MOON Nēo 260D Transport/DAC

By Any Other Name

Equipment report
Disc players,
Digital-to-analog converters
Simaudio Moon Neo 260D
MOON Nēo 260D Transport/DAC

Whatever you do, don’t go calling the Nēo 260D from Simaudio just another CD player. That’d be like comparing Usain Bolt to a Sunday morning jogger or describing a McLaren P1 as just another road car. In today’s audio climes, “player” implies a certain single-format finality. The Nēo 260D is more than that, or at least it can be. As the “Nēo” moniker implies, Simaudio has revisited this venerable and vulnerable segment and given it a swift and timely reboot. What this means is that for few extra bucks above the cost of the standard 260D player you can buy the MOON Nēo 260D, which comes equipped with a four-input high-resolution DAC section that effectively transforms the unit into a transport/ DAC and opens up a whole new world of digital connectivity. Unless you’re planning to keep your head firmly buried in the sand for the next few years, you really need to consider the all- in-one flexibility the Nēo affords. Soon after you’ll thank yourself for having had so much foresight.

Under the hood the Nēo 260D puts a lot of distance between it and its predecessor. It borrows much of its technology and smooth good looks from the more exotic and costlier 650D in the Evolution Series. The large front-panel display is highly readable from rational distances and the pushbuttons engage cleanly. The disc tray operates without any lag.

I’ve got to hand it to Simaudio. I’ve reviewed this company’s gear for years, and I have never failed to be impressed by the high quality of its products’ construction. The Nēo’s chassis is top-notch—geared to minimize external vibrations. Its oversized power supply offers 13 stages of voltage regulation (five for the transport and eight for the DAC). Its proprietary CD drive system is mounted on Simaudio’s now-familiar M-Quattro, gel- based, 4-point floating suspension for vibration damping. While the Nēo 260D’s isolation was good, it was not up to the level of Simaudio flagship players, as I could induce an occasional track- skip by moderately tapping my equipment rack.

The optional DAC section uses a 32-bit asynchronous converter with four rear-panel digital inputs (dual SPDIF, TosLink, and USB). There is no provision for a USB thumbdrive, however. Galvanic isolation of the USB input has been implemented to eliminate all ground current. As a result, there is zero electrical connection between the USB device and the Nēo 260D, a feature that preserves the accuracy of the audio signal. Of course, key features you’d expect in a MOON Nēo Series product are included, such as a SimLink controller port for two-way communications with other compatible MOON components, plus RS232 and IR ports for custom-installation environments. Finally, the Nēo 260D is available in three different finishes— black (standard), as well as a special order all-silver or two-tone (black and silver). Simaudio’s CRM-2 remote control completes the package. In a nod to economizing on power usage, the remote automatically goes into standby mode in about twenty minutes, but this feature can be bypassed by holding down the program button for a couple seconds—a thoughtful touch.

Given digital inputs galore I immediately put them to good use. Apple TV found a home in the optical input. The USB was engaged for streaming from my MacBook Pro (iTunes/Pure Music). And since I was experimenting with some new SPDIF cables, I used a Musical Fidelity USB/SPDIF converter.

Red Book PCM circa 2014 is a mature format. Anyone who’s been paying attention over the last few years knows that standard 44.1kHz/16-bit discs can sound astoundingly good. The CD has quietly benefited from a steady diet of improvements that have manifested themselves at every stage of the recording chain. When you add to that the fact that MOON playback has always been one of the grown-ups in the room, you get rock- solid dynamics, sprinter-like transients, a low noise floor, and true-to-life tonality. Just a few bars of Valentina Lisitsa’s fiery performance of Liszt’s Totentanz [Naxos] provide ample evidence that the Nēo 260D comes equipped to reproduce a concert grand piano and a bravura performance. From jackhammer bottom- octave excursions to searing treble arpeggios brimming with swirling harmonics, the MOON brings its A-game. And it also brings its sensitive side, as I discovered listening to the delicate exchanges between Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny during their insightful duet rendition of “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” from Beyond the Missouri Sky [Verve].

Vocals, such as Kasey Chamber’s sexy “Pony,” possessed an airy palpability that captured the intimacy and humor of the performance. And, as I listened to Holly Cole’s cover of “I Can See Clearly” I had to conclude that the Nēo 260D reproduces bass information with an uncanny balance of pitch and control. It’s very specific in the way it conveys timbre—the tone and skin sound of a drumhead and the resonant character and decay of an acoustic bass. Plus it has an instinct for connecting images across an unbroken soundstage—a trait it more fully exhibits in high resolution. Cole’s vocal was smooth and extended, and though a bit cooler and dryer than I’ve heard—not atypical for digital in this range—her voice never veered into peakiness. The piano solo midway through the track was reproduced with much (although not all) of the player’s touch intact. However, the Nēo 260D is a little less persuasive at drawing the eye onto the stage and into the dimensional space of a fine acoustic recording. For example, during the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Heifetz and Reiner/Chicago [XRCD] the sense of instrumental interplay and continuous air and spaciousness between players was reduced due to the MOON’s slightly more arid character. And on occasion I felt that the Nēo 260D missed some of the more tactile aspects of music reproduction—something I could best describe as a certain fleshiness that the best recordings deliver, the sense of the complete performer materializing in space, fully physicalized and inhabiting the listening room. It’s a beguiling impression that I have attained with significantly pricier rigs from the likes of dCS and MBL, to name two. Nonetheless the Nēo 260D acquits itself more than satisfactorily. So no surprises here. The Nēo 260D exemplifies the lion’s share of what I’ve come to expect from Simaudio: musical, uncolored, and rock-steady. Standard-resolution 44.1kHz/16-bit performance is uniformly very-good-to-excellent.

With high-resolution material, however, the Nēo shows a whole new level of refinement. The 176.4kHz/24-bit HRx recording of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances [Reference Recordings] is like a sonic elixir for micro-dynamics and air. Rather than appearing as uncorrelated segments on an ill-formed soundstage, images immediately register as elements of a fully realized acoustic venue—parts of a fluid whole. The major difference as compared with standard-resolution CD is the added complexity of soundstage and dimension. No longer the relatively flat canvas of Red Book, high-resolution material almost seems to reinflate the stage. The micro-dynamic amplitude differences among instruments create a more convincing representation of the distances between players within the symphony orchestra. There’s a more focused sense of layering, beginning downstage with the first violins and moving gradually all the way upstage to the back of the percussion section. As a result the Minnesota Symphony comes alive as a complex, multi-voiced entity breathing a continuous reverberant energy throughout the hall. The difference in the final analysis is that you feel more like an actual audience member than a mere listening-room observer. And that’s really the point, isn’t it?

The Nēo 260D continues a tradition of fine Simaudio CD players. Its naturalistic and musical sonic performance is mated with resilient build-quality and ergonomics. As a transport, or with the highly recommended DAC option, the Nēo 260D won’t lead you wrong. Fully equipped, it opens up an entire world of digital resolution that will preserve your investment for years to come. Dollar for dollar, a splendid component.


CD transport with optional four-input DAC

Digital inputs (with optional DAC): USB, TosLink, SPDIF (2)
Analog output (with optional DAC): Balanced and single-ended
Digital output: S/PDIF and AES/EBU
Dimensions: 16.9" x 3.4" x 13.1"
Weight: 16 lbs.
Price: $2000 (DAC option, $1000)