Monolithic PA-1 Preamplifiers

PA-1

Description: This is the preamp that has been advertised in Music Direct's flyers. Monolithic Sound is the company created by Dusty Vawter, formerly of Audio Alchemy. In keeping with the AA tradition, the chasis is smaller than your average preamp, yet it manages to have four inputs and two outputs (all single ended). The front of the chasis sports a rotary/detented switch for the four inputs on the left, a muting toggle switch near the center, and a volume/gain control knob on the right( as you rotate the knob clockwise, the gain is passive until the mark on the knob aligns with a detented 0dB mark which is at 12 o'clock, then the active gain stage takes over). A cool blue LED in the center glows to let you know the power is on (no power switch). Speaking of power, the power supply is in a separate chasis. A power supply upgrade is available, but this review was made with the standard power supply.

User Reviews (7)

Showing 1-7 of 7  
nathanm   Audio Enthusiast [Jun 28, 2004]
Strength:

Creamy pot, good IO options, transparent sound, blue LED, nice logo, black anodized metal

Weakness:

Needs a balance control

This is a good looking and well built little unit. I am not sure what makes it cost 500 bucks but what else is new? The sound? Doesn't really have one that I can tell. The volume knob is creamy smooth and has a good weightfeel to it. You get four inputs, two outputs plus tape loop. What's missing is a balance control, the only thing I really wish this thing had. The source selector on mine is a bit scratchy - you gotta wiggle it a bit, but it works. Like I said before, I can't really say if this thing has a distinct sonic character of its own or not. I am running it with a pair of Cary Rocket 88s, you know the ones before the guys at Cary said "Oh shoot, this thing sounds better with a gain stage!" but in all honesty with my speakers there's enough headroom. In fact. on some albums I can turn the knob all the way up and get a darn loud SPL without sounding like something's gonna break. The compact size is wonderful although the RCA jacks are rather close together so cable swapping isn't exactly a walk in the park. If it were up to me I would like to have a third pair of outputs for my sub but I s'pose that isn't a common request. They conned me into getting the swank PS-1 power supply for this sucker too, but I don't know if there's a difference or not. I bet you could get by with the wall wart and still live to tell the tale. The PA-1 is a nice looking and well-designed, no BS piece of gear.

Similar Products Used: Antique Sound Labs Twinhead, NAD 3224
OVERALL
RATING
4
VALUE
RATING
3
Doug   AudioPhile [Feb 19, 2003]
Strength:

Transparent and low in noise. Easy installation and operation Great value

Weakness:

No remaote control No balance control

This "passive" preamp is an unusual device. In a time of ever increasing complexity and reliance on digital processing here is a preamp that is the closest thing to a "straight wire with gain' that has come my way. The operation of the preamp is simple with four stereo inputs, two outputs, source switching and a volume control. A subtle detent at 12 O'clock on the volume knob marks the change from passive (no gain) mode to active (up to 6 db of gain). With high level source such as CD/DVD players there is seldom a need for gain, but it is there if required. As for the sound of the PA1, well it really doesn't have any. It is extremely neutral and low in noise. This should suit the majority of users seeking the best possible sound at a genuinely affordable price. It would be best to use the shortyest cable runs possible to and from the unit even though in normal operation the signal is buffered through the vey high quality Burr Brown OPA2134 operational amplifier which demands that the power supply be used when the unit is functioning. Highly recommended

Similar Products Used: Acurus, B&K and Adcom preamps
OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
Paul   AudioPhile [Jan 30, 2003]
Strength:

Solid construction, full-featured, what's on the source is what you get.

Weakness:

I dunno. It's not the ultimate in transparency, though it is pretty quiet.

It's a nice little unit. I upgraded the power supply, as well. The build quality is impeccable for a small, inexpensive preamp. It is neutral, junk in, junk out. Lousy sounding CDs will sound thin and sterile (occasionally I wish there was a little fleshing out, like on my tube units past). BUT, as CDs get better, SACD catalogue grows, that's not so much an issue. The PA-1 is just neutral, natural, and if you have good ancillary components, you can't go wrong for the price. I bought mine at Signature Sound in NYS, thanks Rich. Let it break in before you make any real evaluations about the sound; it needs a good month or so of continuous play. I would not match the Monolithic with an extremely bright amp, and remember it only has 6db of gain (nonpassive mode), so choosing correct components is critical to get the most out of it. If you do, you can't go wrong at this level, you need to triple the price to really get this degree of performance.

Similar Products Used: I've heard them all in this and other price ranges, it's a great match with my Belles amp and Maggie speakers.
OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
Dan   Audio Enthusiast [Apr 17, 2001]
Strength:

Simplicity

Weakness:

Limited number of inputs

This is a great little preamp. Soundstaging and detail improved relative to my former Rotel. One thing I have noticed is that the music sounds better at lower volume levels. My room is relatively large, but I have yet to require levels above 0db. I am very satisfied. I have used up all the inputs, and it would be nice to have one more set, but I am eventually migrating to a music only system from a combined music/home theater system and the problem will resolve itself then.

