Today’s laptops and sensible units pack numerous efficiency and excessive tech. Their audio prowess, nevertheless, usually leaves one thing to be desired. The largest shortcomings sometimes lie with their onboard amplification and the DACs that convert a digital sign to analog). As audio fans with premium headphones know all too nicely, these deficiencies can rob their headphones of peak efficiency.
Monoprice’s $279.99 Monolith Portable Headphone Amplifier and DAC goals to deal with these shortcomings whereas offering gobs of energy, a sophisticated DAC, and including premium options in a small bundle.
Meteoric rise onto the audio scene
Monoprice blasted onto the scene seemingly out of nowhere years in the past, promoting high-value, high-performance HDMI cables. At the time, Monoprice shattered the market held by ridiculously priced HDMI cables.
Thanks to some nudging from audio fans inside the firm, Monoprice then launched a line of high-performance, high-value audio gear beneath the Monolith model. The Monolith line is geared in the direction of the audiophile and residential theater crowd. I had the chance to review the Monolith 7, a seven-channel 200-watt-per-channel amplifier whose value and efficiency left me awe-struck.
Since my evaluate, Monoprice’s Monolith lineup has grown exponentially to incorporate audio system, headphones, subwoofers, a Dolby Atmos multichannel preamplifier, in addition to desktop and transportable headphone amplifiers and DACs.
Beautiful construct and styling
The Monolith Portable Headphone Amplifier and DAC is fantastically constructed with a black, brushed steel face; matte black sides, and a again plate with a flush, imitation leather-based grain that goes virtually edge to edge. The unit’s monochrome display screen is small however legible. The display screen serves as a dashboard letting you already know the enter, quantity, and battery standing. If you’re related through USB, it can present you in case your audio supply is PCM or DSD together with the supply’s sampling fee.
The Monolith measures 5.35-inches x 2.84-inches x 0.57-inches (concerning the dimension of a typical smartphone) and weighs in at half a pound. There are 4 bodily buttons on the right-hand aspect for menu features.
While the Monolith sports activities a small kind issue, it doesn’t imply it’s a sensible on-the-go amp and DAC. I discovered the Monolith a bit cumbersome to hold round along with my iPhone XS, and the tangled net of cables cumbersome to make use of when strolling. I’d say that is actually supposed for somebody who desires portability however gained’t be shifting round while you’re utilizing the Monolith Portable Headphone Amp.
Power beneath the hood
AKM’s flagship 32-bit AK4493 DAC is on the coronary heart of this system, supporting PCM sources as much as 768kHz and DSD 2.8, 5.6, and 11.2 alerts.
The amplification aspect of the system is dealt with by a THX AAA 788 amplifier module. The acronym stands for Achromatic Audio Amplifier. Achromatic is a Greek phrase which means “without color;” therefore, THX claims its AAA know-how goals to amplify the audio sign with out coloration.)
THX’s AAA amplifier know-how is thought for its linearity and vanishingly low distortion, amongst different issues. I’ve fairly a little bit of expertise with AAA amplifier know-how, having two THX AAA-based Benchmark AHB2 power amplifiers in my reference setup. If you’re fascinated with studying extra about this know-how, you possibly can learn an in-depth interview withTHX’s senior vp of audio analysis, Laurie Fincham, here. He discusses how AAA was developed and the way Benchmark got here to undertake it. I don’t imply to indicate, nevertheless, that the Monolith is a Benchmark AHB2 in miniature. An audio system’s sound is all the time the sum of its components.
The Monolith headphone amp is designed to drive nearly any headphone. It will pump out 220mW into 16 ohms, 91 mW into 150 ohms, and 23 mW into 600-ohm headphones. Indeed I had no hassle driving any headphone I threw at it. I ought to notice that some customers in on-line boards have commented about extreme hiss by means of easy-to-drive in-ear displays when used with the Monolith.
After prolonged use, the headphone amp had an inclination to get heat however by no means scorching. I counsel protecting it nicely ventilated not utilizing it in an enclosed bag.
The Monolith Portable Headphone Amplifier has a 4000mAh battery. I do, nevertheless, want that the Monolith may double as a transportable charger, like Oppo’s now defunct HA-2 transportable headphone amplifier.
