August 1, 2009
Simaudio Moon CD.5 CD Player
Whats in a name? Take
"Moon," for instance. Centuries ago, a Scandinavian kings personal guards
supposedly were the only people in the kingdom allowed to use the crescent moon as their
symbol. But when my own family decided that Englands weather was better than their
homelands, and settled in Yorkshire, they took Moon as their name. A Korean
acquaintance told me that Moon is one of the most common surnames in her country, along
with Pak (Park), Kim, and Lee, though she didnt know why.
For Jean Poulin, president of Simaudio Ltd., the Moon brand
name arises from a lifelong fascination with celestial bodies. Hes used it on
multi-kilobuck components that have found great favor among reviewers. His latest Moons
are the entry-level .5 components: so far, a CD player and an integrated amplifier, each
listing for $1200 USD.
The Moon CD.5 is of fairly typical dimensions for home
audio gear: 16.875"W by 3.5"H by just over 13"D. The sample supplied for
review had a lovely champagne/silver face of thick, extruded aluminum; its also
available in black. The front panels layout is also fairly typical. The slim disc
drawer is to the right of the central Moon logo; immediately to the left are the display
and controls. The display features large, red, segmented LEDs, and a stack of four small,
red indicators just to the left of the display. The topmost of the latter lights up if the
Program mode is engaged. The next two relate to the Repeat function: both illuminate if
the CD.5 is set to repeat the whole disc, but only the bottom one glows when the player is
set to repeat a specific track. The lowest indicator lights up when Random Play is chosen.
Instead of a front-panel power switch, the CD.5 has one
marked Standby. In that mode, the players transport and display receive no power,
but all digital and analog audio circuitry remains powered "to help maintain optimal
performance," as stated in the owners manual; Simaudio suggests the CD.5 be
left in Standby when not in use. To the left of the Standby button is the infrared sensor
for the remote control; to its right are, in order, Play, Pause, Stop, Track Reverse/Fast
Reverse, and Track Forward/Fast Forward.
The CD.5s actual Power switch is on its sparsely
populated back panel, next to the three-pronged IEC power receptacle. There are also a
pair of single-ended analog outputs and an S/PDIF digital out, all on RCA jacks.
The compact remote control, which operates both the CD.5
and the matching i.5 integrated amplifier, is nicely laid out, and was generally a
pleasure to use. Two sections, both backgrounded in blue, control the CD-player functions:
the top permits direct selection of tracks, while the bottom repeats the controls on the
players front panel, and adds to them the Repeat, Random, and Program functions.
Near the top right of the remote is the Display button, which permits the user to scroll
through four display modes: elapsed track time, remaining track time, elapsed disc time,
and remaining disc time. It can also be used to turn the display off, which some folks
believe lowers a CD players noise floor.
The CD.5 contains a large toroidal power transformer, a
hefty 13,200µF of power-supply capacitance, and eight stages of DC voltage regulation. It
features upsampling that uses 24-bit/352.8kHz processing, and the DAC is a Burr-Brown/TI
24-bit/192kHz chip. To minimize signal-path lengths, interference, and signal degradation,
the players single circuit board contains separate ground planes for the digital and
The Moon CD.5 was compared to my Sony CDP-X303ES CD player.
Both played through my Linn Majik 1-P integrated amplifier via interconnects from Linn
(the Sony) and Dayton Audio (the Moon). During the review, I swapped the interconnects but
could hear no difference between them. The Linn drove my NEAR 50 Me II loudspeakers or a
recently acquired pair of mid-1970s "bookshelf" speakers: Wharfedale W60Es. For
those of you unfamiliar with these ancient beasts, they would need bookshelves of massive
proportions: each is 25"H x 14"W x 12"D and weighs over 50 pounds.
Ive mounted them on 9"-tall homemade speaker stands to get their tweeters up to
near the level of my ears when Im in my listening chair. Each sealed box contains a
12.5" woofer, a 5" acoustically isolated midrange driver, and a 1.25"
soft-dome tweeter. The Wharfedales bass response -- limited to about 40Hz, and a
little loosey-goosey with the Linn -- is not in the NEARs league, but I think their
mids and highs are better: lively without being strident, and quite smooth.
Both sets of speakers were connected to the Linn integrated
with 14-gauge AR speaker cable. AC is supplied by a dedicated circuit operating through a
PS Audio Soloist in-wall power conditioner and surge suppressor. My listening room is
17L x 11W x 7H, finished in drywall (with makeshift wall treatments) and
cork flooring, most of the latter covered by a 9 x 12 rug. The speakers were
6 from my chair, about 6 apart, 26" out from the front wall, and at least
2 from any sidewall.
