I’m not even going to resist temptation here. The Moon Neo ACE is audio’s Swiss Army Knife – even though it’s made in Canada. This all-in-one amplifier-meets-media player is on the very cutting edge of ‘now’ technology, a product that would have been impossible 10 years ago, and unthinkable 10 years before that. Yet it’s a product with legs long enough to think it still a going concern 10 years from now, and that’s not easy to suggest in today’s fast-moving digital audio world.
The ACE is part of Moon’s Neo range, the slimline ones with all black or ‘panda’ silver-black chassis. The name is an acronym meaning ‘A Complete Experience’ and that seems like a fair assessment. It’s a 50W per channel integrated amplifier with a moving magnet phono stage, a couple of rear-mounted line level RCA inputs and a front mounted stereo mini-jack for DAP, tablet, or smartphone users, and a surprisingly competent headphone stage. There are also eight digital inputs, including aptX Bluetooth, USB, Wi-Fi, and Ethernet, alongside the older Toslink and coaxial digital. There’s a neat little OLED screen in the middle of the front panel.
The core to the digital side of things is Moon’s own MiND (Moon intelligent Network Device) system, and a MiND module is fitted inside the ACE. All you need to do is hook this to a computer network (wired or wirelessly – it doesn’t really matter unless you are attempting to squirt some really high-res files through Wi-Fi, in which case wired is probably your best bet – this is more to do with the robustness of your domestic Wi-Fi infrastructure than any weak links in the ACE), and then run the whole caboodle from a tablet or smartphone – preferably a tablet – working on the same network. Complexity of installation largely depends on whether you have to enter a network password. Basically, unless you are having this sentence explained to you by your carer, the actions of reading and parsing this page are about as complex as getting the Moon up and running. MiND will locate, support, and play any audio files it finds on that network that aren’t protected, and integrates with TIDAL quicker than Taylor Swift finds new boyfriends. Fortunately, if you feel that nagging fear of being overwehelmed by technology, the ACE makes all this simple.
ACE needs to do all this because we are at the tail end of the biggest migration of audio replay since the 1980s. There’s a statistic commonly bandied round the music business that suggests most people start collecting music in or around the time they turn teenage, and that crucial period between 13-28 is when we lay down musical roots that resonate through the rest of our lives. And if you are celebrating your 28th birthday this year, you came of age musically in the time of Napster. Chances are, you never needed to start a CD collection, because online services fed that addiction (in fact, paradoxically, a 28 year old music lover is more likely to own a collection of LPs rather than CDs, and their digital music will have always been entirely file-based rather than physical). However, many of us with a few more years on the odometer are likely to have a collection of music on CD, either ripped to a server or still being played through a CD player. So the ACE needs to accommodate listeners who have all their music on polycarbonate (no CD player in the ACE, but it does have digital and analogue connections for players) or even vinyl disc, those who have music stored on home computers and servers, and those who have abandoned local storage for online content delivery. Phew!