Moon by Simaudio Evolution 780D D/A processor Page 2

I downloaded the app and read the manual, but still had no idea how to integrate my hard drives into the network. Another call to Goodfield produced the answer, which was provided (sort of) in the list of MiND streaming capabilities. But really, a product like the 780D needs a manual that holds your hand, not a list of bulleted "capabilities"! I don't care if the dealer does the setup. Better that the customer learns how it all works, and how best to integrate sources into the MiND network. Don't you think?

Using the MiND app with an iPad
Again, I won't try to describe something that's best experienced visually, other than to write that, like magic, all of the files on my two hard drives, plus what's in my iTunes library and available via my Tidal subscription, were easily accessed via the app. Up popped all those 24/96 DVD-A files, 24/192 files, and iTunes 16/44.1 files.

You can search for files by artist, title, composer, genre, style, playlist, etc. If there's album art, it appears. Via my iPad screen I could select a track to play immediately, or put the entire album at the top or bottom of the queue. Everything that's played goes in the queue, where it can be saved and recalled—or the entire queue can be erased.

There were glitches. The Search function didn't produce some albums I know to be on those hard drives. Sometimes, the drives would "disappear," and I'd have to go back to the main computer and remove and reinstall the UPnP Renderer to get them to reappear. There were other problems that probably were solvable but that don't merit detailed description in the context of a review, especially given the safe assumption that software upgrades will always be forthcoming.

The Moon Evolution 780D took a long while to break in. It sounded good out of the box, but over time its sound relaxed a bit, loosened and opened up. I'm glad this review was delayed for a month or two: as good as the sound was during the initial listening period, it's since gotten much better.

Between that paragraph and this I selected "Box of Rain," from the 24/96 edition of the Grateful Dead's American Beauty (DVD-A, Warner Brothers), and there it was. I still prefer the LP. The bass from the hi-rez file is astonishingly deep and tight, but sounds a bit pushed, and the top doesn't sing as on the original vinyl. This isn't the 780D's fault. It's a computer, after all: garbage in, garbage out—and a lot of garbage went into many of those early DVD-A files, whose mastering engineers were clearly trying to make a point about bass. That said, Miles Davis's Kind of Blue (24/96, Columbia/Legacy/HDtracks) demonstrated the 780D's sweet, detailed, spacious side.

It's already old news for anyone who already has a streaming DAC, so pardon my enthusiasm, but: We're finally getting the convenience long promised by digital audio. Especially exciting was the ability to seamlessly switch between hi-rez 24/192 PCM and DSD. I played a 24/192 rip I'd made of an LP of The Sound of Jazz, with Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Red Allen, Lester Young, and others, all recorded in stereo in 1957 (Columbia CS 8040). I've played this file many times, at audio shows and at home, and this was as open, precise, and analog-like relaxed as I've heard it—the spaciousness was similar to what I heard from Kind of Blue, but with a far more natural spread of instruments and voices across the stage. Billie Holiday sings "Fine and Mellow" backed by Mal Waldron's All-Stars, including Lester Young (her former beau), Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Doc Cheatham, Jo Jones, and others. The edge usually present in Holiday's voice in the digital version, which is not there when I play the LP, was gone, yet the top end—especially the reverb of Columbia's 30th Street Studio—was undiminished, as on the LP: more so than I'm used to hearing from digital playback, and with greater refinement and delicacy than from the already very fine 650D, in comparisons with the 780D. Particularly excellent were the delicacy, sweetness, and textural resolution of the cymbals in "Fine and Mellow."

Among the 780D's strongest suits were the solidity of its soundstaging and its generous reproduction of space. With recordings that include such information, it produced stages of widths, depths, and heights that, a decade ago, seemed impossible from digital sources.

Of course, the 780D's abilities to decode up to DSD4x (DSD256), and to seamlessly switch between PCM and DSD, are major. I played a wide variety of DSD files from my laptop via JRiver, including Jeff Buckley's Grace (Columbia), Rod Stewart's Every Picture Tells a Story (Mercury), Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here (Columbia), and John Coltrane's Giant Steps (Atlantic).

Not that playback was glitchless. More than a few times while playing DSD files, JRiver had a meltdown and went into buffering mode. Spinning rainbow circles ensued, and then the program refused to close, even with a forced quit. Sometimes it would quit when forced, but then the only way to open it again was to shut down and restart the computer. None of this was the fault of the Moon Evolution 780D, but it's a reality of computer audio. Maybe my laptop lacked sufficient RAM.