Similar Products Used: Rotel
OVERALL
RATING
4
VALUE
RATING
5
George Sakakini   an Audiophile [Oct 01, 1999]

Description: This is the preamp that has been advertised in Music Direct's flyers. Monolithic Sound is the company created by Dusty Vawter, formerly of Audio Alchemy. In keeping with the AA tradition, the chasis is smaller than your average preamp, yet it manages to have four inputs and two outputs (all single ended). The front panel sports a rotary/detented switch on the left to select the four inputs; a toggle switch for record or muting near the center; and a volume/gain control knob on the right (as you rotate the knob clockwise, the gain is passive until the mark on the knob aligns with a detented 0dB mark on the panel at 12 o'clock, then the active gain stage takes over). A cool blue LED in the center glows to let you know the power is on (no power switch). Speaking of power, the power supply is housed in a separate chasis. A power supply upgrade is available, but this review was made with the standard power supply.Sound: This preamp is an absolute GIANT KILLER!! If you read Wes Phillips' rave review of the Adcom GFP-750 in Stereophile, you can read it again and substitute the Monolithic Sound PA-1 every time for the Class A rated GFA-750 and have a good idea of what this preamp sounds like, which is basically nothing at all. This preamp lets ALL the music through untouched. It is dead silent and just a truly amazing little preamp. All of the high end sonic bliss you read about in the 'phile rags can be heard through this thing ( huge layered sounstage; musical detail; micro and macro dynamics; tight powerful bass; accurate, grainless and musical midrange; smooth, extended highs...).Music used for this evaluation included mostly classical, jazz, acoustic, with a smidgen of pop,and rock.
Bottom Line: If you have been thinking about getting another preamp before they become obsolete, you owe it to yourself to check this one out. You will be amazed at this little miracle. It is a steal and the best audio bargain I know.
Associated Equipment: Front end: AA DDS Pro Transport, AA DTI Pro 32, modified AA DDE v 3.0, all connected via Camelot I2SBUS cable; also a Pioneer 606D DVD player; Amplifiers were either a Bryston 4BST or a Carver Research Lightstar II; Interconnects were either Harmonic Technology TruthLink or Tara Labs Master Gen 2; Speaker cables were either Kimber 8TC or Nordost Super Flatline ( both biwire), and the Speakers were Newform Research R630's occasionally augmented with a HSU 1220W sub. Room treatments include Echobusters, Bassbusters, and home-made 4" thick Owens Corning fiberglass panels.
Comparisons: Having been to the last 4 out of 5 Stereophile HiFi shows, I've heard them all!

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
Michael Hazy   Audiophile [Feb 18, 2001]
Strength:

sonic invisibility (visual silence?). whatever--it's very neutral.

Weakness:

can you feel comfortable spending this little for such a great preamp? may be too big of a bargain for some. and don't ask about a remote.

This preamp and upgraded power supply should be on everyone's short list. I though it sounded great from the start. After about twenty minutes, I was pulling cds from my collection that I hadn't listened to in years. That's probably the best indicator that this is one musical preamp.

I agree with the other reviews I've read on the PA-1 which state it is very, very neutral. I've heard cd players from NAD to Naim through the PA-1, and, within reason, the source is going to be the limiting factor with this preamp. Expect a deep black background with great low level resolution. I heard a big improvement in bass versus my Counterpoint SA-7, which the PA-1 owes a debt to cosmetically. (Since Counterpoint borrowed Mark Levinson's cosmetics, I'm not sure who's copying whom.) Notwithstanding cosmetics, one might still call the PA-1 a baby Mark Levinson, but I think the PA-1 is better than that.

The PA-1 got me excited about music again. Can you can remember how amazing it was when, metaphorically, you got rid of your H/K receiver and (swallow) Bose speakers for your first "real" stereo? Listening to the PA-1 has the same effect. If you like music more than audiophilia, you owe it to yourself to listen to this preamp. If your budget is under $1000, the PA-1 is the answer. I would A-B it at any price level because the PA-1's performance might make you question whether that extra $1000 wouldn't be better spent on cds or silex, for example.

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
ML   Audiophile [Dec 27, 2000]

There are many roads to sonic perfection: the passive Monolithic PA-1 takes the direct route and gets there before most of the competition. The music has an immediacy and purity that I find astonishing at this price. Or any price. I’ve run my CD player directly into my amp and then through the PA-1 and I've heard no difference. The sound is the sound of the source. This diminutive black box is clearer than my excellent and beloved Conrad Johnson preamp and costs a few thousand dollars less. And as a bonus you do not have to worry about tubes. However, if you listen to records, don’t discard your old preamp. Previous generation preamps from CJ (and ARC) have wonderful phono stages, as good or better than stand-alone units sold today. Just use the tape out and run it into the PA-1.

The PA-1 is versatile, solidly built, nicely designed. Your amp should have a reasonably high input inpedence - most do - but check. If it's under 20 ohm, stay away. To conclude: a bargain-basement entry into high-end heaven. Spend the money you save on CD’s and records.

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
Showing 1-7 of 7  

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