Turntables

The Grand Prix Audio Monaco 2.0 Turntable

After reading hifi magazines for about 40 years now, and writing about hifi for the last 15 of those years, I’ve been a good Smurf and haven’t baited my loyal readers with the B word – hardly ever as a matter of fact.

This time I’m compelled to put my foot down, or perhaps the tonearm down is more like it. I’ve listened to the big shit, crazy money turntables like the Continuum, the Clearaudio Statement, Goldmund, Transrotor, Tech Das, blah, blah, blah. All six figure tables and not a single one of them worth the price asked. For the last five years, I’ve hung my hat on the AVID Acutus Reference SP, and it’s a fantastic table – one that I still love dearly. (So if you have one, don’t sell it, it’s not rubbish; read my article here.)

Now and then, something comes along that resets the paradigm, and the Grand Prix Audio Monaco 2.0 does just that. I think it’s the world’s best turntable and with a TriPlanar arm and Lyra Etna cartridge, the whole rig will only set you back about $55,000. I know many of you will freak out at the thought of combining “only” and “$55,000” in the same sentence. But imagine if you could get a car that outperformed a Ferrari 458 or a Porsche GT3 for $55,000? That’s what the Grand Prix Monaco 2.0 does. It eclipses everything I’ve ever heard, regardless of price.

So, for the average music lover, 55 grand is still crazy money. But for the music lover that was going to drop 2-4 times this on the ultimate turntable, on their final analog destination, 55 large is a deal and a half, baby. Not to mention all the money you’re going to lose going through a few 10-30 thousand dollar turntables to reach the grail.Here’s the analog paradox; you could go through about five or ten tables in the 10 – 40 thousand dollar range, lose at least five G on each one and then buy a Monaco 2.0. You might appreciate the Monaco more if you did that. Or you could go straight past GO, and just graduate to the Monaco from wherever you are now and save a lot of agony. It will depend on just how OCD you are. Take my advice; this is the table you want as your final analog destination.

Forget the rest.

At 58, my hearing is supposed to be getting worse, right? Careful as I’ve been going to concerts, mowing the lawn and such, I know my hearing can’t be as good as it was in my 20s. I can still hear the horizontal transformer in Mr. O Brien’s tube TV set, so I guess I still hear up to about 16khz. But I profess not to have canine ears.

The second Grand Prix Audio’s Jesse Luna dropped the tonearm down on my copy of the Superfly soundtrack (a major guilty pleasure, and a record I’ve been listening to since age 14) I heard stuff I never heard before on this record. A lot of stuff. Layering, texture, extra vocal overdubs and the bongos just sat there locked in space in a way they never have before. I’m not supposed to be hearing this kind of detail from this crappy record, and I’m probably not supposed to be hearing this kind of detail at my age. But I am.In nearly 700 audio reviews, a component has never grabbed me like this. Every time I put on a record with the thought of listening passively, the Monaco’s gravitational pull sucks me right to the couch. For hours. No escape. I could go on and on in detail about minutia about this track or that track, but chances are you don’t listen to the same music I do anyway.

The Monaco 2.0 reveals more music in every way. Bigger soundstage in all three dimensions, check. Deeper, more solid bass, check. More low-level resolution, check. More dynamic range and tonal contrast. Yep, that too. On every record, I managed to listen to, and in the same way that my dCS Rossini DAC and clock extracts more musical information out of even the worst digital recordings I have, making so many of them much more listenable, the Monaco 2.0 does the same with records. I’m guessing you probably have your own bin of moderately listenable records, which you put up with because you love the music contained in the grooves.

Because the Monaco 2.0 extracts so much more music, You will be surprised at how many marginal records in your collection reveal more than they ever did before. Even Kiss, Alive! sounds better than it ever has on the Monaco 2.0 and that has to be one of the worst sounding records ever made. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley’s layered vocals now have very distinct space between them. Firehouse, woo!

We’re about at the point in the review where I’m supposed to say, “The only thing that makes me grumpy about the Monaco 2.0 is…” but there isn’t. I love this turntable. It’s amazing. There are no downsides. It’s simple, elegant, reveals more music than anything I’ve ever heard and it’s carbon fiber. Mmmmm. Carbon fiber is catnip to me, but it must be functional. GPA founder and designer Alvin Lloyd is no stranger to carbon fiber bits, having been a principal at Swift Engineering. (for you non-racing fans the Swift 006 and 007 carbon fiber chassis was a revolution in the CART racing series) You can read all the white papers and tech briefs at the GPA site here.