Having instant access to so much great music was a musical power trip that was only intensified by yet another improvement in digital sound. This is not to say that CDs suddenly sounded texturally supple and three-dimensional. Switching between 16/44.1 and 24/96 (and up) files was like removing a glass wall from in front of the speakers.

Sonic Upgrade
Playing the highest-resolution recordings, whether 24/192 or DSD, the Moon Evolution 780D sounded like an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary improvement (though a genuinely major one) over the sound of the 650D. It was easy enough to compare the two—I still have the 650D—by revisiting many of the same files.

I never heard the Moon Evolution 750D, which a few owners and writers described to me as sounding somewhat more detailed than the 650D, but at the cost of being overly analytical, a tad harsh and bright, and almost too revealing of less-than-perfectly recorded and/or mastered music; overall, the 650D was said to be more pleasant to listen to. I reviewed the 650D in the November 2011 issue, and now I listened again to many of the recordings I'd used for that review, including Markus Schwartz & Lakou Brooklyn's superbly recorded and musically engaging Equinox (24/96 WAV, Soundkeeper).

The 650D sounded warmer but also "thicker"—as if I were playing an LP of the album with a spherical rather than a line-contact stylus. The 650D sounded "slower," the 780D "faster"—but not so fast that it missed the music's point.

The 780D's reproduction of Equinox was remarkably more transparent, with far more precise and delicate initial transients, even using the Moon Evolution 820S outboard power supply with the 650D but not with the 780D. In fact, while the 820S produced a big sonic improvement with the 650D, it wasn't really necessary with the 780D—at least, not in my system.

With the best hi-rez recordings, the 780D's transparency and graceful yet superbly detailed transient performance combined with an absence of glare, grain, and other digital artifacts to produce what was among the most transparent, if not the most transparent digital sound I've heard. It didn't sound at all thin or forward or bright—at least not on good source material.

Yet in no way would I describe the sound as unpleasantly analytical or lacking in texture. The 24/192 file of Joni Mitchell's For the Roses produced, along with delicacy and flow, an in-the-studio immediacy and transparency that I've rarely experienced from a digital source. It rivaled the original LP. And though the sounds were very different, in this case they were different but equal: Even after 44 years of play, the vinyl still had more there there, if not the 24/192 file's spooky, in-the-studio transparency.

I imagine that the 750D produced a similar immediacy and transparency, but minus the delicacy and flow, which could be why some people preferred the less-resolving 650D. But given a good recording, the 780D delivered both, without sounding analytical or unpleasant in any way.

However, not even the finest DAC can make me appreciate the sound of 16-bit/44.1kHz CDs. Through the 780D they sounded about as good as they can, but that's not good enough for me to sit down and pay full attention—especially when, at the push of the MiND control, I can hear a high-resolution file. Or I can put on an LP.

From bottom to top, the Moon Evolution 780D bettered the already-pleasing 650D. The 780D is another step forward for digital sound quality, and especially in terms of access and convenience of music. I'm not sure if I'm ready to say that the 780D is "the promise of digital fulfilled," but it's brought us more than a few steps closer.

The price of the Moon Evolution 780D is high. If, like me, you have a wall full of SACDs, it's beyond frustrating to know that all that hi-rez music is still locked out, unable to be decoded by this well-built, well-engineered, superb-sounding, and otherwise versatile DAC. Nor is it (yet) compatible with Roon or MQA. Perhaps Simaudio will say something about these limitations in a Manufacturer's Comment.

But otherwise, Simaudio has upped its digital game in every way. If it meets your needs, and you have the hi-rez digital source material now or plan to get it soon—and if you can afford it—the Moon Evolution 780D Streaming DSD DAC is well worth a listen.

Simaudio Ltd.
2002 Ridge Road
Champlain, NY 12919
(450) 449-2212

georgehifi's picture

By Michael Fremer
"However, not even the finest DAC can make me appreciate the sound of 16-bit/44.1kHz CDs. Through the 780D they sounded about as good as they can"

Sorry Michael, but I've heard this blanket statement made all too many times now, and I very much believe that to get the best from CD PCM, it should NOT be converted/compared (played back) through a DSD/Delta Sigma dac.
It should only be converted (played back) through a true well sorted Multibit dac from today designers to get the best sound from it.
And therefore the two cannot be directly compared, because you need two different dacs with differing topologies to do it with.

Cheers George.

rompolompo's picture

Why review a digital product by a person who hates digital technologies?

