For the humble electronics reviewer, there are few moments that quite compare with cracking the tape on a new product and pulling it out of the box for the first time. In that moment, a near-infinity of possibilities exists within those cardboard and Styrofoam confines. Unless it's some minor update to a product you're already familiar with, there's really no telling what the next few weeks or months hold. If the product performs well, you get to glow a bit, which is always fun. If it performs surprisingly well, that glow is all the sweeter. And if it fails to live up to expectations, at least you can take solace in the fact that you've saved your readers a few bucks. The thing is, though, as I unboxed Monoprice's new $1,499 Monolith 7 home theater amp, I felt none of that.
I knew in that moment that, no matter how my experience with the amp went, I was setting myself up to get crucified in the Comments section below. Because let's face it, if I find the Monolith 7 lacking in any way, I'm obviously an elitist dingus whose estimation of a product directly correlates with its price tag. And if I find it faultless (hang on, let me take a quick look at the Comment section of my last Emotiva review), I'll have ruined my credibility by giving this DOG such a high rating, and readers will struggle to take seriously ANYTHING I say from this point on. Because if I like it, there's no way I'm not on the Monoprice payroll, right?
Another source of unease is the fact that one can pretty plainly see upon close inspection that Monoprice's Monolith 7 isn't a wholly original design. A cursory glance reveals more than a passing resemblance to ATI's AT2007 power amplifier. The power switch is the same. The power entry module is identical in form and position. Ignoring the faceplate, even their chassis are startlingly similar. And I'll be darned if I can tell the innards of the two amps apart based on the images I've seen of both, aside from a few minor differences.
Dig deeper, and the similarities become even more striking. Their specs are virtually identical--from their Class AB design and power rating of 200 watts per channel (with all seven channels driven, 20 Hz to 20 kHz, into eight ohms) to their signal-to-noise ratio (greater than 120 dB below rated FTC Full Bandwidth Power, A-weighted) to their Total Harmonic Distortion ("Less than 0.03 percent at full rated FTC power" and "Less than 0.005 percent at full EIA power at 1 kHz") to their Intermodulation Distortion ("Less than 0.03 percent at full rated FTC power" and "Less than 0.005 percent at full EIA power at 1 kHz). Even the verbiage of the specs is identical, and a mere two-tenths of a pound sets these 93-pound beasts apart in terms of reported weight. Their power supply design is the same. Their toroidal transformers look the same. Their thump-free start feature is the same. Their circuit boards? I dare you to tell one from the other. Even the fonts and symbols on the backs of the amps are identical in most respects.
Given Monoprice's previous legal troubles (aka the Energy Take Classic Kerfuffle of 2013), all of the above may raise an eyebrow or two, but consider this: ATI has a long history of making amps for other manufacturers. Indeed, the Outlaw Model 7700, well known to be the result of a partnership between ATI and Outlaw, is also a close match to both the AT2007 and the Monoprice Monolith 7 in terms of aesthetics and specs. The major difference is that the ATI and Outlaw amps are fully balanced, whereas the Monoprice amp is single-ended. That alone does point to some significant internal differences and could account for a significant chunk of the difference in price between them.
Monoprice also reports that the Monolith 7 is "designed, engineered, tested and assembled in the USA," which is exactly one word and a comma away from ATI's assurance of the pedigree of its own amps.
So take all of that for what you will.
The Monolith 7's lack of balanced inputs isn't the only difference we see as we move around to the back panel, although it is the most significant. The Monolith 7 also includes a chassis ground (in case you run into any ground hum issues, which I never did), just below its 3.5mm trigger input. Handily, there's also a 3.5mm cable included in the box with the amp. There isn't, on the other hand, a toggle switch for selecting between manual standby and trigger operation. Turns out, it's not necessary. If you connect the 3.5mm cable and set up a trigger in your preamp's menus, the amp exits and enters standby mode without further prompting when you fire up your system.
The Monolith 7's binding posts, while aesthetically a little different from ATI's, function much the same--that is to say, if you opt for a bare-wire connection, you have to route the wire underneath and into the base to which the binding posts are mounted. I pulled out some spare speaker cable to test out the connections, and I found the process a little unwieldy with the amp already installed in my rack. If you're using banana plugs like me (in my case, pre-terminated Straight Wire Encore II speaker cables, to be exact), it's simply a matter of plugging them in. The fit is snug and secure, requiring a deliberate tug to unplug a cable, but not so much that you'd be in any danger of damaging one.
The same goes for the septet of RCA inputs, to which I connected my custom bundle of Straight Wire Encore II audio cables, along with one extra stereo pair (since the bundle contains only five interconnects). I then added a pair of Aperion Audio Intimus 5B Bookshelf Speakers to my existing Paradigm Studio 5.1 speaker setup to complete the system. 7.1 doesn't really add anything to my room, sonically speaking, but it did allow me to test the Monolith 7 with a full load.
With a full complement of speakers connected to the amp, I then ran Dirac on my Emotiva XMC-1 preamp to account for the additional two speakers. I set the maximum EQ frequency a little lower than I normally would, at right around 400 Hz, in an effort to deal with some standing-wave issues without tweaking the sound of the rest of the audible spectrum.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...