Grand Prix Audio Monaco direct-drive turntable Page 3

When the oil level is within a hair of full, the turntable can be operated and records played. In fact, the platter should be left spinning continuously for the next three days, during which time the oil level must be carefully monitored, and more oil added as needed. After that, the holes should be covered with stick-on pads (supplied). Nothing else need be done. However, should you then move the Monaco, you'll need to first remove some of the oil or else risk a messy spill. And if you overfill the well during initial setup, the oil will run down the side of the bearing structure and out the bottom of the plinth—messy, but no harm done. Each Monaco is broken in at the factory for 24 hours using its computer module, after which all performance parameters are again checked. The oil is then removed and the 'table is packed up for shipping.

After all this was done, I connected the low-voltage DC power supply to the computer module, plugged it into the wall, pushed On, and selected a speed. The platter smoothly and silently started and quickly got up to speed, at which point the blue LEDs lit up.

The screw-on record clamp is exceptionally well machined, and includes three compression elastomer dampers (Low, Medium, High), which you choose according to a record's thickness and degree of warp (you're encouraged to experiment). It works as effectively as any such device I've seen, flattening the record tightly against the platter. Just be sure you don't overtighten the clamp, which will cause the LP's outer edge to dish upward, away from the platter.

According to the white paper, Grand Prix doesn't use a vacuum hold-down system because of the noise supposedly introduced by the seal required to hold the vacuum. Given all of the other noise issues involved in analog playback, I don't buy this argument, either theoretically or based on my own experiences with various vacuum hold-down technologies. I certainly understand omitting vacuum hold-down in order to maintain elegance and simplicity and to design to a certain price point—and especially if, as Grand Prix has done, you include an effective system of mechanical record clamping. But if vacuum hold-down is good enough for the cutting lathe (all use it), a properly implemented vacuum system should be useful at home as well. In my experience, it is.

At various audiophile events, I played CD-Rs containing some LP tracks burned from my reference vacuum hold-down 'table, the Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn, and the same tracks as burned from the Monaco. Sometimes, pumping woofers made the source turntable obvious to me.

Sound
On first listen, and throughout the months I had the Monaco in my system, it was a notably fine-sounding, well-organized turntable with an exhilarating, rhythmic drive. The latter was easily accounted for by its fast attack throughout the audioband, but especially in the bass—which, in addition to its cleanness, had exceptionally good extension. The Monaco could plumb the depths with the best of them, and with superbly muscular control. Anyone who suffers under the misconception that smallish turntables can't produce deep, well-controlled bass will get a fresh perspective from even a quick listen to the Monaco. It's something I learned when I reviewed the almost equally compact Simon Yorke S7, back in June 1998 (Vol.21 No.6).

The Monaco plinth's excellent rejection of outside energy, and the magnesium-alloy platter's ability to drain energy away from the stylus/groove interface, was evident in well-established aural images set against impressively black backgrounds. There was nothing soft or cloudy about the Monaco's reproduction of space.

While inexpensive direct-drive turntables have a reputation for brightness and noticeably hard edges, the Monaco's overall tonality exhibited neither. In fact, the Kuzma combo of Stabi XL turntable and Air Line arm (reviewed last April) had noticeably greater "edge definition," and a somewhat brighter, more aggressive personality overall.

But while the Monaco sounded neither edgy nor bright, and although it produced a "continuity of purpose" that was absolutely seamless from top to bottom (an essential ingredient for any audio product's success)—and despite the Grand Prix white paper's claim of its being "fundamentally free of coloration"—the Monaco, like every other audio product I've heard or reviewed, had a sonic character. However, the 'table's seamlessness meant that this character was no gross tonal or rhythmic coloration, such as out-of-control or overly warm bass, or etchy brightness, and that it didn't reveal itself quickly or easily.

COMPANY INFO
Grand Prix Audio
P.O. Box 1948
Durango, CO 81302
(970) 247-3872
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