Moon by Simaudio Evolution 780D D/A processor

Simaudio saw disc-based digital audio in its rear-view mirror at least as far back as 2011, when it introduced the Moon Evolution 650D and 750D—two iterations of what it called a "digital-to-analog converter CD transport." These were actually multiple-input CD players, but Simaudio was evidently so eager to distance itself from the spinning disc that it went with a product category that, in spite of its cumbersome, run-on name, drew a clean line between the disc-reading and signal-processing functions—while bestowing upon the former second-class citizenship.

With the new Moon Evolution 780D Streaming DSD DAC ($15,000), Simaudio has altogether eliminated the spinning disc. If you buy a 780D and want to play CDs through it, you'll have to add a CD transport or a player with a digital output (the Moon Evolution 650D and Neo 260D remain in production).

While this may seem extreme to some, for most of us, stepping away from the CD tray can't come fast enough. There's nothing particularly nostalgic or pleasant about inserting a CD in a player—no warm glow produced by removing, from a flimsy-hinged "jewel case," a cold-looking plastic disc and watching it get swallowed. Counting off the seconds on a fluorescent screen isn't as entertaining as, say, watching a stylus course through the grooves on an LP.

The smarter alternative to adding a CD transport to the 780D would perhaps be to add a Meridian Sooloos Digital Music Server and rip your CDs to one of its outboard 4TB Store units, or buy an Apple Mac mini and do similarly, accessing your library via an Apple iPad using the excellent Roon software developed by the former Sooloos team. Once you have instant access to your digital music, you're unlikely to want to go back to manually inserting discs.

Of course, ripping a large library takes time. If you go that route, before ripping your CDs, consider treating them with Essence of Music (essence-of-music.com), a liquid recommended to me by a well-known recording engineer who is no fan of CDs. Essence of Music is claimed to reduce bi-refringence, aka bi-refraction: the refraction of light in an anisotropic material (an extreme example would be calcite) in two slightly different directions to form two rays. Applying Essence of Music is a time-consuming two-step process, and there are problems of chemical incompatibility with some hybrid SACD/CDs made before 2004—but it really works. (Too late for the more than 3200 CDs I've already ripped to my Sooloos!)

Description
Though housed in an aircraft-grade aluminum case that looks identical to those of Simaudio's earlier CD players, the Moon Evolution 780D offers a far wider range of capabilities. It can decode PCM files of sampling rates up to 352.8 and 384kHz, as well as DSD files at 2.8224, 5.6448, and 11.2896MHz—or DSD, DSD2x, and DSD4x. Given how few recordings are available at such ultra-high resolutions, do we really need the ability to decode them? Well, why not be ready?

The 780D's femtosecond clock is claimed to produce lower jitter and distortion than the clock in the Moon Evolution 750D. Conversion chores are handled by a dual-mono pair of ESS9018 Sabre DACs, each of which contains 16 individual DAC circuits. The 780D features the Moon Hybrid Power (MHP) power supply, which includes, among other components, conductive polymer capacitors, high-speed digital switching, and analog linear regulators; additionally, the 780D has a dozen stages of DC voltage regulation.

The 780D provides nine digital inputs: one AES/EBU, three electrical S/PDIF (two RCA, one BNC), two TosLink optical S/PDIF, one USB, and one for Simaudio's Moon intelligent Network Device (MiND) music-streamer application, accessible via Ethernet connection or built-in WiFi (more about this shortly). The ninth input doesn't have a rear-panel jack, as it's for aptX Bluetooth connection. Each input can be named and programmed by the user, and selected with scroll buttons on the front panel. Of the inputs described above, the first six are for resolutions up through 24-bit/192kHz. The seventh (USB) is for all of those plus PCM up to 24/384, as well as DSD and DXD. If you already have a recent Simaudio Moon CD player, a simple SimLink connection between player and DAC automatically selects digital input 2 (S/PDIF) when you push the player's Play button. (This can be changed with the Set-up menu.)

Also on the rear panel are single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) analog outputs, an input for the supplied WiFi antenna, an RS-232 port, and two inputs for Simaudio's optional external Moon Evolution 820S power supply ($8000)—which, when I reviewed it in 2014, significantly improved the sound of the Moon Evolution 650D.

