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

Simaudio MOON Evolution 610LP phonostage

Bouncing between St. Vincent’s current and last album, I can’t help but be in awe of the staying power of the vinyl record.  Thanks to the many manufacturers, like Simaudio, who have not only kept the faith, but continue to innovate and refine their designs, spinning records is better than ever in the year 2014 than it ever was.  Who knew?  Even better much of the technology in flagship designs is making its way down the food chain to more affordable designs like the MOON 610LP here.

We’ve been using the Simaudio MOON 810LP phonostage as a reference component for some time now, but at $13,000 is out of reach for a certain group of analog enthusiasts.  The $7,500 MOON 610LP, though not inexpensive, opens another door.   Comparing the 810LP and 610LP side by side reveals subtle yet profound differences and while the 810LP ultimately reveals more music than the 610LP; some may actually prefer the presentation of the 610LP.

A unified voice

First and foremost the 610LP has a similar, yet slightly softer voicing than the 810LP.   The more expensive MOON offers up more resolution on leading and trailing transients in a take no prisoners system, but some of your preference may come down to overall system tuning and associated components.  Going back and forth with the Lyra Titan i, I actually preferred the 610LP in my reference system, which is a few clicks to the warm side of neutral.  Those wanting every last molecule of resolution will prefer the 810LP, but the 610LP is no slouch.  Dare I say it, but the 610LP almost sounds a touch more “tube-like” in the same vein of my favorite solid-state preamps from Pass, Burmester, Robert Koda and Luxman.  Never slow or veiled, just a bit lusher than the 810LP, which struck us as one of the most neutral phonstages we’ve had the pleasure to audition.

Tracking through the recent Blue Note remasters and the recent Miles Davis discs from Mobile Fidelity are a perfect example of the 610LP at its finest. This phonostage creates a soundfield that is both extremely deep and wide, going well beyond the boundaries of my Dynaudio Eminence Platinum speakers, but the magic doesn’t stop here.  Where the 610LP mirrors the performance of it’s more expensive sibling is in it’s ability to render acoustic instruments naturally.

Switching from the Titan i to the more tonally neutral Atlas, it’s tough to tell these two phonostages apart through the critical midrange, especially with modest dynamic swings.  The cymbals at the beginning of Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Blue Collar” float in the air in front of my listening chair, feeling right spatially as well as feeling as if the drum kit is of a realistic size.  The 610LP does not exaggerate perspective, which can be fun for a short period of time wears on you after long listening sessions.

Quiet, quiet, quiet

Though the 610LP has a claimed signal to noise ratio of 93db, while the spec on the 810LP  is 95db, you’d be tough to tell them apart.  This phonostage is dead quiet.  Even the most delicate pieces of classical music, the noise floor is always in the recording, with tape hiss from the master coming through, not the electronics.  Personally, this is one of the true benefits of a great solid-state phonostage – the absence of noise.  While a number of tubed units can add a touch of palpability (wanted or unwanted) that the solid state units can’t match, they always seem to impart a bit of sporadic tube noise.

Depending on your system, this can go from barely audible to somewhat annoying.  Even more annoying is trying to rustle up a matching set of tubes for your phonostage that you love, only to find the tonality changed when it’s time to re-tube.  Another awesome reason to go solid-state; turn the 610LP on, leave it on and forget about it forever, unless you change cartridges and need to adjust gain and loading.  Personally, as much fun as tube rolling is, I enjoy the consistency of transistors – your mileage may vary.

If you haven’t sampled a top solid-state amplification component in a while, you will be surprised at how lifelike and natural the 610LP renders music without needing vacuum tubes.  The gap has been closing for years and Simaudio is one of the rare few that produces solid-state electronics that have no “sound” of their own.  If you desire the tonal flavor that comes with a vintage vacuum tube sound, that’s another story.

Mega adjustable

With 64 steps for resistive loading from 12.1 ohms to 47k, 16 steps for capacitive loading from 0pf to 470pf and 16 steps of gain adjustment from 40db to 70db, I can’t imagine a cartridge that the 610LP can’t handle.  I certainly had no issues with the cartridges at my disposal and appreciated the wide range of adjustability down at the lower end of the scale – critical with some of the Koetsus and especially the Rega Apheta, which mates incredibly well with the 610LP.  Ultra OCD analog lovers will appreciate the fine adjustments available, and again, the more resolving your system, the easier it will be to hear those fine adjustments.

As with the 810LP, all of the adjustments are via DIP switches on the underside of the unit, so this is not a phonostage for casual adjustment.  After living with both of these units for some time, I suggest putting your 610LP on a shelf with plenty of height, so you can prop it up and not have to disconnect it or remove it from the rack when making loading settings.

It’s worth mentioning that the 610LP makes an incredible moving magnet phonostage.  Though I’m guessing that most analog enthusiasts at this level will have probably graduated beyond the top MM carts (all in the $800 – $1,200 range), if you start your assault on top notch analog, you can start with the 610LP as an anchor and go up the scale on cartridges as your budget allows.  The 47k setting is a wonderful match for the Grado moving iron cartridges, which have a low output of .6mv, yet still require 47k loading.   For those in the audience with the Grado Statement and Statement 1, the 610LP is a perfect match for these cartridges.

The 610LP also offers balanced inputs as well as outputs. If you have a balanced tonearm cable for your turntable, take advantage of the fully balanced, differential circuit design of the 610LP.  Using identical Cardas clear tonearm cables, my impromptu listening panel always picked the balanced option as more open and dynamic.  We’re not talking a major delta here, but noticeable enough that even untrained listeners could pick it out, and again, the more resolving your system, the bigger difference it will make, especially if you have a fully balanced system.

Rounding out the package

For those not familiar with Simaudio, all engineering, design and assembly is done at their factory in Montreal, and like Boulder, they do all their chassis metalwork in house as well. The MOON 610LP is a member of their Evolution series, robustly built-both mechanically and electronically, as you would expect from a flagship component.

Lifting the lid reveals a massive power supply that Simaudio claims has more reserve power, is faster and quieter than an equivalent battery supply.  Going topless also reveals first-rate components throughout, and having been to the Sim factory (see issue 32) the care taken in machining chassis parts and physical assembly is some of the best our industry has to offer.  This is why Simaudio offers a ten year warranty on their products – very few of them ever go back home to the mother ship.

More power

You’ll notice a socket on the rear panel of the 610LP marked “power supply,” allowing you the option to take advantage of Simaudio’s 820S external power supply.  We have a review of the 820S in the works and while this massive power supply does extend the range of the 610LP in a mega system, most of you either don’t need it or would be better off stepping up to the 810.

However, because the ($8,000) 820S has outputs marked “analog power” and “digital power,” Those having either the 740P preamplifier, the 650D or 750D DAC/Transport would be well served to split the duty of the 820S between phonostage and one of these other components.

Simaudio’s MOON Evolution 610LP phonostage is a fantastic addition to an analog system, offering an incredibly high price to performance ratio for the analog enthusiast that wants a cost no object phonostage in a single turntable system without refinancing their home.

