Matrix Audio Element X2 Pure Network-Attached DAC Page 2

One thing for Matrix Audio to maybe address… the front panel display can be set to a high brightness that makes it even easier to read from across a room, but this also ramps up the brightness of the standby/power LED to a distracting level!

sqnote Emotional Rescue
Minor niggles aside, the Element X2 Pure is a treat to use. It's intuitive and responsive, and the slick operation is matched by an equally slick sound. This DAC delivers fine detail and insight, but it can be energetic and lively too, with an excellent feel for the low octaves and an effortless vibe to its music-making. Listening to it doesn't become an exercise in sterility, or have you wondering about the hardware in your music chain. It will simply have you tapping your feet along to rock and swept up in the emotion of orchestral scores. The combination of Perlisten's S5t floorstanders and Primare A35.2 amplification [HFN Dec '19] was no impediment, of course!

Playing 'Breathe', from The Prodigy's The Fat Of The Land [XL Recordings; 44.1kHz/16-bit], it became easy to appreciate the skill of producer/band-leader Liam Howlett. This is a chart-friendly slab of breakbeat dance music, with plenty of snarled 'singing' from frontman Keith, but the composition was revealed as impeccably detailed, from the strummed guitar riff that opens it through to the wide stereo imaging and pin-point percussive details. And the Element X2 Pure unearthed all this while ensuring the drums slammed and the bass rolled appropriately.


Digital ins include wired/wireless Ethernet, HDMI ARC, and I2S on HDMI (up to 768kHz PCM, DSD256 as DoP and DSD1024 natively), USB-B (also 768kHz PCM and DSD256 as DoP), 2x optical/coax S/PDIF and external files via USB-C. Analogue outs (fixed or variable) are offered on RCAs and balanced XLRs

Billy Joel's 'Ain't No Crime' [Piano Man, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab; 88.2kHz/24-bit] sounded just as infectious, rollicking along with a great sense of fluidity. Organ and bass guitar provided deep, rich weight as a counterpoint to Joel's vocal and upper-register piano licks. There are backing vocal 'woos' and bluesy guitar moments, and these were all served up as one glorious, good time whole.

Using the MA Remote app or handset to switch between the DAC's PCM filters is easiest for A/B comparisons, although I couldn't come to any definite preference when cycling through Apodising, Linear Phase Slow Roll-Off, etc. I expect many will be happy to set and forget, focusing instead on this unit's impressive general performance.

Driving Lessons
Used with the default Minimum Phase filter, it delivered the opening one-two punch of Dire Straits' Making Movies set [Vertigo; 44.1kHz/16-bit] with an enjoyable balance of power and poise. 'Tunnel Of Love' opens with some Rogers and Hammerstein carousel music that crackles enough to make you think you've blown a tweeter, before the sound 'cleans up' and the band gets to work. There's the driving urgency to the rhythm section and the authentic 'twang' of a Fender Strat to enjoy, before we reach the song's breakdown, where the Element X2 Pure exposed the nuances in Knopfler's resigned, lovelorn vocal, lending the song the emotional heft it demands. Follow-up track 'Romeo And Juliet' winds the pace down, the use of a resonator guitar lightening the sound, but the bass and drums still had a wonderful warmth.

On The Money
The precision of this DAC's delivery and focus of its soundstaging made clear the differences in production between ZZ Top's Tres Hombres album from 1973 [Warner Bros; 96kHz/24-bit], and their best-selling 1981 set Eliminator [Warner Bros; 44.1kHz/16-bit]. The former shines a light on the guitars with a forward, open sound, while the latter – which saw the Texan trio add synthesisers and drum machines – puts Billy Gibbons' six-string further back, aiming for a thicker, more atmospheric feel. Different approaches, but both thrilling.


The Element X2 Pure includes a physical handset in addition to the MA Remote app (for iPhone, iPad and Android), offering input selection, volume, mute and access to the seven LPCM digital filters

The relentless bass guitar on Eliminator's 'Gimme All Your Lovin'' was clearly defined, but it wasn't the best example of the Element X2 Pure's full-range prowess. More indicative was the title track of Kendrick Scott's We Are The Drum [Blue Note; 96kHz/24-bit], where the jazz drummer's playing was accompanied by strings, brass and bass clarinet of remarkable weight and body, or Pink Floyd's 'Money' [The Dark Side Of The Moon; Pink Floyd Records; DSD64], where each note of the bassline purred beneath the cash register effects.

As a networked DAC/preamp, there are various ways to use the Element X2 Pure, but for much of my listening I ran it straight into the aforementioned Primare A35.2 power amp, streaming via Roon. This made for a fuss-free, clutter-free system and long, jukebox-style listening sessions where the DAC's defined, open sound appeared suited to every flavour of music.

The genre-hopping exuberance of Amadou & Mariam's Dimanche À Bamako album [Because Music; 44.1kHz/16-bit], where African, Middle Eastern and Western instruments bubble away in a blues/reggae-tinged melting pot, spotlighted the Element X2 Pure's ability to capture timbral differences and microdynamics. The grooving gait and vocal presence of 'Senegal Fast Food' was so enjoyable I tried to sing along – despite not understanding the French lyrics...

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Matrix Audio's little birthday present makes a big impression. Okay, this 'Pure' iteration of the Element X2 no longer caters to headphone users, but otherwise it's a digital front-end of multitudinous talents. Roon Ready, app controllable and with a superior touchscreen display, it's a genuine pleasure to use, and the upgraded DAC and analogue output stages yield a sound that's revealing and clean yet vibrant.

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