Metrum Acoustics Amethyst DAC/Amp Impressions

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

  1. PacoTaco

    PacoTaco Friend

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    Haha, don't worry, I've been reading entirely too much into it. The one thing the Spring (even L3) has over the Pavane is the price...I can't justify a four grand DAC when my entire audio upgrade budget is only five. Even the Onyx is a bit too high...though it depends on if I can get a hold of a Black Widow or not.
     
  2. JeffYoung

    JeffYoung Friend

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    First, a bit of background so you know how to "read" my impressions. I'm a skeptic: I find cable claims hard to buy, and I have doubts about whether I could hear the difference between capacitors (though I intend to find out). I don't have USB nervosa. I do have a long history with vinyl (Linn front-ends / Linn, Naim, Jeff Rowland and Bryston electronics / Boston Acoustics, Martin Logan and Linn speakers). Sadly, that all got left behind when moving to Ireland.

    My current setup is Roon on a dedicated ArchLinux music server feeding a Musette via USB to a Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II. Speakers are Magnepan 0.7s augmented with a PSA 15" powered sub.

    First off, I found the differences between the Musette and Amethyst subtle. That being said, some sounds on some tracks stood out enough that'd I'd be pretty confident of passing an ABX test. The less-subtle sounds fell into two categories: sharp-attack-decay stuff like rim-shots and cymbal hits, which seemed to have greater dynamic range on the Amethyst, and very low-level fuzzy sounds like brushes on cymbals, which tend to sound more like distortion or static on the Musette. Fingers sliding on guitar strings also sounded more real, but I couldn't tell what the difference was.

    However, on extended listening it was the more hard-to-define stuff that made me enjoy the Amethyst more. One effect was sort of the "sound-cone" of instruments. If you imagine the location of the instrument on the soundstage being the point of the cone, and the extent the sound seems to cover as the mouth of the cone, the Amethyst presents a larger opening of the cone, extending in many cases to the walls of the room. This effect is particularly noticeable on echos and vocal alveolar sounds ('d's and 't's). The other principal effect was of greater layering of the soundstage. I'm not sure if others would describe this as more depth or more separation between instruments. I think more depth might be more apt, but also that there seemed to be space between the layers (not around the instruments on an x-y plane, but behind and in front on the z plane).

    Bottom line? Definitely better than the Musette. Better enough to upgrade from one to the other? Harder to tell. But better enough that I think I'll try out the Jade/Onyx.

    Thanks much to the EU loaner program for giving me this opportunity. :punk:
     
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  3. JeffYoung

    JeffYoung Friend

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    Today I spun up some much more congested music. At first I couldn't tell the Musette and Amethyst apart (which admittedly met my expectation bias). But then I played Cocteau Twins' When Mama was Moth, which has a lot of background rumble amidst highly-layered dream-pop. On the Musette it sounded like nicely-rendered dream-pop, but on the Amethyst it sounded like I was listening to dream-pop in the belly of a freighter or battleship. Very cool effect.
     
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  4. damaged-goods

    damaged-goods Acquaintance

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    Thanks for all the great reviews, the Amethyst sounds very interesting!

    How does the Amethyst as combo unit compare to a Mimy/Modi3 stack with HD650 and an Eitr as transport? Maybe somebody has experience with both setups.
     
  5. sheldaze

    sheldaze Friend

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    Before I answer, I first have to explain my take on the NOS vs OS sound. While I thoroughly enjoy a NOS, I have no problems to listen to the Schiit implementation of OS. Be it Bifrost Multibit, Gungnir Multibit, or Yggdrasil - I can easily listen to these for many hours without fatigue. I am not in the category of listener, for whom NOS works and OS does not. I was also able to recently spend a week comparing Gungnir Multibit against my Amethyst. I used both a DNA Sonett 2 and a Cavalli Liquid Glass for amplification. The Glass allowed me to quickly A/B switch. The Amethyst was fed by an Eitr, while the Gungnir Multibit had Gen V. These were close, but I favored the Gungnir Multibit. In reverse, I still think the Amethyst is a better DAC than Bifrost Multibit. So to be clear, it is not that I prefer OS over NOS. I just prefer the better implementation, and I can pretty must listen to either NOS or OS and be content.

    Switching the chain to Eitr --> Amethyst --> Magni 3, allows me to compare Amethyst vs Magni 3. Yes there are differences I can elaborate. But for the most part, these are both just a "solid state" sound. There's nothing engaging to me. They're clean, and clear, and I can switch from one to the other with no complaints. The HD650 is not a terribly difficult load, so the direct from Amethyst sounds okay. If I use the Bifrost Multibit source, into the Magni 3 (similar to Eitr --> Modi Multibit --> Magni 3) the sound is less-good because I find the Bifrost Multibit to be not as good as the Amethyst. So direct answer, I prefer Amethyst w/ Eitr over Modi Multibit/Magni 3 w/ Eitr.

