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Metronome CD8S CD Player/DAC Metronome CD8S CD Player/DAC Posted On 17.07.2023
Last Update On 17.07.2023 Metronome CD8S CD Player/DAC
Metronome CD8S CD Player/DAC Metronome CD8S CD Player/DAC Metronome CD8S CD Player/DAC Metronome CD8S CD Player/DAC Metronome CD8S CD Player/DAC Metronome CD8S CD Player/DAC Metronome CD8S CD Player/DAC
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original spikes are missing but similar ones included.


Now another new product is disturbing my peace: the CD8 S ($10,000), which French manufacturer Metronome Technologie describes as an integrated player, in the same sense that many hundreds of electronics manufacturers describe their preamplifier-amplifier combinations as integrated amplifiers. Lest that seem like just so much nominal silliness, consider: The Metronome CD8 S—which recently evolved, Hillary-like, from the well-established Metronome CD8—is equipped with USB and S/PDIF digital-input jacks, so its internal DAC can be used with external digital sources. Consider also that the Metronome's D/A converter technically outpaces the disc transport with which it shares space in the case . . . but I'm getting ahead of myself.


Description


The Metronome CD8 S first caught my eye as part of a silent display at last year's New York Audio Show, which was noted for having taken place not in New York City but in Rye Brook, in Westchester County. ("It's easier for me to travel to Munich than to Rye Brook," declared the newly carless Herb Reichert from his Bed-Stuy sanctum.) The initial attraction was, I admit, skin deep: I considered the CD8 S one of the most perfect-looking appliances I've seen. Viewed from above, the 17.6" wide by 17" deep Metronome is nearly square—only later would I realize that those dimensions are precisely the same as those of my Sony SCD-777 SACD/CD player—with a top-loading disc transport whose mechanical and aesthetic designs appeared to be in perfect sync with one another: The CD8 S seemed both artsy and purposeful. Notably, both the player's top surface and its 4"-high aluminum-alloy front panel mixed two different shades of metallic gray, one a few degrees warmer than the other, to create an elegant, sculpted look. (I know nothing of the psychology of color perception, but a few weeks after the New York show, when my review sample of the CD8 S arrived, I was surprised to see that the manufacturer describes the color as "silver": Its textured finish and combination of hues led me to think of it as light taupe.)


I was also impressed by the CD8 S's disc-loading mechanism—a simple sliding lid, devoid of needless motors and endowed with a just-right feeling that bordered on the sensual—and its top-mounted control panel. The latter comprises five small pushbuttons for the usual functions: previous track, stop, play, pause, and next track. Like the aesthetics of the player as a whole, the orthography of the control panel is unique: Each switch is labeled with a symbol that looks abstract yet strangely intelligible. It took me a moment to realize that each graphic was created by taking the universal media-control symbol for that function—the sideways Christmas trees for skipping tracks, two parallel vertical bars for pause, etc.—rendering them in outline, rounding off the corners, and bisecting them horizontally. Neat.


Although its controls are on top, the CD8 S's standard-issue digital readout is centered on its front panel, along with two miniature toggle switches: one for On/Off, the other for selecting among three different inputs: USB (Type B socket), S/PDIF (RCA jack), or the built-in disc transport. For the first two selections, the display also shows sampling rates, preceded by an uppercase P for PCM files or, for DSD files, a lowercase d. (Let's not read too much into that, shall we?) Thus, files ripped from "Red Book" CDs came up as "P 44.1" (the period was actually rendered as a teensy-tiny colon), DSD128 files came up as "d 128," and so forth.


And there you have the Metronome CD8 S's Big Surprise: It does DSD. Or, at least, its D/A converter does DSD—its disc transport does not. On the one hand, that seems a bit odd, like a four-wheel-drive vehicle with very little ground clearance. But then it dawns: Just as most owners of 4WD vehicles aren't interested in off-roading, it can be argued that most digital-audio enthusiasts aren't interested in SACDs (which I regard as a niche format—although, as an LP collector, I have no right to condescend).