Jerry Garcia's picture

Michael Fremer 2 days ago
Johnny, Johnny Johnny//Ha ha ha …. fine.

Enjoy your digits.

All of you!

Enjoy you SEEEDEEES. Although you know, most people don’t listen to them. Research shows that they mostly use them for target practice (blah blah blah).

CDs are going away. Vinyl grows. You don’t understand why, so you feel the need to explain it using this one record? Really?

Quoting ignorant sources who don’t really know how best to explain vinyl’s allure and who are left to say “rich and warm” is really pathetic.

Vinyl shouldn’t sound “warm” and it doesn’t unless you use a warm sounding cartridge and/or a warm sounding phono preamplifier. Bright recordings should sound so on vinyl and do (etc.).

You are welcome to listen to any of my YouTube vinyl rips that make CDs sound awful as they have always sounded. Yes my analog front end is costly but you are writing about “vinyl” in the aggregate so I urge you to check out my videos, with 96/24 rips via a Lynx HiLo. Yes YouTube dumbs them down but the essence still comes through as the comments demonstrate.

ALL FORMATS PRODUCE COLORATIONS! Digital’s colorations are more profound as they occur mostly in the time domain.

CD sound sucks and always has. Worse than the sound is how it makes people “feel”. I realize that doesn’t compute for measurement freaks, but the brain knows what’s wrong with digital, especially with CDs and lower resolution formats that completely mess up the timing).

Phase shifting filters produce panic in the brain, which is why people don’t really sit down and LISTEN to digital for very long before finding something else to do…whereas with vinyl playback, people find they can sit and listen and listen, which they do.

That better explains the resurgence than any of your picayune observations…You miss what’s going on.

That’s fine! Enjoy your digits and those of us who prefer vinyl will enjoy our records.

We don’t care what you write or think about this.

We are winning.

And we don’t care about the hysterical negative comments sure to follow this. Trust me: we don’t care….and you’d be surprised who’s on this vinyl bandwagon….people with tech knowledge equal to or surpassing yours John…

John H. Darko 2 days ago
Mikey – nice to hear from you.

If you don’t care what I write, why respond? And why make it personal (with insults)?

What is “my” technology exactly? I don’t profess being wedded to any particular tech. My message is one of pragmatism, not idealism. Anything else would make me look like a zealot.

You KNOW I love vinyl. We’ve even spoken about it over dinner, have we not? Remember my enthusiasm for Japanese Bowie pressings in Las Vegas? That’s a photo of my record collection as it currently stands at the top of the article. One of those records – actually TWO – were used here for illustrative purposes only.

Of course I have played far more records on the RP1 than those specified in the piece. Alas, every single one fails to cut it with layer separation and resolution when compared to the equivalent digital file. That’s the way I hear it.

However, I am not saying (or even implying) that digital is the be all and end all. Merely showing here how the mainstream press endlessly promotes vinyl with a positive spin (and zero analysis of its shortcomings) and in doing so lays a bear trap for the vinyl newcomer expecting some form of audio nirvana from an *ENTRY-LEVEL* table.

“We are winning.” Say what now? I just don’t see this battle/war (to which you allude). What I do see is the potential for disappointment with this entry-level table if purchased on the back of exposure to endless positive press about the vinyl revival.

And as mentioned in the closing remarks, I acknowledge that spending more on a ‘table brings a LOT more performance to the (err) table. No doubt you use better gear for your needle-drops than an RP1? Care to tell us what vinyl newcomers should be spending their cash on?

PS “ALL FORMATS PRODUCE COLORATIONS! Digital’s colorations are more profound as they occur mostly in the time domain.” <--- and yes, I agree with you on this but the RP1's shortcoming are more pronounced to my ears than can be counterbalanced by superior time domain performance.

georgehifi's picture

Is that right?? Michael Fremer is anti digital.???

yuckysamson's picture

I don't think Mr. Fremer "hates" digital. He's saying he prefers the performance, in every regard, of either hi rez or vinyl to redbook. Before getting on a high-horse about this notion, it might be worthwhile to consider the idea that this isn't akin to saying "I like automatic instead of stick" or vice versa or two things that are "different" experiences. THis is like saying "Oddly I don't like playing with the files from my 2002 Nikon D1 when I can now use an 810". It's long been recognized that the 44.1 Format is a heavily impaired one which, for obvious reasons the industry couldn't upgrade on year after year (like has done with digital photography) and even further what's come to light is that there were significant errors made in the way these limited resolution files were created.

Insulting the guy for saying something legitimate is silly.

