What could be easier to review than a power amplifier? No features or functions aside from inputs, outputs, and a power switch. So when Jonathan Scull asked if I could help out by taking on the Rotel RB 1080, which another reviewer hadn't been able to get to, I accepted the assignment. Before I could click my heels and say "FedEx!" twice, Rotel's 200Wpc RB 1080 had appeared.
An amplifier producing nearly 400Wpc, weighing close to 100 lbs...from Rotel, of all people? Don't they know their place in the audio world? Next thing you know, Krell will start making integrated amplifiers! Oops—Krell is making integrated amplifiers...
Okay, here you are: You're a Real World music lover trying to sling together a Real World hi-fi rig. You gotcha budget-king NAD/Rotel/JVC/Pioneer CD player, your SOTA Comet/Sumiko Blue Point analog rig, and your cool-man NHT/PSB/Definitive Technology entry-level speakers. Hell, you've even gone out and bought a few pairs of Kimber PBJ interconnects to hook it all up. This ain't no dog and pony showyou want that High-End High, not just some cheap'n'cheerful, low-rez rig to stick in the rumpus room so the kids can listen to that weak-ass, faux-grunge, watered-down Hendrix-howl that modern-day wimp-boys like Pearl Jam dish out to anyone under 30 who doesn't know any better.
As a reviewer who has focused on seeking out high-quality audiophile gear for cost-constrained readers, I'm embarrassed to say that the flagship RB-991 stereo amplifier is the first Rotel product I've had in my house. (To be fair to myself, this 38-year-old family-owned company did not develop a large US market presence until this last decade.)
In the September 2005 issue (Vol.28 No.9), I reviewed Simaudio's first reference-quality power amplifier: the 1000W, 220-lb Moon Rock monoblock ($37,000/pair). At the time, the Rock was a dramatic departure for Simaudio, then primarily known as a maker of midpriced gear that was good for the money. I found a lot to like about the Rock, concluding that while it wasn't quite up to the standard of the best superamps of the time, it was very goodand, for Simaudio, an admirable first shot at the state of the art.
When I reviewed the Moon Evolution P-7 preamplifier ($6900) from Canadian manufacturer Simaudio in March 2009, I was impressed by the qualities of both the audio engineering and the sound. It was a no-brainer, therefore, to follow that report with a review of the matching power amplifier, the Moon Evolution W-7. In March 2006 Kalman Rubinson reviewed Simaudio's Moon Evolution W-8, which offered at least 250Wpc into 8 ohms (I measured 310Wpc at clipping). The W-7 looks identical to the W-8, but is 10 lbs lighter, offers 150Wpc into 8 ohms, and retails for $8900 compared with the W-8's $13,500.
The W-8 ($10,200) is the first of Simaudio's Moon series to incorporate the new Evolution cosmetics and new circuitry. I loved its predecessor, the Moon W-5, which was one of the first power amplifiers I reviewed for Stereophile (March 1999, Vol.22 No.3). I also loved the "new and improved" W-5 when I wrote about in the May 2001 issue. In the September 2005 issue, Brian Damkroger praised Simaudio's monstrous Moon Rock monoblock, a contemporary of the Moon Evolution W-8 stereo amp.
I first saw and heard SimAudio's Moon amp and preamp at WCES two years back, and something about their aesthetics appealed to me: Canadian ruggedness coupled with a decidedly French panache. I remember that those attributes also characterized the demo's sound, although I can't recall the speakers or the sources involved. At succeeding shows, it gradually dawned on me that the Moon components were the fixed elements in a succession of impressive demos.
For years, I thought of Simaudio gear as good-sounding, attractive, and modestly priced, often describing it to friends as "really good for the money." The $5500 Moon Eclipse CD player, which I reviewed in our April 2001 and April 2003 issues, stretched the "modestly priced" descriptor a bit, but its sound was still, I thought, really good for what it cost, and I adopted it as a reference. Simaudio expanded the Moon series and eventually discontinued its older, less expensive Celeste brand, but, I thought, its products could still be described as "really good for the money."
If your audiophile habit goes back more than a couple of decades, you're probably doing a double take looking at the Smart Devices 2X150VT. Looks like a Hafler DH-200, doesn't it? That's because, at its core, a Hafler DH-200 is exactly what it is. Smart Devices doesn't name names in its brochure, but they do say that "You may recognize this amplifier as one of the dominant premium performers of the 1970s and '80s"—a reasonable enough description of the MOSFET-output DH-200, which combined outstanding sound with a very reasonable price—especially if you built the kit.
That is not a typo. The company is named Soulutionas in soul commitment to designing and manufacturing the finest audio gear it knows how, as in souldiering on in the face of skeptics who can't imagine why a power amplifier that puts out 130Wpc into 8 ohms or 260 into 4 ohms should cost $45,000, or weigh as much as a small pickup truck.
James Bongiorno, the engineer behind the Sumo Andromeda, has enjoyed a long and colorful career as an audio amplifier designer. He has cast himself at times as an enfant terrible, exploding at audio critics and running scandalous advertisements (footnote 1). His best-known amplifier is the Ampzilla, produced by Great American Sound, but he also designed the Dyna 400. Currently Jim is living on a boat and serving as part-time consultant to the Sumo Company.
What's in a name? Quite a bit, when you stop and think about it. Would you rather have prostate surgery by Dr. Steadyhand or Dr. Whoops? Names imply a lot, even if we don't consciously make the connection; that's why your Polo shirt was made by Ralph Lauren instead of Ralph Lipshitz.
Things didn't start off auspiciously. I'd been after Symphonic Line's Klaus Bunge for more than a year to send me the Kraft 400 Reference monoblocks. Finally he called. He said he was going to be in town for a few days, and he had with him a pair of what he described as his "traveling" Kraft 400s, which he proposed to leave with me.