 At the heart of the CD8 S's DAC is the AK4490EQ, a two-channel, 32-bit Velvet Sound chip from Asahi Kasei Microdevices (AKM), of Japan. This chip supports up to 768kHz PCM digital and 11.2MHz DSD, and incorporates its own digital filtering—although Metronome says they supplement the AKM's filter with circuits of their own design. The CD8 S's DSD-friendly USB receiver is the Combo384 module from the Italian firm Amanero, the model number of which signifies its support for up to 384kHz. Analog output gain is created with two OPA604 FET-input op-amps per channel.


The CD8 S incorporates a specially modified Philips CDM12 Pro2 (v.6.8) transport, for which Metronome makes their own removable, puck-style magnetic clamp. The transport mechanicals are fastened to a large and vaguely T-shaped platform made of 0.3"-thick black acrylic. That platform is isolated from its surroundings by means of a three-point suspension using outsize (2.4" high by 2.3" in diameter) foam-rubber dampers instead of springs. Additional dampers atop the three suspension points appear to both enhance isolation and confer enough of a cushioning effect for the CD8 S to be safely shipped without the need for transit bolts.


Speaking of niches: When one slides open its lid, the Metronome's disc compartment is suffused with a ghostly blue light that looks especially nice against the glossy black of the acrylic platform—and assists in the changing of discs and the placing of pucks when the lights are low. According to Jean-Marie Clauzel, Metronome's general manager, the light neither hinders nor enhances performance—and is in fact extinguished, refrigerator-style, when the lid is shut.


Also supplied with the CD8 S is a remote handset that duplicates all of the controls on the player itself, and adds controls for fast forward and reverse within a given track. Happily, the remote's Volume ring, obviously intended for some other product, can be used to toggle among the player's three input modes. Also happily, the 10"-long handset almost reaches from my listening seat to the CD8 S's location on my equipment rack: Another inch or two and I could use it as a stick with which to work the player's switches, thus saving on batteries. Really.


Installation and setup


There isn't much one can say about installing the CD8 S, thus confounding the reviewer who's paid by the word or the column inch. All I did was take it out of the box, put it on the topmost surface of my Box Furniture rack, and plug in its AC power cord. The Metronome has both single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) output jacks; I used the former.


Preparing the CD8 S for use with my Apple iMac required slightly more brainpower but was still easy enough—at least for use with PCM-based file formats. After I'd run a cable from a USB Type A socket on the iMac to the Metronome's USB Type B socket, a selection labeled "combo384 Amanero" appeared in the Sound/Output pulldown menu of my iMac's System Preferences window. I clicked on that and all was well—until I decided to play some DSD files, for which I use DSD-friendly Audirvana Plus v.1.5.12. I was able to select the Metronome—again, as "combo384 Amanero"—from within Audirvana's Preferences window, but Audirvana's Automatic Detection function didn't recognize the CD8 S's native DSD capability, forcing me to select DSD over PCM standard 1.0. After doing that, then going back and selecting the Metronome from within my iMac's Audio MIDI Setup utility, all was really well.


A final setup note: The CD8 S's steel case is supported by three feet of fairly large diameter (2.3"), each made mostly of polymer but with a metal disc recessed into its center. Also supplied with the CD8 S are three polymer cones with magnets at their tops—again with the magnets!—that are sized to snug into those recesses. I tried it both ways and preferred the sound sans cones: It seemed to me the pointed feet diminished the substance of the sound, and added a fussiness that distracted from the player's musicality. But, hey, that's just me


Listening to CDs


My first impression was that the CD8 S let CDs sound notably smooth and silky, with really good musical momentum and flow—cold, right out of the box. (I mean literally cold: The UPS man probably hadn't made it to the bottom of the driveway by the time I'd plugged in the Metronome.) Those qualities were evident with Mstislav Rostropovich's 1995 recordings of J.S. Bach's Cello Suites (2 CDs, EMI 5 55364 2): The Metronome cozied up to Slava's very brisk and polished yet nonetheless emotional (especially Suite 5) performances.


