Simaudio combine near-reference CD playback and an accessible D/A converter in the one box with the Moon CD3.3. Is it a giant leap for mankind?
The steam has pretty much run out of the CD player market, with the advent of music streamers and computer audio biting into their market, not to mention the iPod generation with their low bit-rates and dangling earbuds.
Mention a CD player to a lot of kids these days and they’re likely to wonder what the hell you’re on about. Notwithstanding the iPod craze, it just seems easier to rush into the computer room and insert a disc, rip it in either lossless or bit-perfect format for best audio quality, and within minutes it is accessible, complete with colour artwork and track information – ironically all viewable from the humble iPod Touch (via various downloadable apps).
So, is this the end of CD replay, as we know it? I don’t think so, at least for the time being.
When I return to my modest palazzo laden with freshly purchased CD music, the first thing I want to do is pop it in the CD tray and listen to it, before I trudge up the stairs to my trusty Mac. I also have a good hundred or so reference discs in my listening room, and even though I have them ‘archived’ on my external HDD I still relish the tradition of cracking open the jewel case, grabbing the booklet and inserting the CD into my machine while reading it.
Once I’ve had my first listen I’ll then rip the disc to my computer, and from then on it’s a given that I’ll be listening to the music via my Squeezebox Duet/DacMagic combo.
There are also my army of mates who turn up frequently with their latest CD that I just ‘have’ to listen to, and there’s nothing like sharing a beer or two while discovering new music for the first time, so into the player it goes for a spin.
The bottom line is I need to have some sort of disc spinner connected to my hi-fi system, and I do like my sound quality; my Blu-ray player (as good as it is) just doesn’t hold a candle to my tube CD player when it comes to playing good old red-book.
Luckily for us, caught between the world of the home computer as a music source and normally aspirated CD players, Canadian high-end maestros Simaudio have recently arrived here in NZ with their Moon range of components. Employing a similar doctrine to Cambridge Audio with their Azur 840C CD player, they have a perfect solution for those wishing to enjoy quality audio via a computer or streaming device, yet still retain the ability to listen to CDs.
Enter the Moon CD3.3: it’s a luxuriously constructed and styled disc spinner with excellent sound quality, and it has a coaxial SPDIF DAC input for those wishing to upgrade the sound quality of a music streaming device. This input is a low-jitter asynchronous type and combined with the acclaimed Burr Brown PCM1798 DAC/filter allows full 24/192kHz resolution upsampling from standard CD (16/44.1kHz) or true high-res from a music streamer – if you are lucky enough to possess any high-resolution files, that is.
The CD3.3 uses Simaudio’s proprietary CD drive transport and close attention has been made to vibration resistance – the transport sits on the company’s innovative M-Quattro gel-based isolation system for immunity from air-borne and structural resonance.
Adding to the audiophile-grade armament contained within the 3.3 are substantial power supplies for both digital and analogue sections, and extensive DC voltage regulation for superior audio quality. The sample I had for review had optional balanced outputs fitted along with conventional single-ended RCA’s, while an examination of the ergonomics found only one slight weakness: opening the CD drawer does tend to obscure some of the control buttons, although the well-featured remote control will be the first port of call for the vast majority of listeners. An RS232 port for multi-room/control purposes completes the good on-board connectivity options.
While the styling isn’t quite as exquisite as the flagship Evolution series components, it still cut a fine figure on my Soul To Sole hi-fi support rack.
It was time to get cracking and plug the beast in for a listen, and an extended one at that as the local distributor left the CD3.3 with me for a good few weeks.
Cables were Nordost Blue Heaven interconnects between CD and amplifier, while both speaker and digital cables were Nordost Superflatline MK2 bi-wire and Moonglow respectively. My Logitech Squeezebox Duet/Welborne PSU was press-ganged into service to assess the on-board DAC, while Rogue Audio’s stunning 90wpc Cronus Magnum tube amplifier supplied the necessary wattage. Once connected up to the elegant Joseph Audio RM22XL floor-standing loudspeakers, I was good to go.
I’m really digging Tom Jones Praise And Blame album at the moment; it almost seems a guilty pleasure now that the Welsh Stallion’s panty collecting years seem done and dusted. Having purchased both the 180gsm vinyl and CD versions of this album, I was able to compare them, as well as the ripped CD via the Duet using the DAC input of the CD3.3.
A very interesting experiment thus unfolded while comparing the Duet with the Moon’s CD drive: while the streamed audio had a slightly lower noise floor and a touch better spatiality, the CD had the edge in terms of dynamics and overall oomph. Detail was about even between both, although CD gave slightly better bass definition and impact. Playing the same album on vinyl proved to me why I still continue with the Brontosaurus of all music formats, the black disc just shading the other two formats when it came to transferring the emotion and passion of Tom’s performance to this reviewer; although to be honest both digital versions had better bass control (and less surface noise) than the vinyl.
A change of genre was required after my Tom-fest, so into the disc tray went Goldfrapp’s Wicker Man- inspired Seventh Tree. It’s a mostly downbeat folksy affair compared with their more recent technopop/disco incarnations, relying on simpler melodies and stripped-down arrangements. The album sounded excellent via the cultured Moon: there was a genuine delicacy and great detail through the mid-band, while Alison Goldfrapp’s voice was reproduced with terrific realism and body. The strings on opening track ‘Clowns’ were sweeping and dramatic, underpinning a moody and involving listen. Changing to the DAC/Duet for the same track also delivered the goods, the perceived lower noise floor bringing the music from a darker background and enhancing the already great reproductive abilities of this stylish Canadian component.
At this stage of the auditioning process I yearned for music of a slightly heavier variety, so into the Moon went the first Grinderman album. Now here we had the impact and tizz of the crash cymbal, the snap of the snare drum, and violent wah-wah guitar sounds along with Cave’s tortured vocals all transmitted with gusto around my room. It was terrific stuff and an excellent test of the machine’s prowess with hard- edged rock.
Although the CD3.3 isn’t what I’d exactly call an inexpensive player, Simaudio have players costing over three times as much in their range. Taking the very good addressable DAC into consideration, the CD3.3 does represent good value for those looking at this price point for a player, and it turned my rather lowly Squeezebox into something much more serious in terms of sound quality, while dispatching my Cambridge Audio DacMagic with consummate ease. If I owned the CD3.3, I’d add a Squeezebox Touch (capable of 24 bit/96kHz resolution natively) for a superb CD player/DAC combination.
What a bloody shame I had to return it, eh? GARY PEARCE