Hello Kitty Fruit Roll-Ups

When you’re in the middle of a painstaking turntable setup session and you need the ultimate sugar rush, try some Hello Kitty Fruit Roll-Ups.  These babies are loaded with sugar.  Much like other stimulants, the effect only lasts for about 20 minutes, but what a ride.

Hello Kitty Fruit Roll-Ups



Ortofon DS-1 Digital Scale

While gadgets aren’t always fashionable, a properly set up turntable is always in style.  And what better way to adjust tracking force than with a digital scale?  We’ve tried some of the cheapie, Chinese-made digital scales in the $40–$60 range, but they have all had relatively short lifespans.

Clearaudio’s Weight Watcher is excellent, but starting to tip the price scale at $300 these days –– so think of that model as the S-Class Mercedes of digital scales.  Ortofon’s DS-1 is made in Japan, easy to use, and thanks to its smaller paddle, makes it more versatile with a wider range of cartridges than the Weight Watcher. At nearly half the price, it makes this accessory accessible to a wider range of audiophiles.

Ortofon DS-1 Digital Scale




For those of you who like to display your albums on the wall, or keep better track of what’s currently spinning on your turntable, the RecordWall-it is an elegant solution that doesn’t require you to take the frame apart when you want to change the album art, and if you’re good at keeping things level, you can use two side by side for double albums.

The RecordWall-it comes in basic black and is easy to mount, thanks to the countersunk holes molded in the plastic.  If you are just mounting album covers for permanent display, you can probably get away with just screwing into your drywall; record jackets don’t weigh that much.  However, if you will be changing the album covers often, we suggest mounting to the wall stud, or if that isn’t handy, using a pair of 25-pound wall anchors.  Either way, this is one of those handy little gadgets that will leave you wondering how you ever did without it.




Grateful Dead – American Beauty

Because the Grateful Dead was always a band that paid close attention to the sound quality of its live performances and recordings, even a random copy of any Dead album usually sounds pretty good—provided it hasn’t been played to extinction.  Mobile Fidelity did a stellar job on the original single-album reissue of American Beauty in the 80s, but they are rare, with sealed versions fetching about $150 and opened albeit gently played copies ranging from $45-$75. By comparison, original, opened, green-label WB versions in excellent condition can usually be found for about $30-$40.

With many records, choosing between versions can often be a dilemma. But most Dead fans usually want everything, so consider this more a pairing than a choice. The early Mobile Fidelity version presents a wider soundstage than the new 45RPM reissue, with all vocals more out in front of the speakers. The current release lines everything up on nearly the same plane.

Tonally, the early Mobile Fidelity is slightly crisper, and more etched on the very top end.  Your personal taste and overall system tonal balance will determine what you prefer.  On our reference system, the Lyra Atlas cartridge tends to favor the new version, while the Clearaudio Goldfinger delivers a more homogenous playback with the older disc. The green label is smack dab in the middle of the two.

While all three versions sound close tonally and spatially, the current 45RPM edition is the champ in terms of noise floor. It’s an amazing testament to the staying power of analog in that a high-quality tape, when well-preserved and expertly handled, can deliver such a quiet background.

Keep in mind the difference between these three pressings is decidedly small, and all three are excellent.  Mobile Fidelity has done a phenomenal job.

Mobile Fidelity, 180g 45RPM 2LP set

ROON is here! World’s first in depth review…

I’ve Seen the Future of Music, Again!

Forget everything you know about serving digital music files. No matter what you are using, it’s irrelevant.

A bold claim indeed, but spend a few minutes with Roon and you’ll find yourself getting up from the listening chair hours later. It’s that compelling. Now you can access music three dimensionally, much like you do when flipping through the bins at your favorite record store, but arguably better. And I say this as an analog lover that still has 8 turntables and over 7500 LP’s.

So, where did Roon labs come from? The core team that developed the Sooloos music server stayed together and to take their baby to the next level, so rest assured this is not a group of random newcomers to the industry. And every member of this team is Stephen Hawking smart.

A bit of history

We featured the original Sooloos music server on the cover of issue 11, proudly proclaiming it was the future of music – at least the future of digital music delivery. In the six years since the introduction of the iPod in 2001, Sooloos hit the scene with an ease of use that was, and to a major extent still remains untouchable today. Computer audio was in its infancy then, but like our laptops, cellphones and other things technologically related, it has taken off. For many listeners, the Sooloos interface is now the gold standard of functionality.