Unlike some other streaming DACs, the 780D lacks a hi-rez color screen to display album art and other metadata. While the 780D's long, low, old-fashioned, red-character dot-matrix display may seem an unusual choice, I think it was a smart one. Most people will be doing all of their music selecting and information gathering using a handheld device that will no doubt have a larger, higher-rez screen than can easily be built into a front panel. Over time, I think more companies will decide that big displays are a waste of money and faceplate real estate. To the left of the display are four buttons: Standby, Display, and Input Up and Down. To the right of the screen are four more buttons, for navigating the 780D's menus: Setup, Up, Down, and OK.

In ergonomics and appearance, Simaudio's new FRM-3 backlit remote control, with motion detection, is a major improvement over the remotes included with the 650D and 750D CD players.

MiND, which is integrated into the 780D's enclosure—when first introduced by Simaudio, it was an outboard box—supports a number of file formats: AAC, AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, FLAC HD, MP3 (VBR/CBR), OGG Vorbis, WAV, and WMA-9. It also offers vTuner Internet Radio compatibility and support for Tidal along with a UPnP Renderer (Universal Plug & Play) and DLNA 1.5 compatibility.

Setup and Use
The Moon Evolution 780D will present no great challenge to those with experience configuring home-theater receivers and preamplifier-processors; others might suffer various levels of difficulty and frustration, which are best avoided by having the dealer do the work. The writer of the 780D's manual has tried commendably hard to succinctly explain everything in clear, conversational prose, but unless you're well versed in the latest digital developments, prepare to be confused.

For CD playback, I used an AES/EBU cable between the 780D and my 650D CD player, S/PDIF between the 780D and my Meridian Sooloos, and Ethernet to join the 780D to my wired network. (I built this network myself, when the walls of our house were opened during a renovation.) I ran a USB cable from my laptop to the 780D's USB input.

So far, setting up and using the 780D was no different from what it had been for the 650D. I wasn't interested in Bluetooth streaming (though I did end up trying it from my iPhone). What I was really interested in was easy access from my listening chair to the large iTunes library on my office iMac—and, more important, to the music stored on two hard drives I keep on an office shelf. One of these, a 2TB drive, contains the data of hundreds of DVD-Audio discs I've collected but had never listened to, for lack of any convenient way to play them. A friend generously did the ripping for me.

The other, a 3TB drive, contains other stuff I've accumulated over the years. One file—I don't know where I got it, or from whom—is Glyn Johns's second mix of the Beatles' Let It Be, and jeez, it should be released in hi-rez (or, better, on vinyl, if the tape still exists). Also on that drive are 75 legally obtained 24/192 master files from Blue Note Records that I promised not to distribute. So I don't. Until now, the only way to listen to either drive was to bring it into my listening room, connect it to my laptop, and run it through JRiver Media Center. It wasn't exactly convenient, so, big surprise, I didn't do it very often.

Now I was anxious to experience easy access to these many albums via a streaming DAC. But how? My drives don't have Ethernet connectivity (today, many new ones do), and for the purposes of this review I wasn't going to invest in a NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive, though they're getting dirt cheap—a 6TB Western Digital NAS costs around $250!

Because the Moon Evolution 780D's most attractive feature is its ability to stream music via MiND, I found it curious that the instruction manual pretty much ignores this. Instead, the user is told to "visit our website to download PDF versions of both the 'MiND Setup Guide' and 'MiND App User Guide'." Nor does the manual provide URLs for these downloads—and you'd be mistaken if you think that if you "visit our website" it will be easy to find where to download the PDFs.

Nor does Simaudio provide the exact search term needed to find the MiND app on Apple's App store. I tried every combination of Sim, Moon, Sim Moon, MiND, etc. Nothing. Nor could I find where to download the manuals—until I called Lionel Goodfield, Simaudio's head of public relations and marketing. Although he assured me that the dealer would do all of this for the customer, in my opinion that's no excuse for not providing far better instructions.

COMPANY INFO
Simaudio Ltd.
2002 Ridge Road
Champlain, NY 12919
(450) 449-2212
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
georgehifi's picture

By Michael Fremer
"However, not even the finest DAC can make me appreciate the sound of 16-bit/44.1kHz CDs. Through the 780D they sounded about as good as they can"

Sorry Michael, but I've heard this blanket statement made all too many times now, and I very much believe that to get the best from CD PCM, it should NOT be converted/compared (played back) through a DSD/Delta Sigma dac.
It should only be converted (played back) through a true well sorted Multibit dac from today designers to get the best sound from it.
And therefore the two cannot be directly compared, because you need two different dacs with differing topologies to do it with.

Cheers George.

rompolompo's picture

Why review a digital product by a person who hates digital technologies?

