Metrum Acoustics Amethyst DAC/Amp Impressions

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by Hands, Jun 19, 2017.

  1. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    Metrum Acoustics Amethyst DAC/Amp Impressions

    [​IMG]

    Introductory Stuff and Random Notes

    The new Metrum Acoustics Amethyst DAC/Amp unit is essentially a replacement for the Musette. It retails for $1300, which I think is $100 more than the Musette did. Close enough price-wise. How do they differ? (At least, I'm assuming it's a replacement, but maybe the Musette will exist along side it at a lower price. Not totally sure.)

    1. The Amethyst is using the new DAC TWO modules, whereas the Musette used the DAC ONE modules.

    2. The Amethyst has bigger capacitors on the board, I believe, and a more powerful transformer. I think...Don't ask me.

    3. The Amethyst adds a headphone out on the front.

    4. Same small-ish form factor, but the front panel has some fancier cuts to it to make it a bit more interesting. It's still a fairly industrial looking product.

    Quick refresher on the DAC TWO modules: The DAC ONE modules, originally used in the Pavane, are all 16-bit. To get higher bit-level performance, the Pavane and Menuet used an FPGA that would essentially split a 24-bit signal in half, send each half to a DAC module to process, and then that would somehow get sandwiched together in the end with some analog trickery. The Musette had only one DAC ONE module per channel and no FPGA, thus limiting it to the performance of a single module (16-bit, no paralleled DAC benefits, etc.). The Pavane used four per channel and the Menuet two.

    The DAC TWO modules basically take two DAC ONE modules and the FPGA, all crammed under one hood. I believe there are also general refinements to the tech. This means instead of one FPGA for all the DAC modules, each module gets an FPGA. Shorter signal paths may be of benefit here. This also means each DAC TWO module can process a 24-bit signal. The Adagio was the first product with the DAC TWO modules, four per channel (effectively double what the Pavane had). You can now get the Pavane with DAC TWO modules as well. The Amethyst uses one DAC TWO module per channel.


    Remember, in order of lowest on totem pole to highest, the pre-Amethyst lineup looked like Musette -> Menuet -> Pavane -> Adagio.

    Regarding Musette: Seeing as this is the Musette's replacement, I would like to add some of my thoughts on that for later comparison. The Musette marked a noticeable increase in detail retrieval and resolution from basically all of the previous generation Metrum DACs. However, it suffered in a few areas. Tonally, it was a bit lean sounding and lacked that last bit of slam and meat on the bones. It could be a bit sharp and hard sounding, which, yes, can happen with NOS DACs in rare scenarios. The stage was pretty claustrophobic. And it still didn't have near the finesse and technicalities of the Pavane. While not bad, it was like trying to look through a key hole to the room the Pavane resided in.

    With all that out of the way, on to the Amethyst impressions!

    Amethyst as a DAC Impressions

    Even without warm-up or burn-in, the first thing that struck me was how the Amethyst more or less fixes my main complaints about the Musette. It borrows the full-bodied sound of the Adagio. It's more liquid and smooth sounding than the Musette. More organic, integrated, and whole sounding. The stage on the Amethyst isn't nearly as claustrophobic. Where the Musette left me wanting that magic I heard from the Pavane, the Amethyst actually sounds like what it should: a cheaper sibling of the Pavane and Adagio. I don't even think the Menuet quite nailed that concept down as well as it should have.

    The Amethyst is a natural, if not slightly warm, sounding DAC. It may be too much of a good thing if paired with a soft, warm amp, which isn't necessarily untrue of most NOS DACs. However, the overall tone and timbre feel connected across the entire spectrum despite any sense of coloration. It just sounds balanced in the approach it takes.

    It wonderfully captures the warmth, resonance, and air of full-bodied acoustic guitars and vocals. Although I totally sucked at playing guitar for the few years I tried, I did notice the Amethyst captured that feeling of playing my dad's 1960s, Gibson J45 (of course, when listening to acoustic guitar stuff on the Amethyst...not like all the time, which would be weird). I don't know why I felt like singling that out for mentioning, but I guess I did.

