If you judge the performance and quality of a device solely by its specifications, you most likely don’t want to waste your time on MetrumAcoustics Flint. This D / A converter lacks a USB input, it supports (at best) 16-bit PCM files (with an acceptable sampling rate of 192 kHz).
While most DACs are happy to use off-the-shelf Delta-Sigma chips from ESS Saber or AKM and add additional processing steps in the form of oversampling and digital filtering, Metrum decided to go the other way.
Flint, like other components from the Dutch brand, uses a resistor-matrix DAC (R2R) circuit with no oversampling and a simple first-order analog filter that does not exceed 70 kHz to avoid any gain problems.
Metrum claims that the use of a true multi-bit DAC and the lack of additional signal processing results in improved timing and phase performance over the established traditional approach to digital design.
In terms of connectivity, Flint is quite limited in this. There are two stereo outputs (RCA), as well as coaxial and optical inputs, the latter is limited to 16 bit / 96 kHz. This should definitely be considered, especially if your music library is full of high definition 24-bit PCM or DSD files.
In the technical specifications there is no clause about the bit depth and sampling rate of the incoming digital signal, however, it can be assumed that the parameters will be presented here 16 bit / 44.1 kHz (CD quality).
One of the main advantages of the Metrum Acoustics Flint is its good build quality. It is a compact device in a stylish metal case that is easy to hold even in one hand. Take a peek under the cover and you’ll be impressed by the neat layout of the chips, and the Transient’s dual proprietary digital modules are also worth noticing.
Metrum says Flint can be used as an upgrade to an older CD player or compact audio enhancer, say, a Sonos source, and in that context, file connection and resolution restrictions aren’t as critical.
If you need support for high-resolution audio files, you can opt for the Flint DAC Two, but unfortunately it still doesn’t have a USB interface. The Flint we’re testing here retails for £ 445 ($ 612), while the second-gen DAC costs £ 590 ($ 810).
We use a range of digital sources with a Metrum converter, from the Marantz CD6007 and Cyrus CDi CD players to our Naim ND555 reference music streamer . Amplification is provided by our regular combo preamp Burmester 088/911 Mk3 to see how Flint works with devices of different price points.
While it’s great that Metrum chose unconventional design choices, it doesn’t really matter if the component is weak in power and performance. In any case, each product has its own buyer, so Flint has a chance to win its audience.
Flint has an unusually stable playback character. At the output, the sound is characterized by increased power and straightness; any of the traditional DACs we know with additional processing stages cannot provide the same sound picture.
For example, Flint can be the perfect companion for electronic music lovers, synthesizers and bass drums sound bright and energetic, with the right level of detail, not too harsh. Nice kick at low frequencies combined with agility and quick transitions by reducing intermediate processing steps.
We switch to Britten’s Symphony and here Metrum responds with great enthusiasm. It effortlessly conveys a sense of the power and authority of a string orchestra, convincingly demonstrating scale and dynamics. The good thing about Flint is that most of the similarly priced alternatives sound a little soft and understated, while this DAC is just for the drive music favorites.
Another feature is a formed, “multi-layered” sound picture: the instruments are fixed in the desired position, even when the composition is overflowing with numerous elements and musical parts. The soundstage isn’t particularly spacious or expansive, but that’s an obvious downside for devices in this price range.
But, for all the sonic talent of the monitored DAC, it still lacks subtlety. The Metrum Transformer often overlooks dynamic nuances for the sake of something more meaningful and authoritative.
We would like better performance at higher frequencies: in their current form, they are slightly closed, there is not enough texture and space. It would also be nice to slightly improve the overall sound, make playback smoother, while maintaining the current power.