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

Discussion in 'Headphone Amps (full-size)' started by project86, Mar 3, 2010.
  1. AltCtrl
    I've looked at the Gustard H10 before as well and i looks like a solid amp.. I do want to delve into balanced cables though, where do you get custom ones that are either braided and flexible and not as heavy? Massdrop actually has some balanced cables from Venture Electronics now that I'm considering for the HD6XX and Hifi 4XX. I'm also looking at the schiit Jotunheim amp. So many choices!
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2017
  2. rikk009
    I won't say HPA-1 with LME49990 has warm at all. And from what I hear don't consider H10 as a worthy upgrade either. Also, from what I hear Jot and HPA-3b is very much similar sounding so HPA-3b is better deal.
  3. Pharmaboy
    Update: Just received the dual OPA827AID opamps and put them into the HPA-1 in place of the LME49990. I got sound in both channels--a good sign, since it probably means I installed this browndog adapter in the right orientation.

    Will let it cook 3-4 days, then give a listen...more to follow.
  4. AltCtrl
    I've been researching a bit for the ultimate computer audio system for under a $1000 that's a worthy successor to my STX sound card and HPA-1. I've read that an external DAC usually produces better sound than a sound card and I've read some buzz about the new Burson Play that just came out. I'll reserve judgement as I read more reviews but generally I've read that a all in one AMP/PRE-AMP/DAC like the Play or HPA-3U+ for example doesn't produce as good a sound as a separate dedicated DAC and AMP. Is that normally the case?

    What do you think about this chain: Computer USB --> Burson Play --> HPA-3B --> Balanced Senn HD6XX/Hifi 4XX/Beyer 1990. Is the Burson Play overkill in that chain? Won't the sound change drastically going from the Burson Play to the HPA-3B unless i use the same op-amps in both?

    I'm pretty set on the HPA-3B just looking for a good DAC to go with it.
  5. Pharmaboy
    All-in-ones can be terrific values. I own a very inexpensive one (FiiO E10K) that is far better than its pricetag would suggest (~$75). I also owned a far more powerful & fully features all-in-one by Audio GD (NFB 15.32 amp/preamp/DAC), which again was far better than its price tag (~$300 used). There are some extremely good (and far more costly) all-in-ones out there: Auralic Taurus, Mytek Brooklyn, Audio GD Master 7, etc. I certainly have nothing against all-in-ones. My biggest concern is that you be able to get DAC signal out to a separate amp (if you feel like doing that); or get a separate DAC's signal into the all-in-one, allowing it to function as amp only. Some allow this flexibility; others do not.

    It's hard to make generalities here, given the wide variation in cost & design objectives of various all-in-ones. But I'd sum it up by saying sound quality, per se, is not likely to be your limiting factor w/an all-in-one, unless it's very inexpensive and low powered (which neither the Play nor HPA-3U+ really are). The limiting factor w/the all-in-one could be its flexibility & features allowing it to be used as DAC only, amp only, etc...which may not even matter to you, but "upgrade-itis" is the illness we all get, sooner or later.

    Re your chain, my only question/confusion concerns the Play. Hard to be sure w/o seeing specs & photos, but it may not allow itself to be used as a DAC only. It has a preamp out, but I'm unclear whether that conveys only the signal that has come through DAC conversion vs something else. Just checked Burson for a manual, but none available. If the Play could be used as DAC only, your chain might sound rather amazing.
  6. trybeingarun
    My HPA-3u+ sounds too dark with 6xx, so i definitely won't recommend that combo (I don't have the 3B version though). I don't have the 4xx, but I have the 560 which sounds good with it. I don't have a great opinion about my hpa-3u+ as a dac because it sounds harsh, images poorly and is a little shrill. The amp section is really good, when I use it in combination with my Aune X1s as a dac, though still having a dark sound. If this is going to be your only amp and you're primarily going to use it with the 6xx i would say be wary; audition the setup if possible first, before making a decision.
    I have given my 3u+ for modding (as explained in this post), which i am hoping will improve the unit. If you go through the whole thread there are posts about how to mod the hpa-3b unit, in case you're interested.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2017
  7. AltCtrl
    I've heard similar things about the hpa-3u+'s DAC which is why I'm wary of all-in-one's at least for under $1000 but maybe it's just a bad pairing with the HD6XX. I don't mind swapping opamps but I would rather make a good buying decision than have to swap other internals out to make it sound good. It's probably just a fact in the industry to cheap out on components to keep manufacturing costs down which is why there's such a big difference when swapping out certain components. I'm talking med-fi to hi-fi now not summit-fi.

