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T2i Signature CD player
as reviewed by Robert H. Levi
Bull's-eye Metronome! The elegant, new solid-state Metronome T2i Signature two box top loader propels CDs right to the top of the silver disk format heap while raising the bar for digital CD playback to new heights of realism! It fully equals the finest separates and one box solutions while setting startlingly higher standards for harmonic accuracy, quietude, clarity of depth, neutrality, and you-are-there imaging. Holy mackerel audiophiles, CD playback just can't get much better than this!
Dominique Giner, Chief designer and creator of Metronome, previously consulted for Jadis and helped design many of their excellent digital components. It stands to reason that Giner's own Metronome may have some digital technology not previously divulged. Using proprietary full-time 24/192 upsampling techniques, the superb Phillips all metal CDM12 transport, and extraordinary build quality, the results are truly ear opening. Metronome achieves life-like definition from good old 16 bit CDs! It is positively shocking to play dual layer CD/SACD disks and have the CD layer consistently trump the performance of the SACD layer in a top SACD machine. This level of CD performance comes at a steep price: $20,600. Plus, I found the Metronome stack to require the very best cables; like the Kubala-Sosna Emotion Interconnects and AC Power Cables to achieve this level of performance.
A few more technical design highlights & features:
The Metronome could be used as a megabuck transport with another DAC, but that's unlikely, even though it comes complete with multiple digital outputs just for that purpose. On the other hand, it cannot be used as a DAC with other transports or digital sources as it has no standard digital inputs. It has a flat, easy to open, top loading door which requires less space that most top loaders. It comes complete with three nifty magnetic Delrin feet for each chassis that work extremely well. The remote is gorgeous and quite intuitive to use. At 20 feet, I could still read the very clear [defeatable] fluorescent readout on the transport. The well made Metronome is an ergonomic delight! By the way, I used the balanced outputs for this review. The single ended outputs were just a bit less dynamic. I could though adjust for this with a tweak of the volume control on the Pass X1 Preamp, so either is recommended.
Signal to noise ratio
The Metronome is the quietest CD player. I have never heard such black backgrounds. It equals the DCS and Meitner stacks as well as the top Jadis CD player in quietude by being free from any noise of any kind. No tube unit I know of can compete here. This intense quiet heightens the clear delineation of room boundaries and acoustic venues. You would expect this performance at this price and the Metronome delivers.
Second to none. I'm going out on a limb here, but the Metronome images in a more accurate, lifelike way than any other solid-state CD player I have heard to date. No kidding folks! It sets the bar for CD playback to a new height and fully equals the performance of any SACD player I've heard, period. On the best recordings, the images are fully alive, each in its defined space. Superb LP playback and only a select few tube CD players can equal this achievement, though LPs are much noisier.
There just is no grain to be heard. The music is whole in structure minus any edginess, hiss, sibilance, or other intrinsic artifacts you'd associate with solid-state reproduction. This reinforces the clarity of the images. I hear a slight dryness and some slight two dimensionality on the DCS stack, Linn, and Meitner gear. None here. The Metronome is a new achievement in clarity without any obvious distortion in solid-state digital playback. Listening fatigue is a thing of the past.
The best yet. Though the most expensive solid-state digital gear around has superb definition, the Metronome is a bit better. Not a leap here, but a step forward towards LPs' wide-open, unsampled sound reproduction. I hear more with the Metronome in both primary sound and ambient decay than I've heard from any other solid-state digital sources––including SACD playback. Using the best acoustically recorded CDs, it can fool you into thinking you are hearing real instruments or voices in the room. It does this more often and more credibly than any other digital source I have heard. The Metronome T2i Signature is the current winner for solid-state digital detail retrieval.
Realism is a complex combination of many virtues, but I'll try to make it a bit simpler. Draw a line. We'll call that the absolute neutral. In this space is true verisimilitude. No coloration, no distortion, no compression, no grain, no emphasis or lack of same, nothing added or subtracted …just pure absolute neutral. To the left we have added sweetness, warmth, liquidity, and richness with some golden/bronze graininess, added ambience, and lushness. To the right is crispness, etch, hardness, coolness, hiss, steeliness, silver graininess, hot dynamics and thinness. As you go further left and right of the absolute neutral, the effects of the added colorations increase. I believe that realism is simply the reproduction of the acoustically recorded definition in a way most consistent with the absolute neutral. [Obviously, electronic music need not apply.]
Now, the Metronome T2i Signature CD Player lives on this neutral line! It reproduces more definition, more clearly consistent with the absolute neutral than any other solid-state digital player I am aware of. It does this with maximum quiet, a total lack of phase distortion yielding phenomenal imaging, and completely uncompressed micro- and macro-dynamics. Comparing other solid-state digital gear to the Metronome instantly reveals the various colorations and sonic shortcomings of those units. Almost everything I have owned or have heard has more coloration than this Metronome player. Some of the colorations of most tube gear are rather charming and beautifying; others cause undue emphasis in the mid band. Some of the best solid-state units are just a bit dry and thin …a bit two dimensional and crisp. I don't pretend to know how Metronome does it, but I can't hear even a smidgen of coloration as reproduced via my Avalon Eidolons. Simply stated, there are no sonic quibbles to report.