The guys at Sooloos weren’t sleeping. Though they sold the company to Meridian a couple of years after it’s inception to find a better hardware partner, so they could continue to develop the application, porting the Sooloos look and feel to the newly developed iPad in 2010, and a few somewhat lower priced endpoints have been released on the hardware side. Meridian managed to smooth out the rough edges on the initial hardware platform, but unfortunately, the cost of admission stayed high with the Sooloos system remaining available to mostly well-heeled customers.

Meridian continued to improve the sound quality of the Sooloos Control units, and paired with their flagship 800 series disc player/DAC, serves up good sound. However, the Control 15 has never played terribly well with other DACs, another limitation.

Fortunately, this system no longer needs tens of thousands of dollars worth of specific hardware to run; it’s equally at home, running on mac and windows platforms, with tablet support due shortly after release. You can buy a lifetime subscription to the Roon software for $499, or subscribe on an annual basis, as you would Photoshop or Office for $119 a year. New users can try Roon free for 14 days.

As someone who leases all of their production software, I love this model, because with a subscription, there are no surprises down the line. You’ll always have the latest, greatest version, and Roon is wherever you are, regardless of which model you choose.

Shortly after release at this week’s Munich High End show, Roon promises a tablet client, so the system will be more portable and touch screen accessible for Mac users with no touch-screen options. Running both for the purposes of this review, I confess two things; I still don’t much care for Windows, but considering the low cost of an all in one, touch screen Windows box, it’s tough to argue with this solution. Roon begs to be touched. By comparison, my Sooloos Control 15 had an $8,500 price tag without the storage. A 21” HP machine will only set you back about $500, but a couple hundred more will buy the 27” model. Now if only I could get an 80” touch screen wall mounted running Roon…

Roon will happily coexist with anything on your current machine, but if you choose to pick up a dedicated machine, a modest configuration will get the job done. Excellent results were achieved on both Mac and PC sides with 4gb of RAM.

Liberated from dedicated hardware, Roon sounds as good as the DAC you connect it to, and in the context of my reference systems, sounds fantastic with the dCS Paganini and Gryphon Kalliope DACs. Yet even mated to the $599 Arcam iRDAC that we reviewed last issue, the sound quality has taken a dramatic increase for the better, especially with AudioQuest’s JitterBug (reviewed in issue 71 of TONEAudio) and their USB Diamond cable in the signal chain. The most noticeable difference is in the upper registers, with the digital glare from my Control 15 now a thing of the past.

Of course all computer audio geekiness applies here, so the better you can optimize your computer used for playback, the greater the improvement. If you are new to the computer audio playback world and aren’t already following computeraudiophile.com, I suggest stopping by to peruse their backlog of articles, they will help you wring even more audio performance out of your Roon based system.

Speaking of storage

Roon finds everything on your network, regardless of configuration, but a NAS offers the tidiest solution. With almost 11,000 CD’s in my collection, an 8TB QNAP NAS makes for reasonably priced, bulletproof storage. Invest the minimal cost difference between enterprise grade hard drives and standard grade drives to ensure long-term durability. Those needing further protection can easily add an equivalent external USB drive somewhere on the network as a mirror.

Once installed, Roon looks for primary and secondary storage, as well as creating a folder keeping an eye on for new music added to the collection. Where Sooloos took advantage of Exact Audio Copy to rip files in a proprietary FLAC format, Roon is much more diplomatic. While not offering their own ripping software, leaving you to use your favorite method of digitizing your music, Roon does access all the major audio files, and works with all resolutions, up to and including 24bit/384khz. Those with iTunes and other low-resolution libraries will enjoy a seamless integration with the rest of their digital audio files. Roon principal Enno Vandermeer is quick to point out that with so many CDs still in circulation, many music lovers have a favorite way to rip, so they’ve left it to the end user; rip with the software of your choice, move the resulting files to storage and let Roon do the rest. It works equally well with high-resolution files too, and while DSD is not yet supported, Roon’s Rob Darling makes it clear that DSD support will be available “very, very soon.”

All of Roon’s principals make it a point to joke about how as software guys, they would like to just keep geeking out on the program, but a line has been drawn in the sand, and version 1.0 is incredibly robust. Eight years of refining Sooloos didn’t hurt their game one bit. Knowing how committed this team is to providing the best musical experience again suggests that a subscription model is the way to go, so Roon can continue to innovate and you are always experiencing the best they have to offer

Initial power up and install of the system is brief, but some windows users may need to update their USB DAC drivers to keep everything hunky dory. This only added five minutes to my install process, and once complete, the HP communicated flawlessly with the Gryphon Kalliope DAC that is my current reference in system two.

