Matrix Audio Element:X - DAC/Amp/Streamer - Official Thread

Matrix Audio have recently introduced a new range of multi-function music products, collectively part of the “Element” line, and the focus of this thread is the “Element: X” (the flagship of the line):

All products in this line-up offer a consistent design language and operation, and have wireless and wired streaming capabilities, including well-features/specified built-in DACs with full MQA decoding and AirPlay, DLNA and"Roon Ready" (uncertified, and unmentioned) capability.

Each model differs in how/where their features are biased, with three units in the current “Element” series:

  • The “Element: M” has a single-ended headphone output and digital pre-amp functionality for driving external, active, speakers or a speaker/power amp.

  • The “Element: P” is a speaker-focused solution, with no native headphone output, nor pre-outs, but does incorporate a power/speaker amplifier capable of delivering 110W into 8 Ω or 230W into 4 Ω.

  • The flagship “Element: X” has the best headphone-output capabilities, with multiple connectivity options and fully balanced drive, along with pre-amp functionality for driving active speakers or an external power/speaker amp.

These units all build on the superlative audible, and measured, performance of Matrix Audio’s DAC line, most notably the recent X-SABRE Pro units.

This is the spot to discuss the Element: X …

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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?

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I’ve had 2 Matrix Dacs. The first with the Ess 9038 Pro chips. The next was the Pro with the same full MQA decoding. These were my most favorite Dacs in the headphone arena. Built like a tank and competes with many dacs 4-5 times its competition. As far as I’m concerned it may be the best kept secret in the Dac arena.

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I must agree that Matrix products are very well built. I own the HPA-3u Amp/Dac combo. Its built like a tank has lots of power but a mediocre Dac. Still it’s good for the money. Though it isn’t in the same ball park as their higher end stuff.

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i am also looking to purchase one. The top class streaming and dac functions coupled with a high end headphone amp is a very enticing proposition.

Found some review on its chinese website:

https://www.matrix-digi.com/cn/reviews/20190530407.html

Translated:

https://translate.google.com.sg/translate?sl=zh-CN&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.matrix-digi.com%2Fcn%2Freviews%2F20190530407.html

Enjoy!

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Hi Ramenik,

welcome here!

Actually there is no need to go to Chinese sites,
there are in English extensive and comparative (with other devices) measurements, and the Matrix Audio streamer-DAC-amp are at the top of the other measured devices:

I am sometimes tempted to buy a Matrix Audio,
but I am waiting, hoping for a newer version of RME DAC (I know nothing comparable to the countless possibilities of RME user interface, with its screen, menus and buttons – now that I am used to it, I have difficulties imagining missing it…) or a newer DAC-amp by Chord (but that would be much more expensive…).

All the best,
bidn

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Hello and welcome @Ramenik. I am a Matrix fan myself though I only have a lower end AIO (Amp/Dac) HPA 3U. It has oodles of power and is built like a tank.

Thanks for the pointers @bidn. I am also debating whether to get this all in one solution or separates. The only thing holding me back from this is that @Torq mentioned in his impressions that the headphone amp in element x is not at the level of the focal arche.

The other solution would to get a sabre X pro mqa with a phonitor but then I would need to stream music from my pc which I think is not as ideal as using the internal player in the element. I use tidal mqa sometimes so that is a consideration.

A little background, I am just getting back into the hobby from a long hiatus and is starting from scratch. I have auditioned the element x with focal utopia and Verite closed and am more inclined towards the Verite. I thought the combination was good but had no other amp to compare to so take that with a grain of salt. As I am starting from zero, the all in one value proposition combined with doing without the hassle of matching components and interconnects is very attractive. I could just get the element x with the VC and call it a day until my wallet allows me to spring for the raal sr1a which looks mightily impressive. I have to say there are so many great options in components and headphones nowadays.

Any thoughts and help especially regarding the headphone amp section of the element x would be greatly appreciated :slight_smile:

PS: Sorry to the admins if this is the wrong thread to ask for advice :sweat_smile:

Hi again Ramenik,

BTW I recently subjectively auditioned some DAC- amps with the Utopia, incl. the Arche, I shared my impressions here:

And if I remember correctly, resolve ( kind of the “official” youtube reviewer of the present site, and in my opinion a heir to Tyll Hertsen) uploaded a video review of the Utopia where he also reviews the Arche:

The DACs by Matrix Audio have such excellent measurements that I don’t see how the Arche’s DAC could match them. I wish I too could listen to Matrix Audio DAC but my dealer doesn’t sell them.

