I grew up in a family that adhered to self-discipline, hard work, and frugality -- in short, to the Protestant work ethic, a phrase first coined and a concept first formulated, in 1904-1905, by German sociologist and philosopher Max Weber, who attributed to this ethic the rise of capitalism. So the idea of spending a lot of money on something for how it looks and feels, instead of for its main reason for being -- its utility -- gives me pause.
That thought, accompanied by pangs of irrational guilt, flowed through me as I unboxed the latest iteration of Simaudio’s flagship integrated amplifier, the Moon 700i v2, a pretty, luxury device that reeks of high quality and attention to detail. I’d recently binged on the HBO miniseries Sharp Objects, in which one well-to-do main character boasts of a six-component stack of Moon Evolution electronics that retails for a total in excess of $80,000. It’s the type of gear owned by people who wear ascots. I, on the other hand, refuse to buy almost anything unless it’s on sale. The Moon 700i v2 costs $14,000 USD. Suddenly, I felt very out of my element.
Lifting the Moon 700i v2 out of its robust double box only reinforced this impression. At 18.8”W x 5.5”H x 18.1”D and 62 pounds, it feels solid and dense, with no flex or hollowness in its construction. My review sample was black, though this model can also be had in silver or my favorite, black with silver volume dial, rear corner pillars, and cheeks -- the brushed, curved pieces of solid aluminum on the case’s front corners -- polished and tapered silver feet, and a brushed-silver Moon plaque on its top plate. The Moon 700i v2 is exceptionally well built. Its volume knob is perfectly sized, while the eight buttons on its front panel have a pleasant, clicky feel when engaged. The dot-matrix LED screen is a bit old-school, but its very large, dimmable red characters are super readable from across the room without being too bright. If there’s an integrated amplifier that will look good in pretty much any modern living space, the Moon 700i v2 is it.
I was curious to see and hear what Simaudio’s interpretation of a top-flight integrated amp might be all about -- my colleague Philip Beaudette had raved about the original Moon 700i ($13,000) in January 2013 on sister site SoundStage! Hi-Fi. Simaudio’s product manager, Dominque Poupart, confirmed for me that v2 of the 700i is based on the same overall dual-mono, fully differential platform as the original, and has the same M-eVOL2 volume control. Philip described the latter thusly:
Because the 700i is a dual-mono design, the M-eVOL2 uses one multiplying digital-to-analog converter (MDAC) per channel to vary the amplitude of the musical signal as a function of the volume setting. Made by Texas Instruments, this volume circuit lets the user make precise adjustments of volume level: from 0 to 30dB in increments of 1dB, and from 30 to 80dB in increments of 0.1dB, for a total of 530 individual steps. Simaudio claims that the M-eVOL2 circuit offers lower noise and better signal matching between channels, while closely matching the performance of the M-Ray volume circuit used in their Moon Evolution 850P preamplifier.
Nor is the M-Ray volume circuit, Simaudio’s best, included in the Moon 700i v2, despite its being their top integrated amp. That said, the 700i v2’s volume control is the very best I’ve used in my eight years of reviewing hi-fi. The dial is big and perfectly weighted: Spin it a little, and the volume changes in increments of 0.1dB; spin it a lot, the volume changes at a speed an order of magnitude faster, in increments of 1dB. It’s satisfying to use because it’s so accurate and consistent.
The amplifier circuit also remains unchanged. Simaudio’s Lynx circuit is used; this has zero feedback, the benefit of which is lower intermodulation distortion than is possible using global feedback. Six custom output transistors are used per channel -- a source of great pride for Simaudio, who claim that there are no capacitors in the signal path to color the signal. The class-AB design generates 175Wpc into 8 ohms, 350Wpc into 4 ohms, or “around 500Wpc” into 2 ohms. The Moon 700i v2 should provide enough power and current to drive all but the most inefficient and challenging loudspeakers out there. Its dual-mono design features one Japanese-cored 500VA toroidal transformer per channel; the preamplifier section and logic control use their own dedicated transformer. In other specs, the Moon 700i v2 has an input impedance of 23.7k ohms, gain of 37dB, and a frequency response of 10Hz-100kHz, ±0.1dB.
What’s new in the v2? First, the toroidal transformers in the original 700i were bare and unshielded. The v2’s transformers are potted in shielding boxes with epoxy, which helps prevent the power supply’s minute but not insignificant electromagnetic emissions from introducing noise into the adjoining audio circuits. Second, Simaudio has used what they claim are better-performing semiconductors in the 700i v2’s preamp section that weren’t available in 2011, when the original was designed. These are decoupled from their dedicated power supply using independent inductive DC filters.
