What’s in a name? According to my family history, it’s said a Scandinavian king’s personal guards were the only people in the kingdom allowed to use the crescent moon as their symbol. After raiding England sometime around 1000 CE, they decided the weather there was better than in their homeland, settled in Yorkshire, and took Moon as their name. A Korean acquaintance told me that Moon is one of the most common surnames in her homeland, along with Pak (Park), Kim, and Lee. That must be the case, given the amount of junk mail this Moon receives, most of it in Korean.
The name of Simaudio’s Moon brand is well known among audiophiles. The brand is used on multi-kilobuck components that have found great favor among reviewers, as well as at the other end of the price scale -- as in the new Moon 110LP v2 phono preamplifier ($399 USD).
Moon 110LP v2
Simaudio has produced the Moon 110LP for several years now, but the v2 features completely new circuitry, and a new look that mimics its immediate big brother, the Moon 310LP ($1899). Costa Koulisakis, part owner of Simaudio Ltd. and VP Customer Experience, told me that the v2 retains the original’s outstanding signal/noise ratio and levels of harmonic and intermodulation distortion, while expanding its range of abilities.
For instance, the original 110LP offered two levels of gain: 40dB for fixed-coil, moving-magnet, and moving-iron cartridges, and 60dB for moving-coils. The v2 adds to those 50, 54, and 66dB, for precise matches with the widest possible range of cartridges.
The v2 also offers four input impedances (10, 100, 475, and 47k ohms), compared to only two on the original (100, 47k ohms) -- again, enough to satisfy the needs of almost any cartridge on the market. And the user can select the most advantageous capacitance among values of 0, 100, 330, and 430pF. These are the most common values, to best match cartridge to phono stage: too little capacitance can make a cartridge sound bright, while too much can muffle the highs.
The icing on the cake is that the Moon 110LP v2 can apply to a cartridge’s signal either the standard RIAA equalization or the newer IEC curve. The IEC curve, rarely found in entry-to-mid-level phono stages, was devised to tame very-low-frequency (below 20Hz) rumble produced by a turntable.
All of these settings are selected via small dual in-line package (DIP) switches on the Moon’s bottom plate. Simaudio even includes a nonmetallic, nonconducting tool, the pen-like Grayhill DIPstick, to change switch settings without any worries. Next to the four banks of DIPs (left and right for input impedance, capacitance on the top, RIAA/IEC EQ and gain on the bottom) are diagrams showing how each set of DIPs should be configured.
The Moon 110LP v2 measures a diminutive 5”W by 1.65”H by 6.5”D; my review sample was a luxuriant black. Despite its small size, the Moon 110LP v2 is, like all Moon gear, built like a brick, with a shipping weight of 3.3 pounds. The only break in the smooth curve of its front panel is a bright blue LED that lights up when the 110LP is powered on -- which is all the time, so long as its separate power supply is attached and plugged into the wall. There’s no power switch anywhere. But drawing only 2W at idle, it won’t much raise your power bill.
The rear panel is the business end. On it are two output and two input RCA jacks, and a ground post, all gold-plated. There’s also the input jack for the 24V power supply, a fairly typical wall wart with a nice touch: a fabric-covered cord.
Couldn’t have been simpler. The Moon 110LP v2’s comprehensive owner’s manual covers its features, requirements, and settings very nicely. My sample came with its capacitance set to 0, its impedance to 47k ohms, and its gain to 40dB -- Simaudio’s recommendations for the fixed-coil cartridges I use. I found that those defaults matched my system extremely well.
Simaudio strongly urges the user to make all input, output, and ground connections before plugging in the 110LP v2’s power supply. I agree -- that will guarantee no undue hum, pops, or buzzes when inserting or removing connectors.
Also at Simaudio’s suggestion, I played the 110LP v2 for several hours before actually listening to it. They believe this practice helps the components burn in and reach their optimal operating values.
