I would like to thank Project86 again for offering this opportunity to me and other Head-Fi members. Loaner programs are a great way to audition new pieces of gear in YOUR system for an extended period of time for minimal costs. Another advantage is that you get to compare your findings to others who have reviewed the same equipment….if their findings match yours you’re more likely to benefit from their opinions of other gear than if your opinions are worlds apart.
I’d like to state a little info about myself before I comment on the equipment so readers can gain some understanding of my experience in order to put my comments into perspective.
I’m relatively new to Head-Fi and have only owned one pair of headphones, the Sennheiser HD-650’s, which I purchased just less than two years ago. I enjoyed some descent speaker systems in my younger days but that was before the age of the Compact Disc. My hearing is relatively flat up to 13k but drops off quickly after that. I do not claim to have golden ears and in fact I’m sure it’s quite the opposite.
I have to admit that the ‘analytical’ vs ‘musical’ positions taken by DAC owners has always escaped me. I’m sort of the opinion that there’s only one ‘correct’ sound and when Project86 compared the Matrix Quattro to the Benchmark DAC-1 when he opened the loaner program up to Head-Fi members I knew I wanted to audition it. My current DAC is the AudioGD DAC19-DSP which is perhaps the sonic opposite to the Benchmark. The DAC19-DSP is the single ended version of their flagship Reference-7’s baby brother the Reference-5.
The following comments are based on what I heard while the Matrix Quattro DAC/Amp was incorporated in my system. You might hear things quite differently.
The gear arrived late one evening after being in the possession of the USPS for 12 days as it made its way across the country. As fate would have it I had somewhere to be later that evening and I had just enough time to set it up and test it to make sure that it still was in working order. Right away I noticed a not so quiet, no so loud/pop click while powering up, powering down the amp and while switching inputs on the DAC. I didn’t give the gear much, if any time to warm up and the brief listen piqued my curiosity because it sounded very different from my current gear.
While setting the DAC/Amp up I noticed that the provided interconnects were really thick and in order to stack the units that they would need to be bent rather sharply. To avoid this I placed some Herbie’s Audio Lab’s (HAL) Tenderfeet between the DAC and the Amp with the DAC on top. The power leads that RROSEPERRY provided where on the short side so I used some extra Quail Electronics 14AWG hospital grade cables that I had on hand.
I only spin CD’s and have been using a cheap Sony DVD player that cost less than $90 new as it sounds better than my much more expensive but older Sony CD player.
I fed the Matrix gear with an optical cable from Blue Jeans Audio and was feeding my system via a Veloce Black Cat coax cable with a 6db attenuator on the DVD player side.
After allowing both systems about an hour to warm up I went ahead and started to listen to the Matrix Quattro pair. I easily noticed its ability to display an inordinate amount of details compared to my system. After a few tracks I noticed that many of these details resided in the upper frequencies, namely steel stringed acoustic guitars and female vocals.
The sound stage may not be much wider than my system but it is much higher at this point.
It found it WAY brighter than my system and to determine how much brighter I switched my headphones over to my gear. I always power down gear before removing and re-inserting headphones. I will admit that after a few swaps the click/pop was beginning to get annoying. Understandably this wouldn’t be an issue if I wasn’t swapping gear as I normally don’t wear my headphones while powering up or powering down my equipment.
When I switched back to by DAC/Amp I noticed that they sounded a little off, a little brighter, a little grainer. When I went to switch CD’s I noticed that I had forgot to install my HAL Super Black Hole on the CD before playing it. After installing it and switching back to the Matrix gear I found that it too benefited from the HAL Super Black Hole. The highs weren’t as loud and were also a little smoother. At this point cymbals still sounded a little harsh and perhaps slightly distorted.
I’ve found that my AudioGD gear sounds best with shielded power cables and was curious to see if they had any effect on the Matrix gear. I only had one Quail 16AWG shielded cable left so I installed it on the Matrix Quattro DAC. It had a similar effect on the Matrix gear as it did on my AudioGD gear but the change was much more subtle. The shielded cable makes the music appear a little less energetic but after you adjust to the sound you realize that is less frantic, smoother yet all the same details remain.
I just want to point out that the Quail cables are generally marketed for use with industrial electronic equipment and cost me less than $10 a piece.
At this point the Matrix pair sounded decent but it was drastically different from my system and I find myself wondering if this what the Benchmark DAC-1 sounds like. I’m also curious if all the praises for the Benchmark are warranted but take into account that it has been out for quite a few years now.
I’ve had the gear for about a week now and have listened to it exclusively almost every day but not for extended periods of time due to a busy work schedule. I’m still not comfortable with the sound but figure it’s time to take some detailed notes.
First thing I notice is that the bass is very one note sounding. I’m not a bass head per se but I did play bass for quite a few years and like to hear not only the individual notes but the overtones that an electric bass produces. Trying to determine if it’s the DAC or the amp I connect the Matrix DAC to my DAC/Amp setup. The bass has improved tone wise by removing the Matrix amp but is still not as revealing and is much slower than the DAC19-DSP is.
