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Matrix Quattro DAC and amp loaner program - Page 5

post #61 of 160

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by project86 View Post

Purrin - perhaps it would be enlightening if you would list some other DACs that you've heard that you did enjoy. Maybe with a wide range of prices? Sometimes that might give us a better picture of your sonic preferences. No rush, maybe wait until you've finished all your listening.

 

 

You must have been beaming your thoughts into my head when I was taking a nap (been sick all week.) This is a good point and very well illustrates my preferences - which are well developed since I'm at my end-game. These are some DACs I really liked at various price points:
 
  1. Berkeley Alpha DAC ($5000)
  2. Buffalo DAC (DIY or lego-your-own or $1200 commissioned, $750 used) 
  3. AMB y2 (DIY or $250 used)
  4. DCX2496 modded with passive outs with the output of all 3 chips paralleled ($250 + DIY)
  5. Rega Planet (long long ago)
 
The Buffalo DAC, Berkeley, and PWD sound more alike than different.
 
As for stuff I don't care for (some from very long ago): Linn Numerik/Karik, Linn CD12, Wadia (forgot model #), CAL Alpha Tube DAC, HM801, the Burson DAC (or maybe the amp or both), the RWA DAC (or the maybe the amp or both), Cambridge DacMagic, Bel Canto DAC 3.
 
I think that should people give a pretty good illustration of my tastes. I had mostly been spinning vinyl from 1998 to 2007, so admittedly I'm not very knowledgeable about DACs. I do know what I like though.

 


Edited by purrin - 11/9/11 at 7:38pm
post #62 of 160
Thread Starter 

Thanks Purrin, that help a bit.

 

I don't want to sound like a Quattro apologist here, so don't think I'm working on brushing your opinion aside..... but if you get a chance, feel free to pop open the case and look around. Maybe play with the gain jumpers and see if you can get any improvement as far as system synergy. I'm confident you have the knowledge to understand what you are looking at. If you still can't find anything to like about what you hear, then I guess the Quattro DAC just ain't your cup of tea.

 

That offer stands with the Quattro amp as well - feel free to roll opamps if you have any laying around. The same ones from the M-Stage should work, in case you have those left over.


Edited by project86 - 11/10/11 at 5:25pm
post #63 of 160

LOL, I was going to ask you if I could pop the case.

 

SE out of the DAC shows more promise...

 

UPDATE #1: Indeed it does...

 

UPDATE #2: I'll need to put this DAC into the "rotation" for the next week to get a sense of its subtleties. The balanced outputs were totally unacceptable. The SE outputs are good. 


Edited by purrin - 11/10/11 at 4:57pm
post #64 of 160

I've got opamps lying around if you want to borrow some, purrin.

 

I could ship them out Monday.

 

Lying around:

 

·    (2) OPA627AP  0024  WM3741

·    (3) Ti 71AOHNM   NE5534AP

·    (3) Ti 04C488M      NE 5534AP

·    (1) Ti 71AOCKM   NE 5534AP

·    (1) Ti 04C4FYM     NE 5534AP


 

For my D12 (on adapters) if they could be used:

 

  • (1) LME49721 Dual Opamp
  • (2)  01641A  Ti 05K D1LF G4  Opamps
  • (1)  22011S2 B930SH  Dual Opamp

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by purrin View Post

LOL, I was going to ask you if I could pop the case.

 

SE out of the DAC shows more promise...

 

UPDATE #1: Indeed it does...

 

UPDATE #2: I'll need to put this DAC into the "rotation" for the next week to get a sense of its subtleties. The balanced outputs were totally unacceptable. The SE outputs are good. 



 

Reply
post #65 of 160

Matrix Quattro DAC Impressions (SE Outputs)

For Balanced Output impressions clicky here.

 

I felt it would be worth it to try the SE outputs. I get the feeling that the Quattro's balanced outputs did not gel well with my amp's (Eddie Current BA) transformer coupled balanced inputs. The line input transformers are made by Cinemag, and I'm not sure what the input impedance is with them, but it could have be possible that the Quattro balanced outs expected something fairly high on the order of ~100k ohms which I'm sure the transformers wouldn't be anywhere near. If I have time, I will try to lower the gain the Quattro so see if I can get it to play better with the BA, however I'm not hopeful because I know the PWD (my reference DAC) really cranks out the voltage on the outputs.