    The Pavane and Adagio both sound a bit more extended and sharp on the top end than the Amethyst. The Musette was also sharper, edgier, and leaner sounding (thus, relatively brighter). The Amethyst might at times seem like it course corrected in this regard from the Musette by a tiny, tiny amount too much, but I also find myself sinking into the sound of the Amethyst so easily that I don't mind.

    Resolution is generally good, albeit in a softer and slightly more nebulous sense than the Pavane or Adagio. Not as focused. All those paralleled DAC modules in the big boy DACs have to be of some use, right? I was actually surprised that the Amethyst could dig pretty deep for all sorts of small information. Often DACs will either present the tiny details or lose them. The Amethyst presents them, just not as focused as its bigger siblings. (Those used to oversampling DACs will likely be put off no matter which Metrum DAC, let alone NOS, they listen to.)

    Staging, air, reverb are also good on the Amethyst. I would argue it captures more of those little nuances in music that emanate from each piece in the music and that play out across the stage than the Holo Spring. It's not forward sounding like the Holo Spring or Musette, but it is more forward than the Pavane and Adagio as well as lacks their very refined layering, staging, and imaging/placement. Still, you can at least hear it's close relation to the Pavane and Adagio, unlike the Musette.

    Like the Adagio, the Amethyst seems to have a nice, black background. Music pops out of an inky darkness. The Holo Spring excelled here, and the Adagio was pretty darn close. In this regard, it's a big improvement over the Musette, and I'd argue the Menuet and Pavane can sound a hair more grey at times too, believe it or not (some of that may be timbre and not so much the background).

    Dynamics are also fairly good on the Amethyst. Metrum usually does a nice job capturing macro and micro swings. Their DACs usually sound pretty fast despite any other issues. When the music calls for some power, the Amethyst mostly delivers. When subtleties and rapid stopping and starting are needed, those too are offered, yet without stifling reverb. Yes, the Pavane and Adagio hit harder and with more cleanliness, and none of them really topple the excellent bass from the Yggdrasil and Gungnir Multibit, but the Amethyst keeps me engaged and happy nonetheless.

    At the end of the day, I'll circle back to what I said about the Amethyst sounding exactly like what you'd expect. It's an actual sibling to the Pavane and Adagio, leaning more towards the latter in tone. The Musette was interesting, but it didn't hold up. The Menuet had it's own interesting faults, namely single-ended performance that suffered more than it should have. The Amethyst isn't perfect, nor is it for everyone, but it's just...very agreeable in its mission. Faults or not, and obviously my preferences and bias play a role, the Amethyst is just a good listen in my mind.

    Amethyst as a DAC/Amp Combo Unit

    I know finding a good NOS DAC essentially means paying a higher price compared to an OS DAC competitor. Of course, if you enjoy the NOS sound, there's really something captivating about it that you just can't capture otherwise. The Pavane and Adagio can be a true joy regardless of price. Anyway, I say this because I think the Amethyst as a DAC by itself is already pretty damn good and fairly priced for the NOS DAC market. But, you know, this darn thing has a headphone out on the front of it, so I guess I better evaluate that too!

    Well, color me surprised. I hooked my HD650 into the Amethyst, and I didn't think it sucked!

    Tone is fairly balanced and not particularly colored relative to how I imagine the DAC sounds in and of itself. It's not as ballsy as the Jotunheim or a really good OTC tube amp, but the HD650 doesn't sound weak from it like it does from too many amps. It's a little forward sounding, but not nearly as much as the Jotunheim or Mjolnir 2 (and likely not as wide as those). I often hear little things that make it clear it's letting that multibit magic through (yes, sometimes it has that spooky good stuff coming through, believe it or not). It's not as 3D, layered, as airy, or as detailed as a really good tube amp, but it's often decent at worst and usually fairly good. Timbre is fairly normal, i.e. not too soft, not too rough, and not too hard and glaring. I just feel pretty...normal...listening to it. It's not a shock moving to it from my modified Super 7 despite it not being in the same tier.

    It's far from an exact comparison, but the Amethyst as a DAC/Amp combo brought back some memories of the original Black Widow, though perhaps a little sharper and brighter, a little less forward and claustrophobic, and maybe slightly cleaner and tighter. Maybe. My memory is not always to be trusted. I also can't speak for the second gen Black Widow. I think the Amethyst as a DAC/Amp combo made me think of the Black Widow because it kind of just works without a fuss.