For all but the most obsessed, this will be the last phonostage you need to buy.  Very enthusiastically recommended.  -Jeff Dorgay

Simaudio MOON Evolution 610LP phonostage

MSRP: $7,500


Preamplifier Robert Koda K-10    ARC REF5SE    Burmester 011
Turntable AVID Acutus Reference SP/Tri-Planar/Lyra Atlas    Rega RP10/Apheta
Cartridges Lyra Titan i    Lyra Kleos    Ortofon Cadenza Bronze    Ortofon SPU    Ortofon 2M Black    Grado Statement 1    Dynavector XV-1S
Power Amplifier Pass Xs300 monoblocks
Cable Cardas Clear
Power IsoTek Super Titan

Simaudio Neo 380D DAC

Simaudio is one of the elite companies in the high end audio industry today with over three decades of history. The Canadian company’s MOON brand products are among those that continually impress Tone reviewing staff. Simaudio’s MOON gear is hand-crafted in Quebec, Canada, and a recent factory tour by Tone made obvious the company’s obsessive attention to detail and the pride they take in every product that gets shipped. A ten year warranty on MOON components shows a level of confidence in their design and execution.

MOON is known for it’s powerhouse amplifiers, transparent preamplifiers, and their unique and rather stunning industrial design. They recently have been getting accolades for their cutting edge digital products, including disc players with digital inputs, DAC’s, and network streamers. In for review is the MOON Neo 380D Digital to Analog Convertor. The 380D is a unique product with a dizzying array of features and enough technology to make your head spin.

It would be impossible to cover all the techie notes about the Neo 380D, but we will try to summarize. First, the unit uses the ESS Technology SABRE32 Ultra DAC / Digital Filter (ES9016) “working in 32-bit Hyperstream™”.  Simaudio goes out of their way to stress their efforts to reduce jitter with what they call their “Dual Jitter Control System” that they say is responsible for producing a “virtually jitter-free digital signal below 1 picosecond for ultra-low distortion, and ensuring compatibility with virtually any connected digital device.”

There is an array of eight digital inputs including AES/EBU, USB, Coaxial, and TosLink.  The Neo 380D handles PCM signals up to 192 Khz. Interestingly there is also digital output and a digital monitor loop. There are separate digital and analog power supplies,  The design is fully balanced, and there is a pair of XLR and RCA outputs.  Care is taken in regards to chassis resonance. The Neo 380D is available in silver, black, and two tone, by the way.  A remote control is supplied to control virtually every function.  The front panel display is large and easy to read from the listening position, displaying input selection and sampling rate.

The review sample is supplied in black, which makes for a beautiful contrast with the silver function buttons and red LED readout on the front panel.  There is much more. The Neo 380D came equipped “fully loaded” with the optional volume control, and the MIND (MOON Intelligent Network Device) module which allows for network streaming. The volume control is the same circuit found in the reference level Evolution Series, knowns as M-eVOL.  The basic Neo 380D retails for $4400, with volume control costing $600, and the streaming module adding $1200.  The total cost of the review unit is $6200. The MIND module is also available as a stand alone purchase in it is own chassis.  It should be noted the 380D is firmware upgradeable via the network. A firmware upgrade did take place during the review period, and it was seamless.

The Neo 380D is tested in my system first with fixed outputs into a passive controller, then for the majority of the review period, driving a power amplifier directly using the variable outputs.  To get things started  Simaudio’s MiND iPad app is installed, with MiniMServer and Twonky server software running on my Mac Mini, where attached drives house the music library. Plugging in an Ethernet cable into unit and selecting the Network input gets you streamed music from a remote networked computer or NAS in seconds. There is also WiFi capability as well, however the unit defaults to Ethernet on startup if a network cable is attached.

From the first few albums streamed over the network, it is obvious the Neo 380D is an exceptional  digital source component.  Recordings are rendered with an ultra natural presentation with body and a sense of natural flow. The 380D seems to extract the maximum from great recordings but does not flatter less than stellar sounding albums. The 96 Khz, 24 bit remaster of the Velvet Underground’s seminal White Light/White Heat is raw, rough, and primitive in the best possible way. The 380D lets you hear how well mastering engineer Kevin Reaves preserved what was on the original master tapes. You can practically see the tape spinning.

Another catalog getting proper remastering is the Black Sabbath 1970’s output. The Neo 380D  unleashed the mayhem found on such classic albums as Paranoid, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and Vol. 4.  The 96 Khz digital transfers are superb, and again the SIM creates more texture and immediacy than one would have thought possible on these thirty five year old recordings.

On more nuanced material, such as CD remaster of Miles Davis’ Seven Steps To Heaven, the 380D shines bright, presenting Davis’s horn, and the superb accompaniment from Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams and others in a glorious light. The piano, bass, and drums fill the room with life like dimensionality one experiences rarely in a home system.

On large scale orchestral pieces, like the amazing Telarc CD of Stravinksy’s Rite Of Spring, the 380D creates an enormous soundstage and plumbs the depths. For fetishists who enjoy hearing the “recording space”, it was there is spades, with Telarc’s minimalist, natural recording technique paying dividends.

As a stand alone with other digital sources, the Neo 380D is beyond reproach.  Connecting my Squeezebox Touch optically yields excellent results.  The 380D also worked with the Squeezebox via USB (with Triode Applet installed).  A Jriver 19 loaded laptop also connected via USB sounds superb as well. To cover all bases,  I connected several disc transports via AES/EBU and coax and the 380D shows that all of it’s digital inputs are of a very high standard.

The Neo 380’s volume control proves to be the ace in the hole. It is utterly transparent to these ears with an excellent usable volume range and fine gradations in 1 dB steps.  This option is highly recommended if the 380D will be the only digital source in the system and you connect directly to a power amp, as is the case with our reference system.  The optional MIND module and SIM app were flawless, never failing to connect to the network. Browsing the library is a pleasure, especially one with properly tagged and with an organized folder structure.

Perhaps the only place to nit pick is the smallish, cluttered layout on the supplied remote control unit. It would be nice to have the volume control buttons somewhat enlarged. Aside from this minor complaint the Neo 380D integrated into the system without flaw, and provided endless hours of hassle free operation.

Simaudio has a real winner with the Neo 380D, especially in the “fully loaded” edition, with streamer and volume control on board. As a stand alone DAC it easily attains reference status. The 380D will remain a Tone staff reference for some time to come, and sets a benchmark at this price point. Highly, highly recommended.

Additional Listening

With so much excitement in the stratosphere of digital design, it’s easy to lose track of some of the more real world products that have benefited highly from recent technological advances.  Some might squeal that $4,400 is still a ton of money for a DAC, but in the realm of my $110,000 dCS Vivaldi, it is not.

Yes, there are a lot of great DACs in the $1,000 – $1,500 range, and they are getting better all the time, but there still is nothing we’ve heard for a grand that makes us want to forget about spinning records.  Simaudios Neo 380D, when placed in the context of a nice $20,000 system is so well implemented that all but the most hard core analog enthusiast just might want to think twice about all the vinyl bother.  If nothing else, when listening to well mastered files, you won’t be facing quiet desperation when you switch from analog to digital.  This one, like the AURALiC Vega that we’ve recently reviewed, raise the bar for musical reproduction at this price.  And they raise the bar pretty damn high.

Though I didn’t concentrate a ton on the MiND setup, I did stream a lot of files from my Sooloos Control 15 and Aurender S10 servers, with fantastic results.  While so much emphasis is put on the reproduction of high-resolution files (with good reason), what impressed me the most about the 380D is the stunning job it does with well recorded 16/44.1 files.  Let’s face it, if you have a massive music collection, I’m guessing that the majority of it is ripped at CD resolution.  And while tip-top high res performance is important, 16/44.1 performance is paramount, and this Simaudio DAC does not disappoint.  As a matter of fact, it delights.

