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simaudio

I-5 integrated

as reviewed by Carol Clark, Victor Chavira, Larry Cox, and Sherman Hong

 

 

 

CAROL CLARK'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
Apogee Caliper Signatures or Chario Hyper 2000.

ELECTRONICS
Muse 150 monoblock amplifiers. Blue Circle BC3/BC3.5 preamplifier. E.A.R. 834P phono stage.

SOURCES
EAD 1000 transport and 1000 Series II DAC connected using Theta’s TLC (custom DC power supply) and Audient Technologies’ Tactic and Audit. Digital cable is a 1-meter length of Nordost Moonglo between the Tactic and Audit and a 6" length between the transport and TLC. Linn Axiss turntable, K9 cartridge and Basik Plus arm, Cardas Quadlink 5C tonearm cable.

CABLES
Nordost SPM interconnects and bi-wired speaker cables.

ACCESSPORIES
API 116 Power Wedge and Coherent System’s Electraclear EAU-1.

 

one.jpg (6551 bytes)Lately, I’ve been fascinated by things that come out of Canada, from my Blue Circle BC3 preamp, to a new CD by a Canadian Band called Wild Strawberries, to Roy Dupuis, Canadian star of the TV show La Femme Nikita. It was no surprise to me, then, that I liked the Sim Audio Moon I-5 integrated amp. I set the amp up in my system, using my Chario Hyper Reference 2000 speakers, and listened to my current favorite CD, Massive Attack’s Mezzanine. After a while, I stopped "listening," and was transported to that state I sometimes attain, in which all the cares of the world are washed away. For me, this is the sign of a well-balanced system. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s becoming fatigued while listening to music. It did not happen with this component.

After my initial listen, I put on lots of other kinds of music. Based on listening to "These Old Bones" by Sky Cries Mary, I thought the Moon I-5 might be a bit brittle in the upper ranges, so I put on another of my standbys, "Don’t Fade Away" by Dead Can Dance. It still sounded a bit brittle, so I got out another Canadian artist I’ve been listening to quite a bit lately, Loreena McKennit, and listened to "The Mummer’s Dance." The highs sounded just fine, so I reconnected our reference Muse/BC3 combo, and discovered that the highs on Sky Cries Mary and Dead Can Dance sound brittle there, too. They seem to have been recorded that way. Upon further listening with the Moon I-5, I was able to hear that the high frequencies sounded natural. The lower frequencies, based on the initial listen to Mezzanine, sounded exceptionally good—detailed, and not thumpy, which usually causes fatigue.

The Moon I-5’s soundstage was very dimensional, incredibly wide and deep. While listening to Everything But The Girl’s "Wrong," I was able to place Tracey Thorn singing on one side of the room, and Ben Watt with his synthesizer on the other. The soundstage extended far beyond to the left and right of the speakers, and well past the rear wall of the room. Ordinarily, I like music to come out into the room, past the front of the speakers. The soundstage came only as far as the speakers with the Moon I-5, but this time it didn’t bother me. If a component can produce other aspects of music as well as this one, I’m willing to overlook the soundstage.

There was one minor drawback to this unit, one so minor I hesitate to mention it, but here goes. The Moon I-5 comes with a remote control, which is nice to have, but this remote is really HEAVY! I’m not a wimp, but I think even the beefiest audiophile would find this remote just a bit unwieldy. The buttons were pretty touchy, too. Every time I pressed the volume button, it jumped at least two notches. I was finally able to get this under control, but the remote was just too heavy to be practical. I’m not used to having one anyway, so I just set it aside.

The SimAudio Moon I-5 integrated amplifier would be a good place to start for someone building a high end audio system. It’s reasonably priced when you consider you’re getting two components for the price of one. With its impressive sound, it could also be recommended for dyed-in-the-wool audiophiles. I can’t help thinking, too, that if it comes from Canada, it has to be good! 
Carol Clark

 

 

 

LARRY COX'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
ATC 20.

ELECTRONICS
E.A.R 802 preamplifier. Classe CA100 amplifier.

SOURCES
CAL Icon MkII CD player. Oracle Delphi MkII turntable, AudioQuest PT7 tone arm, Koetsu Rosewood cartridge.

CABLES
Silver Audio Silver Bullet 4.0s interconnect and Beldon 1219A speaker cables.

ACCESSORIES
API Power Pack and ACPEAM line conditioners.

 

two.jpg (6646 bytes)It’s an integrated world, eh? I’ve not really allowed myself to think about the luxury of sitting in my listening chair and flipping from CD to tuner to cable television, then back to CD. Listening to the Sim Audio Moon I-5 integrated amp, I had the opportunity to live with that luxury, and I liked it. The mid-fi gang and the home theater throngs have had it for a while, but we hair-shirt types haven’t. I love my E.A.R. tube preamp, but I do wish I could stay in my seat and quickly check out the World Cup scores or the weather on CNN before going back to listening to music. This could mean hours of listening and relaxing without any effort at all. Call me Spud Man!

