Simaudio MOON 430HAD Headphone Amplifier with DSD Capable DAC review

The $7700 Simaudio MOON 430HAD Headphone Amplifier with DSD Capable DAC is a state-of-the-art fully-balanced headphone amplifier and preamplifier with an inbuilt digital-to-analogue converter. If you’re a headphone listener searching for the ultimate reference pairing with your high-end cans, the MOON 430HAD from Simaudio might very well be the last amplifier + DAC you’ll ever need. 

A statement in “over-engineering”

I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with some incredibly well-engineered audio products over the years, but none have quite boggled me as much as in terms of the technology and sheer capabilities that Simaudio has managed to squeeze into their MOON 430HAD Headphone Amplifier + DAC. While the 430HAD has been on the market for some time now, having launched back in 2015, it remains to be one of the standout headphone amplifiers on the market by virtue of its power, features, and peerless heritage, coming from one of the world’s most renowned audio manufacturers - Canada’s Simaudio. 

The 430HAD benefits from “trickle-down” technology from some of Simaudio’s flagship products including their M-LoVo (Moon Low Voltage) DV regulation circuit to help reduce the amplifier’s noise floor, plus their M-eVOL2 volume control which has 530 increments of digitally-controlled analogue volume (more on that one later) and is channel matched to 0.1dB. 

To draw an analogy from a completely different industry, I can’t help but think of the F-22 Raptor - the US Air Force’s premier stealth fighter - when thinking about the MOON 430HAD. First conceived in the 1980s and designed in the early 90s, the F-22 made its maiden flight in its production form all the way back in 1997. Yet, to this day it remains utterly peerless in terms of its capabilities and technologies. Sure, it may cost a cool $350 million a unit (taking into consideration research and development), but much can be said for “over-engineering” something to the point that it remains at the top of the pecking order more than two decades later. 

While the MOON 430HAD has been available to discerning audiophiles for some seven years now, I can certainly see why it continues to hold a vaunted place in the head-fi Pantheon - Simaudio calls it a “tour de force”, and I’m 100% inclined to agree. In fact, it’s also such a capable preamplifier and DAC that I’d happily have it in my two-channel system even if I were never to put a pair of headphones anywhere near it…although that would be tantamount to heresy. 

MOON 430HAD overview 

The MOON 430HAD is a balanced headphone amplifier and DAC (the "standard" version, the 430HA is a purely analogue device minus the onboard DAC) featuring transconductance circuit technology, capable of sending a whopping 8 watts of power into 50 ohms and a very respectable 667 milliwatts into 600-ohm headphones. The 430HAD uses a fully-balanced differential amplifier design and features three different types of headphone output: standard 6.3mm single-ended, 4-pin XLR, plus the rarer dual-mono 2 x 3-pin XLR configuration for those headphone aficionados with a range of exotic high-end cables in their collection. 

Two output levels of gain can be selected - either 14dB (low) or 20db (high), and the 430HAD also features an analogue crossfeed circuit which can be switched on or off depending on the owner’s listening preferences. 

Simaudio is no stranger to the importance of supplying high-end audio gear with a proper power supply, being the manufacturer of dedicated power-supply equipment such as the Simaudio MOON 820S Power Supply. Appropriately, they’ve equipped the MOON 430HAD with an “oversized power supply” employing two MOON “Ultra Low Noise” toroidal transformers and no fewer than four stages of DC voltage regulation. Simaudio’s “M-LoVo” DC regulation circuit is the same high-end system employed on the far more expensive Simaudio MOON 810LP Reference Balanced Phono Preamplifier and Simaudio MOON 740P Preamplifier, so no expense has been spared when it comes to feeding the 430HAD with low-noise, stable DC voltage. 


