Metrum AMBRE ROON Digital Bridge: Timing is the key
Pretty obvious we all are exposed to nowadays phenomenon of music being streamed. Whether streaming happens from your own hard disk, or through cloud music services like Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal or many others, and regardless of the way the devices are connected, Wi-Fi or network cable, the music comes out of a device of your choice.
One of Metrum Acoustics premium dealers, Lexicom Multimedia is known for their 360 solutions. They offer a wide range of brands like Devialet, Naim, Hegel, Bluesound, Auralic and others. Most of these brands do have a solution which integrates with one of the most complete music services, ROON.
ROON’s solution solves the problem of that in the transition from physical to digital media, something has been lost. According to hem we have more convenience than ever, but no feeling of excitement or engagement. The solution they provide is based upon a piece of software which looks at your music and finds photos, bios, reviews, lyrics, and concert dates, and makes connections between artists, composers, performers, conductors, and producers.
And the final result is a searchable, surfable magazine about your music.
ROON dictates that their partners, whether playback devices or digital to analog converters are certified devices, devices which have been tested and approved by ROON, upon which the customers do get a seamless music experience.
Recently a new endpoint, or as ROON calls it, a digital bridge came to market. This new endpoint, which only handles ROON between your library or music source and your digital to analog converter or integrated amplifier is entirely focused on getting the most out of ROON and that’s it. With its entire focus on ROON, one should be convinced that this end point does it perfect!
This product, proudly designed and manufactured in the Netherlands, is the AMBRE by Metrum Acoustics. Metrum Acoustics is a renowned brand much known for its award winning Non Oversampling Digital to Analog converters.
Following the name giving of the other products like Amethyst, Onyx, and Jade, AMBRE became the name of this more than wonderful little device.
As already mentioned the AMBRE is a digital bridge between a ROON server, either the ROON own Nucleus, or devices such as a NUC or any computer in your household, and a device which converts the digital signal to an analog output. The AMBRE by Metrum Acoustics has one input, a RJ45 ethernet port, and several outputs to be compatible with any output device. The AES/EBU, XLR, SpDif, Toslink optical and I2S output provides enough flavor to please any device in your audio chain. Unfortunately, I2S is not a well-defined standard, so Metrum Acoustics claims an optimal transport between the AMBRE and their Digital to Analog converters.
The max bit rate and sample frequency is 24 bits by 192kHz. The power source is in the AMBRE, so no need for fooling around with external power adapters and as said before, the AMBRE is optimized to work with ROON.
Its sleek design only shows an on/off switch and two led lights on the front, one which indicates the AMBRE is connected to the network, and the other, of which I think it’s genius, an indicator whether music is streamed or not. And this is what this is about, MUSIC!
Inside of the AMBRE one can see that a lot of love went into this little device. Much focus was placed on the powering of the circuits and even more on the digital clock. Digital streaming falls or stands with the quality of the digital clock inside a device. Digital music exposure listens tightly to a clock, and when the clock is off, we experience music as disturbed, unpleasant, sharp or whatever is it you call it, but all this misery is referred as jitter in the audio world.
For that reason, and to avoid jitter, the AMBRE has TWO precision clocks on board, one for 44.1 kHz and the multiples 88.2 and 176.4kHz, and the second clock for 48 kHz with its own multiples 96 and 192 kHz.
The timing of the clocks and the ultimate suppression of jitter like Metrum Acoustics achieves it is unique in the industry and from a listening perspective exceptional! The AMBRE is on sale for € 1199 and an additional I2S module for the Metrum Acoustics DAC’s cost € 109, both prices excluding VAT.
At the moment of writing this article, we did not have the I2S module in house, so we connected the AMBRE with a JADE by Metrum Acoustics, using AudioQuest cables from the Cinnamon series. Optical, AES/EBU and RCA to set the scene to test the AMBRE in any way with a BlueSound Node 2 and a Raspberry PI with on top the HifiBerry Digi+ Pro board including external linear adapter.
In the process of testing we received the I2S module for the JADE, and noticed an improvement in the quality of sound. While doing this I tested the AMBRE against a NAD M50 and M50.2 digital streamer. In the Lexicom showroom we connected the AMBRE to a Devialet 440 Pro. In the showroom the ROON server runs on a NUC. The set being used for testing furthermore did consist of a NAIM NAC-N 272, a NAP 300DR Amplifier with a NAP 300PS power source and AudioVector SR3 Super speakers.
Three cables, two flavors…..
We started testing first comparing the three digital cables, making sure understanding the impact of them. Playing Patricia Barber’s cd “Cafe Blue”, starting off with “A taste of honey”. Our preference is clearly the AES/EBY cable because of its neutrality. The other cables did put a little too much emphasis on the lower tones, whereas with the optical and RCA no difference was heard.
