Simaudio Moon Evolution W-8 power amplifier Page 2
The W-8's midrange was not much different from the W-5's: superbly transparent. However, the W-8's midrange was presented in the context of greatly improved clarity and balance in the frequency bands above and below. This smoother, wider integration permitted a much greater appreciation of vocal reproduction. And, although I would have expected the above-noted warmth to color male voices, it was apparent only with radio announcers; male and female singing voices were equally well delineated. When I'd feverishly unwrapped Zander's greatly anticipated Mahler 1, I'd neglected to notice that the hybrid SACD's first tracks were actually Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. When I hit Play, instead of quiet, leisurely string passages, I heard what I thought was a real but soft human voice. Christopher Maltman's baritone is mixed almost entirely in the center channel of the disc's multichannel layer; in the stereo two-channel tracks his voice was nailed dead-center, starkly present. It was one of those moments that tell me that the equipment is doing something—many things—just right. Eerie recognition, indeed.
With all that clarity and balance, the W-8 was also capable of impressive dynamics—from subtle to stupendous, there seemed no practical limit to its responsiveness. As usual, I relied on great piano CDs to assess this: Russian music from Olga Stern (Rachmaninoff, Taneyev, Liadov, and Balakirev, Harmonia Mundi HMU 907399) and Evgeny Kissin (Scriabin, Medtner, and Stravinsky, RCA 65389-2). Especially in the Rachmaninoff, the combination of Moon Evolution W-8 and B&W 802Ds easily conveyed Stern's range and power, as well as the rich tone of her Hamburg Steinway, recorded in the warm acoustic of Skywalker Studios. Kissin, by contrast, is more brilliant, with sparklingly punctuate fingerwork, and his Hamburg Steinway, recorded in a Freiburg studio, has the agility of a sports car compared to Stern's limousine. The W-8 fueled my travel both ways, drawing out the best from each recording.
Survival of the fittest
It was clear from my many weeks with the Simaudio Moon Evolution W-8 that it was a superbly musical power amplifier. That it seemed a bit richer in the midbass than other amps might have been predicted from its lineage, but that was evident only in direct comparison. The W-8 was an outstanding match for the Revel Ultima Studios, but easily revealed the midbass ripeness in the B&W 802Ds revealed by the graphs in JA's "Measurements" for that review (Stereophile, December 2005). This distinction between the speakers remained when I switched to the Classé Omicrons, but as both the Revels and the B&Ws now sounded more lean, my preference shifted slightly, to the 802Ds.
However, the impression remained that the W-8 sounded always a bit warmer than the Omicrons, even when I substituted the Moon Evolution P-8 Reference for the Bel Canto Pre6 preamp and the perceived differences between the amps decreased. The synergy of the W-8 and P-8 was not surprising, and is further evidence of the need to match components carefully in order to optimize a system's performance. The W-8 remained spot-on with the Revel speakers. With the B&Ws, the W-8 now sounded only marginally ripe in the upper bass at very low levels—but, counterintuitively, the combination really opened up when driven lustily.
This was most apparent with Douglas Marshall's marvelous recital, Opus 1, performed on the Marshall & Ogletree pipe organ recently installed at Manhattan's Trinity Church (CD/DVD, Seemusic SMD-051). This organ is an interim digital replacement for the original, destroyed on September 11, 2001. The two-channel recording captures the ripe acoustic of the church and the brilliant colors of this double organ (its two sets of pipes can be controlled, separately or together, from the front and/or rear consoles). At levels about 10dB higher than those at which I usually listen, there was no trace of any 100Hz-region excess from either the W-8 or the 802Ds. The ambience of Trinity Church filled my room, and the background noises of the valves and control whirred busily in the background as the music of Handel, Bach, and, especially, Franck sang and roared with clarity and power. It was counterintuitive, all right, but decisively right, with no trace of imposed coloration.
The Simaudio Moon Evolution W-8 is an outstanding power amplifier. It was powerful, clean, and transparent, with all sorts of music and with all of the speakers I tried. My observation of a subtle warmth with certain combinations was context-dependent, and is as likely to be a positive contribution as not. One might just as easily refer to other amps as "cool," thereby shifting the implication of fault from one to the other. But neither statement is more true than the other. Depending on speaker and context, one can only express preference, not absolute superiority. Earlier Moon amps have been particularly well suited for full-range panel speakers such as Quads and Magnepans; I think the W-8, too, would do well with such speakers.
While the W-8 is not cheap at $10,200, it is sonically competitive with any amp I've used, and better than most. Regardless of size or price, few amps have more than a few dB more useful output at the W-8's power ratings of 250Wpc at 8 ohms, 500Wpc at 4 ohms, and 1kWpc at 2 ohms. With wisely chosen accompanying speakers, the Simaudio Moon Evolution W-8 is capable of state-of-the-art performance. Did I like it? You bet.