This review centres on the Dragon Inspire IHA‑1 valve-powered headphone amplifier, which is produced by the Cary, North Carolina-based firm Moon Audio (www.moon-audio.com). Those of you already familiar with Moon Audio may know of the firm as an internationally recognised retailer of all things related to personal audio and as the maker of a respected line of high performance audio cables. However, what some may not know is that Moon also manufactures a specialised range of personal audio electronics components, the flagship of which is the Dragon Inspire IHA‑1.
Hi-Fi+ Editor Alan Sircom and I both encountered the Dragon Inspire IHA‑1 for the first time at the CanJam London event held in the summer of 2016, when Moon president Drew Baird pulled us aside to hear his amplifier driving a set of Focal’s spectacularly good Utopia headphones. Moon Audio’s demonstration station was positioned directly across from the Focal/Naim demo area, which meant that we could (and did) take the opportunity compare the sound of the Utopia headphones driven by Naim’s solid-state electronics to the sound of the same headphones powered by Baird’s hand-built, valve-powered amplifier. Our take was that the Utopia sounded superb in both contexts, but that it seemed to come alive in an almost magical way when driven by the USA-made valve-powered amplifier. So, at that very moment, the idea for this review was born.
Before we proceed, though, let’s clarify a few key points. First, Moon Audio should not be confused with the similarly named Canadian firm Moon by Simaudio, which makes some very fine headphone amplifiers (and other high-end audio electronics) in its own right. Second, be aware that Moon’s Dragon Inspire IHA‑1 comes with a serious high-end pedigree, in that it was designed by (and is manufactured under the watchful eye of) none other than Dennis Had—a man perhaps best known as the founder of Cary Audio. (Cary Audio, though not necessarily as well known in the UK as it is in US, is a firm whose predominantly valve-powered electronics components have earned an enviable reputation both for exquisite workmanship and especially for their effortless and elegant musicality).