Moon Neo 230HAD £1150

FOR Good file sup­port; fluid midrange; easy-go­ing sound AGAINST Or­gan­i­sa­tion could be tighter; lacks a bit of punch

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Dacs -

It’s been a long time since we re­viewed a Moon prod­uct – more than six years, in fact – but we’re al­ways ex­cited to see some­thing new from a com­pany with such great hi-fi cre­den­tials.

This lit­tle unit is some­thing rather dif­fer­ent than we’re used to from Moon and Si­mau­dio. It’s the com­pany’s first DAC aimed squarely at a desk­top au­di­ence, fea­tur­ing a head­phone out­put and a more desk-friendly size, mea­sur­ing even nar­rower than the Naim DAC"V1.

As part of the Neo range, it’s also cheaper than a lot of Moon prod­ucts we’ve seen in the past. While some of its com­po­nents can reach ex­ec­u­tive car prices, the 230HAD comes in at £1150.

A nice desk job

The 230HAD is based heav­ily on the ref­er­ence 430HA head­phone amp, its compact size giv­ing it the up­per hand over its pricier sib­ling for those look­ing for a desk­top set-up.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t use the 230HAD as part of a more tra­di­tional sys­tem. With two coax­ial in­puts, one op­ti­cal and an ana­logue in, this could quite hap­pily dou­ble up as a preamp for any source, of­fer­ing both fixed and vari­able ana­logue out­puts to con­nect to your sys­tem.

The USB"B in­put is likely to be the most heav­ily used though, al­low­ing you to hook up your lap­top and use the 6.3mm head­phone jack for a more straight­for­ward, dig­i­tal-fo­cused set-up. The Neo 230HAD sup­ports a wide range of au­dio in­clud­ing PCM files up to 24-bit/192khz through all in­puts and up to 32-bit/384khz (plus DSD64, DSD128 and DSD256) via the USB in­put.

Clean de­sign

Looks-wise, It’s a cleanly de­signed unit, crafted out of alu­minium and solidly made to min­imise res­o­nance. While the sides of­fer a rougher look, the front panel has a brushed-metal fin­ish and houses the standby but­ton, in­put switch and in­put/sam­ple rate in­di­ca­tors.

The lat­ter il­lu­mi­nates au­to­mat­i­cally to let you know what sam­ple rate you’re play­ing, while the for­mer will cy­cle through the in­puts (which cor­re­spond to the la­bels on the back panel) as you click the in­put but­ton.

There’s no screen here like there is on the Naim DAC"V1, which is a shame, but it’s still more straight­for­ward to op­er­ate than the Chord Hugo. There’s a re­mote in­cluded – it’s a lit­tle clut­tered, but can dou­ble up as a sys­tem re­mote for your Moon amp and CD player.

Plug in some head­phones for a 24-bit/192khz play through of Elec­tric Light Or­ches­tra’s Mr Blue Sky and the 230HAD im­me­di­ately shows off a bold, open char­ac­ter, jump­ing straight into the bounc­ing gui­tar in­stru­men­tal with a good sense of drive and en­thu­si­asm.

There’s a good level of de­tail here, and a de­cent amount of space too, but the Chord Hugo still com­fort­ably bests it for out-and-out sub­tlety and trans­parency.

It’s not as pre­cise with its rhythms as the Naim DAC"V1 ei­ther and doesn’t of­fer quite as much punch as it should.

Plug in some head­phones for a 24-bit/192khz play through of Mr Blue Sky and the 230HAD im­me­di­ately shows off a bold, open char­ac­ter, jump­ing straight into the bounc­ing gui­tar in­stru­men­tal with a good sense of drive and en­thu­si­asm

What it of­fers in re­turn though, is a re­ally lovely flu­id­ity to its midrange that the Naim can’t quite match, and with more body than the Hugo can man­age.

Ease ver­sus en­gage­ment

This gives it a more re­laxed, easy-go­ing char­ac­ter than the Naim. It might not be as metic­u­lous in its ac­cu­racy, but in many ways creates a more en­joy­able, en­gag­ing sound for ex­tended lis­ten­ing.

That said, we would like to hear a tad more or­gan­i­sa­tion dur­ing more com­pli­cated rhyth­mic pat­terns. When a song gets busy, the 230HAD can lose its han­dle on one or two of the rhyth­mic el­e­ments, just slightly, mean­ing the song as a whole doesn’t tie to­gether as seam­lessly as with the Hugo or DAC"V1. The 230HAD does a good job with dy­nam­ics for the most part, par­tic­u­larly with big bold dy­namic shifts where it can re­ally let loose. It can go quiet too, eerily so, al­though low-level dy­nam­ics aren’t quite as ex­pres­sive as the louder ones.

For ex­am­ple, the sax­o­phone in­tro to a DSD play-through of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Go­ing On is full of ex­pres­sion, tex­ture and de­tail as it soars louder, but the softer notes in­be­tween don’t man­age to com­mu­ni­cate them­selves as well, or dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves from one an­other, to the same de­gree.

In terms of bal­ance, it’s a fairly neu­tral lis­ten, but with a weighty enough bass that gives it a lit­tle more sub­stance than the Hugo’s leaner pre­sen­ta­tion.

Take care with part­ner­ing kit

We do no­tice the tre­ble show­ing it­self to be a touch harsh with some record­ings, high­light­ing some sibi­lance in the less-than-smooth For­given by Ala­nis Moris­sette that com­peti­tors glossed over. The ef­fect is min­i­mal though, so as long as you take care not to part­ner your Neo with bright-sound­ing kit it shouldn’t be an is­sue.

At £1150, the Moon Neo 230HAD is far from cheap, but it does sit at the lower end of the price scale com­pared with the Naim (£1250) and Hugo (£1400), and it does a good job to largely hold its own against th­ese DAC supre­mos.

There are some is­sues – it needs to main­tain its com­po­sure bet­ter dur­ing busy rhyth­mic pat­terns and we’d like a touch more punch too, but it’s hard to ar­gue against its smooth, fluid char­ac­ter that creates a hugely en­joy­able lis­ten. At this price, it de­serves an au­di­tion.

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