New Matrix Audio X-Server info (and a bit about the X-Sabre 2 as well)
Nov 7, 2016 at 2:27 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 140

project86

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Matrix Audio started things off with a bang when they launched their original M-Stage headphone amplifier. Offering killer performance at a very approachable cost, the Matrix name became well known in a short amount of time. 
 
Other products followed. While not all of them could be called amazing, Matrix nonetheless scored several more hits over the years, culminating with their X-Sabre DAC. Using the ES9018 Sabre chip and DSD capabilities back when those features where still fairly rare, the X-Sabre sported an incredible build quality not often matched even on megabuck components. At $1,099 the X-Sabre was very competitive and seemed to be quite successful for a relatively small Chinese firm without a lot of history in the US market. I know a number of very picky and even downright skeptical audiophiles who ended up being surprised by the performance of the X-Sabre, despite not usually liking Chinese gear for the most part. 
 
Matrix has moved on to their 3rd generation for the venerable M-Stage headphone amps, with the fully balanced HPA-3B looking particularly noteworthy. And I'm sure there will be other quality stuff coming from them as well - the new Quattro II and Mini-i Pro 2 DAC/amp/preamps look very strong in their price categories, and there's even a Class D Mini-i Amp using the ICEpower modules from B&O. Definitely some big things going on with Matrix as a company. 
 
The reason for this post is to discuss a new model that's arguably more ambitious than anything we've yet seen from Matrix. It's called the Matrix X-Server, and it represents an entirely new direction for the firm. I've had well over half a dozen high-end music servers and streamers pass through here in the past year or so, from companies based all over the world, and I've gotta say - the X-Server is extremely well done. Even compared to some of the best in the biz (of which I've experienced many). I've been playing with a prototype that should be close to the final product and I'm blown away at what Matrix has accomplished here.... and even more blown away at the price range they've discussed charging for this thing. Nothing is quite set in stone but I'll update as I get the final specs and numbers. Unless Matrix makes a huge change in a negative way, this device is going to be a big deal. 
 
 

 
The Matrix X-Server is build from the ground up as a true high-end music player. It basically takes the X-Sabre concept and expands upon it - in fact the X-Server contains what will soon be released as a stand-alone X-Sabre 2 DAC. Yes, that's a thing, and there will be more info available regarding that device soon enough. (UPDATE on that - scroll to the bottom of this post for more info). But for now I want to focus on the X-Server as that seems further along in development, and that's the one I actually have here to play with. 
 
Let's start with the enclosure. Just like the X-Sabre, Matrix starts with a single piece of aluminum and CNC machines the whole thing, removing sections which will house the 4 separate components for DAC, PSU, motherboard, and storage drive. Matrix sent me this early rendering showing their design for the internals to help illustrate the concept:
 
 

 
It's not easy to get a sense of scale from this picture but anyone who has experienced the original X-Sabre will tell you how solid that model is. Well, the X-Server is very similar except almost twice as wide and a little deeper too. Final weight will be determined by the components Matrix ends up choosing but any way you slice it this thing is hefty. 
 
This prototype uses an advanced switching power supply but that may change on the final build. Matrix originally intended to use a linear PSU, and perhaps they still do and just ran out of time for this prototype. Or maybe there was some trouble making it small enough for this enclosure. Even though the enclosure is quite large in terms of width, it has a relatively low profile compared to a typical PC-style enclosure as used by servers from Sound Science, Baetis, Antipodes, etc. This really cuts down on usable space for big capacitors and such. In the meantime this is a very nice alternative and there's a chance Matrix decides it sounds good enough to stick with. Keep in mind, switch-mode supplies can be excellent when done right, and you can find gear from Chord, NuForce/NuPrime, Bel Canto, and Aurender, among others, which perform exceptionally well despite the lack of a linear PSU. It's all about finding the right tool for the job, so we'll see which direction Matrix ends up going.
 
