Soldiering on with an older, tube based headphone amp/DAC/Preamp that’s given me good service in the desktop system, the upgrade bug hit suddenly and swiftly. Something new would have to address my growing library of high-resolution audio files as well as my constant streaming from my Tidal account. Most offerings from the usual suspects proved frustrating. Considering my vintage FM tuner collection, this new component would need at least one or two analog inputs to accomodate that to make me a happy camper.
A few close audiophile friends suggested the Neo 230HAD from MOON by Simaudio, which covers all the bases, so the hunt was on. The Neo 230HAD proves to be as versatile as I’d hoped and is a fabulous performer to boot. With six inputs; four digital and two analog, I can connect source components till the cows come home. Digital signals are served by two coax inputs, one optical input and one high speed USB input. Analog sources can be connected via RCA inputs on the rear of the unit or via mini plug on the front panel – this is particularly handy. Input selection is handled by an easy to read front panel switch and corresponding LEDs.
Two RCA analog outputs are offered; one fixed and one variable, so it can serve double duty as a headphone amp and DAC for a larger system or as a standalone line level preamplifier feeding a power amplifier and speakers – making this little headphone amp that could a game changer for me. It is little: only 3 x 7 inches, stretching back 11 inches, so have a deep shelf or desktop. And at almost seven pounds, be ready to do a few bicep curls with this baby; lifting the cover reveals a stuffed circuit board and a major power supply. No corners have been cut here, the 230HAD has the same level of the full sized Moon components.
Listening begins with tidal and a pair of NHT Pro monitors, eliminating the need for a power amp, but do require the variable outputs of the 230HAD. Though Simaudio has an excellent reputation for high quality, I was not prepared for what hit me upon firing up my favorite TIDAL playlist. Where the outgoing unit never fully engaged me at the desktop level, the MOON commanded my complete attention as if I were listening to the big system in my living room. The bass had far more control and articulation than I was used to on the desktop with these speakers. Moreover, the inner detail, soundstage and lack of glare pulled me in to the point where I feel kind of guilty now spending so much time listening at the desktop and neglecting the main.
Streaming hi res PCM and DSD files from my NAS via an AURALiC Aries feeding the USB input on the Moon proved even more interesting. The internal DAC in the HAD230 is easily as good as many outboard DACs I’ve heard costing as much as the HAD230! Impressive indeed.
Moving on to the headphone section, the source of my initial intrigue, my tough to drive Mr. Speakers Alpha Dogs were a breeze, no matter how high the volume level. Of course my trusty Sennheiser 650s, a long time favorite that offer up a much more benign load came to life in a way they never have. Those with Oppo or Audeze planars need not worry either; they are a perfect compliment to the HAD230. I can’t imagine a set of phones that would cause an issue for this robust headphone amplifier. Every kind of program material from the most delicate female vocals to the hardest driving metal is dynamic and full of delicate nuance.
Just like the bigger Neo 430HA, the 230HAD is a phenomenal building block for a great two-channel system. Moving to my second room, pairing this jewel with a pair of Vandersteen 1Cis and a 40-watt per channel PrimaLuna tube power amplifier makes for a glorious combination. Whether streaming straight from TIDAL or spinning some vinyl via the new Rega Planar 3 turntable with my trusty Black Cube phonostage, you’ll love this box, even if you never plug a pair of headphones into it, and my assessment with the DAC applies equally well, the 230HAD is worth the $1,495 asking price just as a DAC and pre.
Major headphone happiness led to tweaking my desktop system further. Replacing USB, RCA and power cables have taken things to dizzy new heights. I never dreamed that a desktop system could be so much fun. Whether you want a primo desktop system, or a great anchor for a high performance/moderate budget two-channel system, get down to your MOON by Simaudio dealer and grab a 230HAD. You’ll have years of listening pleasure ahead of you.