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