The XLR cable provides the largest stereo image, possesses the fastest attack and has a pleasant representation of the high tones on the AudioVectors with tracks such as Yellow Car III. When playing the next track, Nardis, the XLR does not come out on top, but overall the XLR scores best in this setup. BUT when testing against the Node 2 and the Raspberry Pi, XLR is not an option, so to create an equal testbed, its back to optical and coax. The coax connected to the Node 2 and using the optical out on the AMBRE. Nardis is played again but do experience a lesser precise sound on the Node 2, messy in its representation, a little nervous for that matter. Overall a lesser stereo image, whilst the AMBRE has much more impact on the music played, provides more depth. My perception is that the AMBRE provides an additional dimension, hard to describe, yet noticeable, and pulls the artists apart, placing them in the right place on the stage.
The next track played in this setup, is Paper Plain from Alison Krauss. The AMBRE gives me a natural stage, creates ambiance, and free, free like music should sound. In comparison to the Node 2, which is too sharp on the high tones, especially with high voices, which makes listening not a joy.
The last track being played is the live version of Englishman in New York, performed by Sting and Branford Marsalis in Berlin. This time the difference between the Node 2 and the AMBRE couldn’t be more striking! The Node 2 compared to the AMBRE puts you in a room with artist, the AMBRE puts you in a concert hall. I scream “dramatic”, making the others in the room think I messed up something, yet this emotion said it all, the AMBRE gives me the feeling I am sitting in the middle of this concert hall, in the midst of people applauding and enjoying Sting and Branford to the fullest extend!
Power of the AMBRE
The AMBRE versus a home build PI with an extra board and external power adaptor. A clever product for those who are handy with computers, software, downloads and Linux. Again, we play Sting and Branford, one cannot get enough of these master performers. The AMBRE compared to the PI is deeper, darker, fuller, whichever word you can think of describing depth in sound. Definitely more powerful and more “analog”, a bit scared mentioning this though. This is conviction pure! After Sting and Branford, some sweet and warm Sade playing No ordinary love.
Fluent, lose, less stressful. As for the PI I am not disappointed. Still it is obvious the AMBRE takes it many notes further, making it more complete, more detail, more separation of instruments and voices.
Last, On every street from Dire Straits, and You and your friend. Compared to the PI, we experience the same as before. My preference by now is pretty clear.
The Pi and Node 2 are not able to handle the AES/EBU output, which the AMBRE can. What is the result of this limitation in the Pi and Node 2? The differences are being enlarged when using AES/EBU connecting an AMBRE with a JADE. The stereo image grows by every single note, especially guitars go beyond your imagination. Suddenly there is a slight echo on Knopfler voice which makes it even more intriguing listening to the Dire Straits.
When connected to the Devialet 440 Pro, where AMBRE takes care of the ethernet connection and ROON, and the AMBRE directly controls the internal DAC of the Devialet, we experienced the same power of the AMBRE and noticed a more complete sound image.
Back at home I could not stop and repeated the whole experiment with a NAD M50 and a NAD M50.2. At first, I had them play using their own BluOS and after that as a ROON endpoint. Compared them with the AMBRE using AES/EBU, and arrived at the same conclusion, the AMBRE is a winner, a powerful gemstone enriching your listening experience when using ROON.
By now I have bought two AMBRE’s, one for each of my audio setups, if that does not say enough. I already have two Metrum Acoustics DAC’s, in which both I will place an I2S module. What a joy I had and having been the proud owner of several Metrum Acoustics devices for a long time, the AMBRE is the cherry on the cake for me!
Point of no return?
Does the AMBRE or for that matter an endpoint only advantages? No, because ROON does not provide me with a solution for internet radio, no access to Qobuz and other music services than Tidal. On top of that a computer like a NUC, or a NAS are required to run the ROON core. Yet, I love the fact that the AMBRE has an AES/EBU output, like the price setting, but is only useable with ROON. A Pi is cheap, but you have to build it yourself, manage the software yourself, and add numerous of extra components to make it work. The BlueSound Node 2 can do more through BluOs using the BlueSound app when talking streaming services and internet radio. But do these points weigh more than the pristine sound of the AMBRE? Not for me, especially not when having great speakers, or for that matter a perfect audio chain. The AMBRE has been THE revelation for me, to buy into the ROON proposal, although I “WAS” using BluOS in several places at home. Once being exposed to the AMBRE has caused A POINT OF NO RETURN for me.
ROON software (like when running on a NUC or any other computer) and the AMBRE by Metrum Acoustics as a digital bridge work seamlessly together with all devices mentioned in this article as well as with many integrated hard disks as found in Melco, NAIM, USB drives, BlueSound or NAD and many more.
#Lexicom #Bluesound #MetrumAcoustics # ROON #NAD #Devialet # NAIM #NUC #Qobuz #Melco