With the Moon I-5, you get a remote-controlled line stage amplifier with a remote that weighs almost as much as the amplifier. In addition to controlling source selection, the remote allows you to mute, set volume and balance, choose a home theater processor loop, or control a Phillips-based CD player. I think that my CAL Icon Mk II is Phillips-based, but the remote ignored it. I had to keep three remotes on hand, so I could switch from CD (one remote), to television (another remote), as well as control the volume (the third remote). I’m always roughing it with my stereo.

The I-5 is a sleek and substantially built unit. It has screw-in feet to isolate it from vibration, and inputs for five components. One complaint I had with the I-5 was the placement of the removable IEC power chord and the speaker terminals. The IEC connection is on the far right of the back of the unit, immediately next to the left speaker terminal. Because I used spade connectors, I initially ran the positive and negative legs of the speaker wires around opposite sides of the power chord. In this configuration, the sound of the I-5 was merely okay. Nice, but not as resolving as I’d like. At a friend’s suggestion, I ran the left speaker cable from the right side of the jacks so that the cabling didn’t run across the power chord. This resulted in a substantial increase in resolution, and enjoyment. Even neophytes could hear and remark upon the improvement without being prompted. This solution was okay for me because I only plugged in my video input and CD player. If you have more sources, you’ll want to make sure that your speaker cables are terminated by banana plugs, so that the connection is in a straight line. If not, you will either have to run your speaker cable across your power chord or across your interconnects. That isn’t a good solution, if you ask me.

I’ve liked Sim products in the past. I heard an all-Sim system at Hi-Fi ‘97 with Gershman Acoustics speakers, and thought that it was among the best sounds at the show. It wasn’t big and bombastic, or subterranean in the bass, but the sound was enjoyable, very enjoyable. At shows, I usually find one or two systems that put me in a contented state, neither over- nor underwhelming, just seductive. That’s how the Sim/Gershman system sounded—suave, composed, and out of the way of the music.

The I-5 is just slightly higher in power than the minimum my speakers want. Without enough power, they are a little sleepy unless played loud. This held true with the Moon I-5. At low volume levels, the pace or bass drive dropped. The bass, while not really taut, was still respectable and pleasant, perhaps a bit tighter than my Classe CA 100, which was sort of a surprise to me. At higher volume levels, the bass dug in a bit more. Though not deeper, the bottom end remained tighter than the CA 100’s. The drive and tautness of the Moon I-5 might open up your CD selection to include more R & B, more Bartok, or other music with drive. It did for me. That’s a good sign, don’t you think? I noticed an increase in excitement in the sound of music, but not the kind that ultimately drives you out of the room. Music that I don’t normally think of as being a model of "drive" also sounded engaging.

The I-5 was essentially seamless from top to bottom. No particular frequency called attention to itself, nor did detail. The top end was reasonably well-extended, but wasn’t "open." Frankly, I’m not sure an "open" sound is entirely neutral. When I hear live music, I don’t hear an "openness" to the sound. What I hear is effortlessness. I rarely hear effortlessness in audio systems, and unfortunately I didn’t hear it with the Moon I-5, but that is likely an attribute of my ATCs, which are very inefficient speakers.

Coupled to my ATCs, the I-5 lost some of its "steadiness" in really dynamic passages. "Captain Bill," on the Gene Harris All-Star Band’s Tribute to Count Basie, opens quietly, with piano and bass interacting for about ten seconds. Then, the piano and bass are overtaken by a big band crescendo. While the piano and bass are well-rendered by the I-5, and the imaging is very palpable for an integrated amplifier (let alone a solid state one), when the horns enter, there is a loss of composure and a mixing together of instruments. In fairness, this crescendo tortures lots of amplifiers in my system, but I want you to know what the I-5 can do with difficult passages. The I-5’s clarity on a small scale was not matched by its clarity on a larger one. You say you like bluegrass, or string quartets? I don’t think you’ll find the Moon I-5 committing any faux pas with your music. Are your speakers more efficient? Maybe you’ll never hear this loss of composure.

The I-5 is a nice piece. Price-wise, it competes well with the YBA Integre. The YBA gives you a phono section, while the I-5 will control your volume levels, an extra-cost option on the Integre. Both are physically small but substantial sounding. Both are respectable performers. The Integre is a bit more finely resolving, and perhaps a bit sweeter than the I-5, but the I-5 has more drive and rocks and rolls a bit better. Either would be a good match with an 89-90 dB speaker.

