Simaudio Moon i-1 Integrated Amplifier
Although GoodSound!s reviews
focus squarely on "affordable" audio components, I review products in all price
categories, which gives me a broad perspective on the marketplace. For example, last year,
in the "On HiFi" section of our sister site SoundStage! A/V, I reviewed
Moon Evolution i-7, a 150Wpc integrated amplifier. The i-7s build quality is
beyond reproach, its feature set is extensive, and its sound is exceptional. About the
only thing I can fault the i-7 on is its high price: $6000 USD at the time of the review,
since risen to $7200. But thats not to say its overpriced, even with
that $1200 increase. Rather, my problem with the i-7 is that its just not affordable
for most, which is why youd never see such a product reviewed in GoodSound!
The folks at Simaudio arent oblivious to that. They
know that the i-7 can be purchased only by a few well-heeled buyers looking for the best
integrated amp they can buy. So the company has released the Moon i-1, a 50Wpc integrated
priced at a far more sensible $1500. Is the i-1 an Evolution i-7 for the masses?
The Moon i-1s look is new for Simaudio. In fact,
except for the Moon logo on the front, youd never suspect its a little brother
to the i-7 or to any other Simaudio integrated. The i-1 looks like only the Moon CD-1, a
companion CD player developed and released at the same time, for the same price. Both come
in black chassis with the option of a black or silver faceplate. (Im reviewing the
CD-1 for another sister site, SoundStage!)
The i-1s styling is nice enough in a chunky,
audiophile way, but it sure doesnt have the cosmetic flourishes of the
companys more expensive gear. However, given that the i-1 is Sims least
expensive integrated, and that theyve obviously kept it simple to keep the price
down, I wont hold this against them.
More important, the i-1 is built very well. The all-metal
chassis measures about 17"W x 3"H x 13"D and has a sturdy, rugged feel. The
0.25"-thick faceplate makes it feel even more solid. The whole thing weighs about 20
pounds, the bulk of which is attributable to the all-metal construction and the reasonably
sized transformer, the latter mounted on the left side of the i-1s interior. Suffice
it to say that the i-1 is built to last -- probably one of the reasons Sim is confident
enough to back it with a ten-year warranty, which is twice the industry standard.
The i-1 has just enough features for the serious audiophile
to get by with, but its simplicity might surprise those used to modern A/V receivers with
buttons and lights everywhere. Eschewing all bells and whistles, the i-1 harks back to the
simpler integrated amplifiers of yesteryear, concentrating solely on what matters most in
terms of functionality, and on what interferes least with the sound.
In short, the i-1 has no tone controls. It doesnt
even have a balance control. And if youre looking for something like the Evolution
i-7s advanced front-panel display, you wont find that either. The bare-bones
approach used in the i-1 is what you get when a component with an audiophile pedigree is
designed to a modest price.
On the rear are five single-ended inputs, each
corresponding to an input button on the front (CD, DVD, Video, Tuner, Aux). Directly
beside those inputs is a pair of single-ended, line-level output jacks that allow you to
use the i-1 as a preamplifier with an external power amplifier. Also on the rear are: the
main power switch, which is meant to be left on all the time (it keeps key circuitry going
to keep the i-1 operating at a stable temperature, but turn it off if you wont be
using the amp for a long period of time); the speaker binding posts; and an IEC receptacle
for a detachable power cord (a good-quality cord is supplied).
There are a few extras back there, such as SimLink
input and output jacks -- a convenience feature that allows multiple Simaudio components
to be tethered to one another for quicker, easier communication and operation (a SimLink
cable is supplied). For example, if you push Play on the CD-1, a SimLinked i-1s CD
input is automatically engaged -- a small but nice touch. Theres also an RS-232 port
to integrate the i-1 into a custom-installed setup, and a 1/8" mini-jack input to
accommodate the external infrared remote control.
The most densely populated area of the front panel is on
the left, where youll find a row of nine buttons, each surmounted by a status light.
The leftmost one is Standby, used to turn the i-1 on (provided the rear power switch is
also on). To the right of that are the five selector buttons that correspond to the
rear-panel inputs already mentioned. To the right of those is a button labeled MP, for
music player. This corresponds to a 1/8" mini-jack input on the right side of the
front panel (a position far more convenient than the rear panel for connecting devices
likely to have such an output pin). To the right of MP is the Mute button, which cuts off all
output from the i-1, including power to the speakers and headphones (which can be
plugged into the 1/4" jack just to the right of the MP input). Finally, the Spk Off
button is basically a mute button for the speakers only (a signal still goes to the
I have a gripe about the volume knob on the right of the
front panel. Its a big jobbie that works alright, but compared to the sturdiness of
everything else on the i-1, it felt a bit cheap -- the one on my review sample had a bit
of play when I turned it. I like a supertight volume control with a rock-solid feel. This
is a small complaint, but it surprised me, given how solid the i-1 is otherwise.
The Moon i-1 comes with the CRM, a light, plastic remote
control. I actually prefer the CRM to the heavy, club-like, all-aluminum FRM-2 remote that
comes with the Moon Evolution products -- its easier to handle and has more
features, controlling not only everything on the i-1 and CD-1, but all functions of all
Moon Evolution models as well. (I suspect that some Evolution users might be calling
Simaudio to get a CRM.)