Next up is the computer aspect which is also subject to change. Matrix was initially going to do a fully custom design, but this prototype uses a mini-ITX solution from Gigabyte and it works quite well. So we'll see which what they end up doing. In my view, when you have full control of the power supply, peripherals, enclosure (for shielding purposes), and operating system (we'll get to that in a minute), this aspect may not be as much of a bottleneck as I initially assumed. Either way, Matrix is using a 6th gen Intel i3 Skylake CPU for much higher performance than the usual ARM devices utilized in streamers or servers. And they use a passive cooling system for silent operation - the massive milled chassis makes a great heatsink. I believe there is at least 4GB of RAM on board and with a Skylake CPU it's likely to be quick DDR4 RAM, though again don't quote me because nothing is set in stone quite yet. 
 
On to the DAC which is a big part of the draw here. As I mentioned, this is an X-Sabre 2 on board, and the big news on that front is the use of the new ESS Sabre 9028 Pro DAC chip. I'm still working on getting details for the output stage and what is different or similar to the original X-Sabre DAC. Which, again, was already a very impressive DAC, even with the now-older ES9018 chip on board. The X-Server gives us RCA and XLR outputs for tapping the internal DAC, which for most people should be end-of-story. I can tell you right now, this thing sound exceptional, and is easily competitive with respected rivals from Aurender and Lumin. 
 
 
 

 
As an all-in-one device, the configuration is a little different than what the X-Sabre 2 X-Sabre Pro will end up looking like. Here, in place of the usual digital inputs, we instead get outputs - coaxial, optical, and AES/EBU. The X-Server makes a spectacular transport, assuming your DAC is actually better than the internal solution. So far it looks like only my best DACs from Resonessence Labs and B.M.C. can make that claim. The X-Server also has multiple USB outputs which can stay connected with several DACs at once if the user chooses, switching between them via software as needed. Imagine having a crisp, reference DAC on one USB port, and a warm, creamy NOS DAC on another, to be selected based on your preference of the moment. These ports can also handle USB hard drives or flash drives to add to your music library. I don't know what exactly Matrix has done to these USB outs to make them sound so good, but they sure work better than the USB outs on any of the standard laptops or desktop computers I have around the house. 
 
The last of the four internal chambers is for adding a storage drive. It takes 2.5" SATA drives of either the SSD or spinning platter variety, and your choice will depend on your philosophy. Some people insist on the speed and silence of an SSD, and argue those sound better as well. Others will demand the larger capacity of a spinning hard drive, with 4TB examples going for roughly the price of a quality 512GB SSD counterpart. Either way, the X-Server will stay cool and quiet thanks to that massive enclosure. Or, run strictly with external USB storage or even NAS streaming if you prefer. The operating system lives on a separate internal drive so no other hard drive is technically necessary. Matrix will offer options for no internal storage, 1TB, or 2TB SSD choices available now and larger ones later when those hit the market. 
 
Speaking of the operating system, that's another big draw here. Matrix teamed up with some developers who are making a custom Linux-based OS called Euphony, and the X-Server should be the first product to market running it. Euphony will eventually be sold as a stand-alone product (shipped on plug-and-play SSD drives) for those who want to build their own hardware or use an existing system. 
 
The Euphony developers call their product "a high octane operating system" which enables "flawless transport of digital music to DAC with unparalleled accuracy, regardless of formats and sample rates". I won't go too far into the nuts and bolts of it at the moment other than to say it's an excellent bit of software in both performance and functionality. I love the fact that it's very user friendly - everything is well laid out in the menus, and it's pretty much intuitive from the get go. There's a dedicated Android control app which I believe is a modified version of MPDroid, but any computer or tablet/phone can do the job just as well via the well-executed web interface. Pictures are better than descriptions here so I'll post a bunch in a moment. 
 