Another possibility for you could be to postpone buying more expensive stuff and go in the meanwhile with the less expensive RME ADI-2 DAC. Its amp has the best measurement for low volume listening. I own and use the quite similar RME ADI-2 Pro, my short impression of the Arche was that its SQ is an a little bit behind but very close to that of RME. The advantage of the Arche in that it seemed very powerful, more than the RME, in which case it would depend at which loudness you listen. I think that RME has enough power for most people for driving properly Focal headphones. RME has the unmatched asset that its on device User Interface (screen, buttons.) allows countless settings and possibilities. But then its DAC is not as good as Matrix Audio’s…

All the best,
bidn

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hello @prfallon69,

Yes the build quality is outstanding. the chassis feels very solid and the layout is neat and sensible

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hello @bidn,

Thanks for sharing your impressions, those are very interesting read. I really need to audition those other headphones soon. I am having a very hard time choosing my first pair of cans. I like the utopia due to a more direct and visceral sound. The verite closed is a little more laid-back, in relative to the utopia, with more punch. i feel like the soundstage of utopia though smaller, images better. The vc sounds more natural and organic, particularly string instruments. I am also finding that I like a more direct, visceral and forward presentation. Both the vc and utopia is right up my alley.

Are there any audible weakness of a usb connection from pc to dac? I always thought that usb connection is the weakest link in an audio chain and has been actively avoiding using PC as a source. Thus, my interest in the element x as a source, dac and amp. Things might have changed and I might have to give the RME a listen.

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Yes they make quality products. Having re-read my post hope it was clear I wasn’t recommending the Amp/Dac I have for consideration. I know you’re going for a far better option higher up the chain.

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I doubt the Arche’s DACs will meet the measured results of the Matrix Element:X or the RME ADI-2 DAC fs. Though, if using measurements and science as the basis for choosing here, then the same science and measurements would indicate that the differences are way below what’s even potentially audible.

That’s not the case with their respective built-in headphone outputs, however. Both the RME and the Matrix benefited from being fed through Arche’s amplifier, especially with Focal headphones on the correct setting (and there are clearly measurable differences, at audible levels, with the different presets).

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I should add …

If the Focal Arche had a built-in wireless Roon endpoint, I’d buy one right now and use it as my bed-side rig.

Similarly …

If the Matrix Element:X could actually be configured without requiring an Android device to do it, and was available in black, I’d buy one right now and use it as my bed-side rig.

As it is, it can’t and it the best estimate for availability of the necessary configuration app on iOS is January. So if you want to use the WiFi connectivity, it is currently an Android-only solution.

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I do agree with you.

[quote=“Torq, post:13, topic:3755”]Though, if using measurements and science as the basis for choosing here, then the same science and measurements would indicate that the differences are way below what’s even potentially audible.
[/quote]

I think that what you say is right for most systems and most listeners. But not for all:

  • Re. listeners, I personally listen at super low volume levels (my dealer says he knows noone else like this), i.e. at corresponding DAC-amp operating voltages far from their optimum, where their noise floor is much higher, and I hear differences.
  • Re. systems, some further devices downstream a DAC (e.g. a much lesser performing amp) can degrade a lot the performance of a DAC, possibly making noise or distortion spikes audible (or being audibly negatively affected by inaudible high frequency spikes), I believe it is normally better – in a high fidelity perspective, to choose the cleanest DAC when the choice is possible.
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Unfortunately I think you’ve fallen into an extremely common state of belief, where one either wants to selectively apply what the actual science (and supporting measurements) says - because that fits what they want to do/believe or, probably more commonly, they simply don’t understand the material well enough to apply it correctly.

Compounding that is usually an incomplete, or inaccurate, understanding of how the components work, what the measurements really say, and how the other variables in an overall listening chain (up to, and including the ears and brain) actually work.

Don’t take any of this as a personal issue, I’m just using it as an illustration of the common
misapplication/misunderstanding of audio “science” or measurements.

Let’s take your issue of listening level for a start.

Unless you are adjusting the volume of the sample data PRIOR to it being fed to your DAC (i.e. in your software player), or the DAC itself is using software volume control that manipulates the bit-level data PRIOR to conversion, then the DAC operates at EXACTLY the same voltages regardless of your listening level.

In other words, absent messing with the data prior to conversion, the DACs measured and audible performance will be 100% unchanged by your listening level and, as such, there exists no difference to hear in the first place. In this situation, the DAC will perform identically at any listening level - there is literally no difference to hear nor measure.

In regards to downstream amplifiers making otherwise inaudible DAC artifacts audible …

Yes, noise and distortion are cumulative.

