Back on July 1st 2006 a new ruling that would affect the manufacture of virtually all audio equipment became law. The RoHS directive restricted the use of certain hazardous substances in electronic equipment that meant that Hi- Fi makers could not, among other things, use leaded solder anymore. This slipped by almost unnoticed by the hi-fi buying public but has had a marked effect on manufacturers and the sound of their equipment. Some took the opportunity to introduce new models that are RoHS compliant and others just made the required changes quietly and hoped that no one would notice. But inevitably the sound of many well-established electronics did change and not always for the better.
Designers I have spoken to tell me that the switch to RoHS compliance was far more profound sound-wise than was initially envisaged. Simaudio, the Canadian company who produce the Moon range of equipment were more forthcoming. Both the i-3 integrated amplifier and the Equinox CD player from their Classic series of products now carry the RS suffix which indicates that in making them compliant with the new ruling Moon have taken the opportunity to redesign major parts of both components. The printed circuit boards in the RS models have been upgraded to those with a higher temperature grade than the military specified FR4 of the earlier models and the traces on the boards are now gold-plated as opposed to the previous lead/tin composite. Moon have also taken the trouble to initiate other improvements as well, like the incorporation of improved dielectrics in all capacitors. But on the outside the i-3 cosmetics remain the same with only the small RS logo signifying the changes. A couple of years ago when I reviewed the earlier i-3 integrated amplifier I was so impressed with its vigour and dynamic vitality that it became something of a benchmark product for me. Sure, it was a tad on the bright side and grew a bit confused when you tapped heavily into those 100 watts, but there was a real core of stability, rhythmic bite and enthusiasm that endeared it to me. The more expensive i-5 was slightly less powerful on paper, but was a smoother and a more polite sounding amplifier that remained unflappable in situations where its little brother was more on the edge.
I like the accomplished balance of the i-5 but always had a sneaking respect for the slightly unkempt youth of the i-3. In RS form it still has six inputs plus tape and pre-amplifier outputs. There is no rotary volume control on the fascia but instead a small pair of buttons selects the output level. A single button scrolls through the inputs and both this and the volume setting are easily legible through the sensibly sized display window which you can choose to leave illuminated or not.
Unfortunately, the old bone-shaped metal system-remote control, which was one of the best around and gave a quality feel to the amplifier, has given way to a rather unremarkable plastic type. I am told that the metal version is still available as an option. What remains though is the way in which both amplifier and CD player operate. The input selection and smooth adjustment of level are helped enormously by the quite amazing angles of acceptance achieved by the remote control.
The Equinox RS CD player is an equally uncluttered and straightforward device. It was developed from the Nova player but is a perfect visual match for the i-3 RS. The front panel has the usual transport buttons and the rear contains just a pair of analogue connections and a single RCA connector for the digital output. It uses a Phillips L1210/S transport, Burr Brown D/A converters and was unfortunately also supplied with the latest plastic remote control.
Because I always associate Moon equipment with being so smooth and slick in operation it would have been nice if this trait had been maintained with a more damped feel to the drawer that clatters in and out a too little rustically for a £2000 CD player. Like all Moon hi-fi that I have tried, these components really do need running in for an indecent length of time. In their literature it is claimed that they will go on improving for 400 hours but I think this is a conservative estimate. Although previously run, I do not know exactly how many hours use the review units had on them. They certainly lacked the rather clenched, mean and tonally brittle sound of brand new units though experience tells me that they may well evolve and sound even better several months down the line.
For such a physically compact amplifier the i-3 RS is rated at a healthy 100 watts but don’t expect brute muscle. The newer amplifier seems to have moved a step closer to the i-5 in terms of its smoother and more rounded balance and this has certainly made it a more versatile unit. Perhaps it is slightly softer around the edges but its approach to music is now more considered and some would say, mature. It certainly maintains better composure when you drive it hard and I think that the bass in particular is more extended and weightier, though it probably doesn’t have that pure leading edge punch that so typified and flavoured the older amplifier.