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Matrix Quattro DAC and amp loaner program - Page 3

post #31 of 160


Maybe I will like doing gear reviews/comparisons better when I think I've got more skill.  I really had to pay attention and digest what I think that I am hearing.  Some conflicting cues but I have my personal results and preferences so here goes with an overall summary derived from some initial comparisons, some casual listening, a specific "session" where shipsupt and I tried to hear the differences between DACs and the influence of the amp to the sound, more listening alone to confirm what I think I heard, plus some more "final" casual listening to see which one I really wanted to listen to more.


What I did not do:  Take into account <high impedance> phones and the advantage of the Matrix amp to pull away and drive phones well that the Benchmark probably cannot.  Or take into account the advantage of that additional amp power in balanced mode where it could be very apparent the performance advantage of the Matrix combo.



  • I am not a pro, I'm a hobbyist still developing listening skills.
  • My preferences are still changing as I spend more time with more gear.  
  • With DACs, I think these are <slight> differences that take a lot of concentration to pick out and had to be confirmed with my custom iems (UE RM) as well as different larger cans that I have around (HF2, AKG 240, RS1). 



Like About Matrix?

  • On/Off buttons
  • No Rackmount Faceplate
  • Remote/Motor Drive Volume Pots
  • USB Input
  • 2 Units allows more flexibility for using other DACs/Amps
  • Both Matrix Units together are cheaper than a Benchmark Pre or probably 2nd from top.
  • Matrix encourages balanced headphone drive from the front of the units
  • Low Bass/Sub-Bass quantity/impact 


Don't Like About My Benchmark?  (Non-USB, Older Version with Headphone Amp Version 1)

  • No On/Off Switch
  • Rackmount Faceplate
  • No USB Input
  • Slightly less Sub-Bass/Low Bass
  • Sometimes slightly "thinner" sound (in certain instances)


Don't Like About Matrix?

  • More Hum in Amp with iems, especially if amp on top of DAC- interference (recommend not stacking if using iems)
  • Amp Gets Warm so don't recommend stacking anything on top of amp
  • 2 Separate Units, I like the Headphone Amp in the DAC less than the combined DAC/Amp combo so I recommend getting both together
  • Matrix separates and in combo are just a bit more "digital-sounding" than the Benchmark and not as pleasing to me
  • This "digital edge" manifested itself up top a bit and though I liked the impact of the bass a little better on Massive Attack- the treble seemed to distort a bit.  (Little "crunchy" at times?)


Like About Benchmark?

  • Light/Smooth Volume Pot (not motorized though)
  • Can get for $500-$650 used so not too bad if used
  • Was more "natural-sounding" most of the time (but not always the "best sounding" in "every" situation)
  • Benchmark has sounded <very slightly> better to me over 5 other DACs (but tied with Lavry DA10)


Additional Thoughts on Low Bass/Sub-Bass:

  • On some tracks, I liked the "impact" of the Matrix Bass/Sub-Bass better but still found the Benchmark to have a bit better "control" and "tone" or discernable "note".   Another way of saying it was that with the Benchmark, I could hear the note better but it could sound a bit "light" in quantity while the Matrix had the quantity and edge of initial attack but it was less of a "note" with pitch.
  • Using the Benchmark through the Matrix Amp kind of added the "tone" but with the "fullness" and "impact" of the Matrix combo (if not sounding a touch "pushed" and still a tad more "digital".  Interesting blend, though!
  • The additional Bass/Sub-Bass of the Matrix units (especially Matrix DAC through separate amp) could slightly fill in (and make pleasing) some sections of songs where the Benchmark might be just seem that little bit "lean".  Here, preference and/or need could swing the sound one way or another for someone..."lean" could be "clean" to another.



Sometimes, shipsupt and I differed in perception on the same section of the same track (he used UE 11 and I used UE RM at this certain point).  When trying to pick out the female backing vocal on The Decembrists' "June Hymn", shipsupt could much more easily pick out what the backing vocal was doing in pitch and in separation with the Benchmark whereas I actually heard her better level-wise (could understand lyrics better) with the Matrix.  Leads me to believe that the listener and the phones (with everything else the same) could retrieve different results.


My Bottom Line:

After putting the Matrix combo through the paces with my current gear and also just having it on the desk and running the Benchmark through the amp and the Matrix through the Matrix amp casually to confirm...I do prefer the Benchmark.  When I have my audio shelving and want to listen straight out of the Benchmark it will be more of a pain without a remote, etc.  But, I just ended up preferring the overall sound of the Benchmark while enjoying the low-low impact of the Matrix Amp.  Kind of reminds me of the "punch" you get with more gain, but the sound is just not quite as refined.  Differences are slight but present for me.


