Very rarely seen for sale, Monarchy M22B DAC, best DAC I have heard. I have compared this DAC with several DACs in the hope of upgrading but I never found my self happy with other DACs, to me the M22B sounded MUSICAL (IN CAPITAL) it was and still is the most Musical DAC.
Musical Fidelity X-DAC V3, came out with flares suppose to be the DAC to own. Bought one and hooked it up first thing I noticed was it sounded hollow, empty in the mid band. Loose on the highs and the bass was gone. Read the reviews again to check if I had missed out on anything and came the PSU power supply, well, got the power supply, I heard an outline on the bass and may highs not as loose. Boxed it up and at the point of almost ready to sell I found they had upgraded umbilical cords, why not, got the Silver umbilical connectors to connect highs were too shimmery. Took a risk of adding a tube buffer, bad idea, it improved slightly but I felt the signal had slightly less pace. Did a serious amount of capacitor upgrades, Black gates, Rubicon, Panasonic power caps. It was all rubbish! Still sounded hollow, soft, lean, weak bass it was too boring painful to sit and listen, cut my loses and sold it.
I decided to go XLR configuration, I did some research and the M22B is actually a dual differential DAC, meaning its a True Balance DAC not just XLR output, that was attractive to me. Hooked it up with a Denon DVD2800 MKII, WOW! I could not believe what I was hearing. I was completely blow away. Never had a curiosity to try any other DACs for a long long long time, six months later got the upgrade bug, I got a good deal on a Bel Canto DAC-3 and jumped on it, read the specs you will jump on it as well.
Bel Canto DAC-3 has very good reviews online, well, I hooked it up and Musical Fidelity was flashing on my head. Hollow sounding, especially in the mid-range, bass was fuzzy and highs were loose. AH.... Needs a break-in period.... two weeks... almost no improvement and my ears sort of accustomed to its dry boring sound, I hooked the M22B WOW! Mids are so much fuller, highs are crispy and very accurate, bass had so much more detail and punch, upper bass was so rounded.
I honestly could not believe, Bel Canto is a 24 Bit/192k and the Monarchy (at the time was a 20 bit DAC) M22B is a Dual 20Bit DAC non up sampling DAC. In numbers and literature Bel Canto DAC-3 was superior, decades ahead of technology but sonically Monarchy M22B was superior and centuries ahead of the DAC-3. Monarchy M22B simply sounded fuller and very musical
I figured 20 Bit DAC was the way to go, and came across an Audio Research DAC-5, dual 20 bit Ultra analog (Ultra Analog was new to me) well ok... lets upgrade to Ultra Analog, Rubbish!!! it sounded dry, it had most of the other good attributes but still sounded dry and flatter than Texas.
And what do you know Parasound makes an Ultra Analog DAC too Parasound D/AC 2000 Ultra.
Got one, I mean why stop now right? Parasound was surprisingly good but it was not fleshed out as much as the M22B, highs were slightly soft and the M22B was razor sharp and had edge. Monarchy sounded dimensional, richer, crisper and sweeter highs. Both had equal bass but I can hear a little bit more information on the M22B vs the Parasound. What was Ultra analog all about then?
Then came along the upgrade for the Monarchy M22B DAC! Yes! I never thought I would see this day come! This is a Factory upgrade and the upgrade is from dual 20 bits to dual 24 bits, swapped the DAC chips and few capacitors, charge was $180 no kidding! Guess who was camping out in front of Monarchy Audio, ME!
Well now my DAC was a 24 bits DAC instead of 20 bits, mere 4 bits right??? Well it made it 4 times better. Bass was more aggressive, I heard information I never heard before. Holographic sound stage had way more grip, high were even more transparent also lost some 'gain' on the signal now I could increase the volume on my pre-map to like 10 O'clock where it used be 9 O'clock. Every penny on the $180 upgrade was worth it. And I must add, Monarchy Audio customer service was stellar!
I have no reason to even dream of an upgrading I am set with the DAC, I couldn’t be happier, about 8 months later upgrade bug hits me again, when I came across an Electrocompaniet ECD-1, it was the talk of the town, and might I add it was a very beautiful and sophisticated looking DAC. I honestly got this DAC for the looks and boy did it get some rave reviews... phew! Well what can I say I had to get one
Hooked the Electrocompaniet ECD-1, it sounded good but did not have the M22B's sweet sound or fullness, ECD-1 was more detailed, it was slightly more airy,
bass was stronger than the monarchy but I found myself dancing with the monarchy DAC where-as laid back on stooped with the ECD-1. Electrocompaniet ECD-1 was very much like the Bel Canto DAC-3 in every way except had more detail and more musical attributes than the DAC-3.
