Matrix Audio Element X2 Pure Network-Attached DAC

Pure in name and hi-fi heart, Matrix Audio's 10th anniversary Element X2 model loses its headphone amp but gains a pair of new, cutting-edge ESS Sabre DACs

While the list of 'legacy products' on Matrix Audio's website begins with the DA-100 Plus DAC, which debuted in 2006, the Chinese brand insists it only really began life in 2013 when it was registered as Matrix Electronic Technology Co. 'Before that, Matrix Audio existed in the form of a studio', says marketing manager Yang Tao. This explains why the literature for the new Element X2 Pure network DAC (and the sticker that graces the top of the unit) proclaims it a celebratory model, launched to mark the company's 10th anniversary.

Okay, ten years might not seem as impressive as some of the milestones celebrated by other audio brands recently, including NAD [50 years; HFN Apr '23], SME [60 years; HFN Jul '22] and Thorens (140 years!), but it helps reinforce the idea that 'Chinese hi-fi' is not new. Furthermore, the Element X2 Pure appears worthy of its elevated status, and acts as an effective calling card for a brand developing at pace.

Pure Reasoning
Priced £4500, this is the flagship DAC in Matrix Audio's lineup, above both the £3250 X-Sabre 3 [HFN Apr '22] and £4400 Element X2 [HFN Oct '22]. The name confirms it's an upgrade of the latter model – itself a development of the original Element X [HFN Jan '21] – but the word 'Pure' is doing a lot of heavy lifting. There are enough changes here to justify Matrix Audio simply calling it the Element X3.

In short, what was once a DAC/preamp/headphone amp has now become a DAC/preamp – gone are the 6.35mm and 3.5mm front-panel headphone sockets of the Element X2. This makes the unit a little less of a desktop audio slam-dunk than its sibling, but otherwise the form factor encourages such use. Like the predecessor model, the Element X2 Pure sports a smartly finished aluminium chassis, measuring a slim 58mm high and 340mm wide, only now with new CBVB (Ceramic Ball Vibration Buffer) feet that are said to improve stability and vibration damping.


A linear PSU [bottom left] feeds multiple regulated supplies for the 2.4/5.0GHz Wireless Ethernet and quad-core ARM CPU board [top] and fully balanced analogue output stage [right] featuring a pair of 8-channel ESS9039PRO DACs

The removal of the headphone amp is all part of the unit's 'Pure' philosophy, as it means the line output stage enjoys exclusive use of the power supply. This also reduces the possibility of extraneous noise hampering performance, but I'd hesitate to suggest that the more multifunctional Element X2 model is an 'impure' version...

Also in pursuit of sonic excellence, the toroidal power transformer has been upgraded in the Element X2 Pure to a new O-core type, Matrix Audio suggesting this delivers a more uniform electromagnetic field – reducing losses – just as the regulation is equipped with LDO (low drop-out) devices throughout, rather than a mix of LDO and DC/DC converters. Furthermore, the Element X2 Pure's audio path is entirely DC coupled and now includes machined aluminium shielding.

Flying The Flag
However, the most significant upgrade arguably concerns the DAC stage, where the Element X2 Pure features pairs of ESS's latest flagship ES9039PRO DACs, rather than the ES9038PRO of the X2 model. With one ESS chip used for each channel, the symmetrical layout of the Element X2 Pure is also essentially dual-mono.

Outside of these not inconsiderable upgrades, there's much that will be familiar to owners of the Element X2. Back panel connections include fixed or variable balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA line outs, plus USB-B, S/PDIF, HDMI and I2S digital inputs for handling files up to 768kHz PCM and DSD1024, depending on the input. A USB-C port provides for playback from local storage, next to 12V trigger in/out and Ethernet for a network hook-up should you rather not use the unit's onboard Wi-Fi. Here it's perhaps worth noting that the 'Pure' ethos hasn't extended to a low-noise 'Fibre Ethernet' port, as seen on recent network products including HiFi Rose's RS130 [HFN Oct '23].

Control of the DAC is achieved in a variety of ways. The Element X2 Pure is supplied with an (unchanged) remote for playback commands, input switching, volume and filter selection, while the MA Remote app adds deeper settings, including asynchronous/synchronous upsampling and DPLL configuration. Roon Ready status provides another avenue, as does the 3.5in colour display.

Introduced as a design tweak on the X2 model, when playing music this display will show album art, file type, volume, etc, but a swipe of a finger takes you into menus covering network setup, firmware, inputs, filters and more. It even offers touch-sensitive transport controls, next to the DAC's physical volume rotary.

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