One of the worst CDs I own has to be The Monkee’s Here and Now, The Best of the Monkees. Yet, through the Neo 380D, “Daydream Believer” makes a believer out of me.  Moving along to KISS Alive!, the same thing happens, I’m drawn into the music and my Japanese pressing of this rock classic sounds pretty damn good.  While the worst files in my collection sound great, the great ones sound sublime, and that’s what really turns my crank about the Simaudio Neo 380D.  Adding the MiND on board, just makes it so much easier to integrate your digital files into the mix, not having to add a digital cable, power cord, or take up more valuable shelf space.

This mix of sound, function and style, backed by a manufacturer known for high build quality means exceptional value, and we have awarded Sim thusly, with one of our 2014 Exceptional Value Awards.  -Jeff Dorgay

Simaudio Neo 380D

MSRP: $4400,  $6200 as tested.


Amplifier Audio Research VS55
Preamplifier Audio Research SP16L    CIAudio PLC-1 MkII
DAC/Streamer Marantz NA-11S1    Squeezebox Touch
Speakers Thiel CS2.4    KEF R700
Cables Stager Silver Solids    Darwin    Transparent    Acoustic Zen
Accessories Audience aDeptResponse ar6    Shakti Stone    Symposium Acoustics   Rollerblock Jr.

Simaudio MOON 810LP Dual-Mono Phono Preamplifier

Some audio components aspire to wow you right out of the box.  They deliver thumping bass with frightening ease and highs so crystalline you wonder what details your previous piece of equipment masked.  Initially, this effect can seem transcendent.  But sometimes it inspires a nagging doubt about whether the gear truly offers the goods or if it has merely duped you with overemphasized frequency responses or other anomalies that have mysteriously captured your attention, only to become distracting or overbearing in the long run.

Other components impress in a different, subtler way—with a certain quiet authority that doesn’t attempt to raise its voice or shout and rant.  Such performance is implicit and doesn’t require the boisterous pomp and circumstance of equipment that has to slap you in the face in order to get your attention.

The Simaudio MOON 810LP Dual-Mono Phono Preamplifier falls into the latter camp.  It’s not just quiet; it’s dead silent, even tomb-like.  It’s also amazingly simple to operate.  Just plug in the power cord, push the lone button on the faceplate, adjust a few loading features and you’re ready to go in less than five minutes.  But that’s not the whole story.  After all, hi-fi isn’t about convenience.

Still, I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I received the unit.  What would distinguish the MOON 810LP, I wondered?  A number of nifty phonostages have passed through my system over the past year, including the Pass Labs XP-25, and each has had its own set of virtues.  But, of the solid-state units I’ve reviewed, the MOON 810LP possesses an absence of noise that is most enticing.

Entering the Silent Void

The technical prowess exhibited by Sim with this preamp did not surprise me:  The company is on a roll, having produced a series of new products that offer exceptional performance at reasonable prices.  Sure, anyone can achieve superior performance by pumping endless R&D dollars and cost-is-no-object componentry into a piece of equipment.  But is it really worth it?  In the case of the MOON 810LP, Sim has gone to great lengths to create a product that can go head-to-head with those from the likes of Boulder and other manufacturers producing stratospherically priced solid-state units.

Part of the MOON Evolution series, the 810LP boasts switchable capacitance and impedance load settings, which makes fine-tuning the MM or MC cartridge paired with the unit a bit easier.  This preamp also allows users to set the load level at any of 16 steps, from 40 dB up to a whopping 70 dB.  Users mandate these settings by flicking the various small switches located underneath the unit.  For this review, I used the Lyra Atlas cartridge, so I ended up setting the 810LP’s gain at 66 dB, a healthy level by any measure.

The adjustability of these settings, however, is not what accounts for the low noise of the unit, which measures -150 dB at 1 volt of input power, according to Sim.  A portion of the 810LP’s quiet operation can be attributed to its formidable power supply, which offers some 40,000 uF of capacitance and is located within the main chassis but housed in an isolated enclosure made out of satin-coated 14-gauge steel.  Sim mounts the audio circuit board on a five-point gel-based floating suspension.  While the phonostage has balanced circuitry, it can also be run single-ended.  By and large, balanced operation will run quieter than single-ended, but single-ended sometimes can be perceived as possessing a little more punch.

With some preamps, it takes a little time to figure out their sonic trademarks.  There was no such problem with the Sim, once powered up for 24 hours.  As soon as the needle is dropped, it becomes quite apparent that the Sim likes to boogie.  For example, on the recently issued Acoustic Sounds LP of Shelby Lynne’s album Just A Little Lovin’, the dynamism and jet-black backgrounds prove overwhelming.  Was I stacking the deck a little by choosing this album?  Sure.  The production values are awesome—a tribute to Chad Kassem’s indefatigable zeal to produce the best when it comes to LPs.  But the Sim brings a sense of placidity to the table, an unruffled evenness, with each note unhurried, as Lynne’s voice trails off into the ether—and the decays seem to reverberate almost endlessly.  The brush and cymbal work, too, were pellucid. And I, as a result, was transfixed.

Lest TONEAudio readers think I only spun fancy new pressings for this review, please rest assured that I also listened to an old warhorse: Debussy’s “Iberia” captured on a Living Stereo pressing with legendary conductor Fritz Reiner, whose fanatic precision and attention to detail come across beautifully on the LP.  Once again, the MOON 810LP stands out.  This time I was most impressed with the way the low noise floor exposed the inner detail of the orchestra, which would have been submerged when played through a lesser phonostage.

It was as though the aperture of a camera had been adjusted—suddenly there was new clarity.  In a sense, it became easier to listen to the music. The listener needn’t exert such effort, as the music was simply present, without struggling to emerge through a faint haze.  The fog had lifted, as a dealer put it to me years ago when I was listening to an upgraded Linn LP-12 versus an older version.  With the MOON 810LP, there is a lot of fog lifting.

Similarly, on a superb recording of Stephane Grappelli and Barney Kessel from Black Lion Records, the interplay between the violin and guitar is as vivid as I’ve heard it.  The absence of noise helps close the noise-floor gap between CDs and LPs.  Say what you want about digital sound—and I think it’s nuts to dismiss it—one of its strengths is that there is, essentially, no audible noise during playback, which helps endow the musical reproduction with a true sense of realism.  Sure, when you attend a live classical concert, you hear the screeching of chairs, the neighbor next to you reaching for a lozenge, or the snoring of a bored patron—or, at a rock concert, a shouting crowd.  But the one thing you don’t hear is distortion.  When listening to live music, there’s no barrier between you and the sound being produced, just air vibrations traveling toward your ear canal.  Now that ain’t happening in your listening room, no matter how festooned with dampening foam it might be.  The whole shebang—power chords, amplifiers and preamplifiers, cables, loudspeakers—amounts to a barrier between you and the real thing.  But one of the goals of audio reproduction is to move one step further toward the real thing—to reproduce it, if you will—which is what the MOON 810LP does with the utmost simplicity and clarity.

The Benefits of Being a Little Too Quiet

Now, you may ask, what doesn’t the MOON 810LP do?  A comparison with the Ypsilon VPS 100, a transformer-coupled tube-driven phonostage hailing from Greece, proved instructive.  After listening to André Previn’s incredibly pristine 1974 recording of Lieutenant Kijé on an EMI pressing, I switched the input on my Ypsilon preamplifier to the Sim, which revealed a completely different world.  The MOON 810LP acquits itself so admirably that its great strengths are immediately apparent: low noise and a matter-of-fact sense of control.  It has a certain clarity that is difficult to surpass.  On the other hand, it does not offer as much detail, dynamics or ambience as the much pricier Ypsilon.  With the Sim, there simply was not as much air around the instruments, such that the size of the hall in which the recording was taken seemed to shrink.  But the comparison is not really a fair one.  With its separate step-up transformer, the Ypsilon clocks in at around $32,000.  And a solid-state preamplifier, almost by definition, is going to have different sonic traits than one filled with vacuum tubes.

