Simaudio MOON i3.3 Integrated Amplifier Review Meridian ID
Simaudio MOON i3.3 Integrated Amplifier Review
May 4, 2009 By Geoffrey Morrison
One of the fastest-growing product categories is high-end audio devices that decode digital audio from a computer or iPod.
This amuses me, as for years many in the high-end audio realm thought of the iPod somewhere above the Anti-Christ but just below one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Not sure which, maybe the green one.
Certain companies, Simaudio being one of them, realized that digital audio didn't have to only mean “MP3@128 kbps.”
The MOON i3.3 integrated amplifier is proof that high-end audio companies can embrace the latest and future, without ignoring the past.
The Once and Future Hybrid
There are two ways to look at the i3.3: what it is and what it can be. The base i3.3 is a stereo integrated amplifier with four analog inputs and 100 watts per channel. Where the genius comes in is what it can be.
Unlike nearly every other audio product I can think of, the i3.3 is modular. So you can add in functionality depending on how you're going to use it. Two of the modules aren't too out of the ordinary: a balanced XLR input and a phono preamp input (the latter replaces one of the analog inputs). The third module is a full digital-to-analog stage with two coax, one optical, and even a USB input.
A USB digital-to-analog converter (DAC) in the same chassis as a phono stage, you say? Blasphemy! (of the best kind)
Using a 24-bit/192 kHz BurrBrown PCM1793, the i3.3 will decode digital audio better than most receivers. In addition to the solid decoding hardware, Simaudio's proprietary MOON Asynchronous Jitter Control or "M-AJiC" minimizes jitter, that bane of digital audio.
My first run through with the i3.3 I used Wadia's 170iTransport . This takes a digital signal from the iPod and outputs it via coax digital. We gave it a 10 Best award last year, as it is the first iPod dock to do this digital feat. It allows you to use your own DAC to transform the bits into waves. The i3.3’s decoding of this digital signal was fantastic. The sound was far better than you'd expect; even lower bit-rate audio sounded cleaner and less-compressed than the iPod’s analog output —even better than other high-end audio systems I've heard the Wadia on.
A good DAC can't work magic, though. Lossy compression is just that: lossy. But how you rebuild that audio into something audible makes a huge difference. Using the Wadia and the i3.3 resulted in superlative audio, of course the best results were when I was using lossless or uncompressed tracks, of course.
Not to use the Wadia as a crutch, I hooked up my laptop to the i3.3 via USB. The PC identified a USB DAC, and within moments I had iTunes running digital to the i3.3 via USB. The increase in sound quality I mentioned in the previous paragraph was here as well. The quality increase in keeping the signal digital and decoded by a high-end DAC and amplified by quality amplification can't be overstated.
Speaking of which, the ...