The Quattro Combo is going to be fun for whomever has it.  I think a tube amp could make a really nice addition to the Matrix combo as tube amps can be known to attenuate low/sub-bass where the Matrix Combo provides plenty to compensate and a tube amp could also take some "edge" off of the treble which can sound a bit "edgy" to me at times...



I really appreciate having a chance to try what certainly looks like an homage to Benchmark, but it didn't quite kick my DAC1 off the desk.


Thanks, project86 and the "future list" for being patient with us California contingent!


I'll be driving the Matrix combo and my Benchmark down to purrin and anaxilus next Saturday to leave with them.


Looking forward to reading shipsupt's, sarals', purrin's, anaxilus', and others' thoughts!




Edited by CEE TEE - 10/31/11 at 9:28pm
post #32 of 160



Party in the FRONT:



Business in the BACK:








post #33 of 160
Thread Starter 

CEE TEE: Wow! Excellent write-up! I really enjoyed it. It very clearly conveyed your impressions of the different units, and how they relate to your preferences. Well done.


I especially like how you clarified that these are not night and day differences. Sometimes we (myself included) get so wrapped up in describing how gear sounds, that we forget to keep things in perspective. 


I'm curious to hear the rest of the impressions from the other folks.  Maybe at some point we can copy and paste them into the "Head Gear" section just to make it easier for people to find. 

post #34 of 160

^Thanks!  I have really enjoyed your reviews and hope they keep coming.


Some differences are so subtle that I am interested in seeing if anyone can replicate my experiences or if they come to a different conclusion!


Another thing I should do is photograph the adapter for using 1/4 inch jacks into the front of the Matrix for a balanced drive.  Wondering if that wouldn't also work with the Benchmark although the Benchmark does not label or advertise the option out of the front of their unit.  I know that you can drive balanced out of the back of the Benchmark through the XLR outputs...


Wherever you think the impressions should go, fine with me if you eventually copy/move them.



post #35 of 160

I'm hoping to have my impressions up on this thread tomorrow.  Since I had the Matrix siblings in my possession I have acquired a Mytek Stereo96DAC.  It would have been nice, perhaps a little more valid, to compare the Matrix DAC directly with the Mytek, but there were differences between the two that were obvious.  I will talk about that in my writeup.


I really enjoyed CeeTee's review.  He did a fantastic, thorough job!  One thing that jumped out at me was the value of subjective impressions.  The age old question - do different people hear the same things?  Perhaps - until our brain gets in the way! 


Stay tuned!!!

post #36 of 160

no... must not... read anything yet...

post #37 of 160

nice writeup cee tee :)


i thought for a second that bottom unit on the stack was a V200 amp :P

post #38 of 160

Thanks, everyone!


@cifani, I'm actually trying to keep my stack on desk small (until I get a tube amp)

@rawster, I will probably get an SS amp- not sure which one yet.  Haven't heard the V200 yet...

post #39 of 160

I am a part time location recording engineer, audiophile, gear head, and sometimes DIYer. Headphones are great, but I prefer the presentation of speakers. So, I'm just a tad biased! I'm not a technical expert and I won't delve into circuit design here, or it's effects on the electrons and the air pressure of the listening room. I have a good grasp on that aspect of the field, but not good enough to write about it. Listening is subjective, anyway. I discovered ages ago to forget about concentrating on the equipment specs and just listen to the music. That's the bottom line, anyway – enjoyment. Excellent, truthful gear brings us closer to the music in many ways, and as such with each step “up” in equipment quality I've experienced another step “up” in my enjoyment. That said, we are individuals. There is truth in music, and that truth is only there when being present in the space it was recorded in when it was recorded. Recordings can only approximate that performance, and we, being people, form an impression on that approximation. That is subjective. We may hear the same things, but they may affect us in different ways. This write up is one woman 's impression of these two fine pieces of audio gear. I do hope my “Impressions” of the Matrix Quattro DAC and Headphone Amp provide some useful insight into their sound.


I had the Matrix Quattro DAC and the Matrix Quattro Headphone Amp in my possession for a little over a week. I listened to them every day, for hours, after I received them, right to the point of fatigue. I had to step away for a day and recover! The experience was wonderful, my system sounded terrific with the Matrix pieces as a part of it, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.


My associated equipment was as follows: Headphones used were Sennheiser HD600 and HD280's, Beyerdynamic dt880's, and Etymotic ER-4S IEMS. The CD transport was a Sony DVP-S7700, feeding the Matrix Quattro DAC through either the Toslink light pipe or SPDIF connector. FLAC files were fed via USB from a Lenovo R61 notebook computer running Audacity as the FLAC playback software. Adobe Audition 3 was used to play back some of the WAV recordings that I have personally made, at 96/24.  The preamp was a Audible Illusions Modulus II tube preamp, the power amp was a Perreaux PMF-2150B MOSFET power amp, the subwoofer was a Velodyne ULD-15II, and the speakers were Madisound/Scan Speak two way monitors. There is a pair of videos that I placed in one of the threads on the Matrix Quattros that displays my system.


