I got to spend a few solid hours with the “Element: X” at (and after) a mini-meet I hosted in Seattle this past weekend …
This is a highly multi-functional unit. In addition to being both a high-end DAC and powerful headphone amplifier, it is also a streamer, music-player (with the ability to play from a local SD card) and digital pre-amp, with AirPlay and DLNA support and, though it’s not mentioned on the web-site or in the product details it shows up as a “Roon Ready” device.
At a high level, and with just a few post-meet hours listening, I would say this is a contender for “best ESS 9038-based DAC” I’ve heard. I’d need more time with it to be sure, and some other specific units on hand to do back-to-back comparison with, but it is definitely in that ball park and warrants spending the time to delve into and compare properly.
Even with just a few moments listening, it was easy to characterize the Element:X as being a classic example of the clean, detailed, reference-type, sound. And in this case I mean that in an entirely positive way. The detail is real, not the “exaggerated” or “over-sharpened” effect that all-too-often accompanies ESS based DACs. Tonality is pure. Delivery is effortless. It is deft, and nimble, but can still slam hard, while delivering a tuneful, energetic bass-line. It isn’t clinical or sterile, but it is not obviously editorializing anything, either, and it definitely isn’t euphonic in any way.
It is fair to say that I liked it, immediately.
And I liked it a LOT.
Whether viewed as a pure DAC, or as a DAC/amp it’s performance is excellent. For the high-fidelity minded, it’s easy to see this as a TOTL all-in-one solution. In fact, in terms of raw technicalities, I can’t really argue against it in that role either. It’s a VERY nice piece, sounds great, and offers superlative measurements (for the objectively-focused crowd).
It’s a near-total contrast to the Focal Arche, which I also had at the same time, in that the Arche is a richer, more organic, sounding unit, where as the Element:X is all-up detail, focus, precision and cleanliness. They are different signatures and while I, like many others, can appreciate the opposite-extremes of such things, ultimately most want one or the other.
My mood, alone, could flip me between this and the Arche at any given moment. Both were very compelling listens, though I think the Matrix unit is, ultimately, the more faithful of the two in relation to how it reproduces the original material.
It’s fair to say I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the Element:X.
At a time when I am in a hardcore “downsizing” frame of mind, I find myself wanting one of these. I don’t have a specific need for it, though I could certainly put it to use. But I want it, regardless.
So the sound is good … but there is, unfortunately, a downside currently …
If you want to run this via it’s built-in WiFi interface you will have to have an Android device. You cannot , at this point, configure the WiFi on the device, nor with an iOS device, nor a PC/Mac.
It says it supports AirPlay. Well, yes, it does, as long as you run it on a wired network. But you cannot configure it for WiFi without an Android device!
To it’s credit, dropping it on my network via a cable I had to go digging for, it showed up immediately within my Linn-centric DLNA client/server environment. And it also showed up as an available, if uncertified, “Roon Ready” end-point. And it did, in fact, operate just fine for the few hours I played with it in Roon mode. Even to the point that it was both indicating it was in “Roon Ready” mode and fully decoding MQA sent via Roon.
I hope Matrix get support for something other than Android for configuration implemented sooner than later, as I want to spend more time with this unit in more realistic use-cases (i.e. via WiFi in a separate room).
Indicentally, connectivity on the unit is very rich and flexible, with single-ended and balanced analog outputs, a full-array of digital inputs, USB-storage hosting, a super-clean (if slightly clinical) headphone output in every configuration one can reasonably desire and a compelling form factor:
Now … why is this only, seemingly, available in silver?