Simaudio designs and makes all its products in its factory in Boucherville, Quebec, including the Moon 700i v2’s ten four-layer circuit boards with gold-plated pads, and its aluminum case and heatsinks. They also warrant the 700i v2 for ten years -- twice as long, if not longer, than the warranties given by many of their competitors. Homegrown, high quality, proud to stand behind its products for the long haul -- there’s a lot to like about how Simaudio does business.
While the Moon 700i v2 doesn’t include a built-in DAC or phono stage, it’s otherwise fully featured. Beyond the high-quality, gold-plated binding posts on the rear panel, there are: one balanced (XLR) and four unbalanced (RCA) inputs; a line-level output (RCA); a tape loop (RCA); an RS-232 port; a 12V trigger; an IR input; and an IEC power inlet. Simaudio also includes their proprietary SimLink connection, which allows the 700i v2 to communicate with other Moon components. For each input you can assign a name, enable a gain offset of ±10dB, set a maximum volume level, bypass the internal volume control entirely for use in a home-theater setup, or deactivate that input. Navigating the menu system using the front-panel controls was as intuitive as it gets. The 700i v2 also plays nicely with Simaudio’s MiND streaming platform and app, letting the app control various features of the integrated itself, as well as the MiND-assigned input source.
The Moon 700i v2 comes with a power cord, SimLink cable, owner’s manual, and FRM-3 remote-control handset. The fully featured remote, made of metal, feels heavy in the hand. Its backlighting is activated by an internal motion sensor -- clever, though it made a slightly annoying buzz whenever the backlighting went on. Luckily, the backlighting can be set to come on only when you actually press a button, or be turned off completely. Balance controls and a Display button, for dimming or darkening the dot-matrix display, are other useful inclusions.
The Moon 700i v2 replaced my Hegel Music Systems H590 integrated amplifier-DAC in my system. Because the Simaudio has no built-in DAC, I used Nordost Blue Heaven balanced interconnects to hook it up to Benchmark Media Systems’ excellent DAC3 HGC DAC-preamp. The DAC3 HGC had a Google Chromecast Audio hooked up to one of its optical inputs using a generic optical (TosLink) interconnect, through which I streamed Tidal HiFi from my Apple iPhone 11 Pro; my Intel NUC Roon music server was wired to the Benchmark’s USB input via a Nordost Blue Heaven USB link.
After briefly using the Simaudio-Benchmark tandem together, I heard my system clip on really dynamic material, even at low volumes, and suspected a gain-matching issue. I dialed back the Simaudio’s balanced inputs to 0dB (remember, each input on the Simaudio can be adjusted within ±10dB), and the jumpers on the Benchmark’s balanced outputs by -10dB. That fixed the problem. And at one point I hooked up the Benchmark to the Moon 700i v2’s unbalanced inputs using Dynamique Audio Shadow interconnects (RCA).
I used the Moon 700i v2 with a bunch of different speaker models, including KEF’s LS50 and R3, and Xavian’s Quarta, but it spent most of its timed hooked up to EgglestonWorks’ Nico Evo and Focal’s Diablo Utopia Colour Evo. Speaker cables were AudioQuest’s Rocket 33.
I’ve reviewed several pricey, high-end integrated amplifiers over the years, and each had some unique personality, in terms of physical design, performance parameters and, most important, sound. In that last parameter, the Simaudio Moon 700i v2 proved an exception -- it didn’t peddle in euphony or coloration, artifice or parlor tricks. I heard an utterly balanced, wide-open sound that I found impossible to find fault with. It was ultra-resolving without sounding analytical, and extended and airy while in no way bright. That elusive character -- defined, if at all, by its very lack of character -- might not be to every listener’s taste, but there was no question that the Moon 700i v2 proved a gentlemanly steward for the musical signals I passed through it. It also let through, with unvarnished authenticity, whatever idiosyncrasies and foibles were committed by the components upstream or downstream of it.
A lot of what made the Moon 700i v2’s sound so competent was audible with Ola Gjeilo’s arrangement of William James Kirkpatrick’s “Away in a Manger,” as performed by the Royal Holloway Choir and 12 Ensemble on Gjeilo’s Winter Songs (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Decca/Tidal). Through Focal’s flagship minimonitor, the Diablo Utopia Colour Evo, with its lovely beryllium tweeter, the solo singer sounded about as good as I’ve heard her in my listening room. There were gobs of low-level detail, from her sharp intakes of breath to her natural-sounding sibilants, supported by the rich foundation of the choir’s voices, and all reproduced with an effortlessness that placed the Moon 700i v2 among the best amps I’ve ever heard. I played this track a dozen times, and with every hearing appreciated different aspects of the performance and the recording, with no unnatural spotlighting. Spatial imaging was quite strong, and made possible the Focals’ own performance of one of the better “disappearing” acts I’ve heard in recent memory. Equally impressive was the soundstaging: the Simaudio-Focal pairing cast a stage that was very wide and very, very deep.