    The story changed with other headphones. My Aeon, even with front damping mods of my own, sounded a bit bright and still too lacking in the upper-bass. The Elear sounded...OK? Not a magical combo. Got the job done. The MA900, which can be very picky of amps, sounded leaner, brighter, and less refined than it does from more synergistic amps. My modified Super 7 plays nicely with about everything.

    So, I can't recommend the Amethyst as some magical, do-it-all DAC/Amp combo unit. It definitely works well with some headphones and is only serviceable with others. It's never horrid, but it seems picky. Perhaps it's mostly meant for high impedance dynamics like the HD650? I will soon get the Atticus and Eikon to try, so I'm curious to see how that plays out with the Amethyst.

    Oh, and there's the volume knob. It's flush with the front panel but has a tiny dimple for your finger. It's not the easiest thing to turn up and down. It's not bad, but I'd prefer a knob. On the other hand, it does look sleek...or about as sleek as the industrial Metrum design language can be.

    Another note, if you want to use the Amethyst as a DAC, you can't use it with headphones. It's either a combo unit OR a DAC. Also, no analog inputs for the unit (I'm guessing the HP out is closely tied to the DAC modules' output and doesn't work as an amp otherwise), and no pre-out or pre-amp functionality. So, no, it doesn't work like the Adagio's pre-amp functionality.

    Conclusion

    As a DAC alone, I like the Amethyst a lot. It's not for everyone. If you like the Pavane and Adagio, I think you'll find a lot to like about the Amethyst. It's a true sibling to those beasts. It's a great NOS DAC introductory product in that regard! I think the fact I feel very good about it, whereas I was a little more hesitant about the Menuet and even more so the Musette, says a lot.

    Even if the HP out doesn't match well with all headphones, I am pleasantly surprised with how it treats the HD650. That's not the easiest feat. No, it's not the best amp for the HD650 I've heard, solid state or not, but it doesn't have any glaring flaws. And my list of amps that I think treat the HD650 well without much nitpicking is a pretty damn short list. Worst case, if you don't like the amp, you don't have to use it and still get a pretty good DAC.

    I like it!

    Product page: http://www.metrum-acoustics.com/Amethyst.html
     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2017
    Jerry, Leoi, David De Lucena and 33 others like this.
  2. ButtUglyJeff

    ButtUglyJeff Stunningly beautiful IRL

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    There are rumors that Cees might consider an upgrade program to the same DAC Two modules for the Musette. So maybe some Amethyst Daccy goodness can be shared by all Musette owners too...
     
  3. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    This sounds like exactly what I wanted the Musette to be. Let me know if you want to sell this to SBAF for the loaner.
     
  4. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    I may have assumed incorrectly that this would replace the Musette. I just don't really see a reason to keep both around, I guess, unless the Musette were seriously discounted. And even then, the way it sounds makes it an odd duck in the family. It's also not guaranteed the DAC TWO modules will totally fix it, since there were other minor tweaks to the Amethyst. Maybe the moduels will, and good chance of it, but not guaranteed.

    I'm pretty keen on keeping it for myself, actually, but I could probably part with it if you wanted to borrow it for a week or two for your own listening and impressions. Just not sure I want to have it out of my hands for a long stretch of time.
     
  5. msommers

    msommers High on Epipens

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    @Hands have you had the Jot with built in DAC before? If so, curious how that overall package compares especially since the Jot pairs well with your 650's.
     
  6. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    No, didn't have it with the DAC. The Jot was hard hitting, fast, clean, etc., but it was too forward, lacked stage depth, and was a bit too hard, glaring, and bright sounding. With or without the DAC, the Jot and Amethyst as a combo unit are fairly different.
     
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  7. gepardcv

    gepardcv Almost "Made"

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    What are its dimensions? The site says 440 x 320 x 85 mm, but it doesn't look that bulky from the photos.

    Also, how's the noise floor on more sensitive headphones?
     
