MERASON FRÉROT DAC REVIEW

The Merason Frérot DAC costing £995 isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Switzerland. We’re more likely to think cheese, chocolate and clocks. John Scott spends some time with it to see if audiophile-quality DACs can be added to that list.

Merason Frérot DAC and PSu

Merason Frérot DAC shown with its accompanying power supply unit.

BUILD AND FEATURES

First off, I needed a little bit of help to decode this DAC’s name.  Merason apparently means “unique sound” and  Frérot means “little brother” and indeed this is the smaller sibling to the flagship Merason DAC1 unit.

The DAC comes in a stylishly designed but frill-free cardboard box, well-protected within a foam inner and accompanied by a “wall wart” power supply.  In fact, stylishly designed but frill-free also goes some way to describing the DAC itself.  Being Swiss-made, you would expect a well-engineered quality product and that is certainly the first, and lasting, impression that the Frérot provides.  It is a relatively small unit measuring 22.5 x 18 x 5 cm, and light in weight at less than 1kg but its galvanised steel body gives an impression of greater heft and the casing is beautifully engineered to produce a sleek, classy product that looked great on my HiFi shelf.

The Frérot’s understated elegance is typified by its front panel which comprises of little more than two green LEDs, a single switch and the Merason logo.  The first LED indicates that the unit is powered up, the second activates when an active input is selected by the rotary switch.

Merason Frérot DAC back view

Merason Frérot DAC and PSU around the back.

The back panel is where all the action is; both balanced and single-ended outputs are provided along with five inputs: two coax, two optical and one USB – more than enough choice for the typical user.   Along with the wall wart power input and an on/off switch, an umbilical input for the Frérot’s optional upgraded PSU (of which more later) is also provided.  Despite the Frérot’s small size, there is no sense at all that the back panel is cluttered.

Merason Frérot DAC inside

Merason Frérot DAC nicely laid out boards.

Like its big brother the DAC1, the Frérot uses Burr Brown’s 1794A DAC chip but where the DAC1 utilises a “dual mono” configuration – one chip per channel –  the Frérot relies on a single chip. Supported audio formats are up to 24/192.  DSD is not supported.

SET UP

Not much to say here really. Set up was incredibly straightforward. I connected the power to the Frérot and RCA interconnect outputs to my Etalon SuprA amplifier.    My Stack Audio Link II streamer is USB-only so the USB input was the way to go here.  Powering the unit up, the power indicator LED on the front panel sprang to life; always a good start.  The inputs on the back panel are numbered 1 to 5 with corresponding numbers on the front panel’s rotary switch.  The USB input is number 5 and when I turned the rotary switch to 5, the other LED lit up to show that the Frérot had locked on to the streamer.  Another sign that we were now good to go.

SOUND

Merason Frérot DAC knob

Simple selection.

All music for this review was either streamed from local files or from Qobuz via my Roon Nucleus+server. At this price point, I was expecting something a bit special from a stand-alone DAC and the Frérot didn’t disappoint in the slightest. Kicking off with Bird On A Wire from Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat album, I was immediately struck by the Frérot’s sense of rhythmic pace.  There is a lot going on in this track; intricate drumming and cymbal work from Zappa alumnus Vinnie Colaiuta is bolstered by additional percussion from Lenny Castro, Warnes’ vocal floats over complex layers of background vocals and the bass guitar goes way down but retains a percussive string tone.  The Frérot took all this in its stride. There was clarity between the drums and other percussion instruments, with Colaiuta’s snare revealing the sound of the drum-shell, not just the snap of stick-on skin.

Stormy weather from Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now album features a 71-piece orchestra playing an arrangement that is almost Mahler-like in its complexity, intensity and dynamism. The Frérot laid this out in front of me in all its splendour along with the ambience of the recording space, Mitchell’s vocal exhibiting a subtly different acoustic quality. At this point in her career, Mitchell’s voice had taken on a slightly husky, breathy quality – possibly not unrelated to decades of dedicated cigarette consumption – perfectly suited to the songs on this album. The Frérot brought out all these tonal qualities in Mitchell’s voice, conveying a real sense of emotional intensity.

Merason Frérot DAC PSU

Inside the Merason PSU

Next up was something very different: Contact from Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories album. This track features a lot of intentional crackling and distortion along with synthesised instruments and real, but heavily treated bass and drums. The track is an aural representation of an alien encounter. Tension builds throughout the track as the layers of synthesised static battle with the drums and bass. The static builds in frequency until it feels like something might explode then fades to the crackling of a burnt-out radio. This can be a difficult track for a system to resolve well but the Frérot was clearly up to the task, conveying every drop of tension and excitement.

