I’m going to begin on a tangent as this entire scenario is a bit sad really, but also says a lot about where this industry is heading.
I have been so excited to try this amp. I have always been impressed by SImaudio’s stereo gear so when they entered “my” realm with a headphone amp I wanted to try it ASAP. Back at the beginning of the year I got in touch with the UK distributor, Renaissance Audio, to get a sample over but was offered a painfully short amount of time. I’m sorry, but two weeks is way to short to fully examine a product, especially for something of the caliber of this amp. We decided we would give it until later in the year so I could have a little extra time with it, I received the unit on the 15th October and I was asked to pack it up and return it on the 25th November. Ok that is a pretty decent amount of time to test something, but we have a queue, nothing is prioritised because of cost or any other reason. Now I have two other headphone amplifiers that I received before this, one that was a free sample and another from a great distributor who understands time is needed especially at this time, with all the website upgrades and change overs. It’s unfair that a ‘later entrant’ should end up getting an article before one of these? They didn’t set a deadline and were nice enough to give me the unit and I truly appreciate that. But it makes me openly wonder what my benefit is for doing it? It is all ok for them to demand top google results for my article and quick turn arounds but all I have got out of this is frustration and a few weeks listening. It is far from a pleasurable experience, it’s not just this company by the way, not at all. Just days before they asked for it back I had even explained to them that for the last 3 weeks all my time has been dedicated to designing this new site you guys have a better experience and companies get a better platform for their reviews but there is clearly no understanding there. Thankfully I have had this unit set up the entire time but won’t go into near as much detail as I like to give you guys but will try and give you a little idea about this amp.
Apologies and….. rant over.
So Simaudio’s first step into the world of headphones with a model that sits in there Moon Neo line. The price is not cheap at £2450 but by no means as vastly expensive as some stuff like my Tektron head amp. In fact it sits as a nice competitor in price to my Questyle CMA800R mono blocks. There is also a £500 option to add Sabre’s mobile DAC, the ESS9018K2M to give it a range of digital inputs and compatibility with high res and DSD, I have that option but have only used it once, for the time I have had to test it I have cared more about what it can do as an amp so have set it up with my reference totaldac d1-tube-mk2 which gave me such an obvious upgrade in sound to the Sabre (as one would hope/expect) there was not a need to go back.
A Strong Feature Set
So even though it is packing 4 digital inputs (USB, optical and two coaxial) from now on lets take this as a strictly analogue device and for that we have an unusual array of inputs. Yes we have the standard set of two RCA and a balanced XLR input that work as any do but on the front you have a 3.5mm input so you can use it with your Astell & Kern (other DAPs are available) or phone. I tried it out and it works as it should but with a top drawer headphone amp like this I find it odd to be wearing a tiny jack on the front. But like with a lot of things, why not, it certainly is not doing any wrong doing. While versatile on inputs it is equally as impressive when it comes to versatility on outputs. While on first glance you may only see the 1/4 inch single ended output, you can slide across the panel at the bottom to reveal a 4 pin XLR and dual 3 pin XLR balanced outputs. Woo! Balanced! I am also very glad they didn’t ignore the dying breed of dual 3 pin XLR as that is my favourite method, mainly due to the heavy channel isolation and the lack of an adapter needed with my Double Helix Complement 4. You then have some stuff that I haven’t used but are certainly handy, especially the fixed and variable RCA pre amp outputs and while I have not had a use you may for the trigger in/outputs and RS-232 port.
As any good headphone amplifier will have, this has a gain switch, which when using with any high impedance (HD800) or planar magnetics (Audeze and ZMF) has been left on High (20dB) in opposed to low (14dB). It also has a crossfeed option, which like when I have come across before I prefer to leave off. It just seems to make things more distant, not so much open or bigger. Inside the amp itself Sim seem especially proud of the two transformers that make up the oversized power supply and the 8 stages of DC regulation that come with it. Considering there is a Moon range of power supplies it surely seems like they probably have good inkling on how to get power efficiently to a amp stage. They are also very happy with the volume pot that uses the same circuit as their 700i integrated and 740p pre. What is also notable is that the volume circuit and power supply tech is actually from the more expensive flagship Moon Evo series. The topology is discrete transconductance and will put plenty of power into your headphones with a whopping 8WPC into 50ohms, 1.33WPC into 300 ohms and a still meaty 667mw into 600ohms. Woah thats a lot of power and peaks almost as high as my Questyle monos 12WPC! Output impedance is 1.25 ohms which will not cause you any problems. Well maybe my ACS T2 CIEM rated at 6 ohms could have its frequency skewed but come on, now we are just being too picky and who would use that combo anyway.
The Moon series looks great and this fits right in with the signature look. The rather large Moon logo is flanked by two sets of symmetrical buttons and there is something slick about covering up the balanced outputs when the amp is in standby. It feels great too, everything is thick and chunky and the whopping 7.5kg of weight solidifies that statement. The volume pot boasts a lot of tech as I mentioned and while top drawer channel matching is very important, to me knob feel goes a long way. With this it actually split me and Josh. I love it, him not so much. It is very light but very precise, with 0.1dB increments letting you fine tune that volume JUST right. Josh did say he prefers a bit more resistance though so thats two opinions on that.
One huge disappointment was the generic included remote. Maybe I am spoiled by products like NADs M12 and Antelope’s Zodiac DACs but this tacky plastic remote with options for all Moon products just seems like a poor after thought. I personally hate remotes that aren’t product specific, they are cluttered and don’t make doing the few options I would want it for easy enough. I want volume control and input select as well as toggling the Xfeed and gain. But no, instead of being able to touch the Xfeed or gain I have random, repeat and time that bare no relevance to the product at hand. On top of that the cheap plastic casing and bland looks just worsen things.
Turn the page to read about sound!