But while the Moon 700i v2 was quieter than most integrateds that I’ve reviewed over the years, the combination of the Sim and the high-gain Benchmark to which it was connected produced a higher noise floor than I expected. I suspect that if I’d paired the Moon 700i v2 with one of Simaudio’s own streaming DACs, CD players, or phono preamplifiers, as I expect most of its buyers will, their collective noise floor would be nearly nonexistent, given that they’re designed to work together.
Changing speakers fundamentally changed my system’s sound -- as it should -- but speaker swap after speaker swap left me convinced that the Moon 700i v2 was contributing little to the overall sound. It was as if I were hearing the Benchmark DAC’s vivid, squeaky-clean sound feeding each successive pair of speakers directly, the middleman of amplification bypassed entirely.
Partnering the Moon 700i v2 with EgglestonWorks’ new Nico Evo minimonitors suddenly pushed the all-important midrange farther forward while politely attenuating the treble, which placed voices and string soloists in starker relief. With “Ghosts That We Knew,” from Mumford & Sons’ The Road to Red Rocks (16/44.1 FLAC, Glassnote/Tidal), I reveled in the Egglestons’ almost preternaturally concise stereo image, of Marcus Mumford’s voice, the leading edges seemingly carved with a surgeon’s scalpel. His enunciation of the words was almost shocking in its clarity and attack. Yet I knew that what I was hearing were the contributions to the sound of this recording of the big Eggies, and not of the Moon 700i v2. The Simaudio’s high level of utterly uncolored transparency only let me clearly hear what the Eggies were doing.
Subtle, well-recorded music is one thing. Could Simaudio’s flagship integrated also rock out?
Yep. KEF’s R3 minimonitor is about the size of Focal’s Diablo Utopia Colour Evo, but it’s a three-way speaker that can not only play really loudly but can also produce significantly more midbass than the Focal or EgglestonWorks two-ways. On went “Business,” from Eminem’s The Eminem Show (16/44.1 FLAC, Interscope/Tidal), and up up up went the volume. Not only did the KEF R3s (sensitivity 87dB/W/m) play as loudly as I felt comfortable pushing them, with no semblance of clipping, distortion, or stress -- this track’s bass line was also, surprisingly, as taut as I’ve heard it through any class-AB amp I’ve reviewed in the past few years. Impressive. Yes, the KEF R3s, which cost one-eighth the Focals’ price and less than half the EgglestonWorks’, do sound a bit more dense and less concise than their far costlier counterparts, but Eminem and Dr. Dre still sounded fantastic through them. Nonetheless, tonal purity was spot on through the British three-ways, with predictably high jump factor.
I recently rediscovered the British indie pop band Bastille, and decided to wrap up this stage of my listening with their album All This Bad Blood and “Of the Night,” a mashup of Corona’s “The Rhythm of the Night” and Snap!’s “Rhythm Is a Dancer” (16/44.1 FLAC, Virgin EMI/Tidal). This tasty track marries Dan Smith’s aching, airy lead vocal to a driving modern beat. The xylophone that punctuates the intro was re-created with a clarity so bell-like that I played it several times to fully appreciate the ease with which the Simaudio Moon 700i v2 reproduced each mallet stroke. There was zero hash or overhang, just impact after impact of mallet head on bar, each resonating so precisely and naturally that I smiled just hearing it.
Hegel Music Systems’ H590 integrated amplifier-DAC retails for $11,000, and in many ways offers far more for the buck than does the Simaudio Moon 700i v2. The H590 can produce 300Wpc into 8 ohms, almost twice the Moon’s output, and with monster amounts of current. The H590 offers similar connectivity, with three unbalanced and two balanced inputs, and line-level outputs. But the Hegel goes one further in including a high-quality DAC with seven inputs, one of which includes a network connection for streaming. The H950 doesn’t include the Simaudio’s monitoring loop, RS-232 input, or trigger input, but it’s a lot of amp for the money and it sounds fantastic -- which is why, after reviewing it, I bought one.
For $3000 less you do make concessions, however. The H590 looks and feels pretty much the same as Hegel’s smaller, less powerful integrateds: black, minimalist, and kind of generic for something costing five figures. In the name of maximum performance per dollar, sacrifices have been made in style, quality of materials, and fit’n’finish. Just how close does the Hegel get to the Moon 700i v2’s fantastic performance envelope? I hooked up the Benchmark DAC3 HGC to one of the H590’s balanced (XLR) inputs and noted a couple of things.
