Speakers

Monoprice's Monolith K-BAS speaker promises a lot, but does it deliver?

Monoprice is best known for its high-value/budget-price cables, but now it's making audiophile speakers!

Monoprice's Monolith K-BAS Reference Series bookshelf speaker doesn't immediately come off like an audiophile contender. Yes, it's beautifully finished in satin black paint, but there's no outward indication of its rather special design that promises extraordinary bass performance, so I was eager to see what it could do.

As I examined the descriptions of the Monolith K-BAS' internal design, I flashed back to the Atlantic Technology AT-2 bookshelf speaker ($1,800 per pair) I reviewed in 2012. That speaker used bass-enhancing techniques similar to the K-BAS. I have fond memories of the AT-2 speakers, but there's no way I can say how the Monolith K-BAS compares sonically. Five years is too long to recall much about a speaker's sound, other than I liked it a lot. The good news is the Monolith K-BAS is a much more affordable speaker -- they run $500 per pair!

The Monoprice Monolith K-BAS Reference Series bookshelf speaker

Monoprice

The speaker's K-BAS (Kinetic Bass Amplification System) utilizes a specially designed cabinet and port technology that's said to produce deeper bass than a more conventionally designed speaker would. It's a purely acoustic (not amplified) design with a 5.25-inch polypropylene-mica woofer and a 1-inch titanium dome tweeter. There's a small bass port on the front baffle; the backside has a set of all-metal speaker connectors. The Monolith K-BAS' average impedance is rated at 8 ohms, though it dips down to 4.2 ohms. The speaker feels solidly constructed, weighs 14 pounds, and measures 7.2 by 15.6 by 13 inches.

I listened to the Monolith K-BAS speakers hooked up to a Rotel RA-1592 stereo integrated amplifier and an Oppo BDP-105 Blu-ray player. The speakers sounded clear and refined, but a little "polite" and reserved for my taste, so I played them a little louder than I normally would to liven up the sound. Bass power is supposed to be the Monolith K-BAS' ace in the hole, and it sure was deep but not extraordinarily so. Definition was good, but again, nothing that blew me away about the sound. The Monolith K-BAS is an easy listening, laid-back sounding speaker, but I wanted more from it.

The Monoprice Monolith K-BAS and ELAC Uni-Fi UB5 speakers.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

To put the Monolith K-BAS sound in perspective, I brought out the ELAC Uni-Fi UB5 speakers, and immediately found what I was looking for. With high-res files of David Bowie's "Blackstar" album, the Uni-Fi UB5 was more dynamically alive, more transparent. The bass was fuller though not deeper, and the imaging was more sharply focused. It's easily the more likeable speaker, and yet I enjoyed my time with the Monolith K-BAS. Its easy-going sound should wear well, and it might be exactly the right speaker for "bright" rooms; ones with exposed hardwood or tiled floors, and lots of exposed windows or mirrors. Both speakers are the same price, and both should be partnered with powerful amplifiers to sound their best.

So in the end, I preferred the ELAC Uni-Fi UB5, but in some cases the Monoprice Monolith K-BAS might be the better speaker. The only way to know for sure is to listen for yourself.

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