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February
2004

Reviewed by
Roger Kanno
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2004


Simaudio Moon
Aurora
Multichannel Amplifier

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: Simaudio Moon Aurora

Price: $4500 USD
Dimensions: 19"W x 8.75"H x 26"D
Weight: 106 pounds

Warranty: Five years parts and labor


Features
  • Balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) inputs
  • Toroidal transformer
  • Bipolar output devices
  • Symmetrical circuit design
  • Seven-channel version available
  • Black or silver faceplates available
  • Gold-plated binding posts
  • Removable aluminum faceplate "cheeks"
  • 12V trigger
  • Removable IEC power cord

Simaudio has received widespread recognition for several extremely high-quality amplifier designs that are reasonably priced by audiophile standards. For this review, Simaudio supplied a five-channel version of their Moon Aurora power amplifier, the less expensive of their two multichannel models. At a list price of $4500, the Aurora is still expensive, but is said to embody the same lofty design goals as Simaudio’s other highly regarded Moon products.

Hulk

The first thing I noticed about the Aurora is that it doesn’t look like other multichannel amps, most of which are not much to look at. Even those costing as much as $5000 are often nondescript boxes of modest size whose appearance creates little excitement or passion.

The Aurora, on the other hand, should immediately instill a sense of confidence with its incredible build quality and understated but rugged good looks. Weighing a backbreaking 106 pounds and much deeper and taller than most amps, the Aurora will definitely not fit in a standard equipment rack, but will require a dedicated amplifier stand or need to be placed on the floor. Its thick aluminum faceplate is available in black or silver finishes and comes with contrasting removable "cheeks" and what appears to be a centrally mounted heatsink that looks more ornamental than functional. Much larger and more functional heatsinks run the entire lengths of both sides of the Aurora, whose chassis is incredibly rigid. Picking up and moving the amp was difficult -- it felt almost like picking up a solid chunk of steel. I and my back got the sense that this is one extremely serious amplifier.

Around back are the main power switch, a socket for the provided IEC power cord, gold-plated binding posts of very high quality, and balanced and single-ended inputs for each channel. The front panel has only a small recessed button, just below the power indicator light, to place the amplifier in standby mode.

The Aurora’s good looks and massive build quality are backed up by impressive specifications. Simaudio claims that it produces an impressive 200Wpc into 8 ohms and 400Wpc into 4 ohms. The Aurora’s power-supply transformer is rated at 2kVA, and its power-supply capacitance is stated as 177,000F. It uses six "precision-matched" bipolar output devices for each channel. The Aurora is also available in a seven-channel version ($5300) claimed to have 183,000F of power-supply capacitance and weighing 112 pounds.

Simaudio says that the Aurora’s circuit design is similar to that of their more expensive Moon Titan amplifier, but slightly less sophisticated. It has class-A output up to 5W and fully balanced circuitry right up to the output stage. All circuit-board tracings are pure copper with very short paths. The Aurora looks as if it would cost a lot more than $4500.

Thunderheart

The Aurora sounded like it looks: big, bold, and powerful. Not only did it have wonderful macrodynamics; it was also able to sort out complex music and film soundtracks with precisely defined images, and revealed very fine detail. For such a powerful solid-state amplifier, the Aurora had a silky, refined treble that maintained its smooth sound and never became strained. Its vise-like control of the bass was astounding, extracting huge amounts of tightly controlled low frequencies from every speaker I used it with. The Aurora provided a bracing, vivid presentation that was revealing of speakers and source components, yet it never sounded unnatural or forced. In fact, it had such a polished and sophisticated sound that I often forgot just how powerful and authoritative it could be when called on for those duties.

Saving Private Ryan is a favorite demo DVD because of its room-shaking bass, but it also has a complicated and finely detailed sound design that is often overlooked. The Aurora effortlessly drove the Snell XA1900THX fronts and SR30THX surrounds with excellent control over the bass frequencies, allowing these speakers to blend seamlessly with the colossal ICS Sub24 subwoofer. Even more impressive was the Aurora’s ability, in this film’s many battle scenes, to place voices precisely in the front soundstage among the chaos of the onscreen action. Far-off gunshots and echoes in the surround channels had a real sense of distance, and small details, such as the footsteps of soldiers running across debris-littered terrain, sounded astonishingly real. Even with this punishing soundtrack, the Aurora always had plenty of power in reserve, and possessed an amazing amount of finesse that allowed it to resolve even the tiniest details buried deep within the soundtrack.

Subtle directional cues of distant creaking noises were eerily reproduced. The Aurora provided a sense of spaciousness in the House of Pain, in Blade II. As the Bloodpack and Blade first approach the House of Pain, a massive bass beat emanates from the main speakers; as they move onto the dance floor, the bass output shifts mainly to the subwoofer. With the Aurora, the bass from the main speakers was just as tight and controlled as that from the sub. Lesser amplifiers, I’ve found, can make this passage sound loose and anemic in comparison.