Regardless, at its price of $12,000—which is not inconsiderable, but not at the nosebleed level, either—the Sim offers sensational performance, which proves that that true fidelity can be enjoyed at prices that are steep but not prohibitive.  Already, even before packing it up, I’m feeling a little wistful at the very the thought of parting with the Sim. And, unfortunately, I can’t really justify purchasing another phonostage.  When it’s gone I’ll undoubtedly long for the Sim’s fundamental ability to efface noise, rendering the music in real-time and thus coming closer to the sound of a master tape.

This phonostage will not allow you to take a walk on the wild side. Its mantra is control. It never loses its composure, never becomes shrill, never allows a hint of noise to emerge. It subordinates everything to fidelity to the LP.  My guess is that it measures ruler flat.  I also suspect that, given the care that went into manufacturing the 810LP, it will prove very reliable, which is no small matter.  If you’re looking for a preamp that will impart the music with that eerily magical glow or bump up the mid-bass response, then search elsewhere.  But if you’re searching for a top-notch solid-state unit that is true to the music, then auditioning the Sim is a must.

Additional listening

By Jeff Dorgay

Having put the MOON 810LP through its paces before sending it to Jacob, I was highly impressed with this purist design.  Being a car guy, it reminded me of the original Lotus Elise Type 25 Special Editions that were sent to the US intended for club-racing purposes only and that were 500 pounds lighter than the current Elise. In essence, the Type 25 SE eliminated everything that took away from the car’s performance.  The MOON 810LP takes a similar approach to audio reproduction:  It offers only one input, minimal switching (all out of the circuit path) and no remote or fluorescent display to introduce noise or distortion.  While I must admit to enjoying the performance of my ARC REF Phono 2, which also has these features—and found that having to jostle the Sim around to change gain and loading slightly inconvenient—most people aren’t swapping cartridges as often as I do.  Audiophiles that zero in on a single cartridge and table combination will only have to do this on rare occasion when using the Sim.

Many have asked me to make the obvious yet unfair comparison between the $12,000 MOON 810LP and the $60,000 Vitus MPP-201, the latter of which has been one of my reference components for the better part of the year.  Much like Jacob’s experience with the Ypsilon, the Vitus offers extreme levels of performance, with slightly more dynamic slam and even further insight into a recording than the MOON 810LP.

However, the line of diminishing returns is definitely crossed here.  The MOON 810LP got me so close to the MPP with enough money left over to buy a nice pre-owned Lotus Elise that I can’t see why anyone not possessing unlimited funds would go the extra mile for the Vitus.  (It should be noted that I don’t possess unlimited funds; I’m just a little nuts, which helps explains why I drive a Fiat instead of a Lotus.)  Comparing the MOON 810LP with similarly priced phonostages is more realistic and more revealing.  Comparing 24 bit/192khz samples of tracks captured from the Boulder 1008 or the ASR Basis (both roughly $12,000) to those captured from ARC’s REF Phono 2 and Phono 2SE proves that the folks at Simaudio in Montreal have indeed done their homework.

Winning the Quiet Game

There is no clear cut “winner,” if you will, because each of the aforementioned units offers excellent performance and each caters to a different user.  The ARC offers a bit more reach-out-and-touch-it midrange, as you might expect from tubes.  And its two inputs (each user-assignable via remote) lend themselves more to the vinyl enthusiast with more than one turntable and cartridge at his or her disposal.  The Boulder also has two inputs, but it is the least easily adjustable of the group, requiring users to dig out the soldering iron to make changes.  But the Boulder has perhaps the most bass slam of the group, though it is a bit drier through the mid-band than the others.  Keep in mind that much of this can be minimized by choice of cartridge, phono cable and overall system balance.

The MOON 810LP, being the most neutral, will fit in the widest range of systems.  And, as much as I love vacuum tubes, I hate replacing them, especially when this can often bring unexpected results.  The MOON 810LP will sit quietly on your equipment rack and offer analog enjoyment for decades.

It also delivers tonal accuracy as well as tonal contrast, no doubt a result of its nonexistent noise floor.  While we don’t perform measurements here, when comparing the MOON 810LP to the MPP with identical turntable/arm/cartridge setups, our listening panel felt the MOON 810LP was the equal of the Vitus, if not a bit quieter.  There’s an additional socket on the rear panel of the Sim marked “DC Power,” which suggests that Simaudio may have an external power supply in the works.  I can only imagine the jump in performance that would give this preamp.

And, if you are a music lover that does not suffer the need for constant change and is loyal to a single cartridge, the MOON 810LP should be at the top of your list.  It offers class-leading performance and solid build quality.

Simaudio MOON 810LP Dual-Mono Phono Preamplifier

MSRP: $12,000

Simaudio MOON 880M Monoblocks

Revisiting Dave Grusin’s classic audiophile album, Discovered Again!, brings back frustrating memories of how amplifiers in the early ’80s didn’t have enough horsepower to do justice to a record with wide dynamic swings.  The same dilemma exists when playing many of today’s carefully remastered records with ultra-wide dynamic ranges:  Even though there is no obvious distortion, something is still missing.  And you don’t know it until you hear what a mega power amplifier can achieve.

Forget “simpler is better,” “lower power is better” or whatever other mantra you’ve let yourself be convinced by to avoid making the step up to a high-quality, high-power amplifier.  You’re in for a shock the first time you plug the MOON 880Ms into your system.  It’s a “space, the final frontier” kind of thing, with the 880Ms opening up a parallel universe where the Enterprise now goes to warp 13, instead of only warp 9.7.

At $42,000 per pair, these amplifiers are not for the faint of wallet—but the only other amplifiers I’ve heard with this kind of jump factor are the $205k-per-pair Boulder 3050s.  Instead of spending that kind of cash, you could go with a pair of the 880Ms, Simaudio’s $28,000 MOON 850P preamplifier, your favorite $25k digital front end, a similarly priced analog front end, and maybe $40k for a great pair of speakers. You’ll still have enough cash left over for European delivery of a new Porsche Cayman S and a trip to the Montreux Jazz Festival for a week to take in some great live music.  To the right buyer, the MOON 880Ms are a major bargain—it’s all relative.

The Un-Compressor

Thom Yorke’s The Eraser is a fairly compressed recording, as is Supreme Beings of Leisure’s album 11i. The recently remastered Deluxe Version of Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak feels tighter still. The MOON 880Ms bring these dense albums to life in a way the other amplifiers at my disposal simply cannot do.  It’s like driving a high-revving, high-horsepower V-12 supercar that produces its power without the help of a turbo or supercharger—there’s an immediacy to the throttle response that a boosted car never has, even though it may have more torque.

When it comes to amplification, reserve power is essential if you love metal or large-scale orchestral music.  Distortion is the enemy of tweeters, and playing metal at high volumes will easily liquefy your speakers if your amplifier can’t deliver massive amounts of ultra-clean power.  I don’t think I’ve ever played System of a Down’s single “B.Y.O.B.” as loud as I did with the MOON 880Ms, and it never became painful.  These amplifiers are without practical limit, even with my 89-dB speakers.  If you have a more sensitive speaker up in the range of 93 to 95 dB @1 watt, like the Focal Grande Utopia EMs, Wilson XLFs or Verity Lohengrins, I’d highly suggest a good calibrated level meter to protect your ears from damage.  The extra dynamic range of the MOON 880Ms produces a listening experience so free of artifacts that you’ll likely catch yourself playing music a lot louder than you normally do.  And dammit, that’s really cool.

