A budget turntable review might seem a bit odd for a more video-oriented home theater technology publication like HD GURU, but when we were recently approached to give a Monoprice Monolith belt-drive turntable a spin, we decided to hear what all the fuss was about. We’re glad we did.

The Monoprice Monolith Turntable (3 models, we review here the higher-end $200 model 600047 in Black), which was introduced about a year ago, has surprisingly good sound, is relatively easy to set up and even brings a few digital-age connectivity conveniences.

As a “Boomer,” I’m well familiar with the virtues analog music has offered in the vinyl realm. In fact, I have had a collection of literally hundreds of well-preserved rock, jazz and classical LPs from the 60s, 70s and 80s at hand and collecting dust – for years. My once trusty B&O linear-arm tracking turntable, with its annoyingly proprietary and long obsolete cartridge, was put into retirement swiftly after I grabbed my first NEC CD player in the early 80s.

Aside from MP3 streaming and excursions into multi-channel DVD-Audio/SACD and Hi-Res Audio music, that’s pretty much where I’ve left it the past few decades.

The arguments that digital music including CDs are cold and shrill sounding in comparison to the esoteric warmth of analog vinyl always came across as so much balderdash. As the 70s came to a close I had long struggled with mass-produced record purchases that so often arrived warped and/or with audible pops and clicks in supposedly pristine pressings. It became so tiresome that at one point in the pre-CD 70s I started purchasing new music on hissy pre-recorded tapes as a better compromise.

Even back then I found it ridiculous and archaic to spend hundreds and sometimes many thousands of dollars on a component that dragged a needle across a grooved piece of plastic for supposedly audiophile-level listening experiences.

This review gave me a chance to sit down with my record collection once again, and it opened my eyes to the value the re-surging format still has to offer. I get it now.

That’s not to say that lossless (and even some lossy) digital music formats, including CDs, aren’t incredibly valuable and in many ways superior to these vinyl treasures. But beyond presenting nostalgic sound of days gone by, “vinyl” delivers incredible value from a collectible standpoint while offering interesting documentation of a recording’s provenance and artistic vision, which is so often lacking with digital music formats.

In addition, what the Monoprice Monolith turntable did was help remind me how much better my old records sound than I remembered. Many are at least equal to that of the digitally re-mastered CD performances. Some of the credit for this goes to the fine Audio-Technica AT-VM95E moving magnet cartridge with elliptical stylus I was listening to. This comes nicely pre-installed in the removable head shell of the Monolith’s beautifully light carbon fiber tonearm.

Set-up and Performance

The cartridge set-up was straight forward. Only a minor tracking angle adjustment was necessary using a small screw driver and a supplied paper protractor. The cartridge itself performed very well for this price class.

The Monoprice Monolith turntable doesn’t offer many bells or whistles, but the surprisingly clean, clear midrange tonality and well-balanced bottom end from musical performances provides plenty of value to compensate. The turntable is fully manual, meaning the tonearm doesn’t even automatically lift off the record at end of a side. So, you’ll have to remain attentive in order to swiftly change a record or flip it over after the last song — another forgotten annoyance.

The Monoprice Monolith Turntable has no strobe or pitch control to adjust rotational speed and the well-constructed lightweight all-aluminum belt-driven table platter comes with a felt mat as the bed for your records. This can be a dust magnet and should be replaced with a third-party cork or rubber mat, especially if you have any OCD about your vinyl handling habits.

The anti-skating control uses a tiny metal counter weight tied to the tonearm by a barely visible hooped nylon thread that dangles over a resting hook mounted on the tonearm base. This sits atop a gloss black plastic plinth (an alternative $250 model 600046 features a faux “walnut” look if you prefer).

Instead of dialing in an anti-skating adjustment like some pricier turntables, the Monoprice’s counter weight is tied with a thin nylon thread with a tiny loop at the other end. This loop sits in one of a series of notches on the back of the tonearm (third notch in for the stock cartridge) to maintain proper tracking angle tension. If you don’t have eagle eyes or a powerful magnifying glass, be prepared to find a nimble-fingered, well-sighted assistant to help get that set up for you.

Surprisingly, the process, though somewhat time consuming and nerve testing, works quite well.

As mentioned, the step-up Monolith Turntable models are available in a choice of two plinth color options — gloss black with chrome plastic control knobs and walnut wood tone with black plastic control knobs — one knob to power the platter rotation and the other to set rotation speed for 33-1/3 or 45 rpm. The plinth itself is plastic, as is a supplied clear hinged dust cover.

The feet of the turntable provide a firm foundation but are not height adjustable for leveling. It’s best to place the turntable on a heavy, firm and level tabletop of some type and away from speakers to avoid picking up audible vibrations. The cartridge will pick up nearby heavy foot steps and thumps, but the belt-drive motor and table rotate smoothly without noticeable rumble, wow or flutter (<0.15%) issues.

For the review, the Monolith Turntable was matched to a price-comparable set of 5.1-channel home theater components. This consisted of a Denon AVR-X1200W receiver from a few years ago – the receiver pre-dates HDMI 2.0b technology and lacks any built-in phono amp inputs. Speakers included a setup of Polk Audio 2-way Ti Series towers, bookshelf and center channel speakers with a small Pioneer powered subwoofer.

The Monolith features a surprisingly decent-sounding built-in phono amp and rear-positioned switch to change between line-level and phono output. This enabled using a connection between the Monolith Turntable and the not-phono-friendly receiver’s analog coaxial terminals using selectable RCA inputs marked “Mediaplayer” as my Macgyvered workaround. I connected a separate ground wire to a supplied grounding post on the Monolith and tethered that to one of the AVR’s random chassis screws to nullify the generated hum. The coaxial cables and grounding wire were not supplied in the box.

Performance

As mentioned, the Audio-Technica AT-VM95E moving magnet cartridge was a pleasant surprise in both how well it tracked after set up and how nicely it reproduced music — the low-end was robust with nice punch and the midrange was clean and upfront. The top end was nicely bright without any sense of shrillness or distortion from hi-hats listening to 60s jazz classics like Cannonball Adderley’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” from “Live at the Club.”

Rock performances were delivered with punch and silken clarity playing “Passage to Bangkok” from a new 200g vinyl pressing of Rush’s classic “2112” LP.

Vocal harmonies were clear and inviting playing a recent pressing of the Beach Boys’ “Wind Chimes” and “Good Vibrations” from the long-suppressed “Smile” LP.

For those without an AVR or pre-amp of some sort, the Monolith also includes a USB output and supplied cable to connect to a PC or laptop. This can be invaluable using a suitable third-party music duplication software program to create digital archives of rare recordings that never made it to CD or are long out of print.

The turntable even features built-in Bluetooth support to connect to wireless headphones, speakers etc.

Conclusion

The $200 Monoprice Monolith Turntable (model 600047) is surprisingly good at playing vinyl recordings in a way that will give you well-balanced musical performances from a range of music genres and production levels. Best of all, it’s very affordable. You can always go higher in performance quality and price with more elaborate turntables from major brands, but if you’ve already invested heavily in a digital music collection or streaming service and just want to enjoy your old favorite records again — or discover vinyl for the first time — we think you will find this product makes for a fun and rewarding experience. We therefore rate the Monoprice Monolith Turntable 600047 as a recommended buy and award it 5 out of 5 hearts.

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By Greg Tarr

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