Matrix Element X Impressions

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by ChaChaRealSmooth, Jan 24, 2020.

  1. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    ***Thanks to Arthur from Matrix for making this happen. I find it amusing that the beginning of my involvement in SBAF began with asking him for a X-Sabre Pro for loan.

    20200123_234650.jpg

    The Element X naturally draws comparison to the X-Sabre Pro MQA. Comparing the two physically, the Element X is not much bigger than a X-Sabre Pro. It's also not a whole lot heavier, leading me to think the construction, while not bad, isn't quite up to the heroic standard the X-Sabre Pro MQA sets.

    As just DACs, the Matrix high-end siblings sound so much alike I'm certain I'd fail a blind test, and any perceived differences could probably be chalked up to placebo. Fast, slightly overzealous transients (maybe just a touched pulled back on the Element X, but would need a blind test to make sure), good timbre but not quite Schiit R2R tone density, very neutral up and down the octaves (depends on filter; I like the linear phase filters and primarily used mode 3, but mode 4 pairs better for brighter gear). To borrow a phrase from Marv, it's for people who like straight gin. In case it's not clear, reading the X-Sabre Pro thread would apply to the Element X when used just as a DAC.
    However, the amp section doesn't do the DAC section justice. It's okay and serviceable in the event that you might just want to play video games or have some background listening while doing something else, but it's a bit dynamically flat and the stage feels like a straight horizontal line. It also seems to dull transients. I think this might be partly due to the Element X using both digital and analog attenuation (I think this applies to both the line-outs and headphone-outs unless you use the line-out with no attenuation), with the digital attenuation in particular harming the sonics. Put it this way; I got bored listening and played Plants vs Zombies on my phone.

    ***Note: these next few sections are dedicated to the features that I used. If you don't care about that just skip to the bottom

    Use of the Matrix remote app requires connecting the Element X to your network via ethernet or wifi. I haven't tried the ethernet way, but setting it up on wifi is kind of annoying. It requires some menu flipping to connect to the "Matrix" network and then more finagling with the menu to connect to your network, and the question confirmation prompts are worded a bit funny. But once it sets up it works flawlessly, and honestly, once I got used to it I never used the physical remote (the physical remote does feel nice and controls input, filter settings, volume, and power. The other settings have to be put in via the button UI or the app).

    I have to give Matrix some props for making the button interface more friendly than the X-Sabre Pro's. While not as intuitive as the iFi Pro iDSD, it's still a big improvement over my X-Sabre Pro MQA. Inputs and outputs can be selected via the front small buttons right of the screen, or through the remote, or through the Matrix Remote app, which works well on my Galaxy S10. The volume knob is one of those infinitely spinning things for better or worse. With the app though, you never need to deal with any of the buttons, so finagling with it might actually not really be worth it. However, the button selection of the inputs and outputs still works well and only take a minute to learn.

    I tested plugging a flash drive in one of the two USB-A ports and playing music via the remote app. It actually sounds better than directly from my PC (which isn't saying much considering it's shit USB straight from my motherboard); I did a few double takes but the improvement is there. You can also put in a microSD card in the slot for music as well, so there's a lot of potential to load a bunch of music in there and bypass the need for adding a source, although whether this will sound better than one's quality CD transport I have no idea, nor do I know how this compares to something like Pi2AES. However, it is definitely worth checking out.

    Think of the Element X as a X-Sabre Pro MQA with a built-in amp and streamer. For my use case, the Element X, while nice, makes absolutely no sense. The value of this versus the X-Sabre Pro depends on how much you value the added on features.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2020
  2. ultrabike

    ultrabike Measurbator - Admin

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    I just got the Matrix Element X loaner and gave it a go. I can get the 48 kHz sampling rate behaving. Here is a THD+N vs Vout plot for the balanced line out:

    THD+N_vs_Vout_48kHz_Line_Out_Balanced.PNG

    At high voltage this thing is probably exceeding the capabilities of the SR1.

