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Starting with the MT One, the most suitable competitor to establish context I had on hand was April Music's Stello Ai500 integrated. Instead of the Metronome's dual 400VA transformers, that runs a single 800VA toroid. Its overall capacitance of 90,000mF is very comparable to the Metronome's 80,000mF. The Korean's power rating is 150wpc vs. the 100 watts from Toulouse. Both are class AB circuits but the Ai500's rather warmer enclosure suggests a higher class A bias.

Then matters diverge. The overall styling of the Stello is more modern, its fit 'n' finish superior. On functionality, April Music kills the Metronome with 3 standard RCA inputs, one XLR input, one bypass input and variable and fixed outputs. Then there's an analog iPod input with USB power socket and three digital inputs of Toslink, RCA and USB. All inputs are remote switchable and standby can be triggered by remote or from the front. Input selection is obvious and the display can be dimmed or extinguished. The Ai500 could rightly be called a super integrated while the MT One remains another conventional traditional integrated. The most obvious conceptual difference is that the Koreans are with the times—which means AV integration via bypass, iPod integration via dedicated sockets and PC integration via digital inputs including USB—while the French team is squarely stuck in the past.

For the real twister, the April Music sells for $3.495, the Metronome for €5.300. Factor in currency exchange losses and the MT One becomes nearly twice as expensive. Would it counter with a distinct sonic advantage to shed these handicaps?

To suit the amps' power ratings, I ran this comparison from the Italian Pearl Evo Ballerina 301-8" speakers. Their 88dB sensitivity spec made them the most conventional load on hand while their €3.500/pr sticker placed them between the two integrateds for a quite rational fit. The CD One T became source of choice, connection was by balanced ASI Liveline cable since XLR is Metronome's preferred interface format for its machines.

This definitely was East meets West on perfectly equal footing. On material like Abed Azrié's Suerte Live in Berlin [Doumtak]*, Rosa Passos & Ron Carter's Entre Amigos [Chesky] and Yiannis Parios' ΣYΜΠΕΡΑΣΜΑ ENA [EMI], both amps succeeded splendidly at overlaying my room acoustics with recorded ambiance. From the charged live atmosphere at the Villa Aurora—former home of German writer Lion Feuchtwanger and his wife Marta during their California exile, meeting place of Nazi escapees Thomas Mann, Arnold Schönberg, Bertold Brecht, Billy Wilder and other intellectuals—to the purist studio setting of the Chesky Bros. to a standard Greek laiki production, this wasn't merely about sound. It was about the environments in which those sounds had been captured. In short, audible space.


*This is a unique recording worth knowing about. It combines Oriental, Spanish and French ensembles with male Arabian and Spanish female vocals and sets to song Analusian texts from the era when the Iberian peninsula was home to a pluralistic society in which the the three monotheistic religions lived together in harmony for seven centuries. Two other Suerte incarnations exist, one the original studio recording with Pedro Aledo in the role of Spanish vocalist, the other 'Suerte Live' with Serge Guirao opposing Azrié, both on l'Empreinte Digital distributed by Harmonia Mundi. For instrumental brilliance, the original rules. For atmospheric charge, the live recordings have the edge and 'Berlin' the advantage of an accompanying concert DVD.

Both amps were very astute on the brilliant transients of the non-credited oud player whose solos are among the highlights of Suerte Live in Berlin. Ditto the two flamenco guitarists and the various peppery palmas. Virtually cut from the same cloth, neither of these integrated amplifiers played the Blues, i.e. had that coolish bluish tinge which transistors with predominantly 3rd-order distortion artifacts can have.

In fact, measurements accompanying a recent Ai500 review in the UK showed a clear dominance of 2nd-order harmonics. This perfectly explains the very minor warmth of density and modest thickness I experienced with either amp. They're both voiced to somewhat emulate the tone of single-ended triode amps. Emulate is by no means identical but tube lovers will certainly appreciate the general approach.

