For a long time Metrum Acoustics could only supply digital to analogue converters (DACs) at either end of the scale, they made expensive ones and relatively affordable examples but there was nothing in between. This gap has now been filled with the Onyx and Jade converters, derived from the Adagio and Pavane models with almost the same features and very high performance.
The Onyx and Jade are nearly identical inside and out, the main difference is a fixed output for the Onyx and a variable output for the Jade. On the back you get inputs for Toslink (24/96), Coax and AES/EBU (24/192) and USB (24/384), next to balanced outputs on XLR and unbalanced on RCA. The Onyx has five push buttons with indicator LEDs and a remote eye with an error light above it. The Jade with the volume control in the middle has extra connectors on the back to switch on/off Metrum Forte amplifiers, one or a pair, and only one push button to switch between inputs. The remote controls differ as well. Note that you need the remote at least after every mains disconnection to activate the outputs for safety reasons. You don’t want to blow up your precious loudspeakers not realising that volume is up too far. But as long as the DAC stays connected to mains, the output is never disconnected. The casings, made of aluminium and steel, are compact and available with silver or black front panels, the smaller and simpler box helps to keep costs down.
On the inside you find a main board with four Transient DAC Two modules, a piggy back board for the USB input, a PCB behind the front panel and a power supply. Metrum’s Transient Two modules each contain their highly regarded R2R ladder converters with forward correction and true 24-bit capability. Two of these mono modules are needed for stereo and are doubled up for balanced signal handling. Non-oversampling and non-filtering ladder DACs are generally considered to be the best available and are found in the majority of high end converters, but they are also the most expensive if done properly. Far more expensive than the chip DACs found in many converters that sometimes sell for more than double the price of these units. The Transient Two modules connect directly to the outputs without an extra analogue stage, so volume control in the Jade is achieved by raising and lowering the reference voltage over the R2R circuit. Not by stealing bits from the stream, nor by putting a chip or a potentiometer in the analogue domain. It’s a very clever idea that I have only seen once a long, long time ago.
The output impedance will always be a low 100 Ohms and the output voltage is fixed for the Onyx. The noise floor is an exceptional -145dB with reference to 2V. The Jade will output up to 3V on RCA and 6V on XLR, more that enough to properly drive any power amplifier to the limits. The Jade is a fully functional balanced digital preamplifier while the Onyx is a D/A converter only. But since the output is never affected by the volume control position the sound quality of the analogue outputs won’t differ in any way between Onyx and Jade.
My system comprises Pass Labs amplification, driven direct from a Jade or using an Audia Flight preamp with Onyx. Digital sources are NAD M50 and M50.2. Speakers are a pair of Harbeth P3ESR on TonTräger stands and PMC fact.12 in my main room. The PMCs are positioned on Townshend Podiums with Maximum Supertweeters on top. Mains power is supplied from an Atlas distribution block or PS Audio P5 Powerplant. Cabling by AudioQuest, Crystal Cable, Yter and Simply Audio. I contrasted these DACs with a Metrum Acoustics Adagio and Pavane since both were in house.
I started with Nik Bärtsch’s Mobile album Continuum on the coax input, but note that the AES/EBU connection is preferred if you have it. Playing the track ‘Modul 24 19’ I am in no sense disappointed with the Jade, it’s deep in the bass, not overblown and maintains detail. My fact.12 is capable of handling such deep bass notes and livens up immediately. A quick comparison to the Pavane in this system shows the Jade has a little less authority, is a little less detailed but is otherwise very similar. The family signature is clear, the Jade will not surprise you in that way but it’s remarkable that both DACs are so close considering the price gap. Stereo image is about the same, meaning open and wide, with enough depth to virtually move the wall back a few metres. Music emerges from the speakers with energy and speed, enough to listen to the whole track and enjoy the changing themes and the repeating notes. Lori Liebermann’s album Ready For The Storm is well recorded and the Jade shows as much. Having enjoyed some very intimate concerts of hers the voice sounds like the real thing, clear of the instruments but you can easily appreciate the bands’ hard work. They all add to the performance. This would be a good CD for a dealer to demonstrate the Jade with, it would sell as fast as the customer could pull out his or her credit card! Need a better sound? That’s hard to get if you don’t want to turn to a bigger brother.
Philip Glass’ beautiful harp piece Metamorphosis; The Hours performed by Lavina Meijer, is colourful on my system. Like Bärtsch the compositions are layers of the same themes, settling in the mind, taking you away from day to day troubles. The detailed Jade shows a lot of the finer characteristics of this instrument and of the piano that accompanies it. In the second track it is the piano that opens, showing how big the instrument really is. Having had a quartet of DACs at home lately this is my favourite one, maybe because I am so used to the Pavane and Adagio, it confirms why I chose them. Dee Dee Bridgewater is Live at Yoshi’s performing ‘Slow boat to China’, a very dynamic track with explosive percussion. It seems not to matter what you feed the Metrum Jade, it can handle all sorts of music. Dee Dee’s voice is as clear as water, on other systems she might sound hard with a lot of ‘esss’ sounds, not here, her voice is under full control. I almost feel the energy of the club with her on stage. A lot of people are fond of the voice of Paul Stephenson on These Days and I would encourage them to listen to the album with a Jade in the audio chain. They will love him even more. Acoustic instruments are beautifully arranged around the singer and backing vocalists. Every individual is easy to pick out, all the instruments are in harmony but still separated from each other. The impact of the voice is bigger than you probably expect at this price, a lot of brands sell DACs for less, even Metrum, but compare the sound quality and you’ll soon realise that these two are in a different league. My costly system shows no flaws, no faults, no negative issues with the Jade, no matter how loud or soft I play my music.
Gemstones are forever
What else can I say, the only important feature that the Jade and Onyx lack is DSD processing and for some the absence of a headphone output on the Jade will be an issue. The Jade is easy to describe in audiophile terms: details are fine, bass goes deep, high notes never turn sharp nor loose energy. Dynamics are great, noise level is as low as possible. Still with all these remarks I cannot put down in words how much I enjoy music with this little gemstone. The Jade and the Onyx both benefit from the achievements of their bigger brothers. Metrum did a great job in designing and manufacturing the Transient Two modules, now it is the time to enjoy them in balanced form in a more affordable way. Construction is excellent, after sales service among the best, although you don’t need it because each separately tested product serves you for many years without trouble. These Dutch designed and built products make me proud to be a Dutchman. I do love the Metrum DACs and should I be needing a new DAC I would make sure my dealer included a Jade or Onyx in the comparison with any others. But I would be surprised if he could find anything better.