June 1, 2010


TWBAS 6/2010

Speakers: Rockport Technologies Arrakis, Dynaudio Focus 360, EgglestonWorks Andra III

Amplifiers: Boulder Amplifiers 2060, Classé Audio Omega Omicron Monos

Preamplifiers: Simaudio Moon Evolution P-8, Boulder Amplifiers 1010

Sources: Apple MacBook running iTunes and Amarra, Bel Canto DAC3VB/VBS1

Cables and power conditioning: All Shunyata Research: Aurora-IC interconnects, Aurora-SP speaker cables, Hydra V-Ray II power conditioner; Anaconda Helix Alpha/VX, Python Helix Alpha/VX, Taipan Helix Alpha/VX power cords

Simaudio Moon Evolution 750D Digital-to-Analog Converter-CD Transport 

There was a time, in the not-too-distant past, when any mention of solid-state electronics that were top-shelf in terms of price, performance, and reputation had to include the likes of Krell and Mark Levinson. It’s arguable just when the high-water mark for those companies occurred, but I think many would say that, in Levinson’s case, the No.33 and No.33H amplifiers and the No.30.6 D/A converter, all of the late 1990s, mark the spot. Krell’s FPB-series products were likely their best amplifiers ever; just a few years later, the company’s foray into loudspeakers seemed to derail the once-great brand.

Some will argue with me, but I don’t think anyone will say that Krell is the company it was 15 years ago, especially considering that founder Dan D’Agostino is no longer at the top of the organizational chart. And the last Mark Levinson component we got in for review had to be sent back because it appeared broken -- twice.

Things do change in high-end audio.

When you think of the great solid-state electronic products made today in North America, the names that come up aren’t new -- the likes of Classé, Boulder Amplifiers, Ayre Acoustics, and Simaudio have solidified their positions in markets where others have faltered or pulled back. Sure, plenty of new names have cropped up as well, but many are in the price category of Are You Nuts?! Would you pay 60 large for a preamp, or almost 80 grand for an amp, from a company with no track record of customer support, particularly when the companies I’ve just listed offer great products at lower prices? Some reviewers might suggest that you should, but to me, that’s crazy. When reviewers fail to recognize the relevance of such real-world considerations as value and reputation when tens of thousands of dollars are being dropped, they’ve dropped the ball.

Simaudio is an interesting case. I’ve met and talked with the company’s president, Jean Poulin, and he’s no bean counter -- an audiophile himself, Poulin is serious about his audio designs, and creates products that he can feel passionate about. And in recent years his company has been on a roll. Back in 2006, I called the combination of three of Simaudio’s Moon Evolution models -- the Andromeda CD player, P-8 preamplifier, and W-8 stereo amplifier -- a contender for “my desert-island electronics.”

So when Jean Poulin introduced Simaudio’s Moon Evolution 750D digital-to-analog converter and CD transport ($11,999 USD), I was quick to request one for review.

The Moon Evolution 750D

It wouldn’t surprise me if the latest DAC chips were to get a profile on Entertainment Tonight. There are in chips and then there’s yesterday’s news, and the haute couture of DACs these days is the ESS Sabre 32-bit chipset (ES9018S). If, for Russian oil tycoons, someone decides to make an Apple iPhone encrusted with DACs instead of diamonds, the ESS Sabre is what they’ll use. There are 16 DACs in each ES9018S chip. According to Simaudio, “For each channel, the outputs of four DACs are summed to create the positive signal and the outputs of the other four DACs are summed to create the inverted signal. Since a DAC’s output is in current, the output of four DACs can easily be summed together to yield much better results when compared to using one DAC per channel. The reason for this is because there are unique imperfections for each individual DAC. However, they become diluted within the current of the other DACs. As well, there are imperfections common to all the DACs in a circuit. These common imperfections are cancelled out because of the differential topology used in the M-AJiC32 circuit.” The M-AJiC32 -- the name is an abbreviation of Moon Asynchronous Jitter Control in 32-bit mode -- is a jitter-reduction circuit said to produce levels of jitter of just one measly picosecond.

