Simaudio Moon Evolution 860A power amplifier Page 2

I don't mean, by any of this, to compare the Simaudio 860A with any current Krell power amps (which, in any case, I haven't heard). I'm only saying that certain trade-offs that came with past Simaudio amps have—at least with the 860A—largely evaporated.

However, one comparison that I noted back in 2011—between the percussive touch and the gorgeous overtones of Frank Kimbrough's piano on the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra's Sky Blue (CD, ArtistShare AS0065)—still held true: the 860A still didn't let me hear quite the full body contact with those keys. But, at the same time, the harmonic bloom was fuller still, and the horn sections were more palpable. A minute into the first track, "The 'Pretty' Road," when the woodwinds come in under the blaring brass, I could hear the saxes blowing—not just the value of the notes they were playing, but the sense of air rushing into the reeds and out the bells—more clearly, and with greater dimension, than I had before.

The clear dynamics of percussion instruments also came through in ways much less subtle. I don't know how many times I've listened to the wondrous Music Matters Jazz 45rpm reissue of Eric Dolphy's classic Out to Lunch (2 LPs, 45rpm, Blue Note/Music Matters Jazz MMBST-84163), but I'd never before heard the full range of drummer Tony Williams's rhythms, subrhythms, and counter-rhythms—some boisterous, some quiet and subtle. Ditto Elvin Jones's implosive, virtuosic brushwork in "You Are Too Beautiful," from a reissue of John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (LP, Impulse!/Speakers Corner AS-40).

But I fear I'm giving the wrong impression of the 860A. What impressed me most wasn't the subterranean clarity of a bass line or the crisp sizzle of a cymbal (which merely filled a shortfall that I'd heard with previous Simaudio amps). What most impressed me, as it had with the 740P, was my sheer pleasure of listening to music. Nothing stood out artificially; everything was clear and distinct and real, but also balanced.


Listening to Duke Ellington's Masterpieces by Ellington, in Analogue Productions' reissue of Columbia Records' aptly titled sonic jaw-dropper (LP, APJ4418; SACD/CD, APJ4418-SA), I could more clearly hear the horn players really blow when they played, and take a breath when they paused, and I could hear the pressure of Wendell Marshall's fingers on the neck of his bass. (Yes, this is a 1950 mono recording, but check it out. If you can find a Columbia original pressing in good shape, and g'luck on that, it sounds better still, though I doubt you'll find one that's anywhere near as quiet as this reissue.)

In Michael Tilson Thomas's magnificent rendering of Mahler's Symphony 9 (2 SACD/CDs, San Francisco Symphony 821936-0007-2), the subtle hesitations of those silky violins, the clarion trumpets, the chirping flutes and woody reeds, the effortless swelling of the crescendos—this is what high-end audio is all about. Switching gears entirely: In Yes's "I've Seen All Good People: Your Move," from the sonically excellent soundtrack album for Almost Famous (CD, DreamWorks 0044-50279-2), I heard more space between instruments, more 3D heft to the background singers, more air in the flutes, harder strums on guitar, more constant rhythmic oomph in the bass drum—and all of it stayed rock steady as the organ got real loud.

Let's not neglect how the 860A laid out a soundstage. Those clarion trumpets in Mahler's 9th were way, way back there, yet they carved as sharp an image as the chirping flutes and woody reeds upfront—and I mean naturally sharp, not Etch A Sketch artifice. From the recent gatefold reissue of Blue (LP, Reprise/Rhino 74842), which sounds better than the original in nearly every way, Joni Mitchell's voice seemed to belt, croon, and breathe right in front of me, and all her musicians were nearly visible, to the left, right, and behind her. Wide width, deep depth, 3D imaging: to the extent a recording and the rest of my equipment could toss up this illusion in my living room, the 860A could too.

The comparison
I do have one caveat. Midway through my listening, John Atkinson let me borrow the Pass Labs XA60.5 monoblocks. When I'd reviewed the Simaudio 740P preamp, JA had lent me the Pass XP-30 line-stage preamplifier (reviewing it in the April 2013 issue, he likened it to the proverbial straight-wire-with-volume-knob), to help me gauge how closely the 740P approached the final word in transparency. In some ways, it was an unfair match—the Pass costs 75% more than the Simaudio—but an illuminating one. Though the 740P was—and, I think, still is—a world-beater in its price range (I did say that I bought one, right?), it turned out not to be quite the last word in the universe of preamps; the XP-30 lit up a slightly deeper soundstage, revealed still more air between instruments, and sported a wider palette of colors.


So I thought it might be interesting to put the Simaudio 860A power amp up against a Pass Labs model as well—this one a more even match, as the XA60.5s (at $11,000/pair) are a bit cheaper than the 860A ($15,000). The results this time weren't so clear-cut. The Passes exuded a purer midrange: pianos sounded richer, violins silkier, with more extended highs. However, the Simaudio was the champ for dynamics, bass tautness, inner detail, and rhythmic rightness.

I'm not entirely clear what to make of these observations. I also listened to the Pass amps through the Simaudio 740P preamp—so does this mean that the 740P delivered the midrange richness, but the 860A couldn't amplify it with full fidelity—or was the XA60.5, perhaps by design, embellishing that area of the audioband? I didn't listen to the Passes for long enough to tell.