 

I did pop open the case and noted 2xLM4562 opamps to powering the balanced outputs and a single LM4562 powering the SE outputs. The opamps, resistors, and caps are all tiny surface mount boogers. There did not appear to be any capacitors in the path from the opamps to the output jacks (confirmed via tracing the circuit and confirmed with a DMM). 

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

My overall opinion of the Quattro DAC through the SE outputs is lukewarm. Many of the issues identified in the balanced output review are still there, but some are less significant. I'm happy to report that my most major concern with lack of dynamics and extreme dullness of this DAC with the balanced output is NOT an issue with the SE outputs. There are still some weaknesses that were evident to me:

 

Quattro SE Out Comparative Differences:

  • More energetic and dynamic than with balanced out - I don't think this is an issue anymore
  • Bass is still a little muddy, rounded, but not so slow 
  • Seems to have better resolution than balanced out
  • Still lacks inner dynamics and ability to dig through the music of the PWD
  • Still quite far away in terms of resolution compared to PWD
  • Treble doesn't seem as thin as with the balanced outs - the DAC seems more consistently dark - generally not too offensive in the treble. Treble can still be thin on occasion.
 

What PWD Does Better: 

  • Better speed and transient attacks
  • Tighter bass
  • More clarity on bassy tracks
  • Better bass extension (though only noticeable on a few select recording) and more bass power
  • More treble sparkle
  • Better blackground - space between notes
  • Doesn't get congested when things get busy
  • Has better ability to play soft notes while things are loud

 

The most immediately recognizable difference is the relative muddyness of the bass on of the Quattro. The muddyness can make the Quattro sound like it's on the dark side with certain bass heavy recordings. The Quattro can actually sound either darker or thinner compared to the PWD depending upon the track. The PWD seems more consistent with its presentation. The number two difference is with resolution or more precisely the ability to extract low-level information. If I were running a less capable amp, the above differences would be every hard to discerne.

 

Other than the bass issue, I wouldn't be able to tell the the difference if I weren't critically listening (watching a movie, multi-tasking with work, non-seriously listening, etc.) With well recorded music, it would probably take me at least a track of two (or three) before I started wondering what was wrong with my rig. For me to give his DAC a more than a lukewarm rating (it's not exactly cheap), it would have to be at least several albums or a few days.

 

Finally, given the cost of the DAC, I would have liked to see better parts and discrete output stages. If the Bifrost (at $450) can do this, I don't see why the Quattro can't at $699. Although it should be noted that the Quattro also provides rudimentary headphone outputs and a variety of digital inputs.

 

BTW output volume at the headphones were matched for the Quattro and PWD DACs.


Edited by purrin - 11/13/11 at 7:35pm
post #66 of 160

@purrin:  Nice clear review! Thanks for taking the time to listen to it and put it through its paces.  

 

I wanted to see how well I was hearing DACs. Agree with your single-ended output impressions!

Reply
post #67 of 160
Thread Starter 

Purrin - thanks for the updated impressions. 

 

I think I would agree with you as far as the gap between the Quattro DAC and my other (more expensive) DACs that I consider reference caliber. 

post #68 of 160

Quote:
Originally Posted by project86 View Post

Purrin - thanks for the updated impressions. 

 

I think I would agree with you as far as the gap between the Quattro DAC and my other (more expensive) DACs that I consider reference caliber. 


$700 vs $2200 (street price for PWD). I was trying to order a Bifrost for a better comparison, but it's on backorder for at least 4 week.

 

post #69 of 160

Have any of you guys tried balanced output on the Matrix Amp? I can't seem to get the auto-detect relays to turn on "balanced mode" when I plug in the supplied dual mono phono to 4-pin XLR adapter. 

 

I wish Matrix would have provided a 4 pin XLR for balanced headphone out. This is kind of a minor fail for me because I hate having to deal with extra adapter thingies.

post #70 of 160
Quote:
Originally Posted by purrin View Post

Have any of you guys tried balanced output on the Matrix Amp? I can't seem to get the auto-detect relays to turn on "balanced mode" when I plug in the supplied dual mono phono to 4-pin XLR adapter. 