Surveying the landscape

For those who don’t run Roon continuously, upon starting the application, you are greeted by a screen telling you the status of your collection (how many albums, tracks, artists and other data) along with a quick visual link to music that has been recently added. A quick scroll down the page reveals the day’s featured artist and featured composer, both only a click away.

Clicking the icon in the upper left corner offers three different browse modes; overview, genres, discover and a fourth linked to Tidal if you have a Tidal subscription. Again, Roon saves the day with Tidal, making navigation through the clunky Tidal interface a breeze, but better yet, albums you love can be imported to your Roon library with the click of the button.

The Genre callout divides your library by musical genre, offering you the options of going to an overview of jazz, rock, country or any of the other genre classifications, with callouts for major contributors to said genres. The mega music geeks in the audience might argue over fine divisions here, but there is no argument to the density of thought that has gone into this.

If you decide to follow a particular artist, the resulting main screen presents the artist along with a bio, birthday and other relevant info along with where to find them on the web, Facebook and Wikepedia. All from the comfort of your listening chair.

Discover mode “curates your library to find hidden gems, unseen connections between artists and interesting things to hear.” This is the understatement of the year, again revealing a virtual encyclopedia on the artists in your collection. And it refreshes every time you click into this mode. I found this one of the most enjoyable aspects of Roon, continually offering “Wow, I forgot about that record” moments.

If this isn’t enough, five more hierarchies remain; artists, albums, tracks, composers and works. Sorting by artist puts your collection in alphabetical order by artist, with a callout as to how many albums by this particular artist reside in your collection. Again, pairing this with Tidal makes fleshing out various discographies a snap. Sooloos users will recognize Album mode and feel right at home, yet with Roon, this is only the starting point of the journey. Tracks are a little tougher, especially if you have a lot of music. It might take forever to get through hundreds of thousands of tracks, albeit listed in alphabetical order. Kudos to the Roon team for offering this, but it’s not for everyone.

Composers and works will not be as useful to those listening to primarily rock, pop, and hip hop, but a major boon to classical and jazz lovers. With classical having so many different variations on the theme, Roon may just be the tool to introduce classical music to a new generation of aficionados, and yes, it features gapless playback.

It’s like spending all day in the record store

Listening to the classic trio of Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin and Paco DeLucia’s Friday Night in San Francisco, it’s merely a finger tap away from seeing all the other bands these guys played with, which of their albums are available in your current music collection and what else is available to either listen to, or add to your collection on Tidal. Roon’s creators wanted to create a “never ending musical experience.” That they have succeeded brilliantly is an understatement.

Starting with Al DiMeola, I was able to take a lap through most of his discography, added a few albums I didn’t have to my collection via Tidal and notice his birthday is coming up, recalling he was on Stomu Yamashita’s Complete Go Sessions, which led to another hour with Klaus Schulze, ending up with some early Santana. This interactional aspect of Roon has really rekindled my interest in music and again, always reminds me of spending a day in my favorite record stores with good friends, sharing knowledge and coming home with a big pile of new records to explore.

The microphone button in the lower right corner of the screen illuminates when lyrics are available to the tracks you are listening to, unfortunately the mic was not illuminated when listening to a few of my favorite hip hop records. In this case, I suggest just turning the volume to the maximum.

The music never ends

No matter how ambitious, obscure or quirky you choose to get with your day’s listening or playlists, there will always be that time your talented hands are busy and you can’t get back to the server to punch in more tunes. Roon has you covered there too, with Radio mode.

Much more than a mere shuffle or random playback mode, it uses all of Roon’s relational database to find music in the same vein that you were listening to, slowly easing further and further away from your original choice until you are again in uncharted waters. Interestingly, after a three day binge of listening to Prince, the Pretenders and Robert Plant, Roon chose some obscure Prince and Led Zeppelin tracks for about 90 minutes and then went off on another tangent entirely when placed in radio mode and allowed to roam free.