The Moon I-5 is neutral, though "neutral," to my mind, is a term that engineers should be concerned with. What I want is something with musical colorations that won’t offend over the long term. In some respects, the I-5 is like my over-$4000 ATC SCM 20s. They aren’t very colored, which sometimes means that when recorded music isn’t colored, you just have sound. This happened at times with the Moon 1-5. With the ATCs, the sense that live performers were playing wasn’t always present. If your speakers are a bit colored, like Vandersteens, or Mirages, or Energys, you could have a match made in heaven. With ATCs, Quad ESLs, or the older Entec speakers, you could have such a "neutral" sound that the music will be neutered. Your speakers should also be more efficient than 83 dB. The Moon I-5 offers the convenience of remote operation in a package that is small and easy to live with. That’s a winning combination. 
Larry Cox

 

 

 

VICTOR CHAVIRA'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
Magneplanar .5.

ELECTRONICS
Sonic Frontiers Anthem 1 amplifier. HRS unit.

SOURCE
Audio Electronics CD1 player.

CABLES
Nordost Blue Heaven interconnects and speaker cables.

 

three.jpg (8484 bytes)Sim Audio is a company that has produced quality electronics in Canada for years. The Moon I-5 is their 70 watt per channel, remote-controlled integrated amplifier. It is solidly built and features several interesting design features. Curved heatsinks run the length of the unit along the sides. Four pointed columns suspend the chassis about one inch above the shelf. Small removable cone tips are provided to further isolate the unit against vibrations. The front of the unit is finished with a thick gunmetal grey aluminum faceplate. An ample red digital display communicates settings and functions to the user. Finally, a large sculpted gold logo fixed to the center of the faceplate reminds me of an oversized belt buckle.

The front-end functions are fully microprocessor-controlled, and isolated from the power amp section. All functions can be controlled from the unit or from the brick-like remote. I found the remote very useful indeed, as it also controlled my CD player. Most of the space inside the amp is dedicated to a toroidal transformer. Although I have had bad luck with toroidals in the past, the Sim worked flawlessly, without any extraneous noise. Circuit layout and assembly are first rate. Parts selection was also quite good. I was especially impressed by the WBT binding posts—they really put a grip on my Blue Heavens. The I-5 uses no local feedback, and runs in class "A" for the first five watts. This may account in part for some of my observations.

Sonically, the Moon I-5 is a marvel. The unit produces 125 watts into 4 ohms, and the Maggies took it all in. Sarah McLaughlin’s Surfacing is a very eclectic disc, with music that ranges from electric-guitar-driven rock with heavy accents on the beat to solo female voice and piano accompaniment. There’s even a singing saw thrown into the mix. Through it all, the Moon commanded the stage. McLaughlin’s voice never lost its harmonic beauty, even against the edge of distorted guitars and synth bass. Bass drum was quick and tight. Those of you with bass reflex ports can only imagine how startlingly fast a bass drum transient can travel though your body when produced by a well-amplified planar speaker. The Moon I-5 earns high marks in the areas of rhythm and pacing.

Another disc that played to the Sim’s strengths is Cuba, The Charanga, by the Rotterdam Conservatory Orchestra, on Nimbus Records. This is a disc that has literally lived in my CD player since I brought it home. Sometimes I feel like this naturally recorded disc burdens my system. Take a middle-of-the-hall recording and put it in a middle-of-the-hall-sounding system and what do you get? The back of the hall! Listening to the I-5 moved me up into the first quarter of the hall. The surprise for me, however, was the smoothness and utter listenability of the string section. Not silky smooth, mind you, but smooth and grain-free nonetheless.

Frank Emilio’s A Tiempo de Danzón, another charanga disc, can be downright brutal in the treble region. Here we have a smaller ensemble—just two violins and flute. On the wrong system, this recording can sound thin and edgy. This was not the case with the I-5. The sound of the two violins was sweet, clear, and detailed. The flute danced as gracefully like a ballerina over the rhythmic patterns set by the violins. In my opinion, SimAudio has accomplished a minor miracle with this little integrated in taming the typical solid state steeliness. I also experienced a greater rendition of depth and layering of sound. I could truly grasp the arrangers’ intentions while listening through the I-5. Returning to my Anthem literally slowed the music down, as if the musicians were playing their second or third set of the evening. The music was not quite tired sounding but definitely more relaxed.

Next, I moved into some jazz guitar. Bassist Marc Johnson’s The Sound of Summer Running is a disc I’ve been enjoying quite a bit for the past several months. I’ve taken it to shows and come away with varied impressions. Several tracks find drummer Joey Barron playing what I presume to be a rather large floor tom hit with a soft mallet. Some systems present this large drum as a faint puff with no impact. I appreciate the way the drum sounds on my Anthem, with just the right amount of tautness to the drum head as it is struck, immediately followed by the impact of air rolling past you. The Moon I-5 was equally adept at presenting these nuances, but with a noticeable increase in speed and dynamics. The harmonic character of the guitars and bass was slightly cooler than with my Anthem. I also noticed how very quiet the space was between notes, as if played against a deep black background.

