There is an adage which goes like this – “You get what you pay for”. And this is generally very true in life. But sometimes, and I mean very rarely, this saying gets turned on it’s head. This is the case in Moonriver Audio’s integrated 404 Amplifier and it’s bigger brother the 404 reference.
404 Reference Integrated Amplifier
Following the runaway success of The Moonriver Model 404 (Standard), we decided to move a step further by improving on the already excellent design platform of the Standard 404 model. The Moonriver Model 404 Reference achieves even better performance over the Standard Model, while retaining a sensible price point.
Just like the Standard Model 404, the 404 Reference amplifier will extract hidden elements, and render textures from within any audio format; but with the capability to drive any speaker on the market – despite its moderate power. Only the source, speakers and room will set the performance limit. Its culture will suit all music, as the Model 404 is by design, set to define the faintest nuances of which tonal integrity is composed.
The power supply section has been improved to the maximum. The 404 standard uses a total of 57000uf capacitance. The 404 Reference lifts the capacitance to a spectacular 107000uf of which 21000 of them are reserved for the preamp only. This enormous increment expands the driving behaviour; the dynamic character; digs out more detail; low level information; a deeper and more articulate soundtstage; space between instruments is vast, while the bass has greater authority and is more confident than ever before.
The texture of each individual instrument is exposed exponentially in comparison with the Standard version. A fully discrete preamp section serves to provide acute dynamic awareness, while a high output stage that is custom-optimised for bandwidth and distortion, gives neutral character and transient fidelity. A sophisticated selection of components fuses the design against tonal traits, therefore preserving naturalness throughout the shortest feasible signal path.
Furthermore, an integrated phono stage, USB DAC, (two) preamp outputs and a tape monitor loop expand functionality to form an ideally flexible integrated amplifier.
Design and Ergonomics
We had a very clear vision when conceiving the Model 404 Reference amplifier: Classic design with a modern touch; high-quality materials such as over-sized aluminum controls, solid walnut cheeks, sturdy chassis and an ergonomic user interface.
There are no ‘for show’ aesthetics here, no display with complicated serial menus and hidden functions, nor a single multi-function knob for ‘minimalistic’ purposes.
The heart of the Model 404 is pure and minimal, but the interface is user-oriented and easy to operate by anyone in seconds, with no need to resort to the user manual. Four knobs and three switches give direct access to any function.
Moonriver 404 Reference amplifier is modular like its brother; it can accommodate an MM or MM/MC phono stage and a USB asynchronous DAC. Fitting these modules is simple, and can take place at any time, on or after purchase. The USB DAC may also be upgraded with a newer version to meet future needs and technologies.
You may find this feature to be vanishingly scarce in audiophile products as a result of today’s ‘minimalist’ design mentality and the various myths accompanying it. However, balance control addresses a common problem: speakers that are positioned in asymmetry, in a non-balanced room environment. It therefore provides the simplest tweak towards achieving a proper soundstage.
Living rooms and house furniture are meant to serve everyday life and may not be positioned in an ideal listening spot, evenly distanced from each speaker to form an equilateral triangle. It is also not uncommon for one speaker to have to be placed nearer room boundaries than the other, having various frequencies boosted in a more or less predictable pattern. More often than not, balance control is incredibly useful as it drastically helps overcome volume level unevenness and in some cases, even reclaiming the stereo effect and the resulting focused sound stage.
It is to be expected, the way the balance control is implemented on the Moonriver 404 Reference amplifier – in parallel, will not degrade or affect the signal in any way that is determinable.
Model 404 Reference, like the standard model, incorporates no less than 5 separate power supplies, each featuring overload protection. The power amplifier specifically runs on a dual mono configuration, beginning from separate windings on the toroidal transformer.
WBT nextgenTM speaker terminals ensure the massive flow of current from the amplifier’s output stage, is able to drive even “difficult to drive” speakers.
Signal switches are implemented via relays, while volume attenuation is trusted on the legendary blue ALPS pot.
A soft start circuit based on a 30A relay ensures that even the on/off switch is thought out to work with virtually no burden or wear for decades.
The 404 Reference chassis reduces unwanted resonant vibrations even further with absorbent materials, and better integral mechanical support.
Components are carefully selected for both suitability and reliability. We make no use of surface-mount in analog circuits, despite the fact that through-hole production costs more, and requires advanced space management & layout strategies.
Each element utilised has to be of proven stability and sustained higher performance – proficient implementation provided, before making it into our analog paths.
As for the sound, we are not to say whether Model 404 Reference is virtually transparent or inherently forgiving. Voicing it to appreciate the playlist and respect the user at all times has been the sum of all of our effort; a sincere effort to achieve effortlessness.
Optional Phono Stage
Model 404 Reference comes with two options in the phono stage department; one is MM only and the other is MM/MC selectable. Both follow the exact quality principles that Model 404 Reference is built on. Quality components and massive power supplies are also employed here, to efficiently accommodate very low noise, high performance op-amps.
The gain in the MM/MC phono can be adjusted, simply by changing the dip switches position. The MC input load can be set also, by replacing the original 100 Ohm input resistor with a higher or lower value. No soldering is required.
Optional USB Dac
What was desired for our USB DAC module was not to make an addition rather than an omission; instead we had to be confident of substantially raising the true value and functionality of Model 404.
A new USB DAC is under development for the Moonriver 404 Standard and Reference.
Click here for 6 Moons review