January
2020

Country of Origin

Korea

i5

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo boost, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz Hifi, Tidal Hifi, COS Engineering D1, Denafrips Terminator, Soundaware D300Ref,  AURALiC Vega 
Preamplifier: Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature with WE VT52/300B or Elrog 50/300B, Nagra Classic, Wyred4Sound STP-SE Stage II, Vinnie Rossi LIO (AVT module)
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt SIT1 monos, SIT3, F5, F6, F7; Goldmund/Job 225; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; Nord Acoustics NC500 monos; LinnenberG Audio Liszt monos
Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex; Cube Audio Nenuphar; Kroma Audio Mimí; Albedo Audio Aptica; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V & VI & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence; Fram Midi 150 & 120; Acelec Model One
Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL3000 and Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Black Cat Cable redlevel Lupo; Ocellia OCC Silver
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps/sub
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands 
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: 4 x 6m with high gabled beam ceiling opening into 4 x 8m kitchen and 5 x 8m living room, hence no wall behind the listening chairs
Review component retail: $2'495

Compact separates packaged different: current Simon Audio Series 5 of CDP/DAC + integrated amp vs. April Music Stello MkII Pre/head amp with basic USB + power amp.

"With the i5 integrated amplifierI wanted to make an amp which brings us back to the happy listening period of old regardless of loudspeakers. Rated at a very deceptive 45wpc—75wpc/4Ω, Ed.—this is a real killer, with driving power beyond your imagination. After a short break-in of 2 to 3 weeks, you will hear the clear difference from many existing amplifiers.

'Musically close to correct' is always my destination and I think that this cutie comes very close to the target. It's not cheap but my margin is very low which means that I put very high raw costs into this small beauty. If my good friend Alain Pratali of Marseille's Rouault Acoustic has a loaner available, he'll send you a pair of our small speakers too so you can hear them together with our amp."

That was Simon Lee, ex April Music boss who now heads Simon Audio from Seoul. As I put it in a recent review, "the $2'500 MkII combo of HP100/S100 Stello from April Music, after nearly two decades on the beat, is still my favorite small pre/power twofer. It's why these petite separates have accompanied us until now whilst lots of other stuff has found new owners."

Let it think in. It's 2020. Nearly identical functionality of Simon's old minis now packs into a single chassis which is styled even classier. Only the ¼" headphone port and ultra-basic USB input are lost but balanced inputs gained. Seven years later, the price for that repackaging hasn't risen by a cent. If you do want a second chassis, Simon now has the CDA5, a top-loading CD player and DAC. That shows at right stacked atop the i5 whilst both are hugged by Simon's $6'500/pr Model Three monitor speakers with 6.5" Accuton mid/woofer and hornloaded tweeter.

To mark Simon's reemergence after his April Music departure, I'd reviewed his AIO all-in-one CD/streamer receiver a year ago. That makes good reading to start today's continuation of this story.

CDA5 | i5

Here we just saw his new twofer from the front and back. As has always been Simon's preference for a mid-power amp, the fully balanced DC-coupled i5 without signal-path capacitors runs just one output transistor per phase. Hence there's just a quartet of transistors—two per channel, one push, one pull—to forego the inaccuracies of multi-parallel schemes. As chassis size gives away, this is obviously biased class AB though the Fet-based preamp stage operates in pure class A. To accommodate a subwoofer, there's a pre-out whilst analog inputs are on XLR and dual RCA. The volume control is a digitally actuated 64-step discrete analog attenuator. Its numerical value shows on the green display next to the chosen input number. A remote is standard and the lot slots into just 23 x 7.5 x 33cm WxHxD.

There's UltraFi which could just be TrophyFi to impress rich friends with. There's LowFi. Then there's the vast middle. Today that's where we play, arguably in its lower end. Simon's i5 is for folks whose hobbies extend well beyond hifi. Now a stereo's footprint, physical and fiscal, must reflect that. It must coexist with books, paintings, vacations. There could be a motorcycle in the garage,  vintage wheels on an extended restoration. Our local shoe-repair man is working on an MG whilst taking his whole family on a 2-week vacation each year. That doesn't leave much in the slush fund. Others might have cameras with exotic lenses. Those could want regular field trips to get pointed at beautiful things. Some people are major foodies. The ways to spend discretionary coin on non-essentials are legion. But if you live in a refugee camp, you won't have any.