We were bowled over by the technical performance and subjective sound quality of Simaudio’s Moon 380D standalone DAC [HFN Aug ’13]. The Moon Nēo 260D CD transport with optional DAC is a new addition to this Canadian audio company’s portfolio, so we were keen to get our hands on it for a review.

Simaudio’s new Moon Nēo designs are built into casework with sculpted front panels akin to the aesthetics of the firm’s luxurious Evolution Series components. 

Here we’re assessing it as a CD player which, like the majority of players today, features digital inputs for playing additional sources via its digital-to-analogue converter stages. But it is available as a £1650 dedicated CD transport with AES/EBU (XLR) and S/PDIF (RCA) digital outputs. The mechanism in the 260D transport is decoupled from the player’s chassis by a gel-based floating mount designed to provide good mechanical grounding and effective isolation from vibration.

The DAC section is an £800 option that can be retro-fitted by an appointed dealer. Of course, it has a 192kHz/24-bit capable USB input for playing hi-res audio downloads from computer sources. The DAC also sports three S/PDIF inputs: two electrical (RCA) and one optical (Toslink), all of which will accept incoming data up to 192kHz/24-bit. And the DAC’s analogue stage has both balanced and single-ended analogue outputs.

This optional DAC board features an alternative 32-bit DAC to the ES9016S Sabre from ESS that’s to be found in the costlier 380D. The galvanically isolated asynchronous USB input is the same, however, and uses the popular XMOS interface. Mac OS provides native support, while drivers for Windows PCs need to be downloaded.

The 260D’s multi-segment status display looks a little old-fashioned but it does indicate the incoming sampling
frequency when using the player’s DAC section. The rear panel, meanwhile, also has various connectors to facilitate
system integration.

The supplied handset is a perfunctory plastic affair, but there’s a swish aluminium back-lit controller (the FRM 3) available at £399. All Nēo series Moon products are black but may be requested in silver or a ‘two-tone’ finish at no extra cost.

A family likeness

We described Simaudio’s Moon 380D DAC as sounding even-handed and luxuriously ‘comfortable’, making for easy-going long-term listening. The new 260D delivers more of the same, its music-making ‘rounded’ and inviting. Its bass is extended and punchy, while its refined treble quality makes it a great all-rounder for varied digital collections. We were struck by the 260D’s exceptional smoothness and civility, and a tonal richness that invited prolonged listening sessions.

We spent time alternately playing CDs in the 260D and comparing rips of the discs via USB, but couldn’t reliably discern any subjective difference in sound.

However, playing ‘Chan Chan’ from the Buena Vista Social Club featuring the late Cuban pianist Rubén González [World Circuit] made a compelling case for hi-res computer audio. Using the USB input of the 260D’s on-board DAC we were
now able to appreciate the enhanced sound quality of a 96kHz/24-bit digital transfer alongside a CD-quality 44.1/16 file.
The fine transparency of the 260D allowed the superiority of the hi-res version to be clearly obvious.

In every respect, the Moon stepped up a gear when playing top-notch hi-res recordings. The acoustic jazz project
Quiet Winter Night on Norway’s audiophile 2L label sounded exquisite. Hearing the realistic sound of the drum kit as percussionist Rune Arnesen opens the track ‘Stille, stille kommer vi’ was enough to make any audiophile’s heart-rate
quicken.

Verdict

The Nēo 260D sounds exceptionally refined and detailed yet doesn’t cost a king’s ransom. If you’re in the market for a hi-res-capable USB DAC, then, you could plump for it simultaneously acquiring the last CD player you’ll ever need.

Originally published in the 2014 Yearbook