Jerry Garcia's picture

Michael Fremer 2 days ago
Johnny, Johnny Johnny//Ha ha ha …. fine.

Enjoy your digits.

All of you!

Enjoy you SEEEDEEES. Although you know, most people don’t listen to them. Research shows that they mostly use them for target practice (blah blah blah).

CDs are going away. Vinyl grows. You don’t understand why, so you feel the need to explain it using this one record? Really?

Quoting ignorant sources who don’t really know how best to explain vinyl’s allure and who are left to say “rich and warm” is really pathetic.

Vinyl shouldn’t sound “warm” and it doesn’t unless you use a warm sounding cartridge and/or a warm sounding phono preamplifier. Bright recordings should sound so on vinyl and do (etc.).

You are welcome to listen to any of my YouTube vinyl rips that make CDs sound awful as they have always sounded. Yes my analog front end is costly but you are writing about “vinyl” in the aggregate so I urge you to check out my videos, with 96/24 rips via a Lynx HiLo. Yes YouTube dumbs them down but the essence still comes through as the comments demonstrate.

ALL FORMATS PRODUCE COLORATIONS! Digital’s colorations are more profound as they occur mostly in the time domain.

CD sound sucks and always has. Worse than the sound is how it makes people “feel”. I realize that doesn’t compute for measurement freaks, but the brain knows what’s wrong with digital, especially with CDs and lower resolution formats that completely mess up the timing).

Phase shifting filters produce panic in the brain, which is why people don’t really sit down and LISTEN to digital for very long before finding something else to do…whereas with vinyl playback, people find they can sit and listen and listen, which they do.

That better explains the resurgence than any of your picayune observations…You miss what’s going on.

That’s fine! Enjoy your digits and those of us who prefer vinyl will enjoy our records.

We don’t care what you write or think about this.

We are winning.

And we don’t care about the hysterical negative comments sure to follow this. Trust me: we don’t care….and you’d be surprised who’s on this vinyl bandwagon….people with tech knowledge equal to or surpassing yours John…

John H. Darko 2 days ago
Mikey – nice to hear from you.

If you don’t care what I write, why respond? And why make it personal (with insults)?

What is “my” technology exactly? I don’t profess being wedded to any particular tech. My message is one of pragmatism, not idealism. Anything else would make me look like a zealot.

You KNOW I love vinyl. We’ve even spoken about it over dinner, have we not? Remember my enthusiasm for Japanese Bowie pressings in Las Vegas? That’s a photo of my record collection as it currently stands at the top of the article. One of those records – actually TWO – were used here for illustrative purposes only.

Of course I have played far more records on the RP1 than those specified in the piece. Alas, every single one fails to cut it with layer separation and resolution when compared to the equivalent digital file. That’s the way I hear it.

However, I am not saying (or even implying) that digital is the be all and end all. Merely showing here how the mainstream press endlessly promotes vinyl with a positive spin (and zero analysis of its shortcomings) and in doing so lays a bear trap for the vinyl newcomer expecting some form of audio nirvana from an *ENTRY-LEVEL* table.

“We are winning.” Say what now? I just don’t see this battle/war (to which you allude). What I do see is the potential for disappointment with this entry-level table if purchased on the back of exposure to endless positive press about the vinyl revival.

And as mentioned in the closing remarks, I acknowledge that spending more on a ‘table brings a LOT more performance to the (err) table. No doubt you use better gear for your needle-drops than an RP1? Care to tell us what vinyl newcomers should be spending their cash on?

PS “ALL FORMATS PRODUCE COLORATIONS! Digital’s colorations are more profound as they occur mostly in the time domain.” <--- and yes, I agree with you on this but the RP1's shortcoming are more pronounced to my ears than can be counterbalanced by superior time domain performance.

georgehifi's picture

Is that right?? Michael Fremer is anti digital.???

yuckysamson's picture

I don't think Mr. Fremer "hates" digital. He's saying he prefers the performance, in every regard, of either hi rez or vinyl to redbook. Before getting on a high-horse about this notion, it might be worthwhile to consider the idea that this isn't akin to saying "I like automatic instead of stick" or vice versa or two things that are "different" experiences. THis is like saying "Oddly I don't like playing with the files from my 2002 Nikon D1 when I can now use an 810". It's long been recognized that the 44.1 Format is a heavily impaired one which, for obvious reasons the industry couldn't upgrade on year after year (like has done with digital photography) and even further what's come to light is that there were significant errors made in the way these limited resolution files were created.

Insulting the guy for saying something legitimate is silly.