Jerry Garcia's picture

Michael Fremer about 8 hours ago
Ha! I’m winning this war because vinyl sales, turntable sales, and accessory sales continue their growth so I’m not “upset”. I’m not “arrogant” either.

I just don’t like being attacked. Do you?

If so here you go:

You are correct: digital is more “consistent”: consistently bad and not very pleasant to listen to.
And frozen processed food is also more “consistent”. Always the same, you can count on it! And always bad.

Calling what I do a racket? “Snake oil”. You’ve gone off the rails.

So go f…k yourself. Don’t like that, then don’t come here and INSULT me and call what I’ve spent 30 years building a “racket”. Now it’s your turn to call me “unprofessional” for not sitting back and letting you insult me. I’ve dealt many times with assholes like you.

John H. Darko about 8 hours ago
…..aaaaaaaaaaaaand with expletives thrown and personal insults being traded we reach the end of this discussion as it stands – this post’s comments section is now CLOSED.

georgehifi's picture

I didn't say he's anti digital, just queried it from another poster?

What I am questioning though is Michael Fremmer's statement, that you can get "the best from 16/44 PCM" by using a DSD delta sigma dac.
You can't, to get the best from PCM it is has to be converted using multibit conversion to get it "bit perfect" from it.
From what I've read/learnt about it.
As a dsd (delta sigma) dac has to convert pcm back into dsd in real time before it can play it back in dsd, an it's a facsimilie of it. A multibit dac does not, it converts in real time.

Cheers George

rzr's picture

Stereophile has no expertise in the area of digital music in regards to music servers, streamers, etc.. or the know how on how to make them work or provide maximum performance. This review is a prime example of this.
Where do I start?
#1: Fremer would rather listen to vinyl than digital, that's no secret. But he doesn't realize that when he compares digital to vinyl, he is comparing a $200k vinyl setup to a much cheaper digital setup, not realistic. He needs to come down to earth in his reviews and statements about the differences between the 2 using a vinyl setup that costs the same as a digital setup. He can't do this!!
#2: Fremer balks about purchasing a $250 NAS drive for this review. Fremer's 2 bolts that hold his cartridge onto the tonearm probably cost more than that! The reason I bring this up is that some manufacturers claim that their products sound better when using a NAS, in this case with the Moon, we will never know since it wasn't tested.
3: Fremer bitches about no documentation that can help him setup the Moon in different configurations. Again, this goes back to my #1 point above: Stereophile needs to get expertise in this area. I purchased an Auralic Aries and the pamphlet they send out is a couple of pages. But if you know this stuff, it was very easy for me to use the Lightning software, or the Lumin software (both on iPad), plus having the data stored on a NAS or using Minimserver on my OSX server, or a direct connected disk. Very easy to do! What are all the possibilities with the Moon 780D? The reader will never know after reading this review.
#4: Fremer keeps touting his Soloos setup. Soloos was not that good when it was new years ago in SQ and compared to the latest playback software, its pretty bad. Today, Roon SQ isn't as good as some of the other players like Audirvana. Roon along with Soloos are noted for their GUI interface and metadata collections: not a big deal to me. SQ is much more important than GUI, but with the new software like Lightning DS and Lumin and others, you get both. Hopefully, Roon SQ will improve. It seems that all the new music servers can support Roon and other software.

Bottomline: Stereophile needs to get somebody with much more experience when reviewing current digital systems like a music server/streamer so they can put the product thru the paces to get maximum performance. I don't want to hear that a reviewer was limited in his testing because something wasn't documented, documentation should not be an excuse, the reviewer should have enough knowledge to dig in and come up with many ways to configure the system for best performance. For example: Auralic is not going to document that using the Lumin software might sound better than using Auralic's own Lightning software. Just like Fremer has enough knowledge to setup tonearms and cartridges in his sleep and would never use documentation as a scapegoat, Stereophile needs to have the same type of reviewer for the digital world.

Jerry Garcia's picture

The Perpetual Pilgrim

My nephew, Andres, has turned his audio hobby into a religion. He takes his quest for the 'Ultimate Sound' as seriously as the quest for eternal life. He is consumed by audio nervosa and spends his free time studying audio magazines and websites to find absolution for his past buying decisions, and blessings to make changes. Recently, he even sacrificed the value of a pilgrimage to Rome in favor of new interconnects -- based solely on a decree from his most trusted bishop, a 'Golden Eared' reviewer in one of the magazines.

