Finally, the Metis can, when matched with equipment and recordings that are up to the task, produce deep, wide soundstages with highly threedimensional renderings of individual instruments. I first discovered this when listening to some old but great CTI jazz LPs from the 1970s, such as Freddy Hubbard’s Red Clay and Jim Hall’s Concierto, but heard the same good result on modern Chesky SACDs such as Larry Coryell, Badi Assad, and John Abercrombie’s 3 Guitars. The Metis’ soundstaging and three-dimensionality are so natural, so almost-casual in their presentation that you might not at first notice how good they are until you switch to lesser electronics and find that those 3-D soundstages suddenly collapse. One caveat, though, is that the Metis is arguably more capable than many of the mid-priced amplifiers with which it is likely to be used. The good news is the Metis gives affordable systems plenty of growth potential, but the bad news is you’ll need to use very revealing amplifiers to hear the preamp at its best.
I compared the Metis’ moving-magnet phonostage against one of the finest low-to-mid-priced phono sections around, the $600 Musical Surrounding Phonomena, and found that, while the Metis was good, the Phonomena was better. The Metis softened sharp-edged transients just a bit and was a little less dynamically expressive than the Phonomena. But interestingly, the Metis phonostage held its own in terms of capturing timbral and textural nuance, conveying the subtleties and detail-rich flavor of very expensive phono cartridges such as the Clearaudio Discovery (because the Discovery is a low-output cartridge, I ran it through a Supex step-up transformer in order to try it with the Metis phonostage). While you can do better if you’re willing to spend more, it’s impressive that Rogue provides a phono section this good in what is already a bargainpriced preamp. My one wish is that Rogue would do as NAD has done in its C162 preamp, and configure the phonostage with switch selectable MM/MC gain settings to increase its versatility.
I have only a few nits to pick with the Metis. The volume control brings gain on with a bang, so that it is sometimes tricky to get a “just right” setting— especially if you enjoy listening at low-to-moderate levels. And source input isolation is not as good as one might wish. For example, if you have a CD player connected to one input and then select an alternate input that has no source connected, you might hear very faint signal “bleed through” from the CD player in the background with volume levels cranked up. In practice, though, the preamp proved admirably quiet.
Many manufacturers claim to build “high-end” components at budget prices, but Rogue’s Metis preamp is one of the very few with the sonic goods to back up that claim. In fact, the Metis is the best sub-$1000 preamp I’ve ever heard, and it not only sounds good but also is well made. (It may be relatively inexpensive, but in no way is it “cheap.”) Pair the Metis with today’s best affordable power amplifiers, and you’ll have system electronics that offer mind-blowing sonic refinement per dollar.