Accuracy is the secret weapon

These articles will tell you more than you want to know about the why and how of the Monaco 2.0, but you only need to listen for about 60 seconds to get it. The real secret is its speed accuracy. The Monaco 2.0 holds such a tight grip on speed accuracy with its proprietary direct drive system (.0001% peak deviation, 20 parts per billion average) consisting of a 75,000 line encoder makes for a new definition of the term “gapless motor.” Combining this with a record clamp that tells you when you’ve achieved the perfect amount of clamping force with a little green LED in the middle, it makes for a better record to platter interface, or at least a more consistent platter to record interface than possible before.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I am not blessed with perfect pitch. Those I know that do find analog nearly unlistenable because they claim that even the best belt drive tables have speed inaccuracies that send them out of the room screaming for mercy and prefer digital because of the perfect speed accuracy.

While I don’t hear this group of anomalies, playing the same records simultaneously on the Monaco 2.0 and any of my other tables, there is moderate to severe smearing of imaging information and a lack of immediacy and impact by comparison. The Monaco 2.0 reveals that speed accuracy that you love from your favorite digital recordings, combined with the magic, palpability, tonal saturation, or whatever else you want to call it that the finest analog recordings bring to the party. In short – it’s the best of both worlds. Testing my hypothesis out on a couple of perfect pitch/canine hearing buddies, they were all impressed and commented on the perfect speed accuracy that the Monaco 2.0 offers.

Out of the pits in a hurry

Racing teaches you that races are often won and lost in the pits, all other things being equal. I’m not interested in turntables that take the manufacturer’s tech a whole day to set up (the Continuum). I’m an average turntable setup guy at best, and I have no bones telling you that. Every time I review another great table, I learn a little more about the intricacies of analog setup, but I am not a Jedi master by any means.

I can’t tell you how impressed I was that GPA’s Jesse Luna had the Monaco 2.0 up and rocking in about 15 minutes. When I swapped tonearms from the longer Tri-Planar arm to the standard length one of mine, it only took me about 20 minutes to get things dialed in. Being that this is such a high-performance table, I still suggest having your dealer do it or getting one of the Jedi’s to make sure you are getting all of the performance you are paying for. You don’t take your Ferarri to the corner tire store for an alignment, do you?

Many turntables later

I’ve owned a lot of turntables over the years. I love turntables, even if I’m at a point in my life with music that I’m just as happy listening to digital as analog. Rather than hang my hat on one mega turntable, which I couldn’t realistically compare to anything else, just as I couldn’t really compare other cars to a Ferrari 458 or Porsche GT3 objectively, I still own quite a few tables – about 14 at last count. Everything from a lowly Dual 1229 up to the AVID Acutus Reference SP. It makes the job a lot easier to compare a review table to a reference table or two that is comparably priced than to just brag about my mega table that nothing else compares to. So, I might just jump off the cliff for a Monaco. Stay tuned and keep an eye on the reference components section.

If you’re a new TONEAudio reader, you might be thinking this is just like other hifi magazines, where a new “best” is declared practically monthly, only to be superseded when the next bauble is unraveled. Not here. Let the record state that this is the finest turntable I’ve experienced, at any price. If you want to spend more money on another turntable for whatever reason, I won’t poke fun at you. But you won’t hear more music.

Even if you aren’t in the market for a $50,000 turntable, the GPA guys are at a lot of the shows, and they are offered in a number of good dealers. I highly suggest taking a test drive/listen if you can. And I hope that you enjoy listening to it as much as I do. That’s the ultimate test.

The Grand Prix Audio Monaco 2.0 Turntable

MSRP: $37,000 without tonearm

www.grandprixaudio.com

Peripherals

Cartridges                  Lyra Etna, Grado Statement 2

Phonostage                Pass XS Phono, Audio Research REF 3 Phono

Preamplifier              Pass XS Pre

Power Amplifier        Pass XS 300 Monoblocks

Speakers                    Focal Sopra no.3 w/(2) REL 212s

Cable                          Cardas Clear

Leave a Reply