Simaudio Moon i3.3 integrated amplifier
As I grew older, I discovered that using specialized tools for a given job was generally easier, faster, and more pleasurable than using my Swiss Army knife's utilities. Though I could cut a tent's ground cloth with my knife's scissors, a plain-Jane pair of Fiskars worked much better, an OXO can opener got me into those baked beans much faster than my Victorinox could, and even my Swiss Army knife blade didn't stay as sharp or fit in my hand as well as a simple Buck knife. Still, there was no doubt that my Swiss Army knife was a great tool and a good value, even if it was never the best tool for a specific task. To put it another way: The value of my Swiss Army knife was broad but shallow, while the value of something like my OXO can opener was narrow but deep.
It's the same in high-end audio. Some products are designed to perform one task, and do that task better than any other product at the price. Such products have a value that is deep and narrow. Other products create value by balancing their performance across many different tasks and offering many features in a convenient, easy-to-use package. They may not be the best at doing any one thing, but they're good enough in so many ways that they are, ultimately, great products. Thankfully, the marketplace has proven that there is room for both types of products: there are so many kinds of audiophiles, all with different tastes, budgets, and biases.
Canadian, not Swiss
Simaudio Ltd. has, over the years, offered a wide array of products at various price points and performance levels, all designed and built in Canada, and the Moon i3.3 is one of seven offerings for the ubiquitous integrated amplifier. Unlike more pedestrian integrateds, the Moon i3.3 contains a number of design elements that hint at its connection to the company's pricier gear. The i3.3's amplifier section puts out 100Wpc into an 8 ohm load and 200W into 4 ohms, these power ratings achieved by running the amp in class-A/B biasing. However, true to its high-end leanings, Simaudio has biased the i3.3 to output its first 5W in full class-A. Though that may not seem like a lot of class-A power, those first few watts are where most of the music is made, especially at reasonable listening levels.
Though the fit and finish of the Moon i3.3 are fine, there is little about its outward appearance that screams "I'm a high-end product!!" In general, the i3.3 is one of the more visually understated integrated amps I've reviewed, especially in direct comparison to Manley Labs' Stingray iTube or Mystère's ia21. The i3.3's faceplate is available in two finishes: silver or black. My sample, in black, had a nicely textured surface.
The i3.3 comes with a stock power cord, but can accept specialty power cables via the IEC connector on its rear panel. Next to that is a hard power switch that you'll need to mess with only if you're going to leave town for a few days or are the greenest of the Green. Otherwise, the i3.3 powers up from a state of hibernation via the Standby button on the faceplate, or the Power button on the nicely laid-out remote control. The speaker terminals are particularly robust for an integrated of this size.
Speaking of size, the rather svelte i3.3 could fit in many places most amps wouldn't. Though you'll want to keep it in a well-ventilated area, I never found the i3.3 to run particularly hot or even warm. Also helping to keep the amp's placement options open is the remote IR sensor input on its rear panel.
The Moon i3.3's volume setting and input can be selected directly from its front panel or from its remote control. At its base price of $3300, the i3.3 comes with four single-ended inputs and, on the front panel, an additional 1/8" "MP In" jack. It also usefully comes with fixed and variable line outputsyou could hook up the i3.3 to a tape deck (rock out to the CrO2!), subwoofer, or external amplifier. You can also make one of the analog inputs bypass the i3.3's preamp section for use with a home-theater processor, or if you want to use the i3.3 as a straight power amplifier. And there's a ¼" headphone jack on the front panel. As I said, this thing does it all.
What do I need to do to get you into an integrated amp today?
As if the stock Moon i3.3 didn't offer enough to get you into the showroom for a listen, it can also be ordered with some fancy options. First, for an extra $200, the i3.3 can be configured with a set of balanced inputs. These are not merely XLR receptacles, but a fully balanced input circuit. Another $300 gets you a built-in phono stage that will accept moving-magnet or moving-coil cartridges, and whose resistance and capacitance can be loaded via user-friendly internal jumpers. And for $400 more, you get a digital input board with two coaxial inputs, a TosLink connector, and (drum roll, please) a direct USB input. The digital inputs are all fed to a Burr-Brown PCM1793 DAC chip, which accepts up to 24-bit data words at sampling rates of up to 192kHz (the USB input accepts only up to 16/48).
Now, how much would you pay for a fully decked-out Simaudio Moon i3.3? $4200? $4100? Well, I'm here to tell you that if you buy the i3.3 with all the options just listed, you pay just $4000. That's like buying the digital inputs and phono stage and getting the balanced inputs for freea saving of $200.
Yes, we have no bananas
Setting up and using the Moon i3.3 could not have been more easy or straightforwardwhich is precisely how such a product should be designed. If you left monkeys in a room long enough with a Moon i3.3, even they would eventually be able to listen to music.
But seriously: All inputs on the rear panel are clearly labeled, and the red LED display on the front panel (it can be turned off) clearly shows which input you've selected. The only confusion that might arise is if you haven't memorized which component is plugged into which inputyou can't relabel the Moon's display to remind you. This could become a problem when dealing with 10 inputs, or if Grandma visits and wants to listen to her Celtic Woman CDs on your rig when you (thankfully) are out of the house.
My only real beef with the i3.3's layout is with the placement of the right speaker terminal on the rear panel. When I connected the spades of my right Kimber BiFocal speaker cable to the Moon, I effectively rendered the CD and Analog 1 inputs inaccessible. I don't know where else Simaudio could have placed that terminal. Like my aforementioned Swiss Army knife, a lot of stuff is crammed into and onto the little Moon. Be warned: If you plan to use all of the i3.3's inputs, terminate your speaker cables with banana plugs.