Simaudio Moon Stargate AV Preamp and Moon Aurora-5 Amplifier Reviewed

Simaudio Moon Stargate AV Preamp and Moon Aurora-5 Amplifier Reviewed

The Sim Audio Stargate is a discontinued piece that was Sim's entrance into the home theater world. While one of the cooler looking AV preamps it only handles composite video as a top format and is pretty dated. You can read more on this piece here.

Moon-Audio-Stargate.gif

Simaudio is a Canadian company well known to audiophiles for making audio products that are not only excellent sonically, but are also, in many cases, excellent values. They have also been known for being stylistically interesting and even somewhat adventurous. Simaudio has now applied its audio know-how to a line of home theater products, the latest of which are the new "value" Stargate surround processer and Aurora-5 amplifier.

Additional Resources
Read more high end audiophile AV Preamp Reviews here.

Value in this case is relative, as the processor is still $4,850 and the five-channel amp is $4,500, but this is still in the mainstream sweet spot for serious home theater gear.

Unique Features
Styling of these products follows the Simaudio idiom with a beautiful, charcoal black, brushed aluminum front, silver front end pieces to hide a rack mounting, and a central nose like silver-finned proboscis that seems to add a certain Darth Vader flair to these products. The red-lettered LED display panel of the Stargate seems to further add to the Star Wars look. The processor is a fairly normally sized unit, but the amp is a monster. It is tall, heavy (85 lbs.) and loooong. In fact, it was so long that it stuck out of the back of my Salamander cabinet (I don't have the back closed off), and required me to place a support underneath it as the legs were just hanging in midair. Needless to say, you get a lot of look, heft and size for the money. The main cosmetic and functional letdown is the ho-hum, ubiquitous Home Theater Master universal remote control, which is found with many processors, including the Outlaw.

This system was used in my office theater, which consisted of B&W 705, 701 and DS7 speakers and ASW2500 subwoofer. The audio and video source was the Marantz DV-8400, a Monster 5100 power unit supplied filtered power, and the system was hooked up to a Philips 50-inch plasma. Cables used were the AudioQuest Python single-ended audio cables, Gibraltar speaker cables, and Tributaries component and S-Video cables.

lg_moonaurora.gifInstallation/Setup/Ease of Use
The Stargate setup menu was relatively simple to set up. It was not as polished as some, but it got the job done. It has some of its own logic, such as pressing the corresponding numerical button on the remote for your selection, and then using the volume keys to adjust speaker levels, etc. Usually this is something accomplished with the navigation keys, but it is not hard to get used to after a bit. The large display is really easy to see across the room, is unique in its look, and frankly, is kind of cool-looking. To each side of the display are control buttons, but I did find myself wishing for a plain old round volume knob and selector control. The surround mode/stereo control is not exactly intuitive, but again, the job gets done. The Stargate does have an independent second zone, as well as an AM/FM tuner, both very nice features to have on a processor.

The Stargate does not have balanced outputs or inputs, something that did surprise me in the price range, as many processors do have such. It has assignable digital inputs, as well as assignable names to the different sources. It has all the necessary surround modes: DD EX, DTS-ES, Neo:6, Pro Logic II, and a 7.l Matrix mode. It does not have an adjustable crossover frequency for the subwoofer, but apparently the software is being revised to include such. The Stargate has two component inputs that it switches, less than the three that I like, but they do function without any visible degradation of the picture.

Final Take
I first listened to the Stargate in two-channel mode. The sound is smooth, slightly rolled off on top, with a smooth, expressive midrange and a fairly responsive bass. The width of the soundstage thrown up is fairly respectable and has a neutral to slightly laid-back character. It complements the overall smooth character of the sound, creating a relaxing sonic experience.  This processor does not have THX, but the smooth character of the top end makes this a moot point, in my opinion.

Using the Stargate as a two-channel preamp revealed its audiophile roots as the sound was clear, again smooth, slightly warm with a slight rolled-off top end, but full of detail and richness. Multi-channel audio using the Marantz 8400 provided more of the rich sound, and the Stargate, although not quite as open and involving as the much more expensive reference Krell HTS 7.1, performed admirably. The Stargate does little wrong as a preamp, except for my desire for a pair of balanced inputs.

Surround processing is good, if not very good. I rather liked the proprietary multi-channel music mode for two-channel sources, in many cases I preferred it to Dolby Pro Logic II music processing. Panning effects were done smoothly, and without issue, as so many good processors do today. The Stargate did a very good job of creating the "sonic bubble" that we look for to create a realistic movie watching experience.

MOON AURORA-5 AMPLIFIER

Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
As I mentioned before, the Aurora is a monster. It follows the same design idiom with a charcoal black face and silver side plates, as well as the centrally mounted heat sink on the front plate that looks like the nose plate of Darth Vader's mask. It only has one switch on the front panel with one small blue light to denote operation. This amp is built like the proverbial tank and has a very clean back plate with easy to hook up speaker bindings, as well as single ended and balanced inputs.

Final Take
Simply put, this amp sounds like it looks: huge and powerful. It seems to have a never ending power reserve, excellent dynamics (it maintains class A up to five watts), and has a smooth top end that limits listener fatigue. It maintains a vice-like grip on the bottom end, and bass comes across as strong and controlled. This is not to say that this amp is brutish and unpolished in its delivery, rather it manages to stay smooth and detailed at all times. That wonderful power reserve is a big help in creating the sonic bubble that I mentioned with the Stargate; this effect is similar to what I experienced with the Halo A51 as both of these amps seem to just push the sound out of the speaker, thereby creating excellent sonic bloom. If I had to nitpick, I would say that the Aurora is just slightly less smooth and has a slightly more laid-back top end than the Halo A51, but it does have the edge with a very easy to use back panel with lots of room for connections. This amp makes me wonder how much better the Titan, its bigger brother, is, as the Aurora is just excellent.

MOON STARGATE SURROUND PROCESSOR AND MOON 
AURORA-5 AMPLIFIER

Final Take
As a combination, the Stargate and Aurora-5 are a distinctive, interesting and solidly performing pair. Although I thought the Stargate was a good, if slightly feature-lacking, processor, the real star of the pair was the Aurora-5, which I believe is one of the best values in multi-channel amps. When you buy such a uniquely styled product, it is hard not to consider the matching processor, and fortunately the Stargate does not disappoint in performance. I have always said that the basis for a great surround sound processor is great audio performance, and I am glad to see that Simaudio agrees.

MOON Stargate Surround Processor
Video Inputs: (5) sets of S-Video, 
composite and 2-channel audio
(2) sets of component, S-Video, composite,
and 2-channel audio
Digital Audio Inputs: (4) digital coaxial, 
(2) TosLink optical 
(2) sets of analog audio inputs
Dolby Pro Logic II, DD, DD EX, DTS 5.1, 
DTS-ES, 7.1 Matrix Music Mode, DTS Neo:6
Dimensions: 19" x 6.5" x 14"
MSRP: $4,850

MOON Aurora-5 Amplifier
200 watts/channel at 8 ohms, 
400 watts/channel at 4 ohms
Also available in a 7-channel version
(1) XLR and (1) RCA per channel
Static Damping Factor of 800
Dimensions: 19" x 8.75" x 26" 
MSRP: $4,500 (5-channel)

$5,300 (7-channel)

Additional Resources
 Read more high end audiophile AV Preamp Reviews here.

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