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Reviewer: Paul Candy
Source: Rotel RCD-971 as transport, Audio Zone DAC-1, Zero One Mercury CD/HD Player [in for review], Pro-Ject RPM 5 turntable, Pro-Ject Speed Box, Ortofon Rondo Blue cartridge
Preamp/Integrated: Manley Labs Shrimp, Audio Space Line-2 preamp [in for review), Blue Circle BmPH [in for review], Audio Zone AMP-1, Pro-Ject Tube Box phono stage
Amp: Manley Labs Mahi monoblocks
Speakers: Green Mountain Audio Callisto (on sand filled Skylan stands), Hornshoppe Horns, 2 x REL Q108 Mk II subwoofers, Green Mountain Audio Calypso [in for review]
Cables: Acoustic Zen, Audience Maestro, Auditorium 23, DH Labs, SilverFi [in for review], Stereovox XV2 digital
Power Cables: Audience, GutWire, Harmonic Technology, DH Labs
Stands: Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier rack
Powerline conditioning: BPT Pure Power Center w/Wattgate 381 outlets, Bybee Quantum Purifiers and ERS cloth, GutWire MaxCon, Blue Circle BC6000 [in for review], Blue Circle BC86
Sundry accessories: Grand Prix Audio APEX footers, Herbie's Way Excellent II Turntable Mat, Herbie's Black Hole CD Mat, Isoclean fuses, Walker Audio SST contact enhancer, Nanotech Intron 8500 CD fluid, Audio Magic/Quantum Physics Noise Disruptors, dedicated AC line with Wattgate 381 outlet, Gingko Cloud 11 platform, Skylan damping boards, Echo Busters acoustic room treatments
Room size: 11' x 18' x 8', long wall setup, hardwood floors with large area rug
Review Component Retail: 4-shelf Monaco starts at $4,750

Resonance control is one of those subjects. It either fails to register with many music lovers or is a source of relentless flame wars on the various online forums. The latter are generally started by those who've either never experienced the effects of decent resonance control or are just plain cranky. I say let them flame away.

For the purpose of this brief follow-up, I am not going to delve into the design and theory behind the Monaco but simply suggest you read Srajan's Monaco review, my prior Brooklands piece and peruse GPA's website which offers far more comprehensive and relevant info than most audio industry sites.

After reviewing Grand Prix Audio's wall-mounted Brooklands shelving system, I knew I'd have a go with their more flexible floorstanding Monaco system. Frankly, I was a little worried though about actually receiving the Monaco for two reasons. One was cost. As Srajan quipped recently on an online forum, "Paul is our resident 'gimme goose bumps but leave my wallet alone' guy". As stated in my Brooklands piece, I was concerned that I'd be unable to offer a solid recommendation to readers no matter how well the Monaco performed. As before, it turns out there was little cause for worry.

I was also apprehensive about a potentially drastic change in the tonal balance of my system, with perhaps an alteration I would not enjoy. In his review, Srajan noted large-scale changes in his system's bass performance at the time that required some effort to compensate. Since my system was already a little on the lean side with its stand-mount monitors and wee little EL84 tubes, the last thing I wanted was a tilt upwards or a reduction of bottom end extension. I was also concerned that the seamless match of sub to main speakers I worked so hard to achieve would go straight out the window. I needn't have worried. The first thing I noticed once I had all my gear placed on the Monaco was the bass response had indeed changed - for the better, with not less but more. I immediately noted deeper, more extended and textured bass. Go figure.

Even my wife wandered into the room and asked why the bass seemed more powerful. Not only was it more extended, I heard far greater control and definition. I'm embarrassed to say that a good degree of flabbiness and general fuzziness I hadn't noted before simply vanished. I started playing around with the settings on my subs and discovered that I could significantly increase their output and crossover settings before they started to draw attention. I can only surmise that with my equipment mounted on my old steel/MDF rack and directly on the floor, the jack hammer effect of my subs/speakers interfered with my components to reduce resolution, transparency and dilute optimum integration of my subwoofers.

And it doesn't end there, folks. Much to the chagrin of my family and neighbors, I could crank up the tunes far louder before compression set in. Leading edge attacks became more pronounced but not in an overly aggressive or hyped up manner. Instrumental and vocal timbres were now richer and more complex. In essence, music playback became more real and lifelike, with less of a mechanical or artificial flavor which was something I honestly hadn't noticed before. As with anything, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing: insert a more resolved and musical component into a system and all of a sudden you notice all sorts of audible faults you were blissfully unaware of before. Let this be a warning. If you can't afford a Monaco, then for crying out loud, don't try one because you will no doubt hock your car, spend the kids' education fund or live on Kraft Dinner for the next several months.

If you are one of those listeners who get off on imaging, soundstaging and retrieval of ambient space, prepare to be shocked. Everything opens up in all dimensions and images become precise and clearly delineated. Transparency throughout the spectrum increased. Many isolation/resonance control devices are limited to a narrow band of frequencies but with the Monaco, benefits range right across the spectrum. Nothing is highlighted or attenuated. I just hear more music with my components sitting on the Monaco. Eh gawd. How can a mere rack do this?