Another question, at the moment unanswerable: Were the 860A's strengths in bass, dynamics, and so forth intrinsic products of Simaudio's design—or was it simply that the 860A had more watts per channel (200 vs 60) and a higher damping factor (up to 800 vs 150)? Of course, the latter, too, would be the result of design choices. More probing of this point to come, perhaps.

The Conclusion
Comparisons—especially these tentative, inconclusive ones—aside, my time with the Simaudio Moon Evolution 860A was a deep pleasure. I've now heard several models from this company, and if an audio brand can be characterized by a sound, Simaudio's tends to be neutral, with a slight tilt toward warmth—a sound that appeals to my own taste. The 860A peeled back another thin layer toward neutrality with a warmth that seemed still more natural, and not the side effect of second-order distortion or some other artifact.

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

dcolak's picture

And for a fraction of the cost.

Venere 2's picture

The only thing the NAD M3 would blow away (or any NAD product) is its own internals!

NAD stands for shit "Not another defect". Absolutely awful reliability. And, NAD sound quality is nothing special. Cheap hifi sounding.

dcolak's picture

Sheldo243's picture

You do realize the review in the link is 8 years old?

Venere 2's picture

I don't give a f*ck if Fremer went nuts for the NAD M3. Fremer also claimed the Graham Slee Era V phono stage was miraculous… Good phono stage for its price point, but a little dull. Not the greatest thing ever as Fremer proclaimed.

I have found that NAD gear gets great reviews that do not match with my appraisals when I hear them. I wonder why that is.

The Nad C375BEE was reviewed by Stereophile, and Sam Tellig just about raised a shrine in its honour. I owned it, my brother also owned one. It can be beat easily by British integrateds in the same price bracket. Really easily.

Also, mine lasted 6 months before the front board blew out. My brother was lucky: his lasted 9 months. Good luck with NAD repairs under warranty. They outsource those repairs to local repairmen. Anyone with a multimeter and a screwdriver in your area will be the NAD repairman!

Keep pushing NAD, and I will tell stories of products with 100% failure rates and so on. I know a few former NAD dealers. There is a reason they don't sell NAD anymore...

Trickster's picture

Although I'm late in chiming in dcolak... I've owned NAD amps way back when I was just a budding audiophile that could only afford entry level gear. Today, NAD is way far back in the rearview mirror. I now own more reference-standard amps such as McIntosh, Classe and Simaudio. Simply no comparison.

volvic's picture

I have not heard this particular amp but back when i was living in Montreal a friend owned a W5 amp from Moon and I was really impressed with it, over the years have heard their gear at different shows and actually own some of their products (dac and phono preamp) and absolutely love them. I lament the price increases with each new model but c'est la vie. I have over the years owned different NAD products, not the M3 but have heard the M3 at retail outlets. Great amp but I would have to believe that long term satisfaction would be had with the Moon.

LennyM's picture

To suppose that the injection of a 1 kHz signal into a power amplifier tells you something very important is ludicrous. I recently compared a new Parasound amplifier to my own 15 year old Moon W-5. I preferred the W-5 for many reasons, one of which was its apparent greater bass output and control. The W-5 was rated at 190 Watts, the Parasound at 250 Watts. But the Moon W-5 has almost twice the transformer capacity and more than twice the power capacitance compared to the Parasound. That matters more than these spurious output measurements.

BillK's picture

I'm surprised Simaudio chose not to add a manufacturer's comment to address the measured twenty watt/channel shortfall.

Exaggerated claims of power output in the 1970s are why the FTC clamped down and established procedures for amp ratings, but there's no way of getting around the fact that at least the 860 tested did not provide the power advertised, and it would be good to know whether the sample was defective or if the defect lies in the printed specs.

bean-on-a-roll's picture

Fifteen years ago, while walking along the streets of Barcelona, I chanced upon a second hand shop called Cash Converters. As noted, CC gave a fixed amount of cash for goods in reasonable condition, from almond crackers to zebra-striped ashtrays. Therein, I saw a tiny Nad Integrated Amp designated 310. Offering a mere 20 watts aside into 8 ohms, the 310 features a dual channel single-ended driver stage powering a complimentary set of output transistors - one N channel MOSFET and the other a "state-of-the-art" PNP biopolar transistor, a toroidal transformer, and tone controls whose effect are progressively diminished as the volume is advanced. As noted by another reviewer, the simplicity of this design results in a 20% reduction of components, a feature once marketed by NAD as "Super Simple Circuity." While this little Nad quickly falters with hard rock or complex orchestral works, the simplicity of its design delivers, with limpid musical grace, the profound pleasures to be found in well-recorded jazz trios and chamber music - all for the astounding price of sixty euros. Except for brief vacations, I have never shut off my NaD 310 in 15 years, and it has never done anything but recreate the musical events I enjoy with very little artifice and not so much as a hiccup of a technical problem. Over the years, capacitors have been replaced, and I have decent interconnects, and my Audioquest Crystal Cables are connected to a second hand pair of Acoustic Energy Aegis bookshelf speakers, also bought at CC for 150 euros. For 210 euros (and remnant interconnects from a once lavish system before my family came into being) I can still be transported to audio nirvana. What gets one there is to be cherished ... So, in the late night hours, I am very thankful for having this tiny Nad in our apartment ... Listening to good music depends not so much on dollars spent as time enjoyed ... This Nad is far from bad ...