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Simaudio Moon Neo 230HAD – Scene change

It’s Friday – or, it was Friday, today is Monday I’m not crazy. I had finally published the late review of the great Simaudio Neo 230HAD. It felt pretty good. I was so happy with the 230HAD and really satisfied with the review. I felt that all my feelings for it was put in to words. I didn’t rave and exaggerate, but rather tried to be balanced and fair in my writing. Anyway, I got ready to leave the office but before I did I gave the review a final read… it suddenly felt like some details were missing. Would people get to the end and really read the grades and understand how great this little box is? Had I been too harsh and unfair mentioning my love for the 430HA too much in the review? Had I not brought up price vs performance in a way that people would understand? I ended up reading the review over and over again and couldn’t help being a bit disappointed with my own reviewing. I packed the 230HAD and took it home with me…

What happened next was a weekend of intense listening which made me want to add a little bit more – a third part in which the hip 230HAD got to hang out under the stairs in my house….and I’m still listening as I write this, three days later…

When I came home Friday night I went for a long walk and decided that I would include the 230HAD in an intimate Friday night tradition and give it a few more words. I set everything up and started to stream parts of my library which rarely gets listened to. What I mean is that the majority of my collection has been put on my NAS but the problem with that is that they “disappear”. When digging through the collection “online”, I tend to miss albums. I don’t know why. When going through the physical collection it’s less likely to happen. Because of that I use Jrivers excellent function ‘Smartlists’ where you can define inclusion criteria like “last played” and then I put a rule in saying that it can’t have been played in the last year. After that I pick 5 albums each Friday. That’s my TGIF gift and it keeps me listening to everything in my collection.

First out was Abbey Lincoln with the album Abbey is blue. I love Abbey Lincoln. She’s not Billie, not Ella and certainly not Sarah. She’s just…different. Abbey is blue was recorded for the Riverside label in 1959. The setup of musicians is just massively impressive. Kenny Dorham, Stanley Turrentine, Wynton Kelly, Philly Joe Jones…to mention a few. It’s very well recorded and fits the HD800 perfect! I mixed myself a dry (extremley dry) martini, sat down in my inherited lounge chair, put my feet up on the footstool….pressed play and turned up the volume…yes yes, WITH the remote and closed my eyes…. I was teleported to 1959 and thrown in to the studio. The presence sent a shiver down my spine. I opened my eyes 39 minutes and 17 seconds later. There’s actually nothing missing. I can’t think of anything that I would like to hear differently. That sweet midrange is to die for! Vocal jazz with Simaudio Neo 230HAD, check!

Second album…. Danzig – S/T. Hell yeah! This is a good one, and indeed a long time since I heard it. Brings me back to my teenage. I remember screaming; “..and if you want to find hell with me…” in ‘Mother’ and feeling like a real rock star. That was long before the jazz collection started, I can tell you that. Quality of sound should be measured by level or air drums being played throughout this album. In ‘She rides’ that seducing intro over 60 seconds makes me turn up the volume and I can swear it’s Jim Morrison and not Glenn Danzig singing that first line. Scary, but so good. I can still follow the drums throughout the song and the 230HAD makes it a pleasure. No sharp edges, only a steady beat. Rock n’ Roll with Simaudio Neo 230HAD, check!

Third album. Queen – Works Wow! Another journey back in time. I was never a real Queen-fan, but for me ‘Works’ is such a great album. One of the things I do when nobody’s watching is a live performance (living room) of ‘Hammerfall’. It’s not something you’d want to see, but I feel exactly like Freddie Mercury… Geez, did I just reveal that. Well done Simaudio!

Fourth album. Billy Joel – Songs in the attic. Ah! My favorite album to play in the car. I wonder if the universe is trying to tell me something about career choices. “Miami 2017” is another one of my “live performance” songs. This is not a live album per se – it’s a collection of live performances from the the summer tour of 1980. It’s a great album nevertheless and the 230HAD doesn’t disappoint. For live albums I want to hear the full distance of music reaching over the audience. It’s hard to explain, but for this album I want to be put above and slightly behind Billy. Like I’m floating above and just behind the drummer, watching over the stage and the audience. Closing my eyes I can see the band members and I can clearly see the ladies from the front row as Billy sings ‘She’s got a way’. The 230HAD offers a wide sound stage and imaging that allows me to check all the boxes above. Nice!