I heard distinct increases in both texture and scale. Color saturation, too, went up a notch. Then, maybe 90 minutes after installing the CD8 S, I heard a change so drastic, and virtually in front of my ears, that I laughed out loud: The sound got huge—huge, I say!—and both texture and color went up a few more notches. With regard to the latter characteristics, I wasn't yet in Audio Note territory—and I was still far from good vinyl territory—but I was reasonably well satisfied.


Encouraged by such good performance with small-scale classical music, I moved on to tenor Peter Schreier's 1989 recording, with pianist András Schiff, of Schubert's song cycle Die Schöne Müllerin (CD, London 430 414-2). Schiff's touch was appropriately light in "Halt," his instrument well colored and textured—and the extra force he brought to the staccato lines of "Der Jäger" were communicated well. Throughout, Schreier's somewhat lean voice was present and believable, the Metronome doing nothing to round the edges of either his tone or his expressive timing.


Large-scale works? The live recording of Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic performing Strauss's Metamorphosen in October 1947—when the ink on the score was scarcely dry—has appeared in countless CD (and LP) incarnations; all sound terrible, but in strangely different ways. The flaw common to all is gross distortion, beginning at about 4:29, apparently from signal overload on the original tape. The best digital version I've heard is the one in Wilhelm Furtwängler: An Anniversary Tribute (6 CDs, Deutsche Grammophon 477 006-2). Compared to the LP version (Deutsche Grammophon LPM 18 857) played on my Garrard 301–based rig, that CD through the Metronome lacked the appropriately sharp attacks on double basses' pizzicato notes (at 1:46, 2:00, and so forth), but was otherwise emotionally gripping and sonically tolerable—high praise, really—especially in the quieter moments. (Sadly, those are also the moments in this recording when Berlin's Titania-Palast theater sounds most like a tuberculosis sanatorium.)


Given better-quality symphonic recordings, the CD8 S rose to the challenge, as with Sergiú Celibidache's live recording, with the Munich Philharmonic, of Bruckner's Symphony 9 (2 CDs, EMI 5 56699 2). The Metronome's good sense of drive and momentum kept the Scherzo pointed in the right direction, even if the plucked strings didn't have quite the physicality I remember hearing from the Audio Note combination of CDT One/II disc transport and DAC 2.1x Signature digital-to-analog converter that I reviewed in January. In all three movements, the spatial relationships among various instrument groups were convincing, and instrumental timbres—especially the brass—were believably well saturated. With a very different sort of large-scale recording—Randall Thompson's "Alleluia," from the Cantus collection . . . Against the Dying of the Light (CD, Cantus CTS-1202)—the Metronome's good way with scale and, again, spatial placement of individual groups of musicians, added to my emotional involvement.


"Born in Chains," from Leonard Cohen's Popular Problems (CD, Columbia 88875014292)—probably the most convincing song of a very uneven collection—was also compelling through the Metronome, which gave the subtle dramatic ebbs and swells their due and allowed the electric bass to sound particularly right: deep and limber, with good note attacks. The electrically reedy tone of the cheap-funeral-parlor organ that opens this number was perfect, and Cohen's rusty Sprechgesang was front and center, with good presence and body. The Metronome's very good way with electric bass was also evident when I listened to a gold SACD of Aretha Franklin's Aretha's Gold (gold SACD/CD, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDSACD 2142)—the 16-bit/44.1kHz layer, of course. Through the CD8 S, Tom Cogbill's perfect, in-the-pocket bass playing in "Chain of Fools" lost nothing to the LP version. Otherwise, the Metronome did the best it could with engineer Tom Dowd's typically excessive crispness.


Special mention should go to the Metronome's way with King Crimson's debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King (CD, Discipline Global Mobile DGM0501). Even the highest sustained notes of Robert Fripp's guitar and Ian McDonald's alto saxophone, though intentionally keening, were reproduced with clarity and lack of unintentional harshness, and Michael Giles's drumming was as impactful as, I believe, the compression of the original recording allows—and nimble and propulsive, too, while retaining a sense of musical purpose that so often escapes CD playback.


