Audio reductionists will happily give the credit for this to Simaudio’s use of large, linear (as opposed to switch-mode) power supplies, but there is and always has been more to it than that. MOON makes products for the long haul; products that take time to hit their stride, but once they do, deliver music that’s engaging and entertaining – and do it long-term. They may not impress in a quick, starting from cold comparison, but given the chance, they’ll impress first with the music they deliver and later with their reliability and longevity. That makes for a range of highly recommendable products, but whilst their warm and slightly rounded character makes them ideal for long-term listening, it also means that you need to choose matching speakers with care. Warm and weighty can quickly become less than nimble in the wrong system, at which point you might as well spell fluid with a T, a U, an R, G, I and D.
So let’s start with what you shouldn’t use… First and foremost, you want to stop the amp’s attributes becoming weaknesses – and that means preventing its smoothly fluid weight becoming lazy. You do not want to use this amp with speakers that need a wake-up call or a boot up their reflex ports, the studied neutrality and understated dynamics of the Wilson Benesch Resolutions being a case in point. Likewise, although the Wilson Sasha DAWs enjoy the scale that comes with hooking up the 860A(s), their easy breathing, expressive sense of rhythm and dynamics leave the combination sounding like the speaker is waiting for the amp. But fear not, while these are both exceptional speakers, they’re also exceptions to the rule, with candidates that do require just precisely what the MOON amps offer queuing around the audio block. Front of the line you’ll find floor-standing speakers from Magico, YG Acoustics and B&W, with the KEF Blades, multiple PMCs and current Sonus Fabers crowding in behind – a selection that embraces an awful lot of real-world systems…
As if to underline that point, I got to play the 860A v2 with a wider than usual range of speakers, the Spendor D9, Raidho TD-1.2, Vienna Acoustics Liszt and Gershman Grande Avante Garde proving particularly successful. But one thing that did emerge across all that listening was the 860A v2s clear preference for plenty of cross-sectional area in the partnering speaker cables. Whether Crystal, Nordost or AudioQuest, moving up a model/size in terms of speaker wire always produced a disproportionate improvement. Show the 860’s output stage a cable with plenty of metal, and it’s going to respond with all the gusto you’d expect – and then some.
Amongst the partnering speakers, I found myself returning to the Gershman and Raidho models more often than not. Of course, one advantage of pairing the MOON amps with their fellow Canadians was that the Grande Avante Gardes allowed me to ring the changes, stereo to mono to bi-amp – with interesting and for me at least, slightly unexpected results. Running a single 860A in stereo mode was more than capable of driving the wide-bandwidth and moderate efficiency of the Gershmans, producing a sound that put presence and an almost irresistible musical momentum ahead of clarity, definition and articulation. There’s no denying the appeal of that unstoppable forward motion, but when it comes to tracks like The Pixies’ ‘Here Comes Your Man’, the music pushes through the verse and chorus, the middle-eight and the arrangement as a whole with such drive that some of the complexity and layering in the mix gets smoothed over or steamrollered en route. The chopped bass line that underpins the chorus gets rounded off, the harmonies that shade the lead vocal are harder to pick.
In contrast, the jaunty clarity and upbeat rhythms of Vampire Weekend’s Father Of The Bride become so infectious they seem almost turbocharged. Suppose transparency and insight are lower down the MOON’s list of performance priorities. In that case, entertainment certainly isn’t and, if that judgement of its character seems harsh, it perhaps reflects a prolonged period spent enjoying the unforced clarity of (rather more expensive) amps from CH Precision and my own VTL S400 II. Which makes what happened next all the more intriguing…
Adding a second 860A v2 to the mix doubles the price, but doubles the options too – and for once I was surprised to discover a clear preference for the bridged mono set up over the bi-amped arrangement. Yes, vertical bi-amping (using the two halves of a single amp to drive the upper and lower ranges on a single speaker) brought serious benefits in terms of timing, space, focussed energy and a more natural, unforced musical progression, but it couldn’t match the clarity, separation and definition that came with the switch to mono. Running the amps bridged restored the blunt notes in the Pixies bass line, just as it revealed the angular energy and physical effort in Marco Ceccato’s bowing, the familiar vivacity in Gli Incogniti’s accompaniment of the Haydn Cello Concerto VIIb. In contrast, the bi-amped arrangement smoothed the cellist’s playing to an almost violin-like quality that robbed the performance of its captivating vitality.
As a long-time fan of bi-amping (and sometime cynic when it comes to bridging), I was surprised, to say the least. But the results were consistent across all genres – if less so across different speakers. A brief trial with Living Voice Auditorium R25s (a less than ideal match but one that left the mono amps sounding heavy and leaden) confirmed that results are going to be speaker-dependent, but that’s really the point. These amps don’t just let you choose – they let you change your speakers or just change your mind, the kind of circumstantial shifts that all too often come with serious price-tags attached. Just be aware that it’s not a simple either/or comparison. You will need to adjust the placement of your speakers for each amplification option; such is their impact on low-frequency extension and presentation.