68rednose

Thoughts on Metrum DACs: Quad, Octave and Hex

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Summary

Yes. If you’re looking for another individual opinion to back up your buying decision, here it is: yes, all three recommended. They’re all about accuracy and speed. The difference between the three: you pay more, you get more.

Quad: smartest step up. Octave: best buy. Hex: among the best in its price range.

No. I’m not affiliated, but I’m obviously enthusiastic. :)

If you don’t have anything better to do, you might as well continue reading.

The remaining text is divided in the following 6 parts:

1. Disclaimer

2. The writer

3. The company

4. The DACs

5. Associated gear

6. Music used

1. Disclaimer

I’ve read quite a lot around here and I would like to make a contribution to the Wam myself in return. However, I’m not up to par compared to most posters here, so little qualified as a reviewer. I haven’t had loads of gear at home, can’t make so many comparisons, or have a memory for that to start anyway. I’m lacking the analytical and writing skills. At the end, I decided just to share my experience for those who are interested. If it’s not your cup of tea, relief is just a click away (for noobs: the x in either the tab or the upper right corner). So this is not a review, just some thoughts about some gear.

2. The writer

The way I see it: the exact equipment used here could be put anywhere in the world. And lead to different opinions or conclusions. To put this review in perspective it is imperative to know the background of at least the room and the writer, the perceiver of sound.

I’m Dutch and I live in Germany. Yes, thank you for your sincere sympathies. The point I want to make is that I only listened to music in rooms that are made of brick walls, concrete floors and concrete ceilings, with large glass panels, windows or doors. So I actually have the same acoustics as the Stone Age caveman, but with a comfy central heating system in it to make it 21st century like.

I’m not you. In order to get a perspective of my writing, I think you should know how I see this hobby.

Like tasting wine or whisky, listening to music is digital. Even for listeners of tube gear or vinyl. You like it (1) or not (0). I don’t know exactly what the definition of audiophile is. I care about gear. I make careful decisions what to put in the chain. And I take care of my possessions. That all however, are merely the means to my goal, to enjoy listening to music as a sole activity. That is what I like, sit back and relax. Analyzing is for reviewers.

3. The company

The 80’s were the heydays of audio in the Netherlands. There were a lot of manufacturers of cables and electronics, and especially of speakers. Most of them you’ve never heard of. Time has changed since then and with a relative small home market, it’s difficult to keep an audio company running in the fierce international competition with so many players. So, the Netherlands has some heritage and spirit with audio, but not all manufacturers are internationally known. Metrum has a long background in electronics and speakers, and made a remarkable breakthrough with DA conversion. The story of not using an audio, but an industrial converter is already known. Cees Ruijtenberg, the designer has a long career in industrial and audio electronics. At launch, there were 2 models with wall wart, the Duo (1 DAC per channel) and Quad (2 DAC’s per channel). In the meantime, these models with wall wart are discontinued. Metrum deserves my respect with their no-nonsense approach and honest promotion of their product. You made an appointment to audition the DAC at Cees’ home. If you liked it, you could order one. If not, that was fine as well. I wanted a Quad and so it started. And again no, I’m not affiliated.

4. The DACs

Over the last 2.5 years, the Metrum DACs I used at home were:

- Quad with wall wart

- Octave with separate 15A power supply

- Hex with standard transformer and AES/EBU + USB digital connections

The idea of exploring streaming with Sonos caused an urge for a DAC. The Arcam CD23 I had is the well-known poor man’s dCS. Such a shame that there is no digital input on this machine! The system I had at that time did not have that much resolution, but the Quad and CD23 sounded quite similar to me. So, with the Sonos and a CD transport I was quite happy with the Quad. The Quad proved to be very detailed and accurate, especially cymbals sounded very lifelike and natural.

With a Quad you already have a source that will do very well in any mid end set up. Instead of spending serious amounts of money on foo cables like I have done, you could make the jump to the Octave as well. I seriously suggest the latter.

Suddenly the opportunity came my way to acquire an Octave. This is a serious and highly distinguishable step up! All characteristics are improved. More detail, better staging, more controlled bass, less sharp f- and s- distortion with female vocals. The only attest of other people on this system is the opinion of the prospective buyer (now happy owner) and his audio friend when reviewing the Audio Research LS 25 MkII I had for sale. Whatever we threw at it, they found everything very musical, non-fatiguing and enjoyable. The low octaves of Yello’s Touch, Moussorsky on organ, or Eva Cassidy, all was fine. The Octave makes serious music!

