Simaudio Moon Eclipse CD player Brian Damkroger April 2003

Brian Damkroger wrote again about the Eclipse CD Player in April 2003 (Vol.26 No.4)

I was very favorably impressed with the Simaudio Moon Eclipse CD player when I reviewed it for the April 2001 issue of Stereophile—enough so that I adopted it as my reference CD player. While its sound continued to impress me in the two years since that review, it seemed to be getting increasingly finicky about reading CDs. When I discussed the problem with Lionel Goodfield of Simaudio, he suggested that we upgrade my unit to the latest production standards, and off to the factory it went.

The Moon Eclipse has received several upgrades since the publication of my review two years ago. The first was that the Philips CD-Pro 1 transport mechanism used originally was replaced by the CD-Pro 2 unit. Although the two are said to be sonically identical, I was told that the CD-Pro 2 has a "much higher Compact Disc acceptance," and would eliminate the disc-reading problem.

A second update involved the removal of the Pacific Microsonics HDCD digital filter/decoder chip, the updated version of which would have required a major circuit redesign to incorporate. The original Moon Eclipse used two digital filters—the Pacific Microsonics unit and a Burr-Brown DF1704—and actually sounded a bit better when the HDCD chip was bypassed. (You could do this by jumpering the player's digital output and input.) The new version uses a completely different main circuit board built around the Burr-Brown filter alone, and laid out to provide a much more direct signal path.

In addition to these upgrades to the basic unit, Simaudio has introduced the PSX, an optional upgraded power supply for the Moon Eclipse. The biggest differences are cosmetic—the PSX is packaged in a full-size, all-aluminum chassis whose appearance mirrors that of the main unit and other Moon-series electronics. (I wish I could describe the new super-spiffy PSX power supply, but unfortunately, my unit came back to me with the standard power supply.)

Effective January 1, 2003, the Moon Eclipse costs $5495 for the basic unit, or $5995 with the PSX power supply. The PSX is available for $1500 as a standalone upgrade for existing Eclipses, which for $1200 can be retrofitted with the new digital filter, new circuit board, and the Philips CD-Pro 2 transport.

The first thing I noticed about my upgraded unit was how much less fussy it was about reading CDs. Even problem discs that a broad cross-section of CD players struggle with were read and played without trouble. The original Eclipse had impressed me mightily, particularly in the areas of the re-creation of space and the resolution of detail. Those areas are strengths of the updated version as well. For a large-scale example, Shostakovich's The Age of Gold Ballet Suite (RCA/Classic LSCCD-2322) showed off the Moon's spatial reproduction beautifully. The soundstage was huge and open, and orchestral instruments and hall boundaries were located precisely and solidly. The images themselves, from the soft muted trumpet at the piece's opening to a full orchestral crescendo, were portrayed with a tangible solidity and dimensionality that were the best I'd heard.

The Moon Eclipse's presentation was even more spooky-real on small-scale music. Rickie Lee Jones' Naked Songs (Reprise 45950-2), my favorite example, highlighted the Moon's strengths. I could close my eyes and Jones was right there, so detailed, tangible, and solidly defined that it seemed I could reach out and touch her. At one point in "Chuck E.'s in Love," she tosses off a lyric—"he even cut his hair"—that draws a short burst of laughter from the crowd. With the Eclipse Moon in the system, that burst of laughter made me start and snap open my eyes, looking in vain for the loudest laughers, who seemed to be invisibly seated a few rows in front of me and off to my right.

It was tough to tell for sure, due to the months that had elapsed between the Moon's "before" and "after" phases, but I believe that its strengths were improved as a result of the upgrade. I remembered Jones' guitar and voice being incredibly detailed and tangible, but I didn't remember them being quite so tangible and real. I remembered the incredible portrayal of the hall and orchestra on The Age of Gold, but not this recording's being so open or realistic. In both cases, the updated player seemed to be a little better at defining image boundaries than I remembered the original being. But, as I said, I can't be sure—the Eclipse Moon was fantastic in this regard even in its former incarnation. Suffice it to say that it remains the best I've heard in terms of detail resolution.

The other characteristics that stood out with the original version were its slightly cool tonal balance, which resulted from a lack of bottom-end weight; and a slightly forward soundstage perspective, particularly in the upper midrange. These, too, were carried forward into the updated version. Rickie Lee Jones' guitar had a balance that slightly favored the initial string attacks over the woody body resonance, and the body itself sounded a bit smaller and lighter than it does with other players. Similarly, Monty Alexander's piano on Ernestine Anderson's Never Make Your Move Too Soon (Concord Jazz CCD-4147) was crisp, clean, and detailed, but with a tonal balance shifted slightly upward, and was perhaps a smidgen too prominent with respect to Anderson's voice and Ray Brown's bass.

Interestingly enough, the two CD players I've been switching between lately, the GamuT CD 1 (reviewed in the May 2003 issue) and the Simaudio Moon Eclipse, are exact opposites in many ways. The Sim was slightly cool, the GamuT a touch warm. The Sim's soundstage was a bit forward in the upper midrange, the GamuT's recessed in exactly the same region. Scratching my head, I went back and forth between the two players, trying to figure out which was right, before coming to the conclusion that neither was perfectly neutral, but that they had slight but opposite colorations.

The Simaudio Moon Eclipse, in its updated guise, remains one of the very best CD players I've heard. It does everything well, and its incredible strengths in the areas of spatial reproduction and detail resolution are, if anything, even stronger than the original's. It does, however, retain its slightly cool tonal balance, so it may not be the best match for some associated gear. The upgrade has also addressed two issues I had with the original version: the disc-acceptance quirks and the need to jumper past the HDCD filter to achieve that incredible resolution.

The Simaudio Moon Eclipse is expensive at $5495, but its performance more than merits the price. Highly recommended.—Brian Damkroger

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