Simaudio Moon Eclipse CD player
The line probably originated in a long-forgotten commercial, but I frequently use it at work to inject humor into complaints about never-changing, Dilbert-esque idiocies. But for an audio reviewer, it is good to have islands of stability in our ever-changing systems: We need a stable backdrop against which to compare components and combinations. In my case, the typical system changes resulting from review components coming and going has been magnified by a complete remodeling of my listening room: new walls, new floors, new ceilings, new everything.
But through the past several months, Simaudio's Moon Eclipse CD player has been a constant. It was only when I sat down to critically evaluate the Eclipse itself, to search out, understand, and describe its own characteristics, that I realized how much I had come to take it for granted, how much its sound had been an integral component of the systems I'd reviewed. That gave me pause—if the Eclipse was a constant, a bastion of stability in my ever-changing audio world, what had it been contributing all along to what I'd been hearing?
A Bastion of Engineering, Design, and Construction?
The Moon Eclipse is Simaudio's first "statement" digital product. Everything about it—technology, build quality, user interface, cosmetics—reflects careful thought and lavish attention to detail. Its appearance combines just the right stylistic elements—shapes, proportions, materials, finishes—in a coherent design that works so well that it never draws attention to itself. The thick, milled-aluminum front and top plates and massive top-loading disc drawer provide a sense of weight and solidity, and the graceful, curved heatsinks and cylindrical aluminum support pillars provide just the right touches of softness and balance.
Everyone admires the Eclipse and inevitably runs a hand over it, but no one ever calls it "pretty," or directly comments on its appearance at all. Instead, they use adjectives like "elegant," "graceful," and "functional," or phrases like "machined from a solid chunk of aluminum" or "really well-built," impressions reinforced by the Eclipse's remote—a hefty aluminum unit that mirrors the player's styling cues and feels as if "machined from billet."
The engineering and execution are equally well-done. Simaudio begins with the superb Philips CDM12Pro transport mechanism and includes Burr-Brown DF1704 and Pacific Microsonics PCM100 digital filters, followed by four Burr-Brown PCM1704K DACs feeding fully balanced analog circuitry, with both XLR and RCA analog outputs. The power supply is built with entirely separate, isolated supplies for control, digital, and analog circuits—a total of eight supplies in all—and is housed in a heavily shielded chassis of its own, connected to the main unit via a dB15 computer-type umbilical.
The military-grade circuit boards are laid out symmetrically, to maximize separation and common-mode rejection. Signal paths are kept isolated and as short as possible, and top-quality parts—Vishay and WIMA passive components, for example, and Teflon-insulated OFC wiring—are used throughout. Careful attention is paid to isolating the lasers and circuitry from mechanical vibrations, beginning with elaborate two-piece spike feet and carrying through to the elastomer-mounted transport and the clever disc clamp.
The Eclipse's user interfaces and features are well-thought-out and executed, if a bit unusual. For starters, the Eclipse is a top-loading player, so cueing up a disc involves manually opening the sliding door, inserting a CD, and capping it with the heavy aluminum clamp. The clamp's magnetic insert holds the disc firmly in place, and its elastomer face damps vibrations in the disc and the transport assembly. I always worried about getting the disc and clamp perfectly centered, for fear of damaging the spindle, but I never actually miscued a CD.
Closing the drawer causes the Eclipse to read the disc's ToC (Table of Contents). All of the Eclipse's functions can be controlled using the remote or the buttons on the player itself. One control panel, on the unit's top beside the transport door, controls the usual transport functions—play, pause, skip, etc. A second set of buttons, on the front panel, controls more transport functions—random, repeat, scan, time display (total or elapsed), and programming—as well as polarity inversion, display on/off, and selection of an external 24-bit/96kHz digital input.
The Eclipse did have one performance-related quirk. I'm used to seeing digital inputs or outputs on integrated players, but the Eclipse has both. I understand the digital input—to allow DVD players, for example, to use the Eclipse's 24/96 DACs and analog circuits—but why the digital output? According to Simaudio, jumpering the digital output and input bypasses the HDCD digital filter, the data being passed instead to the Burr-Brown filter chip. They feel, and I definitely agree, that although the market demands HDCD capability, the filter degrades the Eclipse's playback of non-encoded discs, slightly decreasing resolution and focus. So why not a switch? I ended up doing all of my listening using Nirvana's killer T-2 digital cable to bypass the HDCD chip.