Since then I play without pre amp, but there came the opportunity to acquire a Hex! So, all plans for a successor pre amp are shelved, that was immediately clear. Here we go again! This is a serious and highly distinguishable step up! All characteristics are improved. More detail, better staging, more controlled bass, less sharp f- and s- distortion with female vocals. (Have you read this before? I copy and pasted, so the editing worked). With a system that starts at 20 Hz, the playback of source material really is critical. A lot of software causes problems in the lower octaves, when bass gets muddy, boomy and sounds like undefined rumble. This happens mostly on modern recordings, aimed at the average iWhatever listener. Or problems arise especially with female vocals, for some reason f- and s- sounds are simply harsh. These are the fields I’m personally more sensitive. With the Hex, all previous problems I had are resolved.

A small anecdote: I had some bass problems with my set up. At that time I already had the Octave. I asked at my dealer if I could test play some of my CD’s causing problems at home. Everything sounded fine. No wonder, since I played at the dealer with a Wadia 781i and Wilson Sophia 2’s. Turned out at home that I set up my speakers in a far from ideal manner. So, with speaker placement improved, the bass reproduction is quite nice. After the change from Octave to Hex everything sounded even better, in a similar way as at the dealer with the Wadia. I don’t say the Hex is like the Wadia, but I can clearly hear some quality shine through that belongs to the class where the Wadia resides.

So, how do the three compare?

All Metrum DACs have the same signature to me: accurate from top to bottom, and very fast. Cymbals fade very natural, treble is never fatiguing. They are thoroughly musical and enjoyable.

Many times descriptions are made like a veil or curtain being removed in case of an improvement. That is here not exactly the case. It’s like you go to a concert and Cees is the guy in the ticket booth with just 3 tickets left: row 24, 18 or 12. That’s how I would compare the Quad, Octave and Hex. You will attend the same concert from a similar first class seat, but in a different way. If you sit further away, you have less resolution and accuracy. The orchestra is somewhere up there, you could see that the soloist stays in front of the orchestra, but with your eyes closed you can’t easily distinguish it. If you move more towards the stage, you can hear the differences more clearly. The stage gets wider, it’s easier to distinguish the placement of the instruments. There is more air around instruments and the musical performance gets more lifelike.

The most remarkable characteristic if you move from Quad to Octave to Hex is the improvement in reproduction you achieve with bad recordings. Music that was unbearable has become more or fully acceptable.

Any downsides? Yes and no…

Yes, in general the accuracy could reveal weaknesses in the chain. I think that is a characteristic of any good piece of equipment: to tell it like it is. It is an inconvenient truth however for the weakest link. Goodbye!...when the upgrade bug bites again.

And no, I have the idea the each of the DACs perform very well in their price class. So you get a lot of value for money, take your pick according to your budget…and enjoy!

5. Associated equipment:

Transport: US Greek letter, Sci-fi android

Digital processor: UK line of longitude, with BMW E39 entry type number

Power amp: Canadian heavenly body

Speakers: US of German heritage, researched, imaginary simulated environment

Digital IC 1: Dutch precious metal technology

Digital IC 2: US rocket science sourced

Analog IC + Speakercables (biwired): US fascinating emotional connection

Power cables: Japanese chords that sound like another floodwave

Rack: German computational method, buddhist temple

6. Music used for comparisons

- Yello - Touch - Takla Makan - Universal Music

- Jean Guillou: Mussorsgsky at an Exhibition - Promenade - Dorian

- Peter Fox - Stadtaffe - Alles Neu - Warner

- Rob Wasserman - Duets - Ballad of the runaway horse (with Jennifer Warnes) - MCA

- Cassandra Wilson - Belly of the sun - Waters of March - EMI

- Gotan Project - Lunático - Amor Porteño - Ya Basta

- Jazz at the pawnshop - Proprius

- Eva Cassidy - Live at Bues Alley - Blix Street Records

- Radka Tonneff - Fairytales - The moon is a harsh mistress - Odin Records

- Joss Stone - The soul sessions - The chokin' kind - EMI

- Ulla Meinecke - Wenn nicht für immer dann wenigstens für ewig - Die Tänzerin - RCA

- Mariza - Fado em mim - Ó gente da minha terra - EMI

- Katie Melua - The Katie Melua Collection - Nine million bicycles - Dramatico

Sounds like an attempt to have the most distorted overcompressed drum and bass recording.

- Adele - 19 - Chasing pavements - XL Recordings

Towards the chorus all instruments seem to change to a more muddy and blurred sound.

At around 1:40, or 3:00.

