Another massive improvement was in the presentation of air around instruments and the sense of reverberation. The 430HA’s rendering of space was outstanding, turning what had been a flat, dry canvas into a richly detailed, open, and dimensional one. Snare beats, for example, would light up the acoustic and decay into silence rather than just sounding like pops. On solo piano pieces I could hear the room surrounding the piano, so well resolved was the low-level decay through the 430HA.
The 430HA’s outstanding sound quality was fully revealed when driving the Audeze LCD-X planar-magnetic headphones, with the 430HA fed from the balanced outputs of a Berkeley Alpha DAC Reference decoding hi-res files. This combination was absolutely sensational; the sense of space, transparency, transient speed, resolution of fine detail, and bottom-end depth and clarity rivaled six-figure loudspeakers driven by six-figure electronics. I never would have thought the headphone experience could be this riveting. I had been listening to the LCD-X for a couple of months driven by my portable headphone amplifier, and thought they were exceptional. But it took the 430HA to show me just how exceptional these ’phones can sound.
The DAC section is an excellent addition for the $800 asking price. Fed via an Audience Au24 USB cable from a MacBook Pro running Pure Music, the 430HA’s DAC had none of the chalky midrange heard in some USB implementations. The tonal balance was smooth and uncolored, with good resolution of detail. The DAC also had an open and transparent spatial rendering for its price. I liked that the DAC had a relaxed and engaging sound with a somewhat laid-back midband. This quality imparted a refinement and sophistication often lacking in sub-$1k DACs.
In reviewing the 430HA I found myself the guinea pig in an inadvertent experiment. A few weeks before receiving the 430HA, I had bought the CD Juice by Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood based on Bill Milkowski’s review in TAS Issue 249. I had listened to the disc perhaps six or eight times in the first two weeks after buying it, but only through the AK100, PSB M4U 2 headphones, and my portable headphone amplifier. I hadn’t gotten around to ripping it to my MacBook in the main system. I had surprisingly never listened to Medeski, Martin, & Wood before, and found myself enjoying this popular trio’s collaboration with guitarist John Scofield.
But when I listened to this disc through the 430HA for the first time (still with the AK100 and PSB headphones), it was far more appealing. The sonic qualities described earlier were manifested musically in a way that took me from somewhat liking the disc to really liking it. The difference in sound quality changed my appreciation for the musicianship, compositions, and the disc’s entire feel. On the opening track, the playfulness with which Scofield’s guitar licks weaved in and around the New Orleans funk-blues melody played by Medeski on the organ, only hinted at previously, was now vividly alive. I hadn’t paid much attention to Martin’s bass playing before, but now that I could hear the instrument’s pitches and dynamics, I was enthralled by his performance. I hadn’t realized what a vital contribution he made to the music. Similarly, Wood’s drumming had been interesting, but after switching to the 430HA I could hear a wealth of nuances and dynamics that gave me a far greater appreciation for his playing. For example, his subtle rhythmic excursions on the calypso-inflected groove on the track “Louis the Shoplifter” suddenly came to the fore. I was now hearing the full contributions of four guys making music together and could hear how much fun they were having. The music was much more joyous, inventive, exuberant, and engaging now that I could hear exactly how everyone was playing. The 430HA revealed entirely hidden dimensions in an album I thought I knew—all from upgrading the headphone amplifier.
The Neo 430HA is an outstanding product in features, design, build, and sound quality. It literally transformed the sound of my headphones, and in the process, elevated my engagement with the music. If you’re serious about ’phones, and haven’t heard a first-rate headphone amplifier, take your cans to a Moon dealer and listen to what the 430HA can do for the listening experience.
SPECS & PRICING
Circuit configuration: Fully balanced differential
Outputs: Four-pin balanced and dual three-pin (one each); one 1/4" TRS unbalanced
Output impedance: 1.25 ohms
Output power: 667mW into 600 ohms, 1.33W into 300 ohms, 8W into 50 ohms
Gain: 14dB or 20dB, selectable
Input impedance: 22k ohms
Inputs: One stereo balanced on XLR jacks, two stereo unbalanced on RCA jacks, one 1/8" jack
Preamplifier outputs: Two pairs unbalanced, one fixed level, one variable level
Optional DAC specs:
Inputs: RCA (x2), USB, TosLink
PCM compatibility: Up to 384kHz/32-bit (352kHz and 384kHz via USB only)
DSD compatibility: Up to quad-rate (via USB only)
Dimensions: 16.88" x 3.5" x 13.8"
Weight: 17 lbs.
Price: $3500 (DAC option is $800)
1345 Newton Road
Boucherville, Quebec J4B 5H2