I kept my old steel/MDF stand alongside for this review. Moving my components from one rack to the other was an ear opener to say the least. There was no comparison. On my old rack, dynamics, transparency, resolution, heck everything took a giant leap backwards. It was laughable how bad my old rack was. In fact, I'd go so far as saying that I'm not so sure now if I truly heard what various components I have reviewed earlier were truly capable of. A sobering thought indeed.

The Monaco ships with excellent high-quality spikes that are a dream to level but I also own a couple sets of GPA's Apex footers that I reviewed three years ago. Swapping the stock spikes out for the Apex improved overall performance yet again. Bass tightened up and became more integrated with the sonic picture. Highs became slightly smoother along with an increase in spatial resolution, micro detail and overall focus. Resolution kicked up a notch as did soundstage width and depth. Essentially, overall intelligibility increased. Upgrading from the stock Tungsten carbide bearings to the ceramic silicon nitrate gilded the lily even further. It's difficult to believe that there still might be room for even greater enhancement to music playback. If you can afford the Monaco's asking price, I'd strongly recommend springing for the APEX and the upgrade bearings, too.

If I had to pick one potential nit in this tremendous package, it would be the need to periodically replace (GPA recommends every 18 months) the weight-rated Sorbothane shelf dampers as their effectiveness will apparently decline over time. A minor inconvenience but considering the overall impact the Monaco exhibited in my system, I dare not complain. The clear acrylic shelves are also prone to dust, fingerprints and scratches. However, the Monaco ships with a dust cloth and a cleaner/polish. I should also add that pictures don't do the Monaco justice. It is an attractive piece that appears smaller and more compact than it really is. I didn't find it anywhere as visually overpowering as the Brooklands on my wall.

I didn't have the Brooklands on hand to compare, therefore I can't say for certain if one is better than the other. However, in theory the wall-mounted system should be superior. On the other hand, the Brooklands does not quite posses the same degree of flexibility and upgradeability as the Monaco. GPA's Alvin Lloyd mentioned to me several months ago that he was in the process of installing his reference system on several Brooklands. You can read into that what you will. But for me and my purposes, the Monaco gets the checkered flag.

This is usually the part where the big-shot reviewer states that owning Product X is mandatory if you want to consider your system high-end. That's the sort of arrogant exclusionary statement that boils my blood anytime I see it in print. While the Monaco is a terrific product, there are several wallet-friendly options available. I'm a big fan of excellent affordable devices such as Gingko's Cloud series as well as Skylan's damping platforms. They don't come close to offering the degree of positive effects on music playback as the Monaco but if you are on a budget, they are far superior to metal frame/MDF racks or placing components on a suspended wooden floor. While certainly effective, once you compare them side by side with the Monaco as I have, the considerable price differential won't seem as unreasonable as at first blush. It somehow all makes sense as the asking price is perfectly in line with the performance on offer.

Moonies Srajan and Stephæn have heaped plenty of praise on the Monaco as have Positive Feedback's Greg Weaver and David Robinson as well as Stereophile's Paul Bolin. I completely agree with their appraisals. In fact, I'll go on record by stating that the Monaco has made the most consistent and worthwhile improvement to my enjoyment of music over any other component. Statements like this have a habit of coming back to bite one in the arse but I'll risk the potential embarrassment. Furthermore, I have not seen a better constructed, more user-friendly component than this. The build quality, packaging, manual, accessories and tools are all first rate. With Grand Prix Audio, there are no compromises or short cuts. Having communicated with Alvin Lloyd over the past couple of years, I know that he is one of those perfectionist types where compromise is simply not in his vocabulary. Srajan bestowed a Blue Moon Award on the Monaco and if I could, I'd add another. It's simply awesome and as perfect a component as I have ever reviewed. I'm convinced that if you're happy with your present system and want to maximize its performance, adding a Monaco will reap bigger rewards than the latest hot preamp of the month or those rare NOS 300Bs you've been saving up for. Since I started my audio scribblings at the moons, no product has surprised me more nor impressed me to the extent the Monaco has. It has become an integral part of my system and will no doubt do the same for yours.

Quality of packing: Strong cardboard with solid foam inserts and plastic liners.
Reusability of packing: Can be reused at least once.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Very easy.
Condition of component received: Flawless.
Completeness of delivery: Perfect.
Quality of owner's manual: Excellent.
Ease of assembly: Simple and takes approximately one hour, if that.
Website comments: Very informative with detailed background, theory, decent photography, plenty of specs and pricing info.
Warranty: 1 year. Owner is entitled to one free set of replacement shelf dampers upon receipt of warranty card.
Human interactions: Always quick, professional and helpful.
Pricing: Expensive yes, but in line with performance.
Final comments & suggestions: None
Manufacturer's website