System sprawl: the curse of too many components and too much technology. It begins innocently enough with a sagging equipment rack. The sprawl then takes prisoner of precious floor or shelf or closet space until, in its advanced stages, it becomes an environmental threat to happiness, even sanity in many an audiophile’s home. We’ve all been there. But if you are of a mind, there is an alternative. It’s the integrated solution, a clarion call to downsize, to de-clutter, and to economize that might just prevent a range war with that significant other. Few components do it better, or have more fun doing it, than the Moon ACE all-in-one music player.
The résumé of the ACE is broad, but at its heart lies a compact stereo integrated amplifier that outputs 50Wpc into 8 ohms and 85Wpc into 4 ohms. The actual significance of a power rating is always a matter of conjecture, but Moon products are typically conservative in their measurements. The Ace’s 50W is the more forthright RMS rating—both channels continuously driven, full-range from 20Hz–20kHz. This power gives the ACE the ability to handily drive speakers that are more difficult loads.
For prospective owners, 50Wpc with good headroom means a fairly wide latitude in speaker selection. For this review the ACE comfortably drove the Emotiva Airmotiv T1 floorstander (review forthcoming) and the Totem Acoustic Sky compact (Issue 275). It even took a shot at the demanding TAD ME1 compact.
Handsome and low-profile, the ACE’s exterior design is elegantly turned out using a blend of aluminum and steel. The center faceplate for example is expensive 6063 aluminum, an excellent surface for brushed and anodized finishes. The ACE’s combination of metal work serves dual purposes: The aluminum contributes to a reduction in weight, and the steel top cover provides chassis reinforcement. The front-panel layout is clean and concise with input and set-up push-button controls, a 3.5mm mini-jack input for a personal music player, and a ¼" jack for headphones. A sharp OLED-type screen display is very readable and informative. A chunky volume control adds a bit of old-school tactile charm often lacking in today’s dry computer-tronic landscape.
The ACE is very much a beneficiary of technology culled from discrete Moon components. In an email exchange VP Costa Koulisakis pointed out that the amplifier’s design was borrowed from the 250i, with obvious circuit layout differences due to the ACE’s multiple-input-source complexity.
The ACE was created to wear many audio hats, so where’s the “all-in-one” aspect you (impatiently) ask? Hang on—beyond the conventional inputs that normally define the role of an integrated amplifier, the ACE sports a Wi-Fi- and Ethernet-equipped network player. The digital section’s heart is a high-resolution DAC based on an ESS chip, the 9010K2M. According to Koulisakis, the DAC section is very much like that of the 230HAD DAC/headphone amplifier, as well as the D3 DAC option in some of the brand’s more expensive products. Although the DACs aren’t identical, their design philosophy is, so the digital section has a lot of processing power to handle higher bit-rates and sampling frequencies without distortion. Moon states that its full 32-bit architecture has been implemented with Moon’s own software code in order to take full advantage of the DAC’s capabilities, enabling playback of up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM and up to DSD256 (quadruple rate) over USB, with aptXTM audio for Bluetooth.
Good connectivity is a must when a plethora of source options are available for analog, digital, and network platforms, and the ACE did not disappoint in this regard. In fact, it’s quite comprehensive in inputs and outputs, given its modest price. Among the seven digital inputs are USB, SPDIF, and optical. The three line-level analog inputs are configurable to “pass-through” mode, whereby the gain stage is bypassed to accommodate components such as a home-theater processor. Last but not least, vinyl stalwarts have not been forgotten—a phono input comes standard, its circuitry borrowed from the Moon 110LP. It’s a minimalist plug-and-play design geared for popular moving-magnet cartridges (47k ohm) but don’t expect the loading options of Moon’s higher-priced spread. Nonetheless, the ACE’s performance with vinyl was quite respectable. Other ancillary features include SimLink, and RS-232 and IR ports for custom-install environments.
The remote control is certainly an afterthought with its flat, square buttons on a flat surface. It’s surely meant to drive users to the well-executed MiND app (Moon intelligent Network Device) which has solid graphics, is reasonably intuitive, and can control volume and input, as well as display your networked music library. My recommendation is to keep your smart device handy.