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Moderator

Rudy,

thanks for taking the time to write this. As a recent convert who got an Octave, the best thing I can say about it was that pairing it with some quite exotic kit has always left me feeling that it has been up to the challenge. My DACs tend to stick around. I was happy with my Benchmark DAC1 for 6 years, I may be as happy with the Octave for as long. My only regret is that my mk1 doesn't have USB but I might re-house it to make that possible. It has certainly re-ordered my listening priorities making the performance between my vinyl and digital front ends equally enjoyable. I would love to hear a Hex one day. I don't know how many have made it to these shores as competition is fierce at that price point.

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Super Wammer

Great write up.

I used to be in the camp of - "all DACs sound more or less similar" and have tried a range of budget to mid priced DACs in my system - DACMagic, MDAC, Audio Synthesis DAX, M2Tech Young and, I found the differences marginal.

Recently, I had a chance to listen to a Metrum Octave at a forum member's place and was blown away - it's the first DAC where I could not have told upfront that it was a digital source. It's the most analogue sounding DAC I have heard.

Put in my order for an Octave and expecting it soon - can't wait to see how it compares with my current MDAC in my system. Hope it lives up to expectations!

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Nice balanced review there, Rudy. Well done. Having said that, the remarks in this thread so far don't bear any resemblance to what I heard. As the Octave is an NOS design I was particularly interested as I have a TDA1541 NOS DAC and was wondering how it would measure up, especially using a non- audio DAC chip or should I say one that has not been used in an audio application. I was fortunate to have a wammer agree to bring his Metrum Octave over so that we could make comparisons and I have say I was quite disappointed in that it lacked dynamics when the programme required it and was generally a bit boring compared to my own DAC.

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Thank you all for the positive feedback on my writing. I'm really happy to read you like the contribution. :)

I was fortunate to have a wammer agree to bring his Metrum Octave over so that we could make comparisons and I have say I was quite disappointed in that it lacked dynamics when the programme required it and was generally a bit boring compared to my own DAC.

Wow, that is quite an experience! I like the Octave a lot, lacking dynamics is not anything I have a remembrance of.

I'm really intrigued by your experience, since I would say that speed is a character of the Metrums.

So it should keep up with dynamics you were expecting in the comparison with your DAC.

I remember someone stated that the Metrum's performance was sensitive to the transport it was paired with, but I can't remember where that was.

John, you DO have a very special DAC anyhow. :^

I still mourn after my Marantz CD-94 MkII with a broken down drive. 2x TDA 1541 S1 !!

I worked as a student my ass off for 2 years before I could afford that player. It's still somewhere in the attic...

At that time I did not have a system with the same resolution as now.

And now I can't put it in my system. I remember it being very musical, natural, organic and very detailed.

Could you give an example of some dynamic programme you used in the comparison?

Fortunately hifi is safe enough to try at home, unless you bring some Telarc 1812 cannons in...;-)

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I liked the Octave a lot, nice fluid presentation. A bit lighter in the bass though against other designs. Much improved by investing in the digital transport I found - Audiophilleo worked really well.

However I did find that the JKDAC32 (now replaced by the Ciunas) was better in almost every respect - lower noise floor, more open soundstage, top and bottom end etc. It is USB only but if you're using a pc or mac as your source then I don't think that there's much that can beat it.

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TDA1541NOSDAC.jpg

Hi Rudy. Yes it is a bit special. As you can see it has quite a robust power supply. I was using a Pioneer Reference PD-93 as a transport which in itself is a fantastic CD player. We played a CD which is in your selection too: Touch by Yello but the Metrum just didn't have the grip that my 1541 DAC had and as I say just seemed a bit grey in comparison.

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Moderator
Nice balanced review there, Rudy. Well done. Having said that, the remarks in this thread so far don't bear any resemblance to what I heard. As the Octave is an NOS design I was particularly interested as I have a TDA1541 NOS DAC and was wondering how it would measure up, especially using a non- audio DAC chip or should I say one that has not been used in an audio application. I was fortunate to have a wammer agree to bring his Metrum Octave over so that we could make comparisons and I have say I was quite disappointed in that it lacked dynamics when the programme required it and was generally a bit boring compared to my own DAC.

I think that because the DAC does not use output buffers but relies on effective matching, there will be interface issues with some kit. In that respect there may be some pre amplifiers that don't suit the DAC, some systems in which it doesn't shine. That for me is about synergy in the main, and perhaps a little about design choices. I have loaned mine out to Lee on this forum and he didn't like it but had a listen in my system at Scalford and acknowledged that it sounded different in mine. Into a Shindo pre it was sublime. I hope to hear it in one or two other systems local to me too.

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