MOON 430HAD key specifications



20Hz - 20kHz ±0.1dB

Full Range

5Hz - 100kHz +0/-3dB

Audible 20Hz – 20kHz ± 0.2dB
Full Range 5Hs – 72kHz +0/-3.0dB
Amplifier 120dB @ full output, 20Hz – 20kHz
DAC >116dB @ full output
THD 20Hz – 20kHz, 0.005%
IMD 0.005%
THD THD @ 1kHz, 0dBFS (A-weighted), <0.001%
IMD IMD, <0.004%
Headphone Impedance 20 - 600Ω
Output power per channel @ 600 / 300 / 50Ω 667mW / 1.33W / 8W

Intermodulation distortion


Signal-to-noise Ratio




Input / Output impedance

22KΩ / 1.25Ω

Shipping weight

20 lbs. / 9 Kgs

Dimensions (width x height x depth)

42.9 x 8.9 x 35.1 cm


MOON 430HAD analogue + digital connectivity 

A generous three analogue inputs are included on the rear of the 430HAD - two single-ended RCA inputs, plus a fully balanced set of XLR inputs. Additional to this, a pair of RCA outputs are also included - one being a fixed line level output, plus a variable output which means that the 430HAD can perform excellently as either a standalone DAC or a pre-amplifier upstream of a power amplifier, active speakers, or even a subwoofer. Lastly, a 3.5mm single-ended “MP” input is included on the front panel of the MOON 430HAD for connecting a source component such as a Digital Audio Player. 

The MOON 430HAD's digital stage features uses an ESS Sabre 9018K2M chip, capable of decoding up to DSD256 natively via USB and PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz (also via USB). In addition to the USB input, the DAC-equipped MOON 430HAD also features two S/PDIF coaxial inputs plus an optical input, each capable of supporting PCM up to 24-bit/192kHz. 

The combination of three analogue inputs and four digital inputs makes the MOON 430HAD just about the most well-equipped and flexible headphone-oriented audiophile source component going around, and the addition of the preamplifier facilities makes it an extremely formidable preamplifier that many listeners would be happy to boast about having in their hifi rack. Rounding out the MOON 430HAD’s preamplifier features, a 12-volt trigger output is included as well as a pair “SimLink” input/outputs are included to allow it to “talk” to other Simaudio products. 

MOON 430HAD build and form factor 

The MOON 430HAD sports the same sleek, purposeful design language as the other high-end gear in the MOON by Simaudio range, and it’s one seriously big and solid device - you’d be forgiven for thinking it was an integrated amplifier just by looking at it! Measuring 42.9 x 8.9 x 35.1 cm and tipping the scales at nine and a half kilograms, the MOON 430HAD feels practically “bomb-proof” as well as looking like quite the premium audiophile device with its understated all-black colour scheme and gleaming red LED display window on the front. 

The MOON 430HAD’s key functionality is controlled via a series of buttons on the front panel of the amplifier. On the left-hand side we have the “Standby” button; the “Gain” button for switching between high/low gain; a “Display” button which switches between showing either the chosen volume level or the sample rate of music being processed by the DAC; and “Xfeed” which turns the crossfeed function on or off. Moving over to the other side of the unit, the two input buttons toggle between the seven possible analogue or digital input options; a “Mute” button; plus an “MP” switch for choosing the 3.5mm input on the front panel. 

Knowing the MOON 430HAD was a fully-balanced headphone amplifier, when I first took it out of the box I had to ask myself “so…where exactly do I plug my headphones into?”. The front display window actually has a transparent screen on it that slides from right to left to expose the three XLR inputs (1 x 4-pin, 2 x 3-pin). Once I’d gotten over that minor curveball and switched it on, a red LED display lit up which informs you what input is selected, plus either the volume or sample rate level (depending on which “Display” setting you’ve chosen). 

MOON 430HAD user experience

Rather than simply using an analogue potentiometer, the MOON 430HAD uses Simaudio’s excellent “M-eVOL2” volume control system. A pair of R2R DACs are used in each audio channel which separately alter the incoming audio signal’s amplitude via a series of resistors. Despite the inclusion of these “DACs” to control the volume, the audio signal remains in the analogue domain at all times and thereby doesn’t degrade the signal at any of the 530 total steps of selectable volume. 