Radio plays whenever your chosen music runs its course, or you can generate a queue of music to your taste. Touching the radio button instantly gives you a track suggestion with thumbs up or thumbs down icons awaiting your choice. When you select thumbs up, the track is added to the queue, and another, similar track is suggested with a similar choice. Starting with Ratt, I was quickly lead to Dokken, Poison, Whitesnake and Van Halen. Rage Against The Machine led to Jane’s Addiction, White Zombie and Living Color. The more diverse your music collection, the more interesting radio mode will be, whether you chose random mode or program it yourself. I find this more and more to be my go to mode.

The ultimate tool for the ultimate music lover

If you’re a major music geek, you’ll be in heaven with Roon, especially if you link it to Tidal. And if you aren’t, I suspect you will be soon. Back when I was a kid, dinosaurs roamed the Earth and birds played records, there was always that guy that had the awesome record collection. Now you can be that person, and can have more access, more knowledge and have more fun than he ever did. Roon brings a tactile, interactive, dare I say analog way to access your music collection.

Not only is Roon the future of digital music delivery, it’s the most fun way to do it, and like Sooloos, the team at Roon has set the bar so high, I doubt anyone will ever catch up. We still haven’t been able to search all the nooks and crannies that Roon offers, so we promise a follow up once it’s been out in the marketplace for a while. But for now, this is an amazing debut. Please stay tuned for more. -Jeff Dorgay


Issue 71


Old School:

Sansui AU-717

By Jeff Dorgay

Personal Fidelity:

Astell&Kern – AK240

By Bailey S. Barnard

Master & Dynamic – MH40 Headphones

By Jeff Dorgay

995: Sounds That Won’t Break The Bank

AudioQuest JitterBug

By Jeff Dorgay

TONE Style

Beer Snob:
VooDoo and a Drama Princess
By Bob Gendron

Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat

Madison Fielding Flagstone Planter Speakers

Henge Dock

Blue and White KEF LS-50s

Muku Shutter Release

Choosing Your Apple Watch

Rock Star Soap

WAX RAX RC-2 Record Cart


Spin the Black Circle: Reviews of New Pop/Rock and Country Albums
By Bob Gendron, Todd Martens, Chrissie Dickinson, Andrea Domanick and Aaron Cohen

Jazz & Blues: Chris Lightcap, Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas, Charles Lloyd, Milford Graves & Bill Laswell, and the Word
By Aaron Cohen and Jim Macnie

Audiophile Pressings: Mastadon’s Blood Mountain
By Bob Gendron

Gear Previews

Boulder 2160 Stereo Power Amplifier

OPPO HA-2 Portable Headphone Amplifier

Aurender W20 Server

ARC GSPRE Preamplifier and GS150 Power Amplifier

Cardas Clear Reflection Cable


Decware Zen Mystery Amp
By Jeff Dorgay

Balanced Audio Technology VK-655SE
By Jeff Dorgay

iFi Retro 50
By Jeff Dorgay

PASS XA160.8 Monoblocks
By Jerold O’Brien

Graditech Lumi 3 Speaker Cables
By Jeff Dorgay

From the Web

Naim Mu-so

Simaudio MOON Evolution 760A Power Amp

Conrad-Johnson MF 2275

Quirky’s Power Curl

Tired of always finding your MacBook charger in a giant ball?  Quirky’s Power Curl comes in different sizes, depending on your model, and they come in some fun, or should we say, quirky colors.  The power supply fits in the central, square hole and the power cords both wind around separate spools, much like monofilament thread on a weed whacker.  There is just enough space on the spools to wind both cords all the way on the spool for travel.

As cool as the quirky colors are, a few trips in your purse, briefcase or backpack will leave the Power Curl somewhat scuffed, so perhaps black might be a better option, but it’s still handy as hell. And if you need to keep your iPhone/Pod/Pad chargers organized as well, the Power Curl Mini (only $4.99) is just the ticket.  This one is ADD approved.

Power Curl



Aurender Flow Headphone Amplifier and DAC

Aurender first teased their portable DAC / headphone amplifier at the 2014 Munich High End Show. Back then it was called the “V1000” – not exactly catchy.

Six months later at the Rocky Mountain Audio Festival in Denver, Aurender’s Sally Jeung and Harry Lee offered first listens to members of the press while also canvassing for a more promotional-friendly name. Eyeing its wavelike profile I suggested Flow – a name that Aurender would ultimately run with when bringing the device to market the following month.

Casual observers could be forgiven for thinking that the Flow is Aurender’s response to the Chord Hugo, but it’s not. Even a little hands-on time shows it to be a different beast entirely, not least because of its MSRP: at US$1295 the Flow sells for almost half the price of its UK rival.