The only supplied specifications worth talking about are
the power ratings, for its these that will most affect potential purchasers. Sim
rates the i-1 as delivering 50Wpc into 8 ohms -- which doesnt sound like much when
compared with the outputs of other, like-priced integrated amps and receivers. I offer no
excuses there -- it wouldnt be too hard to find something specified to deliver far
more power into 8 ohms -- like 100Wpc or more. The i-1 is no powerhouse, even into this
moderate speaker load.
But Sim also specifies the i-1 as delivering 100Wpc into 4
ohms. That doubling of output power is significant -- if accurate, it indicates that the
i-1 is a robust design with good current capability. So while the i-1 may not seem to put
out much power into 8 ohms, it holds together well when the going gets rough as the
impedance drops. In contrast, many amplifiers and receivers dont double their power
when the impedance is halved. Ive heard of many modern A/V receivers that, despite
boasting high 8-ohm power ratings, actually shut down when trying to drive a 4-ohm load --
which arent all that uncommon among todays speakers, as youll see below.
Therefore, while the i-1s power rating doesnt seem that impressive into 8
ohms, its more impressive when you look at the 4-ohm performance and understand what
However, while total power output and ability to drive
difficult loads are important, theyre not the only things you should look for in a
good, audiophile-grade integrated amplifier. Despite what some claim, all solid-state
integrated and power amps dont sound the same. Therefore, you shouldnt
rule out an integrated amp like this one just because it delivers only a certain amount of
power into 8 ohms, nor should you buy it just because it doubles that power into 4 ohms.
How the amplifier sounds delivering that power is crucial as well -- and the power
ratings dont tell you much about that. Only listening does.
The Moon i-1 got a trial by fire. Not only did it follow
the Evolution i-7 into my system, but the Evolution P-7 preamplifier and Evolution W-7
power amplifier (150Wpc) as well. Together, the P-7 and W-7 cost $15,800 -- more than
twice the price of the i-7, and more than ten times the price of the i-1.
Furthermore, I put the i-1 through a stiff workout to see
just how powerful and robust it really was. I used it with two pairs of speakers
and drove them to obscenely loud listening levels in my extremely large room (about
19 x 35).
I first inserted the Moon CD-1 into my system to get a
feeling for how that performed, then added the Moon i-1. They were connected with Nirvana
S-L interconnects, which are what I usually use. The speakers were the PSB Synchrony One
($4500/pair) and Synchrony Two B ($1500/pair). For those, I alternated Nordost Red Dawn
and Nordost Valkyrja speaker cables. The Synchrony Two B is a stand-mounted, two-way
design with a 5.25" mid-woofer and a 1" tweeter. Its anechoic sensitivity is
86dB, which is average for a speaker like this, but its impedance is 4 ohms, obviously
lower than most speakers 8-ohm loads. Still, I figured the Synchrony Two Bs
wouldnt be too hard to drive, given the simplicity of the design.
And it wasnt -- at least not for the i-1, which
grabbed hold of the Two Bs as if amp and speakers were made for each other. The Sim drove
the Synchronys to extraordinarily loud listening levels before the sound got a touch hard
and hollow. And when that happened, I suspected it was the speakers hitting their limits,
not the amp hitting its. I say that because I hit the same threshold when I drove the Two
Bs with the Evolution W-7, whose power seems almost limitless. As a result, I was more
than impressed with the i-1s power delivery into these small speakers. Based on
power output alone, I wouldnt hesitate to partner the i-1 with something like the
Two Bs. I cant imagine needing anything more powerful.
It was a different story with the Synchrony One, a
three-way, five-driver floorstander. The Ones sensitivity is actually a touch higher
than the Two Bs at 88dB, though its impedance is also 4 ohms. However, the One has
three 6.5" woofers for the bass, and I suspected that that could present a tougher
load to the amp. (Nominal impedance figures dont tell you much about whats
going on at discrete frequencies. Theyre more or less just an average.)
From moderate to quite high listening levels, the i-1 held
together beautifully -- the Ones projected a rich, full sound with uncanny clarity. The
i-1 was powerful enough that you could probably quite easily use this amp with these
speakers, provided your room is not as enormous as mine, and that you
dont play these speakers really loud, particularly with bass-heavy music. If
you do, youll likely find its limits -- as I did.
I played "Born to Be Wild," from The Cults Electric
[CD, Reprise 25555], at what would be considered banger-approved listening levels --
loud enough that if anyone came into the room and stood right in front of me to talk,
Id have to turn the volume down in order to hear anything they were saying. It was
at this point that the sound took a really nasty turn: the bass sounded muddled, the
midrange turned screechy, and the highs got shrill. I heard the same thing when I played
the drum-heavy opening of Shakiras "Objection (Tango)," from her Laundry
Service [CD, Sony 63900]. Obviously, the i-1 was clipping, just as Id expect
from any moderately powerful integrated amp forced to drive a tougher-than-average speaker
load to exceptionally high output levels.