 

I wish Matrix would have provided a 4 pin XLR for balanced headphone out. This is kind of a minor fail for me because I hate having to deal with extra adapter thingies.


I noticed a little "quirky" behavior when plugging in different headphones, but in general I had no issues running my balanced headphones from the supplied adapter.  If I recall, I first had to be sure that I was feeding the amp a balanced signal from the DAC, then plug in the adapter.  The other thing I recall is that the red mono phono plug seemed like it should be plugged into the other side... other than that I had no issues with the 4 balanced headphones I used with it.

 

 

post #71 of 160

I'm excited... I get to read everyone's impressions!  I've been holding off until now... Here's my little write up.

 

Matrix Quattro Dac and Amp Impressions

 

If you just want to hear what I thought about the Matrix combo, jump down about five or six paragraphs! This first part may be a bit extraneous for many readers…

 

First off, major thanks to @project86  for  his generosity in lending out some gear for us Head-Fi’ers to try, but more importantly because this sort of program produces honest feedback on products.  We’ve got no “horses” in this race!  This may be self-evident for an internet forum, but it allows readers to calibrate themselves to different writers.  Everyone here has music preferences, levels of experience, and general biases.  These are pretty easy to pick up from previous posts and preferences in gear. This allows me to better understand which reviewers I relate to and has really helped me pick gear that I have a better chance of liking.

 

I lean towards the more “euphonic”, choosing tubes/vinyl over “incredibly resolving” gear.  I enjoy mixing up my selection of headphones- but when push comes to shove I will usually grab something full and potentially darker sounding…say the LCD-2.  Musically, I’m all over the place.  My youth was filled with listening to punk.  Even a poorly-recorded, live “7Seconds” recording will get me rocking out and re-living a live show I was able to catch.   Punk was the music that gave me a charge while growing up, but now I find my favorites are blues and alternative (think R.E.M., The Decembrists, Bloc Party).  I told you I was all over the place!  I have been exploring classical recordings, but I am very much a newcomer to understanding the genre and I never use it when evaluating gear (except for some brief sampling).

 

As for experience with DACs, I would put myself in the “somewhat-limited” camp.  I have spent more time with my Stello DA100 than any other DAC, closely followed by the Cambridge DacMagic.  I also have an AlgoRhythm Solo, a Pico DAC/Amp and a HeadRoom Micro DAC, all of which I have used extensively.  I’ve been lucky enough to sample @CEE TEE’s Benchmark for several extended periods, so I am pretty familiar with it.  Anything else, or high-end, I have only sampled in meet conditions.  I’ll also say that I find hearing differences in DACs very subtle and I have to concentrate carefully to hear them. 

 

I was able to resist reading the others impressions before writing my own in an attempt to stay unbiased.  Well…the one exception was a little bit of @purrin’s “6Moons Google translator”- it was just too good not to read.

With the exception of portable equipment, I spent over a month listening almost exclusively to vinyl before I had the chance to listen to the Matrix.  I am sure this had some influence on my “somewhat critical“ initial impressions… 

 

@CEE TEE was kind enough to leave his Benchmark with me when he delivered the Matrix combo. It seemed the perfect DAC to make some comparisons to, if only because of the similarities in appearance.

 

I started by feeding the Matrix DAC and separate Amp (DAC/Amp connected with balanced XLR cables) by the optical output from my iMac and listening to some headphones from the single-ended output.  I cued up some tracks to just get a good feeling for what I thought of the sound. 

 

Out of the box, what stood out was that it was a bit “flat”.  Music was a bit dull, lacking dynamics, and a little edgy.  Switching to the DACs built-in amp didn’t do much, except to further recess some of the vocals and mids.  Wait- maybe it was a bit more of the bass being a little overdone (or uncontrolled) that was pushing things into the background?  While listening to some Van Morrison, I decided to try some balanced headphones from the amp.  I did notice some better dynamics and the mids came back towards me, improving things.  I then spent the rest of the night just sampling everything.  Like many things, the Matrix grew on me. Though I noticed that there was separation between instruments, there was little else to the “soundstage”.  It was as if everything was close mic’d and sent back through the board with little thought around how it was put together.  I struggled to get any kind of “live room” feeling from recordings that normally give it to me (like Van’s Caravan).  I also felt a little fatigued after the first long listen, but I was also convinced that this was good-sounding gear.