The differences don’t end there. The Flow isn’t an in-pocket portable like the Hugo. There are no elastic straps for smartphone attachment and the rubber feet found on its base aren’t there to cushion a smartphone; they are to prevent the Flow from sliding across the desktop. Besides, the Flow’s weight (450g/15.9oz) and highly informative display screen, handsomely encircled by a velocity-sensitive volume ring, also point to desktop deployment.

The leather carrying case that ships in the box is free of cutout holes for the Flow’s digital input and quarter-inch headphone sockets, cementing its desktop assignation further. That said, it’s still a go-anywhere device – one that will readily make the to-and-fro between home and workplace.

Then there’s Flow’s most unusual feature: its internals house a slot for an optional, user-installable mSATA drive (up to 1TB). Now the music library storage burden moves from host computer to the unit itself. Don’t mistake it for a DAP though – a PC or Mac is still required to extract data from the Flow’s internal drive before the host device’s playback app feeds a datastream back to the device via the supplied USB 3.0 or USB 2.0 cable.

Usability considerations don’t end there. Along the Flow’s right side are control buttons that talk to iTunes: play/pause and playlist navigation are possible without ever needing to interface with the connected computer, iPhone or iPad. The latter find connectivity via the ubiquitous Camera Connection Kit. Android phones connect via the included OTG cable, but do check that your model supports USB audio output before putting credit card to counter. There’s no coaxial S/PDIF socket here but a Toslink input brings Astell&Kern portables, Apple TVs and some CD spinners into the picture, for which resolution is capped at 24bit/192kHz for PCM.

The Flow is backwards compatible with any USB 2.0 cable. I used a microUSB-terminated Light Harmonic Lightspeed 1G USB cable (US$99) to ensure consistency when conducting comparisons with other devices. If you don’t believe “audiophile” USB cables make a difference, that’s fine; the supplied wire won’t impede the XMOS USB and Sabre ESS9018K2M chips from handling data streams up to 32bit/384kHz PCM and DSD64/128.

Unlike the Hugo, the internal 4450mAh battery will recharge from any USB port. Off-grid listening time is pegged at around seven hours. Navigating the on-screen display via those same side-facing transport buttons allows for user selection of three charging modes (“never,” “always,” or “only when Flow is silent”) and digital filters (three for PCM and four for DSD). The way in which Aurender elegantly implements user options like this really sets it apart from much of the competition.

Now – time to listen.

I’d describe the Flow’s sound as calmly authoritative. It’s the opposite of showy. Fans of flashier micro-dynamics might find the overall presentation a little too conservative but I find its unobtrusive presentation far more conducive to all-day listening. And with so many headphones out there nowadays, especially those that already pack an abundance of transient incision, it’s easy to find an appropriate match. I didn’t have to look very far.

The Flow delivers ample go-juice to take the 600 ohm Beyerdynamic T1 to stout SPLs without surrendering acoustic mass. You can’t say that about the Resonessence Labs Concero HP. With its in-built filters, case-mounted volume control and the same ESS silicon handling decoding, the smaller, less expensive Canadian is probably the Flow’s nearest rival. However, the Concero HP sounds thinner of body and slightly ragged with the top-flight Beyerdynamic. One only has to look at each unit’s specifications sheet to see why: the Flow pushes 43mW into 600 ohms while the Concero can only muster 23mW.

Back to back with the Chord Hugo, the Flow plays it slightly cooler and a little “wetter.” A comparative lack of top-end air lends the Flow a more intimate sonic presentation than its British rival. That might be an issue for owners of the dark chocolate flavored Alpha Dogs from MrSpeakers – with which I prefer the Hugo – but it’s a win for headphones with an already well-extended top end like the Sennheiser HD800. They sound terrific here. Experience tells me this isn’t a result found with just any headphone amplifier.

It would be foolhardy to dismiss the Flow on the basis that it can’t match the Chord Hugo’s treble finesse. Its more humid air plays especially well with cans that present with more “papery” dryness. Think: AKG K-701/2 or Sennheiser Momentum.

The brushed aluminium finish that Aurender deploys across their product range makes for a terrific aesthetic match with the KEF M500 on-ears, which scale really nicely when fed with better amplification. The more considered manner in which the Flow serves up detail and layer separation plays neat counterbalance to the KEF’s sometimes more excitable manner, once again dialing down the potential for listener fatigue when tackling Genesis’s The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway or Swans’ The Seer. Office bound folk should sit up and take notice here.

