Audiophile Linux Matrix X-Sabre review

2017-06-22 09:03

X-Sabre Rattling

It is a Western cliché to consider Chinese products as cheaply made and of poor quality. It is also a high end audio stereotype to see Chinese audio components as low quality and having inferior sound. Meanwhile, an average Shanghai student at the age of 15 outperforms his European or North American counterpart in reading, mathematics, and science. This has been the case since the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) has been instituted. Globally, Asian countries outperform the rest of the world in PISA testing and China’s growing economy is direct proof of the unmistakable correlation between excellent education and a thriving economy.

Therefore, I find it uncivilized to use primitive preconceptions of any kind about Chinese products. If the belief that Chinese audio products can not match the quality of Western competition may have been justified years ago, this is certainly not the case any more.

And as the Western high-end audio market continues to live in a dream world, choosing to believe that one of the world’s strongest economies with the best educational system is unable to produce competitive high end audio components, the Chinese company Matrix Electronic Technology Co., Ltd. has launched X-Sabre, a 32 bit / 384 kHz DSD, DXD audio DAC, to the audiophile market. This is an excellent example of what the Chinese are capable of and utterly shatters any ill convinced prejudices. The X-Sabre is a flagship USB D/A converter in the Matrix line-up and although it looks very much like a small version of a rectangle monolith from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, this timeless design is far from any kind of fiction.

 

A computer audio system connected to an X-Sabre becomes a universal digital-audio playback machine. This DAC works with all operating systems (installation of a driver is only needed for Microsoft Windows). Linux is, of course, a natural environment for the X-Sabre. I connected my X-Sabre to an Intel core i3 computer with our version of embedded AP-Linux OS. We used a modified MPD player which enables gapless playback of all PCM or DSD files, regardless of frequency or bit rate. Just load your favorite DSD and PCM albums in a playlist and forget about it. AP-Linux works in cooperation with X-Sabre to allow a smooth transition from one digital format to another.

The quality of the analogue signal reproduced by the X-Sabre is so lifelike and euphonic, that music lovers around the world can now finally relax and just enjoy the music. At last you do not have to spend a fortune for a universal audio decoding system. All of the PCM and DSD albums that I like to use for evaluation, provided outstanding results with the X-Sabre. A wide and deep sound stage, lifelike playback of acoustic instruments, and a total absence of any aggressiveness are the main characteristics of the X-Sabre’s sound. The X-Sabre reaches the peak of its musical performance in only 20 to 50 hours of use. If you are familiar with the sound of a real piano, violin, cello, or any other acoustic instrument, be prepared for this Chinese masterpiece to give you an uncanny sense of déjà vu. This type of non-aggressive, organic sound was previously only available using a quality turntable fitted with an MC cartridge. With the total absence of noise (unlike vinyl records) and the strikingly lifelike sound, X-Sabre will attract even spoiled skeptics who still consider the 33 1/3 LP vinyl record as the only acceptable audio reproduction format.

Even the slightest hint of digital harshness can destroy the fragile sense of musical reality in digital recordings. If your computer is well tuned and you use X-Sabre DAC as an external sound card, any annoying reminders that the source is digital will vanish. The smoothness of a violin crescendo shall impress even the most fastidious connoisseurs as well as audio professionals. So if you are not a member of the “hard core audiophile” society, concentrating on unimportant, non-musical sound nuances, the X-Sabre can help you make a giant leap forward in the quality and enjoyment of your stereo system!

Technical description and specifications

The X-SABRE is constructed from a single piece of CNC machined aluminum with separate compartments for each circuit providing excellent isolation and shielding.

The design also includes three large diamond shaped feet to minimize any vibration.

The X-SABRE has pellucid LED indicators to display the current status or mode of operation. Input selection consists of USB, Coaxial (RCA), and AES-EBU (XLR).

• USB asynchronous data transfer mode

• DSD×64 (2.8224MHz) / DSD×128 (5.6448MHz)

• Sample rates supported USB:16-32Bit @44.1kHz/48kHz/88.2kHz/96kHz/176.4kHz/192kHz/352.8kHz/384kHz

• Sample rates supported Coax/AES-EBU: 16-24Bit @ 44.1kHz/48kHz/88.2kHz/96kHz/176.4kHz/192kHz

• Low latency ASIO/KS drivers supported

• Drivers available for: Windows XP/ Windows Vista/ Windows 7/ Windows 8 – 8.1

• Natively supported by: Apple Mac OSX & Linux

Output:

• RCA Output Level: 2.2Vrms at 0dBFS

• XLR Output Level: 6.8Vrms at 0dBFS (XLR Interface: 1=ground 2=hot 3=cold)

• Frequency Response: 20Hz~20kHz +/-0.1dB

The X-SABRE uses extremely stable crystal oscillators and (unlike conventional sigma-delta implementation) the ESS Sabre converters incorporate innovative patented circuity to deliver spectacular music playback free from clock jitter. This combined with the use of four actual D/A converters per channel (8 mono to 2 stereo configuration) achieves a new level of exceptionally wide dynamic range, ultra low distortion, an amazingly accurate sound stage, and (jitter-free) detail with incredible clarity.

XMOS 32bit/500MIPS high performance asynchronous USB interface to stream 1-Bit 2.8224MHz/5.6448MHz DSD, 24bit/352.8kHz DXD, and up to 32bit/384kHz PCM.