Features is the place the Monolith shines. First up is Dirac Sensaround II. Dirac is well-known within the residence theater world, creating among the finest room-correction packages obtainable. But don’t suppose you’re getting some cutting-edge headphone auto-EQ resolution while you see the Dirac emblem on the aspect of the Monolith.
As deployed right here, Dirac Sensaround II is a DSP mode. It’s billed as making a “vast, clear, and realistically immersive sound stage free from the constraints of the space in your ear, much like a multi-speaker home theater system.” Well, I wouldn’t go that far. In real-world use, Dirac’s Sensaround II creates a extra relaxed musical presentation, versus the extra ahead sensation you get with headphones. The impact just isn’t as dramatic because the advertising people make it out to be, and also you’ll both prefer it otherwise you gained’t.
The Monolith’s inputs are versatile. In addition to the USB enter, the 3.5mm analog line-level enter doubles as an optical enter.
Four further options elevate the Monolith’s worth and practicality:
- You have the power to set PEQ (parametric EQ) to focus on particular frequencies.
- Shelf EQ enables you to increase or reduce frequencies above or under a frequency setting.
- You can change the DAC’s filter velocity settings
- Dynamic vary management enables you to set two impartial stereo compressors and a mixer to mix the high and low bands.
That quantity knob is a two-edged sword
The analog quantity dial dominates the unit’s higher proper nook. Taking a cue from high-end digital audio players, the amount knob performs a distinguished design function. I discovered it comparatively simple to show with my index finger for left-handed management or with my thumb for right-handed use. Be warned, nevertheless, the amount dial could be very delicate.
That will likely be an excellent or dangerous factor, relying in your perspective. It’s good in you could spin the amount up or down rapidly. But don’t dare rub up towards it whereas its in your pocket. Your music will go silent otherwise you’ll throw your headphones off your head as the amount spikes. I had a few conditions like that after I was simply reaching for the unit. I’d prefer to see Monoprice make some changes with the amount knob’s sensitivity or maybe introduce a quantity lock function.
I examined the Monolith Portable Headphone Amplifier and DAC with the Astell&Kern Billie Jean, Aurvana Trio, Bowers and Wikins C5, and Fiio F9 Pro in-ear-monitors in addition to the Focal Clear and Beyerdynamic Amiron Home over-the-ear headphones. I used the Monolith as a USB DAC related to a Mac, and I used the analog enter fed from an iPhone XS. Sources included my Roon media server and Tidal.
The Monolith Portable Headphone Amplifier drove each headphone I related to it with ease. This was most notable with the Beyerdynamic Amiron Home and Focal Clear. Bass management on Shaed’s “Trampoline” or Imagine Dragons’ “Bad Liar” was good, although I longed for a bit extra texture.
The Monolith delivered siren songs from my pantheon of feminine vocalists, together with Natalie Merchant, Norah Jones, Adele, Dido, Alycia Keys, Laren Daigle. At occasions, I longed for a bit extra presence, midrange transparency, and dynamics.
Generally talking, the Monolith Portable Headphone Amplifier and DAC is an excellent product. In my assessments with over-the-ear headphones, the Monolith conjured up the music from a black background. If you’re trying to elevate your pc or sensible system’s audio and acquire superior options corresponding to PEQ, it’s one thing it is best to significantly have a look at. But I’ll cease in need of calling it a reference product. The system shines with its digital inputs, however the analog enter is much less spectacular. For me, it lacked that final ounce of transparency, involvement, and musicality.
Its worth relies upon how you plan to make use of it
Monoprice’s Monolith Portable Headphone Amplifier packs a number of tech in a tiny bundle, although I’d cease in need of calling it sensible for energetic on-the-go use. Built round THX’s very good AAA amplifier know-how and AKM’s flagship DAC, there isn’t a file format or headphone that may make this child sweat. The digital inputs sound higher than its analog counterpart.
But the Monolith’s actual worth lies in its arsenal of PEQ, shelf EQ, filter velocity settings, and dynamic vary management. Dirac’s Sensaround II will attraction to some and disappoint others. If all these options resonate with you, then the Monolith Portable Headphone Amp deserves critical consideration. If they don’t matter to you, the Monolith’s worth proposition drops a bit. Likewise, if you happen to’re out there for a headphone amp and DAC and intend to make use of primarily digital sources with it, this one ought to float your boat. If you suppose you’ll be listening solely to analog sources, it’s a lot much less interesting.