Hifichoice testar lilla prisvärda Merason Frérot dacen och gillar verkligen vad de hör. Läs testet i sin helhet här nedan, eller klicka här för att komma till Hifichoice hemsida.

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If you account for its small population, Switzerland is one of the richest countries per head in the world, which might explain why most of its hi-fi brands are high end; names such as AVantGarde, darTZeel Audio, Goldmund and Revox spring to mind. One Swiss audio company you may know, though, is Merason. It’s unusual because it makes more affordable products, such as the Merason frérot that we’re looking at here.

Your money buys you a small box design that looks like a large one that’s been shrunk in the wash. It’s based around the Burr-Brown PCM1794A DAC chip, so this is a little different from the norm, inasmuch as it’s not another ESS Sabre-based design. It uses Class A buffering circuitry, specially selected components and offers a choice of unbalanced or balanced operation via RCA or XLR output sockets respectively. There are two optical digital inputs (working up to 24-bit/192kHz), two coaxial digital ins (ditto) and a USB digital input (up to 24/96). There’s one more socket around the back – 9V DC power into which you plug the supplied AC adaptor.

At 225 x 50 x 180mm (WxHxD), its compact size is such that the rear panel is crowded; I’m not sure you could cram any more sockets in if you wanted to. Under the hood there’s a single neatly laid out circuitboard that’s packed – unsurprisingly – with surface mount components. Signal paths are short, and the standard of build is high. Round the front is a neat silver fascia with two green LEDs; one for power on and the other for signal lock. Unfortunately, there’s no way of telling what resolution the DAC is working in. Overall the frérot presents itself to the world as a nice piece of budget esoterica, albeit a quirky and eccentric one.

Sound quality
The frérot sounds like a rough diamond to me – it does a lot of things right. Rhythmically it’s excellent, and the DAC has a basic confidence to the way it makes music that’s rare at this price. Being an affordable product it’s not perfect of course, and lacks the subtlety and finesse of a serious high-end design.

All the same, this dinky DAC has a character of its own that many will instantly take to. As Frankie Valli’s cover of Barry Gibb’s Grease shows, the frérot is endearingly metronomic in the way it makes music. The drum track of this old disco-era classic is rock-solid, the DAC following the bass, snare and cymbals with limpet-like tenacity.

I love the way that Valli’s vocals syncopate with the backing band, and find myself not only enjoying the track but deconstructing it a little too. This is possible because despite its snappy rhythmic gait, the Merason is very tidy sounding. Everything in the stereo mix is very clearly compartmentalised, so that you can follow individual strands easily. For this reason, Level 42’s Something About You is both touchingly romantic and crisp and funky from a technical standpoint. I am particularly taken with Mark King’s plaintive vocal line, yet intrigued by his athletic bass guitar antics.

The frérot seems to cut away the mush and the haze to unpack any mix you give it with ease – something that not all its price rivals do. Audiolab’s similarly priced M-DAC+ (HFC 410)for example, is a little flatter and more processed-sounding by comparison. UB40’s reggae classic Food For Thought is a good example of this; the Merason DAC delivers an expansive and well-proportioned stereo soundstage that isn’t quite as ‘in your face’ as some DACs at this price, but locates different instruments in the mix very tidily. It is particularly good at depth perspective, providing there is some on the original recording, of course. Again, I am able to make out all the musicians playing along with one another in an enjoyably natural and expressive way.

Merason’s frérot is pretty basic in terms of facilities, yet a real hot rod in terms of sound. More expensive DACs have a richer and more natural tonality, yet still this gets the big picture right. Sometimes it seems, as the old saying goes, that less really can be more. DP    

Product: Merason frérot
Type:Digital-to-analogue converter

● Burr-Brown 1794A DAC
● 24-bit/192kHz PCM decoding
● Balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA analogue outputs