Is there such a thing as too many value-priced DACs within the high fidelity audio industry? The Matrix Audio Mini-i Pro reviewed here is but one example of many. Personally, I don't think it is as healthy competition pushes engineers to the bleeding edge not year by year, but month by month! High-end audio manufacturers need to do their homework and take R&D seriously with in-depth analysis and an abundance of hard work. Companies cannot sit stills and glaze upon their past awards or status for too long. The present pace urges them to reinvent and constantly introduce something new. That is on par with the current trends to step ahead of the competition. The need is such that, as refrain, in the good old Iron Maiden song "Be Quick Or Be Dead!"
Enter The Matrix Audio
Matrix Audio Mini-i Pro 24-bit/384kHz DSD DXD DAC & Headphone AmplifierMatrix Audio was founded in 2006 with a clear goal to provide the high quality music playback device for the audiophiles. Their venture works closely with improving/innovating in mind and the development of the unique new products. The all new Matrix Audio Mini-i Pro comes as an upgraded model of their latest Mini-i. The Matrix Audio Mini-i Pro adds the highly trending DSD capability, increases the playback quality, comes with the hefty aluminum chassis, introduces the all new OLED display and adds the front panel very easy handling configuration menu. Its slick, compact device that employs far more than its' size projects.
The Matrix Audio Mini-i Pro ($559) implements digital volume control with the goal of ensuring a tightly controlled channel balance. There are different gain intervals during volume adjustment. Matrix Audio's Mini-i Pro has a configurable filter, which allows the shaping of the different timbre. There is also a unique noise cancellation circuit that prevents loud click noises when the Matrix Audio Mini-i Pro is being turn on or shut off. Everything with the Mini-i Pro, during my first hands on experience, ensure sturdiness, quality and a well thought out design.
Inputs & Output Bits
Matrix Audio Mini-i Pro 24-bit/384kHz DSD DXD DAC & Headphone Amplifier RearMatrix Audio Mini-i Pro offers an array of inputs on the back panel. You'll find TosLink optical, S/PDIF coaxial, XLR AES/EBU, and USB digital input interface. Outputs for analog stage include stereo balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA. On the front panel left side there is a headphone output that can accommodate a variety of dynamic headphones. The Mini-i Pro deals with USB via XMOS asynchronous USB 2.0 interface that the supports 1-bit at 2.8224 and 5.6448 MHz DSD signal. It also decodes 24-bit up to 352.8 kHz DXD signal and 24-bit at 384 kHz PCM audio playback. Getting deeper under the DAC hood reveals the added EMI filter, which provides EMI isolation from AC input. There is an improved high-quality shielded toroidal transformer with dual voltage input range over previous units. A multi-stage filter and independent regulated power supply ensures clean power feeding the internal circuits. They employ high precision parts that handle low temperature drift resistance and audio capacitance that are said to yield comprehensive improvements music details. Quite a summing up for the starts, but it screams "I'm packed and loaded."
Let us not forget that the Matrix Audio Mini-i Pro comes with a nice small, stylish aluminum remote control unit that adjust volume gain, sets the mute on/off, let you choose the digital input channels and turn the DAC in or out off.
ESS Sabre Untra ES9016
As with higher priced SABRE X DAC, the Mini-i Pro uses the dedicated ULTRA ES9016. ESS' Sabre Ultra ES9016 is an 8-channel audio D/A converter, with four DAC units in parallel output for each channel. The CPLD cooperate with double oscillator and effectively reduce the jitter to ensure the digital signal's integrity. Sounds complex right!? Let us see how the technical specifications serves the music...
Listening To The Matrix Audio Mini-i Pro
I've connected Mini-i Pro via XLR outputs into the Robert Koda K-10 Takumi preamplifier. K-10 unique transparency shows at once the real ability of certain front end in transferring the music. I've got accustom to Takumi K-10 majestic versatility of handling the input signals and instantly highlighting the advantages or disadvantages of device being used as a high-end audio source. Since the Mini-i Pro supports both DSD and PCM formats, it covers the latest high-resolution audio files and works as a universal DAC. During my getting listening notes, my objective regarding the DXD is that I've started with the Stereo DXD 24-bit/352.8kHz files of Ola Gjeilo Ubi Caritas piano improvisation and Ola Gjeilo Finzi Come Away, plus Death Marianne Beate Kielland, mezzo soprano Sergej Osadchuk, piano. All these music titles are from the prestigious and highly respected 2L label.
Ola piano playing is charming, captivating and lyrical. DXD 24-bit/352.8kHz is the actually original source and the impressively recorded material played surprisingly well with Mini-i Pro. I've double checked and measured the size of this DAC in my mind and just smiled peacefully. Where have we come to? For this kind of sound, years ago we would be amazed how easily a few grand (or more) of hard-earned money only a handful of years ago. Let us not forget the nonexistence of a plethora of high-res files we enjoy today. DXD reproduction with Matrix Mini-i Pro DAC was fresh and a close match to the DSD side of audio things.
Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel), Ive rKleive (church organ) stereo FLAC at 24-bit/96kHz brought the Simon & Garfunkel legendary classic in the church organ interpretation. It was another vivid showcase of where digital audio is heading these days. If you have ever been within the church listening to the real pipes making their "presence," this recording gets you impressively close. With higher resolution and high-quality of recording equipment we're getting closer to the inherit ability of analog tape based reproduction. The feather-like sense of music and lifelike 3D aural presentation are the usually only heard during analog playback. Recently high-resolution audio pushes its boundaries closer to the analog way of doing things, or even transcend them in some cases. Mini-i Pro is for sure small, but loud messenger of this movement.
And With DSD...
Is DSD truly needed? Yes! With the latest DSD audio impact, you could say I've found my little place of digital heaven along with PCM audio side when used with Daniel Hertz Master Class. My mind is finally starting to be receptive of positive changes in high-end audio reproduction. DSD software seems to be reissued or coming out with a more and more releases. It is becoming a messy place and I'll do my altruistic part with creating the dedicated list of SACD/DSD titles that really stand out soon. I started my DSD part of the review by listening to the Kavi Alexander Hollow Bamboo on the Water Lilly Acoustic record label. Water Lilly is amongst my most beloved labels as it brings the music to often overlooked or non-commercialized genres in big way. The Matrix Audio Mini-i Pro vibrantly evoked the enigmatic role and glimpse of the traditional ragas plus spiritual pastimes of Krsna. The emotional impact was there as the music found its way towards me within my listening room.
Let me roll the ball back in time to the era and music that was passed down to me from my dear father. Some recordings and artists are timeless. The King is for sure one of them. Analogue Productions Stereo '57 (Essential Elvis Volume 2) reveals the energy of that time in such a unique and lifelike way. This is the album to have in both DSD and vinyl formats. Like with Analogue Productions releases of Nat King Cole, you can hear the actual happenings at the recoding studio. Man, did they knew how to play and sing! They also had that "magical" synergy of energy. This energy is where you forget about everything and allow yourself to be drawn into the music. I liked the spirit with which Mini-i Pro recreated those moments of past glory. Intimate and musical.
Joao Gilberto self-titled album might be a mixed feeling for some, yet for me it represents something very special and historically important. For me, it is uniquely intimate as I really dig the energy and flow of the bossa-nova. Along the Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto carries the same "guilt," if not even bigger portion of it, for creating one of the most emotional and sublime musical directions. Joao Gilberto in this particular DSD release evokes a hypnotic like atmosphere, that in its simplicity, is still complex. It reflects and collate with the minimalist repetitive music of Steve Reich. During the entrance of Joao Gilberto Joao Gilberto, one can slide into the atmospheric musical voyage to the sensible universe of southern hemisphere pinpointed at Brazil. The Matrix Audio Mini-i Pro embraced enough attributes in portraying the passion and flow of Joao without overthinking and reminding myself of the technicalities. That's quite a compliment for the device of this price of $550.
Summing It Up
Matrix Audio Mini-i Pro 24-bit/384kHz DSD DXD DAC & Headphone AmplifierWe certainly moved from quiet evolution to the actual digital audio revolution. Getting your hands on the digital "copies" of master tracks is without a doubt a wonderful luxury that must be seen and understood with the proper attitude. We've been tricked quite few times with so called digital high-resolution version' of our beloved albums. Major record labels too often just upsample their CD masters, but with some of the latest releases like Chad Kassem's Super HiREZ I'm nearly overly excited. DSD and high-resolution PCM audio files are connecting us closer to the music and brining the illusion of being there closer into our homes. The Matrix Mini-i Pro has left an impressive imprint on me as this featured-packed DAC in a sturdy aluminum chassis stands as both a great DAC and dedicated headphone amplifier that can easily drive most of my headphones.
Before summing it up let me put my attention to one more important integral part of Mini-i Pro DAC. A sneak peak under the chassis shows the Matrix elaborated dedication to the power supply. It takes almost one third of the innards! The IEC plug on the back panel opens up the power cable variety to tweak to your heart's content. Most of the units at this price range simply come with cheap outboard wall warts. We all know that as with power amplifiers and preamplifiers, a product's power supply can reflect on the music it reproduces. This is especially true with the DAC's power supply, as it is very important as with all other high-performance audio devices and its shows where funds and developing time went. The Matrix Mini-i Pro DAC represents one of the better values on the market and I can understand the strong following of the brand. It comes with the slick design, array of features and most importantly, at the right price. Recommended!