Metrum Acoustics Ambre Review

Posted on 15th November, 2020

Metrum Acoustics Ambre Review

Michael Evans assesses this purpose-designed Roon bridge for purists…

Metrum Acoustics

Ambre Roon Bridge

£1,099

metrum ambre review

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. If a quarter of a century ago, we had known that we'd have access to nearly every piece of recorded music in the world by 2020 – delivered to us via a great sounding non-physical format – I wonder how many of us would have saved a small fortune in vinyl and CD purchases?

Launched in April 2018, Metrum Acoustics' Ambre delivers precisely this – in conjunction with Roon Labs, that is. Roon is an app that amalgamates all your digital content and intertwines it seamlessly with high-resolution streaming services such as TIDAL and Qobuz. Add in a sprinkle of hi-res digital radio stations, and you have a world of music at your fingertips. It is only software though, so it requires additional hardware to make its magic happen – a Roon server (what's known as a “core”), a DAC and – sitting between these – a “bridge”. This is where the Ambre comes in – its sole purpose in life is to let the Roon core speak to the DAC.

This precise part of the playback chain might not be obvious to some already running Roon. It is easily missed, for the simple reason that many Roon “endpoints” – as they are known – combine the Bridge and DAC in one package. Examples of this would be the brilliant but sadly discontinued Chromecast Audio, which is an ultra-affordable hockey-puck shaped Roon endpoint and DAC. Chord Electronics' Poly – an elegant, if slightly fiddly-to-set up network streamer – also has a built-in Roon endpoint which pairs with the pocket size MOJO DAC. Then there is the Naim Uniti Atom, and so on. The list continues to grow.

metrum ambre review

Another facet of the Ambre is that – as a Roon bridge – it extends Roon's audio playback capabilities to other devices in your home. Bridges can run on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, or as in this instance, it can utilise an embedded platform such as the Raspberry Pi. Once the Ambre is set up, you can use Roon to pick music to play to your “zone”. You can also link it with other Roon Audio zones around the house for simultaneous bit-perfect playback. In other words, it offers powerful multiroom functionality.

The nicely made Ambre is available in a choice of silver or black. Removing its lid reveals a well-presented circuit layout, including an SD card which runs a customised version of Ropieee. This can be replaced with an operating system of your choice, such as Volumio if you prefer. The large linear toroidal power supply supplies a smooth, steady current delivery, and two low jitter Tentlabs clocks are wired into place away from the main circuitry.

metrum ambre review

GETTING GOING

The Ambre is straightforward to set up. Connect it to the same network as your Roon core using an Ethernet cable, find it on the Roon app, enable it as an endpoint and start streaming. As there is no DAC, Metrum has provided multiple digital outputs for connectivity, including TOSLINK optical (limited bitrate though), coaxial and even I2S. I used a Chord Mojo DAC, and duly compared the Metrum to the Poly working as a Roon endpoint. Speakers were Acoustic Energy AE1 Actives.

metrum ambre review

This is a fine-sounding device – or to be more accurate, it supplies your DAC with a very high-quality digital audiostream to convert, allowing it to give of its best. For example, playing a Tidal MQA file of Forest Fire by James Blake showed a significant increase in sound quality over my reference Chord Poly; things improved in almost every area. Bass was deeper, vocals clearer, dynamics greater and the stereo imagery better defined. The biggest difference though was that the Ambre was so much smoother in its delivery, making the Poly seem almost grainy in comparison. That was unexpected, as the Chord is a class act.

metrum ambre review

Running the gamut of my musical favourites brought about more nice surprises. Elvis Costello's Green Shirt had excellent dynamics, and Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade sounded butter-smooth, yet highly involving. Sheep by Pink Floyd provided a musical journey showcasing every improvement this little box brings. With more modern recordings such a Billie Eilish's Bad Guy, I was given a great insight into the recording, with Eilish's multitracked vocals being better separated and defined compared to the Chord.

THE VERDICT

Well-constructed, thoughtfully designed, easy to use and delivering a fine digital datastream, the Metrum Acoustics Ambre hits the spot for Roon devotees wanting an off-the-shelf bridge – and may even bring more unbelievers into the fold. It's a niche product, but one that still makes a great case for itself all the same. Recommended.

See Metrum Acoustics for more information

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Michael Evans's avatar

Michael Evans

A music junkie who served his apprenticeship in UK hi-fi retail in the 1990s, Mike loves the simplicity of analogue and the complexity of digital. With an encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject, he’s been on a life-long quest for great sound at a sensible price – and is still loving the journey…

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Posted in: Hi-Fi Sources Streaming Applause Awards 2020
Tags: metrum acoustics  metrum  elite audio  roon  tidal  qobuz 

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