First, the Hegel-Benchmark pairing had a lower combined noise floor than the Simaudio-Benchmark tandem, though this was likely due to a simple mismatch of gain in the latter case. With Bastille’s “Of the Night,” the Hegel expressed slightly less treble energy than the Simaudio, which made its sound a touch less spacious. This lent the xylophone intro a bit more weight and tonal density through the H590. Further, the bass line sounded a little more fulsome through the Hegel and my KEF R3s; the Simaudio’s emphasis -- admittedly, a slight one -- was more on impact than on weight. In terms of detail retrieval, the Simaudio shaded the Hegel by a narrow margin. Bottom line, I consider both integrateds to be reference-level components, but with subtly different personalities.
Gryphon Audio Designs’ Diablo 300 is a different proposition. For $16,000 -- $2000 more than Simaudio asks for the Moon 700i v2 -- you get a dual-mono, zero-feedback, class-AB integrated amplifier that operates in class-A for the first 10W, which is twice what the Simaudio can muster. More important, the Diablo 300’s power output of 300, 600, or 900Wpc into a respective 8, 4, or 2 ohms means it’s a hammer of an amp. Built to a fearsome standard, it weighs 84 pounds to the 700i v2’s 62 pounds, and looks like the product of a madman’s underground lab. That last bit means it lacks the Simaudio’s visual class and style and thus won’t appeal to everyone.
But in terms of raw performance, the Gryphon Diablo 300 gives up very little to the Moon 700i v2. It’s extremely quiet for a class-AB amp, and every bit as resolving as the 700i v2. Tonally it leans further away from strict neutrality, with a sweeter, almost golden sound that makes for a supremely holographic soundscape. Its sound isn’t as spacious as the Simaudio’s, which could sound enormous with the right speakers (in my case, Focal’s Diablo Utopia Colour Evos) -- but the Gryphon counters with a reach-out-and-touch-it palpability that, in my experience, eludes most of even the finest class-AB amps, including the Simaudio. If you value a lighter, airier sound, the Moon 700i v2 is the way to go. But if you favor a richer, more traditional class-A sound, the Gryphon should top your list.
All of which leaves Simaudio’s Moon 700i v2 integrated amplifier in an interesting position. As great as it is -- it sounds sensational and looks terrific doing it -- the Moon 700i v2 faces stiff competition from above and below, with the aforementioned integrated amps from Hegel and Gryphon just a couple of the contenders that crowd in and around its $14,000 asking price. Buyers are not short of options when it comes to various medleys of power ratings, inputs, outputs, options, and sound quality. There’s an integrated amp for everyone these days -- who said this hobby was easy?
Here’s what makes Simaudio’s Moon 700i v2 worthy of your consideration. First and foremost, it offers terrific clarity and transparency throughout the audioband, shortchanging or spotlighting nothing at all. If you want an integrated amp that comes admirably close to the ideal of a straight wire with gain, this model should be at the top of your shortlist. Add to that the best volume control I’ve ever used, and thoughtful functionality that lets the user tailor its inputs as that user sees fit, and the package becomes even more compelling. The Moon 700i v2 also has significant if not bottomless reserves of power, even into 2 ohms. Ally all of that to a beautifully built case and a ten-year warranty, and there’s little left to quibble about. In this second generation of their flagship integrated amplifier, Simaudio hasn’t messed with its winning formula. It’s easy to see -- and hear -- why.
. . . Hans Wetzel
- Speakers -- EgglestonWorks Nico Evo; Focal Diablo Utopia Colour Evo; KEF LS50 and R3; Xavian Quarta
- Earphones and headphones -- NAD Viso HP50, PSB M4U 4
- Integrated amplifier -- Hegel Music Systems H590
- Digital-to-analog converter -- Benchmark Media Systems DAC3 HGC
- DAC-headphone amplifier -- Oppo Digital HA-2SE
- Sources -- Apple iPhone 11 Pro smartphone; Intel NUC running Roon, Tidal; Chromecast Audio
- Speaker cables -- AudioQuest Rocket 33, DH Labs Q-10 Signature, Dynamique Audio Caparo
- Analog interconnects -- Dynamique Audio Shadow (unbalanced, RCA), Nordost Blue Heaven (balanced, XLR)
- Digital link -- DH Labs Silver Sonic (USB)
- Power conditioner -- Emotiva CMX-2
Simaudio Moon 700i v2 Integrated Amplifier
Price: $14,000 USD.
Warranty: Ten years parts and labor.
1345 Newton Road
Boucherville, Quebec J4B 5H2
Phone: (450) 449-2212