Sonnet Morpheus DAC – User Review

When Parbeer Patankar, a well respected Indian audiophile, got his hands on the Sonnet Morphues DAC, he shared his first brief user impression with Goldfinch Acoustics. Goldfinch is the official and exclusive dealer of Sonnet Digital Audio in India.

And now, as promised by Prabeer, here’s his detailed review of the product.

DAC Impressions: Sonnet Audio Morpheus

By Prabeer Patankar

I have been using the Metrum Onyx r2r NOS DAC for a better part of 2 years now as my main DAC and I have settled in with the r2r NOS tonality as my staple preferred. So when the news came that Metrum had shut shop and Cees Ruijtenberg the creator of these top class DACs has moved on, there was a sense of disappointment ( There’s new tidings that Metrum is back and again collaborating with Cees). However soon there were reports of Cees forming Sonnet Audio and talks about Morpheus, said to be the follow up to the Metrum Adagio and possibly better. Obviously I was interested and happily agreed when Goldfinch Acoustics, the the dealers of Sonnet Audio in India offered me a loaner for review.

sonnet morpheus dac review india

The silver review unit was a loaner and was duly returned to Goldfinch, while I did purchase the Morpheus myself which is the black unit in the pictures below.

So yes, I liked the DAC enough to buy it.

The Device:

Sonnet Morpheus is a balanced R2R ladder Non Over Sampling DAC that utilises 4 SDA-2 DAC chips built in-house by Sonnet Audio.

The DAC uses 4 custom modules each containing 4 resistor ladders compared to the 2 ladders per chip in Cees’ previous  designs. Even with 16 R2R ladders, it just requires a single 15VA transformer to power it compared to the 3 in his previous design. Using a smaller power supply and reduction in resultant heat dissipation has allowed Cees to fit this upgraded / expanded array in a considerable smaller chassis without the need for a glass top for heat dissipation.

Cees has actually used the Jade/Onyx chassis for an Adagio/Pavane level DAC which is evident from the comparative pics of the Morpheus and Onyx side by side.

morpheus dac compared to metrum onyx

All this has resulted in a more advanced and capable DAC which can be priced much lower.

This DAC comes with a lossless volume control that can be bypassed for a fixed output to pair with integrated amplifiers( I have demonstrated this in the small video clip below).

 

The volume control in Morpheus works by altering the reference voltage in the DAC chip and does not utilise any transformer or potentiometer, so there is absolutely no channel imbalance or noise introduced by the volume control and the integrity of the digital signal remains intact, in simple words, there is no digital attenuation of the signal. There are Optical, USB/i2s, Coax and AES/EBU input options on the rear plate and SE (RCA) and Balanced (XLR) outputs. It also features connections for sharing a common remote with a power amp.

The Morpheus remote itself is CNC’d out of a solid aluminium billet and feels as solid and well built like a handgun magazine. The front plate is different from the Onyx/Jade featuring a LCD screen and the volume knob is now offset to left of screen. The units I have both the review and owned are with USB input.

Test Set up:

Head-Fi:

Picore Player Sever-Endpoint on Raspberry Pi feeding a Gustard U16 DDC via USB. The U16 connected to the DAC via AES or Coax ( These were alternated between the Onyx and Morpheus to rule out the input difference).

During the initial stages of testing I was using a Schiit Asgard 2 which is beautiful entry level Class A amp with a neutral tonality that has just a little hint of natural warmth. Subsequently I switched to the beautiful Manley Absolute Headphone amplifier which is an amazing amp in itself, totally worth of an endgame set up. Drivers used were Noble Kaiser, SS C9 ciem on Asgard 2 in low gain mode. Sennheiser HD800, HD650, HD540 reference 600 ohms. Audeze LCDX Planars.

sonnet dac reviews
manley amp with sonnet morpheus dac
2- Channel:

The only change here over the Headphone setup was that the DAC output was given to my Atoll IN200SE Integrated amp used both in integrated as well as with the internal pre bypassed, feeding the Wharfedale Diamond 9.6 floor standers and a Velodyne EQMax10 sub.

