Dac comparison – Metrum Octave with Halide Bridge compared to Db Audio Labs Tranquility SE
Feb 16, 2014 at 2:05 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 7

BSDie

New Head-Fier
Joined
Feb 26, 2009
Posts
4
Likes
16
My NOS dac (Non-oversampling) addiction started with a Moodlab Concept of tnt-audio fame. I bought it for my office system where I wanted to enjoy fatigue free music for hours at end. It wasn’t comparable to the Stello DA100 that I used in my main system but had a musicality that I kept coming back to.
Fast forward a few years and I upgraded the DA100 to a Metrum Octave (Mk1) that I picked up from a fellow head-fi member. My new amplifier for my living room system (Lavardin IS Ref) had made the DA100 feel out of place and I was hopeful that the Metrum would give me the sound of the Moodlab but with the quality (and beyond) of the DA100. I certainly wasn’t wrong.
You know how it goes. The Moodlab in my office felt aging in comparison and I eventually picked up a Db Labs Tranquility SE from the head-fi classifies. The Db Labs retails for a lot more then the Metrum Octave but seems to end up at around the same amount or less on the used market. I am assuming that this is due to the lack of flexibility (or being unwilling to compromise, Lavardin in comparison refuses to include remote controls with their amplifiers since they say it downgrades the sound, I like stubbornness) with USB only input on such a high end product along with the amount of the press the Metrum has received.
 
Before buying the Db Labs I kept looking for reviews that compared the two dacs but failed. I reasoned that there might be an interest in having me rate the two dacs. At home I use them in different systems: the Db Labs in my office and the Metrum in my speaker setup in our living room. For this comparison I have tried both dacs in both systems. I loaded up a list of music that I like and casually listened. I haven’t switched between the two dacs mid song or actively looked for differences. I’ve simply given them both a run with the same songs one after another. From my point of view this treatment should give the Metrum a slight edge. I’ve used it extensively and can spend hours in front of my speakers spellbound by its musicality.
 
Since the Metrum lacks USB input I have used my Halide Bridge as a USB transport. The Metrum apparently sounds better with up sampled input but I have been feeding it redbook using the Halide so that the input is as close to the redbook only Db Labs Tranquility SE. The Tranquility supposedly reacts positively to optimized settings and high quality USB cables. I didn’t bother with that either. I’ve used a decent quality Supra USB cable and music straight out of iTunes.
 
The systems:
 
1.     Office system
Dac (+Bridge) -> Perreaux SXH2 Headphone amplifier -> HD650
This system includes a Perreaux SX25i and a pair of Mordaunt short Mezzo 2 speakers that have not been used for this comparison.
Cabling is an assortment of Supra cables. Nothing fancy, good connections.
 
2.     Speaker system
Dac (+Bridge) -> Lavardin IS Ref -> B&W CDM7 SE
This system also includes a Stello CDT100, a Thorens TD160 MK2 with SME 3009 tonearm, a Marantz ST6001 tuner and a Playtation 3 that feeds into the Metrum Octaves toslink input.
Cabling is mostly Blue Jean Cable. The dacs were connected with some some fancy Tara labs cable that I assume is silver. It’s the only cable that I have where I have heard clear differences between it other quality cables, and this only for dacs.
 
In both systems I used a late 2013 Macbook pro retina running on battery power. No changes to systems settings and iTunes using ALAC throughout the review.
 
I listened to the following music:
 
Mama Hold My Hand
Aloe Blacc
Feel Good Inc. (Gorillaz feat. De La Soul)
Amerigo Gazaway of Gummy Soul
Elephant Gun
Beirut
Atlantic City
Bruce Springsteen
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18: I. Moderato
Vladimir Ashkenazy, London Symphony Orchestra & André Previn
Pressure Drop
Toots & The Maytals
One More Time With Feeling
Regina Spektor
How to Be Perfect Men
Songs: Ohia
Captain Badass
Songs: Ohia
 
Songs: Ohia features twice. Because if anyone deserved a second chance it was Jason Molina.
 
So how do they sound? One thing is clear; the difference between my former DA100 and Metrum was far larger than the difference between the Metrum and the Db Labs, perhaps unsurprising since the DA100 isn’t a NOS dac whilst the other two are.
The Metrum and Db Labs have a similar sound signature and both dacs have excellent soundstage, level of detail and non-fatiguing sound. Both contestants are wonderfully musical and have a sound quality that make me smile.
On my not-very-resolving HD650s (stock cable) the difference isn’t very large. The overall presentation is excellent in both cases with the Metrum being slightly leaner, slightly more neutral. The Db labs is more powerful with a deeper bass. The bass even becomes slightly boomy on the Songs: Ohia tracks. My preference is the Db Labs. It is more engaging and even more musical then the already excellent Metrum.
 
