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Audio Reference Technology Monolith SE cable system Review

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monolith se

Coming hot off the review of the reference level MIT Cables Oracle V1.3HR cable system, I really had to clear my head. By far the most expensive cable I have ever reviewed, its price and performance set my head spinning. But there was no time for head clearing. I had committed to writing a cable system review for Audio Reference Technology and dag nab it, that’s what they would get. The subject of this review, the A.R.T Monolith SE is far more accessible financially than the MIT yet still represents a price point where phenomenal performance is expected, no, make that demanded!  I felt confident that going into the Monolith SE review right after the MIT Cables review would prove compelling.

The Monolith SE is very nicely made. Its soft jacket makes it pleasant to use whether stretching out or coiling, allowing for easy placement and snaking through complex set ups. Here are a few points from the manufacturer:

“The Monolith SE line uses very high-grade green and red copper mix no silver or gold.  Either or both Silver and Gold conductor materials are included on our other higher end line of cables (Super / Analysts / Sensor).

Conductor:  Core geometry composed of many strands of pure copper HCC (homogenized Crystal Copper) individually coated with a very thin layer of amber to prevent oxidation (amber powder in resin).

Shielding: Made with 2-layers of 0.05mm pure copper net specially heat treated, and separated by 2 layers of special woven Polyethylene.  It doesn’t form a coil or ring, which would cause a magnetic effect.

Insulator: Woven from Ultra High Density Polymer Polyethylene Filament and Polyester Filament – Double woven Ultra High Density Polymer Polyethylene covering.

A.R.T. “Q-Damper” technology – Magnetization Ring made of Aluminum Alloy, positioned throughout the full length of the cable.  The plugs have anti-electromagnetic plating, a special cleaning filter, and additional triguard protection on the connecting points.”

 

I can attest that after six months of use — I’m talking reviewer use, plugging, unplugging more times than I can count — the Monolith SE is as good as new. This is investment grade hardware.

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Sounding Off

It always amazes me how different cables affect the system’s performance. Get the wrong wire, no matter how expensive, and poof  — the magic is gone. Often times this is telling you things about your upstream components’ shortcomings and may not be the wire’s fault. It is well worth auditioning a few different brands of cable within your budget to find the best fit. That’s your job; mine is describing the best I can the sonic characteristics of any given wire on my system. To give you a little context, I am using the super clean and dynamic Krell Connect streamer into the stunning Pass Labs XP-20 preamp and XA200.5 mono amplifiers. Speakers are the over-achieving Golden Ear Triton One, and the plasma Tweeter -quipped Lansche 4.1 speakers. My Room is 33’x70’x14’. These systems are well worthy of distinguishing, from a point of sufficient neutrality, differences presented by different wires both great and small. Ultimately, it’s your hard earned moola, so trust your ears, always trust your ears.

It took very little time with the A.R.T cable system, including the Monolith Power cords strapped to the Pass Labs XA200.5 amplifiers to get a fair glimpse into their abilities.  “Knocking on Heavens Door,” the over-the-top Guns N’ Roses version, just came at me with great tonal density and sweetness. From the mid-band all the way through the treble, the music was consumed by my ears as if a dollop of cool whip had been rubbed into all the nooks and crannies of the signal. Mmmmm, cool whip!

Metallica’s “Unforgiven” went down like a good bourbon, warm, a little sweet with a great punch. The stage was huge but liquid, not etched at all, just beautiful flowing textures flooding the room. Smashing Pumpkins “Today,” again let the walls of guitars sound so liquid and colorful, as the harmonics made it through the mix intact adding complexity to the color. What I love about this presentation is that it takes very little effort to hear it. I wouldn’t call it a coloration as it does not mask the signal, it seems to comfortably ride on top of it like a partially clad woman on a stallion.  [That sure as heck sounds like coloration to me.  It is merely a coloration that Greg likes.  But let’s call it what it is, without making excuses and playing pretend] As you may or may not know, I listen to a lot of rock and jazz, two genres that almost always benefit from a dash of tonal sweetness. Perfectly dead neutral? No. Lust worthy? Absolutely.

If you are looking for an organized stage with great, full-bodied imaging, “Miss You” from the Rolling Stones will fill the bill. This one I just had to crank up. Feeling “in the room” with real presence due to meaty, well-defined images, this song has held up remarkably well. It sounds more like funk than disco now some 30 years later. The Doobie Brothers “ Listen To The Music” brings all the great traits of the A.R.T. Monolith SE cable together. Great imaging, full bodied yet airy, mind you. Image specificity was solid yet it was the timbre that really caught my attention. Instruments sounded remarkably life-like. I think there could be some inner detail left to explore but my guess is the leading products in the A.R.T. line may provide that level of deeper insight. But listening to “ Listen to the Music,” I can’t help but realize that is exactly what the A.R.T. cable does, it lets me “listen to the music” in a very special and deeply engrossing way.

As for wide scale dynamics and bass power, Def Leopards’ Animal slamed its foot through the floor with great impact and low-end extension. Perhaps not quite as fast as the MIT Cables, it carried the bass ever forward with no sense of lagging. Billy Cobham “Spectrum” displayed great power and dexterity. The bass notes flew through the speakers again with no sense of strain or limitation. This is good stuff. The warmth remains yet did not congeal the mid bass or low bass.  What you get is wonderful color and texture if not the final word in inner detail. “I’m still Alive” from Pearl Jam, despite being a bass heavy track, allowed the upper mid range to shine through unscathed. As I’m listening I realize just how deep and powerful yet well articulated the bass actually is. The lowest notes simply pressurize the room with great effortlessness.

Is the Monolith SE in the same league as the uber expensive MIT Cables? No. The MIT Cables is faster, more clearly defined, open and detailed, etc. But  — and this is a big but —  that is no crack at the Monolith SE. I love this stuff. Smooth as Sinatra with great tonal color and punch. The upper registers are liquid as silk and eminently palatable. As a music lover, I found the Monolith SE came through brilliantly for the listener, its evidence displayed on every track I played. To put it in some historical context, it kind of reminds me of the Cardas Golden Cross of yore, but a more contemporary take. That wire seemed to reveal color and texture in a way no other wire of its time could muster. Like the Cardas, the A.R.T. Monolith SE wears its heart on its sleeve, making its presence known very quickly. The A.R.T. is more revealing than the Cardas by a mile with greater high frequency openness and bass extension. But the over all take on the music is similar.

 

Conclusion

Having devoured my way through dozens of wire looms over the years, I can say without a moment’s hesitation, the A.R.T. Monolith SE is in the top three if not top two of all that have passed through my system. Top of the heap goes to the MIT Cables Oracle V1.3. That design is truly a flier into what is possible at the edge of the art in cable design. Next up is a toss-up between the Skogrand Cables and the Audio Reference Technology. While I loved the Skogrand Cables, there were some manufacturing kinks that needed to be worked out on the wire I was presented with that caused some issues. Assuming those kinks have been worked out, the Skogrand  Cables and the A.R.T. battle it out but on different fronts. The 3-times the price Skogrand Cable is foremost about speed, tonal neutrality and dexterity with great treble extension. The A.R.T. is color and emotion, power and impact. At this stage I find myself as a music lover and audiophile and I have to go for the A.R.T. in the context of this cool sounding rig. You may find your system requires a different perspective. Perhaps at some point in the future, I may get a shot at the top tier of the A.R.T. cable line. I welcome that opportunity with open arms. Until then, the Monolith SE has found a very prestigious place in my heart and my system.

 

Copy editor: Laurence A. Borden
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