    But for the life of me I can't get decent results with 44.1 kHz at all. I'm using ASIO4ALL. I may be missing the appropriate USB driver. Any place I could find it?

    EDIT: Very impressed by this unit. Still in the process of reviewing it, but so far very good.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2020
  3. bilboda

    bilboda Friend

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  4. cskippy

    cskippy Creamy warmpoo

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    Matrix Element X Loaner impressions:

    [​IMG]

    Chain used:

    MR816x (firewire interface >optical) /Eitr >Matrix Element X / Crane Song Solaris / Soekris 1541 > Bryston BHA-1 > HE-6 / Neumann KH120

    First thing I noticed when unboxing was the weight given it's size. This is impressive construction and attention to detail! Basic functions and menu are relatively easy to go through, more intuitive than RME ADI-2 DAC. It took me less than 10 minutes to understand and make my way through all of the features available. I quickly gravitated towards filter 4, which I later found to be slow foll off, linear phase.

    Headamp outputs are competent in my book, definitely better than ADI-2 DAC and maybe even 1541, whose headamp I'm partial to given it's synergy with HD800 SDR. High gain gets HE-6 to ear bleeding levels with a +28dB max volume in balanced operation.

    The rest of my review will be using BHA-1 to compare DACs.

    Sound is like an open window compared to any other DAC I've heard. There is nothing between you and the audio which is so eye opening. Transients are front and center with this DAC, making instruments easy to localize, and recognize akin to increasing the sharpening on a TV to unnatural levels. On a macro level, your eyes can more easily identify objects and make sense of the world, but the more you watch, the more you realize that this is not the natural world you know. The same goes for Matrix X and it's presentation. There is an immediate wow factor which would make a short listen/demo impressive and would probably sell very well. Sharp and defined transients make the sound stage, imaging and layering top notch but also make everything have an edge even when it shouldn't be super aggressive. Guitars have a raw energetic bite, trumpets can be abrasive and brash but so can bells and other softer instruments which becomes fatiguing.

    I did not like the Element X with my optical or spdif interface, the sound was too dry and transients became overbearing and unlistenable. Eitr adds a touch of tube warmth and decay which sweetens the sound and takes just the edge off which really helped me listen to Element X.

    The Sabre sound is much more tolerable on speakers vs headphones injecting the sound straight into your ears. Adding high gain from the Bryston BHA-1 adds just a touch of sweetness and organic quality which further helps blend the sound, although the bite and edge is never completely natural. This is the downfall of the DAC for me. I feel that I could achieve a similar performance level at a $500 or less price point with all of the Sabre DAC options on the market. I don't prioritize my DAC being a central hub for all things audio but if I did, maybe the Element X could be that ticket. However, I would also consider the iFi iDAC in tube hybrid mode.

    Comparing to other DACs...

    Convert 2's tricks are dynamics and extension at both ends making everything super engaging and exciting while maintaining a glassy midrange and timbre. There is a slight veil to the midrange but the extremes seem to come through this veil at times. There is not a strong center image as the soundstage gets warped wide and back before turning back in at the sides, like a u shape.

    Solaris' tricks are sound stage and resolution while never being fatiguing even with its brighter tilt. The downfalls are the brighter balance and lack of heft and slam in the bass.

    Soekris 1541 while not excelling at any one area for me besides timbre gets more right than all of the above mentioned DACs. Guitars have more bite and crunch than Solaris, it's more natural than Convert 2, cleaner sounding than Yggdrasil A2 and not as abrasive as Element X. I feel it's weak areas are in dynamics and transients which could maybe be improved with a better power supply and tweaking filters.

    Thank you SBAF for the opportunity to hear this piece of gear!
     
  5. HitmanFluffy

    HitmanFluffy Hoping to see real genitals someday! - Friend

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    I haven't posted in a while, but I got to hear this at @famish99 's place so I've got something to post.

