Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter Review – The Reference from France
It is not a D/A converter, but rather the D/A converter, is how Metronome Technologie describes the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter and thus a solution that stands at the top of the Metronome AQWO Series. This discreet detail in the description makes it clear in a subtle but ultimately incomprehensible way how the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter itself is classified, especially since the French company has been considered a proven specialist for years when it comes to “digital”. “Digital” is somehow the DNA of the company Metronome Technologie, this can be rightly said.
Metronome Technologie – The digital technology specialist
Metronome Technologie is a French company located near Toulouse, in the small commune of Montans in the Tarn department. Originally, Metronome Technologie was founded in 1987 by Dominique Giner, who, based on his many years of expertise in the industry, began to develop solutions entirely in line with his own ideas and, above all, requirements.
Over the years, the company dedicated itself to the development of various electronic components as well as loudspeaker systems, but gradually specialised into a digital specialist.
Today, Metronome Technologie as well as its sister brand Kalista are managed by Jean Marie Clauzel and Metronome Technologie in particular focuses entirely on solutions such as CD and SACD players, D/A converters and streaming solutions. Jean Marie Clauzel sees his company’s efforts as a mission to create nothing less than the best, solutions that offer state-of-the-art technology to create an audiophile sound experience at the very highest level.
An audiophile passion…
Jean Marie Clauzel describes himself as a passionate music lover, and yes, he pursues an audiophile passion, the Frenchman readily admits in conversation.
It is therefore all the more interesting that a very pragmatic approach is taken in the development of solutions; it is indeed above all technology that is understood as a tool and that serves as the basis for what the company itself likes to call the Metronome Sound. However, one should not make the mistake of assuming that this is a special sound signature; in fact, the Metronome Sound is supposed to stand for absolute neutrality, and thus the perfect realisation of what is often described with the motto “As intended by the artist…”.
Development and production in France
Solutions from Metronone Technologie are entirely handmade in France, which is quite extraordinary considering that the company sees itself as a digital specialist. Such solutions are usually the epitome of what comes as a more or less ready-made “circuit board” from the Far East, and only the final production takes place in Europe.
This is the only way to meet the highest manufacturing standards, and, according to Metronome Technologie, each product is subjected to extensive controls to guarantee optimum performance at all times.
Highest specialisation – a small family history
Metronome Technologie has deliberately chosen the path of specialising in a few solutions, thus maintaining a rather manageable, but all the more refined product range. As already described, they offer CD and SACD players, D/A converters and streaming solutions, but all of them without any compromises.
The Metronome Classica Series, for example, features the Le Player 3 by Metronome, a pure CD transport, the Le DAC by Metronome, a pure D/A converter, and the Le Player 3+ by Metronome, a DAC and CD player.
The Metronome Digital Sharing Range is playing an increasingly important role, combining the classic virtues of Metronome technology with state-of-the-art streaming functions. This range consists of the Metronome DSC as D/A converter, streamer and preamplifier, the Metronome DSC 1 as D/A converter and streamer, and the Metronome DSS as network player and streamer.
And then there’s the Metronome AQWO Series, from which our current test candidate comes, with Metronome technology describing this range as one containing three different units that meet the same high standards of manufacturing quality and sound reproduction, and can be used individually or in combination, depending on individual requirements.
The Metronome AQWO is the latest generation of D/A converter and CD and SACD player, the Metronome t|AQWO is designed as a CD and SACD transport, and the Metronome c|AQWO is the D/A converter of the range.
Metronome AQWO Series
To understand a little about what is behind the Metronome AQWO Series, one should look at the origin of the name of this product line. This goes back to the ancient Greek term for “I hear” or “I listen”, so it is immediately clear what the developers are focusing on here.
As already described, the Metronome AQWO Series is understood as a product series for specialists, especially the solutions Metronome t|AQWO and Metronome c|AQWO are each optimised for a single task.
The Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter – A Converter, and Nothing More
To get straight to the point, the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter is only a D/A converter, this system serves only one purpose, namely the perfect signal conversion from digital to analogue, nothing more, nothing less.
D/A converter, the central component of modern hi-fi chains
D/A converters have been the central component of every modern audio system for years. Since we consume music, apart from records, exclusively “digitally”, there is hardly a product that does not use a D/A converter. It is obvious that this type of product should be given the utmost attention if quality is the standard, but it is still done far too seldom.
A D/A converter is ultimately based on no more than one component, if you want to exaggerate, and these can be found in streaming clients, CD and SACD players, amplifiers, active loudspeaker systems, AV receivers, soundbars, smart speakers and even Bluetooth headphones. So why should one be overly concerned about this component?