The MOON 430HAD’s volume is controlled by a large “wheel” (“knob” is too small to describe it), which when paired with the M-eVOL2 circuitry is one of the most accurate and great-to-use volume adjustment systems that I’ve encountered, period. The 0.1 increments of volume adjustment between “00.0” and “80.0” make finding a comfortable listening level on any headphone (or IEM, for that matter) simple, and the free-spinning nature of the MOON 430HAD’s volume wheel means that you can ramp things “up” or “down” easily. 

As well as being superlative specced and powerful enough to drive pretty much any headphone on the planet (barring electrostatics, that is) to their optimum level, the MOON 430HAD is terrific to live with as an everyday device. Testing it in its primary intended role as a desktop headphone amplifier, the DAC-equipped MOON 430HAD was hooked-up to my main digital music source - a MacBook acting as a Roon “core” connected via USB which did not require the installation of any drivers (PC users may need to do so). I was able to simultaneously use my CD player as a transport which fed the onboard ESS DAC via a coaxial cable, plus my Sony Bravia Smart TV via the MOON 430HAD’s optical connection. And I didn’t just stop there - I was also able to enjoy spinning LP’s while listening to the MOON 430HAD by hooking up the phono pre-out on the Thorens TD 102 A Automatic Turntable into one of the RCA inputs. And for good measure, I also had the MOON serve preamplifier duties upstream of my Burson Funk Headphone & Speaker Amplifier which I used as a desktop power amplifier driving a pair of Dynaudio Evoke 20 Bookshelf Speakers.  

Switching between connections on the fly with the MOON 430HAD within arm’s reach is as simple as pressing the “Input” buttons to cycle between inputs on the fly, and that terrific volume control is an absolute delight to use. I found that the MOON 430HAD makes for an intelligent and easy-to-love device as the core of a desktop headphone/nearfield listening system, and it never once skipped a beat. In fact, despite having a ton of headphone-driving power under the hood it barely gets warm after long listening sessions. 

If you find yourself sitting a few metres further away from the MOON 430HAD with a pair of headphones with a longer cable or if you want to make the most of its preamplification talents, then you’ll be thankful that Simaudio includes an excellent multifunction remote with the MOON 430HAD to manage input selection as well as volume. 

Listening to the MOON 430HAD 

I decided to start my testing of this “reference” amplifier with a suitably “reference” pair of revealing headphones in the form of the Sennheiser HD800s Audiophile Headphones which I connected via their stock balanced XLR cable. I recently came across an interesting new self-titled album called from a new supergroup called 3rd Secret, who has almost as impeccable a “Grunge” pedigree as Temple of the Dog. Featuring Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic, Kim Thayil from Soundgarden, and Matt Cameron from Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, 3rd Secret’s debut album sounds altogether a little more “folksy” thanks to the addition of two female vocalists in Jennifer Johnson and Jillian Rayea lot more polished than thanks to some terrific production, and altogether a bit more polite than the early 90s heyday of their former bands, perhaps due to the added soberness that comes with middle age. 

Playing a 24-bit/96kHz version of the album via Qobuz over Roon, the HD800s seemed to prefer the added verve that the MOON 430HAD injected in high gain and I settled with the volume set around the 26.0 mark. Track #2, the bluesy number I Choose Me quickly proved that the MOON 430HAD was a superb match with the picky Sennheisers, displaying a vice-like grip of those 300-ohm drivers and yielding enjoyable levels of dynamic shove down low from with the driving, pummelling bass line. Tonally, the MOON 430HAD brings nothing by way of any noticeable emphasis or dips anywhere in the frequency response chart, and yet has an immediately enjoyable character thanks to the added sense of weightiness and body it lends to the lean-sounding HD800s. You always have the feeling that the MOON 430HAD is performing effortlessly with headroom a’plenty up its sleeves, and yet it’s also an entirely finessed performance at the same time with an impeccable translation of minute detail that shone through with every crystalline cymbal crash and shredding guitar wail. 

