August 1, 2009

Simaudio Moon CD.5 CD Player

What’s in a name? Take "Moon," for instance. Centuries ago, a Scandinavian king’s personal guards supposedly were the only people in the kingdom allowed to use the crescent moon as their symbol. But when my own family decided that England’s weather was better than their homeland’s, and settled in Yorkshire, they took Moon as their name. A Korean acquaintance told me that Moon is one of the most common surnames in her country, along with Pak (Park), Kim, and Lee, though she didn’t know why.

For Jean Poulin, president of Simaudio Ltd., the Moon brand name arises from a lifelong fascination with celestial bodies. He’s used it on multi-kilobuck components that have found great favor among reviewers. His latest Moons are the entry-level .5 components: so far, a CD player and an integrated amplifier, each listing for $1200 USD.

Description

The Moon CD.5 is of fairly typical dimensions for home audio gear: 16.875"W by 3.5"H by just over 13"D. The sample supplied for review had a lovely champagne/silver face of thick, extruded aluminum; it’s also available in black. The front panel’s layout is also fairly typical. The slim disc drawer is to the right of the central Moon logo; immediately to the left are the display and controls. The display features large, red, segmented LEDs, and a stack of four small, red indicators just to the left of the display. The topmost of the latter lights up if the Program mode is engaged. The next two relate to the Repeat function: both illuminate if the CD.5 is set to repeat the whole disc, but only the bottom one glows when the player is set to repeat a specific track. The lowest indicator lights up when Random Play is chosen.

Instead of a front-panel power switch, the CD.5 has one marked Standby. In that mode, the player’s transport and display receive no power, but all digital and analog audio circuitry remains powered "to help maintain optimal performance," as stated in the owner’s manual; Simaudio suggests the CD.5 be left in Standby when not in use. To the left of the Standby button is the infrared sensor for the remote control; to its right are, in order, Play, Pause, Stop, Track Reverse/Fast Reverse, and Track Forward/Fast Forward.

The CD.5’s actual Power switch is on its sparsely populated back panel, next to the three-pronged IEC power receptacle. There are also a pair of single-ended analog outputs and an S/PDIF digital out, all on RCA jacks.

The compact remote control, which operates both the CD.5 and the matching i.5 integrated amplifier, is nicely laid out, and was generally a pleasure to use. Two sections, both backgrounded in blue, control the CD-player functions: the top permits direct selection of tracks, while the bottom repeats the controls on the player’s front panel, and adds to them the Repeat, Random, and Program functions. Near the top right of the remote is the Display button, which permits the user to scroll through four display modes: elapsed track time, remaining track time, elapsed disc time, and remaining disc time. It can also be used to turn the display off, which some folks believe lowers a CD player’s noise floor.

The CD.5 contains a large toroidal power transformer, a hefty 13,200F of power-supply capacitance, and eight stages of DC voltage regulation. It features upsampling that uses 24-bit/352.8kHz processing, and the DAC is a Burr-Brown/TI 24-bit/192kHz chip. To minimize signal-path lengths, interference, and signal degradation, the player’s single circuit board contains separate ground planes for the digital and analog circuits.

System

The Moon CD.5 was compared to my Sony CDP-X303ES CD player. Both played through my Linn Majik 1-P integrated amplifier via interconnects from Linn (the Sony) and Dayton Audio (the Moon). During the review, I swapped the interconnects but could hear no difference between them. The Linn drove my NEAR 50 Me II loudspeakers or a recently acquired pair of mid-1970s "bookshelf" speakers: Wharfedale W60Es. For those of you unfamiliar with these ancient beasts, they would need bookshelves of massive proportions: each is 25"H x 14"W x 12"D and weighs over 50 pounds. I’ve mounted them on 9"-tall homemade speaker stands to get their tweeters up to near the level of my ears when I’m in my listening chair. Each sealed box contains a 12.5" woofer, a 5" acoustically isolated midrange driver, and a 1.25" soft-dome tweeter. The Wharfedales’ bass response -- limited to about 40Hz, and a little loosey-goosey with the Linn -- is not in the NEARs’ league, but I think their mids and highs are better: lively without being strident, and quite smooth.

Both sets of speakers were connected to the Linn integrated with 14-gauge AR speaker cable. AC is supplied by a dedicated circuit operating through a PS Audio Soloist in-wall power conditioner and surge suppressor. My listening room is 17’L x 11’W x 7’H, finished in drywall (with makeshift wall treatments) and cork flooring, most of the latter covered by a 9’ x 12’ rug. The speakers were 6’ from my chair, about 6’ apart, 26" out from the front wall, and at least 2’ from any sidewall.

