Simaudio Moon Evolution 880M monoblock power amplifier Page 2
Matters of Control & Precision
JA will describe the 880M's performance in technical terms, but I suspect that it will measure pretty flat "from DC to light." I've always been aware of the small humps and bumps in the VTL's and Levinson's frequency response, and believed I was accounting for them in comparisons with other equipment. Having heard the 880M, I have to admit that I've been listening around these irregularities and accepting them as a kind of pseudoreality. Maintaining the consistency of, say, an acoustic piano's sound, or a singer as she varies her pitch and volume, was another area where the 880M sounded different from most other amps I've heard. Gauged against the bar raised by the 880M, other ampscertainly my older but still excellent onessounded a little like patchwork, their performance a smooth but subtle composite of slightly different instruments.
From an amp with the 880M's power output and ultra-high damping factor I expect iron-fisted control of a speaker's bottom end and effortless, lightning-fast transients. The Simaudios didn't disappoint. They reproduced low-frequency information with a precision and an effortless nonchalance that beliedor perhaps paid testament totheir superb control of the Sophias' woofers. Certainly the 880M's bottom end was taut and powerful, and notes began and ended crisply, with no timbral or temporal smearing. But it never sounded or felt fast per se. Notes and lines just flowed, without any artifacts or discontinuities that drew attention to themselves. In the Solti recording of Beethoven's 9th, the double basses had the sort of body and choral nature that a group of individual instruments has in a live performance. They didn't sound sharply drawn or imbued with finely etched detail, but instead had the relaxed ease that I hear in the concert hall. They were detailed and precisely located in space, but in a seamless, natural way; they didn't pop out of the background in the hyped-up, over-etched way that's often mistaken for "detail."
One of my favorite recordings for listening to a system's low-frequency reproduction is "Love Her Madly," from the Doors' L.A. Woman (LP, Elektra EKS-75011). With very good but not quite sublime components, or even those with deep, powerful bottom ends, the bass in this track will sound good, but will lack the bounce and subtle inner detail that a bass should have. I've heard other amps that give this bass line more raw power and impact than did the 880M, but none that bettered how well it reproduced its unique natural bounce.
The 880M was also superb at reproducing dynamic transients large and small. Again, it didn't sound fast, or as if its transients were unusually emphasized, but simply handled anything I threw at it with beguiling effortlessness. Friday Night in San Francisco, a live recording by John McLaughlin, Paco de Luc°a, and Al Di Meola (half-speed-mastered LP, Columbia HC 47152), absolutely explodes with dynamic transients, and my favorite cut is the first, "Mediterranean Sundance/R°o Ancho." The 880Ms sailed through this test, beautifully reproducing the live feel and crackling excitement of audience and guitarists alike. The tiny microdynamic shadings among the faint echoes of notes decaying into the background were reproduced with clarity. At the other end of the scale, the near-instant snaps from pppp to ffff had lifelike speed and power, with no sense whatsoever that the 880Ms were working hard.
That feeling of effortless precision extended up and through the midrange. Voices had a natural feel and timbre, a great example being the quirky, a cappella "Tom's Diner," from Suzanne Vega's classic Solitude Standing (LP, A&M SP-5136). Through the Moons, Vega's voice pressurized the air in my room exactly as a live person's voice does. It also had a three-dimensional realisma sense that there was an actual body behind it, as opposed to a disembodied, two-dimensional voice flattened against the plane described by the speakers' front baffles. I've heard other amps produce a detailed, sharply bounded, even three-dimensional image of Vega's voice, but only the very best have matched the way the 880Ms translated the electronic signal into such a lifelike, coherent whole.