The high band is airy, delicate, and well extended. It's grainless and beautifully ambient. All ambience is well controlled and without phasiness. Bountiful high frequency definition yields added realism to the images. No overshoot or undershoot here. Sounds as good as the best of the breed without the etch of solid-state.
The Metronome mid band definition is astounding. It's only equaled by the best phono reproduction and is a cut above all other solid-state digital playback. It's involving and right sounding and absolutely neutral. The SACD layer playback is no better on direct comparison. In fact, the Metronome was more realistic with fewer artifacts than my fantastic ModWright Sony 999 Version 2 or any other SACD stack I've encountered. The music is mostly in the mids and the Metronome T2i Signature is a tour de force in this frequency range. Vocals, violins, and piano are positively spot on accurate and alive. These instruments benefit the most from Metronome's superior digital playback. You get these right; it is right!
If I had any criticism at all, it would be in a slight leanness to the mids. I noticed it less with my NuForce Reference 9 SE solid-state amps and more with my E.A.R. 890 tube monoblocs. It was in no way disturbing to me nor to most of the other listeners who heard the Metronome in my system. I'm being most picky, as it is very hard to identify it's that subtle. The Metronome is a fabulous musical machine.
The most astounding part of this Metronome player is the bass -it is as good as the mid band. It goes to the center of the earth with textural cues so superb as to exquisitely render images. Bass fiddles appear in the soundstage with profound accuracy and textural completeness. You feel the bass - though it may not actually be that loud. Kettle drum thwacks are controlled, but supremely powerful. It embarrassed my excellent sounding Theta and Benchmark DAC1 Revised by just sounding much more complete and alive. Bass ambience was so much more controlled and focused and detailed. I've never heard such accuracy and realism in bass reproduction with any source––including that as reproduced with the best in SACD. What an achievement!
I wonder if this technology will trickle down to under $5000 solid-state players in the next few years? Digital is more than just parts. The algorithms used in the decoding chips are a reflection of the musical tastes of the designers. It is no surprise to me that Metronome benefits from such a refined sense of taste as Europeans tend to listen to more live unamplified music. As such, they are keenly aware of what un-amplified instruments (and the human voice) sound like live. Consequently, this Metronome player is not only cutting edge technology and build quality, it is a tour de force in the human engineering of musical reproduction in the home.
You might ask, will the Metronome improve older CDs? Actually, the results are quite predictable. CDs that are oversampled such as HDCDs, UV22, SBM, most all Telarc disks, the W.C. Fine Mercurys, the 156X, the CD layers of most Hybrid Disks, 20 Bit, 24 Bit, etc. are all wonderfully reproduced by the Metronome. The Metronome is a full time upsampler to 24/192 and it does a remarkable job with reading most oversampled CDs. You'll hear these disks as never before, no matter what their age or brand!
I do believe I have established a new record with audiophile visitors in the past three weeks. Some were high-end reviewers, others were esteemed members of the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society where I currently serve as President. They each listened to the Metronome and my three current references all connected with Kubala-Sosna Emotion interconnects and AC cables. They each had their favorite ultimate digital play back in mind as they auditioned the T2i Signature.
Each audiophile expressed exasperation and a touch of envy as they listened to this new cutting edge digital player. That the source was the CD layer was even more shocking. One audiophile who writes for these pages said he was changing his middle name to Metronome! It's much more like a performance, not a recording at all, said another. There's just nothing wrong with this, said another. We listened to the Eagles' live Hotel California cut for fun. We all heard layers of music never noticed from other solid-state digital sources! With the Metronome, the music made more sense, as opposed to being a jumbled mess. I go to a lot of live acoustic performances and this is breakthrough stuff, not just another piece of audio jewelry.
The Metronome T2i Signature CD Player is a stellar achievement ergonomically and musically with overall performance equal to today's most expensive solid-state digital gear. However, it surpasses them all in its absolutely neutral and realistic reproduction of musical definition, with a total lack of any describable colorations. I tried to ascertain the smallest flaws at any frequency range, but heard virtually none. Construction is truly superb as one would expect at this price. This important digital player will influence future digital gear for years to come. The Metronome T2i Signature is one of a handful of players for the connoisseur audiophile perfectionist with a big CD collection. Take it from me, buy one of these and you can forget about SACDs. [I do though have one tubed CD player in house that was competitive and it's a subject for a future review!] Robert H. Levi
Most CDs and Hybrid Disks used in this review:
T2i CD player