    I came in with high expectations having tried and liked the original Matrix X-Sabre enough, and gotten very positive reviews from trusted friends about the Pro. I was ultimately disappointed by the Element X, both comparatively and on its own merits.

    While possessing the pitch black background typical to Sabres that I particularly enjoy, my immediate impression listening to the Element X was a stage seriously lacking in depth and somewhat lacking in width. There was also, unlike the earlier iterations, a noticeable veil present, making it sound lo-fi. The bass was lean, which I do not typically mind at all, but also dynamically soft. While not terrible, this experience was already getting to the sub-$200 sound quality experience, which led us to suspect something was wrong. It turned out the digital volume control on the Element X was the culprit, and switching over to a pot and a TVC yielded better results.

    While the stage popped back out and the veil cleared up somewhat, the resulting improvement still did not yield what I would consider a sound worthy of a $1000+ DAC, never mind the $3000 this retails for. It's also galling that the digital volume control, one of the major feature upgrades this provides over the other Matrix models, degrades the sound further, necessitating further spend on a preamp. Build your own streaming rig or buy a Synology, and buy most any other DAC with the change.
     
  6. famish99

    famish99 Friend

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    I'll keep my thoughts brief; I wanted to like the X-Sabre Pro/Element X too since I liked the Gustard X22 and was hoping this would be a more refined version of it. It does sound a bit more refined, but thinner sounding than the X22 and stages a bit wider than Bifrost 2 but narrower than the Wavedream. But overall, I find it too relaxed sounding and kinda boring due to its dynamic deficiencies (both macro and micro). I'm mildly annoyed by the UI, but it's not the worst thing I've used recently.

    I'd still like to thank SBAF for giving me the opportunity to borrow the Element X.
     
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  7. ultrabike

    ultrabike Measurbator - Admin

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    So guys, I'll be honest. I really wanted to try this unit, more than anything to test it with the Audio Analyzer given how awesome it was made out to be.

    Technically the DAC is very good. It is fully within the SR-1 measurements capabilities all the way up to reasonable voltage levels (i.e. SR-1 > Matrix Element X south of 0.5 Vrms). At higher voltage levels it can best the SR-1 given noise floor at higher analyzer voltage ranges.

    That being said,the headphone outputs are NOT as strong as the DAC outputs (the O2 has actually better THD+N south of 200 mW). Particularly at the given price. Furthermore, at least the latest FW has digital filtering issues for the more common 44.1 and 48 kHz sampling rates. From what I've read here and there, the manufacturer is working on a fix. I feel confident such issues will be addressed and fixed.

    Would I buy it? No.

    Did I shit in my pants, like apparently other folks did in other sites, given measurement performance? No.

    Is it hi-fi material? It provides a very solid DAC and a resonable amplifier, so depending on what floats your both maybe Yes, maybe No.

    Did I actually hear it? Yes. I liked it. It is reasonably trasparent and provides plenty of power to drive most headphones. But it didn't make me feel as if I was missing much when compared to the simple Massdrop Grace Designs DAC + O2 I got next to my POS laptop.

    As for other folks not-so-favorable impressions, again, note the low sampling rate (44.1 and 48 kHz) digital filters have issues:
    https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...trix-element-x-measurements.8945/#post-289724
    These issues are well known by now, and have been reported in other sites as well.
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2020
  8. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    I should have mentioned that during my time with the Element X, I selected the 32-bit 192kHz setting on my PC (which is a shit source). I haven't tested the other outputs, nor do I know how something like Pi2AES would affect things.

    In my experience, the 44.1 kHz setting on Matrix stuff kind of sucks. This includes my X-Sabre Pro.
     
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  9. famish99

    famish99 Friend

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    This might be what I'm suffering with, I'll enable upsampling on my music player tomorrow.
     
