MOON by Sim Audio 280D
Up to now hi-fi systems basically had an analogue and/or digital front end. People would argue like football supporters which was best, and, to some extent at least each side could make a coherent case for themselves. Year on year each format made incremental improvements. However at high end of high end it was generally acknowledged that analogue had the edge in terms of a natural unforced three dimensional quality now being rediscovered and in favour again, Witness the current vinyl revival going on. CD for all its virtues even if recorded and played back in one of the lossless formats just couldn’t cut it. Basically the 16 bit/44.1k was too low a resolution to compete at the top end. It would take higher bit rates and sampling frequencies compete here. A bit like tv pictures, the more pixels the higher the resolution and hence the more natural and realistic the picture would look (analogue like). The CD format was launched in the early eighties at the cutting edge of digital processing technology then, too low a resolution for ultimate hi-fi satisfaction. Digital technology has improved dramatically since then, we can now “do” bit rates and sampling frequencies greatly in excess of this enabling sound to be reproduced digitally in an arguably more natural (analogue) type way. Look at a tv picture recorded in a natural way and then look at a computer generated video for comparison, digital is just “not there” (natural ) yet.
CDs are still 1980’s technology so potential for improvement here is limited. Digital is, as they say in the jargon not “back compatible “ unlike analogue. However electronics and computer technology are capable of giving us up to 32bit/384k resolution now so surely it is time make use of this technology making digital competitive again. This can’t be done with existing technology (CDs or LPs) unless the information is first digitised in these high resolution formats. We therefore need the information delivered directly to the DAC and streaming it to the listener, no hardware involved. That is CDs and even DVDs are now arguably redundant
Enter now the Sim Audio MOON 280D. Sim Audio is a Canadian company who produce a big range of electronics ( all manufactured in Canada) including integrated amplifiers, pre and power amplifiers, phono stages, Cd transports, CD players and Streamers. There are now many such streamers but few are capable of state of the art ADCs to digitise the information (music) to enable hi-fi to compete at all levels in whatever format (up to 32bit/384k resolution). At £2850 this is not an inexpensive or entry level model however neither is it ludicrously expensive.
We need a word here about streaming services. Spotify, mp3, Tidal, etc.etc. Some offer high resolution services, some only CD quality and others low-fi quality, each appealing to its own sector in the market. In reviewing the hardware needed here we can only review these streamers by fully testing their ability to process high resolution files only. So by using one’s internet and/or wi-fi we can start evaluating such devices. Remember what we are in effect doing is reviewing how well our hardware is dealing with the streaming service being used. A Netflix for hi-fi if you will.
The badge of quality is a test of how well the DAC can distinguish between high and low bit rates and sampling frequencies. One such high resolution server system Is Tidal. They have a very comprehensive selection of albums in high resolution and MQA formats. Just as one example, Norah Jones’ album, “come away with me” is catalogued in several formats, standard CD, 88k, 192k, 24 bit etc. Whilst all are impressive, the 24 bit/ 192k is clearly resolved as by far and away the best of the bunch, showing the MOON 280D to be amongst the best of a very good bunch. I find it hard to distinguish between this music file and an audiophile 180 gm pressing of the same album. High praise indeed. A recent review in another magazine was comparing this Sim Audio Moon 280D with a Wadia 321 DAC and a Lumin D2. The bottom line was that although there were small differences in presentation of bass, mid and treble from each, its was hard to say in blind listening after extended playing which one was which or best, and therefore picking an absolute winner was at the end of the day a matter of personal preference. High praise indeed given the MOON 280 D is a fraction of the price of the other equipment. O.K. So that’s fine, the prices are competitive, the differences being down to the choice of facilities on offer. Arguably the mix of options on offer here with the MOON will prove to be more useful for most people. Quality of construction is excellent and, when used with top quality ancillary equipment and balanced cabling, amongst the best I have ever come across. The 10 year guarantee is another compelling reason to choose the Moon 280D over other streamers.
So how much better is high resolution CD streaming than playing standard CD’s through a similarly priced CD player? The answer is considerably better and even streaming standard CD quality FLAC was slightly better than playing the equivalent CD disc, it was slightly warmer and more natural. So much so that I have decided to buy the MOON 280D.
A totally confident recommendation then is well deserved. Just a final point of caution here. At first when setting up this system at home performance was unreliable and intermittent at first. My ISP was undergoing an upgrade so reliable connection was compromised for a few days. Also the previous device I was using was only capable of carrying data at bit rates able of supporting standard CD format only. Messing about with internet speeds upgrades to wi-fi and the like, I found my internet extenders needed an upgrade from 200Mbps to 600Mbps, some improvement, but upgrading from Cat5 Ethernet cable to Cat8 was needed to cure the problem completely. Imagine that, the quality of our music streamers have now outpaced the quality of domestic internets to cope with quality of music now being streamed to us. Whatever next?