NETWORK AUDIO LIBRARY
Network-enabled media storage device
Made by: Métronome Technologie, France
Supplied by: Absolute Sounds Ltd
Telephone: 0208 971 3909
Web: www.metronome-technologie.com; www.absolutesounds.com
Price: £13,998
Métronome Music Centre 1
More than a little French flair is brought to this comprehensive and very user-friendly
all-in-one CD-ripping, network-attached music storage/digital audio player
Review: José Victor Henriques Lab: Paul Miller
S
ure enough, the market abounds
with numerous very affordable
network-attached storage devices,
and various of these are also
equipped with a disc drive and ripping
facility. By the same token there are many
plug-and-play USB DACs available that
‘do the job’ but that no self-respecting
audiophile would give house room. The
same goes for cables, of every stripe.
So the fact that specialist audio
companies are stepping into this otherwise
cost-focused void is perhaps no surprise.
Melco paved the way with its N1Z [HFN
Feb ’15] and N1A ‘music libraries’ [HFN
Aug ’15] right up to the new N1ZS20/2
[HFN Jun ’17]. The new, and long-awaited
Music Centre 1 (MC1) from French brand
Métronome is the latest entrant to this
embryonic market – although, and unlike
the Melcos, this particular ‘audiophile NAS’
comes complete with an integrated CD
drive and ripper.
unit sits well balanced atop three round,
flat feet to which you can add the supplied
Delrin cones for superior isolation.
To the rear of the MC1 can be found a
short Wi-Fi antenna, the Ethernet input,
two USB inputs for USB thumb drives or
external USB hard drives, one asynchronous
(DSD-ready) USB output to a DAC, one
each of AES/EBU, S/PDIF and optical Toslink
outputs, plus a mains socket and power
switch. Without an analogue output in
sight you’ll need an associated outboard
DAC to connect to a preamp, integrated or
headphone amplifier.
Before you connect the MC1 using an
Ethernet cable you have to switch the unit
on and follow the set-up steps shown on
sleek ’N’ sturdy
Measuring 450x115x435 (whd) and
weighing no less than 12kg – mainly thanks
to the heavy metal casework used and the
three PSU transformers housed within [see
PM’s boxout] – the MC1 is nothing if not
sturdily built. Yet it manages to look stylish
too. Internal storage is based on multiple
1TB SATA HDDs while the Schaffner-filtered
power supply boasts six independently
regulated lines. Mechanical noise was low,
but still audible in the quiet of the night.
The casework is damped internally in
a bid to avoid resonance, and is laterally
ventilated. Dominating the fascia to the
right is an iPhone-sized touchscreen while
to the left sits the CD slot. ‘Power’ and
‘Eject’ buttons in the middle complete the
clean look. A front USB input would have
been welcome, but on such a pretty face
it would look like a scar. Meanwhile, the
RIGHT: Métronome’s linear PSU design [far
right] feeds multiple 1TB SATA drives [up to 6TB,
centre], a slot-loading TEAC CD/DVD drive [top],
a digital I/O board [bottom] and microcontrollerbased server mainboard [top left]
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the touchscreen. All that’s needed then is
to download the free app for Android or
iOS, accept and validate the device via the
screen and you are ready to go.
FILE STREAMING
According to the manual, the MC1’s USB
type B input can handle FLAC, WAV, DSF,
DFF, OGG and MP3 formats along with
high-res files up to 384kHz/32-bit. I found
that the unit can also read from a storage
device and stream AIFF files and MQA
encoded FLACs to an external DAC, which
the manual surprisingly fails to mention.
Of course, the MC1 also plays CDs
or rips them in WAV or FLAC format –
there’s a Teac DV-W28SS-VM5 mechanism
inside – with the automatic recovery of
all tags, including cover and artwork. It
also reads USB thumb drives and is able to
create playlists from high-res music stored
internally or on an external hard drive or
NAS, though the latter requires a computer.
The MC1 will also stream music over
your home network, either via Ethernet
or the supplied wireless antenna, from
portable devices and
DLNA-compatible
smartphones. However,
unlike some of the MC1’s
rivals, there’s no support
for either Tidal or Spotify.
As I mentioned, there
are many streamers/CD
rippers on the market
today that offer the same features as the
MC1 – and more – and for a fraction of the
price. The Innuos Zenith II, now in Special
Edition guise, comes to mind, even though
it doesn’t have a touchscreen display. But
both the modest Korean Cocktail Audio
X30 and Bluesound Vault 2 include an
internal DAC and come in at a fraction of
the price of the MC1. And both also rip CDs
and support Tidal! Furthermore, you can
enjoy the same functions the MC1 offers
using a PC, NAS device and JRiver Media
Server software that costs 50 bucks.
Truth be told, I use an Oppo transport
when playing my CDs but I wish it were a
Métronome Calypso. We’ve all heard the
argument that bits are bits and CDs sound
the same no matter what we play them
on, right? Well, even when things have the
appearance of being equal, some audio
devices are clearly more equal than others.
