Matrix Audio Element X Network Attached DAC Page 2

Operationally it proved impossible to trip up, being based on a solid platform including a powerful quad-core ARM processor, running in-house Linux-based software, and – apart from keeping track of all the options selected – the Element X is smooth and simple to use.

However, there's nothing smooth or simple about the sound here: instead it's direct, superbly scaled and never short of entirely thrilling, whether listening with headphones or as a source/preamp. Of course, you can while away the hours playing with the digital filters, but I found no consistent reason to stray from the default 'MOD1 filter', which is a fast roll-off, minimum phase setting. With this in use the Element X sounds fast, tight and punchy when required, yet with excellent bass warmth and detail retrieval.

221matrix.remThere's more than enough power here, and superb grip, to drive and control even the most demanding headphones, and without resorting to any tricks of processing the sound is both open and airy with no sense of claustrophobia, even when using closed-back designs like the B&W P9. In fact, if there's any disadvantage here, it's that you'll play the music too loud through your 'phones of choice, so cleanly will the Element X drive to very high levels.

For obvious reasons, excessive in-ear SPLs should be avoided but it's hard not to like the way a piece such as Widor's Toccata, played by Olivier Latry on the Notre Dame de Paris organ [from BNL 112617], sounds when played loud through good headphones. Mind you,

with a fine amplifier and speakers on the end of the Element X, it's even more thrilling when those pedals start the listener's whole body shaking!

Just Magnificent
This combination also serves well the tripping, pounding beats of Dub Pistols' Addict [Sunday Best SBESTCD89], which allows the weight, slam and speed here to combine to excellent effect, while also giving an ultra-clear view of everything going on in the mix above. This isn't just toe-tapping stuff; it's everything-tapping, and sounds just magnificent, with every lyric crystal clear, right from the opening title track.

That ability to deliver a full-scale sound, rammed with information and its drama intact is also much in evidence with the recreation of the 1985 Live Aid set on Queen and Adam Lambert's Live Around The World [EMI 00602507394066], which is full of almost all of the swagger of the original and treated to a spectacular live mix. The Element X makes it big, rich and full of vitality, just as it should be, proving that this DAC/amp isn't just an exercise in technical excellence and 'hi-fi-ness' but also very much built by people who love music.

Change pace entirely to the classic 1965 EMI Abbey Road recording of Martha Argerich, then only in her mid-20s, playing Chopin [EMI Japan TOGE-11072; DSD64], and that freshness and detail is to the fore, along with a lovely sense of the studio acoustic wrapped around the glorious performances. The passion, dexterity and lightness of touch in the C-sharp minor Scherzo is nothing short of breathtaking when the Element X is driving revealing headphones, such as the Philips Fidelio X3 – it's tempting to hit the repeat button just to experience it all over again! The warmth and spirit of the sessions comes through marvellously, and the sheer levels of detail on offer will amaze those who think that great sound began when we all went 'hi-res' a few years back.


Power Trip
Talking of being amazed, lightness of touch doesn't even come into it with Stokowski's wonderfully lush and overblown Rhapsodies set for RCA 'Living Stereo' from the very early 1960s [RCA Red Seal LSC-2471; DSD64]. Subtle it ain't, with the orchestra – RCA's in-house 'Symphony Of The Air' – seemingly on as much of a power trip as the conductor with its great swathes of Hollywood musical strings, and no turn left unstoned.

The Element X brings out all the gloriously over-the-top dynamics of this still-staggering recording – what must it have sounded like to listeners at the time? It's a riot, if not always for the right reasons. So if you ever need something get you up and ready to invade a neighbouring state, Stokowski and his merry men storming up 'The Moldau' – via the Element X, a gutsy amp like the Denon and a pair of big speakers – should do very nicely indeed.

That's the great strength of Matrix Audio's Element X: it gets you to heart of a recording, whether you're playing it from a computer or USB storage, summoning it up from a NAS drive or streaming it. Of course, that could also be its undoing if the music you play is a bit on the rough side, but some judicious juggling with the digital filters can soften things down a little.

However, pick a good recording such as Billie Eilish's 'No Time To Die' [Darkroom/Interscope; n/a cat no] – about as close as any of us are going to get to 'Bond 25' this side of next Easter – and the Element X delivers a beautifully intimate view of the vocal in throttled-back mode. Then it opens up all the cylinders as Hans Zimmer's great orchestra soars into action around about the point where the movie titles will be telling us he did the music. It's suitably dark, and decidedly glorious.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
If you're thinking 'Matrix who?', you're in danger of missing out on one of the more conspicuous hi-fi bargains of the moment. In a world rapidly becoming over-populated with big-ticket DAC/headphone amps, this modestly-proportioned contender has the wherewithal to soar to the top, thanks to its flexibility, ease of use – either with the MA app or Roon – and performance that's never short of thrilling.

Matrix Electronic Technology Co. Ltd
Supplied by: Signature Audio Systems, UK
07738 007776