    However the value proposition, for a truly engaging sound, I would use Eitr --> Modi Multibit --> Vali 2 --> HD650. Why? With a not too expensive tube in the Vali 2, I'm engaged in the sound from my Bifrost Multibit --> Vali 2 --> HD6x0. It prefer it over the Amethyst direct to HD6x0 sound. I would need to sit and think and analyse the why. However there are multiple other threads, which discuss the reasons for some of the better value setups. I think this one is particularly good:

    http://superbestaudiofriends.org/index.php?threads/way-of-the-noob-your-two-cents.4877/

    Short answer - I like the Amethyst, but not direct to headphones as much as through a nice tube amplifier. If you're looking for a value, I suggest reading the thread above and thinking perhaps about a Modi Multibit --> Vali 2.
     
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  6. damaged-goods

    damaged-goods Acquaintance

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    Thanks very much for your impressions!
    I had planned to use Modi Multibit/Magni3 as mobile backup in the house. My main amp is a phonitor e. The talk about the Amethyst made me curious and it might be an option to use the Amethyst as DAC for the phonitor and as mobile combo unit in the house. So I wouldn't need the Schiit stack.
    I do like Modi Multibit very much for its natural soundsignature so trying NOS might be worth a try. I've never listened to NOS before.
    The other combo unit that has my interest is the Soekris 1421.
     
  7. songmic

    songmic Gear cycler East Asia edition

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    @Hands In terms of single-ended output performance, would you rate Amethyst above the discontinued Hex and Menuet regardless of price?
     
  8. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    Hm, I'm sure the Menuet does some stuff a little better, but overall, yeah, the Amethyst to me just sounds more cohesive if only using SE outputs.
     
  9. ButtUglyJeff

    ButtUglyJeff Stunningly beautiful IRL

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    I really do think Metrum is on to something with their DAC TWO in house chipset. I can only imagine how it helps when they go from 2 chips to 4 and 4 chips to 8...
     
  10. bengo

    bengo Friend

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    Imagine no longer... Pavane comparison started today, impressions next week.
     
  11. bengo

    bengo Friend

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    Below my impressions from the EU loaner. Since the Yggdrasil is sold, I will compare with my Pavane. This is the "level 2" having the same DAC TWO modules (AFAIK) as the Amethyst, Jade/Onyx, Pavane "level 3" and Adagio.

    This is in somewhat "stream of consciousness" style. I may edit later if I want to add or clarify something. Please post any questions ASAP as the loaner has to go back out very soon.

    First impressions (both DACs and M-22 at room temp)
    More compressed macrodynamics.

    More sibilant / harsh / fatiguing / hashy. Pavane is also pretty horrible when really cold.

    Sounds like a peak in upper mids / lower treble. Bit less sub-bass extension and solidity, maybe. Brighter and a bit less coherent response across the whole spectrum when compared with Pavane.

    After some minutes
    Significantly less palpable microdynamics than Pavane (or Yggdrasil, probably).

    Both DACs started to improve already due to warm up, but Amethyst is actually cleaner in treble right now. Amethyst also feels warm to the touch. Consistent with Modi Multibit vs Yggdrasil, where the Modi Multibit sound and temperature is stable after 1-2 hours, while Yggdrasil needs 6-8 hours minimum before it sounds even remotely close to its best. The Pavane is hewn by trolls from a massive ingot of iron so rich audiophiles can show it off, while the Amethyst is comparitively diminuitive. Also, the Amethyst is perched on top of my PC, which runs quite hot :)

    After 20+ hours
    Immediately noticed flatter (forward) headstage, also less sense of the subtle cues to the shape/size of the acoustic space, which only makes things worse. Pavane has really well-proportioned width / depth and even becomes a bit 3D with M-22.

    Warm-up has certainly helped both DACs, and closed the gap, but overall impressions are similar. Amethyst is slightly brighter overall than Pavane, flatter. Transient edges are sharper, more sibilance, bit more fatiguing - it sounds a bit like an OS R2R DAC. Dare I say it, sounds a bit like a Schiit DAC?

    Compression is definitely still there. Cymbals with brushes (+ other treble stuff) is more brute-forced / oversimplified, while the Pavane is a lot more subtle/nuanced.

    Let me try to write something in favour of the Amethyst. It still sounds like a pretty good R2R DAC. There is no veil or loss of transparency that I could notice (I consider my current chain with the SYS and M-22 to have excellent transparency). General character is close to the Pavane - you can tell the same DAC modules are used.

    Chain used for comparison: DEQ2496 > TOSLINK / AES > Amethyst / Pavane L2 > SE > SYS > M-22 > LCD-XC
    Cheap power conditioner for DACs and amp.


    Combo mode
    Almost as an afterthought, I switched cables and tried the built-in amp. Wow, I think I actually might prefer this.

    More of the softer sound we expect from NOS. Overall a bit warm and romantic too (considering it's a cheap solid state amp).

    Perhaps a bit too rolled off - not great treble or bass extension. Sounds like an inverted 'V' with a peak in the middle to upper mids where our ears are sensitive - not ideal.

    Good synergy. Hides some of the sins caused by two DAC modules rather than eight, without going too far. For me this is way less fatiguing, at the expense of (primarily) recessed treble making details harder to pick out.

    Volume does not get loud too quick, which can be a problem as the LCD-XC are quite sensitive (100 dB/mW).

