Simaudio MOON 850P Evolution Preamplifier A Worthy Companion

By Jeff Dorgay

The Simaudio MOON Evolution series 850P has a number of interesting technical elements that make it an amazing preamplifier.  If you happen to be the type of audiophile who is swayed solely by technical expertise and specs, you should mosey down to your MOON dealer to buy an 850P right now.  If you’re the type of audiophile who craves a component that is both completely musical and free from coloration and grain, you should also head down to your dealer, if only to demo the 850P, which I think you will find more than worthy of your equipment rack.  In Brief: the 850P is wondrous.

The argument continues as to whether or not vacuum tubes exceed the performance of transistors in terms of retrieving more information from the source and why.  As the boundaries are pushed on both fronts, the results are equally excellent.  I’ve always liked the wonderful midrange and airiness of vacuum tube preamplifiers—that holographic image they are known to provide.  Many call this a sort of euphonic coloration, and for whatever reason, I enjoy it.  Especially with digital sources, a bit of that tube magic always seems to go a long way.

Lately, at the extreme high end of the price spectrum, I have found that a handful of solid-state preamplifiers provide a magic that I’ve never heard from tubes.  I’ve recently had the good fortune of listening to some excellent (and high-priced) examples from Indigo/Qualia, Burmester and Robert Koda, all of which deliver top-quality sound from a solid-state design.  You can add the Simaudio MOON 850P to that short list of preamps that offer a combination of cleanliness, dynamics, resolution and quietness unsurpassed by their vacuum-tube brethren.

Considering that a fully matched and optimized set of NOS tubes for one of my favorite tube preamplifiers commands about $2,000 these days (with no guarantee on the tubes), I breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the 850P will work effortlessly for decades, always plugged into the wall and always ready to go.  And the 850P only draws 27 watts from the line in the process, so there is no eco-guilt associated with leaving it on continuously.

I’m still not ready to abandon the glowing bottle entirely, if for no other reason than the fact that sometimes different is good, if not downright enjoyable.  But for those becoming tired of chasing down NOS vacuum tubes (and I for one am tired of vacuum tubes that now cost more than my first car), the 850P is liberating.  Yet, after a few months with the 850P and the companion 880M power amplifiers that we reviewed recently, I’m convinced that these new MOON pieces belong to an elite group of components that offer their owners a no-holds-barred level of performance.

The two-box, 72-pound 850P is priced at $28,000.  One of the boxes is for the power supply and the other is for the gain, control and switching circuitry.  The two chassis’ are tethered together by three umbilical cords; two 4-pin XLR  cables (for left and right channel DC power) and an 8-pin RJ45 etherCON cable (for data communications). The cost of this level of high performance is concurrent with the price tag; if anything, compared to other units I’ve auditioned costing consistently more, it’s really quite the bargain.  Should you desire blue LEDs on the front panel, rather than the standard red, it can be done for an additional $625.  When we visited the factory, they explained that the blue LED’s are quite a bit more costly than the red ones.

Truth in the Listening

Like every other Simaudio product we’ve auditioned, the 850P needs about four or five days of being continuously powered up before it blooms into its final sound.  With no capacitors in the signal path, it will not require hundreds of hours of break-in time, so you can get down to business straight away.

Serious listening begins with the Rolling Stones live album Brussels Affair (Live 1973), with the classic track “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which seems a bit ironic, as the 850P really does offer it all.  Feeling the band spread out on stage in front of me—through the $120k-per-pair Sonus faber Aida speakers, with a pair of 880M monoblocks—I’m instantly immersed in the performance.  With the 850P, I get what I want and what I need: a highly resolving musical performance with an absence of noise and grain.

It goes without saying that the 880Ms are a perfect match for the 850P, and in the context of a mostly MOON system (I use the 810LP phonostage for analog source material and the dCS Vivaldi for digital duties), you’ll forget that you’re listening to a stack of solid-state gear.  As I hinted at in the beginning of this review, the 850P is truly without a sound of its own, and when mated to the other MOON components, it’s dead quiet.  Even when putting my ears directly up to the Aida tweeters, there is no background noise coming through.

Digging Deep

Even an average recording, like Run-DMC’s King of Rock, comes alive through the 850P.  This linestage offers up layer upon layer of texture, with atomic clock-like pace.  The slightly wavering analog synthesizer in “Can You Rock It Like This?” is firmly anchored, while the other keyboard floats in and out of the mix, as Run and DMC assault the soundstage.  Their shouts from the left and right channels echo well into the background.  All of this remains on top of some massive bass beats that go deeper than I’ve experienced before.

On a quest for even more bass, I turn to SBTRKT’s self-titled album, which underlines the sheer drive and control that the 850P can deliver.  When pushed to near-live sound pressure levels, the Aidas feel as if we’ve added a pair of subwoofers to the system, shaking everything in my listening room that isn’t nailed down.  The soundfield now extends well past the speakers, almost seeming to extend past the walls themselves.  A quick dose of heavy rock, care of the Scorpions smash album Love at First Sting, reveals more treasure.  This early digital recording, which is somewhat densely packed, still has it’s digital edge, but is much more open, with depth in all three dimensions.  The two lead guitarists now have plenty of space between them, where on a lesser system they just feel like the same guitar overdubbed.  This is a subtle enhancement, but an exciting one.

