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Sound & Sight Exhibition, Pt. 4 | Singapore 2022

Alright, drum roll. Here comes my favorite sounding room of the entire International Sound & Sight Exhibition in Singapore. The Børresen Acoustics loudspeakers, powered by Aavik electronics and Ansuz switch and Ansuz cables. Before we […]

Metronome DSC Streaming DAC and Digital Linestage

How ironic it is that one of the paramount aspects of good sound is silence. Yet there it is. Even a subtly noisy background can obscure sonic details, truncatedecays, diminish dynamic range, and subconsciously distract the listener from the music. Another type of noise, the kind that isn’t in the background but rather gloms on to individual notes or instruments, ruins the purity of those sources and taints the illusion of being in the presence of live performers.

My ruminations on noise began just moments after an initial listen to the Metronome DSC streaming DAC and digital linestage. In that session, the absence of noise was overwhelming. I knew immediately that this was the least noisy digital component I’d ever encountered.

The DSC’s lack of detrimental noise is no accident. Indeed, banishing noise was one of Metronome’s design priorities. The company made the chassis uncommonly thick and heavy, even by high-end standards, and built it out of solid aluminum to shield the DSC’s guts from RF and other airborne noise.

Internally, the Metronome employs ESS’s latest flagship DAC, the 32-bit Sabre ES9039PRO, chosen for its vanishingly low distortion figures and extraordinarily high dynamic range. Further, the ES9039PRO features an integrated jitter-reduction circuit, thereby addressing time-based digital artifacts. Power-supply strain can also contribute distortion, so Metronome bestowed the DSC with not one but three transformers.

Metronome DSC rear

Lastly, Metronome attacked the single most entrenched source of noise in digital linestages: the volume control. As Robert Harley explained in Issue 331, traditional digital volume controls, even those operating in a high-bit range, significantly reduce resolution and impart distortion as volume is reduced. Metronome eschewed this approach entirely, opting instead for the latest in digital-volume-control technology: Leedh. As Robert described, Leedh cleverly eliminates the sonic demerits inherent in traditional digital volume controls.

As I’ve already revealed, these combined techniques do a remarkable job of quelling digital noise. What’s left—other than music—is silence. And I don’t mean the kind of “dead” silence that can plague digital backgrounds and notes. The DSC’s silence is akin to that of good analog; it’s completely natural. This achievement would be of little more than academic interest if the DSC wasn’t also stellar at conveying music. Fortunately, it is.

Before getting to the specifics of its sound, a few words on the DSC’s incredible versatility are in order. This isn’t just a DAC or even a streaming DAC; rather, the DSC is designed to serve as the sonic nerve center and functional control point of a high-end system with virtually any combination of digital sources. Besides the built-in streamer, the DSC has inputs to accommodate PCs, CD transports, a TV HDMI output, and USB, SSD, and NAS drives. To complete the system, all that’s needed is a power amp and a pair of speakers.

The streamer itself will play anything from Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify, or Deezer via either a wired or Wi-Fi (via an optional dongle) internet connection. External digital sources can be PCM up to 384/32 or native DSD up to DSD512. There’s also full support for Roon, MQA, Apple AirPlay, and Google Chromecast. As for outputs, the back panel offers both XLR balanced and RCA unbalanced ports, as well as a SPDIF digital out. See what I mean about the DSC’s versatility?

In fact, you might not need everything the DSC offers. In that case, Metronome has you covered. If you already have an analog linestage with a top-notch volume pot, you probably don’t need Leedh—or any digital volume control. For this scenario, Metronome offers the somewhat less expensive DSC1—a DSC without the digital linestage. Likewise, if you already own a DAC that you’re happy with, you can buy a streaming-only version of the DSC, called the DSS, and save a few more kilobucks. Frankly, though, there are few DACs out there up to the standards of the DSC.

Which leads us, at last, to the DSC’s sound. Because of the multi-functional nature of the unit, I approached its evaluation both in parts and as a whole. To find out how the Metronome fared as a combo-meal streaming DAC and linestage, I compared it to my similarly flexible CH-Precision I1 integrated amp. Although the I1, fully loaded, costs about $50k, that sum includes a power amp. Take that out of the equation and the two would find themselves in roughly the same price range. Given that CH Precision builds some of the best digital circuitry on the planet, I was posing the DSC a serious challenge.

Since both units support Roon, I opted to use my Roon Nucleus+ as the Roon Core and Roon’s own renderer in both cases. This eliminated multiple variables in the comparison, allowing me to truly compare streaming DACs and linestages. The approach also had the fortuitous effect of endowing both components with a common user interface, one that I could even use to switch from one component to another on the fly.