Even at modest levels, the MOON 880Ms sound clearer and more spacious.  On Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies for Orchestra, 1-6, from the recent Mercury CD set, the initial attack on the string bass at the beginning of the first piece, combined with the glorious hall ambience, only begins to prepare you for the excitement in store as the full orchestra kicks in about three minutes later.  And the tone?  Fantastic.  Oboes and violins just float silky and softly through the listening space, and are never the least bit grainy.  These amplifiers simply do not impose a sonic signature on the music, and they always get out of the way of the presentation.  The MOON 880M does run in Class-A mode for the first 10 watts, and the transition to Class-AB at higher levels and power peaks is achieved seamlessly.

The Amplifier or the Egg?

Visiting the Simaudio factory last summer, I had the privilege of listening to the MOON 880Ms for the first time, driving a pair of Dynaudio Confidence C1 II speakers in Simaudio’s listening room, which is about 20 feet by 30 feet and expertly tuned to take the room out of the equation.  Upon returning home, my own pair of C1s was somewhat disappointing in comparison.  As one who loves a good rationalization, I chalked it up to the better room tuning and went about my business.

After properly treating my listening room, that experience was still missing by a substantial margin.  The MOON 880Ms in my room convince me that it’s the amplification making the big difference.  Though it may come across as controversial to some, especially those who think that speakers are nearly everything, I propose that the amplifier affects the system’s overall sound just as much as the speakers do, if not more.  Pairing the MOON 880Ms with some excellent but modestly priced speakers (like the splendid KEF LS50s or the Harbeth Compact 7ES-3s) makes for a bigger, more spacious and detailed sound than connecting a $50k pair of speakers to the best $1,000 integrated amplifier you can find.

Playing Thievery Corporation’s The Richest Man in Babylon is a revelation through these amplifiers, even though I’m sure you’ll be buying a better pair of speakers for the 880Ms in your house.  Yet, these great compact speakers, which sound spectacular paired with a Rega Brio-R or a PrimaLuna ProLogue integrated, offer a breathtaking experience with the MOON 880Ms.  They now have real bass weight where there was barely any before.  Like any of the large floorstanding speakers used for this review, these amplifiers’ enormous power reserves redefine control.  This kind of current is not swayed by the reverse EMF generated by the loudspeakers to anywhere near the extent that it is with a small amplifier.

Moving back to my reference GamuT S9s, tracking through DJ Cheb i Sabbah’s La Ghriba: La Kahena Remixed is a religious experience for those worshipping at the temple of mega bass.  The throbbing, tribal beats in this record compress my spinal column as the volume approaches club level without a trace of strain, and as the final notes fade to extreme black, it’s tough to find where my room boundaries lie, even with my eyes open.  You don’t need to dim the lights to get into a deep, deep, listening experience with these amplifiers.

Of course, the better recordings at your disposal will benefit even further.  Aphex Twin’s 26 Mixes for Cash features a broad sonic landscape in all directions, deriving much of it from all the low-frequency bass texture—an area that the MOON 880Ms enhance considerably.  Tracking through a large stack of audiophile workhorses, the gestalt of the MOON 880Ms is crystal clear:  These amplifiers provide incredible resolution; yet, even after 12-hour listening sessions, they are never fatiguing.

Right Brain, Left Brain

The MOON 880Ms feature top-quality casework, with aluminum enclosures produced in Simaudio’s Montreal facility on its own five-axis CNC mill and anodized to last a lifetime, perhaps longer.  (Those wanting a more in-depth view of the company’s operation can click here for our recent visit: <<<INSERT LINK>>>.)  Simaudio’s engineers feel that the effort spent on solid casework not only eliminates vibration from the electronic environment, but also makes for stunning aesthetics—again an emphasis on quality and value.

As an added bonus, all this power comes in a relatively compact package.  These monoblocks will fit on any rack capable of supporting about 100 pounds each.  Simaudio’s high-biased, Class-AB design runs barely warm to the touch, even at high volume levels, and the company uses standard 15-amp IEC sockets.  As with the other giant monoblocks reviewed in this issue, the 880Ms will work on a single 15-amp circuit, but will perform even better with a dedicated 20-amp circuit, preferably a pair of dedicated 20-amp circuits.

Lifting the cover reveals a fully balanced design that also has an RCA input for those not having a fully balanced preamplifier.  Each amplifier utilizes 32 matched Motorola output devices, along with a pair of 1.3-kV power transformers and 240,000 uF of power-supply capacitance—all contributing to the complete lack of noise in the 800M’s presentation.  This is an amplifier that music lovers and technology geeks can both cuddle up to; all the right boxes are ticked.  Those wanting a further technological analysis, click HERE.

Call Me Crazy

But don’t call me Shirley.  Though a pair of the Simaudio MOON 880M amplifiers costs as much as a 3-series BMW, consider this:  These amplifiers will easily last 20 to 30 years without any attention.  If you leased a new 3 series every three years for the next 20 years, you’d have spent just over $100,000 and still not have a fixed asset at the end of the term.  Considering that over 90 percent of all the Simaudio components ever made are still playing music without effort (and have a 10-year warranty), that pair of 880Ms you buy today will probably still be worth $5,000 to $10,000.

Jay Leno once said that car enthusiasts are either check writers or wrench turners, which also applies to many audiophiles.  Taking it a step further, one faction of audiophile is on a quest to swap gear nearly constantly in search of an elusive grail, while another diligently assembles an excellent system and pursues music exploration with fervor.  While we won’t pass judgment on either camp here, if you fall into the latter, a pair of MOON 880Ms can be your final destination—even if you swap speakers a few times on your journey, there’s nothing they will not drive.

Factoring that into the equation, the Simaudio MOON 880Ms represent an exceptional value, and are highly deserving of one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2013.  They provide a sonic experience that few amplifiers can match, at any price, and they are built to the highest levels of quality.

Simaudio MOON 880M Mono Reference Power Amplifiers

MSRP: $42,000 per pair


Analog Source VID Acutus Reference SP turntable     TriPlanar arm    Lyra Atlas cartridge    AMG V-12 turntable    AMG arm    Clearaudio Goldfinger cartridge
Phonostage Simaudio MOON 810LP    Indigo Qualia
Digital Source dCS Vivaldi stack    Sooloos C-15    Aurender S10   Simaudio MinD
Preamplifier Simaudio MOON 850P    Audio Research REF 5SE    Robert Koda K-10
Speakers Dynaudio Confidence C1 II    Sonus faber Aida    GamuT S9
Cable Cardas Clear

Simaudio MOON 850P Evolution Preamplifier

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

Simaudio MOON 310LP Phono Preamplifier and 320S Power Supply

Since even the very best hi-fi systems rarely sound like real live music, the first question one might ask about the sound of any component immediately becomes: What does it add and what does it take away from the music?

Creating the perfect recreation of live music in the home may have yet to happen, but it’s not totally the fault of the hi-fi. Few recordings are made with the intention of capturing reality; artists, producers, and engineers are usually searching for the sound they think best suits the music. And since music is recorded in an endless variety of venues and recording chains, it’s no wonder that recordings all sound very different from each other.

That said, my favorite systems are those that reveal such differences between recordings every time you change a disc. The less a system adds or subtracts from the sound, the easier it is to really hear what’s going on in the recording. By this standard, Simaudio’s MOON 310LP phono preamp is a winner.

