Simaudio Moon Evolution 650D CD player
In the early 1980s, when CDs began trickling out of the few existing pressing plants, they were such rare and exotic objects that Aaron's Records, on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, kept them secured under lock and key in a tall glass cabinet. A customer forsaking vinyl would enter the store and, with great fanfare, announce the decision by dropping a load of LPs on the front counter with a disgusted thud. Then, in a ceremony resembling a rabbi removing the sacred scrolls of the Torah from the ark, the customer would approach the glass cabinet. An employee would unlock and swing open the doors, and, under that watchful gaze, the customer would choose from among a scattering of titles, carefully avoiding any disc that did not include the Strictly Kosher mark of "DDD."
Fast-forward 30 years. So far has the pendulum swung the other way that Simaudio has implored me to please not refer to their Moon Evolution 650D as a "CD player." But in fact, the Moon Evolution 650D is a multi-input digital-to-analog converter that, as an added convenience, happens to include a CD transport, just in case you still play those old-fangled things. Why they didn't also add eight-track, cassette, and floppy-disk transports, I'm not sure.
A DAC with a Drawer
Two years ago, Simaudio introduced the Moon Evolution 750D CD transport/DAC ($11,999), billed as "the world's first true 32-bit asynchronous DAC." The new Moon Evolution 650D ($7999) is physically and functionally identical to the 750D. The differences are inside.
The 650D uses the ESS Technology SABRE32 Ultra DAC/Digital Filter (ES9016), whereas the 750D uses the ES9018 chip. Like the 750D, the 650D features a 32-bit data path, that the initialism-happy Simaudio calls MA-JiC32, as well as eight DACs per channel. The 650D's fully balanced analog stage is not quite as sophisticated as the 750D's. For instance, the 650D has 18 stages of independent, inductive, DC power-supply voltage regulation (Simaudio calls this i2DCf) vs the 750D's 24 stages.
Independent toroidal transformers feed separate digital and analog power supplies. The fully balanced, dual-differential, dual-mono analog output stage features what Sim claims is a "very short," capacitor-free DC servo circuit, and a proprietary 12dB/octave analog filter. A short signal path and pure copper tracings on a four-layer PCB are said to produce improved signal/noise ratio and a more accurate sound, while the ultrarigid chassis construction minimizes bad vibrations.
The 650D is physically compact, dense, and shelf-friendlyit's sufficiently squat to fit on most lower rack shelves. The front panel is illuminated by LEDs in dot-matrix style, with letters and numbers so large you may have to remove your glasses to read them. You can adjust the panel's brightness or shut it off entirely.
On the rear panel are four digital inputs: AES/EBU, S/PDIF, TosLink, and USB. By the end of the year, an extra-cost (price TBA), in-the-field swapping out of the digital input board will up the USB input's maximum resolution of 16-bit/48kHz to 24/192, which the other inputs are already capable of decoding.
Oh, and there's also that CD-drawer, which is part of Simaudio's proprietary M-Quattro Drive transport, mounted on the gel-based, four-point floating suspensionor, as I like to say, "the transport's on some rubber."
Also on the rear panel are S/PDIF and AES/EBU outputs, an RS-232 port for firmware updates and "unsolicited bi-directional control" (sounds like a kinky personals ad), an IR input for external control, and a SimLink port to communicate with and control other Simaudio components. The 650D's nicely machined remote control can operate those other Sim devices, so some of the buttons are superfluous for a CD playI mean, a multi-input CD transportDACbut from the remote you can toggle through (though not directly select) inputs and control the transport. Not that it's important, but I found the remote's shapeit looks like a long toothless than appealing.
In short, except for a few chips, the 650D seems identical to the 750D, for much less. A 750D wasn't provided for a comparison, so it's difficult to say what another $4000 gets you in terms of audible or measurable performance, or what you might lose (if anything) by opting for the less expensive model. For all I know, the 650D might sound better.
Setup and Listening Strategies
Screw in the Moon Evolution 650D's spiked feet (provided) and, if you've got wooden shelves, set them on the supplied bases (provided), run some interconnects and digital inputs from external sources, and you're ready to go.
