Non-Oversampling DAC with a clever design
Retail price in the Netherlands approx 5000 euro
The Pavane has been available for a while but for me, this is the first contact. It’s priced at a competitive price point (hardcore audiophiles would even call it affordable) and it has received universal praise. For me the interesting aspect would be to learn how it compares to the EC Designs Mosaic, which is also filterless with no oversampling.
As this review is not meant to be as extensive as I normally do, I won’t go into huge detail on how the Pavane is built, but one main feature is that like the EC Designs Mosaic, the Pavane has no active output stage, whereby the DAC output is directly driving the analog output connectors. The interesting part is that Metrum utilizes 4 differential R2R Ladder DAC modules in parallel per channel.
The Pavane was listened to using its balanced XLR outputs using a Transparent Ultra XL and Cardas Hexlink Golden 5C interlinks as well as its cinch outputs using an AudioQuest Water interlink. Even if these 2 interlinks sound very different, the results seem to be consistent when comparing to other DACs using the same cables. The Water worked particularly well, retaining all of the Pavane’s subtlety and dynamics and adding some “meat on the bones”, improving its timbre.
Above: the heavy Taiko power cable is held in place well by the Pavane’s sturdy connector
Various power cables were used, and although the Pavane’s basic character is evident with all of them, they turn out to have a large influence on the resultant sound. The Pavane sounding most upbeat and powerful with a Furutech Alpha power cable, nicely smooth and relaxed with a Harmonic Technology Pro ACII power cable and somewhere in-between with the van den Hul Mainsstream. The absolute best match was with a Taiko Nagado (around 800 euro), which not only makes for a nicely luxurious sound while enlarging the soundstage in all dimensions and raising low-level detail, but also retains its speed and dynamics, and really lifts the Pavane to another level. Phase turns out to be crucial in extracting the maximum in PRAT and lyrical delivery from the Pavane. My unit had a mark on the “wrong” side of the IEC inlet. When connecting the power cable accordingly it sounded noticeably more upbeat then with the phase the other way around.
The Pavane’s USB input is recognized by the Aurender N10 as a HiFace 2 interface and it must be said that this seemed to be audible, the DAC not really sounding coherent, or rather, its PRAT being sub-optimal when playing music using USB. Its technical qualities were all in order, but the emotion would not come. The Lyrical aspect of the music was subdued. Using its coaxial input instead made for a welcome increase in flow, helping the lyrical quality quite a bit.
A quick test with another USB cable, the Elijah Audio Quad Braid made for a much smoother sound but the cable could not help the Pavane in the emotion department.
Using the N10 with a EC Designs XTOS USB to Toslink converter, however, made a large difference in terms of emotional delivery. Electrical S/PDIF however made for the best delivery and further listening was done using its coaxial input with the N10 as source with a Mad Scientist HDC Plus as digital interlink.
Like the Mosaic, the Pavane has a highly neutral and unforced sound. And like the Mosaic, it has a tendency to make normal DACs sound etched and hard in comparison. Also, like the Mosaic, the Pavane is very subtle and has a great differentiation of low-level detail. The DACs do differ in terms of delivery of power, the Pavane having a more solid bass and a wider soundstage. Performing on a similar level as the Mosaic I think is a great achievement in itself. Add to this its multiple inputs and outputs and it becomes clear that the Pavane is offering quite a lot for the money.
Nevertheless, it occurs to me that I am summing up the Pavane’s technical qualities rather than being captivated by its musical qualities. This is because I can’t help but feel that there is a “sober”, non-lyrical kind of quality about it. Especially when switching back to the Pavane after having listened to the characterful Wadia, Meridian and Leema for a period of time makes me realize that the Pavane is just a bit too strident for my taste.
The Pavane really does all the right things but doesn’t seem to really throw in the emotional registers. This is not just a matter of color/timbre, or dynamics, on the contrary: with the right cables, it has a very convincing timbre, and almost regardless of cable used it is plenty dynamic. It’s something else, like there is too much control, restricting the music to really flow effortlessly. While the Mosaic may not be as dynamic and punchy as the Pavane, it does present music with a natural flow and to me sounds emotionally more appealing.
In spite of different topologies, the Ayre QB-9 (original version) sounds similar to the Pavane on some levels: tonality/timbre, articulation, speed, focus, treble airiness, the subtle lack of body, all similar. The biggest difference being in terms of bass and overall power, the Pavane sounding larger and beefier. The Ayre, however, has a slightly more lyrical quality to it and is somewhat more supple and fluid. Thing is, I am comparing the Ayre with the same AudioQuest Diamond USB cable to the Pavane with the Mad Scientist digital cable. When comparing like to like, both using the same USB cable, the Pavane has to bow to the Ayre, for the latter then clearly has the upper hand in the emotional involvement department.
Listening to the Wadia 521 after listening to the Pavane makes two things clear: first, the Pavane really is quite powerful and solid in the bass, but the Wadia is more solid and even more powerful, but that’s no surprise given my experience that Wadias are always more solid sounding than other DACs. Second, the Wadia’s treble at first instance seems more open than the Pavane’s (surprise) but turns out to be more etched than the Pavane’s. This is what listening to a NOS DAC can provoke. But listening to the Wadia for half a minute, my ears have already adjusted to its treble, while I am captivated from the first seconds by its soundstage depth and its lyrical and emotional, involving delivery.
I’m not really sure what to make of the Pavane. Is it something of a bargain? While it compares favorably to the excellent EC Designs Mosaic and the Ayre QB9, it only performs its best when not using its USB input. In its price range, it is definitely one of the top performers, and if it is the supremely etch-free NOS sound that you’re after, it may be one of the best options out there. If you crave rich tonal colors or lavish emotional involvement, however, I think there are better options around in its price range, although they will invariably sacrifice one or more of the Pavane’s strong qualities. As always, it is a matter of deciding which aspects of music reproduction matter most to you and finding the DAC to match them.