 

With more time, I acclimated to the “Matrix sound”.  As the week progressed I felt the DACs built-in headphone amp gave up enough to the separate Amp that I spent much more time listening to the separate amp with the DAC.  I would say the same for the balanced outputs.  Everything just sounded “a little more fun and dynamic” from the balanced outputs.  I really started to enjoy the set up, and as a complete balanced combination I was fairly pleased.  While I don’t think I could see myself with the DAC alone, I could live quite happily with the combination of Matrix DAC/Amp.  While not having the same power delivery as my vintage receiver, I found that the amp drove my LCD-2 and HE5-LE well.  Either headphone with this combination would be a great set-up for your digital collection.  With the wide range of inputs, you have great source options. 


Next up: Combining the DAC when listening to an amp I was intimately familiar with.  I paired it with my WA6SE.  To my surprise, the Matrix was bass-biased. I was expecting it to be treble-tilted.  In spite of this bass-bias, I still felt the Matrix sounded a bit “thin” and ended up more in the the DacMagic/Benchmark camp, the later two because they seem “cold”.  The Stello DA100 comes across warmer, fuller, and more “musical” to my ears.  Yes, I am splitting some hairs here...  The Matrix sounded pretty darned good.  Pairing it with the right tubes, this is a DAC I could live with.  Switching between different DACs with the Woo proved that differences were subtle and difficult to pick up.  The Matrix’ bass (at first) seemed stronger than the Stello DA100, but after some careful listening I felt the Matrix DAC was a still a bit overdone and lacked control.  While the Benchmark often seems “treble-tilted” to me (even lacking in low-end), it never sounds like it loses control.  For me the Benchmark does highly resolving well.

 

Speaking of control…the Matrix seemed like it was sometimes overwhelmed with really fast and complex music.  It was not a glaring problem, but did become apparent with some tracks such as Fugazi’s Appreggiator.

 

The last session I had with the Matrix gear was a head-to-head with the Benchmark DAC1.  We selected just a few tracks and went between the built-in amp of both DACs, then used the Matrix amp with both DACs.  One particular track, “June Hymn” by the Decembrists, really made one thing stick out to me.  The matrix seemed to separate Colin’s and Jenny’s vocals but just didn’t deliver the pitch changes from the singers, especially Jenny’s background track.  While subtle, I continually felt that the subtle pitch control was lost with the Matrix.  In a later test, I found that the Stello DA100 actually seemed to reduce the separation between singers, but presented all of the subtle pitch changes in the singers voices, which I prefer between attributes. 

 

Both the Benchmark and Matrix DACs tended to provide a slightly “grating” presentation to the high-end of the Decemberist vocals, which I don’t get at all with the DA100/WA6SE combo.  The Matrix definitely bested the Benchmark on low-end quantity, but always by giving up some control at the same time.  (When I felt like I needed a little more low-end with the Benchmark, bassier headphones like the Denon D7000 always delivered). 

 

I really feel like I’ve been a bit critical of the Quattro. This is some pretty sweet gear.  It’s well-built with an amazing set of options at this price point.  I enjoyed listening to it and I’d have no problem recommending it to someone who was interested in it.  As a stand-alone DAC, I prefer the Benchmark, but by the slightest margin. 

 

The separate  Matrix amp is pretty good, made better when feeding my balanced headphones.  Single-ended, I felt like it was OK, but the improvements in dynamics and fullness from the balanced outputs had me really enjoying this amp.  I liked it enough to think about how good it might be as a small footprint, complete balanced set-up at the office…

 

I left out a lot of details about individual impressions with different headphones, tracks selected, etc... but if there are any questions I'm happy to answer what I can! 

post #72 of 160
Thread Starter 

Thanks shipsupt! Good write-up. Everytime one of you posts your impressions, I find myself reading along and nodding, thinking to myself "That's exactly how I feel!". Lots of good points raised.