While there were differences in the sounds of the Simaudio
Moon CD.5 and Sony CDP-X303ES, they werent dramatic. Were talking subtleties
here. Playing "Cloudburst," by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, from their The
Hottest New Group in Jazz (CD, Columbia/Legacy C2K 64933), the Moon sounded a bit
faster than the Sony -- I was better able to understand more of Jon Hendricks rapid
and masterful scatting, most of which is unintelligible when I play this track on the Sony
or on either of my other CD players, an Onkyo DX-2700 and an NAD C525BEE.
From the same album, Annie Rosss "Twisted"
had a fuller bass line and crisper highs through the CD.5. Not that the Sony was lacking,
but its sound was smoother. I often use this disc because it sounds as if neither the
original recording nor the remastering was tweaked very much with equalization,
compression, etc. Its my impression that it sounds a lot like the original master
tape probably does. Like Hendricks, Ross exercises her vocal cords with a good deal of
very rapid singing (listen to her sing "I had a brain, it was insane" and tell
me you dont agree that she could probably sing advertising disclaimers as
fast as the announcers on radio car ads read them).
However, the CD.5s slight crispness was a two-edged
sword. A recent reissue of the hits of 1960s singer Bobby Vee (CD, Capitol/EMI 3 67379 2),
was nearly unlistenable, as if it had been equalized to within an inch of its life,
especially in the mids and highs. What came out of the speakers was egregiously
aggressive, especially with Vees voice. But the CD.5 played no favorites: garbage in
yielded garbage out. This CD sounds pretty awful through the Sony as well.
The Moon CD.5s bass and rhythmic capabilities were
fully demonstrated by Fourplays "Bali Run," from Fourplay (CD, Warner
Bros. 26656-2). As Ive noted before, this track features a very deep, quick, and
rhythmic bass line. (Nathan East plays a five-string electric bass, which goes a fourth
lower than a standard four-string bass.) On the Sony, the sound was rounded off, losing
some of the beat and articulation. With the CD.5, on the other hand, the bass line was
reproduced with all the snap that East puts into his playing. Lee Ritenours guitar,
too, benefited from the CD.5s speed with sharp attacks.
Theres a lot going on instrumentally in
"Mandolin Rain," from Bruce Hornsby & the Ranges The Way It Is (CD,
RCA PCD-5904). Ive always admired this productions sound: full and rich, with
a good soundstage. The Sony offered up a very nice overall performance; again, its mids
and highs were smooth, though lacking in ultimate detail. The CD.5 put out the more
detailed sound, especially with Hornsbys piano; and the soft taps on the hi-hat, and
the mandolin that comes in at the end, hung nicely out in space, well in front of the
other instruments, adding to this songs mournful quality.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, Rosemary Clooney enjoyed a
great resurrection of her career on Concord Jazz that continued to her death, in 2002. One
of her best albums for the label, in my opinion, is Brazil (CD, Concord Jazz
CCD-4884-2), in which shes joined (along with other musicians) by another of my
favorites, guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli, in top hits of the bossa nova era. She
begins with the 1939 classic "Brazil." Through the CD.5, it was obvious from the
opening note that Clooney was "eating" the microphone -- I heard every breath
she takes, and how she enunciates each sound of each word. These were not so evident
through the Sony player. Pizzarellis playing and scatting during his solo sounded
more precise and detailed through the CD.5, while the Sonys sound was ever so
slightly more intimate. Overall, the other instruments and the voices were given a
suitably deep soundstage by the CD.5; the Sony offered not quite as much depth, but the
two players left-to-right soundstaging was similar.
Another indication of the CD.5s superior
front-to-back placement of performers on the soundstage was given in the opening of
"Money for Nothing," from Dire Straits Brothers in Arms (CD, Warner
Bros. 47773-2). Through the Moon, Stings famous lament of "I want my, I want
my, I want my MTV" was waaaaaay back behind the instruments and lead vocal, as I
think it should be -- and farther back than the Sony places it. The CD.5 also put the
tom-toms way out front, and gave a very layered presentation of the beginning of the
track. The CD.5 also excelled with a tighter, more rhythmic sound, especially on the
drums, bass, and synthesizer.
In keeping with the CD.5s fine rhythmic performance,
I decided to end my serious listening with a seriously unserious song: ZZ Tops
"Gimme All Your Lovin," from their Greatest Hits (CD, Warner
Bros. 26846-2). This track has rhythm in spades, especially from the drums, which sounded
like pile drivers through the CD.5 -- the players attack was that fast. The Sony
equaled the CD.5 in reproducing the voices of the band, but on the instrumental parts the
Moon really shone.
Its been a pleasure to have an audio component in my
home thats such a fine performer -- it makes me proud to be a Moon. If, as many
believe, the CD player will soon be a thing of the past, its going out on a high
note with equipment as good as the last three players Ive reviewed: the Rotel
RCD-1072, the Marantz SA8003, and the Simaudio Moon CD.5. All are excellent, but of the
three, unless you need SACD playback, the Simaudio Moon CD.5 has the best combination of
sound, soundstaging, and rhythm. Its a beauty.
. . . Thom Moon
Price of equipment reviewed