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Review: Moon Neo 280D DSD versatile DAC with streaming module

Moon Neo 280D
The Moon Neo 280D DSD from Canadian Simaudio is initially a DA-converter, but it can be equipped with a network module called MiND is in the market.
3.6 - 42 reviews

A good DAC is the basis of every digital music system. The Moon Neo 280D DSD from Canadian Simaudio is initially a DA-converter, but it can be equipped with a network module called MiND for playing music from a local NAS or from a streaming service. The Moon Neo 280D DSD has been on the market for some time.

Moon MiND: dac with streamer

Moon currently has two product lines, namely Evolution and Neo. On our test bench is the Moon Neo 280D DSD (280D), with the optional MiND module (MiND stands for Moon intelligent Network Device). The 280D exchanges for 2,300 euros from owner. With the MiND module on board he goes for 2,800 euros over the counter. In fact, the 280D is the cheapest DA converter from Moon.

Moon is the brand of Canadian Simaudio, which has existed since 1980. Under the brand Moon, since 1997 only amplifiers and digital sources have been built, so also for more than two decades. The devices of Moon are usually well recognizable, among other things because of the central red display that is easy to read, even if the listener is a bit further away. The buyer of a Moon device can often choose between a black, silver or two tone version. In the latter case, the center of the front panel is black and the sides of the front panel are silver-colored.

Moon currently has two product lines, namely Evolution and Neo. On our test bench is the Moon Neo 280D DSD (280D), with the optional MiND module (MiND stands for Moon intelligent Network Device). The 280D exchanges for 2,300 euros from owner. With the MiND module on board he goes for 2,800 euros over the counter. In fact, the 280D is the cheapest DA converter from Moon. To reduce the price, it has no display but only some status LEDs on the front panel, which indicate which source and sampling rate are used and whether there is a DSD signal. Also a volume control is missing and connecting directly to a power amplifier is not an option.

Strictly speaking, a display on a DA converter is not necessary at all. A volume control is only useful if the preamplifier could lapse, but because the 280D does not have analog inputs, it will not be used as a pre-amplifier for users who also want to connect analog devices. If you want to connect only digital sources, you can use a DA converter with multiple inputs, but then there must be a volume control. The Moon 280D has no volume control.

Moon Neo 280D DSD: comparison with big brother 380D

Those who would like to have a display and volume control on their DA-converter and want to own a Moon should look at the Moon 380D, the more expensive big brother of the 280D. The 380D has more inputs and the MiND module is not optional but built-in as standard. However, the 380D costs 4,750 euros and with a volume regulation the price rises to 5,250 euros. That is about twice as much.

Simaudio says itself that the 280D is derived from the 380D. The power supply of the 280D is slightly simpler, as is the analog circuit (and the display has been deleted). However, the 280D is equipped with bluetooth connectivity with aptX support, unlike the 380D. According to Simaudio, the 380D is better in absolute terms, but the 280D offers a very good price-quality ratio with the bluetooth possibilities as an extra.

Simaudio devices are fully developed and assembled in Canada. Simaudio gives a 10-year warranty on its devices. A guarantee of three years applies to moving parts, such as a CD drive or a mechanical volume control. Such a long warranty period is an indication of a solid build quality and it undeniably exudes a certain reliability to the consumer.

 