I must point out that although my system benefits from a gain stage like the Source Components Harmonic Recovery System in order to push my Anthem Amp1 to its maximum level of performance, the HRS was not used for this review. I tried it briefly, but found its contributions unnecessary. Secondly, using the integrated I-5 allowed me to run the variable output of my CD1 all the way up, thereby minimizing any effects of the digital volume control. Throughout my listening sessions, I was invariably impressed with the I-5’s smooth response and non-fatiguing sound. A product like the Moon I-5 lays to waste the argument of tubes vs. transistors, and lets music reign over all. The SimAudio Moon I-5 has thus far offered the most versatility, power, and good sound of all the products I have reviewed. Take into account its distinctive styling, and you end up with rather short list of competitors.
Victor Chavira

 

 

 

SHERMAN HONG'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
ProAc Response 3.5.

ELECTRONICS
Accuphase DP-55 CD player direct to an Accuphase DP-550 amplifier.

CABLES
Acrotec 6N-2030 and 6N-2050 interconnects, 8N-1080 speaker cables, LAT power cords.

 

four.jpg (6893 bytes)The 75-watt per channel SimAudio Moon I-5 integrated is an exotic piece of metalwork. The design team at Sim has united the look and feel of Rowland, Krell, and Levinson in one component. Its massive faceplate and sexy, contoured chassis, not to mention a lethally heavy remote wand, should allow an owner to feel armed and ready to confront the neuroses of audiophilia. I found this unit to be user friendly, and utterly delightful, throughout its extended stay with me.

The Moon’s back panel presents an array of high quality connectors and a detachable power cord. My only quibble is that the power cord receptacle should be moved further from the speaker binding posts to avoid noise contamination. The amp’s 70 watts proved to be sufficient to excite my ProAc Response 3.5s. I never felt shorted for watts. The Sim has a sumptuous Godiva truffle-like sound—a lustrous chocolatey covering with a light middle.

My initial impression of the Moon I-5 was of a richness usually associated with tube amplifiers. It reminded me of how much I miss my Air Tight ATM-3. The all-important midrange was tantalizingly suave. Annie Lennox singing Cole Porter’s tunes (on Red Hot + Blue) was intimately powerful. The quietness of the background was the perfect accompaniment to her delicate vocal inflections. The sound was appropriately resonant, with a textured palpability and an airy impression of transparency, although Lennox’s phrasing was not as embellished as it might have been, and a certain guttiness was absent. On the Eric Clapton track Wonderful Tonight, his guitar solo was fantastic. The poor recording was sweet on top and pleasant to listen to.

The slightly rolled-off top end and the extra sweetness dissipated some of the shimmering excitement of the cymbals. Compared to my reference, costing many times as much as the Moon I-5, the presentation was less passionate.

The lows were somewhat Jekyll and Hyde-like. On Mari Nakamoto’s Georgia, the string bass had excellent pace and subterranean bass, with an exceptional sense of authority. Led Zeppelin threw down the gauntlet to the Moon I-5. The drums on Physical Graffiti were convoluted, jumbled, and uninteresting. Stairway to Heaven and the Wonton Song didn’t have the mesmerizing quality I’m used to with my reference. I think that this resulted from awesome bottom end extension (and nearly equal mid-bass presentation), but recessed upper bass. This, in combination with a rolled-off top end, created a sonic picture that is more jumbled than my reference’s. The jumbling prevented the Moon from matching the pace and oomph of my reference. By comparison, the Moon seemed a bit Spartan-sounding and less transparent. Imaging and soundstage transparency were reasonably stable between the speakers. Spaces between instruments were appropriate, and without much exaggeration, although images were less transparent. Nevertheless, Coltrane’s Blue Train was nicely portrayed, with the apparent symmetry between the master of the saxophone and his supporting cast.

Although it may sound as though I’m sniping at the Moon I-5, that’s what I’m supposed to do. I may be overly critical of its performance. For your entrance fee (just $2350), you get what you pay for. The Moon offers remote control selection of sources, plus a more than competent amplifier. And always valuable is a remote wand large enough to knock out burglars. With its versatility and able performance, every audiophile in the market for an amplifier or integrated amp should look beyond the Krell and Classe integrateds, and consider the Moon I-5. Sherman Hong

SimAudio I-5 integrated
Retail $2596 USD

SimAudio
450 - 445 - 0032
www.simaudio.com

 

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