Simaudio’s Moon 310LP is a highly articulate phono preamp. By which I mean that here is a design that can take, say, the maddeningly intricate fingerwork of a Glenn Gould—many examples abound, but let’s settle on Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-Flat Major from The Six Partitas [Columbia]— and deliver it as pure musical poetry. This isn’t to say that Gould’s brilliant Bach isn’t plenty poetic when heard through other fine vinyl-playback gear, but that the ability to “speak” with such graceful effortlessness and spill out the rapid-fire rush of notes with such beautifully nuanced changes of tempo, mood, and dynamic shadings is, for me, the most immediate way of conveying the heart of what this Simaudio piece is all about.
In addition, the $1900 310LP is also a highly flexible device designed to mate perfectly with pretty much any cartridge out there. Impedance loading options are 10 ohms, 100 ohms, 470 ohms, 1k ohm, and 47.5k ohms; capacitance loading is 0, 100, and 470pF, while gain settings are at 40, 54, 60, and 66dB (add 6dB when using the 310LP’s balanced output circuitry). There is even the option for a subsonic filter, in case you run into low- frequency vibration issues from over-excited subwoofers.
The advantages of so many options are especially evident for reviewers, who often juggle several types of cartridges over a relatively brief time period. But the ability to micro-tune a phono preamp to a cartridge is a huge plus for all LP lovers. And though most cartridge manufacturers provide detailed specs, phonostages often provide a limited range of settings that may or may not always apply to every situation (and/or taste). Simaudio’s relatively easy-to-swap jumpers make it possible to really tweak your setup, though not all changes are equally audible and one can run the risk of going a bit batty with too much back and forth. My advice is to adjust with a range of LPs over a window of time—as opposed to a single marathon session. Regardless, use both your ears and your gut instinct. Besides, this baby does require several hundred hours of burn-in time to fully blossom—Simaudo states 250–300 hours, but, frankly, I wasn’t counting. Before that magic moment, the 310LP, like so many designs, could sound rather tight and slightly disjointed. Indeed, the Bach partita previously mentioned was fine enough out of the gate, but hardly as mellifluous as I described it above, after the preamp fully burned-in. (Before burn-in, it was as if Gould were still Gould, but on an off-day.)
Visually, the 310LP is a clean and simple design that’s available in either black or silver finishes. It’s got a small footprint (7.5" x 3.2" x 11.3") and, as Simaudio likes to point out, much care has gone into lowering the noise floor. Signal paths are kept as short as possible, and away from the power supply, which is mounted on its own isolated circuit board. In my experience with other extremely-low-noise units, such as the Sutherland 20/20 I reviewed in Issue 215, reducing electronic hash and haze is one reason why so many of today’s best models are delivering such excellent results with the kind of grace mentioned above.
Of course, less sonic stuff between our ears and the music not only allows us to experience greater low-level detail but also to “peer” more deeply into recorded events. For example, when I listened to MoFi’s outstanding mono release of Sinatra’s Only The Lonely, his every breath and turn of phrase were delivered with such effortless purity of resolution and natural tonality that there was an almost eerie sense of being able to walk into the studio with the musicians. Playing Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 on the San Francisco Symphony’s vinyl release [SFS Media] was equally instructive (I was lucky to get test pressings for my article in Issue 216). The 310LP did a fine job delivering a large, wide, and deep stage, with impressive air between and around the players. Not perhaps quite as multi-layered as the Sutherland 20/20, but very fine nevertheless.