The natural assumption that goes with this is that the Monaco will sound leaner and less substantial than other decks and to a point that’s true. But been exhaustive in this) always end up with the competition sounding rounded, blurred and overweight, the GPA consistently delivering better pitch security, texture and harmonic resolution, not just at low frequencies but across the board. Of the decks on hand the one with the closest spectral balance is the Clearaudio Master Reference, which sounds notably more linear than other decks anyway, yet still fails to match the Monaco. Doesn’t the absence of weight rob the deck of impact and musical power? Again, close comparisons to the resident ‘tables show that whilst the likes of the Kuzma XL4 and TNT with Rimdrive initially offer greater weight and impact, a more impressive sense of drive, actually, the GPA bests both in terms of musical drama and expressive range, its greater textural palette and dynamic discrimination easily countering the sheer weight of the other decks, often leaving them sounding ponderous and puffed out. Ever watch an athlete at the tail end of a long race, the guy trailing in at the back of the pack? That lack of life, the jump, spring and energy that so obviously propelled the winner; that’s what the comparisons brought to mind*.
Which brings us to the question of speed – or pace. You might think that the GPA will sound fast. It doesn’t. Instead it sounds right, and there’s a big, big difference. In days of yore, turntable manufacturers would occasionally set their demonstration units to run slightly fast, giving them a lively, crisp and upbeat sound that impresses in a quick A/B dem. The trouble is that the longer you listen the more you notice the hurried, cluttered and congested nature of the sound. The Monaco is the exact back to back comparisons (and I’ve opposite. Musical information arrives exactly as, when and where it should, meaning that the impact and drama come from the performance of the players (not the performance of the player – errr, turntable). It’s this sense of uncluttered organization that dovetails with the GPA’s linearity and even spectral balance to deliver its astonishing clarity and intelligibility. Individual notes are beautifully defined: placement, leading edge, harmonic development and decay. But just as importantly their spacing and the spaces between them become more natural and more apparent, which in turn makes phrasing much more effective and powerful. So, listening to Janis Ian’s ‘Some People’s Lives’, the pauses between each line become almost as telling and poignant as the lyrics themselves, adding emphasis to the words but also locking the vocal to the studied pacing and accents of the piano. The end result is a huge increase in the emotional impact and sense of natural delivery on this starkest and simplest of songs. As you add instruments and density to the music and mix, the benefits become even more obvious.
The third leg to this particular performance tripod, a natural extension of what you hear on the Janis Ian track, is the uncanny overall musical coherence. The different parts of a composition, different strands, different instruments, manage to lock together into a coherent – and above all, recognizable – whole. That makes it easy to hear what’s going on, so you spend less brain effort on sorting things out and more on enjoying them: which makes for both more involving and relaxed listening. But, in the same way that the clarity and intelligibility depends on the speed consistency, this third quality is inextricably entwined with the other two. It’s the inherent balance, the integrity of these interlocking attributes that makes the Monaco what it is – and allows it to do what it does, which is to provide a clear and naturally proportioned musical skeleton. It’s up to the arm and cartridge to put flesh and clothes on the body, to decide on the physique and dress sense if you like, but it’s hard to quibble with the foundation provided by the ‘table. Which brings us to the question of partners for the chassis. Of course, providing such a stable platform means that the type of tonearm employed is wide open: gimbal, uni-pivot, even a parallel tracker, the Monaco would suit them all. More importantly, your choice needs to have an even balance top to bottom, because the deck is going to show up any leanings one way or another, and it must – absolutely must – offer record by record VTA adjustment. Okay, so I’ve been banging the drum on this for a while but hear me out. Anybody who sat in on our demonstrations at RMAF or the Manchester Show should be in no doubt that VTA affects rhythmic integrity and musical flow. Get it wrong and the timing consistency and coherence of the Monaco replay platform will tell you instantly. The music will become stilted, thin, tonally bleached and disjointed if the arm is too high, purposeless, bland and lacking in energy if it’s too low. But fear not, the right height is equally clear, making adjustment a doddle. Increasingly, topflight arms are offering this facility so choice is hardly limited and you quickly get accustomed to this being just another part of the record playing ritual.