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Design & Ergonomics
We had a very clear vision when we conceived the Moonriver 404 amplifier: Classic design with a modern touch; high quality materials such as massive aluminum knobs, solid walnut cheeks, sturdy enclosure; ergonomic user interface.
There are no “shaved” aesthetics here, no display with complicated serial menus and hidden functions, nor a single multi-function knob for “minimalistic” purposes.
The heart of 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.
The 404 integrated amplifier
Moonriver Model 404 is the outcome of a 3-year research, the aim being to achieve incredible performance regardless of price range. The 404 amplifier will extract hidden elements and render textures from within any audio format, with the source, speakers and room to set the limits. Its culture will suit all music, as the Model 404 is by design set to define the faintest nuances of which tone integrity is composed.
A hefty supply section ensures that ample healthy power is available at all times at all stages through separate rails. A fully discrete preamp section serves for acute dynamic awareness, while a high output stage that is custom-optimized for bandwidth and distortion warrants for neutral predisposition and transient fidelity. A laborious selection of components armors the design against tonal alteration, pretentious or not, thus preserving naturalness throughout the shortest feasible path.
Furthermore, an integrated phono stage, a USB DAC, two preamp outputs and a tape monitor loop expand functionality to form an ideally flexible integrated amplifier.
Moonriver 404 amplifier is modular by nature; 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.
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 thus provides the simplest tweak towards achieving a proper sound stage.
Living rooms and house furniture are meant to serve everyday life and may not be provisioned with 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 would come in handy in that it drastically helps overcoming volume level unevenness and in some cases even reclaiming stereo effect and the resulting focused sound stage.
As expected, the way balance control is implemented on the Moonriver 404 amplifier, in parallel, will not degrade or affect the signal in any way determinable.
Discovering the layout
Model 404 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.
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.
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 costs more and requires advanced space management & layout strategies.
Each element utilized 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 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.
The Importance of Tape Monitor Loop
Probably most of today’s manufacturers reject the idea of their product featuring a tape loop. At Moonriver Audio, we have concluded that the tape monitor loop is essential. Not only does it add the option of monitoring the difference between recorded and source material at a real time.
It also, and most importantly, makes possible to insert to the chain -at will- a digital or analog room correction processor, a buffer, a noise reduction system or any other line device available to improve the sound of connected sources.
The pristine era of analog recording being long gone, features like the stereo/mono switch have been gradually chased out into obsolescence. Who wants to go back to one when they have two channels? “Less is more” and “more is better”. Well…
As vinyl record revamping climaxes, whether a modern rage, a fashion thing or a real movement, countless monaural pressings emerge out there, often along with their digital… image. Too many of them, among others waiting to be rediscovered, have currently become collector’s items, 78 rpm direct-cut gems being no exception. This is not unreasonable, as what happened between say the 30s and the 80s in terms of both musical interpretation and recording technique is by many considered to be “most of the music” – this sentence doing perhaps no justice to stunning actual developments in creation and reproduction. Stereo/mono switch gives you the chance to enjoy recording art milestones with respect to how they were initially intended to please; in genuine mono, 2-channel, doing away with artificial phase discrepancies induced by mandatory stereo mode.
So, “less” may well be “more”, but better is to have a choice.
Optional Phono Stage
Model 404 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 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.
- Inputs: 5 (line 1 and 4 optionally occupied by phono stage and USB DAC respectively, 1 x tape loop)
- Outputs: 2 x preamp out, 1 x rec out
- Max output power: 50 W per channel into 8 Ω
- Frequency response: 10 Hz to 50 kHz
- Total harmonic distortion: 0.05%
- Signal to noise ratio: 85 dB (line)
- Idle Consumption: 22 Watts
- Dimensions (mm): 430 (W) x 390 (D) x 135 (H)
- Weight: 12 kg
Moonriver Audio 404 HiFI+ review by Chris Thomas
“The way that the 404 reveals the musical embellishments, especially in the low mix, is really impressive as is the depth and articulation of the whole soundstage. It has a way with strings that often draws people to tube amplifiers. The warmth and smooth envelope of the notes and the lack of astringency are really notable […] But this is an amplifier with impeccable balance and poise. Criticism seems harsh as it is such a well rounded design. I have certainly heard amplifiers costing far more that are not significantly better and every design has its limitations. But, considering the very attractive price and the performance offered it just has to be a recommendation from me”.
Download the full review in PDF here:
Editor’s Choice Award! | Moonriver Audio 404 review in The Ear magazine by Chris Kelly
“Everything I played felt like a live performance, and gave me another level of emotional connection to the music. […] I really felt that I was hearing deep into the recordings, with every instrument in its rightful place […] I genuinely believe that every other aspect of the design, the component selection and the manufacturing have been executed in an exemplary fashion. The team behind it are not just exceptional engineers but are also very obviously music lovers themselves. I am lucky to have a lot of great hi-fi come and go through my system. Much of it I have admired, much of it I have enjoyed, but most of it is packed up and returned with gratitude but without regret. I shall be genuinely sorry to see the Model 404 depart. If I was in the market for a new amplifier this would be at the top of my list. I can’t wait to get my hands on the Reference model – the mind boggles as to how good that is going to be!”
Read the full review here:
The Tannhäuser Gate / Positive Feedback | Moonriver Audio 404 Review from John Marks 11/2020
“It sounds more powerful than 50 Watts. It was also very dynamic, from the smallest gradations of chamber music, to large-scale orchestral works. However, I think that the most important characteristic is the coherence of the sound. I don’t want to use the word “smoothness,” because that might give the impression of rounded-off highs. The highs are not rounded off. And that’s certainly not what the designer intended, because the small script word “fågelsång” on the front panel means “birdsong.” There is a very organic “togetherness” to the sound. Both in the time domain, and in the frequency domain. After one of the listening parties, one participant remarked that it was a true measure of how great an audio product the Moonriver 404 is, that nobody really had any comments to make about it. They just listened to it, and enjoyed the music.