Comparisons from the Past
The Moon Evolution 880Ms deserve comparison with the very best amps I've heard in my system. VTL's S-400 Reference tubed stereo amp ($20,000 in 2005, reviewed in the December 2005 issue) stood out in my memory, particularly in terms of its ability to portray voices and instruments throughout the midrange. As good as the 880Ms were, and as dimensional and solid as their spatial portrayals of images were, they didn't quite have the refinement, and perhaps not as vivid a tonal palette, as I remembered the big VTL having. The 880Ms were certainly refined and tonally rich in their own right, or compared to the vast majority of top-tier amplifiers out there, but perhaps just a little less so than the S-400. The 880Ms, on the other hand, struck me as being a slightly more balanced overall. Both the VTL and the Simaudios had that effortlessness of sound heard when an amp's capabilities far exceed the demands placed on it.
Another reference point I harked back to while evaluating the 880Ms was my experience with the Halcro dm88 ($39,990/pair in 2006). It's been a while since I've heard the Halcro, but when I reviewed it for the August 2006 issue, it was the best amp I'd heard in my system. In addition to the effortless ease that I found so beguiling in the Moon Evolution 880M, the Halcro had a clarity that was unique among electronic components of any sort. Memories of pleasant experiences have a way of improving with age, so it's likely that I'm now remembering the Halcro a bit too fondly, but I don't think the 880M quite matched it in this sense. It was elusive and hard to put a finger on, but at times I thought I heard just the faintest background texture in the Simaudio's sound. On the other hand, the 880M outperformed the Halcro in at the low end, and in terms of power and precision of dynamic transients. These are all slight differencesI'm splitting hairs among the very best amps I've ever heard.
A Matter of Preamps
It wasn't at all surprising to discover that the best preamp I used with the Moon Evolution 880Ms was the Moon Evolution 850P (review in the works), or that they sounded best when run in balanced mode. The 850P is already so highly regarded for its transparency that I've been warned more than once to "be prepared to go completely through your system, top to bottom," and that "you'll be revamping and rearranging your listening room before you know it." With that sort of sonic microscope, I expected to find more nits to pick with the 880M: accentuations of any minor sonic thumbprints I might hear. On the contrarycombining the 850P with the 880Ms seemed to ameliorate any quibbles I'd had with the latters' sound and, if anything, accentuate its strengths. I've not yet tried to concentrate on the 850P or listen to it with other amplifiers, but pairing these two Moon Evolution models makes me look forward to the experience.
And that leaves us . . .
I found it hard to describe what the Simaudio Moon Evolution 880M was adding to my system's sound. Instead, I ended up identifying and describing what other components were adding that the 880M was nota telling comment on the Moon's performance. Also telling is that the most relevant benchmarks I found for the 880M were the VTL S-400 Reference and the Halcro dm88, two of the very best amps I've heard, and each of which set new a standard for performance. The Moon Evolution 880M now joins that group.
As with any component that sets a new standard of performance, it will be difficult to fully identify the 880M's characteristics until another, better component comes along. The 880M wasn't completely transparent, nor was it the best amp I've heard in every aspect of soundbut its overall balance and consistency of performance are causing me to reconsider the sound of the other excellent amps I've heard.
I did most of my listening with the Moon Evolution combo of 880Ms and 850P preampan undeniably synergistic pairing. I also did enough mixing and matching to tell me that the Moon Evolution 880M's performance should be outstanding regardless of what other components it's hooked up to. It's one of the small number of superamps that are in as close orbit around planet Perfection as today's technology permits. The 880M is an excellent design superbly executed, with a professionalism and attention to detail that promise consistently outstanding performance and long, trouble-free life. $42,000 is a lot of money, but competitively priced in the context of the top echelon of high-end amplifiers.
Back in 2001, the Moon Rock was Simaudio's admirable first attempt at a state-of-the-art amplifier, and especially admirable given how short a time it took to design and produce. With the Moon Evolution 880M there are no such caveatsand none needed. It's the big-time, big-money, big-power, big-everything amp that the Moon Evolution line has lacked, and a fully fledged state-of-the-art amplifier. Highly and very enthusiastically recommended.