Euphony lets the user switch between three different modes - MPD, which is the default  service, Squeezelite which allows the system to be a Roon endpoint, and Network Audio Adapter aka NAA for those who prefer upsampling with the HQPlayer software. These modes can be switched back and forth with just a short (maybe 1 minute) delay for the system to reboot. That's a little something for everyone - I use Roon a lot for the beautiful interface and music discovery aspect, and I use MPD for really serious listening. The Euphony folks state Squeezelite sounds better here than with other implementations but the MPD mode is even better. So far I'm inclined to agree.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
So far so good, right? A powerful music server with killer build quality that looks somewhat reminiscent of a dCS Debussy DAC. A custom OS, Roon capability, and a very high quality onboard DAC with the latest ESS Sabre Pro chip. Anything else I'm missing?   
 
 

 
I should also add that Matrix has an ace up their sleeve that most other Chinese competitors can't match, in the form of North American distributor Arthur Power. You may recall the name as he's been around HeadFi since 2008 (see profile HERE). Or, you might recognize him as the friendly North American distributor of Lake People and Violectric Gear. Ask anyone who's dealt with Arthur and they'll tell you he's one of the best in the business when it comes to honest, helpful customer service. He's an audiophile first and a distributor second, who won't hesitate to recommend something else if it fits you better - even at the cost of a sale. 
 
Arthur will be handling the sales of this new Matrix stuff for North America everywhere but China and South Korea, and he'll be offering a very nice incentive for early birds in the form of a rather large discount. This will be handled via Indigogo.com but it's not quite finalized yet so I don't have the exact figures pre-order direct from the Matrix USA website. But expect some very generous discounts for early buyers. I'm sorry that's not super helpful but I promise to update this with all the final dates and dollar amounts as soon as possible. 
 
To make up for my lack of specifics, more pictures. Sorry about the dust - it shows up in the pics far more than real life. Also note that this prototype is sandblasted but doesn't have the final clear anodizing process applied to the finish. It's still amazing but the final version will have more of a smooth, almost glossy appearance to the metal, while this one is more of a matte finish. It will be available in silver or black.
 
Roon mode

 

The new Matrix Audio logo engraved in top panel
 
 

Nice footers
 

Just for size perspective, the Cayin DAC and amp are each 10 inches wide. 
 
 

Ethernet input, notice the enclosure details
 

HDMI out (not used for much at this point, just like the SOtM servers) with 4 USB 3.0
 

Toslink, coax, and AES/EBU digital outs
 

Balanced and SE outs
 

Universal voltage on this prototype, not sure if that will stay on the final version
 

 

 
UPDATED INFO!
 
Just got word about the X-Server being delayed a bit. Apparently Matrix wants to focus on production of the new X-Sabre Pro, so the X-Server will not be available until probably March of 2017. Who knows what sort of changes may or may not happen during that time frame.... I keep telling them to work on keeping the price low so we'll see if they take my word for it. 
 
The X-Sabre Pro seems to be the main topic of discussion at this point. Which is interesting because I have no experience with it. But I can speculate based on what I hear from the DAC section of the X-Server prototype - the X-Sabre Pro should be REALLY impressive.
 
It will be priced at $1699 with pre-order pricing at $1399 shipped. Unlike what I thought earlier, this actually applies to North America and everywhere else in the world except China and South Korea. So, for everyone not in those two places, order from Matrix HERE and save the $300.
 
There will only be 100 units available at this discount. 80 in black and 20 in silver. Ordering starts now and will go until Christmas or until all the units are gone... whichever comes first. After that you can still order but will pay the full $1699. I'm told that most pre-orders should arrive by Christmas but if not then early January. Obviously if you do a pre-order on December 22 it won't make Christmas so plan accordingly. 

 
Nov 7, 2016 at 9:47 PM Post #2 of 140

Energy

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Great read. Thank you so very much for the post.
 
Nov 7, 2016 at 10:31 PM Post #4 of 140

project86

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  Great read. Thank you so very much for the post.

 
Thanks, I am excited to have the final pricing and specs available. I think a lot of people will be impressed with this thing.
 