  8. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    I'd guess around 3ish inches tall, 8ish inches wide, 10-12inches or so long.

    I didn't listen for noise floor on the headphones I tried, but I didn't hear anything. I'll try to remember to check later. Metrum is usually pretty good about having a really low, clean noise floor in their DACs at least.
     
  9. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    Now you got me VERY excited.

    Glad to see Hifi-heaven didn't blow up the price like they did with the Aurix (which is still listed at an insane $1199, when the current price is 491€...
     
  10. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    Today, I got rid of the stock RCA sockets, SPDIF too, and replaced the digital inputs with 75ohm BNC and some Vampire whatever copper something or other RCA sockets for the output. I used good, solid core copper wire inside. It's a tight fit, and not super clean looking, but it works!

    This reminds me of the first DAC or amp I ever modified, my old Metrum Quad! Swapped out the digital input for BNC on the Quad and expected angels to descend into my abode based on a couple others that talked about how much it improved their Octave...Anyway, here I am modifying another Metrum!

    I do believe good wiring, and sockets by extension, as well as a good digital input socket, can matter to some extent. On paper, having a guaranteed 75ohm BNC jack should be better than a random RCA socket.

    Anyway, I'm not sure it made any drastic changes and could be fooling myself into hearing what I'd want to hear. But it might sound a bit more focused, less nebulous, as well as a little more tonally neutral. Or it could just be planetary alignment causing me to hear differently. Most likely, it just needs to warm back up for a couple hours and will sound basically like I remembered before! (Which would invalidate my work, haha.)
     
  11. bengo

    bengo Friend

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    Hi @Hands, it sounds like this might even be a good alternative to the Menuet, even as a pure DAC (regardless of cost, but especially once value is taken into account). Would you agree?

    I see Metrum discontinued the Menuet now, so maybe they came to the same conclusion :)
     
  12. sacredgates

    sacredgates Audio-Technica's high priest

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    It is clear to me that the Menuet has been taken out of the Metrum Acoustics DAC line, as the Amethyst sits to close to the Menuet for the latter to stay comfortably there (which Hands´ observations confirm). There was a significant gap between the Musette and the Menuet. But now the Amethyst with 2 DAC 2 modules which each offer 2 ladder networks and implemented foreward correction technology has almost as much on board as the Menuet for about half the price, except for the balanced operation. When you check Metrum Acoustic´s Facebook page, you will find a message from June 3rd that Cees Ruijtenberg is working on "a new gem" that will have 4 DAC 2 modules. From the picture you can see this one will be balanced. It says it will come in two variations, depending on customer needs, and will show up somewhere late summer. So this new gem will surely fill in the line between the Amethyst and the TOTL Pavane / Adagio models.
     
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  13. bengo

    bengo Friend

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    Given the high price of the Pavane, this gem will surely be of interest to many, myself included :)

    Besides the Transient modules, the PCB looks quite simple:
    [​IMG]
     
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  14. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    Something about the Menuet with SE out just didn't sound quite right. Regardless, it still did some stuff better than Amethyst, but something about the Amethyst just sounds really cohesive.
     
  15. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

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    my ears sit and await that 4 x 2DAC "new gem" product from Cees.
    glad to see their line evolve.
     
  16. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Getting one for the loaner program...

    I'm geeked. Cohesive was the word I was looking for from @Hands. The Musette was disappointing.
     
  17. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    Oh jeez, hope I'm not inflating your expectations! I mean, if you can submerge yourself in NOS-Land, maybe you'll hear what I heard. :) Haha
     
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  18. sacredgates

    sacredgates Audio-Technica's high priest

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    @Hands:
    Your (re)views have always been among the most informative, humble, balanced and useful with an overall "cohesive" quality.... much appreciated!
     
  19. songmic

    songmic Gear cycler East Asia edition

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    Do you have some photos of your Amethyst, including the rear?
     
  20. MattRG

    MattRG Almost "Made"

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    Sounds fantastic! Might be just the ticket in terms of an upgrade from my Musette (which I still very much enjoy). I do wonder if Cees is still going to be making the DAC TWO modules available for Musette owners as a plug and play upgrade path in the future. Depending on the price that might also be a compelling option.
     

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