Metronome CD8 S integrated CD player

I don't listen to music when I write, even when I write about listening to music: When there's music playing, it almost always gets my full attention—and I'm no good at multitasking. (And if I'm around music that's awful and I'm powerless to stop it, I have to leave the premises.) A rare exception is when I listen to CDs while proofreading, because proofreading is fairly brainless stuff—and as playback formats go, the Compact Disc isn't the most musically compelling.

In recent years, that last observation has been challenged a very few times, most notably by CD-playing source components from Naim Audio, Ayre Acoustics, 47 Laboratory, and Audio Note—products that upset my composure by leading me to the music and making me drink it.

Now another new product is disturbing my peace: the CD8 S ($10,000), which French manufacturer Metronome Technologie describes as an integrated player, in the same sense that many hundreds of electronics manufacturers describe their preamplifier-amplifier combinations as integrated amplifiers. Lest that seem like just so much nominal silliness, consider: The Metronome CD8 S—which recently evolved, Hillary-like, from the well-established Metronome CD8—is equipped with USB and S/PDIF digital-input jacks, so its internal DAC can be used with external digital sources. Consider also that the Metronome's D/A converter technically outpaces the disc transport with which it shares space in the case . . . but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Description
The Metronome CD8 S first caught my eye as part of a silent display at last year's New York Audio Show, which was noted for having taken place not in New York City but in Rye Brook, in Westchester County. ("It's easier for me to travel to Munich than to Rye Brook," declared the newly carless Herb Reichert from his Bed-Stuy sanctum.) The initial attraction was, I admit, skin deep: I considered the CD8 S one of the most perfect-looking appliances I've seen. Viewed from above, the 17.6" wide by 17" deep Metronome is nearly square—only later would I realize that those dimensions are precisely the same as those of my Sony SCD-777 SACD/CD player—with a top-loading disc transport whose mechanical and aesthetic designs appeared to be in perfect sync with one another: The CD8 S seemed both artsy and purposeful. Notably, both the player's top surface and its 4"-high aluminum-alloy front panel mixed two different shades of metallic gray, one a few degrees warmer than the other, to create an elegant, sculpted look. (I know nothing of the psychology of color perception, but a few weeks after the New York show, when my review sample of the CD8 S arrived, I was surprised to see that the manufacturer describes the color as "silver": Its textured finish and combination of hues led me to think of it as light taupe.)

I was also impressed by the CD8 S's disc-loading mechanism—a simple sliding lid, devoid of needless motors and endowed with a just-right feeling that bordered on the sensual—and its top-mounted control panel. The latter comprises five small pushbuttons for the usual functions: previous track, stop, play, pause, and next track. Like the aesthetics of the player as a whole, the orthography of the control panel is unique: Each switch is labeled with a symbol that looks abstract yet strangely intelligible. It took me a moment to realize that each graphic was created by taking the universal media-control symbol for that function—the sideways Christmas trees for skipping tracks, two parallel vertical bars for pause, etc.—rendering them in outline, rounding off the corners, and bisecting them horizontally. Neat.

Although its controls are on top, the CD8 S's standard-issue digital readout is centered on its front panel, along with two miniature toggle switches: one for On/Off, the other for selecting among three different inputs: USB (Type B socket), S/PDIF (RCA jack), or the built-in disc transport. For the first two selections, the display also shows sampling rates, preceded by an uppercase P for PCM files or, for DSD files, a lowercase d. (Let's not read too much into that, shall we?) Thus, files ripped from "Red Book" CDs came up as "P 44.1" (the period was actually rendered as a teensy-tiny colon), DSD128 files came up as "d 128," and so forth.

And there you have the Metronome CD8 S's Big Surprise: It does DSD. Or, at least, its D/A converter does DSD—its disc transport does not. On the one hand, that seems a bit odd, like a four-wheel-drive vehicle with very little ground clearance. But then it dawns: Just as most owners of 4WD vehicles aren't interested in off-roading, it can be argued that most digital-audio enthusiasts aren't interested in SACDs (which I regard as a niche format—although, as an LP collector, I have no right to condescend).

