Simaudio Moon i-1 integrated amplifier

Fearless leader called me and asked if I'd be interested in reviewing the Simaudio Moon i-1 ($1500), the entry-level integrated amplifier in Simaudio's Classic line. Hmmm. I'd been very impressed by all of the more expensive Simaudio products I'd heard at Stereophile's Home Entertainment shows over the years, and the 50Wpc Moon i-1 would be an interesting match for the affordable speakers I've had in-house lately. Send it on, JA!

The Canadian-made Moon i-1 is a full-functioned integrated amplifier with remote control. It has six line-level inputs—including one front-mounted mini-jack for personal media players—and a headphone jack. It also has a RS-232 port for fully bidirectional feedback in custom-installed systems and firmware updates, as well as an infrared input for external control. The remote control is designed to control other Simaudio products (eg, CD players) as well. The i-1 has a separate Preamp Out to enable its preamp section to drive external power amplifiers.

The Moon i-1 is claimed to output 50Wpc into 8 ohms or 100Wpc into 4 ohms, and the bipolar output devices are biased into providing class-A output up to 5W. Its oversize power supply uses a custom-designed toroidal transformer—the largest I've ever seen in an integrated amp. Looking at it gave me a hankering for a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. The circuit-board traces, of pure copper with gold plating, are designed for low-impedance characteristics. The all-aluminum case is rigidly built to minimize external vibrations, but there are no external heatsinks—the i-1 is designed to be left on at all times for optimal performance. Simaudio claims that its low operating temperature will make it last longer. I left my review sample on all the time; the chassis barely rose above room temperature.

I tested the i-1 in my affordable reference system, using as reference speakers the Monitor Audio Silver RS6s. The Simaudio lacks a phono stage, so I spun vinyl using the Creek Destiny phono stage into one of the i-1's Aux inputs via a pair of MIT interconnects.

Immediately, the Moon i-1's rich, holographic, detailed, lifelike midrange made me want to mine my collection of vocal LPs. "Eli's Coming," from Laura Nyro's Eli and the Thirteenth Confession (LP, Columbia CS 9626), revealed her tremendous range, as the Moon rendered her soaring, silky voice with vibrant verisimilitude. Similarly, Frank Sinatra's rendition of "My Funny Valentine," from Swinging Easy: Songs for Lovers (LP, Capitol W587), revealed the rich lower midrange of the bottom end of Ol' Blue Eyes' range with an articulation of low-level dynamics that was reminiscent of expensive tube electronics. From my notes: "Are you sure there are no tubes in this thing?" The Moon unraveled inner-midrange detail unlike any piece of electronics I've heard in its price range. Throughout all of the coherent, tactile, dirty mess in the mix of Tom Waits' Real Gone (CD, Anti- 86678-2), I was able to follow the discrete portrayal on each track of guitarist Mark Ribot's delicately picked textures.

With all recordings, the high frequencies were silky, silvery, and extended, with an effervescent sheen reminiscent of more expensive solid-state electronics, but with the organic liquidity of expensive tube gear. On Tomiko Kohjiba's Transmigration of the Soul, from Festival (CD, Stereophile STPH007-2), Carol Wincenc's flute was appropriately metallic, airy, and sweet as it floated over the crystal-clear individual lines of every member of the 10-piece chamber ensemble. The two violins were biting yet sweet, and all the upper-harmonic partials of all the instruments glowed, as in the live performance documented on this disc. On "Urge for Going," from Joni Mitchell's Hits (CD, Reprise 46326-2), the tactile and transient textures of her finger-picked acoustic guitar, a Martin flattop, were amazingly lifelike, even when listened to from the next room.