Yes, you can say that a D/A converter is ultimately nothing more than “a component”, but the differences in the actual quality of signal processing that can be achieved are primarily to be found in the type of component itself and the way in which it is used.
To give a very extreme example to illustrate this topic: a D/A converter in the form of a SoC (Silicon on a Chip) in combination with a Bluetooth module, such as is used in in-ear headphones, will hardly achieve the quality and quality of signal processing as a DAC trimmed to precisely these characteristics, which is also found in a sophisticated, optimised down to the last detail, discrete circuit.
And this is exactly what Metronome Technologie has done once again with the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter. A tool optimised for a single task, the best possible signal conversion from digital to analogue, that is the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter.
Two, and not just one box
The picture I just sketched with Bluetooth in-ear headphones came to mind when I unpacked and set up the Metronome c|AQWO D/A converter for the test, because here there were two mighty boxes to carry into the listening room. One contains the actual D/A converter, the second box houses the associated power supply unit, and I can’t remember which was heavier, the weight of each is enough to warrant an appointment with the chiropractor afterwards.
To conclude this topic right away, a look at the data sheet reveals that the power supply ultimately weighs a bit more. Metronome Technology calls this power supply Metronome Elektra, which is used in the same form in the Metronome t|AQWO CD and SACD transport and weighs an impressive 12.7 kg (430 x 80 x 420 mm). The actual converter, at 430 x 120 x 420 mm, weighs “only” 12 kg. If you add the extremely sturdy packaging…
The first contact
After setting it up, the sight of the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter made me smile a little, because once again Metronome Technologie clearly proves that it is a thoroughly technology-driven company, which follows a very pragmatic approach and is very fond of details, especially in the conception of the circuitry, but the design of the solutions is, well, comparatively sober.
Lest this be misunderstood, the design of the entire Metronome AQWO Series is without fault, but it can be clearly stated that it is characterised by a deliberately simple language of form, which probably contributes to the fact that any fashionable trend is avoided here, which can also be observed in high-end hi-fi.
In fact, the front of the solid aluminium housing, which is optionally available in anodised black or pure silver, could not be simpler. At first glance, the user only sees a centrally arranged display and a small infrared diode below the actual D/A converter, while the power supply only has a status LED on the front. There is nothing more here.
By the way, a small hint should be mentioned at this point. When setting up the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter, you should have appropriate washers ready, because while the D/A converter can be placed on the power supply without any problems, the bottom of the said power supply is equipped with feet in the form of an aluminium cone. This ensures the best possible decoupling, but with a total weight of almost 25 kg, it also guarantees permanent marks on furniture…
Generously equipped connection field
While the front of the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter and its power supply Metronome Elektra is, as described, very reduced, the rear of the converter has a pleasingly large number of interfaces.
Power, of course, is connected to the Metronome Elektra, where you will also find the main switch on the back. The connection to the actual converter is made via a corresponding system cable, which already conveys a high-quality finish when touching it and ensures an optimal power supply with solid plugs that also radiate quality.
For digital sources, there are two so-called TOS-Link connections, i.e. optical S/PDIF interfaces, as well as two coaxial S/PDIF interfaces. The next connection option is two AES/EBU and one I2S, which is once again in the form of an HDMI interface.
As we have already mentioned, in the opinion of Metronome Technologie, the Metronome t|AQWO and the Metronome c|AQWO form an almost perfect team, so it is not surprising that the Metronome c|AQWO D/A converter describes the I2S just discussed as SACD I2S, i.e. the input that is perfect for connecting CD and SACD transport and the associated signal transmission in native DSD.
The list of interfaces offered by the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter is rounded off by a USB 2.0 interface designed as a USB-B port, i.e. an option for direct connection to a PC or Mac, as well as a USB-A port, whereby the latter has no immediate function for the user, but is used solely for service purposes.
32 Bit 768 kHz DAC in Dual Mono Design
Essentially, the Metronome c|AQWO D/A converter is a 32-bit 768 kHz converter designed in a dual mono configuration. This means that two AKM AK4497 DACs from Asahi Kasei Microdevices Corporation are used, one per channel.
These D/A converters are still considered to be among the best of their kind in the hi-fi world, but since the Japanese company has been unable to supply them for years due to a devastating fire, they are highly sought after in the industry, and Metronome Technologie claims to have stocks of them that are guarded like a treasure.
Once again we would like to come back to what we have already briefly mentioned, an excellent D/A converter is more than just the actual DAC component, what is decisive above all is the circuitry that is built around it. The result is a unit in which everything is ideally matched to each other. The complete design of the circuit is therefore perfectly tailored to the DAC used, a process that demands a high degree of expertise and experience from the developers.