Sound

While there were differences in the sounds of the Simaudio Moon CD.5 and Sony CDP-X303ES, they weren’t dramatic. We’re talking subtleties here. Playing "Cloudburst," by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, from their The Hottest New Group in Jazz (CD, Columbia/Legacy C2K 64933), the Moon sounded a bit faster than the Sony -- I was better able to understand more of Jon Hendricks’ rapid and masterful scatting, most of which is unintelligible when I play this track on the Sony or on either of my other CD players, an Onkyo DX-2700 and an NAD C525BEE.

From the same album, Annie Ross’s "Twisted" had a fuller bass line and crisper highs through the CD.5. Not that the Sony was lacking, but its sound was smoother. I often use this disc because it sounds as if neither the original recording nor the remastering was tweaked very much with equalization, compression, etc. It’s my impression that it sounds a lot like the original master tape probably does. Like Hendricks, Ross exercises her vocal cords with a good deal of very rapid singing (listen to her sing "I had a brain, it was insane" and tell me you don’t agree that she could probably sing advertising disclaimers as fast as the announcers on radio car ads read them).

However, the CD.5’s slight crispness was a two-edged sword. A recent reissue of the hits of 1960s singer Bobby Vee (CD, Capitol/EMI 3 67379 2), was nearly unlistenable, as if it had been equalized to within an inch of its life, especially in the mids and highs. What came out of the speakers was egregiously aggressive, especially with Vee’s voice. But the CD.5 played no favorites: garbage in yielded garbage out. This CD sounds pretty awful through the Sony as well.

The Moon CD.5’s bass and rhythmic capabilities were fully demonstrated by Fourplay’s "Bali Run," from Fourplay (CD, Warner Bros. 26656-2). As I’ve noted before, this track features a very deep, quick, and rhythmic bass line. (Nathan East plays a five-string electric bass, which goes a fourth lower than a standard four-string bass.) On the Sony, the sound was rounded off, losing some of the beat and articulation. With the CD.5, on the other hand, the bass line was reproduced with all the snap that East puts into his playing. Lee Ritenour’s guitar, too, benefited from the CD.5’s speed with sharp attacks.

There’s a lot going on instrumentally in "Mandolin Rain," from Bruce Hornsby & the Range’s The Way It Is (CD, RCA PCD-5904). I’ve always admired this production’s sound: full and rich, with a good soundstage. The Sony offered up a very nice overall performance; again, its mids and highs were smooth, though lacking in ultimate detail. The CD.5 put out the more detailed sound, especially with Hornsby’s piano; and the soft taps on the hi-hat, and the mandolin that comes in at the end, hung nicely out in space, well in front of the other instruments, adding to this song’s mournful quality.

Beginning in the mid-1970s, Rosemary Clooney enjoyed a great resurrection of her career on Concord Jazz that continued to her death, in 2002. One of her best albums for the label, in my opinion, is Brazil (CD, Concord Jazz CCD-4884-2), in which she’s joined (along with other musicians) by another of my favorites, guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli, in top hits of the bossa nova era. She begins with the 1939 classic "Brazil." Through the CD.5, it was obvious from the opening note that Clooney was "eating" the microphone -- I heard every breath she takes, and how she enunciates each sound of each word. These were not so evident through the Sony player. Pizzarelli’s playing and scatting during his solo sounded more precise and detailed through the CD.5, while the Sony’s sound was ever so slightly more intimate. Overall, the other instruments and the voices were given a suitably deep soundstage by the CD.5; the Sony offered not quite as much depth, but the two players’ left-to-right soundstaging was similar.

Another indication of the CD.5’s superior front-to-back placement of performers on the soundstage was given in the opening of "Money for Nothing," from Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms (CD, Warner Bros. 47773-2). Through the Moon, Sting’s famous lament of "I want my, I want my, I want my MTV" was waaaaaay back behind the instruments and lead vocal, as I think it should be -- and farther back than the Sony places it. The CD.5 also put the tom-toms way out front, and gave a very layered presentation of the beginning of the track. The CD.5 also excelled with a tighter, more rhythmic sound, especially on the drums, bass, and synthesizer.

In keeping with the CD.5’s fine rhythmic performance, I decided to end my serious listening with a seriously unserious song: ZZ Top’s "Gimme All Your Lovin’," from their Greatest Hits (CD, Warner Bros. 26846-2). This track has rhythm in spades, especially from the drums, which sounded like pile drivers through the CD.5 -- the player’s attack was that fast. The Sony equaled the CD.5 in reproducing the voices of the band, but on the instrumental parts the Moon really shone.

Conclusion

It’s been a pleasure to have an audio component in my home that’s such a fine performer -- it makes me proud to be a Moon. If, as many believe, the CD player will soon be a thing of the past, it’s going out on a high note with equipment as good as the last three players I’ve reviewed: the Rotel RCD-1072, the Marantz SA8003, and the Simaudio Moon CD.5. All are excellent, but of the three, unless you need SACD playback, the Simaudio Moon CD.5 has the best combination of sound, soundstaging, and rhythm. It’s a beauty.

. . . Thom Moon

Price of equipment reviewed