The 280D is primarily a DA-converter that is equipped as standard with the following six inputs: 2x optical, 2x coaxial, 1x USB and 1x AES / EBU. Bluetooth (with aptX) counts as the seventh input and the eighth input is the network connection with the MiND module. The user can choose between a LAN connection (RJ45) or WiFi. A wired connection is always preferred. During the test period, the 280D was connected to a Gigabit switch. Wifi is not used and not tested.The heart of the DA converter is a chip of ESS-type SABER32 ES9018K2M 32-bit Hyperstream. The analog circuit is symmetrical and the 280D has both XLR and cinch outputs, which can be used simultaneously. A digital output is missing, but that is not surprising for a device that is primarily a DA converter. The dac can thus be used without the streamer / MiND module, but the streamer / MiND module can not be used without the dac.The fact that the 280D is primarily a DA converter and not a streamer or network player, is also apparent from the fact that connection of a USB disk or USB stick is not possible. Those who are used to working with USB drives can experience this as a loss. The USB connection of the 280D is an input and is therefore not intended for connection of a hard disk but for connection of a computer or a streamer that has a USB port. The USB disk with WAV files can remain in the cabinet, but bluetooth connectivity is provided. That may not be the case with audiophile laws, however that may be, but it is a nice function to send music to the 280D quickly and easily.The 280D also supports the UPnP protocol. Music can therefore easily be sent from a laptop on the coffee table to the 280D and this works without stuttering or loss of sound quality.

Apart from the status LEDs, four buttons can be found on the front panel. Two buttons are for selecting the input (selecting the source can also be done with the MiND app), one button for making a bluetooth connection and the middle button is for putting the device into stand-by or out of standby ( starting the MiND app also takes the 280D out of standby). An IR remote control is included and can also be used for other Moon devices.

Moon Neo 280D DSD: to DSD / MQA or not to DSD / MQA, that’s the question

The 280D can process DSD to DSD 256 and PCM signal up to 32-bit / 384 kHz, but it should be noted that this only applies to signal that comes in via the USB connection. With the MiND module, DSD can be delivered up to DSD64 and PCM up to 24-bit / 192 kHz (in WAV, FLAC, AIFF, AAC, ALAC, MP3, WMA-9 and OGG Vorbis formats). The optical connection is limited to 96 kHz and that is normal for optical connections. As mentioned, 32-bit signal can only be processed by the USB connection. The 280D supports gapless playback, in our opinion an absolute requirement that should not be missed.

We do not see that there is any restriction on playing DSD as a problem. After all, there is little to no source material that goes beyond 24-bit / 192 kHz in PCM format. For many users the main thing is a good representation of 16-bit / 44.1 kHz signal and the rest is a side issue or “nice to have”.

The 280D also does not support MQA. Is that a problem or a lack? We do not think so, because MQA is more or less the same as for DSD to date: there is little to no MQA source material available. Furthermore, while DSD and MQA may sound better theoretically, if the recording process is not geared towards optimization of those variants and the right people are not behind the buttons, they often offer no added value.

MQA, DSD and hi-res in all its variants have been on the market for some time, but to date they are not a great success. Just like at the time the Super Audio CD, DSD, hi-res and MQA do not really want to break through and are stuck in the domain of some enthusiasts. We can live well with the absence of MQA. Of course, everyone has to decide for themselves.

Moon Neo 280D DSD: some technical specifications

Technical specifications do not say much about the sound of a device, but do give an indication of whether or not to perceive noise or distortion. For example, a noise floor at -85 dB will in most cases result in audible noise in silent passages, especially with good headphones. Apart from record players and tube amplifiers, the noise floor for most devices today is below -100 dB. A dimmer in the listening room or a refrigerator on the other side of the wall makes more noise and is more noticeable than the noise or hum from the audio set. It is high time for audiophile dimmers and refrigerators. With the noise level of amplifiers and digital audio devices, it is good nowadays.

Simaudio gives the following figures for the 280D. The noise floor is -118 dB. The dynamic range is 120 dB. The channel separation is 116 dB. The frequency range of the analog circuit runs from 2 Hz to 100 kHz (at -3 dB level). The intrinsic jitter is 1 picosecond. The harmonic distortion is 0.001 percent and the intermodulation distortion is 0.002 percent. According to these figures, noise and distortion are below observable limits. No noise was detected during the test period.

We are going to connect the 280D and provide music.