If an amplifier is going to add audible distortion to an RME ADI-2 DAC, its going to do it an X Sabre Pro too. The DACs in question simply don’t exhibit enough of a difference for distortion or noise to be realistically audible unless the amplifier’s contribution is so high as to be audible regardless of the source.

And at LOWER listening levels, those artifacts are going to be even LESS audible not MORE.

If you care about fidelity issues at between -120 dB and -140 dB, and are listening at low levels, then you will want to ensure that you’re applying appropriate loudness contours in your replay chain otherwise the frequency response of the system will be as much as two orders of magnitude off vs. perceptual neutral (or actual neutral) … and those are unmissable differences. And if you’re letting those fly, anything even the worst DAC or amplifier does is going to be absolutely irrelevant.

Then there’s this:

or being audibly negatively affected by inaudible high frequency spikes

If the DAC is generating inaudible high-frequency spikes then one of two things are true.

  • The DAC isn’t competently engineered - i.e. it’s producing tones not present in the sample data. This won’t, of course, be the case if it measures correctly/well.

  • The DAC is accurately replaying what is in the sample data it is fed (which by extension must be carrying ultrasonic information) and thus the amplifier has issues with bandwidth or stability but the DAC is competent. In which case, get a suitable amplifier.


Finally …

Nothing wrong with buying the best measuring device. Even if it just because the numbers are “bigger” or “smaller” (as appropriate). Where it gets to be non-sequitur is when people start doing so selectively WHILE also trying to use measurements and science as the justification for their choices. AND while ignoring much bigger, definitively audible, changes in hearing response and behavior but still championing “fidelity” as if personal preference is somehow a virtue.

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It’s worth noting that I believe people should buy what they like, for whatever reasons they deem fit. And as long as they are happy, it is no one else’s concern.

I only comment on such things when they’re internally inconsistent and are being used as an outward justification for something that is not supportable by what is being claimed.

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Thanks guys for your inputs. I really appreciate it. I do believe measurements don’t tell the whole story. While good measurements doesn’t mean it will sound good, great sounding electronics will have good measurements, at least in the audible range.

In this regard, both the RME ADI-2 DAC and Element: X measures very well. I have only heard Element: X as a whole and have not connected it to an external amp. It is also very difficult for me to a/b it with the RME from where I am located. Hence, I have to rely heavily on the wonderful community here.

@Torq, I know that you mentioned the focal arche amp as being preferable to the element X’s amp. Do you mean it from a technical viewpoint (like speed, dynamics, power etc.) or is it based on your preferred sound signature? Is the ability of the element x close to the focal arches amp (trying to judge its value here as the element x is almost 500 more than focal). Forgive me for asking so many questions as this will be my first serious purchase and I don’t want to start off the wrong foot.

Thanks for reading!

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On paper, the Element:X is more powerful.

It has a more “HiFi” sound to it - which here really means a bit “leaner”, which tends to make things sound faster than is the case with the “richer” delivery of the Arche. I found Arche’s amplifier to hit harder, with more impact and slam, especially with more difficult loads, than the Element:X.

Tonally they’re both fundamentally neutral.

I suspect the Arche has a 2nd harmonic component that rises higher than its 3rd, and the Element:X has that reversed (and at a lower level), and that’s where the “richness” I hear with Arche is coming from (if, indeed, it’s a distortion product at all and not something else).

From a different perspective …

I’d say the Element:X headphone output is on a similar level to the JDS Labs Atom, though has the option for balanced output. I think the THX AAA 789 (or other “THX AAA” amplifier) would be an upgrade over the internal headphone output (at least when it comes to listening to music on actual headphones rather than measuring test tones into static loads).

The Arche’s amplifier is closer sounding to the solid-state stage of the iFi Pro iCAN, and I liked it better even when using the Element:X to feed it.

Personally I’d have liked to see an THX AAA 888 level headphones amplifier on the Element:X, even if drove up the price a bit more.

(Comparisons were done in an assisted, unsighted, level-matched fashion, though certainly not to the standards of a clinical DBT).


Remember the Matrix unit is built around an extremely nice streamer, with WiFi and Ethernet connectivity (it’s the point of the Element line), and support for Roon (a streamer without this is of no interest to me at all) and MQA (for those that care about such things).

If you’re not going to use the streamer functionality, then I wouldn’t buy any of the Element models AT ALL.


As mentioned elsewhere, I think the Element:X is probably the more faithful reproduction, but I liked listening to the Arche more. But then music for me is about enjoyment first, and anything else second.

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