Audiophiles who love analog sound but have been converted to digital files and streaming services could very well consider the Moon Neo ACE amplifier to be their Holy Grail. The acclaimed Canadian brand has designed a highly developed integrated stereo amplifier following the pure hi-fi tradition and (to not say ?but?) added digital and network outputs.
High-end hi-fi amplifiers are usually not equipped with a DAC and rarely offer streaming functions. Customarily, high-end electronics only feature analog stereo inputs, which implies that the user has to purchase digital sources separately. This type of system can quickly add up to a five-figure price tag. Moon decided to swim against the tide while keeping the bar high for its integrated amplifier. Since the Moon Neo ACE is an all-in-one model, there is no need for an additional external DAC, network player, RIAA preamp or Bluetooth receiver.
Moon Neo ACE: low-power amplifier?
The Moon Neo ACE network amplifier delivers up to 2×50 W at 8 ohms. A power rating which may seem limited, even insufficient, compared to the competition. As a matter of fact, it is not rare to see streaming amplifiers with power ratings three to five times higher. If we take into account the fact that the Moon Neo ACE is a high-end amplifier, shouldn’t we rightfully expect enough power to drive large floorstanders? Objectively, the answer is no, although a higher power rating (2×150 W and over) is certainly reassuring. Here?s the thing: power without control is irrelevant?t only serves as a marketing tool. Designing a very powerful amplifier with perfect sound control implies using expensive components, which greatly impacts the cost of the finished product. If you are worried that 2×50 W is not loud enough, rest assured that it is more than sufficient to get complaints from your neighbors.
Moon Neo ACE: ?real’ watts
By simply picking it up, we were quickly able to fully appreciate the Moon Neo Ace’s meticulous design. Despite its ?moderate? power rating, this beast weighs a total of 11 kg. A quick look through the vents on the device?s top panel lets you catch a glimpse of the enormous toric transformer, which is much bigger than transformers used for high-end home cinema receivers. This is no secret; in order to conceive an amplifier with the ability to stay musical with a wide range of speakers, you need a lot of high-quality electrical current. This is the only way to make music sound natural, dynamic, and engaging.
Moon Neo ACE: presentation
The Moon Neo ACE amplifier is composed of a steel chassis and an aluminum faceplate fitted with a monochromatic LED screen. A large volume dial and two control buttons granting access to the amplifier?s menus share the right side of the front panel. On the left are five other buttons, namely: power on/off, mute, OLED screen brightness, and input selection. A 6.35 mm headphone jack is also available, as well as 3.5 mm mini-jack input (to connect a DAP for example).
The back of the the amplifier is fitted with a wide choice of connectors. From left to right are a phono RCA input (with grounding pole), two analog inputs (switchable to Direct-IN to use the ACE as a power block with a preamp or with a home cinema receiver?s pre-out outputs), and a pre-out RCA output (to connect a power amplifier or subwoofers). The five digital inputs are all located under the network connectors (WiFi antenna connector, RJ-45 connector). The digital inputs are comprised of two Toslink optical connectors, two coaxial RCA connectors, and one USB type-B port (compatible with computers running Windows, Mac OS, and Linux). The Moon Neo ACE is also fitted with proprietary SimLink connectors to link it to other Moon products and control the whole system via one device. Last but not least, the binding posts are compatible with banana plugs.
Moon Neo ACE: digital sources
With its five digital inputs, the Moon Neo ACE can handle digital audio stream from just as many sources. Its ES9010K2M ESS Sabre DAC handles PCM stream up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD256 via its USB type-B port or streamed from a DLNA server. The other inputs are limited to 24-bit/192kHz PCM stream, which is more than enough to connect a CD player (16-bits/44.1kHz) or Blu-ray player (24-bit/ 96kHz). Don’t forget to adjust the settings of your home cinema sources (DVD, Blu-ray, UHD Blu-ray players) so that they convert DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD tracks into stereo tracks. As a Bluetooth receiver compatible with the SBC and apt-X codecs is also featured, it is -possible to listen to music streamed from a smartphone or tablet.
Moon Neo ACE: network sources
Moon has developed a control app called MiND (Moon Intelligent Network Device) for its connected devices. This app is available for Android and iOS. It gives access to Internet radio stations, Deezer, Tidal, and DLNA servers connected to the local network. As a quick reminder, a DLNA server is a file sharing software program. Many DLNA software programs are available for free for Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and various NAS. Most set-top boxes already integrate one.
Moon Neo ACE: test conditions
We listened to the Moon Neo ACE amplifier with Jean-Marie Reynaud Lucia and Focal Aria 906 speakers, connected with Viard Audio Silver HD 20 cables. We used a Panasonic DMP-UB900 4K Blu-ray player connected via its RCA analog outputs (Viard Audio Premium HD RCA-RCA cable) and digital coaxial connectors (Viard Audio Silver HD S/PDIF). We listened to HD and CD-quality FLAC files (via the network, Bluetooth, and cable connections). We also watched a few excerpts from concerts (Genesis Three Sides Live, David Bowie A Reality Tour, Muse Live at Rome Olympic Stadium).
Setting up the WiFi connection is a bit difficult since the user has to use the control dial and two buttons when choosing the access point and entering the password. While this is in no way an insurmountable obstacle, we recommend opting for a cabled connection for a better transmission of HD audio files.
Moon Neo ACE: listening impressions
The listening experience offered by the Moon Neo ACE shines for its simplicity and consistency. The tonal balance is subtle, the energy well distributed. The amplifier?s refined design is easy to appreciate: not a single sound upsets the balance between fundamental and harmonic frequencies, not a single string or a stick dragging on a snare. On this level, the Moon Neo ACE is a very impressive amplifier.
This amplifier has the ability to extract absolutely gorgeous sounds out of the most inconspicuous sound take, and it does so with flawless timing. The listener?s attention is drawn to details which lower-end amplifiers cannot extract, such as the way an instrument is played.
To put it precisely, the Moon Neo ACE does not bring any particular instrument to the forefront; it simply does justice to the sound take. Even the difficult task of handling a saxophone track was no problem for this amplifier.
With the Moon Neo ACE, our small Jean-Marie Reynaud Lucia speakers found a partner capable of matching their subtlety and dynamic abilities.
A manifestation of this amplifier?s musical qualities: we can hear everything the concert?s producer wants us to hear. When watching a concert with other devices, we often wonder why the camera zooms in on the guitar at a certain moment since the amplifier and speakers don’t respond accordingly. With the Moon Neo ACE, it?s a whole different story. The sound restitution is in sync with the image on the screen, even at moderate volume. Speaking of volume, this amplifier knows how to be loud while maintaining an overall balance when the volume is turned up. The sound stage does not seem constricted.
Moon Neo ACE: conclusions
What we liked: the composure and the coherence of the soundstage, the tonal accuracy, the manufacturing quality, the wide selection of compatible listening sources.
What we would have liked: a more intuitive control app (although any DLNA control app can replace this one).
The Moon Neo ACE stereo network amplifier is particularly engaging, not so much for its functions?although these are very enjoyable?as for its indisputable musicality. Remarkable at low or high volume and clearly able to drive most speakers, this integrated amplifier is a true source of audio delight. If you?re looking for a realistic and expressive approach to sound restitution which doesn’t get tiresome in the long run, the Moon Neo ACE is a serious contender. Thrills guaranteed.