    With music paused, can easily hear 50 Hz hum and digital noise coming from inside the Amethyst itself (at the same volume level). Moving cables and the Adagio did not make one nanofuck of difference. It didn't bother me, in fact I didn't notice with my usual mix of rock / pop / EDM and other brickwalled-to-hell genres - until I hit pause. However, this is gonna annoy the crap out of anyone listening to classical or similar. I tried Barber's Adagio for Strings with a listening level around two o'clock. Weirdly, it gets louder until three o'clock and then disappears between three and max (half past four). Must try harder, Metrum! Potential dealbreaker here!

    Chain used for comparison: DEQ2496 > TOSLINK > Amethyst > LCD-XC
    Cheap power conditioner for DACs and amp.


    Conclusions (so far)
    As a preface, I should state that I absolutely love my Pavane, and prefer this to every other DAC which I heard, including the Yggdrasil I owned for 5 months. I also think it is ahead of all those on technicalities, except possibly the uber-expensive DAVE, which I did not get to compare directly.

    So would you buy an Amethyst then?

    Err, no.

    But it's only like £1000!

    Sure, by audiophile standards this is a steal.

    It's not cheap enough for an easy ride though. The builtin amp is only "okay" and compromised by poor extension and totally unacceptable hum/noise.

    In DAC-only mode it might do reasonably well with a less resolving / warmer amp, depending on your preferences.

    You said this is like a little brother to Pavane, which is your favourite, now you're panning it...

    I would argue that I am "damning it with faint praise". It's kind of like the little brother who you let hang out with your friends, but is trying too hard and gets slightly annoying after a while. I wanted to like the Amethyst a lot more than I do. I wanted this to be a hard comparison to justify the 4x price difference. Unfortunately, it took away a lot of what I like about the Pavane (and NOS generally), subtle things, and kinda sorta ruined it in the process.

    I really like Metrum. Their support is amazing. They started out with the Quad etc, bringing good NOS to the masses using some random non-audio chips at a fair price (much like Schiit). Then they developed two generations of their own excellent DAC modules, which is a big risk for a small company. On the flipside, really tiny quantities means this technology, done properly, is never going to be super cheap. I think the Amethyst cuts a bit too many corners for its own good.

    So what would you suggest then, smart ass?

    In this price range, maybe try a Gungnir Multibit - or even Modi Multibit/Bifrost Multibit with a good separate budget amp. I also liked the NAD C510 (which is not R2R). There is also the Soekris range and Holo Spring, none of which I have personally heard.

    If you want to hear the best of NOS, Amethyst is only giving a small taste. I would suggest to save up and try to get a listen to the Jade/Onyx with a good amp and good speakers/headphones. This may be hard advice to take in our world of Amazon 1 hour delivery, but it is absolutely worth it.
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2017
  12. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    Interesting findings. I found the Amethyst to be warmer and softer in treble, and overall, relative to both Pavane lvl 1 and Adagio. But, of course, the Amethyst may sound more different depending on what amp you use...not sure. No output transformers or anything like that in the cheaper unit. But I think it goes without saying the Pavane and Adagio are in a whole different league, and easy to agree on that!
     
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  13. bengo

    bengo Friend

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    @Hands: I haven't heard the L1. Adagio should sound the same as L2. You sold yours, right?
    What stuff did you have around to compare directly?
    Audio memory is funny and can play tricks on us (especially after a couple beers :D :D)

    In case I wasn't clear, it sounded quite warm/soft with the headphone out; much less so with the M-22 (which seems a bit brighter than neutral to me). The difference in overall tonality from Pavane wasn't huge, but the Pavane is more subtle and overall just much more betterer.
     
  14. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    Well, I was going off memory, so it could be that. And yeah, Adagio should sound like Lvl 2 or 3 Pavane, but I did compare Adagio to Lvl 1 Pavane a few times.

    I dunno, not a big deal either way. Like I said, the Amethyst seems to vary it sound more with whatever amp you use relative to the Pavane/Adagio IME.
     
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  15. JeffYoung

    JeffYoung Friend

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    Interesting. I was using a Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II with KT-120 driver tubes. It's on the cold side of toobdom, but no doubt still warmer than @bengo's M-22.
     
  16. damaged-goods

    damaged-goods Acquaintance

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    How does the NAD c510 holds its ground vs DACs like Gungnir Multibit, the Soekris or Grungnir DS? Is it realy a competitor?
     
  17. philipmorgan

    philipmorgan Member of the month

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    Relaxing, enjoyable listen.

    Strong points: tone, desk-friendly form factor.

    Weak points vs Gungnir Multibit: stage depth, detail, value, goofy volume knob for built-in amp.
     
  18. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    It's not a weak point if you pretend you're playing with a nipple. And have never actually touched a real nipple.
     
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  19. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

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    you feel the need to reveal some inner secret to us?
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2017
  20. PacoTaco

    PacoTaco Friend

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    Is it like the Magni 3? You know, if you turn the knob too fast like a nipple, you can hear a "whoosh" of the woman's sex drive as it steals your chances of getting laid that night.
     
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