Matrix M-Stage amp review: simple, cheap, and excellent.

Discussion in 'Headphone Amps (full-size)' started by project86, Mar 3, 2010.
  1. Strangelove424
    No idea about removing the casing, but if you fiddle with it and find it's possible to remove it, I would definitely give it a shot. Aesthetics don't matter if the thing is so hot it has noise or failure issues, and if the cover is there for EMI shielding, you're still better off risking it unshieleded than deal with obvious overheating that leads to noise or ultimate failure. But the heat could be indicative of other major issues too, like out of spec voltage ranges or oscillation.
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2017
  2. rikk009
    I think Burson allows returns no question asked for a limited period.
  3. leeperry
    All discrete opamps I tried gave outrageous DC offset in mstage and I was told that its design is really not meant to play nice with discrete ones, on the other hand AD797B still does the magic:heart_eyes:
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2017
  4. bookemJ
    Yea seems to be the Burson V5 that's causing the noise, worked fine for a night and a half with the case on the m-stage open and then put the top back on the m-stage and started making noise after another day and a half.

    Seems the Burson V5 isn't damaged or anything, runs fine without issue for hours and hours but once it gets too hot inside the m-stage it starts to make noise, keep in mind the room I'm in is usually 78-80 degrees. It's probably just like you guys are saying, it's not running as optimally as it was designed to in the m-stage circuity.
  5. leeperry
    why don't you measure DC voltage on the headphones output using a DMM? I bet you'll see +15mVDC on each side.
  6. Pharmaboy
    Not sure if anyone's still reading this thread. Regardless, here goes...

    After months of listening to other amp/preamps, I put my M Stage HPA-1 (2012 vintage w/LME49990 opamp installed) back in the system last week. Listened to it all week. Was again struck by how much sonic change the LME49990 opamp introduced to this design: the somewhat boomy bass and constrained treble have been transformed. The amp now sounds tight & impactful throughout the lower registers; and the upper midrange & treble are far flatter/clearer.

    But w/careful listening via headphones, I can tell it's a little too much of a good thing, especially in upper midrange/treble. The added detail & accuracy came at the cost of a lilttle brightness/peakiness. This extremely "ear friendly" amp is now a little less so.

    So based on various comments I read over the past 1-2 years about the OPA827 opamps, I just ordered a pair of these mounted on a brown dog adapter. Can't wait to install & hear this.

    My recent experience has shown that, at least for the 2012 HPA-1, switching opamps can totally change the sound. My first effort was a pair of OPA627s. I desperately tried to like the changes in sound, but ultimately could not: the imaging got nailed down dead-center (on speakers & via headphones) and the sound overall became quite bright--despite otherwise noteworthy increases in detail & clarity.

    Then the LME49990 opamp transformed the sound yet again...

    So my hope is that the OPA827 maintain some of that clarity in the upper registers + the improved bass, while making the HPA-1 more "ear friendly" & musical again.

    (more to follow)
  7. mobayrasta
    I still read this thread :wink: I still use the M Stage (HPA-1) all the time. I usually have my LCD2 rev.1 plugged in and the LME49990 really work well with them since they are a little dark. It is a great match for fun listening. Gives the old LCDs a little more sparkle in the upper frequencies.
  8. rikk009
    Yeah I am listening to it with LME dual 49990MA too. The opamp made it more dynamic and fast(decay) bass is tight. Earlier had single LME49860NA which was slower and bass was little flabby. I also got a single LME49990 to test but unfortunately either it's fake or doesn't work in this amp. Bought a OPA602BP too but it never reached me.
  9. AltCtrl
    I have the old Matrix-M-Stage 2010 v.2 -- is it worth upgrading to the new HPA-3B? My sound card is the Asus Essence STX. My headphones are: Beyer 1990 Pro, Beyer DT880 and soon to come HD6XX and Hifiman 4XX. How do I run it in balanced mode, my sound card only has RCA outputs, is it a big difference? What are some other good solid state amp choices for these headphones? Thanks!
  10. Pharmaboy
    Interesting questions. Here are my opinions (that's all they are).

    "is it worth upgrading to the new HPA-3B?"
    The HPA-2 and 3 series are said to sound rather different from the HPA-1: more detailed, "accurate," or what someone like me might hear as "bright." Is that a sound you want? If yes, then it's totally worth upgrading. But if you prefer warm, bassy sound (which is what you're getting from your HPA-1), then maybe a different amp would be better.

