When listening, one immediately notices how quiet the amplifiers are. Already at the 110 LP we notice the low noise floor. The ‘blacker’ the background, the more soundstage, dynamics and detail is heard. Especially with phono stages, where the sound (and therefore steam) level starts with minute values, this is a challenge.
MOON 110 LP
Let’s start with the 110, which sounds wonderfully rhythmic, dynamic, and basically just plain nice. Colleague Jaap is sitting next to me on the couch and is not immediately a vinyl enthusiast. His comment: “It’s just right. It’s very relaxing to listen to this. We have no need to look for what’s not right because it’s right.”
And this statement was made by Jaap when we put on the first LP, which was quite dirty and creaked and ticked quite a bit. Pariah, by Steven Wilson in a live performance from the Royal Albert Hall beginning quietly, with singer Ninet Tayeb. There is a raw edge in her voice and that can be challenging with a digital sound chain. We have had several DACs and streamers on the Alpha bench that did not pass the Pariah test. Then it all sounded too polished.
The 110 phono preamp makes this track sound like it did at the Royal Albert Hall (although there’s always room for improvement, more on that later). Towards the end of the track things get very busy with two guitars playing interchangeably in about the same register. We can hear the layering very well.
MOON 310 LP
We continue with the next preamp in the series. We first plug this one into the same connector block that houses the 110’s power adapter. We hear an annoying hum that only disappears when we use another power strip that does not have an external power supply attached. As we wrote earlier, phono preamps are actually amplifiers that work with microvolts and are therefore sensitive to other potential sources of interference in the power chain. So pay attention to this when connecting a phono preamp.
Once properly plugged in, the 310 is even quieter; we “hear” an even lower noise floor than with the earlier model. Indeed, more quietness leads to greater dynamics and a larger soundstage. The music is projected even more three-dimensionally. Radiohead makes music that seems to reveal more and more layers the better the system you play it on. This vinyl edition of A Moon Shaped Pool has never been played before, so it sounds incredibly good; not a tick or scratch to be heard, there is only music.
We can be brief about it; we enjoy and play some more records. Like from Moloko. This is certainly not a brilliantly recorded album, but it sounds great. Jaap is also getting into the record spinning mode. A new experience for him, we already know how much fun this is!
MOON 610 LP
And finally, the top model: the MOON 610 LP. Let’s start with Jacques Loussier. This trio of piano, percussion and double bass has been a reference track for some time. What is striking about the 610 is that all the instruments are in balance. Usually the bass and drum dominate; both are recorded very close and can seriously damage your speakers if you turn up the volume. The piano sometimes drowns into the background in this dynamic sound scape.
Now we hear all three musicians in balance. And the piano sounds like a piano should sound; the high, middle and low registers have and own timbre and the high doesn’t dominate the low-end, the mids doesn’t intrude. It’s beautiful.
The 610 gets even more out of the record player; even more ‘blackness’ and contextual information from the record. We ‘see’ at Steven Wilson’s live recording, as it were, the Royal Albert Hall in a kind of acoustic image, even when the band is not playing.
Your editor has experienced this before with a classical record, where we ‘heard’ the singer standing in the room while she was not yet singing. This was also an experience for colleague Jaap that is simply missing in digital music playback.
We wondered what was missing that apparently is there with analogue reproduction. We couldn’t figure it out. Fact is that this phono preamp succeeds in bringing the reproduction to such a high level with a “middle class” record player as source. Very special.
ConclusionPhono preamps are an outside category of amplifiers, especially in the high end category. It was special to experience what the quality of the power supply does to the sound of these types of amplifiers. It's bizarre! We connected the same turntable to three phono preamplifiers in three different price ranges. We hear how with each step up in the MOON series, more musical information is extracted from the same signal. The characteristic of MOON is already audible at the entry level, the 110 LP V2. The 310 LP already reveals a lot more detail, spaciousness and layering. The 610 LP is the ultimate in detail. What this preamp can get out of a record is astonishing; we were really impressed.
If you are satisfied with your turntable and want to go one step better, we recommend you try a number of phono preamps. We think you'll be as pleasantly surprised as we are with the leap in quality that a well-matched phono preamp provides. We thoroughly enjoyed testing this trio from MOON, and we're particularly sad to see the 610 LP go back to the importer. OK, Alpha Approved for all three!