Jerry Garcia's picture

Michael Fremer about 8 hours ago
Ha! I’m winning this war because vinyl sales, turntable sales, and accessory sales continue their growth so I’m not “upset”. I’m not “arrogant” either.

I just don’t like being attacked. Do you?

If so here you go:

You are correct: digital is more “consistent”: consistently bad and not very pleasant to listen to.
And frozen processed food is also more “consistent”. Always the same, you can count on it! And always bad.

Calling what I do a racket? “Snake oil”. You’ve gone off the rails.

So go f…k yourself. Don’t like that, then don’t come here and INSULT me and call what I’ve spent 30 years building a “racket”. Now it’s your turn to call me “unprofessional” for not sitting back and letting you insult me. I’ve dealt many times with assholes like you.

John H. Darko about 8 hours ago
…..aaaaaaaaaaaaand with expletives thrown and personal insults being traded we reach the end of this discussion as it stands – this post’s comments section is now CLOSED.

georgehifi's picture

I didn't say he's anti digital, just queried it from another poster?

What I am questioning though is Michael Fremmer's statement, that you can get "the best from 16/44 PCM" by using a DSD delta sigma dac.
You can't, to get the best from PCM it is has to be converted using multibit conversion to get it "bit perfect" from it.
From what I've read/learnt about it.
As a dsd (delta sigma) dac has to convert pcm back into dsd in real time before it can play it back in dsd, an it's a facsimilie of it. A multibit dac does not, it converts in real time.

Cheers George

rzr's picture

Stereophile has no expertise in the area of digital music in regards to music servers, streamers, etc.. or the know how on how to make them work or provide maximum performance. This review is a prime example of this.
Where do I start?
#1: Fremer would rather listen to vinyl than digital, that's no secret. But he doesn't realize that when he compares digital to vinyl, he is comparing a $200k vinyl setup to a much cheaper digital setup, not realistic. He needs to come down to earth in his reviews and statements about the differences between the 2 using a vinyl setup that costs the same as a digital setup. He can't do this!!
#2: Fremer balks about purchasing a $250 NAS drive for this review. Fremer's 2 bolts that hold his cartridge onto the tonearm probably cost more than that! The reason I bring this up is that some manufacturers claim that their products sound better when using a NAS, in this case with the Moon, we will never know since it wasn't tested.
3: Fremer bitches about no documentation that can help him setup the Moon in different configurations. Again, this goes back to my #1 point above: Stereophile needs to get expertise in this area. I purchased an Auralic Aries and the pamphlet they send out is a couple of pages. But if you know this stuff, it was very easy for me to use the Lightning software, or the Lumin software (both on iPad), plus having the data stored on a NAS or using Minimserver on my OSX server, or a direct connected disk. Very easy to do! What are all the possibilities with the Moon 780D? The reader will never know after reading this review.
#4: Fremer keeps touting his Soloos setup. Soloos was not that good when it was new years ago in SQ and compared to the latest playback software, its pretty bad. Today, Roon SQ isn't as good as some of the other players like Audirvana. Roon along with Soloos are noted for their GUI interface and metadata collections: not a big deal to me. SQ is much more important than GUI, but with the new software like Lightning DS and Lumin and others, you get both. Hopefully, Roon SQ will improve. It seems that all the new music servers can support Roon and other software.

Bottomline: Stereophile needs to get somebody with much more experience when reviewing current digital systems like a music server/streamer so they can put the product thru the paces to get maximum performance. I don't want to hear that a reviewer was limited in his testing because something wasn't documented, documentation should not be an excuse, the reviewer should have enough knowledge to dig in and come up with many ways to configure the system for best performance. For example: Auralic is not going to document that using the Lumin software might sound better than using Auralic's own Lightning software. Just like Fremer has enough knowledge to setup tonearms and cartridges in his sleep and would never use documentation as a scapegoat, Stereophile needs to have the same type of reviewer for the digital world.

Jerry Garcia's picture

The Perpetual Pilgrim

My nephew, Andres, has turned his audio hobby into a religion. He takes his quest for the 'Ultimate Sound' as seriously as the quest for eternal life. He is consumed by audio nervosa and spends his free time studying audio magazines and websites to find absolution for his past buying decisions, and blessings to make changes. Recently, he even sacrificed the value of a pilgrimage to Rome in favor of new interconnects -- based solely on a decree from his most trusted bishop, a 'Golden Eared' reviewer in one of the magazines.

