the performance of the built-in phono preamp, digital audio output, and turntable mechanics separately.
The phono preamp is second only to the cartridge in terms of the effect a room can have on the sound quality of a vinyl listening rig. Of course, the tonearm also plays an important role, but the incredible fidelity that a great tonearm with a great cartridge can provide will be erased by a bad phono preamp. I would rate the phono preamp built into the Monolith turntable as passable. That doesn’t sound bad, but it won’t unlock god-worthy levels of audio bliss either. It does its job well enough for a turntable at this price. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve heard much better with a built-in phono preamp. Even the one built into my Audio Technica AT-LP120-USB is only marginally better.
All I wanted was a hassle-free experience, and that’s exactly what the Monolith Turntable’s USB output gave me. Using a variety of digital-to-analog converters (DACs), I was able to connect the turntable to a pair of KEF LS50 Wireless II speakers and got great results. Of course, if KEF had decided to leave a USB input in the LS50 Wireless II rather than removing it from its predecessor, the LS50 Wireless, I wouldn’t have needed to involve an external DAC at all. But I digress.
I think the best sounding tonearm is the one that sounds like nothing at all. A good tonearm shouldn’t bring any sonic coloration to the table, it should just be easy to use and fun to interact with. The Monolith Turntable’s tonearm succeeds magnificently in both respects.
This allowed the Audio Technica AT-VM95E to shine like the solid cartridge that it is. The bass was melodious and reasonably taut, the mids had plenty of space and air, if not entirely pure and translucent, and the high frequencies had just the right amount of articulation, ring and of shimmer.
The Monolith turntable was a simple pleasure to use. What it lacks in ease of installation, it makes up for in long-term ease of use. And it looks awesome doing it too.
More importantly, however, the monolithic turntable is a solid foundation to build on. It is ready for much more sophisticated cartridges and high-end platter mats, and will happily play with any number of external phono preamps or high-end integrated amplifiers.
Is there a better choice?
Its only real competitor should be the Fluance RT81, which, to be perfectly blunt, is on par with the Monolith turntable in almost every way – you just get different finish options. There’s also the House of Marley Stir it Up, which doesn’t have such a nice looking tonearm, despite being made of durable materials, and of course, the hugely popular U-Turn Orbit Basic turntable, which doesn’t have as nice a tonearm, and doesn’t have the high-end finish seen on the Monolith turntable.
At the end of the line
The Monolith turntable is in a class of its own. I don’t know of a turntable that offers so much at such an affordable price. If you’re ready to get hooked on vinyl, the Monoprice Monolith turntable is the most effective gateway I’ve reviewed.