The 750D has four digital inputs: AES/EBU, S/PDIF, TosLink, and USB, all but the last able to accept digital signals of up to 24-bit/192kHz. (The USB input is limited to 16/48.) There are also two digital outputs, AES/EBU and S/PDIF. And did I say that the 750D includes a CD transport? Wouldn’t that make it a CD player? Technically, yes -- but if you’ve been paying attention the past two or three years, you’ve no doubt figured out that CD is in decline as a recording format, and computer-based servers have become all the rage. Knowing this, Simaudio has designed the 750D to serve, first and foremost, the latter market. Nevertheless, Sim says, the 750D contains a “Proprietary CD drive system mounted on our M-Quattro gel-based four-point floating suspension for vibration damping, allowing ambient and spatial cues in your recordings to come to life like never before -- the fifth digital input.” The fifth digital input? Make no mistake: the 750D is a DAC first. The transport is a front-loading drawer with control buttons on each side of the tray, the DAC’s Standby button and Input selector on the left. My only gripe: At $11,999, the 750D should have a metal drawer.

The 750D has other impressive features: fully balanced, differential circuits; two separate toroidal transformers in the power supply; four-layer PCBs; and a host of additional technologies and features that Simaudio describes in detail on their website. The 750D is built to the same standard as all other Moon Evolution components I’ve seen, which is to say, very good: it’s a solid, brick-like chassis of aluminum, with an engraved Moon logo adorning the top panel. It measures 18.75”W x 4.0”H x 16.81”D and has a shipping weight of 35 pounds. The sturdy chassis is flawlessly finished, and the red dot-matrix display has numerals large enough to read from across the room. I especially liked that the 750D displays the sampling frequency, for those who’ll feed it multiple resolutions and want verification of what they’re converting. It comes with the same chunky FRM-2 aluminum remote control that accompanies other Moon Evolution models, and which I mainly used to select the input. Last, the 750D has two sets of outputs, RCA and XLR, as well as a bidirectional RS-232 port. I used only the balanced outputs for my listening, and extensively used the TosLink, USB, and S/PDIF inputs.


The Moon Evolution 750D is somewhat of a departure for Simaudio -- or, at the very least, an evolution (so to speak) in design that has resulted in a sonic personality that is closer to neutral than the “house sound” produced by Simaudio Evolution models past. When I reviewed that Moon Evolution trio in 2006, I concluded that together they produced an absolutely huge soundstage and sound tinted with a warmish tone -- the overriding characteristics that I felt most listeners would hear through their own systems. In the years since, I’ve heard from many owners of Moon Evolution components, and every one of them has heard what I heard.

The 750D was a slightly different animal. Sim’s warmish “house” tone was muted, replaced by strikingly clear neutrality. But comparing neutral to warmish primarily describes a component’s tonal character. After several months of listening, I have no doubt that the 750D was immensely neutral. Luckily for perspective owners, that neutrality was also coupled with far greater transparency and even better resolution of fine detail than I remember hearing from the Moon Evolution Andromeda CD player ($14,999). The upshot is that the 750D dug deeper into recordings to excavate even more information from the original recorded event. It also removed that slight shading of tonal warmth that, while nice, wasn’t entirely true to the source.

I decided to write this “Sound” section a bit differently from those of past reviews, in hopes of putting my findings in a context that will be more useful not only to those contemplating a 750D as their first Simaudio purchase, but also to owners of Sim gear looking to upgrade within the line. I dug out the same recordings I’d used in my 2006 Simaudio review and listened to them again, comparing my findings with what I’d said about their sound through the Moon Evolution Andromeda CD player way back when. I know that there are flaws in this approach; to name one, my system has changed and improved in the four years since. Nonetheless, being confident that the personality of the Andromeda has shone through many different systems, I think it’s fair to say that the same will hold true for the 750D, such were its obvious strengths.

Back in 2006, I stated, “There was a glowing warmth to male vocals, such as those on ‘Home,’ from Michael Bublé’s It’s Time (Reprise 48946); and instrumental tracks such as ‘Max-O-Man,’ from The Best of Fourplay (Warner Bros. 46661-2). The warmth I heard didn’t sound like coloration per se, but an organic richness that fully illuminated whatever music was on the discs I was playing.” Through the 750D the warmth on these tracks wasn’t as tangible, and certainly couldn’t be characterized as an overlay veiling the recording, but the tonality of Bublé’s voice was still warm because, well, that’s how he sounds. However, he didn’t sound overly, obviously warm. The 750D’s sound had no digital edge to it -- it was clear as a bell without sounding hyper-clear. There were no spotlit frequencies, nothing that hindered voices from sounding natural and palpable. The Fourplay track had a snappy sound that got the pacing of the song just a touch more correct than what I remember hearing from the older Sims. I could hear details such as finger snaps in these two recordings even better, and this retrieval of detail always served the music. Sometimes, when electronics sound thin or lightweight, you get the sense of greater air and detail, but that wasn’t the case with the 750D -- its sound was jam-packed with information, but it still maintained a healthy dose of microlevel detail.