A look inside the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter shows that this has once again been solved in a discrete manner, and with breathtaking effort, component after component, everything perfectly arranged for optimal separation between the modules on the one hand, and for the shortest possible signal paths on the other. At some point you stop counting the capacitors alone, which are arranged in pairs for the two channels and take up a good quarter of the board. This makes it clear why the Metronome c|AQWO D/A converter weighs a considerable 12 kg, despite the outsourced power supply.
At least a small part of this is due to a module that is somewhat separated from the rest of the circuit, more or less as a piggyback board.
Solid State or Tube?
A really outstanding feature of the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter is that it not only has a transistor output stage, but can also be equipped with tubes if desired, at least if you have opted for the corresponding optional extension. In this case, the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter is additionally equipped with a Class A output stage with two glass bulbs, namely Philips JAN 6922.
Sophisticated power supply
The Metronome Elektra power supply is just as sophisticated as the D/A converter itself, using four toroidal transformers as the basis for no less than eleven independently regulated power supply units.
Key technical data
The converter of the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter works with 32 bits, that much we have already revealed. With Linear PCM signals, it supports audio data with up to 32 bits and 768 kHz. Of course, DSD processing is also possible, whereby the spectrum reaches up to DSD512, i.e. eightfold DSD and thus 22.5 MHz.
The full potential of the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter is of course brought to the street via USB, for example when using a PC or Mac as a source. Of course, the manufacturer offers corresponding drivers for Microsoft Windows on its website, whereas no drivers are required for Apple macOS.
The I2S, which is designed as HDMI, is of course also suitable for processing signals in Linear PCM with up to 32 bits and 768 kHz as well as DSD512.
The optical and coaxial interfaces of the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter, on the other hand, are “only” equipped for signals in Linear PCM with up to 24 bits and 192 kHz, just like the AES/EBU interfaces.
For the sake of completeness, it should be mentioned here that the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter has not yet been Roon Tested. Another feature that is repeatedly requested is also missing from the list, namely the support of content encoded in MQA. The Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter itself cannot process this directly; this must be done using software on a PC or Mac if you want to play back audio data encoded in this way.
Individually Adjustable Filters
If you want to intervene in the signal processing of the D/A converter in order to adapt its character in nuances according to your own ideas, the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter offers digital filter settings with six options. You can choose between “Sharp Roll-off”, “Short Delay Roll-off”, “Slow Roll-off”, Short Delay Slow Roll-off”, “Super Slow Roll-off” and “Low Dispersion Short Delay”.
However, it should be explicitly mentioned that the selection of filters is only available for signals in Linear PCM, but not for content in DSD.
Individual adjustment of the output level
The possibility to adjust the output level of the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter is interesting for many users. This applies to the unbalanced outputs in the form of RCA sockets as well as to the balanced outputs in the form of XLR connectors. The user can choose between 1.4, 2.5 and 3 V.
6.5-inch display as central control element
To begin with, there is not much to configure or select on the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter. In the end, the user’s options are limited to the selection of the active input, the choice of the output stage – solid state or tube – and a few adjustments in the settings, most of which we have already described.
The only control element for all this is the centrally located 6.5 inch touchscreen display of the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter, which scores with a clear display.
A simple tap switches between the inputs, and a corresponding symbol in the bottom left corner activates the tube output stage, if it is installed.
The settings can be accessed solely via the infrared remote control included in the scope of delivery, which of course also allows control of all other functions. In the settings menu of the unit, you can not only select the filters and adjust the output level, you can also adjust the user interface of the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter to your own taste.
Whether you choose a light or dark theme, individually set the colour of the display from a variety of possibilities, or change the background image, all this is done in the settings menu of the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter.
It should also be mentioned that – with the exception of the I2S – individual inputs can be deactivated if desired. This is useful, for example, if they are not in use anyway, so that you can jump back and forth between the others more quickly.
From the practice
First of all, we would like to say that it seems a little strange that with the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter you have a very exquisite system in front of you, with which – all in all – there is not much you can do. Somehow, the acquisition of the finest solutions awakens the play instinct in us hi-fi freaks; we want to push buttons, adjust controls and try out various settings.
But the Metronome c|AQWO D/A converter doesn’t quite play along with that, it has to be said.
Ultimately, the only possibility to intervene a little in the sound is the filter of the DAC, but even with a solution like this in the reference class, this ultimately brings differences that can only be perceived in nuances.
But this is exactly the pragmatic approach of the French manufacturer that has already been mentioned several times, Metronome Technologie delivers a tool for a clearly defined task, and this should be fulfilled as accurately as possible, if not perfectly, but as far as possible without much intervention by the user.