Is that a dac?

 
It's a media server/streamer with a built-in DAC. Or use it as a transport with your own external DAC if you want. 
 
Nov 7, 2016 at 10:45 PM Post #6 of 140

Energy

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Thanks, I am excited to have the final pricing and specs available. I think a lot of people will be impressed with this thing.

 
This may be a little off, but currently in my studio/music listening room I already have a computer with a USB-to-SPDIF device that cuts off the dirty ground from the computer and instead, uses a linear power supply for transport. What benefits would a Music Server like this have over what I currently use?
 
In the position that I'm in, wouldn't it be better to just upgrade from an X-Sabre to an X-Sabre 2 rather than improve on transport which is already decent? Or does this Matrix X-Server yield something better? Usually I find people making music servers due to it's linear supply and quietness (sound wise in both cases), but usually for those two reasons. 
 
Nov 7, 2016 at 11:10 PM Post #7 of 140

soundquest

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Thank you for the introduction. Subscribed! 
It's interesting that this unit does NOT seem to have a usb output. And, it is not going the route of AoIP. 
Nevertheless, implementation and sound quality are what matter most and this reads like there are a few novel variables. I know power supplies make a big difference, so I hope this allows for an external LPS or really knocks one out of the park with a new variant of SMPS. 
 
What are the format and resolution limits?
When are they going to release this and how can I sign up for the early bird 4:30 special? 
smily_headphones1.gif
 
Why am I asking so many questions? 
blink.gif
 
 
Nov 8, 2016 at 12:09 AM Post #8 of 140

project86

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The price?

 
Still waiting on specifics from Matrix. Let's say this for reference, using the last few high-end devices I've had in my system. My Aurender X100L goes for $3500 in the 6TB configuration. The B.M.C. PureMedia goes for north of $5K with 2TB on board. The SOtM sMS-1000SQ with the matching power supply goes for around $4K with no internal storage. The Lumin A1 is $7200 with no internal storage. 
 
 
This Matrix X-Server should be substantially more affordable than any of those. Even more so with the Indiegogo campaign.
 
But again, I'm working on getting the actual number for you.
 
   
This may be a little off, but currently in my studio/music listening room I already have a computer with a USB-to-SPDIF device that cuts off the dirty ground from the computer and instead, uses a linear power supply for transport. What benefits would a Music Server like this have over what I currently use?
 
In the position that I'm in, wouldn't it be better to just upgrade from an X-Sabre to an X-Sabre 2 rather than improve on transport which is already decent? Or does this Matrix X-Server yield something better? Usually I find people making music servers due to it's linear supply and quietness (sound wise in both cases), but usually for those two reasons. 

 
It's the age old question: is my own computer setup "good enough" or should I spring for a dedicated device like this? In my experience doing it yourself can be either fun or frustrating, and you can get pretty good results overall, but you can't get to the same level as a dedicated device like this. How obvious this will be really depends on the rest of your system, your listening preferences, etc.
 
  Thank you for the introduction. Subscribed! 
It's interesting that this unit does NOT seem to have a usb output. And, it is not going the route of AoIP. 
Nevertheless, implementation and sound quality are what matter most and this reads like there are a few novel variables. I know power supplies make a big difference, so I hope this allows for an external LPS or really knocks one out of the park with a new variant of SMPS. 
 
What are the format and resolution limits?
When are they going to release this and how can I sign up for the early bird 4:30 special? 
smily_headphones1.gif
 
Why am I asking so many questions? 
blink.gif
 

 
Those 4 USB jacks can either be used for connecting storage, or connecting DACs. Yes, DACs in the plural, since Euphony lets you switch between 4 devices for audio output. It's super useful to A/B different DACs.
 
AoiP might be an answer to a question nobody was asking..... we'll see how it pans out but I am personally not sold on it just yet (and yes, I've messed with it and heard plenty of other systems using it).
 