Liberty, equality and fraternity
notwithstanding, being rich gives you a
head start when it comes to enjoying the
finer things in life. And
the Métronome MC1
is a gourmet music
server that makes the
dégustation of ‘virtual’
media a thorough
pleasure. If you can’t
tell the difference
between French cuisine
and fast food, then by all means go for a
hamburger instead.
The MC1 is like a Captain’s Log in which
you record the navigation notes you need
to sail your oceans of music – no matter the
vastness of your collection. You no longer
require a sextant to locate your music
now it is no longer physical. Métronome’s
touchscreen display, or a smartphone
and the free app downloadable from the
Google and Apple stores will guide you by
the (pop) stars.
And for those who might, perhaps
with some justification, reject the MC1
as just another French fashion industry
‘Ola Gjeillo’s
piano sounded
gorgeous on
“North Country II”’
DIGITAL WITH FLAIR
A glance across at our ‘lid off’ photograph instantly reveals the bright blue,
Talema brand encapsulated mains transformers that we’ve seen at the heart of
other Métronome products [see CD8 player, HFN Jun ’16]. Unlike the compact
Melco ‘music libraries’ which employ switchmode PSUs, Métronome has always
employed substantial linear PSUs in all its digital audio products. No fewer
than three transformers are used here, feeding separate power supplies for the
storage bay (the 1TB SATA drive can be upgraded to 6TB with the option of HDD
or SSD types), the CD/DVD drive and main processor. The latter, a Freescale iMX6
processor from NXP, is buried under the heatsink on the main PCB and includes
Ethernet and USB controllers plus a Neon ‘Media Processor Engine’. This board
is connected via USB and Ethernet hubs to the back panel interface board and –
importantly – to a separate USB-to-S/PDIF format converter driving these more
conventional digital outputs. Métronome proudly claims to have developed
‘100% of the electronics and software’ within the MC1, including the modified
Linux OS and the custom control app. PM
ABOVE: Elegant but deceptively simple, the
slot-loading drive will read and/or rip your CDs
while the colour touchscreen allows direct and
instant access to your stored music library
product, take it from me that it sure looks
and sounds better than most, despite not
having any ‘analogue sound’ of its own.
In practice, the performance also
depends on the DAC used, but somehow
the MC1 manages to improve DAC
performance, lowering jitter to vanishing
levels (see PM’s Lab report, p53). One final
note is that the unit plays DSD via USB only.
smooth operator
For the listening I used an iFi Audio micro
iDSD DAC, a Chord Mojo headphone amp/
DAC [HFN Jan ’16] – as used by PM for
his lab work – and a Meridian Explorer
V2 headphone amp/DAC, either hooked
up directly to a pair of Hifiman HE1000
headphones, or connected via analogue
interconnects to a McIntosh MHA100
headphone amplifier. This also doubled as
a stereo amplifier to drive a pair of Sonus
faber Concertino loudspeakers.
Opening the MC1 library I discovered
that it already contained two albums:
Rachelle Ferrell by the American soul
singer of the same name, released in
1992 [Capitol Records CDP 7 93769 2]
and Intime by Christophe from 2014
[Capitol Music France 377 678-4], the
latter recorded in a Paris studio before a
small and ‘intimate’ audience, as its title
suggests. Both sets sounded smooth and
analogue-like at Red Book sample rates.
Indeed, the ambience on Intime and the
sound of clapping was particularly natural.
The manual states that the MC1 ‘rips CD
tracks in high-resolution files (lossless WAV
files, 16-bits/192kHz)’. So I ripped a CD
of Philip Catherine’s Transparence album
[Inak 8701 CD] in WAV format (you can
opt for FLAC to save space). The CD took a
good ten minutes to rip, ‘due to multiple
verifications’ according to Métronome.
Once finished, the album was visible
in the Library with album cover and titles.
And there was no ‘upsampling’ whatsoever.
Plain 44.1kHz/16-bit Red Book stuff.
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Lab
report
NETWORK AUDIO LIBRARY
Métronome Music CentRE 1
ABOVE: No analogue outs as the Métronome MC1 offers wireless and wired network
access, two USB ports to read from external drives, one USB out for connection to an
offboard USB DAC, S/PDIF out on coax and Toslink optical plus balanced AES/EBU
When played via the MC1 the
copy was barely distinguishable from
the CD played on an Oppo BDP-95EU
transport using the same iFi Audio
micro iDSD DAC. At times I even
thought it sounded better, though
perhaps I was being influenced by
the jitter results detailed in PM’s
Lab report, having read this before I
began my listening.
got my mojo working
To test the high-res capabilities of
the MC1, I changed to the Chord
Mojo. Not because the iFi Audio
micro iDSD couldn’t cope with the
task. In fact it goes all the way up
to native DSD512. The reason for
the switch was that the Mojo’s LED
buttons with their bright rainbow
colours (they have an uncanny
resemblance to a chameleon’s
eyeballs) make it easier to check a
file’s native resolution at a glance.
For sceptics of the virtues of
higher-resolution files I usually throw
in Rachel Podger & Brecon Baroque
playing the Largo from Bach’s
Concerto For Two Violins BWV 1043
at 44.1kHz, 96kHz, 192kHz and DSD
[Channel Classics CCS SA34113].
