Not too long ago we looked at the Moon i-7 , an integrated amplifier from Simaudio, a high-class Canadian manufacturer of considerable repute.
This turned out to be one of the highlights of the recent reviewing calendar. Here we move on to one of a number of CD players from the same source, the SuperNova. Unusually at this end of the market, it doesn't double as an SACD player, and there's no DVD-Audio (or video) provision either.
In most respects it's a straight no-frills CD player - with some refinements we'll come to shortly - but it's undeniably meticulously specified and engineered.
There are obvious parallels between the way this player is built and designs from Wadia, Krell and Mark Levinson, notably the use of fabricated side, front and rear panels, locked together with pillars at the four corners.
The resulting assembly is extremely heavy and solid, more nearly comparable to a high-power integrated or power amp than to the average CD player. The Simaudio player isn't just heavy, though; it's built with supreme integrity - all of the internal and external detailing points in the same direction.
The player is supplied with four pointed cones that can be screwed into the bottom surface, though we placed coins below each one to avoid marking the surface of our equipment rack.
A mechanically better arrangement (though arguably cosmetically inferior) would have been to fit three spikes rather than four, which on some surfaces would have been more stable.
The SuperNova is equipped with a number of inputs and outputs, including S/PDIF single-ended and AES/EBU balanced digital inputs, single-ended and balanced analogue outputs using similar connectors, a bidirectional RS-232 socket for use with external controllers, SimLink ins and outs, and an IR input.
Note the absence of optical ins and outs. A mains switch is fitted next to the IEC mains input, but its relative inaccessibility hints at the fact that the maker intends the model to remain permanently powered.
The player uses differential-mode conversion and has a fully balanced audio path internally, but although an output is available on XLR-balanced connectors, standard unbalanced electrical outputs are also fitted.
The internals are based on a Philips mechanism, with digital data sampled at 24-bit, and oversampled to 352.8kHz prior to being processed using a 24-bit Burr-Brown PCM1798 D/A converter.
The player has separate toroidal transformers and power supplies for the analogue and digital circuits, the power supplies using an unusual and elaborate scheme involving independent inductive DC filtering for each active circuit block, 20 such inductive stages being used in total.
The signal path eschews the use of coupling capacitors, and instead is DC-coupled for stability. Other highlights include a digital clocking circuit accurate to 25ppm (which doesn't mean the player as a whole operates at jitter levels that low) and a proprietary 6dB/octave analogue filter used prior to the main differential output.
The PCBs are four-layer designs, and very short signal-path lengths are employed to minimise noise build-up.
One unusual provision is a digital input: a single S/PDIF phono socket enables the player to be used as an outboard D/A for another digital source and is compatible with inputs clocked at up to 96kHz. This is undeniably useful, but for many will come as a clear second best to an external analogue input and volume control of the kind you'll find on some Mark Levinson players - the 390S being one example.
If there were also an on-board volume control, which the Levinson for one has, then the player could be used at the heart of a high-quality, twin-source system without the need for a dedicated preamplifier.
Various cosmetic options are available at the point of purchase, including silver or black corner pillars and a silver or black fascia.
There are even cosmetic options for the spikes and Moon logos - chrome, gold or pewter! This range of choices is described by Simaudio, for reasons unknown, as 'C4 Aesthetics', and there are 24 combinations of colours and finishes in total.
The red-LED dot-matrix display is massive, designed to be read clearly from the far side of the room, and can be set to one of three brightness levels or switched off.
The remote control is large, heavy and made from die-cast metal, and provides rudimentary access to the main functions of most of Simaudio's components, including its amplifiers and CD players, but it doesn't include random-track access or programming - not that these features will be missed by the majority of users. In any case, programmed play is available using the front-panel controls.
It's tempting to partner the SuperNova with the Moon i-7 integrated amplifier. They're an aesthetic match, they come from the same design house - perhaps even the same design team - and they have similar sonic priorities.
In addition, the i-7 has a balanced input, which one would expect to be an ideal match for the player's output - and this is indeed the case.
A note of warning, though: like the i-7, the SuperNova needs to be run-in for an extended period. Quite why this player, or the matching amplifier, should need so much running-in (see also the i-7 review) is something of a mystery, but the effect is real enough, and we were able to run the player in repeat mode for more than a week before any further improvement became inaudible.
Simaudio recommends leaving it constantly powered, and fits a suitably optimised standby facility for the purpose, though the model runs cool, which implies that - even taking the massive heat sinks into account - the design has a low current drain.
When fired up from cold, it sounds lacking in precision and even a touch opaque, but after a while under power the sound becomes more fluid and transparent, even though the player becomes only slightly warmer to the touch.
By Red-Book-CD-player standards, this model is a true heavyweight, easily comparable to the best of its high-end rivals, but with a few individual twists.
Above all else, the SuperNova is bold and muscular. It has a strong bass, a palpable sense of dynamics and musculature when reproducing instruments, and treble that's detailed, if not quite to the extent experienced with some machinery from, say, Ayre or Esoteric, or the best SACD players.
The SuperNova is also a player that times well, or at least doesn't mess up on timing cues. There's little or no opacity, and none of the sometimes very subtle harshness that gives away digital sources for what they are.
It all happens very organically and naturally, though it would be too much to suggest that the SuperNova is particularly sweet-voiced. It's too strong-willed for that. Instrumental textures are bold and well formed, which goes against the grain for a player that sounds this sweet.
In addition, it has a strong sense of flow, of musical momentum, and this contributes to the sense of propulsion that it brings to the proceedings with the right musical material. But there's nothing synthetic about the way the player brings these qualities to life.
Stereo imagery tends to be tightly focused in the lateral plane, and with good depth differentiation, often forward of the plane of the speakers, giving well-recorded CDs an unusually three-dimensional quality. There's even the perception of greater image height than with other comparable players, but this is probably a consequence of the player's unusually bold voicing.
There is a difference between the single-ended and the balanced outputs, the player favouring the latter by a small but useful margin.
The difference is mainly one of image scale, the balanced output sounding larger and slightly more firmly focused in space, and more forward of the plane of the speakers and with a hint of improved dynamics. The comparison was made as fair as possible using parallel single-ended and balanced XLR Nordost Valhalla interconnects.
The digital input was also assessed, but in this case using a relatively inexpensive universal player via the digital stereo output, namely the Marantz DV7001.
Sound quality went a long way to matching the SuperNova's native performance, but this kind of combination makes no sense with a multichannel player, still less one that's so ill-matched in cost terms.
This is a superb CD player that will cast your CD collection in a glorious light. At this price, however, we would like to see SACD included, and we know from experience that its provision needn't compromise CD-playing ability to any great extent (though DVD-Audio is a different matter).
SACD done right provides greater refinement, detail and presence, and a better sense of being there. That said, if you're not a big fan of classical or acoustic music, which is well represented on SACD, then the lack of the format might not be such an issue; note too that at more affordable price levels, SACD or universal players may even be sonically inferior to Red Book CD models.
A beautiful, accomplished CD player, which would be made even more attractive with SACD added.