Talking of which, the Flow’s infinite volume rotary makes for a wonderfully tactile experience for which one might observe favorable similarities to Devialet’s remote control. Ergonomics are often the first thing given the chop when building to a price point, but thankfully Aurender knows that inside every good audiophile is a desire to physically turn the volume up or down. Moreover, anyone who spends the day fumbling for media keys or mouse-clicking in software apps as colleagues come and go will know what I mean.

The Aurender Flow is a great way to get the very best from your favorite headphones in a tidy form factor. Its numerous considerations to the end user coupled to an elegantly powerful sonic presentation make it a delight to use on a daily basis. That it sports the most physically satisfying volume pot in its market segment only strengthens the Flow’s performance-value quotient.

-John Darko

Simaudio MOON Nēo 260D CD Transport/DAC

With more and more audiophiles getting into digital music these days, it is no wonder that many manufacturers are releasing CD players that are also high-quality DACs. Canada’s MOON by Simaudio has joined the crowd with three models, the Evolution 650D (currently a reference component in our publisher’s system) and, for this review, the more-affordable Nēo 260D.

The unit is available as simply a CD transport ($1,999) or with a 32-bit DAC able to play files with resolutions as large as 24 bits/192 kHz ($2,999). Like the pricier Evolution series 650D, the Nēo 260D is a full-function CD player with four digital inputs: S/PDIF, RCA, TOSLINK and USB. In typical MOON fashion, technical and design elements of the Evolution line make their way down to the Nēo line—specifically, in this case, the four-point gel-based mounting system. Paired with power-supply and circuitry improvements and their rigid casework (all done in-house), this adds up to a digital player that all but eliminates mechanical and electrical noise.

Fit and finish are exceptional—no sharp edges, and screws are recessed to avoid catching—though, for some of the casework, the aluminum of the Evolution line is replaced by plastic in the Nēo line to save cost. But, most importantly, the company does not scrimp on the connections, which are level and tight.

The ergonomics of the Nēo 260D are first-rate, with all system and playback controls flanking the LED display, which has two brightness levels, and the lettering and symbols large but not distracting. Included is a plastic remote with well-defined controls, though I wish the color contrast were greater.

The transport spins and pulls up the track information very quickly. Even when spinning a badly scratched disc that no other CD player in my home can even read, the Nēo 260D pulls up the information and manages to play every track with only one skip.

What’s the Difference?

The one word that describes the sonic signature of all MOON products is natural. They offer a ton of resolution but don’t embellish. The Nēo 260D renders Jethro Tull’s classic track “Mother Goose with a richness in the upper-mids and treble that my less-expensive MOON series 300D DAC does not—and that’s the difference between an average transport and a really good one: how much it improves a poor-sounding disc and how much information it can extract from a phenomenal one.

Billy Joel’s album 52nd Street is my torture-test favorite. While the vinyl copy produces a three-dimensional soundstage, the original CD is flat and lifeless. While the Nēo 260D’s rendering of this disc doesn’t fool me into thinking it’s vinyl, it does manage to expand the soundstage enough that Joel’s voice during the fast-tempo ballad “Stiletto” offers up an improved sense of drama. The xylophone in the opening of “Rosalinda’s Eyes,” which normally sticks right at the grille of the speaker, is now a foot or so deeper into the soundstage, bringing some life to a previously sterile disc.

Recreating the recording environment is always a plus—and a more difficult task when the listener knows the venue. A live acoustic version of Toad the Wet Sprocket’s “All I Want,” recorded at a local radio station’s annual compilation, benefits greatly from the Nēo 260D’s ability to recreate the small concert room, with vocals demonstrating the natural reflections of the intimate setting. From the same CD, Blitzen Trapper’s “Thirsty Man” provides plenty of air and space for the lead guitar. Again, the Nēo 260D creates greater separation than my current reference, drawing me further into this amateur but engaging recording. Simaudio’s Lionel Goodfield confirms that the Nēo 260D’s DNA comes from the top-of-the-line Evolution series 650D and 750D rather than the MOON 300D.