All this brings down to DAC sounding better with-out the up sampling feature, ok... I got a Lavry DA10 AKA Lavry Black Box.
Hooked the Lavry up, press play, 10 second or less pressed stop, I was almost ready to re-pack and list it for sale, ok lets give it some time to settle in.
Couple of days later, over 48 hours of having it turned on I would expect this unit to have settled in.... nope still sounds dry, flat, sounded fairly lean, it did not have the snap of Monarchy M22B, and it sure was far from being musical.
Monarchy M22B DAC has relentlessly fought the upgrade bug. Non of these DACs sounded more fuller or musical than the Monarchy M22B.
Due to space issues at my residence I minimized my system, during this process I traded a Benchmark DAC-1 for some of my equipment. Benchmark was PERFECT at the time
it was small, it had a Class A pre-amp, it has up to -40bd gain, features and the size of the component really attracted me. I had a pair of NuForce Ref9 amps and this DAC will look perfect with those amps also act as my DAC and Pre-amp and if the gain is high I can bring it down. This reduces so many cables and reducing the clutter. It really was a great component, flooding with reviews, I think its the MOST reviewed DAC EVER! My whole system was so small it would fit on one rack, talk about minimizing I took that literally. I was also looking into converting to my CDs to files and eliminate the CD transport. I was sure I did not want to compare the Monarchy M22B DAC to the Benchmark DAC-1, I know it will ruin it for me.
Packed up the Monarchy M22B and silently adapted myself to the DAC-1, size and versatility was priceless to me at this point. I got most of my CDs converted to files and I no longer have a CD transport and I have learned to like the DAC-1. It’s good, I am yet to hear what people rave SSSOOOO much about the DAC-1, musical wise that is.
Benchmark DAC-1 was compared with a Mark Levinson DAC, seriously?! Well i have not heard a Mark Levison DAC. Search Benchmark DAC-1 you will be overwhelmed with reviews, its suppose to outperform any DAC below $2k.
I have the Benchmark DAC-1 hooked except now I have Channel Islands D100 Mono Amps instead of the Nuforce. I have not sold the NuForce amps by the way.
Sold all my excess audio gear and pretty much cleaned my storage. I brought the Monarchy Audio M22B DAC home; I have accustomed my ears very well to the Benchmark DAC-1 and the CIA D100 Mono Blocks, I was not anxious or curious to hook the Monarchy M22B DAC. I am ok with the way Benchmark DAC-1 sounds, I am very much used to it now.
One weekend, just for the hell of it, I decided to hook the Monarchy and so I did with a CD Transport, it took me back to the day I first hooked up the M22B. I could almost smell that day it brought me back vivid memories and sounded magnificent it almost brought tears to my eyes. The Monarchy M22B is an absolute DAC I have genuinely compared to DACs on many price range and levels Monarchy M22B is FULLER, organic, sweet, dynamic, tight tuneful bass and mostly MUSICAL.
This is a review of the Monarchy M24 - which Audio Review has banned from it's forum for some reason - but, the DAC is truly a "World Class" DAC which equals those costing many thousand$ more - which everyone should know about!
I realize this is all "old news" to other owners of the Monarchy M24, but… I must confess… I was a skeptic regarding the Monarchy M24, and it's ability to transform the sound of "Red Book" CD's into great sound that rivals that of the best vinyl and digital playback systems. Having the Musical Fidelity Small X Series components (i.e. XDAC v3), as well as the legendary Cal Audio Alpha and Sigma II DAC's, and the Music Hall MMF CD25 1+ - I found it hard to believe any digital system could really and significantly exceed the wonderful sound quality produced by these great pieces of equipment… especially the Cal Audio equipment, which even though dated a few years, still produces sound quality rivaled by very few other, far more expensive DAC's.
But… after reading all the reviews and comments, both hear and on other forums, of how the sound produced by the M24 exceeded that produced by most other digital players, and was equivalent to the best analog and digital systems costing as much as $17,000 – I was seduced into giving the M24 an audition.
Skeptical though I was… it took the M24 about 3 weeks to convince me that all those claims by other reviewers and commentators were… absolutely, 100% correct! Although… it was clearly obvious "right out of the box" that the M24 produced exceptional sound – with great extension, soundstage, bass, mids and highs… but, with simply incredible presence and a textured, organic, weighty sound that is hard to imagine could be produced by such a modestly priced DAC.