Now that I knew the i-1s limit with each speaker, I
could listen for what it sounded like, rather than for just how loudly it could
play. Here I was even more impressed -- so much that it wasnt painful in the least
going from the i-7 to the P-7/W-7, then way "down" to the i-1.
The i-1 had the Simaudio "family sound": deep,
rich bass; sweetly extended highs; and midrange clarity with exceptional transparency and
detail while never sounding sterile or cold. Essentially, in all their current designs,
Simaudio has found a way to deliver the strengths of solid-state -- wide bandwidth,
extreme neutrality, exceptional clarity, topnotch detail -- with enough richness and
texture that their products sound musical, inviting, and nonfatiguing.
For example, when I listened through the i-1 to Eddie
Vedders "Society" and "Guaranteed," from the Into the Wild
soundtrack [CD, RCA 715944], I could hear the same richness in Vedders voice, the
same vibrancy of the plucked guitar strings, as I do through Sims far more expensive
Moon Evolution models. And when I played "Mining for Gold" and "Misguided
Angel," from the Cowboy Junkies The Trinity Session [CD, RCA 8568-2-R],
I heard (and felt) the extraordinary bass depth that Im accustomed to -- and
particularly through the Synchrony Ones, which can deliver far more bass than the little
Two Bs can. Furthermore, the midrange clarity was outstanding, with voices that were
sliced distinctly from the mix, allowing for a quite holographic presentation, which is
another hallmark of the Evolution i-7 and P-7/W-7 -- and now the i-1, too. Then again,
these similarities should come as no real surprise, given that these products all come
from the same company and, more than likely, the same designers.
But thats not to say that the i-1 sounded exactly the
same as the i-7 or the P-7/W-7. The latter combo delivered far more power to the speakers,
which not only resulted in hard-to-drive speakers like the Ones being able to play to
astonishingly loud playback levels, but also allowed their sound to be completely
"effortless," even at lower volumes levels. When I played "Mining for
Gold" and that deep bass swelled into the room, I could sense that the Evolution
7s were just coasting; the i-1 tended to sound as if it was trying a bit.
While the i-1s levels of refinement and resolution
were similar to what I heard from the i-7, and even more from the P-7/W-7, across the
board, the 7s were a cut above in this regard. The Evolution models sounded ever so
slightly sweeter, particularly in the highs, while at the same time revealing a little
more recorded detail that let me better explore each recording. For example, when I play
the Vedder tracks through the P-7/W-7 combo (by the time I got this disc, the i-7 had been
shipped back to the factory), Im presented with a massive soundstage that takes over
the front part of my room. Vedders voice occupies center stage, and the sound of the
room he was recorded in envelops the rest of mine. Every reflection and spatial cue is a
snap to discern, making for an exceptionally realistic presentation from a two-channel
The i-1 did much the same thing, creating a sense of space
that was similar to what the P-7/W-7 achieves, but not quite as spacious or as vast. As
well, the smallest details that jump to life from the P-7/W-7 werent quite as
apparent through the i-1.
But this shouldnt be surprising. Had the i-1 matched
the i-7s and P-7/W-7s sound quality by simply delivering less power from a
stripped-down chassis, I would have been shocked. That would have made the i-1 the deal of
the century, and Id be telling you to buy it right now before Sim jacks up
the price. After all, the i-7 is the best integrated amplifier Ive ever heard, and
the P-7 and W-7 are some of the best separates Ive ever heard. The i-1 was never
designed to achieve all that for only $1500.
What the i-1 did deliver was Simaudios "family
sound." Theres no doubt that all of these products are cut from the same sonic
cloth, and, in terms of spaciousness, clarity, and refinement, the i-1 got me much closer
to the achievements of the i-7 and P-7/W-7 than its price would indicate. Given the
phenomenal performance of the Evolution series, the little i-1 delivers far better sound
quality than I imagined a $1500 integrated amp from Simaudio would be capable of. As I
said, it wasnt hard for me to go from the i-7 to the P-7/W-7, and then to the i-1.
Simaudios Moon i-1 doesnt have the looks of a
Moon Evolution i-7, let alone the power output or features. But it does have a similar
build quality, the same generous warranty terms, and, most important, a very similar sound
-- and its those that make the i-1 special.
But as special as the i-1 is, its not an i-7 for the
masses, and its not for everyone. Some people will need more power than the i-1
delivers, and others might want an integrated with more features, even if they detract
from the sound quality. The i-1 is more likely to be purchased by serious audiophiles who
value sonic refinement and simple operation over sheer power output and superfluous
controls. And its lengthy warranty means that the i-1 will likely be favored by those who
like to buy good-quality components and use them over the long haul, rather than trade
them in every few months.
I dont think that warrantys importance can be
stressed enough, particularly in light of what a fine product the i-1 is. So much of the
electronics I see nowadays seem disposable, particularly the budget-priced stuff; when
something breaks, you throw it away because its not worth fixing. But the Moon i-1
has been designed and built to last, and it sounds so good that it could easily become the
centerpiece of many high-quality stereo systems -- and remain so for years to come.
Price of equipment reviewed