Metrum Octave First Impressions

To wrap in up in one statement: "Analog has (finally) met its match"

As soon as I hooked up the Metrum Octave to my system I was taken back 30 years to my brother-in-laws vinyl based audiophile system sound. I would spend hours listening to it and love the intricacies, subtleties and realism it reveled in the music. I went straight to digital for my own system but I knew it never quite matched the sound quality of his system in some ways. (but digital was better in others). Over the past 30 years digital has improved vastly, more in recording then playback, but never quite matched analog. Finally I have a system that sounds, to my ears, as good as his system did. (but with all the benefits of digital too, of course)

My system consists of a SB Touch now feeding the Metrum Octave via coax, going into a HK990 amp in analog direct mode, powering a pair of Dyanaudio X12 speakers and a Rythmik F12SE sub. All interconnects are great quality Mono Price cables (don't get me started:) and some 11AWG copper to the speakers. All source material is redbook CD ripped to flac on a 12TB RAID 5 NAS drive.

I did a lot of reading on the Internet about the different DACs. I know my HK990 already had a decent dac in it so it was going to take something special to improve the sound quality over what I already had. After months of research I read a short comment about the Octave and after a little more research I knew its was the DAC I had been looking for.

On my first listen, I played a very quite song with female vocals and a piano (Audrey Assad - Show Me). My first impression was that I was in the recording studio. Everything sounded so very clear and distinct. I could pick up rustling in the background I was very very very impressed with the sound. It was as if everything was less mushed together and more distinct, creating more silence withing the music (very hard to explain). I have always felt that digital does not reproduce piano with the timber of a real piano but the octave got me to a whole new level of realism.

As I played other music the first thing that really jumped out at me was how real the symbols sounded. I've never had an issue with the sound of symbols except with the very first CD players ever made, but now im hearing symbols that sound so fantastic, so real, so amazing. Then I noticed how acoustic guitar strings rang with new vibrancy and clarity.

Last night I could just not stop listening to music. It was the best musical experience I had ever had. I was always told that the issue with digital was the low resolution of the Redbook standard. I now know that the issue was in the recording and playback of the standard, not the standard itself.

You dont even know what your missing until you hear something better. Symbols sounded fine on my existing system until I heard this DAC, and then I just went WOW, I had no idea how good they could sound. The other thing I noticed is that clarity of sound allows me to play the music louder without fatigue. The entire sound spectrum sounds heavenly but the areas that really jumped out at me on my first listen where the Symbols , Acoustic Guitar and Piano. Ill try to add more impressions as I have more time to listen.

I was bracing myself for a quick sell on ebay if this thing did not sound much different then my existing DACs. No chance of that happening! Everything I had read about this DAC was confirmed last night. It is fantastic. I also ordered a Audio gd Digital Interface to reclock the digital input after reading so much about how it makes the sound even better. Im pretty skeptical that it will really improve the sound but it was worth the chance.

More to come...

Seen several threads on the Metrum - many comparing the unit to others - but I don't have much experience with *dedicated* high-end D/A's so "first impressions" seems like the right place for my comments.

I've now had the Metrum in my system for about three weeks... mostly broken in - run for several hours every evening.
BEST D/A converted I've ever personally heard - by a wide margin. Recent D/A's have included mid to high-level AV processors, such as those from Emotiva, Parasound, and Anthem... and more significantly, a few lower-end, but over-achieving dedicated units from abroad.

Most Significant, and worth mentioning, because these lower-end units are also both NOS (non-oversampling) designs - just like the Metrum, and it is my experience with these units that completely changed my thinking about digital audio:

The first unit of this type I acquired is an early generation Valab NOS (acquired in early 2008) deploying 4 early-generation philips chips (about $200), the latter, named "Vintage DAC" is an NOS based on a single early generation philips 1543 chip (about $100).

It was actually the Chinese-made Valab that first opened up my ears to the difference between an NOS design and ANY other DA converter... a difference that I'll characterize (just as others have) as "organic" versus "synthetic". I have to admit that I immensely enjoyed those units - the Valab a bit more than the Vintage DAC. Of course, each had issues, the Valab seemed to have high distortion levels - lacked clarity and had somewhat limited dynamics and bass - but it always sound musical and enjoyable. And the Vintage DAC, for all that's been said about it, didn't quite live up to its expecations - dyanamics and bass were even more limited than the Valab, but it too, always sounded musical.

And it was this experience toggling back and forth between several oversampling DA's... and my two NOS's DA's (my "reference" units) that left me convinced in the correctness of the NOS design concept...and which ultimately led to my search for a high-end NOS unit such as the Metrum. As a side note, I'm also left with the impression that the NOS concept originated with the chinese made DA's (although I could be wrong about this)

The short of it is, I couldn't be happier. The metrum is clear, detailed, neutral, natural sounding, "organic" etc. Voices, in particular sound errily real with perfectly natural textures and character. And this experience - hearing digital audio sounding an order of magnitude superior to what I've come to expect over the years - compels me to seriously re-think the conventional wisdom (and marketing talking points) that accompanied the introduction of digital audio in the middle 1980's (I'm dating myself here)... "perfect sound forever" and generally consistent and uniform sound reproduction from device to device. IMHO, hearing digital audio through the Metrum also compels serious re-thinking of the concept of over-sampling altogether.

What else can I say?
I'm a big fan of the Metrum.