Sim Audio Moon Integrated Amp Reviewed

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Having only ever seen (and heard) Simaudio's products at foreign hi-fi shows, it was with much glee that I responded to the news that there was now a solid UK importer. The equipment always struck me as intelligent, non-political and wholly desirable. So I jumped when the folks at Red Line A/V Distribution came up with just the model for me to try, given my recent penchant for specialist integrated amplifiers. As hoped, the Canadian company's Moon i-5 integrated not only fit the bill, it also differed enough to keep up the winning streak of interesting variations on the theme.

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On the other hand, you can only do so much with a formula of single box containing a stereo pre-amp/stereo power amp, aided in most cases by a remote control. Thus, the i-5, fresh out of the box, reminded me of the Pink Triangle Integral because of its dense compactness. The clean fascia made me think Gryphon. And although there's no Wadia integrated amp in this survey, the cylinders at the corners, terminating in points, recalled that brand's CD players. Around the sides, the horizontal, arc'd fins brought to mind Alchemist and its progeny. But full marks to Simaudio: instead of looking like a collage of modern design features, like bad-boy Sid's monstrosities in Toy Story, it emerges with its own look, and the rest of the catalogue reflects this. Hell, the Moon I-5's front panel is virtually identical to that of the company's pre-amps bar the model name.

Within the jam-packed enclosure - genuinely shelf-friendly at only 17x4x15in (WHD) - is a five-input J-FET/MOSFET line stage driving a 'partial' dual-mono power amp. Simaudio believes in very short signal paths, so the i-5's is a mere 15 inches from the solid, gold-plated input sockets to the magnificent WBT 0744 output binding posts (a KK all-time fave!!!). The company believes that such a short signal route eliminates all manner of interference, while producing 'a sonically faster transient response.' Simaudio also maintains a preference for close matching of the high quality electronic components (the interior looks like a showcase for 'designer' brands) and a symmetrical circuit design.

Arch modernity and a fine distancing from hair-shirt traditionalism come through the use of a Crystal microprocessor in the gain stage, acting 'as a shunt-to-ground applying more or less impedance against the input signal.' This is said to provide gain control which doesn't degrade sonically, regardless of the selected level. Additionally, the preamplifier section is '[de]void of carbon-based parts and capacitors, both of which adversely affect the musical signal by introducing colorations and a degree of inaccuracy.'

In the power amp section, the active devices are two bipolars per channel, for 70W per side into 8 ohms. The power supply boasts 'very low resonance characteristics' and features a proprietary-design transformer to provide better current stability for improved precision and control of the musical signal. The company is also of the feedback-is-bad school, so there is no overall feedback circuitry, said to yield 'real-time amplification, more tonally accurate musical reproduction, virtually non-existent intermodulation distortion and the elimination of common phase errors resulting from feedback.'

Although clearly a product of the modern era, with a clear nod to convenience and a possible role in a custom-installed system, the i-5's front panel is truly minimalist in the Sad Audiophile Masochist manner. A large display on the left shows level in large red digits, and also helps when the user sets the balance; the latter is accessible only via remote. To the display's right is a button to switch off the illumination. Dead centre is a standby-button below an LED; the i-5 was designed to be powered on at all times for optimal performance, so the primary on/off is a rocker button at the rear. Even left on at all times and working hard, the unit never scorches the user's fingers; Simaudio insists that this low operating temperature will lead to a longer-than-normal life expectancy.

To the right of the standby switch are three buttons in a vertical array (tape monitor select, mute and input select), followed by a rotary volume control. That's it. Every operation is mirrored on the deliciously hefty, all-aluminium, custom-made remote. It boasts only seven buttons which provide you with volume, mute, power on/off, source select (scrolling through the sources) and the aforementioned balance control via left/right arrows. The remote is a must, but - curiously - it's not included in the price. But see below...

Spec-wise, the Moon i-5 is impressive enough to dazzle numbers junkies, and in keeping with modern components, they suggest a quiet, powerful operator. Signal-to-noise ratio is a wide 97dB, THD is 0.1 percent, while IM distortion is merely listed as 'unmeasurable'. The damping factor is an impressive 200, while overall gain is 30dB. Bandwidth? 10Hz-70kHz, +0/-3dB. All-in-all, no anomalies, nothing about which to be concerned.

In the company of the other amplifiers in this informal survey, the i-5 features somewhere in the middle. It is neither dirt-cheap nor hideously expensive, neither 'boastfully' robust nor S.E.T.-weedy. Its real 70W, or 110W into 4 ohms, led me directly to the 4 ohms or less Wilson WATT Puppy System 6, which presented no problems; neither did the similarly spec'd Sonus Faber Cremona. Both, however offer 90db or better sensitivity, so I also used the hungrier Wharfedale Diamond 8.1s and a quick burst of LS3/5A. Sources included the Marantz CD12/DA12 and - as didn't receive the version of the i-5 with phono stage - the Lyra/SME 10 package and Garrard 401/Decca International/London Jubilee through a Musical Fidelity X-LP.

First things first: the Moon doesn't give a toss about cables, much to my delight, and it cared little which of my mains rings fed it juice. This immediately suggested a design of close tolerances, robustness, immunity to external forces, a sturdy power supply and even a disdain for audiophilic tendencies - despite the high designer-component content within. It also made me ponder the following: given that the Moon is slightly lower-powered than similarly-priced integrateds, most of which boast 100W/ch or 200W/ch output, maybe, just maybe someone at Simaudio secretly adheres to the aged music lover's notion that the sweetest-sounding amplifiers of all tend to yield only double-digit wattages. (Yes, I still dream about the old Audio Research D-70...)

And sweet it is, notwithstanding its purely solid-state snap, its taut bass and a sonic cleanliness just a hair away from sounding too hygienic. Whatever I may have implied before about the melange of design features, there's clear purpose here, a personality which is consistent throughout the frequency range, throughout the spatial areas of presentation, throughout the unit's voicing. And, no, you will not hear me apply the word 'tube-like', for it most certainly is not.

At every point in the frequency spectrum, there's an all-pervading sense of complete control, masterfully applied without suggesting a restriction of dynamics. Controlling - no, make that 'limiting' an amp's behaviour at the frequency extremes is the easiest way to make it behave, but it also castrates the music at both ends. (Ouch...) However well-mannered the Simaudio sounds no matter what abuse you may apply, it never seems restricted - it just keeps on singing within the bounds of a serious 70-watter. In my case, I never managed to make it clip; I backed off before it did.

With the above in mind, and assuming that the sonic etiquette might be reflected in the unit's operational behaviour, I can understand why the i-5 could find an audience beyond braver audiophiles who are known for their lack of caution - who else would buy some of the near-lethal confections beloved of the SET crowd? The amplifier never betrayed any glitches, never failed, never shut down. Which means that I never triggered the red tell-tale to indicate something was amiss. I don't want this to haunt me, but...I would not be averse to recommending the Moon to a customer known for paranoia about reliability.

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