Before listening, I turned the volume on my preamp all the way up with no record playing, to hear how much noise the Moon 110LP v2 produced. I was impressed -- not absolute silence, but at least as low a level of hiss as I’ve heard from any other phono stage. That’s quiet. At a typical volume level, with no signal, I could hear no hint of hiss through speakers or even headphones.
First up was “Money for Nothing,” from a 45rpm edition of Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms (two 180gm LPs, Warner Bros./Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 2-441). Right off the bat, the solidity of the lower registers took me aback. I’d thought my Linn Majik 1P had a solid bottom, but it’s nothing compared to the Simaudio. At the same time, the bass slam was prodigious. The mids were meaty but not bloated, and the highs, such as guitar overtones and snare snaps, were crystalline. Incredibly satisfying sound.
After that, I was anxious to hear “You Can Call Me Al,” from Paul Simon’s Graceland (LP, Warner Bros. 25447-1). As I now anticipated, having heard the Dire Straits, the lower registers were exceptional, but the bongos had a midrange overtone I hadn’t noticed before. The balance of the instruments was extremely fine, with soundstage width and depth of matchless quality. Simon’s voice held steady at the center of the stage, the instruments grouped around him, and Morris Goldberg’s pennywhistle break was clean and vibrant. Overall, the sound was very, very good.
The trumpets and guitar in “Getaway,” from The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol.1 (LP, Columbia PC 35647), were recorded with great definition, sounding very crisp, incredibly tight, almost percussive. In reproducing them, the Moon 110LP v2 didn’t disappoint. Even the bit of echo on the trumpets didn’t smear their sound through this phono stage. I would have enjoyed bass that was a bit more robust, but as that information isn’t on this LP, it shouldn’t come through the speakers -- if it does, it’s a distortion. The 110LP v2 didn’t add to or subtract from this recording in any way, including the bass. You can’t ask for much more than that.
One of my all-time favorites is “So What,” from Miles Davis’s masterpiece Kind of Blue -- it shows just how good a 60-year-old analog recording can sound (two 45rpm, 180gm LPs, Columbia/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 2-45011). The subtleties of Davis’s trumpet, John Coltrane’s counterpoint on tenor sax to Cannonball Adderley’s alto, and Bill Evans’s precise, minimalist piano, all combine to create a fabulous performance. And the Moon 110LP v2 let it all through. There was no evidence of crosstalk during solos, while the three horns and the piano were pretty much either left or right. That’s the way it was recorded, and that’s the way it was reproduced by the Simaudio, much to my satisfaction.
One of my reference recordings for male voice is “Finally Found a Reason to Live,” from Art Garfunkel’s Fate for Breakfast (LP, Columbia JC 35780). This is for several reasons, among them Garfunkel’s ethereal voice, the picked acoustic guitars, and the close backing vocals. The production of this track is out of this world (thanks, Louie Shelton!) -- hearing this recording brings me joy, and the Moon 110LP v2 reproduced it exquisitely. Garfunkel’s voice had just the right amount of air around it, the guitars were crisp and clean, and the backing voices beautifully added their parts to the whole. I recommend this 1979 album wholeheartedly, should you by chance come across one in a good used-vinyl store (it’s out of print on LP and CD).
Time for a female voice, in this case Karen Carpenter’s in “Rainy Days and Mondays,” from Carpenters (LP, A&M), which really spotlights her rich contralto. As with all recordings made at A&M’s studios on La Brea Avenue, in L.A., the sound pretty much can’t be beat; this studio had a very rich if not very live sound. The 110LP v2 did a fabulous job with Carpenter’s voice, and the alto sax in the break ended by blending perfectly with her; again, the Simaudio phono stage reproduced it exquisitely. And the harmonica in the background was reproduced perfectly, in the perfect spot (just below and right of center). I couldn’t have asked for better sound.