At the opposite end of the frequency spectrum, the Moon i-1 impressed me mightily with most tracks. Ben Tucker's double-bass solo in "Comin' Home Baby," from The Best of Herbie Mann (LP, Atlantic), was appropriately warm, woody, and lifelike, floating on a bed of air. As I cranked up the volume on the title track of Hole's Celebrity Skin (CD, Geffen DGCD 25164), the bass guitar was slammin' and soooo tuneful—I was able to hear all the layers of the engineering in this intoxicatingly catchy hard-rock track. As I tucked into "Kicks," from the Greatest Hits of the greatly underrated Paul Revere and the Raiders (LP, Columbia KCL 2662), Mark Volk's melodic Vox Phantom Bass was natural, coherent, and tactile as I followed his infectious descending line in this tune's bridge. As I plumbed deeper into the bass region, the Moon i-1 impressed me even more. The organ pedals in Timothy Seelig and the Turtle Creek Chorale's performance of John Rutter's Requiem (CD, Reference RR-57CD) were natural, tuneful, and forceful, with no trace of overhang or distortion.

On a few tracks, I felt the Moon was a bit warmer in the midbass than I would have liked. Tony Scherr's string bass on "The Days of Wine and Roses," from Bill Frisell's East/West (CD, Nonesuch 79863-2), was a touch too ripe and sluggish in both the walking-bass line in the tune's head and in his solo. I had a similar reaction to Jerome Harris's playing in "The Mooche," from his Rendezvous (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2). But I didn't hear this with most of the recordings I played; I'm a bit inconclusive as to why this warmth reared its head on some tracks and not on others.

The Simaudio's reproduction of transients made it an excellent reproducer of percussion recordings. Listening to Charles Wuorinen's Speculum Speculae (LP, Nonesuch 71300), I could follow every detail of Richard Fitz's broad range of percussion instruments, which the Moon i-1 reproduced with perfectly fast and lifelike transients. And when I played this recording a tad above concert-hall level, Fitz's slamming bass drum shook the room.

The Moon i-1 never seemed to run out of steam. The bass synths and electronic drums of Kraftwerk's Minimum/Maximum (CD, EMI ASW 60612) shook the walls. I found my legs twitching and my voice singing along as I scribbled "This can't be only 50Wpc."

Traffic's The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (LP, Island ILPS 9180) seemed to gather together the best of the Moon i-1. Steve Winwood's rich, well-recorded voice floated on a bed of air over the perfectly coherent interplay of bass and drums. But the track that really revealed the Moon's magic was "Fruit Forward," from my quartet Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-2). The Simaudio's lifelike realism and ability to unravel gobs of midrange detail let me follow and unravel the compositional structure of this wholly improvised performance. It opens with a simple bass solo in which Chris Jones sets up a fairly straightforward yet rigid harmonic and rhythmic structure that creates the architecture of the entire piece. As the rest of us enter, we build and shape on what Chris has constructed as he and drummer Mark Flynn subtly twist the rhythmic structure and the piece descends into free soloing, then recapitulates the material introduced in a simple wind-down in which Chris restates the opening motive. I enjoyed listening to this piece through the Moon i-1 almost as much as I did playing it live.

I compared the Simaudio Moon i-1 ($1500) with two other integrated amplifiers, both from Creek: the Destiny ($2500) and the 5350SE ($1595, now known as the Classic).

The Creek 5350SE had a slightly less liquid textural presentation than the Moon, but I wouldn't call it dry, and its lower midrange was a bit less rich. The Moon's high frequencies were sweeter and a bit cleaner, with more detail. However, the 5350SE had the Moon's bottom-end slam and high-level dynamic capabilities, though with not a trace of the midbass warmth I heard from some recordings with the Simaudio.

The Creek Destiny shared the other two integrateds' deep-bass definition and dynamic capabilities, but without a trace of warmth in the midbass. However, it also shared the Moon's sophisticated high-frequency reproduction, and was perhaps just a touch more extended, and just as silky. The Creek Destiny shared the Moon i-1's ability to resolve midrange detail, but the Simaudio seemed a tad richer in this region.

I was very impressed with the overall performance of this rugged, sexy-looking integrated amplifier from Canada. It shared many of the attributes of more expensive gear, both tubed and solid-state, and with all recordings it sounded far more powerful than its rated output of 50Wpc indicates. In fact, its lifelike performance gave me a hankering to listen to more products from Simaudio. The Moon i-1 is a must-listen for anyone considering an integrated amplifier in the under-$2000 range. Thanks, JA, for sending it my way.

Simaudio Ltd.
2002 Ridge Road
Champlain, NY 12919
(877) 980-2400