Metrum Acoustics Onyx Balanced NOS HiFi DAC Review
For this review I am working with Elite Audio UK who are the UK distributor and exclusive retailer and if you interested in any Metrum Acoustics components please contact them
A few Surprises in store for me
Metrum Acoustics are a Netherlands based Hifi manufacturer that have been in business for over 15 years and the Onyx sits in the middle of the companies range of HiFi DACs. The Onyx is exclusively a DAC, a stand alone digital to analogue convertor. Metrum Acoustics also make the Jade which is the same DAC as the Onyx but with pre amplification for an additional cost
The Onyx is for an audiophile who already has their digital music source, pre amplification and amplification sorted and just wants a standalone DAC and its nice to see HiFi components that just do one thing.
The Oynx has various digital inputs as you might expect such as USB, RCA based SPDIF, optical and balanced AES. You can have I2S and MQA boards added for an additional premium. For analogue outputs there are both RCA and Balanced options which is perfect.
Setup is nice and easy just connect the cables to the inputs and outputs you want to use, power the Onyx on and select the input you want to listen to. The front faceplate has easy to read labels and a big LED for each of the inputs that you certainly wont miss even at a distance. To select the input press the corresponding button or you can use the clicker style all aluminium remote control
Build quality is interesting because at first the Onyx felt light in my hands and a little less substantial than some other DACs I had here at the time of the review, however after picking them all up multiple times during the comparative testing the Onyx is noticeably heavier than Chord’s Hugo TT2 DAC.
The Onyx is hand made and feels well made, visually its very understated, the front face plate again is a simplistic design but perfectly fine. The Onyx feels like a “meat and potatoes” engineered product from the outside but its the inside that is interesting.
Why is the Onyx Special
The Onyx is a Balanced NOS (Non Oversampling) DAC. Metrum Acoustics have developed their own R2R ladder network based DAC chips called Transient DAC Modules, with the current iteration used in the Onyx being the second generation.
There are four Transient DAC Two (Second gen) Modules in the Onyx, with a pair being used in parallel for each channel and these are controlled via an FPGA to divide the sound between the modules so that each is working only in its most linear range. That results in a fully balanced, dual mono DAC with 24bits of dynamic range, 120db of channel separation and -145db of dynamic range.
Priced in its own category
Priced at £2399 its difficult to categorise the Onyx because it sits in between the established under £2k and £4k and above DAC price categories and its therefore difficult to identify who its direct competitors are. I can only think of the Denafrips Pontus and the Schiit YGGDRASIL neither of which I have heard to date.
I was interested to see how the Onyx would sound compared to the Chord Electronics Qutest, Hugo TT2 and the Musician Audio Pegasus another R2R based DAC.
Sounded different to what I was expecting
I think I was expecting the Onyx to have a softer and overly smooth delivery but that is not what I got, it creates a big sound with a wide sound stage and it presents music with real energy and drive. There is a very nice amount of details present with a good and solid bass and all of this reminded me more of a chip DAC or maybe an FPGA DAC.
Comparing the Metrum Onyx to the Chord Hugo TT 2 there is a smooth and graceful side to its music delivery that stands out as different, its sound is less focused to a degree but its more easy going, more easy listening but only to a point and not to the point where the sound is softened at all. The overall timing is not quite as crisp as with the TT2 but its very close and in key areas like mid range and treble the Onyx sounds smoother and less tense
Vocals sound nice, instruments sound nice and there is an element of gloss to how the Onyx presents music but for the betterment of the music overall – not quite a valve type of gloss but maybe a little bit of that effect.
Comparing to another R2R DAC the Musician Audio Pegasus and an FPGA DAC the Chord Qutest both in the sub £1200 category you can easily here what the Onyx is offering over and above them. A more substantial sound with more refinement, better bass, wider soundstage and a more focused and direct sound that is smoother and nicer to listen to. In this comparison the Onyx justifies the price difference and is a clear next step up.
One very stand out feature that I really appreciate is the ability for the customer to upgrade their Onyx DAC when Metrum Acoustics develop new technologies and I always think this is great. Presently Metrum Acoustics are teasing and asking for expressions of interest in their Transient DAC Three (third gen) Modules which is in development so the upgrade possibility is very real.
The Metrum Onyx partly doesnt feel like a lot of phyiscal product for £2399, what high end DAC ever does, but it does sound like a lot of very nice sounding DAC for your money and I think you will notice and appreciate its full and nicely textured sound with a clever mixture of smoothness and immediacy. The Onyx to me is like a hybrid sounding DAC combining the sound benefits of different DAC technologies and I think that is very clever.
The Onyx has definitely raised my interest in their flagship DAC the Pavane too.
An Essential Audition Award is granted in recognition of a products high performance but with a certain uniqueness that makes auditioning even more essential
Metrum Acoustics Onyx Specification
Digital To Analog Converter Type: Non Oversampling.
Audio Bit Depth (Resolution): 24 bits per sample.
Correction Type: Forward (FPGA) corrected.
Metrum DACTWO Transient Chips Per Channel: 2.
Power: 15 VA toroidal transformer.
Noise Floor: -145 dB.
Inputs: 1x Optical, 2x Coax, 1x AES/EBU, 1x USB or I²S.
Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.006% THD.
Sampling Rate Via Optical Input: 44.1 – 96 kHz.
Sampling Rate Via Coax And AES/EBU Input: 44.1 – 192 kHz.
Sampling Rate Via USB Input: 44.1 – 384 kHz.
Product Dimensions: 29 x 25 x 6 cm. Product