Going Deeper

The Bill Evans Trio’s “Our Love Is Here To Stay” exhibits tremendous clarity with an equal balance of musicality—particularly the resolution of the drum kit, the definition of the acoustic bass, and the richness of the rich piano. Even on recordings where the piano leans toward edgy, the MOON does an excellent job navigating through difficult sonic zones without losing musicality. The somewhat forward-tilted Alison Krauss album Forget About It further illustrates the Nēo 260D’s ability to retrieve maximum detail without sonic sacrifice.

But tremendous recordings illuminate the full beauty of the Nēo 260D, making it easy to forget you are listening to digital at all. Hans Zimmer’s melodic soundtrack to the film The Holiday is a real treat, with the MOON keeping traditional acoustic and electronic instruments defined during the pleasant overarching melody in the main theme, “Maestro.” The Nēo 260D’s natural sound stays true to the relaxed playing of each artist.

Not Just a CD Player

With four digital inputs on the optional DAC, the Nēo 260D can be the digital hub of any home system. During my review, I used a JVC SACD player, Wadia iTransport with iPod, Apple TV, and MacBook connected simultaneously. Counting the CD transport, I have five sources to choose from—a true digital dream. (With the MacBook, I find equal satisfaction running iTunes with Amarra and Pure Music.)

Playing digital files through the Nēo 260D is a treat, especially with high-resolution files. A 24/44.1 version of Barb Jungr’s raw track “Many Rivers To Cross” oozes with emotion, the Nēo 260D digging out the harmonies in the chorus and granting each voice a distinct place. Switching to a 24/192 file is a cinch, thanks to an easy-to-read display. Dougie MacLean’s “Caledonia,” with its simple acoustic guitar and strings, floats through the room, capturing the air, delicacy and pace of the tune, with MacLean’s gentle guitar and voice expanding and contracting effortlessly.

Final Score

The Nēo 260D once again reaffirms why MOON gear is so popular among the TONEAudio staff. Most audio companies do one type of equipment well—not so with Simaudio; each of its products is first-rate for its price point.

The Nēo 260D delivers tremendous resolution, an incredibly low noise floor and top-notch parts and construction, but most importantly, it offers a natural musical presentation. I thought my days of using a CD player were over—but the Nēo 260D CD Transport/DAC has me seriously rethinking my digital-equipment strategy.

Additional Listening

By Jeff Dorgay

Having used their flagship Evolution series 750D extensively and now using the Evolution series 650D as my reference digital player, I can easily see the lineage. Their engineering continues to refine the company’s products, giving the consumer a healthy dollop of cost-no-object products at workingman’s prices.

No, the Nēo 260D does not give you 88 percent of the Evolution series 650D for a third of the price, but it probably does give you 50 percent—or maybe even a bit more. And realistically, the Nēo 260D makes a ton of sense in a sub-$20,000 system, whereas the 650D, especially with the outboard Evolution series 820S power supply, will be right at home in even a stratospheric system.

You always get a bit more than you pay for with MOON by Simaudio products, and if you like the way the company does things, each product reveals more musical impact and nuance as you go up the product line. Much like with Porsche or BMW, you just get more of the brand’s essence as you spend more money.

As Simaudio’s Lionel Goodfield is quick to point out, the Nēo 260D “is first and foremost a transport; the drive mechanism and suspension are virtually identical to those in the 650D and 750D.” Like its more expensive stable mates, the Nēo 260D is built in-house and not supplied by an external manufacturer. And while I enjoy the DAC part of the equation, I concentrate during my review on using it solely as a transport, pairing it with a wide range of DACs—from the inexpensive Meridian Explorer all the way up to the $109,000 dCS Vivaldi stack.

If you need a great DAC and want the ability to play an actual disc now and then, the extra $1,000 for the Nēo 260D with onboard DAC is well worth the added cost. Those with a great DAC already installed in their system and wanting to either replace an aging (or dead) transport will be amazed by the Nēo 260D’s sound quality. Fifteen years ago a transport this good would have a $10,000 price tag attached; This MOON does it for just $3,000. Now that’s progress.

Simaudio MOON Nēo 260D CD Transport/DAC

MSRP: $1,999 ($2,999 with DAC)



Integrated Amps MOON Evolution series i-7    Vista Audio i34 Tube
Sources MacBook iTunes w/ Amarra or PureMusic    JVC SACD player    Wadia 170i Transport w/ iPod Classic    Apple TV
Speakers Harbeth Compact 7es3    Magnepan 1.6 w/Skiing Ninja x-overs    Penaudio Cenya