The coherence of the 360-degree soundstage on the DTS CD of Boyz II Men’s II [DTS 71021-51001-2-8] was thrilling. "Thank You" sounded especially tight and controlled, which gave the song excellent pace. The vocals were always clear and pristine. The Aurora’s exceptional control over the mid and upper bass allowed the baritone vocals in the a cappella cover of "Yesterday" to blend perfectly with the other voices; the vocals had an effortless and unrestrained quality in all channels.

With its sophisticated sound and incredible power, the Aurora worked synergistically with the many components I had on hand. It was an ideal match for the smooth-sounding Moon Stargate surround processor, which Simaudio also provided for review, but sounded equally good with the highly revealing Bel Canto PRe6 -- my reference multichannel preamplifier. The Aurora even retained its sound quality with the Onkyo TX-SR800 THX Select receiver, which I used as a processor with the Snell THX Ultra2 speaker system. This combination provided dynamic, punchy sound.

The Sound of Music

While the many channels in a home-theater system can help mask minor deficiencies in a multichannel system, listening to two-channel sources through the Energy Veritas V2.3i floorstanding speakers without the aid of a subwoofer demonstrated the Aurora’s true capabilities. The Aurora’s bass, so impressive in a 5.1 system, was even more remarkable in a stereo setup. The huge drum whacks on Dadawa’s Sister Drum [WEA CD 99592] were simply amazing: taut, fast, with no discernible overhang. The control of the bass was absolute -- at times, it seemed as though the Aurora was somehow directly coupled to the woofers. The haunting vocals imaged precisely from different positions in the soundstage with a great sense of depth; Dadawa’s mournful rendition of "Di Wei Shin Kan" was so lucid and pure it brought tears to my eyes.

Male vocals, such as Willie Nelson’s weathered, gravelly pipes on Stardust [Columbia/Legacy CK 65946], were strikingly clear, but female vocals were especially memorable. Holly Cole’s breathtaking covers of "Almost Like Being In Love" and "God Only Knows," from Shade [Alert 6152810392], were simply stunning. The slight waver in Cole’s voice in the opening verse of "Almost Like Being In Love" was spine-tingling, and more uptempo cuts, such as "Too Darn Hot" and "Heatwave," were delightfully playful and demonstrated Cole’s uncanny knack for interpreting songs in a refreshing way that makes them her own. Whether it was Holly Cole, Dadawa, or Willie Nelson, the Aurora went beyond simply reproducing these artists’ musical performances to communicate their passions and emotions.

Dead Ringers

The Simaudio Moon Aurora compared favorably to my reference Bel Canto eVo6 multichannel amplifier ($4900). Although the eVo6 has excellent bass capabilities, it could not match the Aurora’s prowess in this area. The eVo6 simply did not have as much control over the drum whacks on Dadawa’s Sister Drum as did the Aurora. In comparison, the eVo6 sounded somewhat loose and did not have the same sense of authority. Another example was the percussion on "Ganges Delta Blues," from Ry Cooder and V.M. Bhatt’s A Meeting by the River [Water Lily Acoustics WLA-CS-29-CD], which was more tightly controlled by the Aurora. However, the eVo6 seemed to have more soundstage depth and was better able to re-create a sense of space within the church where the album was recorded. The eVo6 also seemed to have an even smoother midrange and treble than the Aurora. This was evident with Stardust as the amp maintained the gravelly character of Willie Nelson’s voice, but lessened the slight edge of the close vocal miking.

It would be impossible for me to say which of these amplifiers is the better. Both excel in nearly all areas of performance, the Aurora impressing with its absolute authority and precision, the eVo6 appealing just as much with its slightly more relaxed and ultra-smooth sound. I could happily live with either as my reference multichannel amplifier.

Save the Last Dance

The Simaudio Moon Aurora deserves to be compared with some of the very best multichannel amplifiers available. Massively built, with incredible bass performance and huge power reserves, it has an amazing amount of refinement that makes it suitable for high-quality two-channel systems while maintaining the ability to drive speakers to home-theater-approved sound levels. The Aurora unquestionably lives up to the high standard set by Simaudio’s Moon series of components, and should be seriously considered by anyone looking for a state-of-the-art multichannel amplifier at a sensible price.

Review System
Speakers - Snell Acoustics XA1900THX (mains), SR30THX (surrounds), ICS Sub 24 (subwoofer); Energy Veritas V2.3i (mains), V2.0Ci (center), V2.0Ri (surrounds), e:XL-S12 (subwoofer); Infinity Compositions P-FR (mains); Boston 555x (center); Mirage Omni 260 (surrounds); Paradigm PW-2200 (subwoofer)
Preamplifiers/Processors/Receivers - Simaudio Moon Stargate, Bel Canto PRe6, Onkyo TX-SR800
Sources - Pioneer DV-45A universal audio/video player, MSB Link DAC III (with 24/96 Upsampling, Half Nelson, and P1000 power-supply upgrades)
Cables - Analysis Plus, Audio Magic, ESP
Monitor - Toshiba CX32H60 direct-view TV
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Simaudio Ltd.
95 Chemin Du Tremblay, Unit 3
Boucherville, Quebec J4B 7K4
Canada
Phone: (450) 449-2212
Fax: (450) 449-9947

Website: www.simaudio.com

 


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