 

I think it is tough to compare the DAC to others because most stuff is priced at either sub-$500, or $1,000+. There aren't a ton of competitors in the $700 range. It's not quite cheap enough to be a bargain for someone on a shoestring budget, but if a person could raise the $700 then they might consider waiting until they had $1000 or so, which opens up a lot more options for them.

 

One thing that shipsupt mentioned that I really agree with is the amount of options on display here. You have single ended and balanced outputs, all types of digital ins, hi-res usb, pretty decent headphone outs, pre-amp capability, remote control.... that's more than most devices will do.

 

I've got a few new DACs at the house this week and I'm curious to hear how well they compare to the Quattro. Neither can match the Matrix on features though.

post #73 of 160

It's kind of a bummer that the matching Quattro balanced headamp doesn't have more power IMO frown.gif

post #74 of 160
Quote:
Originally Posted by purrin View Post

Have any of you guys tried balanced output on the Matrix Amp? I can't seem to get the auto-detect relays to turn on "balanced mode" when I plug in the supplied dual mono phono to 4-pin XLR adapter. 

 

I wish Matrix would have provided a 4 pin XLR for balanced headphone out. This is kind of a minor fail for me because I hate having to deal with extra adapter thingies.


Found out how it works. Can't plug in the adapters first.

 

  1. Plug headphone 4 pin XLR into adapters
  2. Plug adapters into the amp.

 

Anax has a really quick listen to the equipment and I quote exactly:

 

  1. DAC: "bass loose, harsh treble, not bad though, I'd rather get a Bifrost"
  2. Amp: "good fit for the DAC"

 

 

My Matrix Quattro Amp quick impressions:

This will be tough for me because I'm so spoiled now with the BA and a ton of (expensive) tube rolling options, but I will be fair:

 

  1. As I mentioned before, the lack of a 4-pin XLR is a complete FAIL. The dual phono and adapter thing just doesn't work for me.
  2. Excellent control of bass. Very tight and well controlled. I would prefer a bit more volume or bass slam though for HD800. With LCD3 it's fine.
  3. Good resolution, actually not bad, comparable to anything $800 or below that I've heard. Hmm maybe not. I'm having second thoughts about this now.
  4. Smooth treble but not laid back (which is not necessarily a bad thing)
  5. Upper midrange and lower treble hardness - this is the SHOWSTOPPER*. Makes it hard to me to listen for extended sessions, even with the LCD3. This is my third attempt now and my third headache. It's not something that's immediate, but after two or three tracks, I get a headache, 100% guaranteed.
  6. Going to pop the case and see what's inside.

 

* Only one other amp I've heard has had this effect: The head-out (not line-out) on the Asus Essence ST/STX soundcard.


Edited by purrin - 11/25/11 at 1:58pm
post #75 of 160

Matrix Quattro Amp (continued)

 

So I popped open the case. Voltage gain stage is 4x604 op-amps (which I am familiar with). Output stage is discrete transistors. I am seriously not impressed and actually kind of pissed off because they went backwards from the M-Stage. The M-Stage actually had decent components, not boutique caps, but definitely very usable poly caps. The M-Stage also had a really good layout with plenty of room for mods.

 

Back to the Quattro: There are a few small green WIMA (FKP?) caps that appear be to used for bypass caps (the main caps look like big SMTs) on the input, but every other cap I see on the Quattro PCB is surface mount or computer grade cans. The resistors are all surface mount. The headphone output circuit is switched via a relay. The power transformer is smaller than is typically seen for balanced amp (similar size to M-Stage). The circuit isn't bad, the but implementation is horrible for an audio product. Price not withstanding, this is a POS and I'm not surprised I get headaches from it.

 

No op-amp swap is going to help. You really can't get more dark than the 604s, and there's probably a reason why it was used in the first place.

 

I don't even know why they bothered with balanced if they couldn't get the insides right in the first place - other than it's a gimmick to sell. This whole amp just smells "cheap", not "smart-cheap", but "cheap cheap." The cost of the components and assembly is probably no more than the M-Stage (in fact, the M-stage could be more.)


Edited by purrin - 11/17/11 at 12:37am
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