I guess what struck me as most amazing… is how it literally transformed my Sennheiser HD650 headphones into "World Class" headphones. The HD650's, are known to be a bit too dark and warm, without the fast, bright, detailed, clear highs of several other headphones (e.g. Grados, ATH's, etc.) – being overly dominated by their bass and lower mids – and… very hard to drive to their full potential. But… the M24 quite literally "wakes them up" – bringing out their upper mids and highs and making them seem much brighter, clearer and more detailed than other DAC's do. I had often read that the HD650's "scaled up" well with much more expensive equipment – well… it's true, even with some modestly priced equipment like the M24. I have no idea, what the M24 provides, that others don't, that makes them perform, but it clearly does. In fact some have suggested… it brings the HD650's to the level of the one, or two best headphones available (e.g. Senn Orpheus HE90 / HE60, AKG K1000, Sony R10, ATH L3000, etc.). And… of course it excels with my other headphones as well – Sennheiser HD600's, Grado RS-1's, and ATH AD-2000's.
I will never allow myself to spend $17,000 on any DAC, or any piece of audio equipment, or a lot less quite frankly… so… it's a pleasant surprise to find that I really don't have to. "Suffice it to say," I won't be looking any further for a great, value-priced DAC – I finally have a truly "World-class" DAC right here in my rack!
This is the Monarchy 22b with a built-in DIP, Jena Labs mods, and a digital Taddeo, ALL IN ONE! I picked it up from Ed, who reviewed it above as "smooooth" way back in 1999. I assume he added the Jena Labs mods, etc, after the review.
First, the unit arrived inoperative (though well packed, it has so much stuff crammed inside, that the Taddeo was shorting to the DAC circuit). It was a SIMPLE fix, and a local tech only charged me $38 to fix it. The balanced inputs were remove, and the toslink is inoperative. (I almost sent the thing back when I sa the optic in was not working! THEN, I LISTENED TO IT!)
All I can say is: WOW. Wow-wow-wow! If you hate redbook CDs, or can't stand anything other than Analog, TRY A MONARCHY DAC/DIP combo!
I have owned Bela Fleck's "Flight of the Cosmic Hippo" for over a decade. I was amazed at its sonics via a plain Rotel cdp, then, a dedicated transport/dac by Rotel, and now, I have "heard" Bela Fleck for the first time!
I thought my Pinnacle BDC 1200 towers were in need of a subwoofer. I was wrong. I thought albums like Mick Jagger's "Wandering Spirit" were simply harsh with sibilance. Once again, wrong! Even on Mick's worst attacks, I can hear his vocal chords and throat, rather than my tweeters crackling with distortion.
Where there was once mild confusion, ride cymbals, multiple acoustic guitars and banjos, woodwinds, violins, whispers, and finger swipes--there is now total resolution!
Everything is as it should be. Nostril inhaltions sound like nostrils, scrapes like scrapes. I even hear differences in wood tones. Seperate keys on xylophone (sp?) each have distinct timbre and spaces of their own. It is like I have been privied to the same thing the producers got to hear.
There are improvements we make in our systems that make us stand back and say, "Yeah, that makes a bit of a difference." or "It adds something, I'm not sure what," etc. With the Monarchy 22b/DIP/Taddeo, there is no mistaking the complete metamorphosis which your system undertakes! My only wish is that they were all seperate, so I could add each one-by-one.
Long story short--If the newer Monarchy stuff (22c, 33, DIP Classic, etc.) is better even than this, I can not wait to hear it! When I received an inoperative unit, I was quite unhappy. But, after a quick fix, I was not about to part with it over a cheesy Toslink connector! Ed got instant positive feedback the minute I finally stopped listening to the 22b!
Anyone who wastes their money on DACs costing $2k or more would be embarrased if they heard the 22b/DIP combo in their setup! It shames almost anything I have heard, aside from 6-figure-audius-unobtanus DACs. The monarchy 22b is the finest upgrade I have yet made to my system!
I purchased a used Monarchy 22B DAC last month, and have augmented it with the Monarchy 24/96 DIP. If any out there appreciate fine red wine, they'll know that it must be decanted to allow the wine to breathe and blossom. This is the analogy that best describes the effect the Monarchy components have had on my system. Just as a fine wine opens up and releases it's character and fruit after breathing, the DAC has allowed the music to bloom, revealing character, richness and detail that I didn't know my system was capable of producing. Really, it's as if the sound has gone from stereo to holographic. I also found a significant enhancement after replacing the stock power cords of both the DAC and DIP with aftermarket cords. I'm using both Tekline and LAT power cords and have a ZCable lightning power cord on the way. This is the first DAC I've owned, so I have no background from which to compare, but I love the Monarchy 22B.
