Compact and dinky it might be but Moon says that this little phono amplifier can punch above its weight (and size). Paul Rigby reviews the 110LP v2
Allow me to throw you a few stats to give you an idea of what you’re dealing with here. This is a little box spanning 127 x 42 x 165mm and weighing in at around 1.5kg. So this little phono amplifier is just the thing if you’re short on space. It’s also demure and shy in its general appearance. This low profile look will again appeal to many who don’t like their hi-fi to parade in front of them. Some hi-fi kit does a veritable calypso while wearing head feathers and a rainbow skirt. Not the 110. Low key. Low vis. Low height. Thats the Moon 110LP v2.
When you are matching your cartridge with this phono amplifier, you’ll be faced with banks of DIP switches underneath (see image below). Now look, I’ll tell you straight that I dislike DIP switches intensely. They are finicky, confusing and easy to configure incorrectly. That said, you are given a nice little pen-type piece of plastic called a DIPStick from Grayhill which assists with the switch moving and, in sonic terms at this price, DIP switching is best system available. Other solutions will either degrade the sound performance or demand a dramatic price hike. So, like me, you’re lumbered. The settings themselves are not too puzzling, to be honest but I found that I wasn’t sure – at least initially – where the switch was. The well lit image below, oddly enough, looks rather clearer than real life. Maybe when shadows loom in those recessed DIP switch pits then… That is, at first glance, it was tough to know where a switch was sitting: on the left or right. I got the hang of that pretty soon but I can imagine someone pushing to breaking point a DIP switch to the right which is already to the right because it looks like its on the left! Phew! If you catch my drift. Just don’t push too hard, the switches are not hard to move. If you’re pushing a switch to the right and it just won’t shift, it’s probably already there.
Those settings include impedance (i.e. 47kΩ, 475Ω,100Ω, 10Ω), capacitance loading (i.e. 0pF, 100pF,330pF, 430pF), gain (40dB, 50dB, 54dB, 60dB, 66dB) and a user selectable curve (IEC/RIAA).
The wall wart-powered aluminium chassis includes four-layer PCB tracings using pure copper and inductive DC filtering. It also features a socket for the 24V switch mode power supply, arrives in any colour you want as long as its black and comes with a 10-year warranty.
I began with a vinyl version of Nancy Wilson’s You’ve Got Your Troubles from the original Capitol/EMI pressing of A Touch of Today (1966). This album features a measure of compression so, while there’s plenty of detail on offer, the upper mids are pushed to the edge. This means that any hi-fi product that’s not perfectly neutral will push this recording into the bright zone and you’ll know about it pretty pronto.
As for the 110LP v2 in action? This box is as neutral as I’ve heard in a while from a relatively low cost phono amp. There was no hint of the 110 forcing the issue within the upper mid or treble zones. Instead, the Moon took its foot off the pedal and let the music do its thing.
Upper mids were not only balanced in terms of presentation, the low noise from the unit meant that the midrange was able to rope in more detail than I would have expected at this price point.
What I mean is that the reduction in noise increased the 3D effect of the soundstage so the music seemed to push backwards towards the rear wall of my listening room. As the soundstage moved backwards, the new space wasn’t just heard as an empty void, of course, it was filled by new detail. So, on one channel, a quite frantic acoustic guitar strum added finesse and delicacy to the sound of the strings. With some phono amps, that acoustic guitar could sound restricted and a little forced.
Let me elaborate. Imagine standing in a room, looking through a window and seeing a face on the other side squashed against the glass. Now, as you stare in horror and before you reach for your phone to call the Police, observe that face. Apart from the bent nose, the cheeks are flattened, the eyes look a little scary and the lips will be distorted. That’s the equivalent effect that some phono amps can produce if all they offer is a flat 2D soundstage.
The 110LP v2 gives, in effect, more room for details to manifest themselves. So, you’re back in your room with this odd looking person on the other side of the glass? Imagine that they slowly move backwards, the lips detach from the glass, the nose unbends, the eyes blink and the face slowly emerges, offers form, structure, new depth, more detail can be seen, new subtle aspects of the cheek bones are visible for the first time and, hey, they actually look quite attractive. I wonder if they’re free for dinner tonight…?
But enough shenanigans. Do you see how a 3D soundstage is actually important when appreciating delicate details?
I changed the music to a more dynamic and bass heavy master from rock outfit T2 and It’ll All Work Out in Boomland and the track, Morning. Again, the result was a balanced output with bass offering a wealth of information, transient detail, reverb response and more but doing it within the confines of the mix without booming and dominating or affecting the midrange. During the early part of this track I was impressed, during a high energy, rather noisy part of the sound, how the drums were kicking up a storm, the guitar was a beast of noise and yet the delicate cymbal taps were clearly evident with enough space in and around to offer their own reverb tails. The sense of order and discipline was high yet the naturalistic flow of the music was also important here. The detail on offer never appeared forced or false and plastic in any way.
The best compliment I can offer the Moon 110LP v2 is that I often found my attention drifting away from the review in hand and becoming lost in the music. Which is why this review took twice as long as it should have. Ten minutes would go by and then I’d suddenly click back into work mode, realising that I should be making notes at this point. The 110 is thus an involving piece of kit and one that integrates easily and efficiently into any balanced hi-fi system. Tonally, it is very impressive indeed with an organic clarity that is mightily impressive at this price point.
If you’re building a top-end budget analogue system and have a To Do shopping list? You don’t have to look to the heavens for guidance on the phono amplifier selection, just the Moon.
MOON 110 PHONO AMPLIFIER Price: £399 Tel: 0131 555 3922 Website: www.simaudio.com
GOOD: tonal balance, neutral presentation, midrange clarity, disciplined bass, value for money
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