"Another challenge was startup control. When the amp connects to the mains for the first time, this must be done gradually to avoid blowing your circuit breaker with inrush currents. We added a resistor to the AC line. This gets shorted five seconds after power-on. It avoids currents above the 2.5A fuses used on the primary side of the transformer.

"This reminds me of 'audiophile fuses' with their purported resistance close to zero ohms. That's pure myth. Some resistance is required to heat up the fuse so it will burn. A zero-Ω fuse wouldn't self-sacrifice to protect the circuit because it can't generate any heat." Cees doesn't suffer fools lightly.

As to price, "we don't have one yet. We're still learning about our own ultimate assembly efficiency. Right now it takes us about 2-3 times longer than building an Adagio, never mind the different hardware costs."

On the Forte's more complex labour, "we took the long road to building this because it is complicated with the many available voltages separated for each channel like HV, power and control. The power part will blow your board in seconds if you miswire it accidentally. The 350 volts on the HV circuit can kill the assembler in a few seconds due to the enormous capacities of its power supply. What I do for each of our projects is to write detailed books for the assembly personnel. For the first 25 units, I guide them personally due to the risks mentioned."

At right, unit before transformer windings are connected.

"This project started as a printed circuit board for just one channel. Later we decided to create a mirror image for a fully symmetrical layout in the housing. That wasn't as easy as it looks. This drawing shows just one of the four layers but you can see the heavy parts on the other side. On this side sit the protection circuits, servo and power regulation which, again, is extremely dangerous due to the voltages for the tube simulation circuitry. Here layout is extremely important to avoid ground loops and obtain excellent noise figures. Our copper layers can withstand 10 amperes of continues current. It's a nice challenge for our production facility to assemble this board on both sides."

Further specs include 0.015/0.006/0.01% distortion into 1/20/50 watts respectively; output noise of 300µVrms; slew rate of 50V/µSec; input impedance of 15/60kΩ on RCA/XLR; input sensitivity of 1.75/3.5V on RCA/XLR for full power; and max consumption of 400 watts.

To segue into the audition, here's reader Tim Mitchell on my review of Metrum's Adagio, Cees' flagship DAC with variable reference voltage for lossless volume control. "Your observations were spot on with what I heard from the Adagio in my system. I was greatly impressed by the degree of resolution and natural-sounding delivery. However, when running the Adagio amp-direct, I also heard what you described as "forgoing the weighting contributions of the preamp meant slightly less gravity and somewhat less power on the low bass." In a direct comparison, I enjoyed the small degree of additional body, impact and tonal density resulting from the Pavane run through my high-quality buffered zero-gain preamp but I also wanted the improved resolution of the Adagio. I tried setting the Adagio volume control at 12:15 and running the signal through my preamp.  That configuration came much closer to the sound I was trying to achieve but I still perceived less 'gravitas' than with the Pavane. Thankfully, I was able to send my Pavane to the Netherlands for the Level 3 upgrade you mention in your review. That involves installing the DAC Two chips and other improvements. This commitment to customer service is why I enjoy dealing with Metrum.  Based on my time with the excellent Adagio, I suspect many will use its volume control amp-direct and not look back. Some will enjoy the options of being able to either run the Adagio direct to their amplifier or through their preamp as their mood suits. For those like me who already own the Pavane and require the 'special sauce' of a really good preamp; or for those who simply enjoy their Pavane; the Level 2 or 3 upgrades offered by Metrum provide a path to improve the resolution of an already very good-sounding DAC without buying something new.  In my system, the Level 3 (highest upgrade) Pavane is a clear step up in resolution over the original Pavane without any loss of tone, body or dynamics and it falls just short of the spooky level of detail offered by the Adagio. Comparing the two DACs when played through my preamp, the Level 3 Pavane seems to offer a slight bit more body and impact while the Adagio provides improved resolution but the differences are mostly small so either option is a winner."