I’m a huge fan of jazz vocalese, which Wikipedia defines as “a type of jazz singing in which new words are created and sung to existing instrumental improvisations.” Manhattan Transfer is a modern-day carrier of the vocalese torch, and a great example of the genre is “Four Brothers,” from their 1977 album Pastiche (LP, Atlantic Records) -- a tune by Miles Davis and Jimmy Giuffre, with words by Jon Hendricks, whose title refers to the sax section of Woody Herman’s Herd ca. 1947. A transcribed solo by each of the four saxophonists is heard in turn, each part here sung by a different ManTran singer. There’s a lot of very quick, precise vocalization and enunciation that some electronics just can’t sort out. That was not the case with the Moon 110LP v2. There was no slop -- every note and word was effortlessly reproduced. And the staccato trumpet bursts couldn’t have been better. The depth and breadth of sound was perhaps the best I’ve experienced with this track -- which, with these four singers, was a real treat. (I’ve seen Manhattan Transfer in concert several times, from an intimate cabaret performance early on, to a session at Virginia’s Wolf Trap with an audience of thousands.) At the end of the cut, when the four are spread across the stage, their positioning couldn’t have been better. What a thrill!
Recently, I’ve been using a borrowed album of elevator music, Hugo Winterhalter Goes . . . Continental (LP, RCA Victor Living Stereo LSP-2482), simply because the violins and accordion in “A Swedish Rhapsody” are so incredibly shrill. With many phono stages and cartridges, those instruments sound like a holy mess. Not here -- with the Shure V15 Type V-MR and the 110LP v2, there was practically no shrillness at all. It was, without a doubt, the best sound that 1962 album has ever produced on a system of mine.
Concurrently with my auditioning of the Moon 110LP v2, I had in my system Cambridge Audio’s new Duo phono stage ($299.99, review to come), which I feel bettered the phono stage in my Linn Majik to a small degree. So I compared the Duo with the Moon 110LP v2, using “Take Five,” from the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out (LP, Columbia 8192). I bought my copy of this 1959 album in 1984, but it seems to have been pressed from a very good stamper.
Through the Duo, Brubeck’s piano lays down a simple-sounding bass line in the left channel, from which Paul Desmond weaves the melody on alto sax in roughly the center of the stage. Joe Morello’s drums are well off to the right, drenched in the natural reverberation for which Columbia’s 30th Street Studio was known. (A former Presbyterian church, 30th Street was huge: about 100’L x 55’W x 100’H.) Morello’s percussive playing was well served by the Duo, and Eugene Wright’s double bass anchored the bottom definitively. The overall sound was focused, well defined, and very harmonious, and I was anxious to hear if the 110LP v2 could better it.
Right off the bat, the Moon 110LP v2 showed itself to be the champion. It was as if another octave or more had been added to the highs, as was especially apparent in the sounds of the cymbals and sax. With the piano, bass, and kick drum the 110LP v2 provided a lower midrange and bass that were similar, if very slightly weightier, than the Cambridge Duo. The percussive nature of the snare came through even more distinctly than through the Duo. The Moon LP110 v2 retrieved more detail from a magically detailed recording.
I bought my Linn 22 years ago because it offered far better phono sound than my McIntosh Laboratory C27 solid-state preamp. When I heard the Cambridge Audio Duo through my system, I thought, “Aha! Finally, I’ve found a phono stage that offers that little bit more than the Linn!” Then I heard Simaudio’s Moon 110LP v2. It opened my ears. I said to myself, “Holy cow! Game over!”
This is one fabulous piece of equipment. No other entry-level phono preamp I’ve heard betters its design, its construction, or, most important, its sound. At $399, it’s a stone-cold bargain.
. . . Thom Moon
- Analog source -- Dual CS5000 turntable with Shure V15 Type V-MR cartridge
- Preamplifier -- Linn Majik 1P
- Power amplifier -- NAD C 275BEE
- Speakers -- Acoustic Energy Radiance 3, Advent ASW-1200 subwoofer
- Interconnects -- Dayton Audio, Dual (captive turntable phono cable), Straight Wire
- Speaker cables -- Acoustic Research 14-gauge
Simaudio Moon 110LP v2 Phono Stage
Price: $399 USD.
Warranty: Ten years parts and labor (with registration).
1345 Newton Road
Boucherville, Quebec J4B 5H2
Phone: (450) 449-2212