The Mojo duly turned sequentially
‘Red’ in the face, then ‘Green’ –
perhaps with envy (what wonderful
violin playing!) – then felt ‘Blue’ as
expected and finally got ‘Pink’ with
pleasure. Not White (Mojo’s DSD
indication)? Does the MC1 stream
DSD as PCM I wondered? I decided
to explore this matter further, even
though I suspected it might be due
to the Mojo’s DOP conversion.
I also have Mahler’s Symphony
No 3, Budapest Fest Orch/Iván
Fischer from Native DSD [JLBFO
Mahler3, ID:1720; Channel Classics
CCSSA38817], as DSD64, DSD128,
DSD256 and DXD downloads. The
Mojo stayed ‘Pink’ (352kHz) every
time whatever the file sample rate,
even at Quad DSD, while the DXD
file prompted the ‘Violet’ indication
of LPCM at 384kHz.
However, the iFi Audio micro iDSD
clearly indicated the presence of
DSD256 with its pin-point ‘Blue’ LED.
I concluded that the MC1 streams
DSD as native DSD while the DACs
‘live in a box of paints’, to quote Joni
Mitchell in the song ‘A Case Of You’.
I could drink a case of Métronome
and still be on my feet.
What about MQA-encoded FLAC
files? Both ‘North Country II’ – a
96kHz track by Ola Gjeilo from the
album Stone Rose [2L-048] – and the
DXD ‘Mozart: Violin Concertos, D
Major Allegro’, by Marianne Thorsten
& Trondheimsolistene [2L-038MQA2016] received the red flag
from Chord’s Mojo, which does not
support MQA decoding, indicating a
baseband 44.1kHz file.
However, replacing this with a
Meridian Explorer V2, the latter’s
blue LED immediately certified
the file as ‘Master Quality Audio’,
and Ola Gjeillo’s piano sounded
gorgeous at the unpacked sample
rate of 96kHz, while the DXD file
was unfolded to 192kHz – the
maximum sample rate the Explorer
V2 can muster.
Bearing in mind the similarity in the data storage/delivery
‘role profile’ of Métronome’s MC1 and Melco’s N1ZS20/2
[HFN Jun ’17] a technical comparison between the two,
and conventional NAS or PC/Mac USB solutions, has proved
very instructive indeed. Performance is best inferred via an
attached streaming player or DAC, however a USB DAC with
excellent data recovery/reclocking may not express a significant
difference in S/N or jitter. Similarly, a DAC with high levels
of inherent jitter will suffer the same distortion sidebands
regardless of the coherence of the digital data at its input.
Typically, it’s the semi-portable USB hub-powered DAC/
headphone amp solutions that provide us with the best
indicator of incoming data integrity and circulating noise.
So, driven directly from Métronome’s USB audio output iFi
Audio’s micro iDSD, which already benefits from a fine jitter
rejection (~140psec), was improved to <10psec [see Graph 1,
below]. Moreover, there was a worthwhile gain in A-wtd S/N to
108.3dB, suggesting the MC1/iDSD exercises some superiority
over the N1ZS20/iDSD tested last month.
Combining the MC1 with Oppo’s HA-2SE [HFN Dec ’16]
also bested the Melco/Oppo pairing’s A-wtd S/N ratio by 1dB
(to 101.9dB) while jitter fell from 460psec to 275psec. Again,
the MC1/RHA Dacamp L1’s S/N improved by another 1dB to
104.3dB and jitter to <10psec, as did the MC1/NuForce µDAC5
at 101.6dB and <10psec. However, while the Métronome MC1
seemed to improve on the Melco N1ZS20/2 in terms of S/N and
correlated jitter, the same analysis also resolved a cluster of
(very low-level) uncorrelated interference around 12.8kHz. This
is just visible on Graph 1 but much more obvious with the RHA
Dacamp L1 and Chord Mojo [black, Graph 2] where, ironically, it
is exposed by the impressive reduction in white noise. PM
ABOVE: 48kHz/24-bit jitter spectra from an iFi Audio
iDSD DAC – ‘standard’ FIR filter – over USB (red, via
standard PC) and direct (black, via Métronome MC1)
HI-FI NEWS VERDICT
The Metronome Music Centre
One does not have a sound of
its own, so it’s inevitably hard
to evaluate its performance.
Nevertheless, as PM’s Lab
Report report reveals, the MC1
is certainly capable of making
associated DACs sound better due
to a reduction in jitter. Though
not without quibbles, in some
ways this might very well be the
best digital ‘transport’ money can
buy – albeit at a Dior price.
Sound Quality: 87%
0
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ABOVE: 48kHz/24-bit jitter spectra from a batterypowered Chord Mojo over USB (red, via standard PC)
and direct (black, via Métronome MC1)
HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS
Data inputs
Wireless/Wired LAN (1000BASE-T)
Digital audio outputs
USB 2.0, AES/EBU, Coaxial, Toslink
Digital jitter (IFi Audio iDSD BL)
<10psec (140psec via PC USB)
Digital jitter (Chord Mojo)
<10psec (85psec via PC USB)
Power consumption
24W
Dimensions (WHD) / Weight
450x115x435mm / 12kg
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