Review: Monoprice Monolith Turntable with AT100E Cartridge

Given the idiosyncrasies associated with the medium, the resurgence of vinyl records has had surprising staying power. While it’s easy to debate whether the format’s analog nature makes up for its inherent limitations, there’s no question that with a good record player connected to a capable system, you can have a legitimately excellent Hi-Fi listening experience. As a consequence, there is currently a proliferation of quality record players from many sources, including Monoprice. This hands-on review is of the Monolith Turntable with Audio-Technica AT100E Cartridge, which sells for $250.

This Monolith belt-drive turntable, also known as product # 27749, features a die-cast aluminum platter and comes with a hinged lid, felt plus rubber anti-slip mats, and has a built-in preamp and notably does not require a ground connection. An Audio-Technica AT100E cartridge comes pre-mounted on a headshell for easy assembly. Ultimately, this turntable is very close to being plug-and-play.

Monoprice Monolith AT100E cartridge and headshell
The AT100E cartridge comes pre-mounted on a detachable headshell. Photo by Mark Henninger

This is a manual turntable that has simple controls. You get a large and solid-feeling speed selection knob for toggling between 33 1/3 rpm and 45 rpm, this also serves as the power switch.

Monoprice Monolith speed and power switch
The Monolith turntable has a large and nice-feeling speed and power switch. Photo by Mark Henninger

On the rear you’ll find the switch that turns the preamp on and off as well as another switch for the auto-stop function that spins down the platter when the record reaches the end.

Monoprice Monolith Turntable
Rear view of the Monoprice Monolith turntable with AT100E cartridge. Photo by Mark henninger

On the underside there are a pair of labeled openings that allow you to fine-tune the speed of the turntable for 33 1/3 and 45 rpm.

Monoprice publishes performance specifications for the Monolith turntable and they are as follows: Phono output level is 2.5mV (+/-3 dB), line-level audio output (with preamp) is 140 mV (-17dBV), wow & flutter is 0.2%, the Signal-to-noise ratio (A-weighted) is 68 dB or higher and 62 dB or higher unweighted. The platter is made of aluminum and measures 12 inches, and power consumption is 1.5 watts. The AT100E cartridge is spec’d at 20-20,000 Hz frequency response and has 27 dB of channel separation (at 1 kHz).

This Monoprice Monolith turntable has a low mass, straight tonearm with an adjustable counterweight as well as an adjustable anti-skate damping mechanism. The headshell is removable and comes with the cartridge pre-mounted.

This unit is equipped with a manual tonearm lifter, so you won’t have to struggle to queue up a track and risk damaging your needle or record just because you had a beer. The base has a solid feeling and and the black piano gloss finish is smooth plus shiny. The lid is a clear plastic and it opens plus closes smoothly and easily on the spring-loaded hinges. Overall, I have no quibbles about the construction of the Monoprice Monolith turntable, it’s solid and it looks good too.

Impressions

The Monoprice Monolith Turntable arrived disassembled, but that’s mostly for safe transit. My unit arrived in pristine condition and I was able to put it together in no time at all.


The component parts of the Monoprice Monolith turntable. Photo by Mark Henninger

The parts go together easily, taking just a couple minutes with no guesswork involved, and there are no tools required. I set the needle tracking force to 1.4 grams, which Audio-Technica specifies as optimal for the AT100E (with a working range of 1.0 to 1.8 grams).

Monoprice Monolith Turntable Assembled
The Monoprice Monolith Turntable, assembled. Photo by Mark Henninger

It’s important to get this out of the way: I’m not about to get back into record listening. I grew up with the format, and owned a decent record player right up until the early 1990s when I switch to CD and never looked back. Well, more like “almost never” because last year I found a couple of decent turntables at a thrift shop (one was a Dual, one was a Revolver Rebel). I brought the thrift shop record spinners back to life by outfitting them with new cartridges. That project wound up being motivation enough to pick up a couple dozen albums on vinyl, which I still have. As for the turntables, I gave those to friends.

Regardless of how this (or any record player) performs, my impressions of vinyl records now is the same as it was before, in that the medium is capable of good sound despite its well-documented shortcomings. From a technical point of view, it’s not the best format—especially if you love super deep bass—however it does the job. I found the imaging and dynamics of the albums more than enjoyable and aside from a few audible pops and scratches playback was clean and event-free.

I’ll never grow tired of listening to the albums I have on vinyl, including Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys, The Chronic by Dr. Dre, Love’s Secret Domain by Coil, The Score by The Fugees, In Decay by Com Truise and some others. But, as is so often the case with classic favorites, It kind of does require a special event to play those favorties “one more time” and I suppose reviewing the first new (as opposed to used) record player that I’ve had in my home since I was in middle school listening to Thriller is a special event.

Monoprice Monolith Needle
3, 2, 1… contact. Needle drops are exciting. Photo by Mark Henninger

The main benefit of vinyl LPs, at least to me, is the artwork on the covers, which I have framed and put on my wall. But there’s also the fact that even though vinyl records have demonstrably less dynamic range than common uncompressed digital formats, sometimes the mastering for vinyl uses less dynamic compression than the digital counterpart which results in the perception of higher fidelity coming from the format itself. And then there are the countless used records that make collecting them a hobby many enjoy; there’s a lot of music out there on vinyl.

As far as record players go, the Monoprice Monolith # 27794 appears to be good for the money. It looks and feels more like a $500+ turntable than $250. The cartridge on its own is worth $95 and is a cut above what is supplied with other turntables at this price point. And ultimately, the Monolith proved a better fit for my needs (insomuch as I have needs in this area) than the thrift store units could, thanks to the convenience of the built-in preamp. That’s a serious issue given how my current audio systems do not accommodate phono input, so I had to purchase one for those thrift shop turntables.

Conclusion

I don’t have advice for folks looking to get deep into vinyl record collecting hobby, but if you just want to dip your toes into the lifestyle benefits of having a record player—it’s arguably much easier to get your friends to listen to an album when you bust out the vinyl—this Monoprice Monolith turntable let’s you get it done in style without having to empty your wallet. This turntable is good enough that you probably won’t need anything else, and if you do upgrade someday—sky’s the limit when it comes to turntables—it’s also inexpensive enough that that you’ll still feel it was money well spent. Recommended.

Review System

NAD T777 AV Receiver with Dirac Live
KEF R500 Speakers
Monoprice Monolith 15″ THX subwoofer
Bluejeans Cable

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