When paired with the very resolving Lavardin amplifier and CDM7SE speakers the differences are clearer. When I received the Metrum it lost to the DA100 on one point. The Stello DA100 had bass to die for and made my relatively slim speakers rumble in a way that I had never heard before. Frankly I did not believe they had it in them. Don’t get me wrong, the Metrum doesn’t lack bass, it was just less.. visceral. The midrange on the Metrum is divine and it has an almost ghostly presentation during extended listening that I’ve grown to like. The Db Labs on the other hand feels completely even. Everything just fits. I honestly had trouble turning off the music after plugging it in.
 
What about software oversampling? I said I wouldn’t do it didn’t I? Well I tried it anyway. The Bridge goes up to 24/96 and in my ears the Metrum does sound more refined when being a fed (fake) 24/96 stream. But the sound signature is the same, midrange is wonderful with a clean and tight overall presentation. I also listen to the Metrum using my CDT100. It has a stronger but less resolved presentation. Between the Bridge and the CDT100 feeding the Metrum I would call the Bridge a winner if I had to decide. Part of me prefers the CDT100, because despite loosing some clarity it does add a more analog feeling to the Metrum that is quite pleasant.
 
All in all the Db Labs is highly similar to the Metrum but with a more balanced overall presentation and more engaging sound signature. My only gripe with the Metrum has been that the excellent midrange has been dominant compared to the rest of the soundstage, and the Db Labs has an overall presentation that I cannot find fault in. In my limited experience of different d/a converters the Db Labs Tranquility SE is perfect.
 
The obvious downside is that I need more connections then USB in my speaker system. I like the Db Labs more but it isn’t taking the place of the Metrum Octave anytime soon. The upside to this is that I will have to keep the Metrum, which I like very very much.
It also means that I have an excuse to upgrade my office system to do the Db Labs justice. I have had troubles finding reviews for other headphones to pair with my SXH2 and I would be grateful for any pointers. I would be particularly interested in knowing if it based on the specs (hieroglyphics to me) or experience would be a decent fit with any of the Audeze headphones. If it isn’t I might just have to buy another headphone amplifier.. The cycle of hifi is neverending =)
 
Thank for reading this far. I hope my system specific and subjective comparison of these two excellent performing dacs can be of service to someone.
 
Apr 27, 2016 at 1:33 AM Post #3 of 7

BSDie

New Head-Fier
Joined
Feb 26, 2009
Posts
4
Likes
16
Glad you found it useful!
 
Can't go wrong with either really. It mostly comes down to weather you need a USB dac (in which case I would choose the dB labs) or need to connect it to more components (in which case the Metrum is an excellent choice). I'm in the process of moving away from the Metrum myself, simply because I need more connections then it offers for my main system. But the Octave MK2 or Musette would solve that.
 
May 7, 2016 at 11:49 PM Post #4 of 7

krumley7882

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
Dec 1, 2015
Posts
158
Likes
41
Location
Asheville, NC
I hear you.  More connections is always a good thing.  I just got the dB Labs Tranquility SE and I love it.  Compared directly to ifi iDSD, Marantz HD Dac1, and bifrost, this one just takes the cake.  Much wider and fuller bodied presentation, and the 'oomph' is more present.  Just a different feel, really.  sure happy with it.  NOS is a great feel too.  Back to the tunes.  cheers
 
May 8, 2016 at 5:11 PM Post #6 of 7

MohawkUS

1000+ Head-Fier
Joined
Jul 13, 2010
Posts
1,035
Likes
51
Location
Connecticut
I have the model that replaced the TranquilitySE, the UltraFiDAC41. I'm not as rapturous about the sound after comparing it with other hardware. It comes in first for detail and engagement however I feel it lacks on the frequency extremes. I suspect the output on this DAC is well above the standard as it seems to overload my amplifier quicker than any other source component(I can imagine this extra gain would be appreciated in other systems.) Overall though it's hard to complain as it keeps company with much newer DACs just fine(I'm thinking Questyle CAS192D which I A/Bed.)
 
May 9, 2016 at 9:48 AM Post #7 of 7

BSDie

New Head-Fier
Joined
Feb 26, 2009
Posts
4
Likes
16
NOS dacs are generally lacking in frequency extremes from my experience. My current dac, a Aqua La Voce S2, feels much less so (if at all), but I feel that it is unfair to compare it to the Metrum or dB reviewed in this thread, since it is both much newer and more expensive.
 
I completely forgot about that issue. I run the dB in my computer system along with a Perraux headphone amplifier and power amplifier (SHX2 and the corresponding power amp). I ended up using these to get an output that wasn't to loud:
 
https://www.svalander.se/shoppen/komponenter/passiv_nivajustering
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top