The Moon 280D DSD is connected to a set of amplifiers from the American Pass Labs (XP-20 + 2x XA160.5) that are connected to a set of electrostatic speakers from Quad, type ESL63. All power cabling is shielded, from the meter cupboard to the cabinets of the audio equipment used. The audio installation not only has its own group but also its own phase.As comparison, a DA-converter from Wadia, type 321 Dac and a streamer from Lumin, type D2, which incidentally was not on the same but at an earlier moment in the test room. The 321 Dac is a pure DA converter without streaming functions (see also our review on the Wadia 321 Dac). The Lumin D2 is a streamer without digital inputs and therefore can not be used as a DA converter (see also our review on the Lumin D2). The Moon 280D is a DA converter with an (optional, but in this case placed) streamer without a digital output. The three devices are therefore not functionally comparable, but the comparison emphasizes the operation and the sound in this case. A Sonos Connect Ultimo transmitted digital music signal simultaneously to the Wadia 321 Dac and the Moon 280D.As far as relevant, responding was not necessary because the 280D came in with a large amount of operating hours. Wifi was not used or tested, because the 280D was connected to an RJ45 cable.Installation of the MiND app on a Samsung Galaxy Tab3 was done with a few minutes and the 280D was almost immediately found by the tablet. The MiND app has a moody gray-black color scheme and that’s nice, especially later in the evening. With the MiND app the 280D can be fully operated. Streaming services Tidal, Qobuz and Deezer are supported, as well as internet radio from TuneIn and vTuner. If desired, another source / connection can also be selected with the MiND app.

For all apps, you have to get used to it, also for the MiND app. The app gets used quickly. Everything that is needed is done. The queue can be manipulated while playing, but that applies to just about every current app. In this sense, the MiND app is just a functional app and nothing special. However, honesty dictates that the app of the Lumin D2 looks more modern and does a number of things better. For example, CD covers can be made larger or smaller in the Lumin app. It could also be on the tablet, but Lumin’s app responded better to touch commands than Moon’s app. On the other hand, the Lumin app ran now and then without affecting the music. The app of Moon is more stable and ran much less often.

A jamming or rebooting of the tablet did not affect the playing music with the 280D any more than with the Lumin D2. Music played stutter free through, despite the possible hesitation of the app. The appreciation of the quality and design of the Moon app on the one hand and the Lumin app on the other hand can also be traced back to taste and habituation. The appreciation and rating of the apps by the writer is therefore largely subjective. The app of Moon is a bit older than that of the Lumin D2, but does not do anything wrong. Apps are periodically updated and the MiND app may be up for release soon.

We kick off with music via bluetooth and this was to a certain extent a positive revelation. Although the sound quality of music via bluetooth does not reach WAV files from a NAS, bluetooth proved to be a fun and relatively good-sounding addition. There were some WMA files on the tablet and listened to random music from YouTube or elsewhere. Of course, the sound quality was dependent on the bitrate of the chosen file. Despite the sometimes moderate bitrate, the sound was above expectations. Not everyone is busy with the optimization of sound quality and roommates with a somewhat lower set of requirements could appreciate the presence of Bluetooth connectivity. The Lumin D2 and the Wadia 321 Dac have no bluetooth connectivity on board and therefore could not be compared.

Bluetooth is fun, but playing back 16-bit / 44.1 kHz files is more important. A wide selection of music has been fed to all three devices to compare the sound. Solid rock music of, among others, Porcupine Tree, Megadeth, Metallica, Tool, Alice In Chains, Ayreon and Apocalyptica alternates with classical symphonic music, violin concertos and piano concerts by Beethoven, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Haydn and Mozart. Roger Waters, Steely Dan, dEUS, Steven Wilson and Janine Jansen were also allowed to give act the presence. Leonard Cohen’s latest album also passed by several times and all sorts of other music was played at the request of housemates. Most of the music came from bit-perfect ripped CDs where the music was written as a WAV file. That is without any loss of quality compared to the original CD. Also listened to FLAC files with a bitrate of 24-bit / 192 kHz. Some of these FLAC files originated from the website of the British dCS or from another website that was referenced by a manufacturer of DSD-compatible equipment.

