Metrum Acoustics Pavane

Device Type: Digital to Analog Converter
Input: 1x Toslink, 2x Coax S/PDIF (BNC and RCA), AES/EBU, and USB
Output: single-ended RCA and balanced XLR pairs
Dimensions: 440 x 320 x 85 mm
Weight: 10 kg
Availability: Authorized Dealers
Price: $4999.99
Website: www.metrum-acoustics.com

Extreme NOS
The Metrum Acoustics Pavane is the company's flagship DAC. Like the recently reviewed and well loved Musette (see review), the Pavane relies on Metrum's own Transient R2R ladder DAC One modules to convert Ds to As. While the Musette uses two, the Pavane employs a total of eight DAC modules, four per channel. Unlike the Musette, the digital data feeding those DAC chips passes through the company's FPGA-resident "forward correction module". What's it correcting?

From Cees Ruijtenberg, the man behind Metrum:

The Forward correction module is splitting the 24 bit format into two new 12 bit streams. So you have a 12 bit stream which is the LSB (least significant bits) and the 12 bit DAC (most significant bits). The problem with 24 bits R2R ladder DAC is linearity and switching noise of the ladder network in the lower ranges. Therefore the LSB part will be pushed to the upper part of the ladder by the forward correction module. In other words, the LSB will be processed as MSB data. The advantage is that it will be processed in the area having the lowest noise, the best linearity and the lowest distortion. T

he result however is that on the analog side of these two clusters the volume of the LSB is equal to the MSB part which is wrong, of course. Therefore we have to attenuate the LSB part with 67 dB (equal to 12 bits) to let it match with the MSB part. The result of this attenuation is that switching noise is also attenuated for 67dB and that distortion and linearity in this range is the same as in the MSB part.

Please look at the Figure 1. for the results of such low signals. You can see that the spectra are completely clean and is one of the reasons that low level info is more involved .

Figure 1. credit: Metrum Acoustics

All incoming data is passed through this "forward correction module" and the answer to "What's it correcting?" is essentially low level linearity and noise; The only other DAC on the market that I'm aware of with a SN/R that comes close to the Pavane's claimed -145dB (at 2Volt RMS) is Bruno Putzeys' Mola Mola DAC @ 140dB SN/R.

one of the Pavane boards (left) and the Musette's (photographed in Munich)

The USB receiver comes courtesy of M2TECH's hiFaceTWO that supports up to 384kHz over I²S, which is fed directly to the FPGA. The Toslink input maxes out at 96kHz, while the Coax and AES inputs can handle up to 192kHz PCM data. Finishing off the back panel are the power switch and the IEC inlet for the included power cord. Up front resides the units On/Standby button and a series of buttons with associated blue LEDs for input selection.

The review sample came in the matte black finished aluminum chassis, but you can also order yours in silver. Me, I'd stick with the black as it's quite lovely looking to my eyes. Stealthy. The top plate is black glass and overall the Pavane looks and feels the part of a flagship DAC. Does it walk the walk?

A Musette On Sound Steroids
If you've read my take on the Metrum Musette, you'll know I enjoyed it. A lot. There was a liveliness and vibrancy to its presentation that grabbed me at hello. My only comparative knock on the Musette related to a lack of body and dimensionality found in other DACs. The Pavane fitfully crosses out the Musette's omissions while retaining all of the plus qualities. Yes, the Pavane is a better sounding DAC as compared to the Musette. It gives you more weight, body, tonal richness, and a more natural sense of the space of the recording. Or to put it more plainly, it fleshes out your music more.

Think clarity. The Pavane does a wonderful job of presenting even the most complex music in a natural and inviting manner with every last ounce of nuance in tact. There's no artificial sounding edge, no sense of a flat cutout image, basically none of digital's nastier stuff. In some cases this can also come with a somewhat dark and muddy sound but that is absolutely not the case with the Pavane (or the Musette); think clarity. More so than the majority of DACs have come through here, the Pavane allows you to hear into the recording and the recording's quality. This is somewhat of a good news/bad news proposition in that you'll really hear what's there. "You can't handle the truth!"

Listening to Remembering Mountains: Unheard Songs by Karen Dalton (see ) was particularly telling in this regard as each track is performed by a different artist and of greater relevance to our good/bad news, each track is also engineered differently. Sharon Van Etten sounds simply stunning whereas Lucinda Williams vocals sound a bit too bell-like. OK. I'm really kidding about this being good news and bad news, it's all good, but the level to which the Pavane makes these differences apparent is fairly remarkable.

There's also a very nice sense of control throughout the frequency spectrum from the very bottom to the tippy top and everything in between. Compared to the Auralic Vega, I'd say the Pavane feels weightier and more natural. The Vega does have this lovely sparkle up top but overall I found the Pavane to be more engaging. Nils Frahm's beautiful and beautiful sounding album Solo (see review it's also a free 24/96 recording!) was sheer beauty through the Pavane; space, place, size, color, and nuance all there for the taking.

Pure & Simple
Cees Ruijtenberg is clearly onto something with his new DACs and that something, according to my ears, is musical enjoyment. Pure and simple. I spent many a late night, lights out, listening to, dancing to, singing to, and enjoying the hell out of music, old, new, borrowed, and blue through his Musette and even more so through his Pavane DAC. If all this sounds like something you'd enjoy, give either one a listen. Just make sure you have the room for this much enjoyment.


Associated Equipment

Also in-use during the Pavane review: Metrum Musette, Auralic Aries

COMMENTS
theppd's picture

Thanks for comparing it to Vega! Much appreciated! Looking forward for the rest of the competition.

akeg's picture

Hi Michael,

Thanks for a great review of the Pavane Dac.

You mention that the only dac you know of that has a lower noise floor than the Pavane is the Molo Mola Dac. However, the new Hegel HD30 has a stated noise floor of -150 dB.

I hope you will get the Hegel HD30 in for review soon so that you can compare with the Pavane. I have not heard the new Hegel myself, but everyone seems to be lyric about it...

ChiDave's picture

"Sounds" great. Too bad there's no volume control, like Schitt's newest NOS. This seems very old-school to me at this point. It probably would've been on my upgrade audition list.

DH's picture

The comparison to the Vega was useful. I'm putting it on my lists of DACs to consider, but I would prefer one with a Volume Control.

DH's picture

....

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...and Happy New Year!
howardk's picture

Hi Mike. You've often commented about how much you enjoy DSD, possibly even more so than PCM. However, if you could have only one DAC, could you live with a great sounding PCM-only DAC like the Pavane (or Musette), or would you always be missing DSD?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
... that I comment much more often about how much I enjoy music as opposed to formats ;-)

Since I can listen to any DSD recording as a PCM recording, I wouldn't miss the music.

subbanerjee's picture

Hi Mike: Any comments on how the Pavane compares with the MSB DAC?

Wong Low's picture

A Hegel noise figure of -150dB is just silly talk. As for most dubious noise claims, the manufacturers give uncertain and unclear data. The Pavane DAC is no exception. They say -140dB under +8dBu, but do not say if that's broadband, or if it's weighted, etc.. From the spectrum plot, the Pavane averages around -150dB at any given frequency. But that's taken at any one frequency. If you expand the measurement to "broadband" (measurement bandwidth from 20Hz to 20kHz), a -150dB single-freq noise figure increases to around -115, unweighted. That's not 24 bits. That's more like 21 real bits. Alas, there is no test equipment available that can measure -140dBu, broadband, unweighted noise. About the best we can measure today is -120dBu, broadband, unwtd noise (which is around 500nV RMS).