Simaudio Moon Equinox CD player

Simaudio has been doing well in the middle of the high-end market, providing products such as their Moon i-5 integrated amplifier (reviewed by Chip Stern in July 2002), which offers a glimpse of high-quality sound at an affordable price. That's not to say that the Canadian manufacturer neglects the cost-no-object market: the two-box, $5700, Simaudio Moon Eclipse CD player impressed the heck out of Brian Damkroger when he reviewed it for Stereophile in April 2001 (with a Follow-Up in April 2003). So when Simaudio's Lionel Goodfield offered me their Moon Equinox player ($2000) for inclusion in my irregular series of CD-player reviews (footnote 1), I didn't need to be asked twice.

The Equinox... a distinctive-looking "double-decker" player, its transport section mounted in a central hump above the display window, whose large, red, seven-segment numerals look rather garish beneath the central blue LED. (Adding to the garishness, these numerals flash ostentatiously when the player is paused.) Behind the ½"-thick front panel of anodized aluminum, the black-finished chassis is stiffened by the finned, semicircular side extrusions that have become a Simaudio hallmark. The Equinox offers unbalanced analog outputs only via the usual RCA jacks.

With its mechanically damped top cover removed, the Equinox's chassis is relatively empty. The Philips transport mechanism is mounted top center, above the printed circuit board carrying its control circuitry. A second, multilayer board occupies the real estate between the transport and the rear panel, carrying the power supply on its left-hand half. This is based on a small toroidal transformer and 13,200µF of reservoir capacitance.

Local three-pin regulators supply clean voltage where it is needed. The audio circuitry is based on a Burr-Brown PCM1730 DAC chip, located next to the master oscillator crystal. The '1730 is a two-channel, 24-bit device running at 352.8kHz. The incoming data are processed by the chip's internal 8x-oversampling digital filter before being fed to the DAC proper. (HDCD decoding is not offered.) Each channel of the DAC's current outputs appear to be fed to an NE5532 dual op-amp chip, though it is not apparent without a circuit diagram if these perform current/voltage conversion or DC removal (or both). The output stage is based on the popular Burr-Brown OPA2604 dual FET-input op-amp. A parallel signal path in the center of the board takes the recovered data from the transport to a Burr-Brown DIT4192 transmitter that feeds an S/PDIF-formatted datastream to an RCA jack on the rear panel.

The Moon Equinox is intended to be left on, a button on the top left of the front panel switching it in and out of Standby. The plastic remote control is decidedly utilitarian. However, an aluminum remote is also available.

Before I did any listening to the Equinox, I used it on Track Repeat for 48 hours to break in a pair of speakers in-house for review. (Simaudio's products have a reputation for needing a lengthy break-in period.) But when I did finally press Play on its cheesy remote, it was clear that the Moon Equinox is a contender. Its sound was refreshingly free from treble glare, or any tendency to brightness. Not that it sounded mellow or rolled-off—brash-sounding modern recordings (of which there are far too many) still sounded brash. Our June 2002 "Recording of the Month," Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (CD, Nonesuch 79669-2), sounded just as in-your-face on the Equinox as it always has, while Los Lobos' new album, The Ride (Mammoth/Hollywood 2061-62443-2), continued to disappoint with its grainy sound. But Mary Chapin Carpenter's vocals on "Grand Central Station," from Between Here and Gone (CD, Columbia CK 86619), hung between the speakers in a nicely present manner, the Equinox refusing to exaggerate the huskiness or sibilant edge of her voice.

The most obvious characteristic of the Moon Equinox was its bass: big, powerful, weighty. The low, fifth-string bass-guitar notes supporting Keb' Mo's vocal on "Over and Over," from our April 2001 "Recording of the Month," organist Jimmy Smith's Dot Com Blues (CD, Verve 01064-2), purred mightily without descending into soggy-sounding boom, while the awesome low frequencies that punctuate "Grand Central Station" were reproduced in reasonably full measure. But even the Equinox could do nothing about the bass-pedal mud that occasionally obscures Jupiter, from Peter Sykes' transcription for organ of Holst's The Planets (CD, Raven DAR-380, footnote 2). (The reverberant acoustics of Philadelphia's Girard College cope much better with the slow movements of this work, such as Saturn, where the organ's lowest notes have time to develop, then fade, before the next one comes along.)

The soundstage was reproduced via the Equinox with a little less image depth than the best "Red Book" digital sources I've heard, such as the Lavry DA2002, which I reviewed in August. For example, I put on the SACD/CD of K622 (Musical Fidelity MFSACD017), Antony Michaelson's performance of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, which I produced and Tony Faulkner engineered (see my article in the August 2004 issue). The Equinox played the "Red Book" CD layer, of course, but there was not quite the degree of palpability to the image of the solo clarinet that I had become used to when working on the project using my long-term reference D/A processor, the megabucks Mark Levinson No.30.6, to decode the 16-bit PCM version of the session data.

That is not to say that the Simaudio player was inadequate in this area. It did a fine job of painting the acoustic of the cave that acts as sonic bookends for Andreas Vollenweider's 1983 Caverna Magica (Swiss CD, Colombia 882-01).

Footnote 1: So far I have written about the Ayre Acoustics CX-7 (May 2003), the Classé CDP-10 (September 2003), the Mark Levinson No.390S (January 2004), and the Arcam FMJ CD33 (July 2004).—John Atkinson

Footnote 2: My thanks to Mr. Sykes for autographing this CD for me following his knockout performance of J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations on the harpsichord at Home Entertainment 2004 at the end of May.—John Atkinson

95 Chemin de Tremblay, Unit 3
Boucherville, Quebec J4B 7K4
(450) 449-2212