Listening to files


Auditioned with files streamed from my iMac, Metronome's DAC neither rounded off edges nor filled in pores. An edgy, spitty download of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass (24/96, Apple) still sounded edgy and spitty. That said, when I was of a mind to listen past those qualities, the Metronome allowed the performances to sound musically absorbing. I was impressed at how the CD8 S didn't distort the musical timing of any of those recordings: even the gritty maracas in the middle eight of "Beware of Darkness" was enjoyable in its own way, propelling the song just as effectively as when I listen to it on vinyl.


And in an altogether fine-sounding file of "Marrakesh Express," from Crosby, Stills & Nash (24/192, Atlantic), Dallas Taylor's drumming was uncannily propulsive—as was Stephen Stills's electric bass playing: the song moved!

I played some selections from the most recent Gillian Welch album, The Harrow & the Harvest (AIFF files ripped from CD, Acony ACNY-1109), and was all but spellbound by the combination of clarity, articulation, appropriate roundness of tone, and complete absence of timing distortion brought to the music by the Metronome. My reference DAC, the Halide DAC HD—which, of course, sells for 1/20 the Metronome's price—was no match: It sounded murky compared to the DAC section of the CD8 S. Nor did the Halide, or any other DAC I've heard recently, apart from the Audio Note DAC 2.1x Signature, do as well as the Metronome at conveying the extra little push that singers Welch and David Rawlings put behind their repetition of the chorus near the end of the song, or catching the full timbral beauty of the brief guitar duet at the very end.


I then tried the DSD64 file of "Sledgehammer," from Peter Gabriel's So (Geffen), and was mostly pleased. Through the CD8 S, the song was rhythmically convincing, and its synth solo—which, in the famous video, accompanies a Claymation chicken—popped out of the mix with analog-caliber color and presence. My only disappointment was that Tony Levin's bass wasn't quite as deep, big, or powerful as it should have been.


I began by saying that I don't listen to music while I'm writing—and I don't. Even so, in this silent room I now perfectly recall the sound, through the Metronome DAC, of a DSD128 file of "When Your Lover Has Gone," from Ben Webster Meets Oscar Peterson (Verve). The magnificence of Webster's tone, the outlandishly huge scale of his tenor saxophone, the surefooted momentum and tunefulness of Peterson's piano, and the texture and rightness of pitch of Ray Brown's bass were all astonishingly good. Not just good for digital, but good good.


Conclusions


How best to sum up the Metronome CD8 S? After I listened to Dmitri Mitropoulos and the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra performing Mahler's Symphony 1 (CD, Sony Classical MHK 62342), the first question to cross my mind was Why don't I play this disc more often? The Metronome reminded me of Mitropoulos's insights and importance as a pioneering Mahler interpreter. It reminded me of how much I love the very American sound of that orchestra, ca 1950. And it reminded me that, in the late 1940s and early '50s, some of the orchestral recordings on Columbia Masterworks ranked among the very best in terms of sound quality. I can't say for sure, but I suspect that, the last time I heard that CD, I wasn't quite so engaged.


On more than one occasion, my colleague Michael Lavorgna has reminded us all that the best gear compels us to take chances and discover new music. True, of course—but just as important is rediscovering old music that wasn't so well served the last time around.


About halfway through my listening notes for the CD8 S, I wrote, "This is a really nice CD player!" Apart from being the sort of thing that might look good on colored construction paper, perhaps decorated with Elmer's Glue and sparkles, that simple observation doesn't embarrass me too much: Some combination of qualities—the Metronome's good sound, superb musicality, and fine ergonomics and styling—conspired to make me smile every time I used it. Considering also that the CD8 S is the rare recommendable CD player through which one can stream computer-audio files (why doesn't every high-end CD player offer this?), and that this really nice CD player sounds even nicer when used as a USB DAC, a very strong recommendation is in order. Which I here make



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