Métronome Technologie AQWO SACD Player/DAC

hfncommendedBucking the trend that sees 'physical media' in decline, the latest model to emerge from the French company's disc player/DAC line-up is also its first SACD machine

Coincidence is an interesting thing: at the same time I collected the curiously-named Métronome AQWO for review, the mainstream news was buzzing with the decline of both physical music media and file downloads, and the seemingly unstoppable rise of streaming services. It was also echoed by editor PM in his Welcome page [HFN Feb '19].

So perhaps this may not be the best climate in which to launch an SACD/CD player/DAC selling for a couple of quid under £13,000 and available in a choice of silver or black, let alone one with a tube stage option for an extra £1570? Oh, and AQWO is not an acronym, but a phonetic twist on the word ἀκούω from Ancient Greek, meaning 'I listen, or hear'…

What's more, although SACD was launched 20 years ago, and remains a very niche format, the AQWO is Métronome's first player to spin the 'Super Audio' format. So why an SACD player now? Well, it should be noted that Métronome is hardly a lone voice crying in the wilderness: in recent times we've seen a number of new SACD-capable players from the likes of Marantz and Pioneer, whether as pure audio devices or 'universal' machines with SACD playback plus DVD/BD video format compatibility.

And Another Thing...
And there's another reason – while the supply of new SACD releases may have slowed to little more than a trickle, mainly from smaller, audiophile oriented labels, the DSD technology behind the discs is having something of an Indian summer, with various download sites either offering, or specialising in, content in the single-bit format. Some have a few DSD releases – or at least releases offered in DSD – while one, NativeDSD.com, claims only to sell recordings originated in DSD. At the time of writing, it's offering some 1500 albums, or over 22,000 tracks, from 64 labels, many of them in both stereo and multichannel, and in formats up to DSD256.

So that's what Métronome is up to, the AQWO having not just a transport able to play both CDs and SACDs, but also digital inputs including an asynchronous USB-B that'll accept formats all the way up to DSD512 (should you be able to find any such files). At its core is a pair of AKM's AK4497 DACs from its 'Velvet Sound Verita' series, which can accept not only high sample rate DSD but also 768kHz/32-bit PCM. Examples of the Velvet Sound DAC series are already found in Métronome's own DSC1 network player [HFN Apr '18], in Esoteric's Grandioso player/DACs [HFN Oct '18], and at the heart of Linn's latest-generation Katalyst DAC.

With that DAC comes a choice of six digital filter settings that give plenty of scope for fettling, but I'm bound to say the small variations in sound when switching filters are all but masked by the inherently 'characterful' quality of the AQWO itself – and that's before you switch in the optional tube output stage. That tube kit, by the way, can be specified for factory installation at the time of ordering, or added later if required.

Top-Loading Mech
The player itself is built on a grand scale, offering a third variant on the disc-loader mechanism within the Métronome range. Here the top-loading drive is located to the front of the chassis, with a hefty sliding cover to match the solidity of the main casework, and a magnetic puck supplied to hold the disc in place. The substantial weight is to an extent accounted for by the use of multiple power supplies and the three-point support structure that at least partially isolates the CD/SACD mechanism from outside vibration.

Meanwhile, the fascia panel is dominated by a large (6.5in) colour, 21:9 'widescreen' touch-display, offering not just the usual status readouts but also a range of set-up and operation options, including the ability to change the colour of its illumination to match your tastes and décor. If I may be forgiven for resorting to an obvious stereotype for a moment... it's all very French!


As well as the disc playback and the aforementioned USB-B input, the AQWO also has a range of 'conventional' digital ins – two each of AES/EBU on XLR, S/PDIF coaxial and optical – and digital outs on the same trio of connections, plus an I2S output on HDMI should you have a DAC able to accept it. Mind you, it would seem slightly odd to spend some £13,000 on a player such as this and only use it as a digital transport. Consequently, analogue outputs are provided on both balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) sockets.

sqnote A New Experience
The rubric of these reviews requires that one sums up the sound of a product succinctly before going into greater detail, and I think in this case I can do so in one word – 'unusual'. The Métronome AQWO sounds unlike any other high-end player/DAC I have encountered, in that it has a sound largely based on warmth and smoothness rather than the extraction of every last detail on a disc or in a digital file.

In practice the overall presentation is one of scale and richness and, yes, there's still plenty of information on offer, including a persuasive sense of the presence and ambience of a fine recording – especially when playing SACDs or DSD files. However, this is a very long way from the 'maximum information' school of audio design some find almost unlistenable, with the side-benefit that even rather brash recordings are tamed.

Métronome Technologie
Supplied by: Absolute Sounds Ltd
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