With the DAC fully inserted into my system I can make quick A-B comparisons between it and the DAC19-DSP.
From this point forward my comments only apply to the Matrix Quattro DAC fed into an AudioGD C-2.1 amp.
I’m finding the soundstage to be huge compared to the DAC19-DSP. Although it is not much wider I’m finding that it takes more of the sound to the very edges of both the left and right sides. I’m also finding the soundstage to be very tall.
To determine how accurate the soundstage is I listen to a few classical CD’s. It sounds off and after several tracks I realize what I hearing is what someone referred to as the 3-blob effect. The sound is highly concentrated at the far left, center and far right. I first read about this phenomenon while reading a review of the HD-650’s. After owning the headphones for as long as I have I’m confident that it is not the Senns but rather the DAC that is causing this effect.
At this point I’m finding both units very different but for the most part equal. I guess at this point it’s a pick and choose type thing. I can see where someone might be happy with either DAC depending upon the rest of their system and their preferences for a particular presentation. I can also see where someone coming from a better system may not be very impressed with either DAC.
I will admit that I’m beginning to really enjoy the extra clarity and details that this clarity reveals provided by this DAC but some of its weaknesses are hard to overlook. It would be nice to have both but I’m not sure if I or anyone needs two $700 DACs for one pair of $375 headphones. At this point I ask Project86 for another weekend which he graciously agrees to.
I’m committed at this point to listen exclusively to the Matrix Quattro DAC to determine if I could live with it as my only DAC. In an attempt to get the most out of the DAC I pull out my spare Belden and Canare coax cables since I figure that their price would most likely fit into the budget of someone who would own this DAC only to realize that they have RCA connections and the DAC has a BNC connection. There was a BNC/RCA adaptor included but it is the shipping packaging that is in another room. Being lazy I decide to just swap the Veloce Black Cat cable with added attenuator from my DAC to the Quattro.
Using the coax cable made some profound changes in the sound signature of this DAC compared to the optical connection.
The coax cable can be credited for significantly improving the following areas:
The soundstage is more coherent when the DAC is fed via coax. The main difference is that the 3-blob effect has been completely removed and the sound is more evenly distributed from left to right. This is obviously most noticeable on classical recordings but the difference is apparent when listening to studio mixed rock/pop recordings too.
The lower bass shows improvement. The bass in now a little more detailed and is also a little quicker. This change is noticeable but is not on the same magnitude as the soundstage improvements.
The treble has also shown some refinement. The harshness/distortion is gone and like the bass it is much clearer.
I spent the next two days listening only to this DAC looking for faults and at this point have to conclude that it is a VERY nice sounding DAC. The amount of details that this DAC provides can be really appreciated while listening to classical music. Even though the music is very detailed it doesn’t sound thin
at all and in fact the instruments sound very realistic. The music is cohesive so it can be easily enjoyed as a whole but you can also focus on a specific area of the performance IF you choose to do so.
There are two areas where I feel that this DAC shows some weakness. The first is low bass clarity and the second is a limited 3D soundstage.
Generally the bass quality is acceptable but may be a bit problematic if you’re really into bass. Acoustic bass on high quality recording such as Nora Jones’ Cold Cold Heart are exceptional but I also noticed that some of the electric bass on Barbra Streisand’s pop/disco era recordings sounded a little too one note for my taste. On Head-Fi/HD Tracks’ How Low Can You Go I could here the bass down to a respectable level but the lower frequency stuff was missing that clear oscillation that I heard with the DAC19-DSP.
I also thought that the 3D soundstage could have been a bit better. Perhaps this is because the 2D soundstage is so detailed that I expected a little more 3D information than I heard.
I also have to take into account that my current (cheap) transport might have caused some limitations in these areas but without owning a better transport I had no way to verify my assumptions.
Getting back to the ‘analytical’ vs ‘musical’ debate I wouldn’t classify the Matrix Quattro as analytical even though it is a very clear sounding DAC mostly due to the fact that the details didn’t seem unrealistically accentuated. When you combine this attribute with its ability to accurately portray instruments and its cohesive soundstage you should wind up with ‘correct’ sounding piece of equipment in your system.
Gear used: Sennheiser HD-650 (stock cable), Sony DVD Player feeding the Quattro via TOSLINK and Veloce Black Cat coax cables, AudioGD C-2.1 amp, Herbie’s Audio Lab’s tenderfeet under the DVD player, amp and DAC, Parasound power filter feeding the DVD player, DIY balanced power supply feeding the amp.
Here’s just some of the CD’s I used: Steely Dan AJA, MA Recordings VOICES, Norah Jones COME AWAY WITH ME, Carolyn Dawn Johnson ROOM WITH A VIEW, Tower of Power BEST OF TOWER OF POWER, THE WARNER YEARS, STAR WARS EPISODE 1: THE PHANTOM MENACE, and Sabine Meyer MOZART CLARINET CONCERTO (K622).
Edited by Tom W - 2/2/12 at 1:14pm