Surprises on the Inside

The MOON 310LP replaces Simaudio’s MOON LP5.3 phono preamp. The new model isn’t a radical rethink of the previous design, but it combines superior parts and a refined circuit to achieve better performance. And for those that invest for the long haul,the MOON 310LP comes with a 10-year warranty.

Taking off the easily removable case cover reveals the MM and MC settings. MC gain has three options: 54, 60,and 66db through RCA outputs, with an additional 6db available through XLR outputs.  Five impedance settings (10, 100, 470, 1K, and 47kΩ) are available for both MM and MC, meaning those with a Grado or SoundSmith moving-iron cartridge can take advantage of the higher-gain settings. Capacitive loading can be set at 0, 100, and 470pf—a bonus for MM users, as it offers more flexibility. The 310LP even offers a jumper setting for RIAA or IEC equalization. While not terribly convenient to access, such functionality isn’t often seen at this price point.

The unit’s rear panel hosts single-ended RCA inputs and outputs, plus balanced XLR outputs. The 310LP is nice and compact, just 7.5″ x 3.2″ x 11.2″ and weighing it at 7 pounds.

Redefines Quiet

Usually, on most phonostages, associated noise occurs when lifting the stylus from the groove at a high volume level. I can often hear such noise from my listening position, which is about ten feet from my Magnepan 3.7 speakers. However, with the 310LP, I only detected the faintest of noise, and only when my ears were pressed right against the speakers—a good sign. Even more importantly, the 310LP sounds cleaner when the music is cranked up, meaning that the contrast between quiet and loud instruments is more apparent than what I’ve experienced from other phonostages in this range.

Richard Barone’s Cool Blue Halo was recorded live at the Bottom Line on May 31, 1987. I was at the show, so listening to the LP is like traveling back through time. I loved that club, and saw hundreds of shows there. Plus, the Bottom Line always had an above-average sound system. However, Barone’s live sound that late spring night wasn’t very good, and it comes through on the LP. Just like the actual concert, there’s too much reverb. But Barone’s vocals sound great, and the Bottom Line’s vibe is there. The 310LP brings it all back to life just as I remembered.

Emotional Rescue, one of the Rolling Stones’ last all-analog efforts, also lit up my speakers. On the title track, drummer Charlie Watts, bassist Bill Wyman, and singer Mick Jagger dominate the mix. Via the 310LP, their pounding groove instantly grabs my attention and connects me to the music. Similarly, “She’s So Cold” transfixes, as I love the way Keith Richards’ rhythm-guitar licks punctuate the beat. I’ve never enjoyed this record more than I do with the 310LP. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ debut possesses even more analog richness than Emotional Rescue. Again, the 310LP helps portray the big soundstage present on this record with ease.

In the female vocal field, Linda Rondstadt’s Don’t Cry Now sounds tighter and more produced—like a recording where every musician is recorded in total isolation from one other. Her take on Neil Young’s “I Believe In You” is simply gorgeous on the 310LP. The latter is undoubtedly a high-resolution design, but one that doesn’t throw detail at you in a way that becomes fatiguing.

On the LP310, some of the better 1950s-era jazz recordings sound more natural to me, perhaps because they have little equalization or studio processing. Clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre’s LPs are so present and tonally accurate that the instruments seemingly appear in the room with me. I didn’t even notice at first that they’re mono recordings!

Back to Basics

Initially, I used the 310LP with the optional 320S power supply, which looks nearly identical to the 310LP. A dedicated and optimized design that only works with the 310LP, it features four stages of DC voltage regulation in a dual-action configuration and a special “pi-type” filter in conjunction with a dual-voltage regulation system to further reduce the 310LP’s already low-noise level.

Fully acclimated to the sound of the 310LP/320S combo, I unhitched the power supply, a change that involves moving a couple of internal jumpers. Listening to the 310LP a la carte, the sound becomes a tad softer. And, in comparison to hearing them via the Simaudio duo, dynamics are blunted, with low-level resolution and air also somewhat diminished.

Those with fairly resolving systems will have a tough time living without the 320S. The device is well worth the money, yet it’s also nice that Simaudio gives you the option to buy into its phonostage one step at a time.

Turn Me On

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing the Red Wine Audio Ginevra LFP-V Edition phono preamp. It’s a battery-powered, hybrid tube/solid-state design. Yet, it’s very tubey in the sense that the sound is rich and velvety smooth, albeit never lacking in detail. It proved a great experience, but the 310LP turns me on in a very different way. The Ginevra’s beguiling sweetness softens the top- and bottom-end response, whereas in these areas, the 310LP is more neutral.

Dr John’s In the Right Place, arranged and produced by the great Allen Toussaint in 1979, yields pure thrills through the 310LP. The Doctor’s mojo fires on all cylinders, and the Sim unit simply lets be the yummy, bold, 3D, and oh-so funky sound. Sure, some of the better and vastly more expensive phono preamps can get you even closer to the music embedded in the grooves, but in its price class, the 310LP is as colorless a device as you’re going to find.

The TONEAudio staff agrees, and hails the 310LP/320S as a recipient of one of the magazine’s 2011 Exceptional Value Awards.

Simaudio MOON 310LP and MOON 320S

MSRP: $1,800/$1,400


Analog Source VPI Classic turntable with a van den Hul Frog cartridge
Digital Sources PS Audio PerfectWave Transpost and DAC     MSB Technology Platinum Data CD IV Transport and Platinum Signature DAC IV     Oppo BDP-95 Special Edition
Electronics Pass XP-20 preamp    Whest 2.0 phono preamp    Pass Labs XA100.5 amp   First Watt J2 power amp
Speakers Dynaudio C-1    Mangepan 3.7
Cable XLO Signature 3 interconnects    Analysis Plus Silver Oval interconnects and speaker cables    Audioquest Sky interconnects

A Visit to Simaudio

Perhaps the most important thing you need to know about Simaudio is that the entire company has only one person in its service department; he’s not terribly busy – and that’s a good thing.

When I compare Sim’s service guy, Mark Catalfamo, to the famous Maytag repairman, he laughs and points out that two thirds of the “repair” work executed on his test bench is just to confirm the performance of various review units that have been returned from around the world.

“We need to be sure that everything is still up to spec,” he says, “and that there has been no physical damage.”

This confirms that breakdowns with Simaudio gear is a rarity, precisely the reason the company offers a 10-year warranty on all of its products.  You don’t stay in business for thirty-plus years if you’re mired in constant repair issues.  Yet, should the need for service ever occur, the company has a substantial parts inventory on hand.

“We don’t have metal casework parts for all of our oldest models anymore,” says Costa Koulisakis, the company’s VP of Sales and Marketing.  “But we do have electrical parts—resistors, capacitors, transistors, etcetera—on hand to repair or refurbish practically everything we’ve ever made.”

This is something to strongly consider when making a purchase decision.  As additional evidenced, a cursory look at the secondary market reveals few Simaudio components for sale—and when you do find a pre-owned Sim unit, it commands a high price.  We at TONE have a number of Simaudio products in service as staff-member reference components, not to mention friends and family members who have enjoyed long, trouble-free relationships with their gear.  Koulisakis goes on to note that his customers are the same way.  “We tend to get customers for life,” he says.  “When they buy an amplifier, the old one is often moved to another room for a second system.”

Proudly Made in Canada

Simaudio has been in business since 1980 and has been running under the guidance of its current CEO, Jean Poulin, since 1993.  He is responsible for the company’s growth in recent years, having expanded the Sim product line, made major circuitry upgrades and upgraded the casework to the world-class design those components now enjoy.  All of this, he says, has regrettably kept him too busy to play his piano located upstairs at the company’s headquarters, just to the left of the main listening room.  “Once the move is complete I am hoping to find a bit more time to play,” Poulin says with a smile.