But wait, John, didn’t you mention something about a dedicated power supply?  Why yes I did, thanks for reminding me. Just like the Frérot, the POW1 power supply (£595) is a well-built and classy looking bit of kit, housing a large toroidal transformer. It would be disappointing if an upgraded power supply did not bring additional benefits and I am happy to say that was definitely not the case here. The POW1 did not affect the fundamental qualities of the Frérot in terms of pace and precision but quite clearly opened up the soundstage further and brought more “air” into the overall presentation. Switching back again to the wall wart confirmed this to be the case. Don’t get me wrong; the Frérot is a great performer in its standard power configuration but the POW1 definitely adds an extra little something special and I very quickly switched it back in again.

Merason Frérot DAC

Coinnected by an umbilical.

My reference DAC (Valve Audio Designs VAD DAC10) almost always gives me a feeling of putting its arms around me, giving me a cuddle and pulling me into the music, no doubt due to its valve-driven output stage.  I found the Frérot to be drier and slightly more analytical in its presentation but not overly so and certainly not to the detriment of the music.  Child In Time from Deep Purple’s Made In Japan live album positively crackled with pace (and Paice) and excitement and again the sense of the live acoustic was really brought home. While I would need to be forced at gunpoint to give up my VAD10, the Frérot is a DAC that I really would be very happy to live with.

CONCLUSION

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this DAC.  Its sound is matched by its build quality and stylish good looks.  Precision and detail are delivered in spades but never at the expense of emotional involvement. Performance is enhanced by the dedicated POW1 power supply but it is more than acceptable with the standard supplied PSU.  Buying the Frérot in its standard power configuration and saving up for the POW1 at a later date would bring a nice little upgrade and performance boost to look forward to.

As there was really nothing about this product that I didn’t like, it gets five hearts from me. If you are in the market for a stand-alone DAC at this price point, the Merason Frérot definitely should be on your audition shortlist.

AT A GLANCE

Build Quality: 

Excellent build quality and sophisticated styling.  No bling, just classy good looks.

Sound Quality:

Detailed and precise but not at the expense of emotion. A sound I’d be more than happy to live with.

Value For Money:

A DAC at this price point is always going to be a considered investment. It’s not cheap but it will be in your system for the long term and therefore, in my opinion, represents very good value for money.

We Loved:

Classy good looks that reflect the price

Solid build quality

Excellent choice of digital inputs – more than enough for the average user

Detailed, involving sound presentation

Option to enhance performance with the dedicated PSU.

We Didn’t Love So Much:

Nothing really to say here

DSD fans may be disappointed that this format is not supported.

Price:

Frérot DAC £995

POW1 PSU £595

Elevator Pitch Review: Swiss-made is a byword for quality manufacturing.  The Merason Frérot DAC is no exception. Looks the business and sounds it too. 

 

 

 

 

 

John Scott

Review Equipment: Roon Nucleus+ server, Stack Audio Link II streamer and PSU, Etalon SuprA amplifier, GEAudio Sincerus 80 speakers, AFAudio interconnects and speaker cables.

Manufacturer’s website 

Read More Posts Like This

  • McIntosh D100 Preamplifier and DAC

    McIntosh Laboratory has launched a new DAC/preamp with a price tag of just £2,995. The new D100 is a remote-controlled DAC/preamplifier with five digital inputs that brings the McIntosh sound to connected digital devices. With its five digital inputs (2x coaxial, 2x optical and 1x USB), and both variable and fixed volume audio outputs, the D100 is suited to "exploiting…

  • Review - Lampizator Big 7 DAC

    At €11000 plus taxes as tested the Lampizator Big 7 is certainly no budget DAC, but does it deliver on sonic ability? Stuart Smith finds out.  "OK, it would be easy to sum up the sound when listening to DSD files as nothing short of an absolute aural revelation that simply took my breath away with each album I listened…

  • Total DAC

    The Total DAC is a French made digital to analogue converter which is said to use only components that have been selected by rigorous listening tests as well as “specific digital technologies” and “components rarely used in other high end DACs due to their high cost”. The standout feature of the Total DAC is the inclusion of an integrated digital…

Comments closed.