Simaudio Moon Eclipse CD player Page 2

At press time, Simaudio announced a few minor changes to the Moon Eclipse, none of which are said to change its sonic performance: a small modification to the power-supply circuit to reduce sensitivity to electrostatic discharge, an upgrade of the Philips transport software that clears the last CD's ToC as soon as the drawer is opened to make way for the next one, and a slight alteration in the clamp. Other than that, according to Simaudio's Lionel Goodfield, the Eclipse continues to be made as tested, and will be so for several thousand more units.

The System Built on the Bastion
The Moon Eclipse has been my primary digital source through a number of reviews and system configurations. Most of the time, however, my systems have been based on Magnepan 3.6/R loudspeakers and Classé CAM-350 monoblock power amplifiers, fed by a VAC CPA1 Mk.3 full-function preamplifier or a Conrad-Johnson Premier 15/17LS phono-/line-stage combination. My analog rig was upgraded mid-review, from VPI's TNT Mk.IV to the new TNT Mk.V Hot Rod turntable and the latest JMW tonearm, fitted with a Benz-Micro L04 cartridge. Nirvana SX Ltd. interconnects were constants throughout, as was a biwire combination of Synergistic Research speaker cables to drive the Maggies: Designer's Reference on top, Resolution Reference on bottom. Key accessories included Bright Star isolation products and Echo Busters room treatments. AC conditioning and delivery was handled by an MIT Z Stabilizer and Z Center, with a custom Nirvana isolation transformer added upstream of digital gear. Prior to playing, all CDs were treated with Music Fidelity discSolution (data side) and Nordost Eco3 (label side).

A Bastion of Performance?
Collecting, collating, and analyzing my listening impressions of the Simaudio Moon Eclipse has been an interesting process of rediscovery. I started by searching my last several months' listening notes for any threads of common sound characteristics that might have woven themselves through the different sessions during which the Eclipse was in the system. The next step was to spend several nights and weekends listening carefully, trying to confirm or refute those original impressions. Finally, I did a bit of swapping among the Eclipse and three other players I had on hand, to make sure that I was isolating the Eclipse's characteristics.

At the end of this process, a clear sonic picture of the Eclipse had emerged. It was also obvious to me why I'd been so comfortable relying on the player as a cornerstone of my system. Not only was its performance superb overall, but its strengths and weaknesses dovetailed beautifully with my listening preferences and room—particularly my room prior to remodeling.

I'm especially sensitive to how a component reproduces spatial cues. I don't listen for pinpoint location or the biggest possible soundstage, but for a tangible portrayal of the instruments and space. When I close my eyes, I want to be able to feel as if I'm in the audience, or that I could get up and walk into the soundstage, between the instruments. Soundstage re-creation, ambience retrieval, dimensionality, depth, inner detail—these are what contribute to this sense of almost-tactile reality, and these are the very areas in which the Moon Eclipse excelled.

Clark Terry's One On One (Chesky JD198) provided a great example of what the Eclipse did so well: The space around Terry's trumpet, and its position in space, were incredibly well-defined. Layers and layers of diminishing reflections off the back and side walls clearly defined the trumpet's position and gave the space itself—the air surrounding the instrument—realistic body and texture. Each note bloomed, expanded outward into this space, then decayed into the ambience, making its own distinct contribution as it subtly faded away.

A second big part of the Moon Eclipse's magic was its incredible resolution of inner detail. Terry's trumpet on One On One really showed this off, particularly the solo at the end of "Just for a Thrill." The tiniest dynamic shadings were audible, as were subtle nuances of tonguing and pitch. And just by noting the changes in the trumpet's image and how it interacted with the surrounding space, I could follow the movements, however small, of the instrument's bell.

Another great example was the XRCD of the Duke Ellington Quartet's Duke's Big 4 (JVC JVCXR-0022-2). I've never heard a drum set reproduced as vividly, or portrayed as clearly in space, as the Eclipse did with this disc. Ray Brown's bass, particularly passages where he'd snap and scrape the strings, was nearly holographic in its density and complexity; again, the Eclipse absolutely nailed the instrument's position, size, and interaction with the surrounding space.

The Eclipse was equally impressive on larger, more expansive works and settings. The opening of Shostakovich's Symphony 1 (Martinon/LSO, RCA/Classic LSCCD-2322) is a great test. As the various sections enter, defining the soundstage and space, a component's abilities to reproduce it well and to make it all hang together will be immediately apparent. Hands down, the Eclipse did the best job at this of any player I've reviewed. And not just on the macro scale, but the micro as well. Individual instruments within sections—the plucked cellos near the opening, for example—were vividly portrayed by the Eclipse, made distinct by their locations and individual characteristics.

On the other hand, Duke's Big 4 and the Shostakovich symphony also served to highlight the Eclipse's one notable shortcoming: a slight lack of power and definition at the very bottom. It's important to bear in mind that "shortcoming" in this context means not a glaring flaw but "very good, if not quite as good as the very best." Still, Ray Brown's bass runs lost power and transient precision as they descended in pitch. Similarly, the timpani on the Shostakovich were located beautifully and had wonderful pitch definition, but not the weight they should have, nor the sharp initial impact. Massed, plucked double basses were another good example. Their pitch and tonality were wonderful, but their initial transients didn't have the sharp snap they should have, and individual instruments weren't as easily resolved as were cellos or violas. It wasn't bad, but if you're a "power and definition" bass freak, it might not be your cup of tea.

Switching back to the "Strengths" side of the ledger, the Eclipse was outstanding at the reproduction of dynamic contrasts from the upper bass up. Fast midrange transients, like the sharp trumpet accents on "Just for a Thrill," had the snap of a live instrument—the swings between soft and loud almost seemed to be happening too fast for my ears and brain to keep up.

The Eclipse was superb on the subtle, microdynamic end of the spectrum as well. Gene Allen's piano rolls on "Just for a Thrill" were alive with dynamic shadings. I could clearly hear the impact and decay of the initial hammer stroke, followed by the build and decay of the strings' and soundboard vibrations. My notes: "I felt as if I could hear the individual vibrations, and the constantly changing beating as the notes blended in and out."

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