Associated equipment: Harmon Kardon 8300 CDP - LAT Digital cable Monarchy DIP - Monarchy digital cable Monarchy 22B DAC - Pure Silver Sound interconnects Sim Audio I-5080 integrated amp - Analysis Plus oval 12 biwired to Soliloquy 5.3 speakers
In the past few weeks I was fortunate to have four separate D/A converters at home and ready to play with them. These included:
Audio Alchemy DDE V3.0 HDCD with power station Four PS Audio SL-Three with HDCD decoder chip North Star Design M192 with upsamping onboard up to 24/192 Monarchy Audio M22B, plain simple, no gimmicks
The rest of the set up consisted of several amps (BOW, Sphinx and Monarchy), several speakers (Focal B400, JMLab Micro Utopia, Klipsch Heresy II) and a Teac VRDS-T1 cd player with Trichord Clock 2 installed, coupled with a Monarchy Audio DIP Mk. II and whenever possible I used the EAS/EBU interface from DIP to DAC.
The shootout started with the Audio Alchemy, this converter was the best AA ever made, but in these days of better chipsets the sound is hard, not very detailed and lacks space. Especially with the Klipsch speakers this was a real mismatch.
Then the PS Audio lost its place. This DAC has a very smooth sound, much air and space and the musicians spread out in my room. Easy on the ear and the HDCD chip does give that little extra to HDCD cd’s. But I only got about 10 encoded dics of a total over 400. The PS Audio was easy to live with, had I not heard the other, it would have become my regular DAC.
The North Star Design M192 is different from all others, since we have an upsample possibility. The normal 16 bit 44 kHz cd signal is upsampled to 24 bit at 192 kHz. Funny enough this has a positive effect, but not always seems the way to go. With upsampling the sounds get more natural, more easy going, has more detail and when used on a minidisk player, almost restores the original cd sound. But on the other hand, it lacks space, musicians seems to crawl all over eachother. In the direct mode they all find there places again, but the sound hardens and the “analogue” effect disappears. I would place its sound closer to PS Audio then to Monarchy, still far removed from the AA DAC.
Lat but not least the M22B comes in. Just in case you stop reading here, this is the winner in all respects. Dot. But I will tell you why. The M22B is a very transparent DAC. Maybe this is due to the fact that it uses a filter technique very different from all others (no idea what North Star uses). For instance on a Diana Krall cd you can hear here bracelet when she plays the piano. Other cd’s like The Chieftains gives you an insight view of what was recorded, how many voices are in the background, where musicians stood or were mixed down by the producers.
Apart from the transparent sound, which does not add any listening fatigue, the DAC is the most lively one of the four used. It does help to recreate the atmospher of a good live recording. Lets you feel the emotions of the singers and gets you a step nearer tot the stage. This is no DAC that gives you the opportunity to read books as well, it always draws your attention to the music played.
I have read comments on the M22B that is does not go as deep an other in the low registers, but I do not find this in my case. I do use an active subwoofer for the lowest frequenties and they are played fast and accurate. Maybe only the AA was a bit louder in this respect, but loses on many other occasions (and far more booming than accurate). The North Star nor the PS Audio gains any profit over the Monarchy here. The best part might be the voices and middle area in the performance. Very easy on the ear, very transparent, very detailed and very lifelike. Again the open sound stage surprises and new details can be heard even on old en familiar cd’s.
The upper frequenties are handled like the rest. Never harsh sounding and with good timing. Overall the winner is clear, the Monarchy Audio M22B is here to stay. In the meantime I sold the AA and the PS Audio en the North Star went back to the distributor. As I was informed by Mr. Poon of Monarchy Audio the M22B is absolete and the new version is the model 22C, that has a CE approval as well. Monarchy must be able to tell you what other changes are made, but I can promise you, if it is even better than the 22B it is worth every penny.
In these days of SACD, DVD-A etc. why invest in a 20 bit DAC? Well thats easy to tell. I am a music lover and today almost all music I like is sold on the “old” cd format. Beside that I have a collection of over 400 cd’s, many very dear to me. So what I like is the best equipment to listen to these cd’s and the many more to come. I see no reason today to invest in 24/96 or 24/192 DAC’s as long as there is no software in large quantities around. And as far as I can predict, it will take at least a couple of years before a real change comes true. In the mean time I am able to enjoy my music with one of the best sounding DAC’s available.