A note for those without Roon. Metronome doesn’t offer a proprietary UI/renderer. Instead, the company suggests using the third-party apps mconnect and mconnect Lite. Although I had decided to use Roon for the comparison, due diligence nudged me to try out mconnect. I found both its sound and its ergonomics to be no better than serviceable—certainly not in Roon’s league on either score. Thus, if you’re going to buy a DSC, I strongly suggest getting Roon as well.

So, how did these two pricey streamers/DACs/linestages compare? It pains me to say this, but the DSC bested my CH I1. One track, the opening movement of the Harmonia Mundi version (note: not my usual Pentatone recording) of Stravinsky’s Histoire du soldat, told the tale. Although it sounded superb through the CH Precision, as everything does, the DSC brought out more in terms of timbral colors and subtle dynamic flourishes. Moreover, the Metronome was both lighter on its feet—and thus more compelling rhythmically—and richer in tonality. That’s a rare combination, and it makes for incredibly engaging listening.

The same held true on Jeff Tweedy’s beautiful “Even I Can See” from Love is the King. Once again, I listened through the CH I1 and thought the song couldn’t possibly sound better. Then I switched to the DSC, which delivered everything the CH did plus more openness and instrumental dimensionality.

Steely Dan’s “Black Cow” was another case in point. The DSC expunged some of the brass’ tendency toward edginess and splash. Instruments were rounder—more analog-sounding—and spread more evenly across the soundstage. Bass, too, gained dimensionality and verve. All this, along with greater detail resolution.

How are all these improvements possible? The common thread is less noise. With less digital hash on singers and instruments, and a lower noise floor to boot, the DSC simply allows more music to come through. In comparison, the CH sounds “smudged.”

Employing the DSC and I1 as straight DACs yielded much the same result. For a digital source, I employed the excellent CD transport enclosed in my Bryston BCD-3 CD player, running it into the DSC and CH via BNC. Starting with my usual Michael Wolff 2am CD, the CH, paired with the ultra-revealing Acora SRB speakers, provided a glorious rendition. The sound was full, rich, and dynamically persuasive. Top piano notes sparkled, just as they should, while the standup bass had power and the proper distinctive character.

Before switching to the DSC, I also played “Waiting,” the charming opening vocal number from the Broadway musical The Band Visits. When the chorus comes in, the CH illuminates every intricately woven harmony. I wrapped up this session with “Old Man” from Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall. Once again, I shook my head at how realistic the recording sounded.

Could the Metronome sound even better? It could and did. All the things the CH does right is 95% of the DSC’s sound. But the Metronome has that extra 5%, and it consists—as it did with the streamer as a source—of a more three-dimensional soundscape and greater timbral density. This, combined with less edginess, makes the listening experience both more relaxed and more engaging.

With its winning combination of sound quality—made possible by a groundbreakingly low level of noise—and versatility, the Metronome DSC is one of the most advanced and impressive streaming DACs on the market. While $31,000 might seem like a hefty chunk of change for such a component, remember that the DSC plus an amp and speakers is all you need to build a complete system for digital sources. That puts the DSC in direct competition with something like the dCS Rossini Apex. Sure enough, the two units are nearly identical in price.

In sum, if you’re looking for a streaming DAC plus linestage that stands out from the crowd, both technically and sonically, overlook the Metronome at your peril. The DSC is my new reference streaming DAC, outperforming some of the world’s best competition. By tamping down the noise that we take for granted in digital playback, the DSC reveals a world of music.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Network streamer, DAC, and digital linestage
Digital inputs: HDMI I2S PCM and DSD, S/PDIF RCA, AES/EBU XLR, TosLink, USB Type B PCM, DSD
Digital outputs: SPDIF (RCA)
Analog outputs: Balanced (XLR), unbalanced (RCA)
Formats supported: PCM up to 384/32, native DSD up to DSD512
Digital processing: Leedh
Supported services: Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify, Deezer, vTuner (internet radio)
Features: Full MQA decoding, Roon Ready, Apple AirPlay (via Wi-Fi optional dongle), Google Chromecast (via optional Wi-Fi dongle)
Finishes: Black, silver
Dimension: 430 x 105 x 430mm
Weight: 17 kg
Price: $31,000

Wynn Audio (North American Distributor)
Unit 31, 20 Wertheim Court
Richmond Hill
Ontario, Canada L4B3A8
(212) 826-1111 (US)
(647) 995-2995 (Canada)
wynnaudio.com
[email protected]

Associated Equipment
CD player/transport: Bryston BCD-3
Electronics: CH Precision I1 universal amplifier (phonostage, DAC, streamer, linestage, power amplifier)
Speakers: Acora SRB, Stenheim Alumine 3
Cables and power cords: Empirical Design
Room treatment: ASC Tube Traps
Footers: Goldmund Cones

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