Country of Origin
Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac late 2020 with Ventura 13.4, 40GB RAM, Audirvana Origin, Qobuz Sublime, Singxer SU-6 USB bridge, LHY Audio SW-8 network switch, Sonnet Pasithea DAC; Active filter: icOn Gradient Box at 80Hz/4th-order hi/lo-pass; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 monos, Goldmund Job 225; Headamp: Cen.Grand Silver Fox; Phones: HifiMan Susvara; Loudspeakers: Qualio Audio IQ w. sound|kaos DSUB 15 on Carbide Audio footers, Audio Physic Codex, Cube Audio Nenuphar Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps, Furutech DPS-4.1 between wall and conditioners; Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands; Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators, LessLoss Firewall for loudspeakers, Furutech NCF Signal Boosters; Room: 6 x 8m with open door behind listening seat
2nd system: Source: Shanling M3 Ultra, Soundaware D300Ref; DAC: Cen.Grand DSDAC 1.0 Deluxe; Preamp/filter: Vinnie Rossi Signature L2 + icOn 4Pro + 4th-order/40Hz hi-low pass; Amplifier: Enleum AMP-23R; Loudspeakers: MonAcoustic SuperMon Mini, Dynaudio S18 sub; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF + Akiko Audio Corelli; Equipment rack: Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame [on extended loan]; Sundry accessories: Audioquest Fog Lifters; Furutech NFC Clear Lines; Room: ~3.5 x 8m
Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win10/64; USB bridge: Singxer SU-2; Headamp/DAC: iFi iDSD Pro Signature; Headphones: Final D-8000; Active speakers: DMAX SC5
Upstairs headfi/speaker system: Source: smsl Dp5 transport; DAC: Auralic Vega; Integrated amplifier: Schiit Jotunheim R; Phones: Raal-Requisite SR1a
2-channel video system: Source: Oppo BDP-105; All-in-One: Gold Note IS-1000 Deluxe; Loudspeakers: Zu Soul VI; Subwoofer: Zu Submission; Power delivery: Furutech eTP-8, Room: ~6x4m
Review component retail: €19'900, add €2'190 for tube output stage
AQWO is a stylized render of old Greece's akoúô for 'listen'. Jean-Marie Clauzel didn't pick metrísete for 'measure'. That prefix already factors in his brand name Métronome. Its tagline 'the most analogue digital sound' means that today, valve outputs are optional even retrofittable—see the display's tube symbol at right—whilst overbuilt power supplies factor either way.
In this French catalogue, the AQWO collection means top SA/CD transports and players. Still beyond them live hyper-stylized versions from sister brand Kalista [see below]. The 2nd-gen AQWO 2 with ESS9038 silicon incorporates a network streamer function, new touchscreen with higher resolution and "zero electronics or housing parts in common with its predecessor".
Le son vrai is obviously the true sound.
The modified SACD top loader is from DEI Holdings Inc whose many subsidiaries include B&W, Denon and Marantz. Hence this D&M transport is a true audio part not one that was originally made for computers.
Launched in 1987, Métronome's expertise with digital dates back to their very first products. Those were CD players that founder Dominique Giner co-developed with Jadis. New owner Clauzel who took over in 2013 retained the original engineering team. This insured continuity and 2023's catalogue remains squarely focused on digital.
Unlike spec-chaser brands, our French team don't really pander to the biggest numbers so no PCM up to 768kHz, no DSD1'024, no resampling of Redbook to 16 x DSD. But the AQWO 2 does support 8 x upsampling to 384 and 512 well beyond the sample rates of physical discs. The tube mention already had figures-first buyers log off. They clearly aren't Métronome's core audience though if they could just bring themselves to listen before passing judgment, they still might be?
Once more, a metronome is an exacting musical timekeeping device. By name alone this team are no strangers to measurements and precision. They simply hold very specific ideas also on what sound they chase. Here it's telling that Jean-Marie whose background is agriculture mentions being trained by Dominique who stayed on for two years past the handover. This training presumably was a bit less about circuity and engineering and all about target sonics: le son vrai. Once that's seeped deeply into our ear/brain like a persistent blood stain, we recognize it when we hear it. It's how we know very quickly whether a given aural profile is for us or not. Unlike Métronome's marketing, I simply prefer to call that my sound rather than the true or absolute sound. Semantics.
The RCA and XLR analog outputs are equally set to 3Vrms then 47kΩ and 600Ω respectively. Digital inputs cover async USB B, 75Ω coax and 110Ω AES/EBU for accessing the internal DAC via other sources. To use the AQWO 2 as a dedicated transport and bypass its converter and analog stages is possible with I²S over HDMI, 75Ω coax and 110Ω AES/EBU. The second USB slot is for firmware updates. The power supply uses 3 or 4 toroidal transformers depending on the optional tube PCB, Swiss Schaffner AC filters and ten independent voltage regulation lines. At 17kg and 42.6 x 13 x 41.5cm WxHxD, this Gallic challenger is no petite Pro-Ject box but a full-size heavyweight. Finish options are black, silver or champagne gold. To get all curvaceous and semi-translucent will set you back well more than twice as much.
To select between layers of hybrid discs, we tap the disc symbol in the touch-screen's top-left corner. A white disc signifies SACD layer, a grey disc CD layer. There are repeat and shuffle modes as well as time elapsed/remain. If installed, tube mode too activates by touch. So does forced upsampling. DAC mode shows chosen input and actual sample rate. Network mode has cover art, album/track and artist info plus the actual sample rate. The main menu splis out into digital (resampling the digital output up to DSD256/I²S, DSD128/coax; S/PDIF DoP and full MQA), DAC (internal digital filter, analog output level at 1.4/2.5/3V), stream (meta data, WiFi, gapless), display (brightness, cursor and 5 different background colors) and other (device info and default restore). For the full feature breakdown, refer to the manual.
Right-click image to open at full size in new tab. The display shows streaming mode, tube outputs engaged, DSD64 signal coming in via DLNA, upsampler for I²S output set to DSD256.
The recommended network control app is mConnect. With two LHY network distributors in series, 27" iMac with most current MacOS and Audirvana Studio as the playback engine, I used standard UPnP. In Métronome's menu I enabled meta data and gapless then turned off WiFi. Voilà, cover art and lengthy album title as ticker tape here for a DSD folder from Aaron Neville, tubes engaged, upsampler at DSD 256.