The Sound:

I was introduced to the r2r NOS sound by a fellow audiophile  about 2 years ago and got hooked to its rich organic tonality that engages the listener and draws one into the music

When the Morpheus arrived, my Onyx was hooked to the optical out of my TV playing through the 2 channel set up (Super fast delivery by Bluedart btw, it was picked up from Bangalore in the evening around 7pm and landed at my place by 9.00am in the morning next day).

I connected the Morpheus to the optical out from my TV with the intention of letting it run the signal for a few days to burn in. Right out of the box the jump in presentation was apparent, it became expansive compared to the Onyx with most of the difference coming from height and depth perception.

The Morpheus is 3D – Holographic. The difference with the Onyx is so much that the peripheral instruments shifted outwards by 1-1.5 feet on the Morpheus. The low-end became weightier and more textured and my Velodyne sub has probably never worked this much before reaching into deep sub bass. This tonal weight is felt over all right up to the mids giving every instrument a natural organic feel which was to an extent missing in the Onyx.

The underlying tonality of both the DACs is very close, it’s typically the trademark Cees sound which is common through the entire Metrum range right up to the Adagio. During my purchase of the Onyx I had spent a good amount of time with the Adagio as well. The tonality was of the Onyx and Adagio are same with the Adagio pulling ahead in terms of significant jump in micro detail retrieval, imaging accuracy and transient speed. The Morpheus seems to bring in at least same levels of improvement in the technicalities as the Adagio as I can recall from memory. The resolution is exquisite especially in the mids and upper mids.

Imaging accuracy is brilliant allowing you to accurately place each piece of the ensemble in a 3D space in front of you. Each note is perfectly rendered with a quick attack and natural decay bringing in a nice airiness to overall presentation. The biggest difference I feel in the Metrum DACs and the Sonnet Morpheus is the additional tonal weight/ density which makes it sound more natural with just the right weight to strings and vocals, this weight reaches right down to the lows giving the DAC a very authoritative feel. The low-end feels more textured than the Onyx too. For example on Sarah Mc Lachlan’s “I Love You” from the Album “Surfacing” I can sense more texture in the sub bass rumble which opens the song and is ubiquitous throughout the entire track. The imaging accuracy combined with the naturalness of tonality is a treat to experience in live recordings especially when there’s palpable energy exuding from the audience like in Arne Domnerus’ “High Life” from the excellently mastered album “Jazz at the Pawnshop” you can actually close your eyes and get transported in that closed auditorium/ Club where the performance is happening. All in all personally for me it is an excellent and very satisfying upgrade from the much loved Metrum Onyx.

I would have loved to do a side by side comparison with the Pavane/Adagio to see how it fares against the Onyx’s big brothers, does it manage to outclass them as is touted in the online news/reviews? I feel if not outclass, the Morpheus would be at par with them, but I can’t be sure unless I hear them side by side. I would also like to A/B this with the formidable Holo Spring to see how it fairs, I am sure its evenly poised against the Spring.

Who will this DAC suit?

If you like natural organic tonality that has some amount of musicality imbued in it, you don’t crave that somewhat dry analytical unforgiving sound of DS TOTL chips like the sabre 9038 that brings out the most microscopic detail from the track and lays it bare in a very typical DS manner, this is probably the best you can get in India at this price point of ₹3.15L. The Morpheus will pair beautifully with fast dynamic SS amps that have good dynamics like Kartikay’s excellent Sapphire or the Cayin iHA6 and more so with the superb Headamp GSX mini and Gilmore lite Mk2 which are about to land on Indian shores. While tubes are different and have their own flavor, if you have a top notch tube amp like the Manley, the Morpheus will take to it like fuel to fire. By virtue of its amazingly implemented volume control it works as a versatile DAC/ Pre in a 2 channel set up, in fact for me it is doing more work on my 2 channel set up than on Head Fi.

I know it’s a long post, but the Morpheus brings out that kind of emotion while writing.

Also a shout out to Goldfinch Acoustics who have brought this excellent product to Indian shores along with some of the most top notch brands from the audio world we only hear about like Manley, Headamp, Auris Audio, Feliks Audio to name some.