As for PSU, I reserve judgement for the final sound, not the technology used. It's the same as speaker amps actually - some swear class D is inherently terrible, while others judge each amp by the sound regardless of topology. 
 
Format and resolution seem pretty wide open. I have not tested the limits of DSD other than playing some DSD128 which worked fine. I imagine it will go higher, not that there is really much native music recorded higher than that. I know PCM goes to 384kHz though because I played some DXD albums and they worked great. 
 
As for release, let's say "soon" and I'll update with the actual date when I can. 
 
Nov 8, 2016 at 1:04 AM Post #10 of 140

LajostheHun

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intriguing.
 
Nov 8, 2016 at 1:57 PM Post #12 of 140

project86

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I could not be happier with my X-Sabre. A perfect match to my system since january 2014. Anyway, I am pretty excited with this evolution path. Very promising stuff!

 
Wow, has it been that long already? These last few years have just flown by.
 
  Would like to know your honest opinion about how it compares to aries and aries mini

 
I didn't care for the Aries Mini all that much. Loved the concept but the execution just fell flat to me in terms of SQ for pricing. That's in context of a pretty high end system though, I'm sure it does the job fine for a lot of uses.
 
I haven't had all that much experience with the original Aries. In fact I've only ever heard it in unfamiliar systems. So it's tough to make a definitive conclusion. I will say the two products are clearly chasing different users - Aries is a transport only while Matrix really does an exceptional job with the built-on DAC portion. Also the Euphony OS is a different animal. 
 
Nov 8, 2016 at 2:54 PM Post #13 of 140

rafabro

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Still waiting on specifics from Matrix. Let's say this for reference, using the last few high-end devices I've had in my system. My Aurender X100L goes for $3500 in the 6TB configuration. The B.M.C. PureMedia goes for north of $5K with 2TB on board. The SOtM sMS-1000SQ with the matching power supply goes for around $4K with no internal storage. The Lumin A1 is $7200 with no internal storage. 
 
 
This Matrix X-Server should be substantially more affordable than any of those. Even more so with the Indiegogo campaign.

The world is waiting for something like that :wink:
 
Nov 9, 2016 at 1:15 AM Post #14 of 140

JWahl

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This looks very promising.  With all the focus lately on USB (or digital transport) improvement, I've been thinking that the best approach in the future may just be streamers/servers that are integrated with a high quality DAC.  So this way, the data to the DAC can be optimized at the lowest hardware level, and shortest digital signal path.
 
Nov 9, 2016 at 11:22 AM Post #15 of 140

soundquest

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Thank you for the sneak peak into the X Server. This seems like a potentially great product. Please answer a few follow-up questions. 
 
Music Players
Which ones are compatible? Which ones sound best with the X Server? I know Roon requires a NAS or computer to create a Roon Server. Do any of the other X Server compatible music players require this configuration? From what I’ve read, Roon does not provide the best sound quality AS A MUSIC PLAYER, though I've read it's great for music library management. 
 
Euphony OS
Is the Euphony OS on an SD card, an SSD?
Is Euphony strictly an OS or OS + Music Player? 
Do you have a link to further info. regarding Euphony?
EDIT: I found the Euphony website. I think you can plug an SSD (pre-loaded with Euphony OS) into ANY PC (???)
and run it. The site suggests that you should put all your music files on the SSD, but that's limiting if you have 4 tb of files. 
 
Does Euphony play from MEMORY? 
 
Remote control
Does X Server require a NAS or router/switch in order to use a remote (via tablet, phone, etc.)?
Or, does the remote tie-in directly with the Matrix X Server?
 
Volume Control
Does the X Server have built-in pre-amp (volume control) functionality? And, if so, how good is the volume control? 
 
Digital outputs
Are you implying the X Server usb output sounds better than the usb outputs of other transports? And, what about the AES output?  
 
USB Ports
Are the usb ports usb 3.0 or the newer usb “C?
 
Thank you! 
 

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