To sum up: Highest Recommendation”.
Read the whole review here:
Moonriver Audio 404: Green Award effortlessly earned 09/2020
Green Audio Review website awards the Moonriver 404 with a Green Award:
“The Moonriver 404 does that most important of jobs with flair: it makes our loudspeakers sound good. Any loudspeaker I threw at it was a great match. The see-through capabilities of this amplifier are simply amazing. The first time I plugged in the 404 it was revelatory. Clarity, insight, momentum, crisp smoothness. But when it had been in my system for a while and it was time to say goodbye it was harder than usual to let it go. Other amplifiers – even my beloved Croft separates – sounded, well, off. Better than Croft? That is high praise indeed”.
Review: Moonriver Audio Model 404 in HiFi Philoshophy magazine 06/2020
“Overall, the amplifier turned out to offer a colorful, atmospheric and well-saturated sound, it was also able to reproduce spatial effects, especially holography and reverbs. It doesn’t hide the naturalness of the vocals, it was able to create a deep stage, immersing the listener in the music, allowing him to enjoy it. The most important here was the atmosphere, it was a reference to the sound from tubes. No bright light, especially soprano glow – transparent and atmospheric sound at the same time. Translucency was combined with chiaroscuro, the number of details was sufficient, and most of all it included the omnipresent three-dimensional, concerning both the stage and the sounds. Simultaneously, a melange of a good substitute for the most expensive and best amplifiers, for which you can pay tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands.”.
Polish (original) version:
A Bright Pearl from Sweden | Moonriver Audio 404 Review in NGHENHIN magazine 04/2020
“Despite its classic design, the Model 404 completely convinced us of the “jacket” outside. We can see there is balanced, calm, but not too flashy. As for the sound, this amplifier easily convinces the listener. It expresses the sound in a very natural and vivid way, does not highlight any sub-areas, does not add color to the music, but only provides a classy and coherent sound. Although the price of the product is only in the mid-range tube amplifier segment, Moonriver Audio Model 404 is completely capable of bringing true hi-end sound, especially towards the philosophy of modern audio design, optimizing the dynamic and preserving the fidelity of the recording. It is completely possible to defeat the competition with many times higher prices”.
Vietnamese (original) version:
English version (Google Translate):
A New Powerhouse | Moonriver Audio 404 Integrated Amplifier Review in AUDIOHT magazine 06/2020
“The Swedish Moonriver 404 is a very good amplifier with the advantage of pure sound that extracts the recording as it is, in a neutral, natural tone with excellent dynamics and modern sound characteristics added to the retro but attractive appearance”.
Korean (original) version:
English version (Google Translate):
Classicismo Sueco | A Moonriver Audio 404 Review in HIFICLUBE magazine 05/2020
“The 404 is an amplifier with modern, vibrant and young sound, with a high “athletic” capacity. It is difficult to define the type of the sound: Voices sound clean, clear, without artificial ‘chest’, which can often be confused with body and texture. It sounds like a thin cambric which, by letting the light through, show us the threads that makes the texture of the fabric: the smallest details are heard as part of the music, and not just as sound ‘fireworks’.
The sound is so delicate and rich in information, that even conventional speakers seem to exhibit the characteristics of transparency and harmonic richness typical of electrostatics. It is a unique product from a new brand which can help you to solve the old valve vs. transistor dichotomy, offering colorless transparency, speed and dynamics without “aggression”.
Moonriver Audio 404 Review in HIFI Test magazine issue 02/2020
“The 404 plays incredibly direct and doesn’t give much the idea of the typical high-end sound. It sounds fresh and out of the box. The sound stage is wide, but has a particularly important effect in depth and height and sounds pleasantly lush. The retro style goes beyond the look. It is a device to touch, but most of all to listen to music, because of its direct and energetic sound which is the actual charm of the amplifier”.
Moonriver Audio 404 Integrated Amplifier Review in Stereo+ magazine issue 02/2020
“Absolutely fantastic with full control in the base and with an almost overwhelming musicality. It plays music in an open and transparent way, allowing for full insight into a well-defined three-dimensional soundscape. The Moonriver amplifier is incredibly nimble and precise, and has a transient response that makes your favorite music a festive moment. Everything merges into a rich and vibrant soundscape with massive amounts of information and timbre nuances”.
Moonriver Audio 404 Integrated Amplifier Review in VU Metre magazine issue#27 02/2020
“Moonriver 404 impressed us completely with its sound personality. We were amazed by its clarity, and its ability to highlight a considerable amount of micro-information and small details. Your records will seem much more supplied, detailed, and rich than usual. Acoustic instruments take on an almost physical posture, as the 404 seems capable of eradicating the coloration to deliver us only their essential marrow”.
Moonriver Audio 404 Integrated Amplifier Review in German LP magazine issue #01/2020
“The Moonriver is a beautiful power amplifier of the old school with amazing sonic potential: It sounds fresh, has a clear edge and is clearly one of the most dynamic representatives of its class”
Moonriver Audio 404 Integrated Amplifier Review in Swedish Hifi & Musik magazine #11/2019 in Swedish and English
“A rather amazing amplifier that really floored us and handled all the speakers we hooked up, despite the modest wattage. Moonriver provides hard-to-describe acoustic magic – the sound is of the kind that really must be experienced”