I used my own balanced cables to connect the DAC to the headphone amp. I used Kimber Cable with Soundstream RCA connectors to connect the DAC through it's unbalanced RCA outputs to my Audible Illusions preamp. I had no issues with hum, ground loops or other noises at all the entire time the pieces where in my system.


My musical taste runs the gamut. I listened to different genres of music, from classical (modern, baroque, choral, organ, etc), to classic rock, to movie sound tracks, to jazz, to folk, to swing.


The following impressions are from my notes, many of which I shared with Project 86 while I had the pieces in my home.

My initial impression upon receiving the Matrix Quattro pair and connecting them to my system:

I did a (two hour) preliminary listen to the DAC, first through the HD600's and then, because I was enthralled by what I heard there, through my monitor system.  Snapshot?  Ease, the total ease of the music, just effortless.  Not aggressive, not in your face.  Dark side of neutral, ever so slightly so.  Black, black background.  Music arises from the space it occurred in - clearly.  Voices are - VOICES.  Consonants have the proper edge, the "tongue on the palate", there is COLOR there, body, breath - OMG!  Massed pieces are clearly delineated, nothing is lost, nothing jumbled, nothing approximated.  Bass has power and definition, and then some.


In a word - WOW.  This is clearly a top shelf piece of equipment.  Nothing less.”


On the question of how the headphone amp in the Matrix Quattro DAC and the Matrix Quattro standalone headphone amp compare, here is my observation:

I have noticed a slight difference with the two headphone amps.  They are quite clearly familial, very, very similar.  However, the DAC head amp seems a tad warmer, perhaps even lush?  The stand alone headphone amp by comparison, at first seems almost cold, slightly clinical.  With some careful level matching, A/B - ing, and extended listening, I think that it's apparent cool signature comes from the fact that it's more powerful, and that power is most noticeable on the lows.  The DAC tends to "round" the bass notes, where the head amp doesn't - it's tighter, has more control.  The highs do seem just a little sweeter with the DAC, but again, I think it has to do with way it treats the bass.  The rounder bass notes, to my ear, influence the highs.  (I've always thought that more euphonic pieces of gear has "sweeter" highs for the most part than clinical equipment does, and that is purely subjective - completely my opinion, totally my ear.)”


As I used the DAC more and got used to it, I started hear some very good things from it:

I listened to Jaromir Weinberger's Schwanda the Bagpiper: Polka and Fugue (from Orchestral Spectaculars, Telarc CD 80115, Cincinnati Pops) through my monitoring system (speakers), and the for the first time ever I clearly heard the pipe organ come in at the end of the fugue, not just a suggestion of the pipe organ!  That Quattro DAC has wonderful resolving power.  Oh, am I impressed!”


The no contest Zero DAC comparison:

I've connected my as it was purchased Zero DAC (I've had it for a while, it's a first generation, I believe) to the Matrix headphone amp, via the RCA inputs, to compare conversion with the Quattro DAC (the Quattro is receiving Toslink from the Sony 7700ES, the Zero SPDIF).  I was surprised, frankly, that the Zero's D to A is actually very good.  When switching between the RCA and XLR inputs on the Quattro headphone amp, some concentration is required, they're that close.  The differences are subtle.  My verdict is that the Quattro DAC is smoother, the highs are better defined, and the sense of space is better.  Vocals are also better, the quality that the Quattro DAC lends to voice is startling.  However, the Zero is not too far from the mark, but it is NOT reference quality.  The Quattro DAC is.”  (That was surprising.  The Zero DAC's conversion and it's line outs are actually quite good.)


The Zero falls flat on it's face when using it's built in headphone amplifier.  It's a glaring, bright, brittle, hi-fi-ish sound, and quite fatiguing.  The Quattro siblings outshine it completely in that regard.”


I compared the Matrix DAC to my prosumer Mackie Onyx 400F recording interface:

A half hour later, and I can't definitively call it either way!  The Mackie is excellent, very, very good at what it does.  The Quattro is also excellent, outstanding at what it does.  That, I would say, is the difference.  It's a word, and it's subjective.  It was damned hard to tell any difference between the two.  Both are absolutely top tier pieces, perhaps not the quality of a Crane Song, Mytek or Prism ADC, but I don't have the ears to go there (or the money).  We're talking micro detail, micro tones, etc, when you get to that level.  Diminishing returns.”

