Cisco’s recent release of the Heifetz Kreutzer Sonata underlines this last point perfectly. I’ve always held a candle for the Martzy reading, finding Heifetz flashy and ostentatious. But the superiority of the Cisco transfer combined with the Monaco reveals a different picture. Yes, Martzy certainly serves the music better; the Heifetz is definitely a Heifetz – if you get my drift. But for the first time I have a ‘table that can keep pace with the flashing bow, the cascade of notes that explode from the Maestro’s violin. What is unveiled is a technical tour de force of literally breath-taking dimensions. The ability to effortlessly unravel the complex runs and rapid fire salvoes brings true appreciation, a clarity and lack of congestion that has more in common with life than our expectations of recordings.
Think now, what that means for other records. The way the Monaco unravels tracks makes it a window on recorded quality – and yes I did mean “recorded” not “recording”. What will emerge from your records is the quality of the playing, the artistry of the players. So, ‘Jammin’’ from Babylon By Bus becomes an infectious, joyous romp, the agile, mobile bass line driving things along, Marley on an obvious high and feeding off the audience. Great recording? Not a bit of it – but a great band and a great night! Where many systems struggle to capture the chemistry and frisson of really tight ensemble playing, be it the Wailers or Quarteto Italiano, the Monaco/ Titan/Connoisseur chain revelled in it, allowing you, the listener, to do the same. The downside is that the deck will also show up clumsy playing and groups that aren’t as tight as they should be, studio work that breaks rather than builds the continuity and flow in a track.
So far I’ve yet to uncover a significant flaw in the Grand Prix Audio Monaco. On a practical level I’d like a lid and I’d like to be able to mount a second arm. But musically speaking it’s weighting of instrumental energy right across the range and especially at high frequencies, its ability to float acoustic bass and drums or accurately capture the speed and tonality of percussion, is very near to life, and only a subtle lack of woodiness to cello and double bass betray it. I’m not even prepared to lay that at the door of the ‘table as the other decks I’ve used with the Titan simply don’t resolve low frequency harmonics with anything like the same clarity, so it could be the cartridge. Likewise, you can find decks that conjure a greater sense of acoustic space or simply deliver more wallop. But this deck’s deviations from the natural are sufficiently small to be subsumed by taste rather than accuracy. Which is another way of saying that if you want a bigger, bolder and more colourful picture you might well prefer the TNT, greater low-end weight and a more palpable acoustic, then the Kuzma. But whilst you might prefer another deck I suspect you’ll find it as hard as me to fault the Monaco’s musical integrity and overall coherence.
More importantly, that sonic integrity reflects the engineering integrity of the design as a whole. It would be easy to hang the performance benefits of this ‘table on the hook labelled direct drive, but there’s much more to it than that. They’re also down to the ‘table’s ability to generate and dissipate energy and the sophistication of its bearing design and speed controller. No one factor reigns supreme, they all contribute. In the same way, this isn’t about the superiority of direct drive over belt drive: it’s about the speed accuracy and consistency of this system, the superiority of this implementation rather than the specific technology employed. The important things are the speed consistency, the physical structure, the materials used and the execution of the design. There’s more than one way to build a turntable. Success rests on following your chosen path to its logical extreme, which is exactly what Grand Prix Audio have done – thankfully with equal emphasis on the logic AND the extreme. Indeed, no designer or manufacturer has ever been as frank and open about their ‘table’s technical achievements or raison d’etre – as GPA’s white paper on the deck will make clear. Read it and you’ll see that buying this deck rests on more than just the promise of performance.
So direct-drive might seem like the star, but even a star needs a supporting cast, and here that cast are also stellar – as is the resultant performance. In many ways this is the most accomplished, convincing and insightful turntable I’ve used at home. The more I’ve used it the more I’ve enjoyed it; the more I’ve put in, the more I’ve got out. Will I miss it when it goes? Why don’t they make stick on patches for vinyl withdrawal? Of the serious vinyl replay contenders this is by far the most practical. Nor, given the cost of the competition and the material content and execution involved here, is it extravagantly expensive. It’s demanding and rewarding in equal measure and if Grand Prix Audio’s Monaco doesn’t sound like other turntables maybe, just maybe it sounds like the great ‘tables to come.