Some products and some companies are just noisy – literally, metaphorically or euphemistically. Others are calmer, quieter and altogether more understated. For the last couple of decades, Simaudio has been consistently responsible for some of the best value, best performing and most reliable (semi-)affordable amplification on the market. From super-musical integrateds to the pocket-battleship 400M mono-blocs, these have been go-to products for review and recommendation, demonstration and daily deployment. Nor is the company any stranger to technological innovation or innovative concepts; the excellent MiND network replay solution continues to win. MOON has been evolving and improving its products, working its way up-market, ever closer to state of the art.
Whilst the midrange MOON electronics have a stellar reputation for no-nonsense performance, and excellent value, their more serious, high-end offerings are all too often, unfairly overlooked when the very best get discussed. But if that’s as wrong as it is irrelevant to most of us, it’s an almost heinous oversight when it comes to the next rung down, the sort of high-end products that we might be able to afford – products precisely like the 860A v2 reviewed here.
The first indication of the company’s elevated ambitions arrived in the shape of the superb 850P line-stage, followed a few years later by the imposing 888 mono-bloc power amps, products to stand comparison with any on the market. But even though these flagship designs maintained MOON’s reputation for value (at least compared to the immediate competition), they were still way beyond the means of most mere mortals. Which is exactly where he 860A v2 comes in, an amplifier on a mission: one model that replaces no fewer than three in the previous range (the original 860A, the 870A and in bridged mode, the 880M) it promises to not only surpass the performance of all of them but do so at something approaching a reasonable price. The latest v2 incarnation of the 860A (£16,750) remains true to MOON’s heritage, being a totally dual-mono, fully-differential, zero global feedback design – down to the separate power transformers for each channel. As such it has both evolved from its predecessor and benefitted from trickle-down technology derived from the 888 flagship. The result is more power, twice the reservoir capacitance, a wider signal-to-noise ratio, lower distortion and improved usability/upgradability – that latter quality reflected in the rear-panel switches that allow users to select between stereo and bridged mono operation and AC or DC coupled connection (to match different system and pre-amp requirements – something many an owner of an ARC pre and Krell power combination could have benefitted from). In a world where audio electronics are becoming increasingly smart, perhaps best typified by the multi-mode (but far more expensive) CH Precision amplifiers, this MOON isn’t just beefy, it’s clever too. And before you start carping about nearly £17K being described as “almost affordable” take a look at the current price on the similarly powered but significantly less versatile Naim NAP500…
Wanting to investigate the inherent upgradability built into the 860A v2, I obtained two units for the review, a decision that opened up not just mono but also bi-amped operation. Combine that with the paper power output – and MOON amps have a reputation for making a nonsense of their rated outputs – and (once again, on paper) you open up an almost unlimited range of partnering speaker options. Most modern speakers might have eschewed the crippling loads and insensitivity so common a decade or so ago, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t like power! However, in this case it’s not as simple as one size fits all and there’s more to power than just the numbers. As MOON amps past have so ably demonstrated, there’s power, and then there’s the nature of that power and, in the case of the 860A v2, that nature is pretty darned specific. MOON amps – all MOON amps – have always sounded bigger and more powerful than you expect: unburstable, unstoppable and utterly unflappable, they’ve made a point of taking pretty much anything in their stride. They’ve also been warm, weighty and fluid in character, eschewing the etched and spot-lit, ultra-defined and almost mechanical sound of so many competing products. The 860A v2 is definitely an archetypical MOON amp!