    "How do I run it in balanced mode, my sound card only has RCA outputs,"
    There's a lot going on in this question. Balanced mode and the ways it can be accomplished have been the topic of many Head-Fi posts/threads, some of which got very contentious. Let's just say that if you have a balanced headphone amp, you can upgrade to a DAC with a balanced output to get the ultimate balanced implementation (ie, balanced signal to balanced headphone amp; powering balanced headphone). But you don't literally require a balanced signal from the DAC to hear the benefits of balanced. None of my DACs are balanced, yet I have 2 balanced headphone amps (Cavalli Liquid Carbon & Violectric V281) and listen to them w/great enjoyment/effect w/2 headphones for which I have balanced cables.

    You don't say whether any of your current or future headphones are balanced (ie, have a balanced cable). Let's assume for a moment that at least one will--you can get a balanced cable and a single-ended cable for something like the HD6XX, and use whichever you want for a given amp. In that case, the questions become: what kind of sound do you like in an amp? And how much is your budget?

    The balanced HPA-3B is certainly one option. I'm very fond of the Liquid Carbon, which has plenty of power and has a warm/bassy sound I really like w/great soundstating. The market for these has recently cratered after Cavalli left the business. You can pick up a used LC for ~$500 now (less than before). There are also several Cavalli LC variants offered through Massdrop (ie, LC-X; CHT) for even less money.

    The single biggest takeaway I get from your post--and something you don't specifically ask about--concerns a DAC. You're apparently using a sound card for digital-to-analogue conversion. If so, you can almost certainly get more "bang for your buck," in terms of immediately obvious audio/sonic improvement, by getting a solid/inexpensive separate DAC. That's a pretty big topic; more opinions out there than one can count. But that would be my 1st order of business--getting a decent DAC. After that, maybe a balanced HP amp..

    Massdrop has offered a more-than-decent standalone DAC (by Grace design). That drop is not active at the moment, but I'm guessing it will be active again very soon:
  11. AltCtrl
    Appreciate the info! Concerning the DAC, all my music is being played from my computer and the Asus Essence STX(and new STX II) are supposed to be hifi grade, but if I did get a separate DAC would I just plug it in using USB?

    For the SS headphone amp I've got a budget of around ~$500, I don't have unlimited money and don't see myself spending $1000+ for a ~5% SQ improvement right now so I'm looking for the best bang for the buck. Ideally I'd want both a dark and bright SS amp, the Beyer 1990 Pro and DT880 are my favorite headphones so I do enjoy the bright sound signature but I also want to venture into other signatures which is why I'm getting the Hifiman 4XX(Planars) and HD6XX. I'll check out the Liquid Carbon but if the HPA-1 has a similar signature maybe I should go for a brighter amp to compliment it.

    I know nothing about what balanced cables to get for these headphones and not sure I have the budget for it so I might stick to unbalanced, again if its less than a 5% SQ improvement it's not worth it to me as of now.
  12. Pharmaboy
    The way you explain this, the balanced HPA-3 might be a really good option for you. It would contrast vs the warm, bassy sound of your HPA-1; and it would allow either balanced or single-ended headphones to be used. You have some headphones on the way that can really do detail and soundstaging. It would be nice to have two very different amps to play with on those.

    Just read a very complimentary review of the HPA-3B from a trusted site. Maybe I judged it too quickly. This thing has a ton of power and apparently didn't favor treble the way I thought it did:

    If you have an amp w/balanced output, it's well worth listening to it via that output, in my experience. You typically get a little more gain, distinctly better soundstaging, and sometimes a more spacious, relaxed feeling (headphone dependent). I have a couple headphones that I can listen to balanced or single-ended. Usually I prefer balanced.

    Balanced headphone cables need not be terribly expensive. Aftermarket cables for Sennheiser & Hifiman tend to be more expensive than generic single-entry 3.5mm, but still not insane. Here's an ebay balanced cable for HD600/650/6XX ($49):

    Here's a balanced cable for HiFiman:
  13. DW75
    You should take a look at the Gustard H10. It is great sounding, and has tons of power. It is a full step up in quality from the M-Stage HPA-1 and HPA-2. You will be impressed.
  14. Pharmaboy
    I've researched the H10 on a number of occasions. A lot of people seriously like this amp.

    My only quibble w/it is no balanced output for headphones. It has balanced inputs from DAC/other sources; but no balanced out to HPs. That's kind of a deal-breaker for me personally.
  15. DW75
    I think people are putting way too much emphasis on balanced being a must. Tons of awesome headphones exist that use a standard 1/4 inch or 1/8 inch connector. This is just my opinion though. I would not let it stop me from buying the H10. It is an awesome amp. Look at the power and dynamic range on it.

    Output power: 570 mW (600 ohm load); 2200 mW (100 ohms); 2700 mW (50 ohms); 2000 mW (32 ohms)
    Dynamic range: 128dB (A-weighted)
    Crosstalk:-110db (1kHz)

    It is a full tier above the M-Stage HPA-2. If I was going to upgrade, this would be on my short list for sure.

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