Cons: Might be too dark for some, prone to scratches
I would like to thank Matrix Audio, for I have received this unit from Matrix themselves, free of charge. Please take note, however, that this would not affect the bias of my review whatsoever.
The Matrix Mini-Portable is Matrix’s first step into the portable realm. And a big step, at that – the Mini-Portable is priced at $349, where there is a lot of heat in that segment.
FEATURES & SPECIFICATIONS
The Mini-Portable’s DAC is equipped with the AD1955 D/A chip, capable of 24/192 over coaxial and optical, and 24/96 over USB, while the headphone amp comes with the AD8620 opamp.
It uses a high-capacity lithium battery, which allows for 8 hours playback with high impedance headphones. With sensitive IEMs / headphones, however, I am not sure of the playback time that the Mini-Portable can provide.
The battery is also equipped with a battery protection system, which will warn you when the battery reaches 10% and 5%.
PACKAGING & BUILD
The Mini-Portable comes in a plastic box with a lid, with cut-out foam inside, and cardboard around the sides, printed with information about the product, and Matrix themselves as a company. The cardboard at the top is also the manual for the Mini-Portable.
The Mini-Portable is similar in length and width to an iPhone 4, but it is nearly twice as thick. The chassis is made up of aluminum, and weighs in at 180 grams. Heavier than what I’m used to, but not a nuisance. In terms of looks, I’d say that it’s a bit better than iBasso’s amp/DAC combos, but not as pretty as RSA amps.
The front side has the 3.5mm input and output jacks, the volume knob, an input selector, and a gain switch. The jack is a little too tight at first, but it will loosen up after a few days. Also, the jack (from the outside) is plastic, and it has some imperfections, but nothing too bad, I’m just nitpicking. The knob turns aren’t smooth, but are slightly stepped. At the bottom, you will see the label for each jack / knob / switch.
The back side has the coaxial, optical, and USB inputs. Also, there is a switch below the USB input which allows you to stop the unit from charging. A neat feature if you want to improve your battery life.
I wouldn’t go into detail about the sound, and describe what I’m hearing track after track like I would do with headphones, as with amps and DACs, it is harder to detect the small improvements that amps and DACs bring. However, I will try to describe what I can in detail.
All audio files used in the test are 256 kbps AAC / 320 kbps MP3 and above.
I never really paid attention to the flaws of the iPhone 4 headphone out, until I heard the sound from the line-out to the Mini-Portable. The sound is smoother, thicker, weightier, cleaner, better and more natural tonal balance, and wider, although it is darker and more laid-back. The bass and mids are fuller, something that is a hit-or-miss with an IEM / headphone with the darkness of the ASG-1. On the ASG-1, the sound may be less impressive at first, but all the technicalities will start to make themselves known, and you will grow on the weightier sound. However, naturally, the sound signature of the Mini-Portable is better paired with neutral to bright IEMs / headphones.
The differences between the iPhone 4’s DAC and the Mini-Portable’s DAC is quite hard to distinguish, especially for someone like me, since it is the first time that I owned a better source. Nonetheless, I heard some improvements. The soundstage is a bit wider on the Mini-Portable’s DAC, due to the less upfront sound signature. The signature is much more closer to neutral. The tonal balance is also more realistic through the Mini-Portable’s DAC. There is also more clarity and definition throughout the spectrum.
Overall, I think that Matrix did a good job for their first foray into the portable amp industry. A solid build and a solid sound backed with a respectable brand name – a good recipe, in my book. Once again, thank you, Matrix Audio, for this opportunity, and for everyone who read this review.