Last album from the Friday night session….Bill Evans Trio – Waltz For Debby. I rarely listen to just Waltz for Debby, which is basically just one of the performances from Village Vanguard. I often listen to ‘The complete Village Vanguard Recordings’ instead, and that might explain the reason for this one ending up as not played for more than a year. Well, this particular version is the Analogue Production gold cd from the nineties, with Doug Sax as the mastering engineer. It’s very well done, and the 230HAD does exactly what it’s supposed to do. It gets out of the way and let that analogue tape shine. There’s an analogue feeling in this recording, and the 230HAD gives me not only a live feeling, but an extension into the atmosphere of the trio. I listen to the collaboration between LaFaro and Motian in the left channel. That can keep me busy for hours. Sometimes I just move that right cup away from the ear a bit, just to hear bass and drums working the rhythm. It’s beautiful to hear Motian give LaFaro a little bit of foundation and then just lets him move around all he wants. I’m standing just in front of him, and the 230HAD leaves me alone to enjoy.

The weekend kept going with more albums I hadn’t heard in a long time, and the 230HAD kept it delivering uncompromising joy. I feel I don’t want to send it back anymore. I want it to stay under the stairs in my house, where my lounge chair is, on a small side table. I want to put my feet up on the footstool, look up music that I haven’t heard in a long time and just enjoy. Sometimes you need a change in scenery. This is not new from a review perspective, but maybe I didn’t describe it in a way that the message came through clear enough. In the safe setting of my home where I actually doesn’t do much listening compared to the office, the 230HAD made it easier for me to describe it.

Finally, I want to shed a little bit of light on a few details in part 1 and 2 that I, with a bit of perspective, can see that some might find confusing. Hope that this makes it a bit more clear.

  1. The 230HAD is $1499. Yes, $1499. I’m not sure you read the grades I gave it towards the end of part 2 – but I dare you to find a better DAC/AMP combo for $1499. I believe there isn’t such a product on the market. I’m not going to speak about specs, I mean who cares about DSD anyway? This is how I see it, with regards to what products I already own. My Chord Hugo was $2195. Chord Hugo is not at all $700 better and has a much weaker amp and a crappy USB input (yes you heard me – it’s sharp and cold to my ears no matter what USB cable I’ve tried) I have the Hugo and like it a lot, because of it’s versatility but it has caused me some headache until I bought the Audiophilleo to finally be able to use S/PDIF instead of the USB input. I’d say with the Audiophilleo the Hugo has become really good – but with a much higher total price, without remote and still with an amplifier that I still find lacking a bit of control.
  2. The 430HAD is $4300! There’s no comparing between the two and look at it this way; what you pay the premium for with the 430HA is the amp + preamp + functionality + no-compromise. The optional DAC is $800.  With the 430HA you pay for a $3500 amp and an optional $800 DAC. Maybe you can’t count like that but if you do – consider that I wrote in part 2 that you’re NOT getting a slice of the 430HA with the 230HAD. That was supposed to be a good, no a great thing. You’re NOT paying $3500 for the amp, you’re paying $699 for the amp (if the math can be done like that…but hey, it’s my review I can do math any way I want…) Tell me about a $699 amp that can do what the 230HAD does? Didn’t think so. Set a side portability, pay $700 for a nice power cable and you have a setup that is at least on par with Hugo. I will use the Christmas break to see whether it’s more than that…. (yaiks!)
  3. The 230HAD has a remote. You can basically only use it for volume but it has a remote! I don’t want to reach for a volume control on a box, unless it’s fitted onto a Simaudio Neo 430HA! Sitting at home with eyes closed, I just want to control volume and that’s it. I listen to albums from beginning to end – no pause, no skip, no fast-forwarding. I control that with my remote app on my iPhone anyway.
  4. No – the 230HAD doesn’t have balanced inputs and outputs. I’ve found that with my Linnenberg VIVACE, the balanced inputs and outputs makes a difference – but overall I think that it’s all in the implementation. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. With the 430HA the balanced outputs was magnificent. With the 230HAD I didn’t miss is at all. I can’t think of a better DAC/AMP combo at this quite attractive price range.
  5. I will buy the 430HA and a TOTL DAC as my end game setup. Period. It’s not because the 230HAD is not good enough – it’s because the 430HA is the best SS headphone amplifier on the market in my opinion. And that’s where I’m going. Is that amp $3500 better than the 230HAD’s amp? Irrelevant to me, but probably it’s not. But you’re paying for a fully balanced, no compromise preamp/amp with every function anyone could ask for. The majority of headphone listeners will not go down that path. And if that’s the case…well give the 230HAD a good listen before buying anything else.
  6. I tried the 230HAD with Sennheisers open back HD800 and with Beyer Dynamic T5p closed backs. Both sounded terrific – but they’re good at different things, so it’s not really fair to compare. They both match very nicely with the 230HAD.

There you have it. Maybe it’s a more colorful of describing it. I’m sorry if it didn’t come across in part 1 and 2. Look at the grades in the end of part 2….then go buy a 230HAD.

Good evening!

IMG_8428Under the stairs…

IMG_8424Audiophile doping times two

IMG_8414Getting late Friday night…

IMG_8407Nordost Heimdall2 – Sennheiser HD800. It’s just magnificent sounding. And nice to look at too!