Simaudio Moon Evolution P-7 line preamplifier Page 2

As was Kal with the P-8, I was impressed by the P-7's jet-black backgrounds. This really is a quiet preamplifier, an essential attribute for a component that needs to step out of the way of the music. As a result, such sonic subtleties as the interplay between the voices and the warmly reverberant acoustic of London's Temple Church at the hushed entrance of the voices in Morten Lauridsen's O magnum mysterium (SACD, Hyperion SACDA67449) were laid gloriously apparent. This recording, performed by the mixed voices of Polyphony, sounds very different from my own recording of the work with Cantus on Comfort & Joy, Volume One (CD, Cantus CTS-1204), in an arrangement in which the female vocal parts are folded down into the male parts. But listening to the Cantus recording, I could again perceive the interplay between the voices and the even lusher acoustic of Sauder Concert Hall, at Indiana's Goshen College.

The much smaller, more intimate acoustic of London's Wigmore Hall, in a 1998 recital by the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson accompanied by pianist Roger Vignoles (CD, Wigmore Hall Live 0013), was also reproduced unscathed by the P-7. Captured in unforced, natural sound by the BBC, this recording places Hunt Lieberson well in front of the piano without obscuring the instrument, and her buttery mezzo-soprano soars gloriously, especially in Mahler's five Rückert Lieder. (The third song, "Liebst du um Schönheit," with its appoggiatura-laden vocal line, never fails to send shivers down my back.)

The Lieberson recital progresses from Mahler through Handel, some of her husband, Peter Lieberson's, Rilke Songs, and the spiritual "Deep River," to its concluding piece by Brahms. The programming of classical concerts is something that music directors pay a good deal of attention to, plotting an emotional and music journey for the audience to travel from the opening note of the first piece to the encore. This was how producers used to plan albums in the Golden Years of rock recording, roughly 1966 through 1973, when an album was something you played from start to finish; when every track was strong, but worked best when heard in the context of what went before and what came after.

I reached for an album I hadn't played in years: Behind the Gardens—Behind the Wall—Under the Tree, by Swiss harpist Andreas Vollenweider (CD, CBS MK 37793). In his 15 minutes of fame in the 1980s, Vollenweider produced a series of albums that combined found sounds such as birdsong—the startled pheasant and the woman's laughter that opens Gardens—with the multitracked sound of his electronic harp to create through-composed sonic and musical soundscapes. With the Moon Evolution P-7 in the system, the soundstage, the sonic painting, was wide, deep, and detailed, but the individual objects within that stage were still fully fleshed out. Such delightful details as, at the end of the album, the way the artificial reverb and the bass EQ on the harp are both pulled back to leave the close-miked acoustic sound of the instrument naked, unadorned by artifice, were laid bare by the Simaudio preamp without being unnaturally spotlit. J. Gordon Holt used to complain about audiophiles' obsession with the soundstage—from the vantage of his retirement in Colorado, he probably still does complain about it—because that obsession led to products being praised that forgot about the music while painting pretty pictures. The Simaudio preamp manages to do both—and yes, Gordon, I do need both.

Vollenweider led me to Close to the Edge, from British pomp-rockers Yes (CD, Atlantic 82666-2). This album, drummer Bill Bruford's swansong with the group, also begins with the found sounds of birdsong. I hadn't listened to it in years, but back in 1972, Close to the Edge never left my record player. Each side of the original LP was intended to be listened to as a whole, which is what I did. Over and over.

I found I still enjoyed Close to the Edge, but whereas I used to think there were semantic depths to be plumbed in Jon Anderson's lyrics, I now suspect that a friend's cynical suggestion—that Anderson shuffled words on cards until he achieved consonant couplings—is correct. I mean, what does the following mean?

Guessing problems only to deceive the mention,
Passing paths that climb halfway into the void.
As we cross from side to side, we hear the total mass retain.

Deceive the what? Total what? I know, I know—in the end, it means whatever the listener wants it to mean (footnote 1). That didn't stop me from singing along with all my might—"Close to the end, down by a river / Seasons will pass you by / I get up, I get down"—the P-7 presented the picture in almost-full measure and the music in full measure. I got down. Good stuff, this music, eh?