He invited me to spend the weekend at his apartment to solicit confirmation for his pricey investment. When I got there, he raved about the 'night and day' difference using the vernacular of reviewers: romantic richness, sweet delicacy, fatigue-free tonal lusciousness, liquid voluptuousness ............ I'm beginning to suspect he needs a girlfriend.

I could neither confirm nor deny any audible improvement as I wasn't sufficiently familiar with the sound of his system, but I was skeptical of his claims. So I decided to conduct a test. Overnight, while on a bathroom break, I switched his anointed interconnects with my Radio Shack 'Gold' cables -- which can be purchased for the price of a Roman candle.

While sipping coffee the next morning, Andres opened his stereo cabinet and played his favorite SACD, The Mission soundtrack, from beginning to end. He turned up the chorale to concert hall volumes and praised the sound.

He had no idea he was listening to the profane 'Rat Shack' cables. It was clear that the 'night and day' differences he raved about was not apparent the day after the night. His belief that the new cables were in play was sufficient to justify his enthusiasm. This experience confirmed to me that people do not have reliable perceptual capabilities. Perception is cognitive and the brain tends to be the dominant factor – the brain tells them what they experience more than their senses.

The most publicized case in point concerns Trader Joe's house wine, 'Two Buck Chuck,' as Charles Shaw's Chardonnays are known. They got less respect than Rodney Dangerfield until the 2007 California State Fair's Commercial Wine Competition. There, 64 judges awarded it the prestigious Double Gold award. That placed it first not only over 350 other Chardonnays, but on top of the entire collection of 3,029 wines! Wine tasting competitions are always conducted blind. Would the judges have ranked "Two Buck Chuck" as highly had they been able to see the label? When faith in price, status or reputation is eliminated from the equation, judgments change.
How different might the annual 'Recommended Component Buyers’ Guide' be if audio components were evaluated like wines? Would 'night and day' differences be confirmed or non-existent in a double-blind testing protocol? It's one thing for a reviewer to claim a component is superior, it's quite another to prove it. When a reviewer recommends expensive upgrades without evidence of their primacy (and expensive equipment is virtually always deemed superior in the media), he is asking followers to part with their money on the basis of faith.

Nonetheless, Andres agonizes over the words in the 'Recommended Components List' like St. Augustine over the Scriptures. He has a divine belief that these products are accurately appraised by sound quality -- despite a complete lack of evidence to that effect. For the most part, products with good reviews sell, and those without, don't. That's a lot of power to put in the hands of a few pundits with questionable hearing, motives and methodologies. How many good products have gone by the wayside due to the prejudices and preconceptions of reviewers? Conversely, how much snake oil is still on the market for the same reason?

In a recent e-mail, Andres wrote, "I still don’t feel like I have my arms around my system, the big picture, yes, but the subtle things that ultimately define it, not yet.......hoping in the process to do that endless loop of keeping my ears tuned, attentive, and aligned with others."

I have no idea why he thinks his young ears have to be "aligned with others"? What is it that he wants to get his "arms around." Like sex, music is an emotional, not an intellectual activity. Constantly nit-picking the equipment ruins the experience.
Someone once said, "You can’t know what's best is unless you have heard everything." Andres will never have sufficient time nor energy to audition everything. Even if he could, he'll never know how his ultimate system would compare to the live event unless he'd attended it. And even if he had, his health, mood and the location of the seat he chose would affect his memory of the performance. That's taking for granted there was a live performance, and he's not listening to a synthetic creation of the recording engineer.

Even assuming his acoustic memory of the live event is impeccable, the recording flawless, and his 'dream system' provided perfect fidelity, his listening room acoustics will distort the sound enormously -- as any pair of studio headphones will demonstrate.
Andres needs to see the light and accept the fact that every facsimile of the live event is corrupted and deficient. If his system is capable of turning him onto the music, if it takes him to a blissful state, his prayers are answered. This endless search for the Holy Grail will only keep him a perpetual pilgrim.

B. Jan Montana

Jerry Garcia's picture

Michael Fremer about 9 hours ago
Better not attend a classical music concert! I had a subscription to Avery Fisher Hall and The New York Philharmonic and guess what? The folks who attend tend to be old so there’s lots of coughing and choking, an occasional stroke. If you concentrate on that, you can never enjoy the music but because what you hear from the stage is so compelling, that stuff is easily tuned out.

The alternative is staying home and listening to “perfect” sound with no live interruptions. Whatever are the minor and not very often pops and clicks, what’s also there, to my ears, is far more compelling. But each to his own of course.