The handling of transients—speed and snap—meanwhile was clearly transistorized. Also, the effortless swells of macrodynamics on the pathos-laden 'heroic' Parios disc had rather more oomph and scale than you'd expect from your average 300B amp. It then took Senegalese HipHop and Mercan Dede-type infrasonics to determine that in the slam and grunt department, the Stello Ai500 had the advantage. It does make 50% more power after all but paper figures don't always tell the story. Here they did. For ultimate impact and bass moxy, the Korean was the champ of this bout.

Since this review is about Metronome, I won't get more detailed save to recap that on sonics, the MT One was very much the Stello's equal. Seeing just how good the Stello is, that compliment is rock solid. Once we factor in power, features and price however, smart shoppers who aren't pre-committed to Metronome for other reasons can buy clearly more value and functionality with April Music and not suffer any setbacks in trade.

For triangulation, I next replaced the Stello with the Power JFET $4,000 FirstWatt J2. As a stereo amp, it needs a preamp, so I connected the $2,000 Wyred4Sound STP-SE. On price, this put the FirstWatt + separate preamp on equal footing with Metronome's one-box solution.

On sheer resolution or insight into layers and ambient data, the Americans won. Images firmed up, inter-note warmth evaporated and vitality increased. Curiously, even on inherently lean but pristine material like Entre Amigos, the sense of suchness became greater, not less. With the Metronome being warmer and a tad cuddlier, one might expect the opposite - that its enhancement would categorically benefit such material. Not really. This quite conclusively demonstrated two things. 1/, that the kind of laying-bare resolving action which the STP-SE/J2 combo applied didn't toss out musical substance but removed a preventor of higher clarity. And 2/, how the concepts of clarity and leanness are intertwined. We automatically expect an unpleasant twiggy-type leanness should clarity be pursued too far and tone/image density compromise in turn.

I believe this is one reason why as a catch-all phrase, high resolution has garnered a negative connotation with experienced audiophiles. I further believe that the real culprits in this misunderstanding are unnatural treble energy and relatedly, overcooked transients not properly balanced against a rightly developed harmonic bloom portion of individual sounds. Combined, these trends cause hyper sharpness, a certain amount of leading-edge brutality and a sense of relentless speed coupled to thinness, super-realistic articulation and tensioned nervousness.

To achieve transient speed or incisiveness without those shadows but with the desired sensation of being lit up from the inside out without unnatural high frequencies is difficult. From a pleasure listening perspective, it's far better to err on the side of comfort food - what Stereophile alumni and author of Entre Amigo's liner notes Chip Stern referred to as meat 'n' potatoes sound. Metronome's MT One veers one small step in that direction. In valve audio terms and to overstate for effect, that would be a Full Music TJ 300B. The Wyred4Sound/FirstWatt combo then would represent an optimally realized Emission Labs 45 (to be sure, neither of these presentations sounded like tubes).

Another area in which these differences telegraphed was bass definition. Though only ¼ the Metronome's power rating, the Nelson Pass amp was tauter, wirier and even more intelligible and endowed with more inner dance, particularly so at lower levels. The Metronome was a bit more rotund and somewhat softer or less damped. From the upper midrange up, the Power JFET output devices were a bit sweeter and more informative. Considering that I awarded the Wyred4Sound preamp a Blue Moon and consider the J2 best of six FirstWatt amplifiers—I haven't heard the 7th called Aleph J—this places the Metronome MT One in classy company. While it's clearly not the amazing value either the Stello Ai500 or STP-SE are nor as comprehensively featured or impeccably finished as the Korean; and while it suffers certain small peculiarities; its sonics are cannily balanced and very good, period. You don't have to spend as much to get this level of sound or power. Conversely, you could spend this amount and buy more functionality. From purely a sonic angle, there's no reason however to not applaud what the Toulouse team has achieved with the MT One. I would simply suggest that they more closely study what the market offers today to remain competitive also on features.

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