Driving & Sound
On the briefer product description on Metrums website, the final sentence really did stick with me.
“The result is a sound that is mainly determined by the connected source.”
I have always been one to believe that an amplifier’s main job is to provide clean power but no colouration to the sound. I also think that in higher end systems a DAC is a much more vital component. Not all companies subscribe to this train of thought as is made apparent by just how obvious an effect some amps have, Jadis’s DA88 taught me just that with its thick, bassy sound signature. Obviously, it made me very happy that it seemed Metrum and I were on the same wavelength when it came to making amplification. I can confirm as well that this is indeed an amp that really lets the DAC shine through and plays a big influence on the resulting sonic qualities.
That being said I will still review as I would any other amp, hooking it up to my totaldac d1-tube-mk2 (R2Rs so as close a DAC I probably have to a Metrum which I am thirsty to try) and doing some comparisons.
When comparing to other amplifiers before I even noted differences in how frequencies are presented, I was made aware of it’s smaller more intimate soundstage. I obviously reference a pair of Questyle CMA800R’s but to keep things a little fairer I only ever used one in single ended operation but even then it made the Aurix sound a little closed in and narrow. An upside to this was with less space focus was a little tighter. I was actually amazed at how it didn’t have amazing scale yet everything I was hearing still managed to be distinct. I think the midrange captures this quality the most impressively with vocals sounding warm and rich.
For me, the midrange was the most correctly executed frequency range. It was actually less pitchy with my HD800s in the upper mids than with any other amp I have used. That is considerably more than any of the Yulong products I have used recently (DA8II), the Harmony Designs Ear 909 and even to a smaller degree the fantastic CMA800R. Perhaps it is the most tonally correct sounding in vocal recreation as I have yet heard with the HD800! A slight warmth and more chilled out nature will certainly also help when driving such a picky headphone.
While the midrange was very special, what surrounded it did not seem to have the same level of ability. The bass didn’t have the same magical speed with a firm kick; that lacked the precision of the Questyle. Even more so it lacks the lower bass, but then the Ear 909 was just as guilty of that. It does, however, seem to detract from a complete sense of fullness from the sound, aiding the aura of clearness that surrounds the amp but sounding like something is missing. Up until this point, it made a lot of sense why some things are how they were. It captures the totaldac’s glorious midrange and slightly slower bass but it oddly didn’t recreate its godly soundstage or deeper bass, hinting to me that these are the limitations of the amplifier, regardless of the source.
Another big surprise to me was the treble which had areas of aggression, especially coming off the upper mids. It wasn’t severe enough to stop my enjoying this amp with my HD800’s but it did leave things getting a bit splashy. It was certainly not that well suited to my Ultrasone Edition 10s. You also get some honesty with this amp when it comes to its level of resolution. It seems absolutely fine for its price tag but comparing to the 909 and CMA800R, you can just hear that they are a step above in the fine details, dynamic power and also were much more resolving.
Have You Got a Good DAC?
If you are answering yes then maybe this amps level of transparency is ideal for you. It scaled up to the COS D1 and totaldac very well and this is a great quality in a mid-priced amplifier. Then again it was even more apparent when I opted to use a more similar priced DAC such as the ADA1 from Yulong. While I loved its revealing nature I did still find myself not as optimistic about other areas. The bland looks may be overlooked but not standing on four feet made me question its build quality and in the sound department, I expect a deeper bass extension and wider soundstage at least.
I think the level of sound, for the most part, was pretty spot on for it’s asking price, especially with the promotion price currently running and is clearly a competent amp. It was a solid first experience with Metrum for me although I certainly think they could improve this amp and perhaps even release a more refined high-end version, that could be neat.