Thus, the setup of the Metronome c|AQWO D/A converter basically boils down to setting it up, making all the connections, and then simply enjoying the music. And that’s what we did very extensively.
We don’t want to go into too much detail about what we listened to with enthusiasm with this solution from France, because the performance of the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter can be described with one word: fabulous!
It is quite remarkable what details you suddenly notice in recordings, even if you have heard them umpteen times before and therefore think you know them. Of course, they were there before, but it takes sophisticated solutions like the Metronome c|AQWO D/A converter to actually perceive them. By the way, this does not only apply to hi-res audio content, a very good recording can also sound excellent in well-tried “CD quality” and thus 16 bit and 44.1 kHz and offer an impressive variety of details and fascinating dynamics. Thus, it can be stated that a converter like the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter can already reach top form here, even more so when perfect recordings are available in higher resolution, but resolution alone is not decisive, to put it in a nutshell.
Of course, a converter of the calibre of a Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter cannot perform miracles, so we don’t want to raise false expectations here, you get to hear what is on the data carrier or in the form of bits on the hard disk. The difference to many other solutions, however, is that here you really get everything presented exactly as it is, nothing is added, but nothing is left out. This alone reveals a much more detailed event in many recordings. Suddenly, the artists’ gimmicks, which they have skilfully woven into the sound, come into focus, the performance widens and instruments and voices have more space to play themselves into the centre, but without tearing the overall picture apart.
The sound remains harmonious at all times, resulting in a natural sounding whole.
As far as the filters are concerned, we have already described that it is ultimately a matter of nuances, whereby personal preferences alone are decisive in deciding which variant to choose.
However, we explicitly recommend the optional extension with a tube output stage, whereby it must be noted that Metronome Technologie remains true to its philosophy and does not aim at effect showmanship. The detail remains fully intact even when the tube output stage is activated, as does the conciseness and clarity of the performance, which is, however, given a subtle melting effect. The activated tube output stage is thus to be understood as a kind of very last finishing touch for an extremely musical performance, which at least we did not want to do without, so that the option was always activated.
Our test conclusion
It has to be said that the air is very thin around solutions like the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter. A recommended retail price of € 21,800 plus another € 1,990 for the optional tube output stage is the price of a nice new car. However, it is clear to every manufacturer who moves in this sphere that products of this class only appeal to a limited target group, and Metronome Technologie is no exception.
All the more they are aware of their responsibility to offer this exclusive clientele nothing less than the best, and this is exactly what the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter demonstrates in an impressive way.
The Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter is a tool that has been designed solely for the purpose of converting signals from digital to analogue as accurately as possible, dispensing with any “accessories” and concentrating entirely on the one task of perfect signal processing. The effort that has been put into this probably commands the respect of every technophile and, in combination with decades of expertise, is the basis for calling the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter the clear reference in its class.
Getting to the point
It is clear that the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter from Metronome Technologie is a D/A converter of the reference class. The French company offers all its decades of expertise, which distinguishes it as a proven digital specialist, and delivers a solution that, with immense effort, follows only one goal, namely perfect signal processing. The results achieved are simply breathtaking; you have to experience this diversity of detail, this resolution and clear presentation.
|PRODUCT||METRONOME C|AQWO D/A CONVERTER|
|Price||Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter € 21.800,-|
optional tube output stage € 1.990,-
|Distribution Austria||Audio Exclusive GmbH|
|Distribution Germany||H.E.A.R. GmbH|
|Distribution Switzerland||Portier Hi-Fi|
|More about this manufacturer at HIFI BLOG|
With the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter, Metronome Technologie impressively demonstrates how crucial a D/A converter is as the central component of a modern hi-fi chain. It is simply breathtaking to see the variety of detail, the resolution and the clarity that the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter delivers to the user.
- flawless workmanship
- impressive effort and attention to detail
- simple, timelessly elegant design
- variety of connections including I2S and USB
- simple, effective operating concept
- excellent, precise and clear sound with
- enormous detail reproduction
- Selectable filter characteristics
- Optional tube output stage
- Remote control not quite optimally adapted
- Apple MacBook Pro
- Audirvana Studio
- TIDAL HiFi
- Musical Fidelity M8xi
- KEF Blade
- AudioQuest Carbon USB Cable
- Wireworld Oasis 8 Speaker Cable
Metronome Technologie quite rightly refers to the Metronome c|AQWO D/A Converter not as a D/A converter, but as the D/A converter. Concisely and in a single word, this expresses the fact that a reference-class solution is offered.