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  10. atomicbob

    atomicbob dScope Yoda

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    "when this baby hits 88.2 KHz, you're going to hear some serious shit"
    Most DACs have less recovery filter ringing as sample rate increases. 88.2 KHz has been hitting a sweet spot in my lab.
     
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  11. joch

    joch Friend

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    Whoa, this is heavy.

    Gonna give upsampling a try.
     
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  12. GoodEnoughGear

    GoodEnoughGear Evil Dr. Shultz‎

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    Let the upsampling nervosa begin! SOX? SSRC? ...HQPlayer?
     
  13. atomicbob

    atomicbob dScope Yoda

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    Some possibly useful resources.

    Comparison of sample rate converters. While this demonstrates down conversion, it may infer something about attention to math and implementations of the designers: https://src.infinitewave.ca/

    A very good white paper by one of the major players in pro audio A/D and D/A:
    http://www.lavryengineering.com/pdfs/lavry-white-paper-the_optimal_sample_rate_for_quality_audio.pdf
     
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  14. famish99

    famish99 Friend

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    Running JRiver 26 with SoX upsampling to 88.2k/96k (2x original track sampling rate), I'd say it sounds a lot less "boring". The low level sounds seem considerably more fleshed out and there's a bit more macrodynamics, but ultimately the Element X is still not my cup of tea. Between my TT and the Wavedream, I've come to appreciate the speed and slam those have to offer and if forced to choose, I'd usually take the tradeoff of less refinement for more slam.
     
  15. atomicbob

    atomicbob dScope Yoda

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  16. GoodEnoughGear

    GoodEnoughGear Evil Dr. Shultz‎

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    Yeah SOX seems pretty decent and widely implemented. I did run across this resource when I was considering downsampling some hi-res I have to 44.1/16 to save space on my phone. Then they came out with 512gb cards which solved my problem. But it would be interesting esp. with Yggdrasil to see if one could discern a difference between hi-res and downsampled.
     
  17. HitmanFluffy

    HitmanFluffy Hoping to see real genitals someday! - Friend

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    Listened to it at @famish99 's place yesterday with the music upsampled to 88.2k. I've done a 180 on my view of it. It cuts right through the mix with excellent presentation of depth and great detail retrieval. The tonal balance is still on the thin side, which I don't mind personally, and it doesn't do slam all that well, which I speculate is due to the analog stage design. Unlike OG Sabre the treble is quite excellent, combining clarity with a lack of grain, which I appreciate. If the X-Sabre Pro sounds like this, especially in the absence of the volume control, its a pretty solid buy at 2k MSRP.
     
  18. mscott58

    mscott58 Friend

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    Got the Element X setup and got some listening time in (had some extra time with the limits placed on life these days) and have to agree with most of what has already been said here. But first some relevant details - running the Element-X from the I2S output of the Singxer SU-1 and then bypassing the internal amp and sending the signal directly to my Cavalli LAu, which feed my ZMF Verite C Ironwoods. Direct comparisons made with my reference DM Convict-2.

    Even after reading everyone else's input was still surprised how heavy this thing is! If the zombies attack I'm grabbing the Element-X to beat them back with. Thing is a virtual Swiss-Army knife of options as well, but haven't played with all of the things it can do (streaming, etc.) - just sticking to it as a standalone DAC.

    Have to say the Element-X is a fairly solid DAC, with an overall pleasant presentation. However, compared to the CV2 I'd have to say it's sound is a bit anemic and sucked-out, especially in female vocals. Soundstage in my experience also feels a bit stove-piped, in terms of being narrower and the central image seeming a bit elevated. Definitely not the broad and coherent picture I'm used to from the CV2.

    If you need a DAC/amp that can do a lot and aren't willing to pony up 2-3x as much for TOTL (at least IMHO) I'd say that the Element-X is good one to try out.

    Cheers and thanks for including me on the tour

    PS - Yes, I did upsample to 88.2 on JRMC 25
     
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