Moon Shadow
My longtime preamplifier is the Mark Levinson No.380S, now discontinued but costing $6495 when last available. The P-7 sounded slightly more forward, slightly more robust than the Levinson, which is darker-hued. But the No.380S presents recorded soundstages as being just a little deeper, a little more reverberant.

On the Cantus performance of O magnum mysterium mentioned earlier, the singers stood a little closer to the front of the stage through the P-7 than they did via the No.380S. On the Vollenweider album, the pictures were a little wider, taller, and deeper with the Levinson preamp in the system.

Dancing in the Moonlight
One of my references for relatively affordable preamplifier performance is Parasound's Halo JC 2 ($4000), which I reviewed in March 2008, and which was one of Stereophile's Joint Amplification Products of 2008. Wes Phillips has been enjoying the Halo these past few months, but when the review sample of the Ayre KX-R preamp was returned to him in December, so that he could finalize his thoughts on the humongous YG Acoustics Anat Reference II Professional speakers (reviewed elsewhere in this issue), I took the opportunity to retrieve the JC 2 from his listening room.

With the Musical Fidelity 750K Superchargers driving the Revel Ultima Salon2 speakers, the signature of the Parasound preamp was still apparent: a superb ability to resolve spatial information; clean, grain-free high frequencies; and excellent definition and weight in the low frequencies. But in this system, the Halo's lightish overall balance did not work as well as the more robust-sounding Simaudio. In Close to the Edge, the ping of Chris Squire's wirewound-strung Rickenbacker 4001 bass was emphasized even more than usual with the Halo. By contrast, the P-7 let through enough of the instrument's lower harmonics to make more musical sense.

Playing back two recordings of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto 3—Byron Janis with Antal Dorati and the LSO (SACD, Mercury Living Presence 470 639-1), and Vladimir Ashkenazy with Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra (CD, Decca 417 239-2)—with the two preamps' levels matched, both pianos sounded a little more fleshed out into the lower midrange with the P-7. The big bass-drum beats that conclude the work had slightly more body with the P-7, more leading-edge definition with the JC 2. The recordings' spatial aspects were still more convincing through the Parasound, but the Simaudio was no slouch in this area, and better presented the rather jingly sound of Janis's instrument.

And if you like to rock out on low bass, the Simaudio did justice to the LF excess on Kanye West's "Love Lockdown," from 808s & Heartbreak (CD, Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam). As I report in my Follow-Up on the Revel Ultima Salon2 elsewhere in this issue, the combination of the P-7, Musical Fidelity 750K monoblocks, and the big Revels allowed this recording to be played at Richter-Scale levels without any loss of midrange clarity. The Evolution P-7 has to take its share of the credit for that. With the Halo JC 2 in the system, the sound became a little more cerebral, which I'm sure was not the producer's intent.

In my current system, I preferred the Moon Evolution P-7 overall; but with a speaker darker-toned than the big Revel, or one whose low frequencies aren't as well controlled, the Halo JC 2 might get the nod.

Dark Side of the Moon?
I couldn't find one. Even after six months of almost daily use, there was no aspect of the P-7's sound or operation that disturbed my enjoyment of my music. Yes, the two weeks I replaced it with Ayre Acoustics' KX-R ($16,000) stand out in recent memory as having taken my system to a higher plane, but returning to the P-7 was not disappointing. It was like going from a serious vintage Bordeaux to a youthful Côtes du Rhône. Appreciation of—even paying respect to—the former doesn't preclude enjoyment of the latter when approached on its own terms.

In a future issue, I will turn my attention to Simaudio's Moon Evolution P-8 dual-chassis preamplifier. But given how consistently fine the P-7 sounded in my system, it's difficult to imagine how it might improve on what its less expensive sibling has to offer. Beautifully made, beautiful looking, and beautiful sounding, the Moon Evolution P-7 justifiably deserves a Class A recommendation in Stereophile's "Recommended Components."

Footnote 1: Even Jon Anderson now admits (on the Yes website) that while the lyrics of the song "Close to the Edge" were inspired by Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, he also sometimes placed a greater emphasis on how the words sounded than on what they meant. (For a different, perhaps disturbingly intense point of view, read the analysis of the lyrics on the Church of Yahweh website.)
Simaudio Ltd.
2002 Ridge Road
Champlain, NY 12919
(877) 980-2400