    I contacted Burson and they said the preamp output on the Play can be used as a DAC output. They also said the preamp output's sound is only affected by the 3 dual opamps inside the Play. I'm still curious how the sound changes going from the Play to the HPA-3B for example since they both use different opamps and if using the same opamps in both your preamp and amp is a wise move. Burson talks about this impedance mismatching on their website and even sells a Cable+ to help with it.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2017
  8. trybeingarun
    I'm not sure what your idea was, but getting a HE-4xx when you have a Hd6xx doesn't look like the best of decisions. What I mean by that is, the 6xx will scale with better equipment, but 4xx may not. So why don't you buy a bottlehead crack or something that goes really well with 6xx, and use 4xx straight out of your PC output, may be. That way you will have at least one awesome setup instead of having 2 mediocre possibilities (whatever amp you buy + 6xx or 4xx). If you want a SS balanced amp then jotunheim (I don't own one) also seems to be a good pair with 6xx, but it might be a little bright with 4xx.
    If you don't want to make such a committal decision and save some money then you can buy a cheaper amp. I have a nuforce ha-200 and it works pretty decent with the 6xx. Doesn't have enough power for my HE560s though, and gives only low volume. But whatever I hear from it is impressive. It has a much wider soundstage than my hpa-3u+, it's also quite relaxing and not intense (edgy) and is overall a pleasurable listen. I got it from massdrop at a pretty cheap price. You could even give the magni3 a shot.
  9. AltCtrl
    I bought the HE-4XX as my first planar headphone, I was considering the HE560's but didn't want to break the bank at the time. I also own the Beyer 1990 Pro's and DT880's 600ohm which scale with better equipment. I already own a good tube amp so I'm only looking for a balanced SS amp and dac for under $1k to replace my STX sound card and compliment my HPA-1.

    I'm ready to make a committal best bang for the buck decision.. so far I'm loooking at:

    DAC/AMP: Burson Play, Schiit Jotunheim, Emotiva DC-1
    AMP's: HPA-3B
  10. AltCtrl
    I read back in the thread you had success w/ the LME49990 opamps in your HPA-1. How many do you need? Do you think these opamps would work in the HPA-3B as well?

    I wonder how Burson opamps would sound but I read that they're prone to overheating.
  11. Pharmaboy
    I did a lot of reading about the HPA-3B in the past couple days--but now it's a little difficult to remember where certain comments/statements were. I'm pretty sure the discussion of opamps is in the dedicated Head-Fi thread for this amp:

    If I remember correctly, there are more opamps in the signal path in the HPA-3B than in the HPA-1. The HPA-3B is a bigger, stronger, very differently designed amp than the HPA-1. It looks like a balanced version of the Audeze Deckard (Matrix OEM'd the Deckard, and it shows). All to say I'm not totally sure how opamps are swapped in the HPA-3B (how many; where on board; etc). The thread above did contain numerous comments to the effect that Burson opamps don't work w/the HPA-3B due to operating voltage being above their threshold, leading to thermal instability.

    Yes, I did get very good results from the LME49990 opamps in my HPA-1, which was transformed by these opamps: but w/close listening recently I realized the sonic goodies that come w/the LME49990s (dramatically improved bass tightness/impact vs the relatively boomy/sloppy bass w/stock opamps; greatly improved resolution/clarity, top to bottom; and greatly improved soundstaging) came at the expense of a little glare/peakiness in upper midrange/lower treble--which most definitely was not present in the stock HPA-1. I'm very sensitive to even a little glare, so I decided to try something else.

    So 3-4 days ago I swapped the LME49990 opamps (2 surface-mounted to browndog adapter) for OPA827AID opamps (2 surface-mounted on browndog adapter). I'm still burning in the OPA827s. Did very brief/informal listening last night and the amp sounded extremely good. Not yet ready to report details (it was just 10" of headtime at end of long workday) but will be doing that very soon.

    From what I can tell by reading this thread, LME49990s are no longer available, so not sure how you can procure any, in the event you can figure out how to swap opamps in the HPA-3B.
  12. trybeingarun
    Not sure if you're aware, but Emotiva DC-2 is in development and might be out in the next 6 months, if you're willing to wait that long. Schiit Jotunheim can be bought as an amp only. General advice, take it a little slow; try to build one great setup instead of having a lot of 'okay' setups and improve just one component at a time; at least that's what I found out after getting a lot of avg. sounding 'affordable' equipment. Good tech is never going to go away; something new is always going to keep coming.

    If you have a good tube amp then try to get the Emotiva, which has a nice balanced dac and allows you to improve your setup over time and you can also use it with your tube amp today. I'm sure all the options you're looking for are individually great, but how synergistic will it be with your equipment also matters.
  13. AltCtrl
    I thought Matrix OEM'd Lehmann, or was that just with the HPA-1? I plan on keeping my HPA-1 even if I get the HPA-3B, it's been going strong for so many years now and I like the sound. I assume by glare you mean treble sparkle like the DT880 headphone has? I find that sparkle to be quite addictive actually and it's the reason I love the DT880 so much. It's to bad the LME49990 got discontinued, I'll have to try some others.
  14. Pharmaboy
    Yes, to me "glare" means a slight (or not so slight) elevation in the upper midrange & lower treble. I'm extremely sensitive to that: it makes listening much harder. However, many people feel quite differently about this, as your comments illustrate.

    I love my HPA-1. Once I got that lame volume knob replaced, it's a solid little citizen in my stable of amps. I actually had 2 of them (same late 2012 vintage)...gave away the other as part of a gift desktop audio system for my brother.

    I'll have more comments by end of weekend about the OPA827 opamps in the HPA-1. So far, so good!
  15. AltCtrl
    I found a mint HPA-3B on the used market for $280 and jumped on it. Excited to see how it sounds! Now I just need a DAC.. I'm still leaning towards the Burson Play w/ V6 Vivid op-amps. I've also heard a lot of hype about the Gustard X20 DAC. So hard to decide..

    As far as the Emotiva I think I'll wait and see what happens with the DC-2.
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2017

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