What Hi Fi Sound and Vision Mon, 23 Mar 2009, 1:00pm

Moon i3.3

Tested at £2700
100100
5

The latest version of the i3 is a forward-looking design that still sounds great for the money

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For

  • Refined, controlled and entertaining sound
  • impressive composure
  • digital inputs

Against

  • Looks less distinctive than its predecessor

This third generation of Moon's well-loved i3 integrated amplifier is more than a mere refinement of what's gone before. The company has certainly made improvements to the sound, but there's something else going on here too.

The i3.3, alongside its Naim SuperNait rival, is the first of what we expect to be a wave of new amps from stereo specialists to include digital-to-analogue conversion circuitry.

Moon, like some other specialist manufacturers, has recognised that computers are a legitimate hi-fi source, and that many people have a whole lot of music stored on hard drives that they want to hear through their hi-fi.

The idea is you take the digital information off your PC or laptop – bypassing the computer's in-built conversion and audio circuitry in the process – and feed the digital information straight into the amplifier.

Better sound quality than a PC
You'd hope the dedicated stereo equipment would have better sound quality than the computer, so the result should be decent quality hi-fi sound.

Now, we know AV amplifiers have incorporated DACs for a while, but it's only now, with the rapid rise of hard-drive based music, that purist two-channel designers have made the move.

The i3.3 is available as a standard line-level amplifier for £2300. Buy it with the optional DAC board – two coax, one optical and USB inputs – and you'll pay £150 extra.

It's the price we quoted for our review sample. There's a £150 optional phono board too, which accepts signals from both moving magnet and moving coil cartridge and has plenty of adjustment to optimise performance. Retrofitting either board sees the price rises to £250.

Greater grip and transparency
The i3.3 has taken on the look of the company's entry-level integrated amp, the i1. It's a slight shame, as the old i3 RS had a distinctive appearance where as this newest version, while neat, looks entirely conventional.

The sound has changed too, mostly for the better. The original i3 was always one of the best sounding amplifiers at its price point. It was lively, yet refined and had an attractive warmth about it.

True, bass could lack a little grip and outright resolution could be bettered, but overall, we liked it a lot.
The i3.3 retains some of the smoothness, but adds greater grip and transparency to the equation.

It means there's more drive to Holst's Mars ?and it's easier to follow individual instrumental strands when the ?music gets really busy.

Considerable composure
The i3.3 enjoys considerable composure even when playing complex music at high volumes. A power output of 100 Watts per channel is nothing special at this level, but this Moon has no trouble working well with a wide range of speakers, from ATC's SCM 11s all the way to Jamo's mighty R907s.

In each case, the amplifier's innate refinement and demonstrative dynamics come to the fore. The older version sounded a touch more expressive in the midrange with tracks such as Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill, but compare the two and there's no doubt the new one is the more revealing device.

And that makes it ?one of the class leaders. The DAC board is a good one. It doesn't quite match ?the clarity of the one built-into Cyrus's exceptional CD8se (£1100), but it is easily good enough to get good sounds from ?a decently specced laptop or PC.

The case for the i3.3 is strong. ?It's better sounding than its highly rated predecessor and packs a range ?of really useful features.

The DAC equipped stereo integrated is going ?to become big news and right now ?this Moon is on the cutting-edge.