The background that the MOON 430HAD casts is absolutely black and devoid of any noise and interference whatsoever. Add a track into the mix like Winter Solstice that’s been recorded brilliantly by engineer Jack Endino with whirling and duelling acoustic instruments overlaid with the reverbed harmonies of the two female singers, and the MOON 430HAD paints a vast and vivid soundscape that’s completely enveloping on the concert hall-like HD800s. The crossfeed circuit had quite a profound effect when listening to the HD800s - switching it on creates a markedly more “in head” sensation, making the dual guitar tracks blur into one and reigning-in the airiness of the cymbals and overall soundstage width substantially. It’s certainly gives the HD800s a much less “incisive” character that’s less strident and more relaxed with a flatter, more smeared soundstage, but overall the “Xfeed” circuit feels like it’s generally clipping its wings in terms of robbing the open-back Sennheiser flagship of its chief idiosyncrasies. 

Despite having oodles of power on tap for harder-to-drive headphones, the MOON 430HAD is actually a viable proposition for use with in-ear monitors (a.k.a “IEMs”). Kyuss are one of my all-time favourite 90s groups, and I’ve only just recently come across the 2017 album The Coyote Who Spoke in Tongues from former front-man former John Garcia, an acoustic record of mainly Kyuss covers (plus a few new originals). I used the MOON 430HAD to listen to a 16-bit/44.1kHz Qobuz versions of these stripped-back jams with the superlativ64 Audio U18s Universal In-Ear Earphones, and found that despite their 106dB efficiency there was only a barely perceptible noise floor in low gain and a heap of usable volume range - 20.0 turned out to be the sweet spot for these little IEMs on this giant headphone amp. 

The MOON 430HAD + 18s combination gave an electron microscope-like level of insight into the track Space Cadet, a cover from the 1994 Welcome to Sky Valley record. Every finger movement on the guitar fretboard felt intimately apparent, and I could even feel the buzzing and resonance of the strings as the track gathered momentum - I caught myself tapping both feet and grinning from ear to ear by the time the track finished.  

Grado headphones, in my humble opinion, are the best way to experience excessively-produced 70s pop rock, and my Grado GH1 “Heritage Series” are the headphones that have stuck around longest in my collection for good reason. Dennis Wilson is most well known for being the drummer of The Beach Boys, but should be best known for his excellent and underrated 1977 solo album Pacific Ocean Blue (co-produced by his far better known brother Brian). I’ve modded my GH1 with an XLR termination, and plugging them into the MOON 430HA’s balanced output there was a rather audible background hiss in high gain, which became nearly inaudible when stepping-down to the +14dB of gain in “low” mode. 

Using the Grado G-Cush Ear Pads makes the otherwise intimate-sounding GH1 feel far wider, and listening to the opening track River Song via the MOON 430HAD makes the maple-bodied Grados sound positively symphonic in terms of its breadth and scale. While it starts out as simple piano melody, soon it’s joined by a rhythmic drum track, vocal harmonies, and finally the best part of an entire orchestra - it’s easily the most involved I’ve ever felt in this track and this record in general, which I must have listened to a hundred times. There’s so much raw energy and crunch in the sparse electric guitar parts, so much scale and space between the backing vocal tracks, but most of all, it’s the raw emotion in Dennis Wilson’s strained vocals that shine through with amazing texture, which it turns out, were degrading due to a life of hard living plus a ton of boozing even though he was only in his thirties. Sadly, he passed away when he was only 39, not long after this record was released. 