He invited me to spend the weekend at his apartment to solicit confirmation for his pricey investment. When I got there, he raved about the 'night and day' difference using the vernacular of reviewers: romantic richness, sweet delicacy, fatigue-free tonal lusciousness, liquid voluptuousness ............ I'm beginning to suspect he needs a girlfriend.

I could neither confirm nor deny any audible improvement as I wasn't sufficiently familiar with the sound of his system, but I was skeptical of his claims. So I decided to conduct a test. Overnight, while on a bathroom break, I switched his anointed interconnects with my Radio Shack 'Gold' cables -- which can be purchased for the price of a Roman candle.

While sipping coffee the next morning, Andres opened his stereo cabinet and played his favorite SACD, The Mission soundtrack, from beginning to end. He turned up the chorale to concert hall volumes and praised the sound.

He had no idea he was listening to the profane 'Rat Shack' cables. It was clear that the 'night and day' differences he raved about was not apparent the day after the night. His belief that the new cables were in play was sufficient to justify his enthusiasm. This experience confirmed to me that people do not have reliable perceptual capabilities. Perception is cognitive and the brain tends to be the dominant factor – the brain tells them what they experience more than their senses.

The most publicized case in point concerns Trader Joe's house wine, 'Two Buck Chuck,' as Charles Shaw's Chardonnays are known. They got less respect than Rodney Dangerfield until the 2007 California State Fair's Commercial Wine Competition. There, 64 judges awarded it the prestigious Double Gold award. That placed it first not only over 350 other Chardonnays, but on top of the entire collection of 3,029 wines! Wine tasting competitions are always conducted blind. Would the judges have ranked "Two Buck Chuck" as highly had they been able to see the label? When faith in price, status or reputation is eliminated from the equation, judgments change.
How different might the annual 'Recommended Component Buyers’ Guide' be if audio components were evaluated like wines? Would 'night and day' differences be confirmed or non-existent in a double-blind testing protocol? It's one thing for a reviewer to claim a component is superior, it's quite another to prove it. When a reviewer recommends expensive upgrades without evidence of their primacy (and expensive equipment is virtually always deemed superior in the media), he is asking followers to part with their money on the basis of faith.

Nonetheless, Andres agonizes over the words in the 'Recommended Components List' like St. Augustine over the Scriptures. He has a divine belief that these products are accurately appraised by sound quality -- despite a complete lack of evidence to that effect. For the most part, products with good reviews sell, and those without, don't. That's a lot of power to put in the hands of a few pundits with questionable hearing, motives and methodologies. How many good products have gone by the wayside due to the prejudices and preconceptions of reviewers? Conversely, how much snake oil is still on the market for the same reason?

In a recent e-mail, Andres wrote, "I still don’t feel like I have my arms around my system, the big picture, yes, but the subtle things that ultimately define it, not yet.......hoping in the process to do that endless loop of keeping my ears tuned, attentive, and aligned with others."

I have no idea why he thinks his young ears have to be "aligned with others"? What is it that he wants to get his "arms around." Like sex, music is an emotional, not an intellectual activity. Constantly nit-picking the equipment ruins the experience.
Someone once said, "You can’t know what's best is unless you have heard everything." Andres will never have sufficient time nor energy to audition everything. Even if he could, he'll never know how his ultimate system would compare to the live event unless he'd attended it. And even if he had, his health, mood and the location of the seat he chose would affect his memory of the performance. That's taking for granted there was a live performance, and he's not listening to a synthetic creation of the recording engineer.

Even assuming his acoustic memory of the live event is impeccable, the recording flawless, and his 'dream system' provided perfect fidelity, his listening room acoustics will distort the sound enormously -- as any pair of studio headphones will demonstrate.
Andres needs to see the light and accept the fact that every facsimile of the live event is corrupted and deficient. If his system is capable of turning him onto the music, if it takes him to a blissful state, his prayers are answered. This endless search for the Holy Grail will only keep him a perpetual pilgrim.

B. Jan Montana

Jerry Garcia's picture

Michael Fremer about 9 hours ago
Better not attend a classical music concert! I had a subscription to Avery Fisher Hall and The New York Philharmonic and guess what? The folks who attend tend to be old so there’s lots of coughing and choking, an occasional stroke. If you concentrate on that, you can never enjoy the music but because what you hear from the stage is so compelling, that stuff is easily tuned out.

The alternative is staying home and listening to “perfect” sound with no live interruptions. Whatever are the minor and not very often pops and clicks, what’s also there, to my ears, is far more compelling. But each to his own of course.