The compact disc has been suffering from benign neglect in recent years. Forget vinyl fans who never embraced the digital format in the first place. The truth is that simply procuring CDs has become more difficult, thanks to the popularity of downloading. When I visit the local Olson’s record-and-book store, I notice every few months that its CD section seems to be melting away like a glacier experiencing global warming. The only CDs that are widely distributed tend to be the big, popular hits.
So it takes a special kind of audacity for Metronome Technologie, which is based in Toulouse, France, to design a fourbox, cutting-edge CD player, dedicated to extracting the most infinitesimal signal buried in a spinning silver disc. Four boxes? Yep. It turns out that Metronome insists on separate, fully regulated power supplies for both the Kalista transport and C2-A Signature tube DAC, which are formidable pieces in their own right. To use these units, prepare to sacrifice a considerable amount of rack space.
The transport is pure eye candy—two methacrylic plates with a custom-modified Phillips CDM12 Pro 2 transport seated on top. After putting the CD on the spindle, you place a puck on top. During operation, the unit trains a blue light on the disc to help the laser track more accurately. The Kalista transport offers a variety of connections to the DAC, including optical cables, but I stuck with the Jade Vermeil digital interconnect that importer Jim Ricketts supplied. In addition, I situated the transport on top of a massive Critical Mass Systems isolation base that rested on my welded rack from VPI. But Metronome, it must be said, has already gone to fanatical lengths to try to reduce the intrusion of internal and external mechanical vibrations that might contaminate the digital signal (though given its punctiliousness about its products, I was sorry to see that it supplied cardboard boxes rather than flight cases for these units). For those who want to go even a step further, Metronome offers the upgrade of a separate battery powersupply that is said to remove any residual EMI/RFI pollution emanating from the power supply. In addition, using a battery pack for each stage is supposed to provide total isolation between the transport and the rest of the system. A special Silent Base sold by the company is also said to improve performance. Tube rolling can alter the sound of the player, too. Ricketts had installed Amperex 6922s in the DAC and is very high on the Siemens CCa, the best version extant of the 6DJ8. I did not roll the tubes in the unit. The unit allows upsampling to 192kHz, which is how I used it.
To test the Metronome gear, I began by running the transport into the EMM labs DCC2 DAC. Immediately there was a clearly audible reduction in distortion, most evident in the treble. I directly compared a lovely collection of Schubert lieder sung by Renée Fleming with both the Meitner and Metronome transports. In the past, several treble passages had come across with the brutality of a dentist’s drill whining away in my ear, and I’d believed that the ribbon tweeter of the Magnepan 20.1 might be the culprit. Not so. The Metronome took what the Meitner had rendered as an electronic shriek and transformed it into music— no small accomplishment. Overall, it possessed a control over the top octaves that I had never experienced. This was the case whether I was using the Kharma Midi-Exquisites, which I ran with either the Ongaku Audio Note 211 integrated amplifier or four VTL 750s, or the Magnepans. But the transport, it must be said, offered only a delectable taste of all the complete rig could provide.
After listening to the transport driving the Meitner DAC for a week or so, I inserted the Metronome DAC. The properties that had been hinted at before now emerged fully. It was the combination of top-end extension and mellifluousness that took my breath away. I simply have not heard another player that seemed to produce as organic a sound as the Metronome. It wasn’t that the player revealed startling amounts of information that had previously been missing. Instead, the presentation was far more natural. It was easier to suspend sonic disbelief in listening to a performance. Distortion, grain, grit, and hash were simply banished. What was most impressive was that it accomplished this without rolling off the top end. On the contrary, the Metronome seemed to add another octave of air and extension in the treble—more so not only than any CD player, but also than any piece of equipment I’ve encountered, period. Truly something to marvel at.
On Philippe Herreweghe’s wonderful recording of Bach’s Magnificat [Harmonia Mundi], for example, I was deeply moved by its rendering of several arias, including “Depsuit potentes,” in which the colors and nuances of the tenor’s voice were transmitted with shadings that I had never heard before and the flutes hovered and caressed the air. Notable as well was the absolutely cavernous soundstage. You could almost feel the damp air of the cathedral. For a change of pace, I also listened to Duke Ellington’s Indigos [Columbia] and was impressed by the creaminess and warmth of the saxophones as they entered on “Solitude.” And on the disc The Very Tall Band [Telarc/SACD], featuring Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, and Milt Jackson, becomes, the more individualistic its sound becomes. You’re not just buying a hunk of metal, but someone’s vision of what music is supposed to sound like. Made for the connoisseur who has a large collection of CDs and insists on ultimate performance, the Metronome sounds ravishing. Other great CD players are out there with more bang and pop, but I’d be pretty surprised if any approach the beautifully blissful sound of the Metronome Kalista/C-2A. TAS I noted the precision with which the Metronome reproduced Jackson’s vibes. The Metronome supplied a tighter, more focused note that didn’t splash or smear, as I’ve heard with lesser CD player. Listening to Evgeny Kissin recently at the Kennedy Center reminded me of how often stereos tend to emphasize one frequency over another. The Metronome never lost its composure in this regard, and a large part of that was its iron control over the high frequencies, which never, ever became shrill. At the same time, the transparency of the Metronome was simply staggering; on a Steve Ray Vaughn cut, guitar notes zoomed in and out seemingly at warp speed.