Gosh, what does that sound like? First of all it must be said that the trio Wadia 321 Dac, Lumin D2 and Moon 280D have been daring with each other when it comes to the reproduction of WAV files. The sound of the devices does not differ much from each other and the differences have to be sought in subtle details. Housemates and fellow music lovers sometimes had difficulty distinguishing one person from the other, and the writer had to watch the preamp on the display to see which device was playing.

All in all, after two weeks a kind of balance could be made. The Wadia sounds the most analytical and neutral. The Lumin D2 also sounds neutral but puts a very subtle touch of warmth into the music. The Moon 280D also adds a touch of warmth to the music and for some pieces of music the 280D also adds a subtle touch of low tones and foundation, without this leading to wooliness or other unwanted effects. Nowhere did the sound image close, even when the orchestra played fortissimo. Bass drums or timpani were at the 280D in some recordings just a bit more prominent than the Wadia 321 Dac and the Lumin D2, incidentally without low tones pushing the midtones and high tones. The 280D produces a coherent sound image without peaks or valleys in the frequency response. The differences between the three devices are small and do not always stand out. A ranking or winner can not be designated. A potential buyer will have to use his own ears and taste to make a choice.

Moon Neo 280D DSD: to hi-res or not to hi-res

The Wadia 321 Dac can only process PCM signal. The Lumin D2 and Moon 280D can also process DSD signal. We wrote earlier about the Lumin D2 that sometimes there is a subtle improvement when playing a DSD file or hi-res file. However, the improvement is small, not always perceptible and certainly no world of difference.

The Moon 280D also received some hi-res files. As with the Lumin D2, the difference or improvement was small or non-existent. The improvement can best be qualified as removing a thin veil between listener and musicians. Sometimes the removal of the veil was perceptible and sometimes just was not. The small difference might be due to the quality of the source files or the recording quality, but if a manufacturer recommends certain files as dCS, the source material should be of significantly good quality. Why would dCS put it on its website and recommend it differently? Hi-res and DSD are in any case not a deterioration, but the question is whether the support of hi-res or DSD should be included in a purchase decision. Of course, everyone must answer that question for themselves. The representation of 16-bit / 44.1 kHz is in any case in good hands of the Moon 280D and that’s fine since hi-res, DSD and MQA are still not widely accepted and rolled out.

Moon Neo 280D DSD: competition and place in the market

The 280D currently has no direct competitors when it comes to functionality. The Wadia 321 Dac has no streaming functions and has no bluetooth. The Lumin D2 is a streamer that can not be used as a DA converter for another device. The Lumin D2 does offer the possibility to connect a USB disk, but does not have bluetooth on board. The 280D does have bluetooth on board but does not offer the possibility to connect a USB disk.

Of all recently tested devices, the Auralic Altair is probably the most on the Moon 280D. The Auralic Altair costs 2,000 euros and is therefore cheaper than the 280D, but the Altair also has fewer entrances and no bluetooth support on board. The Altair does have a headphone amplifier on board and that does not have the 280D. The Altair can also be equipped with a hard disk, internal or external via USB, and can not only play music from the hard disk, but can also serve as a media server for other devices on the network.

If you are looking for a new DA converter, with or without streaming functions, it is advisable to first create a wish list. Of course, the potential buyer must also take some time to listen to his candidate DA converter / streamer.

Moon Neo 280D DSD: conclusion

The 280D could have stood a little longer, but the importer wanted him back again. It was a fine introduction and although the 280D is already a few years old, it is not yet outdated. The 280D plays gapless and has not stuttered at all. The construction is solid and a buyer gets a ten-year guarantee. The sound is neutral with a very light touch of warmth and a good and pleasant foundation. If you are looking for a DA-converter with many connections and an on-board streamer, the Moon Neo 280D DSD needs to be watched and listened to at the local dealer. If you already own a good DA-converter and are looking for a streamer, you should leave the 280D on the left. The 280D does not have a digital output and therefore can not be connected to another DA converter.

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