At the heart of the CD8 S's DAC is the AK4490EQ, a two-channel, 32-bit Velvet Sound chip from Asahi Kasei Microdevices (AKM), of Japan. This chip supports up to 768kHz PCM digital and 11.2MHz DSD, and incorporates its own digital filtering—although Metronome says they supplement the AKM's filter with circuits of their own design. The CD8 S's DSD-friendly USB receiver is the Combo384 module from the Italian firm Amanero, the model number of which signifies its support for up to 384kHz. Analog output gain is created with two OPA604 FET-input op-amps per channel.

The CD8 S incorporates a specially modified Philips CDM12 Pro2 (v.6.8) transport, for which Metronome makes their own removable, puck-style magnetic clamp. The transport mechanicals are fastened to a large and vaguely T-shaped platform made of 0.3"-thick black acrylic. That platform is isolated from its surroundings by means of a three-point suspension using outsize (2.4" high by 2.3" in diameter) foam-rubber dampers instead of springs. Additional dampers atop the three suspension points appear to both enhance isolation and confer enough of a cushioning effect for the CD8 S to be safely shipped without the need for transit bolts.

Speaking of niches: When one slides open its lid, the Metronome's disc compartment is suffused with a ghostly blue light that looks especially nice against the glossy black of the acrylic platform—and assists in the changing of discs and the placing of pucks when the lights are low. According to Jean-Marie Clauzel, Metronome's general manager, the light neither hinders nor enhances performance—and is in fact extinguished, refrigerator-style, when the lid is shut.

Also supplied with the CD8 S is a remote handset that duplicates all of the controls on the player itself, and adds controls for fast forward and reverse within a given track. Happily, the remote's Volume ring, obviously intended for some other product, can be used to toggle among the player's three input modes. Also happily, the 10"-long handset almost reaches from my listening seat to the CD8 S's location on my equipment rack: Another inch or two and I could use it as a stick with which to work the player's switches, thus saving on batteries. Really.

Installation and setup
There isn't much one can say about installing the CD8 S, thus confounding the reviewer who's paid by the word or the column inch. All I did was take it out of the box, put it on the topmost surface of my Box Furniture rack, and plug in its AC power cord. The Metronome has both single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) output jacks; I used the former.

Preparing the CD8 S for use with my Apple iMac required slightly more brainpower but was still easy enough—at least for use with PCM-based file formats. After I'd run a cable from a USB Type A socket on the iMac to the Metronome's USB Type B socket, a selection labeled "combo384 Amanero" appeared in the Sound/Output pulldown menu of my iMac's System Preferences window. I clicked on that and all was well—until I decided to play some DSD files, for which I use DSD-friendly Audirvana Plus v.1.5.12. I was able to select the Metronome—again, as "combo384 Amanero"—from within Audirvana's Preferences window, but Audirvana's Automatic Detection function didn't recognize the CD8 S's native DSD capability, forcing me to select DSD over PCM standard 1.0. After doing that, then going back and selecting the Metronome from within my iMac's Audio MIDI Setup utility, all was really well.

A final setup note: The CD8 S's steel case is supported by three feet of fairly large diameter (2.3"), each made mostly of polymer but with a metal disc recessed into its center. Also supplied with the CD8 S are three polymer cones with magnets at their tops—again with the magnets!—that are sized to snug into those recesses. I tried it both ways and preferred the sound sans cones: It seemed to me the pointed feet diminished the substance of the sound, and added a fussiness that distracted from the player's musicality. But, hey, that's just me.

Listening to CDs
My first impression was that the CD8 S let CDs sound notably smooth and silky, with really good musical momentum and flow—cold, right out of the box. (I mean literally cold: The UPS man probably hadn't made it to the bottom of the driveway by the time I'd plugged in the Metronome.) Those qualities were evident with Mstislav Rostropovich's 1995 recordings of J.S. Bach's Cello Suites (2 CDs, EMI 5 55364 2): The Metronome cozied up to Slava's very brisk and polished yet nonetheless emotional (especially Suite 5) performances. During the first 45 minutes or so, the sound was a little plasticky and lacking in texture, and the Metronome seemed to have little going for it in the scale department: dB for dB, things sounded smaller than I'm used to hearing from the best digital sources.

COMPANY INFO
Metronome Technologie
US distributor: Rep-Presents
4449 Easton Way
Columbus, OH 43219
(614) 846-4500
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