Moon 180 MiND network streamer
Computer audio is a remarkable thing, you can use your existing hardware as an audio source and with care and attention get remarkable sound quality. However, figuring out how to do that can be a steep learning curve and not everybody wants to have a computer in the living room or even attached to the system. If for no other reason than that their switching power supplies tend to pollute the mains rather severely. This is where network streamers come in, they are dedicated computers with audio quality power supplies and with audio connections that allow you to access and play any music that you have stored as a digital file, which can be rips of your CDs, downloaded music, net radio etc.
The first wave of streamers were do-it-all boxes with music storage and ripping facilities onboard, Naim’s HDX being a good example. To make such devices sound good is not easy or cheap and their functions were soon broken down into the hard drive, typically a NAS drive designed for computers where the music is stored, and a streamer with analogue and occasionally digital outputs, disc ripping being left to dedicated ripNAS devices or a computer. We are now into the third and least expensive age of streamers where the hardware merely converts data streamed from the hard drive into a digital output that can be converted with any DAC.
Canadian company SimAudio which owns Moon has done this with its 180 MiND (Moon intelligent network device), this is a fairly compact device with a plethora of connections on its rear end that allow you to hook it up to the network with both Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi via a small antenna. Its digital outputs consist of coaxial via RCA, optical on Toslink and a balanced AES/EBU connection on XLR. The only omission is USB but in some respects you don’t need one, if the streamer can output the required resolutions via conventional audio connections there is no obvious benefit. It’s potential use would be with very high sample rates, which is anything above 192kHz and DSD, but as the 180 MiND is not designed to stream these frequencies/formats it’s not very relevant at present.
Installing the 180 MiND on a wired network is very straightforward, connect it to the network and use the free MiND App to select the drive where your music is stored. With Wi-Fi it’s necessary to select your network and tell it the password but again it’s hardly challenging.
With streamers the crux of the matter is how easy the control App is to use, how intuitive it is to find and play the music you want to hear. It is clearly not easy to write control software that is reliable and clear because so many fail to do it. But MiND is pretty good, I ran it on an iPad Mini (so far only iOS is supported, Android is said to be coming) which doesn’t have the biggest of screens. This made the all important back arrow button a bit small but it’s easy to find the music you want to play and select whether to play individual pieces or whole albums. The chosen tracks are added to a playlist that on the seven inch Mini screen runs to four and a half visible titles, possibly too much space is given to artwork for a screen of this size. Presumably the iPhone version is a bit more efficient, mind you they get bigger every week it seems. One ‘buton’ that prompted no response was a computer style volume control, apparently that only works with other Moon components.
As well as playing the music on local servers the MiND can access internet radio with the vTuner service. This is nicely implemented in the App and makes it easy to find stations by genre, location and popularity. I was able to find most of my preferred stations but failed to locate The Lake which is obscure but turns up on vTuner’s website where you can search by name, the MiND app could do with an internet only category.
I have two servers with music libraries on, a Melco N1A and a Naim Unitiserve, for reasons thus far unclear the 180 MiND would not play FLAC format files from the Unitiserve so I stuck with the Melco. The results I got with this source were pretty impressive regardless of the DAC used but obviously the better the converter the better it sounded. I reviewed a Wadia 321 whilst the Moon was in the system and compared coax from the MiND to USB direct from the Melco, there was essentially no contest as the streamer/coax approach was by far the most relaxed, revealing and enjoyable in all respects. It made the USB option sound crude by comparison, which is surprising because I have had some pretty good results with the Melco’s USB output in the past but as the same difference appeared with a second DAC (Benchmark DAC2) I have to assume that USB inputs have their limitations. It’s a relatively new system for audio and clearly has some way to go.
What I liked about the sound from the 180 MiND was the way that it got so much variety out of each recording, giving depth and colour to the performances alongside lots of low level detail to fill out the aural picture. It could do serious depth of image, fluency of playing and dynamics and these combined made for some pretty engaging musical entertainment. Put on something dense and meaty and a good DAC can turn it into a musical event that hangs together with effortless coherence. Some of these characteristics get through because of the quality of digital connections, the Chord Sarum Super ARAY used cables tend to provoke this sort of sound and thus their effect cannot be discounted. A system is only as good as its weakest link so there’s no point in holding it back with poor cabling if that can be avoided.
This is of course true of the source, the Melco server is fundamental to the end result. I have found that streamers don’t have widely differing sound quality when the playing field is levelled, so the standard of the ancillaries is what makes the difference between good and great streaming systems. What separates them is the ergonomics of the control App, which are pretty good here, I like the A-Z break down of the library and the way you can combine tracks from different sources in the playlist, I also like the ability to use online streaming services like Tidal. Half way through this review the latter facility was added to the MiND platform and gave me the opportunity to have another look at the wealth of material this increasingly popular lossless platform offers. It’s pretty comprehensive and a total distraction for anyone interested in music, especially new non classical music (Qobuz tends to be a bit stronger with classical).
The Moon MiND represents an affordable means of playing networked audio that does not compromise on sound quality or ease of use. There are surprisingly few alternatives that offer the same feature set, the only real contender is the Cyrus Stream X but it’s limited to 96kHz maximum sample frequency and has no access to online services despite a £1,400 price point. The Cambridge Audio CXN (£700) has a DAC and preamp output but no access to Tidal, it will receive Airplay signals but if you’re interested in quality that’s not so relevant. All of which makes the Moon look like very good value indeed.
Type: Solid-state network streamer.
Analogue Inputs: none.
Digital outputs: Coaxial S/PDIF, optical TOSLink, AES/EBU.
Maximum word length/sample rate: 24-bit/192kHz
Music services: Tidal
Analogue Outputs: none.
Dimensions (HxWxD): 175 x 128 x 158mm