I used the 650D's S/PDIF input with the Meridian Sooloos music server, the AES/EBU input with the Alesis Masterlink hard-disk recorder, and the TosLink input with my MacBook Pro computer, and ran a set of Stealth Sakra balanced interconnects to the Ypsilon PST-100 Mk.II preamplifier.
Operated via iPhone, the Sooloos made for an incredibly handy tool that I couldn't have imagined 20 years ago. I could choose from among more than 2300 CDs and higher-resolution files, create instant playlists, and access individual selections, all within seconds. Swap a few cables and I could rehear the same music through the Playback Designs SACD playerDAC, the only DAC reference point I had on hand.
No Expectations Met with Shock and Awe
Rummaging through my Sooloos jukebox produced a playlist that had no rhyme or reason other than that it was music I wanted to hear as I came upon it. It added up to a varied selection that proved extremely useful. The selection ran from the Animals' "Don't Bring Me Down," from the CD layer of ABKCO's hybrid SACD, to a JVC XRCD of Offenbach's Gaîté Parisienne, the famous 1954 recording by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops (CD, RCA Living Stereo/JVCXR-0224).
Also on the playlist: Lalo Schifrin's "Pampas," from the superb release Antonio Lysy at The Broad: Music from Argentina (CD, Yarlung 27517); "Touch of Grey," from the Grateful Dead's In the Dark; "There Goes My Baby," by The Drifters; "I'll Get You," in mono, by the Beatles; "Take the 'A' Train," from the M&K Realtime CD of Bill Berry and His Ellington All-Stars' For Duke (M&K's direct-to-disc vinyl kills it); "Let's Go Away for Awhile," from Brian Wilson's Live at the Roxy; the Zombies' "Time of the Season" (in mono and stereo); André Previn's jazz recording West Side Story, on Contemporary (tape dropout included); and the high-resolution recording of Malcolm Arnold's Commonwealth Christmas Overture, from the disc of Arnold conducting the London Philharmonic in his own overtures (HRx, Reference), which can sound like pompous parodies fit for the entrance of a high government official in a Monty Python sketch.
I began with the Dead's "Touch of Grey," and it was love at first hearing. At first I just listened without trying to analyze why I was finding the sound so pleasurable (for CD resolution). Then it was time to get to work.
I had zero expectations of the Moon Evolution 650D's sound. Other than a few modestly priced, reasonably good-sounding phono preamplifiers, I've had no Simaudio models in my system. But the 650D's bottom end foundation was noticeably muscular, deep, articulate, and well balanced. The kick drum was well textured and punchy, while the bass line floated cleanly and separately beneath it, free of bloat and in exceptionally fine focus. Jerry Garcia's voice hovered between the speakers in an unsmeared, three-dimensional space that made deciphering the words unusually easy. The overall instrumental separation and three-dimensional image solidity and transparency, combined with the bottom-end foundation, produced an exceptional digital reproduction of "Touch of Grey" that was free of glare and harsh overtones, and that didn't come at the expense of clean, fast transient articulation or a detailed decay structure, both of which helped produce rhythmic certainty and a physically solid, organized sound picture. In other words, this pleasing sound didn't seem to be caused by a sonic cover-up from diffuse warmth or softness. Rhythmically, the 650D could not be faulted. It rocked!
Next up was the vintage recording of Offenbach's Gaîté Parisienne. While this is an exceptionally spacious and transparent recording, its mid-1950s origins are obvious in its overly generous midrange and upper midrange, which put the strings, woodwinds, and brass at the beginning in a bit of a confused, bulbous haze. Only after these subside and the ultratransparent snare drum, woodblock, flute, and triangle take over do you begin to hear what all the fuss this recording has generated is about. The 650D's reproduction of the woodblock and the grainless, pristine clarity of the triangle caught my attention as being unusually clean, finely drawn, and preciseparticularly the triangle's attack, clean sustain, and decay into "black."