In the following sentence from my 2006 review, I homed in on the word smooth: “That warmish tone didn’t overlay the music in a negative way; there was no veiling of Bruce Cockburn’s raspy voice or smooth guitar on ‘Mango,’ from Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu (Rykodisc 10407).” Cockburn’s guitar through the 750D wasn’t what I’d call smooth, but instead sounded more immediate, with a sharper initial transient. As I listen to this track in my current system through the 750D, I’m not sure what to make of the descriptive smooth, but I can say that the 750D captured all the detail of the guitar, and in a way that was not grating or harsh. Perhaps the Andromeda glossed over and smoothed out some of these details? From what I heard, the 750D was simply more resolving than the Andromeda, not to mention most of the other DACs I’ve heard. In some places the sounds of Andromeda and 750D converged: The soundstage thrown by the 750D was still huge, but even that aspect of its performance sounded somewhat different because the detail within that soundstage was so well delineated.

“Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, as performed by Ales Barta on SACD (Organ Surround Illusion, Exton OVGY-00001), was room-filling and delivered with sustained drive and energy.” Those were my words in 2006. I’m not sure the 750D delivered this track with any more depth or power than the original Moon Evolution trio. Back then, they got this work just perfect. Same conclusion today. My system attained room lock -- when the low frequencies engulf and control all the air molecules in the room -- when the recording venue resonated on the extremely low notes. The 750D dug out all the nuances of the sound of the organ and its surroundings and sprinkled them into the powerful presentation with ease. No one will say that this DAC sounds in any way lightweight in the bass. It was extended, powerful, and, again, well articulated.

Getting back to microlevel detail: I remembered the next track only after rereading my 2006 review, and I’m glad I’ve been reminded of it. I enjoy this snappy little tune, and this recording is terrific for evaluating just what a component is doing in the upper registers. I wrote, “The finely textured cymbal work on Bernier’s ‘Poinciana,’ from A Sound Impression (van den Hul VDH99CR05), was sweet and free of grain -- again, what you should expect from a first-class set of modern electronics.” Through the 750D, the cymbals had even finer texture than I remembered, the sound never descending into a muddled wash of highs. Each brushstroke sounded delicate and detailed, and was placed with absolute precision on the soundstage. The high point was how I could discern each vibration of the cymbal, such was the awesomeness of the 750D’s microresolution.

All the higher-resolution recordings I played, in addition to the above CD-rez tracks, were equally impressive. The 750D was capable of mining all the detail available on any music track I have in my collection -- at least, it retrieved more information than anything else I’ve heard. If there’s more to hear, well, I haven’t yet heard it from a DAC.


When it comes to D/A converters, the Simaudio Moon Evolution 750D is at the top of the heap. It is transparent to the source, has extreme levels of resolution, and is dead-bang neutral in terms of tonality -- by these or any measures, it is a terrific-sounding piece of gear. At this point in time, I can’t imagine a better DAC, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Nor can I recommend Simaudio highly enough. Their Moon Evolution models are costly in absolute terms, but actually less expensive than many products made by Sim’s competitors, especially those based overseas. The retail prices of Simaudio’s products are directly correlated to the manufacturing costs, unlike what I believe is the case with some of the crazy-priced brands. My advice: Before you spend six figures on an amp-preamp combination, or almost as much on digital separates, just because they come from some exotic locale or have won over-the-top reviews, explore Simaudio’s offerings. You might just find that your choice, based on sound quality and good sense, won’t cost you a ridiculous amount of money. The perfect component for you might have been hiding right under your nose the whole time.

. . . Jeff Fritz

Manufacturer contact information:

Simaudio Ltd.
95 Chemin du Tremblay, Unit 3
Boucherville, Quebec J4B 7K4
Phone: (877) 980-2400, (450) 449-2212

E-mail: info@simaudio.com
Website: www.simaudio.com


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