Monolith by Monoprice Portable Headphone Amp and DAC with THX AAA Technology review: High value, minor flaws

Today’s laptops and smart devices pack lots of performance and high tech. Their audio prowess, however, often leaves something to be desired. The biggest shortcomings typically lie with their onboard amplification and the DACs that convert a digital signal to analog). As audio enthusiasts with premium headphones know all too well, these deficiencies can rob their headphones of peak performance.

Monoprice’s $279.99 Monolith Portable Headphone Amplifier and DAC aims to address those shortcomings while providing gobs of power, an advanced DAC, and adding premium features in a small package.

Meteoric rise onto the audio scene

Monoprice blasted onto the scene seemingly out of nowhere years ago, selling high-value, high-performance HDMI cables. At the time, Monoprice shattered the market held by ridiculously priced HDMI cables.

Thanks to some nudging from audio enthusiasts within the company, Monoprice then launched a line of high-performance, high-value audio gear under the Monolith brand. The Monolith line is geared towards the audiophile and home theater crowd. I had the opportunity to review the Monolith 7, a seven-channel 200-watt-per-channel amplifier whose price and performance left me awe-struck.

The Monolith portable headphone amplifier connected to an iPhone XS. The two are comparable in size. Theo Nicolakis / IDG

The Monolith portable headphone amplifier connected to an iPhone XS. The two are comparable in size.

Since my review, Monoprice’s Monolith lineup has grown exponentially to include speakers, headphones, subwoofers, a Dolby Atmos multichannel preamplifier, as well as desktop and portable headphone amplifiers and DACs.

Beautiful build and styling

The Monolith Portable Headphone Amplifier and DAC is beautifully constructed with a black, brushed metal face; matte black sides, and a back plate with a flush, imitation leather grain that goes almost edge to edge. The unit’s monochrome screen is small but legible. The screen serves as a dashboard letting you know the input, volume, and battery status. If you’re connected via USB, it will show you if your audio source is PCM or DSD along with the source’s sampling rate.

Monoprice Monolith Portable Headphone Amplifier and DAC sports a brushed aluminum front. Theo Nicolakis / IDG

Monoprice Monolith Portable Headphone Amplifier and DAC sports a brushed aluminum front.

The Monolith measures 5.35-inches x 2.84-inches x 0.57-inches (about the size of a typical smartphone) and weighs in at half a pound. There are four physical buttons on the right-hand side for menu functions.

While the Monolith sports a small form factor, it doesn’t mean it’s a practical on-the-go amp and DAC. I found the Monolith a bit cumbersome to carry around in addition to my iPhone XS, and the tangled web of cables cumbersome to use when walking. I’d say this is really intended for someone who wants portability but won’t be moving around when you’re using the Monolith Portable Headphone Amp.