Moon 390 network player/preamplifier

Equipment+
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Solid-state preamplifiers,
Music servers and computer audio
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Products:
Moon 390

Setting up the 390 is a breeze. There are two antennae which screw into the back of the unit, and you can connect via a network cable, or scan the existing wireless networks. One slight quirk comes when entering the WiFi password, which is a little tricky with a circular knob, the unit predicts the next letter of the password, and you have to take a gamble if the next letter counts or not! That aside, it’s pretty straightforward. There is an IOS app, which is very reliable and does what it says on the tin. I used a combination of the app and Roon, which works well with the Moon, again without any problems. There is a remote control which performs some features and is narrow, shiny, and plastic.

I did many listening tests, with the 400M monoblocks, and also with my VAC Phi 200 power amplifiers, to try and ascertain how the various components within the 390 were contributing overall to the final sound. 

I started with the phono input, which was a breeze to configure for my Lyra Etna cartridge. Listening to the marvellously recorded Naim album, Forcione’s Tears of Joy, it became evident that the phono stage in the preamp is not just an afterthought. There is a fast, ‘zappy’ quality here; it’s exciting, dynamic, and thoroughly engaging. The bass is tight, and the wood block is taut; perhaps the decay is not as naturally resonant as my VAC phono preamp, but this is many multiples of the cost of the 390. There is a high-end feel to this; I’ve heard phono stages alone for the same price as the 390 that don’t sound as good.

The area where I suspect this product will be used most is digital. It is interesting to hear the same track played on Tidal, as accessed on the app. There is still the same level of guts and communication, the space is somewhat different, and perhaps the streaming version is a tad less organic, but I’m surprised how similar the two versions sound. I have to navigate between the two inputs using the remote; for some reason the ‘Phono’ input doesn’t come up as an option on the app. A little odd, but one of the only quirks I have found so far!

Onto my terra firma, Simon Rattle and the Berlin Phil playing the eccentric Haydn Sinfonia Concertante, 1st movement. The sound is sweet and totally believable compared with what I’m used to, a dCS Network Bridge plus a Chord DAVE. Rich and full, the bass speed and quality are both excellent. The soundstage is well-presented for the price level of the preamplifier, it’s not as cavernous and as vast as the VAC/Dave/dCS, but it’s impressive. There’s something that’s inviting about what it’s doing. The 390 shows the musicality of the players, the sense of fun, and communication that’s going on. It’s doing the same thing that I heard from the brand in Munich for the last couple of years.

This file is using MQA, both on the native app and with Roon software. The 390 deals with this integration with consummate ease. I moved on to the Oscar Peterson Trio, specifically to ‘We Get Requests’ and ‘You Look Good to Me’, where there seemed to be a problem with the MQA re-release. It sounds fuller and more realistic, but there is quite a lot of wow at the beginning of the track, which isn’t there on the earlier CD version. That aside, it’s interesting to see what the remastering is doing for the presence of the artists. Either way, that’s a bit of a digression, because it has nothing to do with the Moon, except to say it has integrated MQA and Tidal seamlessly into its offering. The double bass is taut, powerful, and the whole track (once we pass the wow-ridden beginning) really rocks. 

A brief survey of the headphone output is no surprise. It’s no slouch, punchy, clean, and highly capable. Listening to the ball scene from the Symphonie Fantastique, Ticciati and the SCO on Linn, a beautifully recorded 192kHz affair, there is a pleasing combination of clarity and grunt, but also warmth and humanity. The soundstage is spacious, and it exceeds the capabilities of my old Graham Slee headphone amplifier in sheer presence and communication, a unit which represented excellent value-for-money at over £600.

Substituting the VAC power amps for the Moon 400M’s, and going back to the vinyl, Forcione shows some impressive results. The power amps add muscle, precision, and even more tautness. The resulting sound is exciting, engaging and gives some of the percussion instruments more of a spotlight. This was a surprising case of synergy, the components singing together. Of course, a good transistor power amp can leave a good valve amp standing in the bass department, but these two together and a good vinyl set up has really cracked the timing of the track.

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