ThAudeze LCD-5 Reference Planar Magnetic Open Back Headphones are perhaps the most revealing and detailed headphone I’ve had the pleasure of listening to, and listening to them via the MOON 430HAD via an XLR Cardas Audio Clear Headphone Cable was nothing short of revelatory. Tool’s 2019 album (it’s still their “new” one, right?) Fear Innoculum is one of my favourite releases of recent times, and listening to a 24-bit/96kHz FLAC recording of it via the LCD-5/MOON 430HAD was the closest I’ve come to reliving the heart-thumping, brutal experience of the track Pneuma since I saw them play it live in Sydney back in early 2020 (just before the world went haywire). The MOON 430HAD helps unleash every last iota of unbridled detail from the LCD-5, even to the point that I realised that there was some unpleasant distortion in the recording at the 8:45 mark - yep, it’ll tell you the truth, warts and all. The bongos at the 7-minute mark seemed to swirl around in cosmic patterns reminiscent of the wild 3D animations from their live production, and the breakdown at 9:35 was simply nothing short of ferocious head-banging bliss. It was amazing stuff. 

And for something completely different, it was time to indulge in a little bit of my guilty pleasure - a bit of country, and there’s no better voice in country than Chris Stapleton. In fact, I think he might just be the best living male vocalist out there, irrespective of genre. His track Either Way from the 24-bit/96kHz Qobuz edition of his album From a Room: Volume 1 is a raw, stripped-back emotive performance with just Chris and an acoustic guitar, and yet it perhaps had a more profound effect on me in terms of the MOON 430HAD’s abilities than anything else I listened to with the new Audeze planar flagship. It’s without a doubt the most intimate, spine-tingling and real-sounding way to hear this song - I had a genuine moment listening to it - the lingering echo of his voice and the guitar makes you believe that you’re in a small untreated performance studio with an audience of one: you. It ought to be impossible to get this sort of feeling from a series of 1’s and 0’s, but you do - you not only hear, but feel every single vocal inflection. 

The optional DAC stage that separates the MOON 430HAD from the MOON 430HAD should by no means be thought of as an “add-on” to an excellent headphone amplifier - it’s a first-rate digital decoder in its own right. As I stated earlier, I’d be happy to have the 430HAD in my system as a standalone DAC or preamplifier, it’s that good. I spent some time with my usual go-to DAC, the Schiit Bifrost 2 Digital Analog Converter feeding the MOON 430HAD as a source via its balanced XLR inputs to see if there were any substantial differences between the two very different DAC architectures and implementations. Grouping the two devices together in Roon (and lowering the headroom of the Schiit DAC by -6dB to account for the slightly higher input gain) I was able to quickly switch between inputs on the 430HA, and I was left entirely impressed by how convincing a performance the MOON 430HAD the made as an all-in-one device. The Schiit “Multibit” DAC made for a rounder, less articulated presentation than the ESS-based DAC on the MOON 430HAD but didn’t quite have the same levels of attack and finite clarity between treble notes, in particular. Not only is the MOON 430HAD’s one-box proposition enticing in terms of its aesthetics and streamlined footprint, but the synergy between the digital and analogue stages in the MOON 430HAD are incredible. 

Final thoughts

The MOON 430HAD is simply the finest solid state headphone amplifier I’ve encountered in my years of audiophile headphone enjoyment - its power, design, and features are second-to-none. Add the fact that it’s also a first-rate DAC and preamplifier, and you have yourself one of the most talented all-in-one devices on the market. 

If you have a pair of high-end headphones you really do owe it to yourself to spend some time listening to them on the MOON 430HAD - it will really show you exactly what they are capable of. If you’re planning on adding more headphones to your collection down the track and need a reference amplifier that will handle absolutely anything that you can conceivably throw at it, then you can stop looking, relax, and simply get on enjoying your favourite music to your heart’s content knowing that the MOON 430HAD is simply as good as it gets.

Desktop headphone amps and dacsMoon by simaudio