Under the rather elegant skin of the new Neo casework (available in black, silver or parti-coloured combination) the 250i I is still recognisably the same beast that we first reviewed – just updated in terms of connectivity. As well as the now obligatory front-panel 3.5mm stereo jack input (for portable music sources) there is also a pair of Sim Link sockets to connect to other Moon units (excluding Frank Zappa’s daughter) for system control. Besides that you get five line inputs, a robust 50 Watt rated output, beefy binding posts for your speakers, a headphone connection that will shame many a dedicated headphone amp, and all the necessary IR and RS232 socketry for system integration purposes. In other words, everything the modern listener wants and nothing that they don’t. The 250i’s bigger brother adds internal phono and DAC options, a balanced input and twice the power – at a price – but that’s not the point of the basic model. This is the chopped down, café-racer – as much performance as Moon can pack in for the price – and doesn’t it show?
But before we get to that, let’s take a look at the 260D. The market for bare-bones CD players has all but disappeared – at least at this price level – and the 260D reflects that fact. This is best considered as a DAC with an in-built transport, a format first pioneered by Wadia and even more relevant today. The 260D offers two S/PDIF inputs on RCA as well as optical and USB inputs to its 192kHz capable, 32-bit DAC. Obvious attention to detail is demonstrated by the transport, which uses a sophisticated mechanical-isolation mount, shared with the company’s (much) more expensive players. It’s pervasive influence can be found in the galvanic isolation of the USB input, which protects the sensitive DAC circuitry from the ‘dirty’ ground of a computer source. You get a choice of balanced or single-ended outputs (but no internal volume control) while for those who need it, the 260 can also be bought as a transport only, offering the same choice of RCA or XLR digital outputs as the CD player. To further underline their up-to-the-minute credentials, both the 260D and the 250i are also compatible with Moon’s MIND multi-room network streaming solution, while in terms of matching, the amp will happily drive a host of partners from the likes of KEF, Focal, or Living Voice, the latter’s Avatar IBX offering a particularly successful pairing.
But despite the sheer range of features and facilities loaded into these products (a modern necessity), in many ways the secret of the Moon unit’s lasting appeal lies in their dedication to getting the fundamentals right. You can see it in the heavily engineered power supplies, the use of proprietary output devices, and the careful attention to noise performance. But it’s most visible of all in the shape of that new casework. Not just a pretty face, the multi-part Neo casework offers superior self-damping and mechanical performance to the previous, more prosaic metalwork. It doesn’t just look better, but sounds better, too – considerably better should you bother to do the comparison. Of course, there are other changes too, so it’s not a straight like for like shoot out, but the Neos do sound markedly superior to their predecessors across the board – and in some cases that can only be down to the casework. One change that’s not so great is the result of green directives from the EU. Leave the CD player on for 20 minutes and it will automatically switch into standby mode. Now, given that these products take forever to run in and also warm up, that’s not ideal – at least not if you care about sound quality. If you’ve spent this much on your system, do yourself a favour, leave both units permanently powered and find a different, better way to save the planet. Fortunately, you can do that by disabling the auto standby feature (press the Program button on the CD for two seconds) and I’d suggest you do so as soon as it’s installed. Bizarrely the amp doesn’t suffer from the same affliction, but then nobody ever said that EU legislation had to make sense. Last piece of the jigsaw is the simple, handheld system remote. It ain’t pretty but it does work and for something with so many buttons on it, it’s surprisingly intuitive. Again, it’s more evidence that the designer has spent the money where it matters: namely on long-term rather than on first impressions. When people choose audio equipment, they start by looking at it, then touching it, and finally they might give it a listen – which helps explain all those ridiculously ostentatious remote controls. The Moon Neos are all about performance. They are intended for owners who actually listen rather than just look and perhaps the clearest indication of that is that simple but effective, plastic remote handset. These products let the music do the talking, and talk it does.