Updated: Dec 10, 2019
Occasionally I discover a product that for me, makes phrases like the oft quoted "law of diminishing returns" null and void. The Moon Neo Ace has proven to be one such product. Usually I find these products to be hugely expensive, but after hearing it at the Bristol Show last year, it grabbed my attention immediately, and was surprised to learn of its relatively modest price tag...
Fifteen/twenty years ago, pre/power amplifiers ruled the £1000+ price point, and if you'd have invested anywhere near the £3,000 mark on an integrated amplifier, you'd have been considered crazy unless it was some high end Japanese valve amplifier - having a remote control wasn't justification enough in audiophile circles. Fast forward to a more civilized society, and we are at a complete u-turn. Pre-power amplifiers have not only become inordinately expensive, but virtually unfashionable from a domestic point of view, only daring to make appearances at global high end hi-fi shows sporting hideous carpets.
The Moon Neo Ace amplifier is a culmination of 37 years of development by Canadian audio manufacturer, Simaudio. And it shows. This is a quality product, throughout. Build quality is excellent, easily as good as the best I've encountered under £5000, and in some cases, a little better. Given its slimline appearance, it's a reassuringly hefty unit.
The unit comes very well packed, with a number of "quick start" guides to aid a speedy set up. And it certainly was. I was up and running in minutes, after the MiND app instantly found my Innuos ZENith on the network and linked up with it. I could have plugged the ZENith in directly via USB, but I wanted to utilise the full MiND app (Moon intelligent Network Device) for the 'full experience'. And I wasn't let down. MiND works like a dream, and is noticeably fast when compared to even some of the best apps from many other manufacturers. Navigating through the 1000+ albums I have on my Innuos ZENith, there's no slow down or stuttering, it just works, and works as fast as I do.
Whilst pre/powers can offer more power than is feasible to use, the sound quality of integrated amplifiers have improved to a point where I think this is one aspect why pre/powers are a dying breed for many users. I've been listening to this amplifier now for the best part of a month, with numerous loudspeakers. It has done a sterling job of keeping each model under tight control, allowing each model to "be itself", making it easy to appreciate each speaker's characteristics. You can tell when an amplifier isn't doing its job properly - the speakers can't function as they're designed to, and start drawing attention to themselves. This amplifier behaved impeccably with all models tested. And that's not just down to the amplification...
The Neo Ace's DAC is excellent. Again, you can tell when a DAC is out of its depth - rough edges, flat soundstaging, glassy sounding higher frequencies, the list goes on. It's a bad base for your speakers to be working from - imagine trying to accurately paint a countryside scene from an impressionist artist's painting rather than from a photograph of the same. Even streaming compressed MP3 files to this amplifier, many would be hard pushed to detect that they are not actually listening to CD quality files, as they still retain a holographic, three dimensional soundstage. The hi-res 32bit 384kHz DAC in the Neo Ace doesn't put a foot wrong.
Many would expect a £3,300 amplifier to be overkill for relatively budget speakers. Personally, I've always been an advocate of driving speakers properly, as well as placing importance on source quality. Using a pair of small Amphion Argon 0 bookshelf speakers (£720/pair), just goes to show how good speakers at this sort of price point can sound when fed with a quality signal, and I'm including TIDAL streaming in that generalisation, not just streaming FLAC and hi-res from a server like the Innuos ZENith. I've heard speakers (and systems) many times this price unable to reproduce the sort of detail and musicality the Neo Ace was allowing them to reproduce.
With much more revealing (and less sensitive at 84dB) speakers like the Eclipse TD510Z MkII (single driver, no crossover) the Neo Ace shows it is transparent and powerful enough to be able to sit between them and a high quality source like the ZENith, without drawing any attention to itself. Its grip and control over any loudspeaker I cared to partner with it was up there with my favourite Class D designs, with similarly neutrality too. And it didn't matter what type of music I threatened the Neo Ace with either, it took everything in its stride.
One of the standout pairings though was with the KEF R700 loudspeakers. One of the reasons for this is that the R700s were used heavily during the Neo Ace's development. This was the combination that was demonstrated in the KEF room at the 2016 Bristol Show, and it was this first listen that, as mentioned earlier, that drew me to the Neo Ace. Despite the room size, it was one of the best rooms at that the show, producing a quality that I'd not heard from an "all-in-one" before.
I'm not one for storing music on my phone (I haven't the room, for starters), so streaming music via Bluetooth from the Amazon Music app worked flawlessly and sounded so good it was better than most CD based separates systems I've heard. Via the Eclipse speakers, Roger Waters' remastered Amused To Death sounded so good you'd swear that you were listening to a hi-res file. It seems the implementation of Bluetooth has been equally treated, and not an afterthought.
Being a network based amplifier, with either wired or wireless access, the Neo Ace also gives you access to internet radio with vTuner, and native TIDAL (just log in with your account details).
I haven't yet used the phono input, but I'll update that when I get a chance to do so. I'm guessing most users will more than likely use something between £500-1,500, depending on the importance of the medium to their listening pleasure. As I'm writing this, mine has gone out for loan, and I'm certainly missing its absence!
This is a massively accomplished and polished product that deserves attention from not only those looking for a high quality, simple, neat streaming solution that works, or those that want a do-it-all amplifier a the heart of a multi-source system, but also those who just want a fantastic sounding amplifier just for phone/tablet playback.
And as if the excellent app, build quality, flexibility, mega easy set up, and sound quality wasn't good enough, Simaudio are so confident in their product that they give you a 10 year warranty. If you're not calling your nearest Neo Ace dealer right now...
Amphion Argon 0
Eclipse TD510Z MkII
davidf @ the little audio company