It’s these small details, from records that you’ve listened to hundreds of times, that makes the 850P amazing and worth the scratch—if you’ve got the space on your Visa card.  The way the pedal steel gently enters the mix at the beginning of Matthew Sweet’s “You Don’t Love Me” feels like a Navy SEAL rising up out of the water slowly, never drawing attention to himself.  Whether it’s the gentle swish of a brush on a cymbal, the plucking of a violin string or the sound of fingers sliding up the neck of an acoustic guitar, the clarity of the 850P provides subtle insight into any musical performance, going the extra step towards creating the illusion of real music in your listening room.

Revisiting Herb Alpert’s disco classic “Rise,” from the album of the same title, is simply a blast.  Even though the MoFi LP has somewhat of a “smiley faced” EQ curve, the bongos at the beginning of the track explode out of the speakers with tremendous texture, again bringing something new to the sonic picture.

Considering how much more music the 850P illuminates from tracks with average production values, the really great recordings in my collection come alive in a big way.  Solo vocals prove irresistibly silky.  Tone and timbral accuracy are also perfect.  Aficionados of classical and jazz will be floored at the additional amount of information now available.  While this preamplifier does not embellish, fatten or sweeten the sound at all, it maintains tonal richness, with lifelike renderings of acoustic instruments.

If the rest of your system is of equal capability, the MOON 850P will take you to an even higher level.  In addition to Simaudio’s own 880M amplifiers, I pair the 850P with a few other fantastic amplifiers and achieve equally satisfying results: the vacuum-tube-powered Octave Jubilee monoblocks, the solid-state Burmester 911 MK3, the Xs 300 monoblocks from Pass Labs and the D’Agostino Momentum stereo amplifier—all of which prove an equally capable match for this stellar linestage.  If your system isn’t in the stratosphere yet, the 850P is the perfect building block to start down that path.

Under the Bonnet

Those with multiple program sources will love the 850P.  With four single-ended RCA inputs, three fully balanced XLR inputs and a monitor loop (RCA inputs), control flexibility is the name of the game.  But it doesn’t stop there.  With a pair of balanced XLR outputs and another pair of RCA outputs (one fixed and one variable), the 850P can accommodate any combination of multiple power amplifiers, crossovers or powered subwoofers.   Like every MOON product, the foundation of the 850P begins with the power supply.  In this case, its massive, dual mono supply is in a separate box with transformers custom built for this application only, rather than relying on off-the-shelf parts.

In addition to the overbuilt power supply, the 850P also utilizes Simaudio’s M-Octave damping system, which suspends the circuit boards via an eight-point suspension to minimize the amount of internal mechanical vibration and external environmental vibration—and the system works well.  Placing the 850P on an HRS platform proved pointless; there was no change in sonic character.

We rarely use the “B word” here at TONEAudio, but the volume control on the 850P is the best one we’ve encountered from a mechanical and electrical standpoint.  Using the control manually reveals a highly damped feel, and the precision attenuators are so tightly matched that the level increases in .1-dB increments.  Twisting the volume control a bit more vigorously then allows 1-dB changes.  Nice!

Thanks to careful, high-quality component choices, the 850P should provide years if not decades of trouble-free service.  And don’t forget Simaudio’s 10-year warranty.  With so many garage builders, whose total yearly output rarely reaches double digits, it’s nice to know this is a company with years of history to support a product of this caliber.  You can revisit our Simaudio factory tour here, to get a glimpse of what goes into making the MOON components.

Indeed Special

The 850P is a rare product, in the sense that the typical audiophile adjectives don’t really apply.  It doesn’t destroy or annihilate, it just gets out of the way.  And while that may sound simplistic and devoid of fanfare, if you’ve been on a quest for an ultimate preamplifier, you know how tough this is to achieve.  This is a rare component in the way it disappears, revealing nothing but the music carried through it.  Those still wanting the tube sound might not be convinced, but regardless of what your built-in prejudices are, anyone in the market for a destination preamplifier should audition the 850P.  I’ve yet to hear one that reveals more music.

Simaudio MOON Evolution 850P Preamplifier

MSRP: $28,000


Analog source AVID Acutus Reference SP turntable    TriPlanar tonearm    Lyra Atlas cartridge    SME V tonearm    Clearaudio Goldfinger cartridge
Digital source dCS Vivaldi digital playback system    Sooloos Control 15    Aurender S10 server
Power amplifiers Simaudio MOON 880M monoblocks    Octave Jubilee monoblocks    Pass Labs Xs 300 monoblocks    D’Agostino Momentum stereo amplifier    Burmester 911 MK3 stereo amplifier
Speakers GamuT S9, Sonus faber Aida    KEF Blade    Sonus faber Guarneri Evolution   Dynaudio Confidence C1 II
Cable Cardas Clear
Power IsoTek Super Titan
Accessories GIK room treatment    Furutech DeStat and DeMag    Audio Desk Systeme RCM