For over three decades, Canada-based Simaudio has been designing and manufacturing very well-built and high-performing electronics. Over the years, I have heard many Simaudio pieces at various CES events and in friends' stereo systems. However, I have never had a piece of their equipment in any of my own home systems. When I became aware that Simaudio had come out with its new Neo Series of digital gear, I was quite interested in hearing what this venerable company's take would be on digital sound compared with the other DACs/transports I have reviewed in the past couple of years. After a few discussions with Lionel Goodfield of Simaudio, we came to the conclusion that the Moon Neo 260D CD transport/DAC, which retails for $3,000, would be the subject of this review.
Simaudio is quite adamant about not calling the Neo 260D a CD player, but instead calling it a CD transport/DAC for two reasons. First, you can drive the internal DAC through four digital inputs: two S/PDIF (RCA), one Toslink (optical), and one USB. Secondly, the CD transport can be used to drive other DACs and is based on the same in-house designed-and-built drive system - the M-Quattro gel-based four-point floating suspension for vibration damping - that is found in Simaudio's much more expensive reference-level Evolution Series.
The Moon Neo 260D sent for review was clad in a black-and-silver color scheme that reminded me of the legendary Mark Levinson gear of years ago. The physical appearance and build quality are top notch. Its dimensions are 3.4 inches high by 16.9 wide by 13.1 deep, and it weighs in at 16 pounds. The CD transport drawer is located in the front center, below the Moon emblem. Below the transport drawer is a large, easy-to-read screen that shows CD track/time and, when used as a DAC, what input has been selected. Flanking the CD transport on the left and right are 13 push buttons that control all inputs and transport/CD functions (stop/start, repeat, selecting individual tracks, etc.).
On the backside of the Moon Neo 260D is where the two analog outputs (RCA/XLR) are located, along with the four digital inputs, two digital outs, a main on/off power switch, and an IEC input. The remote is very well thought out and is easy to use to control all the functions from your listening chair. The internal DAC is a 32-bit asynchronous converter. Another special feature of the Moon Neo 260D is that its USB input has Galvanic Isolation that eliminates all ground current between the USB device (computer, music server) and the Moon Neo 260D, preserving the accuracy of the digital stream.
To see what the Moon Neo 260D would do with music that contains powerful macro-dynamics and low-bass extension, I listened to Mike Ledonne's CD Smokin' Out Loud (Savant). Mike Ledonne is a very talented keyboardist who is just as adept on the piano as he is on the Hammond B-3 organ. On this well-recorded live date, you should be able to hear/feel his feet kicking out the bass notes with power and accurate tone. The Moon Neo 260D had no difficulty reproducing these bass notes and the overall dynamics with great punch and realistic tonality. Because the Moon Neo 260D seems to have a very low noise floor, micro-details from the crowd could be easily heard, along with the little nuances that the musicians were producing when playing their instruments. None of this was presented in an analytical or edgy way, always retaining an overall silky-smooth perspective that allowed me to get into the music.
Click on over to Page 2 for the Competition and Comparison and the Conclusion . . .
Another sonic virtue offered by the Moon Neo 260D was its accuracy regarding the size of the soundstage. If the music was recorded in a small recording studio, you could easily tell because of the location of the players next to their microphones. However, if the music was recorded in a larger space, like Smokin' Out Loud was, you could pick up the size of the venue because of the space between the players and the front-to-back layering of where they were positioned.
One of the most important aspects for me to enjoy any music is how the timbres of different instruments are being re-created by the piece of equipment I am reviewing. If this particular factor - the quality of the timbres and natural overall tonality - is not satisfactory, then nothing else matters to me as a listener. One of my favorite Milt Jackson albums is Night Mist (Pablo Today) because the recording itself captures the natural tone and color of Jackson's vibes as I heard them in real life at his concerts. The Moon Neo 260D was able to reproduce the special tonal quality of Jackson's vibe playing in a natural way, while other DACs and CD players often tend to harden it or make it somewhat steely-sounding.
� In the Moon Neo 260D, Simaudio has taken much of its innovative technology from its reference-level Evolution Series and implemented it in this transport/DAC.
� The build quality and physical appearance of the Moon Neo 260D are at a high standard, which lends itself to a pride of ownership.
� This transport/DAC offers excellent micro-details, yet it never loses its overall silky-smooth perspective.�
� It produces powerful and accurate dynamics with great punch in the lower frequencies.
� It is able to render very natural timbres and tonality that are rarely found at its price point.
� The Moon Neo 260D can reproduce certain high-resolution material, but not the DSD (SACD) format.
Competition and Comparison
The CD players that would be at the same price point as the Moon Neo 260D would be the Ayre Acoustics CX-7eMP, which retails for $3,500, and the Marantz Reference Series SA-11S, which retails for $3,999. I found the Ayre Acoustics CX-7eMP's overall tonality and how it reproduces timbres to be rather dry-sounding compared with the Moon Neo 260D. The Marantz Reference Series SA-11S reproduces its tonality and timbres in a manner that's more similar to the Moon Neo 250D, but it falls very short of the Moon Neo 260D in the areas of micro-dynamics and low-end grunt and extension.
Simaudio's Moon Neo 260D is very impressive in its performance, particularly in the areas of timbres/tonality, accurate soundstaging, and punchy powerful dynamics and bass extension. It is a good-looking piece of equipment that was enjoyable to use and is built to give its owner trouble-free use for a long time. If you still spin CDs, it provides a high-level transport for your collection, along with the ability to be driven by your computer or streamer. If you are looking for a DAC or CD player in this price range, I highly recommend you listen to the Moon Neo 260D before you purchase your next piece of equipment.