In the end, I would choose the Quattro DAC slightly over the Mackie ADC only because the Mackie did not have quite the fine focus on individual instruments or voices in the sound field that the Quattro did.  I had to listen very hard to get that difference, and it's not really a difference.  Everything else about the two is the close to the same, for all intents and purposes.  Impact, attack, sense of space, black background, velvety presentation, crystal clear finely delineated highs, sweet mids - it's all there with both pieces.  The Quattro "sings" a little richer, just a little, where the Mackie is more literal.  It should be, it's intended as a tool.  I can breath a sigh of relief knowing my Mackie doesn't fall flat on it's face.”



Tubes vs. Solid State:

I connected the DAC directly to my Perreaux power amp and used the remote to control the gain. I was spoiled by that remote, not having to get up to change levels was a treat! Anyway, the Perreaux is a ballsy amp, but it is neutral. The DAC sounded slightly colder when used as a preamp then it did feeding that 6922 equipped AI preamp. I preferred the sound through the tubes, but then I'm a tube gal anyway (I like ribbon and tube condenser microphones, too!). My caveat would be an excellent tube buffer, or pre (like the AI) to really let that Quattro DAC shine through. Through tubes, that silly thing is just soooo seductive!”


My take on the Quattro DAC vs the Mytek Stereo96DAC:

I received a Mytek DAC after I sent the Quattros to Cee Tee. The aural memory of the two pieces was still fresh when I started to listen to the Mytek. I preferred the Mytek, but only slightly so. We are NOT talking a ginormous difference here! I preferred it to the Quattro pieces because it could resolve that last “nth” degree of space and detail, and it was ever so smooth! Effortless. Now, the Quattro DAC also possesses an ease about it's delivery, but the Mytek was just more confident. The sonic signature, spectral balance, timbre, attack, etc were in essence a tie between the two.


Mytek has on their website FLAC files comparing the Mytek Stereo96 with the Benchmark DAC 1. I listened to them through the Quattro DAC before I heard the Mytek in person. My opinion is that the difference that I heard (subtle, though it is) between the Mytek and Benchmark in those FLAC files is what I consider the difference to be between the Quattro and Mytek.


Once again, the differences are subtle, and they require some concentration to hear. Then again, they are a difference, and I am not saying one is BETTER than the other.


My conclusion:

The Matrix Quattro DAC and Headphone Amplifier are both beautifully made, handsome, top notch performing, fine pieces of audio gear. They are up there with the best of their kind. I can't see how anyone could be disappointed with either one, and anyone who decides to purchase either piece would get maximum enjoyment from their music collection through these two great pieces of gear for years. They are very cost vs. perfomance “efficient”, something Cee Tee pointed out very well in his review. I agree with him that one should consider BOTH pieces if one is buying the DAC, because the Quattro Headphone Amp does mate with the DAC extremely well and is a better headphone amplifier than the head amp in the DAC itself.


I want to thank Project 86 publicly for loaning me the two pieces! It was very generous. I was privileged to be the first to receive them, and for that I am very grateful.



post #40 of 160



How honest and direct can I be with my impressions? Many of you who know me in person know how to-the-point and no BS I can be. I guess what I am saying is that I can write in 6 Loons style if necessary.

post #41 of 160

Well would your post really be worth much if it wasn't honest :p 6 Moons style of so much writing about everything but the gear wouldnt get far either!

post #42 of 160

It's actually possible to gather what we need to know through 6 Loons. I was planning on writing a translation application for 6 Loons similar to Google Translate:


For example:




With an inherently zippy can like the top-heavy HE-6 the Apex became a highly energetic incisive fast-fast-fast proposition. Transients were very incisive for upfront weighting but the inherent relaxation that comes with greater bloom had less matured richness. With languid fare like Ara Dinkjian's fabulous melodic work on his Night Ark's Treasures compilation or the lyrical numbers on Karim Baggili's equally enticing Douar, the Peak dug less deeply into the redolent aspects. This also applied less mass to the bass foundation. The peculiar chatter of sympathetic strings on sitar and sarod, the twang of an Indian slide guitar and such meanwhile became very teased out and sharply honed.




The HE-6 sounds like crap out of the Peak. The treble attacks feel like someone is taking a drill into our ears. Bass, midrange, and body are missing.

post #43 of 160

If it is going to be that entertaining, I'd like both versions please!!  devil_face.gif


(I'm going to start a petition for more smiley choices. We need the animated one that is ROFL.)

post #44 of 160

I'll tell you what. I will post exactly what I have in my notes for now and work on a second version. Not too many good posts lately and something entertaining would be fun.




(This will probably be the last time anyone would want me on their loaner program)

Edited by purrin - 11/8/11 at 5:02pm
post #45 of 160

Well, you don't seem to be that big a fan of the Benchmark so I didn't think you would dig the Matrix...


I would still lend you stuff because I want to know what you think.  We won't agree on everything!

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