Every day, Poulin hangs his hat on the fact that, as more and more of the audio industry’s manufacturing heads to China, every aspect of Simaudio products is realized in Canada, either in the company’s factory or within a very tight radius.  The company has just moved into its current facility, which is just over 45,000 square feet and home to 42 employees.  It is more than just a factory, however:  In addition to all of the component-production facilities, it includes two state-of-the-art listening rooms and a performance space.  Sim has made great effort to keep the building as green as possible, going so far as to grow strawberries on the roof!

As far as audio parts go, the original extrusions that become product faceplates and heat sinks are produced near the Sim factory, but machined to their final forms at the company’s five-axis Haas CNC work center.  Going through the machine shop reveals a second, four-axis machine nearby.  Boards are stuffed only a few blocks away from the Sim facility, with all testing completed on Sim’s factory floor.  The company even takes an artisan approach with its front and rear product panels, which are silk-screened one at a time in an area of the shop dedicated to this process.  And to bust a common audiophile myth, the exquisite casework of a Simaudio product does not constitute a majority of its final price, thanks to having it everything produced in-house.

The design team at Simaudio feels that this high-quality casework adds to the finished product in more ways than one.  The billet-aluminum enclosures minimize vibration, which results in better performance, but there remains a stringent eye on quality and pride of ownership.  Simaudio uses 6063-T5 aluminum, which is not as hard as 6061-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum, but that is superior in appearance, since it can be more finely finished.

Koulisakis is quick to point out that, while the T6 aluminum has a higher tensile strength than the T5 they use, it is actually detrimental to the sound, because the extra stiffness makes it ring much more.  “The T5 aluminum is very stable and provides a surface that is easy to machine, anodize and brush, ” he says, also noting that any Simaudio piece you buy today will maintain its attractive look, without any fading or discoloration.

The Difference is in the Details

The vibe at the Simaudio factory is relaxed, right down to the desk in the reception room, which has been custom-machined to look like the face plates on Sim’s gear, right down to the blue LED in the center—a nice touch.  Many of the company’s employees have been there longer than 15 years, which is another key to product success and low failure rates.

While many of the engineering changes made over the years were to refine sonic performance, others were made in the name of reliability.  The most noticeable of these changes is that Sim now produces its own CD transport for the 650D and 750D DACs.

Upon close inspection, it’s easy to see that a number of parts inside Simaudio components are completely custom-made. Simaudio’s Marketing Manager Lionel Goodfield points out that the output transistors used in the company’s power amplifiers are also custom-made, in batches of 100,000, specifically for Simaudio.  “Once here, we sort and match these transistors to an even tighter tolerance for use in our amplifiers,” he says.  “It adds a few extra steps, but insures quality and product uniformity.”

Power transformers are also custom-made by a small firm nearby, for which Simaudio is the main customer.  “Jean’s background was in power supply and transformer design,” says Goodfield of Sim’s CEO, “so it was easy to design something unique to Simaudio.  Not having to rely on off-the-shelf parts has made it easier for us to achieve the low noise floor of our designs.”

By Music Lovers for Music Lovers

As mentioned earlier, there are two separate listening rooms at the Simaudio HQ: one about 20 feet by 30 feet and one about 20 feet by 15 feet, both of which help the staff simulate how Sim’s products will be used by customers.  With about a dozen speakers queued up in the entryway from Dynaudio, Thiel, MartinLogan, Wilson and others, it is obvious that the company makes every effort to be sure that its products work well with as many different varieties of speakers as it is practical to keep around.

During my visit, the second room was not quite finished, but the main room is most certainly a testament to what great gear can sound like when properly set up.  Here, Sim’s latest 850P Dual-Mono Reference Preamplifier, a pair of its 880M Mono Reference Power Amplifiers, the 810LP phonostage and the 750D DAC/CD Transport were driving a pair of Dynaudio Confidence C1 II speakers.  As a C1 owner, I came away with a new appreciation for not only how much the room contributes to the overall sound of a system, but also how much more sound lurks in a pair of great speakers when premium electronics are supporting them.  The equal level of resolution, tonal purity and ease this system provides again underscores how much care with which Sim builds its components.

This attention to detail is perhaps what best defines Simaudio’s approach to audio-product manufacturing.  The company’s designers, engineers and factory workers make some of the world’s finest-sounding gear.  But it is Simaudio’s attention to the minutest of details—not only in its manufacturing but also in its pursuit of a level of reliability that keeps its products performing at their best long after the sale—that gives the company’s components true heirloom value.  And, after a visit to the factory in Montreal, it is quite apparent that these guys love music, which takes the company’s gear beyond manufacturing.

Simaudio 600i vs. 700i (and the i7 too!)

Following up a highly successful product always presents audio manufacturers with problems. No matter how long a product’s life happens to be, when a change occurs, someone is going to be crabby because they just bought the “old” box and now there is a “new” box on the dealer’s shelf. Somehow, with a certain segment of the audiophile population, all reason goes out the window. For those of you that own a Simaudio Moon i-7 integrated amplifier, take a deep breath and relax. Your amplifier is just as good as it was the day you bought it.

Now that we’ve cleared the air, let’s move on. Having just finished work on its Moon 850P Reference two-channel preamplifier and highly regarded Moon 880M monoblocks, Simaudio engineers added more to their knowledge base and redesigned the top end of the company’s integrated amplifier range. Where the 150 watts-per-channel i-7 once represented Simaudio’s peak integrated, the manufacturer now offers the 600i and 700i, with 125 watts per channel and 175 watts per channel, respectively. Priced at $8,000 and $12,000, both models are also pricier than the former i-7.

A Solid Case for An Integrated

Mimicking the example set by the i-7, the 600i and 700i are dual mono designs, with gigantic toroidal power transformers under the hood. And both amplifiers have an elegant, understated look and feel. But the second you pick up either of them, the message is clear: these are serious amplifiers.

While some hardcore audiophiles always look down on the integrated amplifier concept, these days, it’s nothing to sneeze at. The Simaudio amplifiers offer the flexibility and performance of comparably priced separates, and best some of the latter in their respective price class. For the music lover that doesn’t necessarily want a gigantic rack full of gear and cables yet still craves high performance, an integrated is the way to go. Since Simaudio has its own in-house 5-axis CNC machining center, these amplifiers have the visual appeal of the world’s finest and most expensive components. They will look right at home in a design-conscious environment and are available with silver, black, or a combination of black and silver anodizing.

In the end, however, it’s about performance. Having both the amplifier and preamplifier on the same chassis eliminates not only at least one set of interconnects and one power cord, it presents the ultimate in system synergy. With an integrated, you’ll never again agonize over whether you picked the perfect cable to go between your amp and preamp.

Ins and Outs

Because of the dual mono design, both amplifiers feature mirror images of the inputs and outputs on the respective side of the chassis rather than having them grouped together. It’s a different approach than that taken by many other manufacturers, but once you get used to it, everything works fine. Both amplifiers have four sets of RCA line level inputs and a single balanced input; the 700i has tape monitor inputs and outputs. And, in what makes for a nice touch, both offer a variable level output (RCA only) to drive an additional amplifier or powered subwoofer.

The heavy-duty WBT binding posts will handle even the most massive speaker cables, but those utilizing really monstrous cable will have to work to get the posts to the level snugness they might desire. An RS-232 port, IR port, and 12V trigger (SimLink) ports also reside on the rear panel, so either amplifier can easily be put to use in a home automation system. Overall, along with great ergonomics, the rear panel features an adequate amount of inputs and outputs.

Since it’s a fully balanced differential amplifier, my only complaint with the i-7 relates to the absence of two or three balanced inputs on the rear panel. As Simaudio makes fully balanced phono preamplifiers and CD players, it makes no sense to not take advantage of connecting to the amplifier in balanced mode. Like the other Simaudio products we’ve reviewed, the 600i and 700i require at least a few hundred hours on the clock before sounding their best. Out of the box, they definitely sound stiff. These amplifiers get approximately 60% of the way to their ultimate sound quality within the first 48 hours of play, and the rest takes time—a situation that mirrors that associated with many high-powered solid-state amplifiers. While not a green solution, I suggest running your 600i or 700i 24 hours a day (with signal passing through) for the first few weeks of ownership. During the course of our tests, we left them on non-stop.

I placed the 600i and 700i on a Finite Elemente Pagode Signature rack, and used Simaudio’s 750D DAC/CD player as a primary source component. The AVID Acutus SP Reference with SME V tonearm and Koetsu Urushi Blue cartridge via the Audio Research REF Phono 2 served as my primary analog source. The whole system was cabled with Cardas Clear interconnects and speaker cables. To ensure that neither of the amplifiers’ performance would be compromised, I employed my $150,000 GamuT S9 speakers—the anchor of my reference system, normally powered by $100k of Burmester electronics—to compare all three Simaudio amplifiers.

600i vs. 700i

Each new Simaudio unit is a stellar example of an integrated amplifier providing a worthy alternative to separates. They both have lightning-fast transient response along with a healthy amount of control, whether reproducing the higher-frequency transients of a cymbal strike or controlling the thwack of a bass drum. While some solid-state amplifiers offer too much detail, the 600i and 700i achieve the balance of high detail without being harsh or fatiguing—a minor miracle on its own.

On paper, there are a few main differences between the 600i and the 700i. The 700i has its own dedicated power supply for the preamplifier, while the 600i shares its power supply with both sections. The 700i also features a considerably larger power transformer with greater reserve capacity. While both amplifiers offer a “no overall feedback” design, the 700i takes it a step further, incorporating Simaudio’s LYNX design. This utilizes a four layer gain board design, that puts the gain and output sections in closer proximity than they would be otherwise, making a significant improvement in the 700i’s utter transparency.

Listening tests back up claims made in Simaudio’s white papers. DCC’s remaster of 10cc’s The Original Soundtrack, with that radio classic you’ve heard a million times, “I’m Not In Love,” sounded wonderful via the 600i. It kept the vocal track well in front of the heavily layered mellotron intro, and the hints of acoustic guitar well in the lower back of the sound field. Quickly switching to the 700i and playing the track again became a stunning experience, especially after the first chorus, when the female vocalist whispers, “big boys don’t cry.” On the larger amplifier, her voice almost lept into my lap, possessing more dimension, space, and realism.

Along with a neutral, clean tonality, both amplifiers have considerable dynamic punch and headroom that go beyond their power ratings. While the GamuT S9 and B&W 805Ds are very easy to drive, the Magnepan 1.6s are another story. The latter usually require hundreds of watts to really rock. The 600i had no problem handling big bass drum that opens the title track of the Drive-By Truckers’ recent Go-Go Boots, complete with sufficient weight and texture. And the 700i, well, it went one louder. Highly impressive showings from both models.

The key word here? Refinement. Such welcome polish makes it easy to believe you are listening to separate components. But do you want a 330i or an M3 Sport? That’s a question only your checkbook can answer. The tonality of both amplifiers is identical, but the extra oomph offered by the 700i is hard to forget once you’ve experienced it. Horsepower is always intoxicating.

Living In the Past

My impressions of the new amplifiers were extremely positive, but I was also very curious to compare them to the i-7. Reviewed in Issue 16, the latter received high marks for transparency, tonality and dynamic punch; a pretty awesome package for $6,000. We purchased the review sample, and it has been staff writer Mark Marcantonio’s reference for the last two years. He and I were more than a little jumpy when we sat down on a weekend to compare the two newcomers to the faithful standby.

If you find one used, the i-7 still sells on the secondary market for about $5,000. With many components being blown out the door for half of their list price only months after purchase, such residual value speaks volumes the i-7. So, should you ditch your i-7 and trade up? It depends. Starting our comparison by listening to Adele’s recent 21 left us thinking that the older model was the way to roll, as it claimed a warmer overall tonality than that of the new models. 21 is somewhat compressed, with a slightly bright tonal balance. So, we brought out a few new Audio Wave Blue Notes and Sheffield Labs favorites to get a better feel for acoustic performances. That’s when the tables turned in favor of the current crop.

Once the program material featured more dynamic range, the additional bass grip delivered by the new amplifiers made such sonic elements more decisively known, and the higher level of resolution provided a more natural musical experience. Whether we listened to Black Sabbath stomp through “Iron Man” or Dexter Gordon blast out “Tom Cat,” these amplifiers had a natural ease along with a lightning-fast attack and equally quick and clean decay that allowed for long listening sessions without any trace of fatigue.

Spinning vinyl further widened the gap, with the differences between analog and digital being much greater through both new amplifiers than they had been with the i-7. Listening to the new remaster of Boogie With Canned Heat proved trippy, staying true to the original psychedelic vibe with an incredibly big sound. The extra resolution and three dimensionality allowed the analog pressings to breathe in a way they didn’t when played through the i-7, which, via comparison, sounded warmer and slightly slower. However, in all fairness, if your music collection is primarily comprised of digital and/or newer, more compressed recordings, you might favor the older i-7. Such extra warmth goes a long way to tame digititus.

Spending Other People’s Cash

It’s always easier to spend other people’s money, so rush right down to your Simaudio dealer and buy the 700i. According to the gloom-and-doom messages we seemingly encounter on a daily basis, the world’s economy is going to collapse sooner rather than later, so you might as well have an awesome stereo before the world ends.

All kidding aside, these are both great amplifiers and easily the equal—if not the better—of any comparably priced separates I’ve heard. The 700i possesses even more refinement than the 600i, and its extra power will drive more speakers. However, you can almost put your hands on the 600i and its companion CD player/DAC, the 650D, for the price of the 700i. After side-by-side listening, the progression between the two amplifiers is fairly linear. It’s not as if you get 85% of the goods with the smaller amplifier and pay a premium for the bigger one. Your room and speaker choices will be determining factors. The more volume you crave, the more you will probably be pushed towards the higher-powered 700i. And, it’s worth noting that even at modest volume levels, the 700i reveals more musical information and offers a larger presentation in all three dimensions.

If nothing else, the decision to buy the 700i over the 600i may be determined by your system expansion plans. The 600i is certainly no slouch, but might leave you craving down the road, where the 700i likely has a higher chance of staying in your rack for a longer period. Me, I’d eat mashed-potato sandwiches for a few months and buy the bigger amp.

Simaudio 600i and 700i integrated amplifiers

MSRP: $8,000 and $12,000, respectively

Manufacturer information:


Digital Source
Simaudio 750D CD player/DAC w/Sooloos Control 15

Analog Source
AVID Acutus SP Reference w/SME V and Koetsu Urushi Blue, Audio Research REF Phono 2

GamuT S9, B&W 805D, Magnepan 1.6

Cardas Clear I/C and Speaker

Running Springs Maxim, Mongoose and HZ power cords