Matrix Audio is a Chinese-based company who has quietly been making waves in the audiophile market for the past few years. The company provides an assortment of audio equipment ranging from the entry level Matrix Rip ($169.95 USD) to the top of the line X-Sabre DAC ($1099.95 USD. One of their mid-tier offerings is the Mini-I Pro. The Mini-i Pro ($519.95 USD) is a compact Amp/DAC combo (measuring 6.61″ x 7.87″ x 1.81″ and weighing roughly 2 lbs). Because of its compact size and minimalist (read= industrial) look, it is an appealing option for the computer audiophile seeking a complete desktop solution where space conservation is necessary.
While designing the Mini-i Pro, Matrix Audio took the “less-is-more” approach and the result is a simple look and feel. The body of the Mini-I Pro is constructed from a thick aluminium alloy and when examining the Mini-i Pro, the consumer will notice a unit pristinely assembled and lacking unsightly gaps (all lines are crisp and clean). All screws are mounted flush, so as not to distract the eye, and are easily accessible if you need to access them. The Mini-I Pro competes amongst other companies known for stellar product construction, such as iFi Audio and Schiit Audio, in terms of overall aesthetics and build quality.
The front of the unit contains a large OLED display. On the left of the display is the headphone out and to the right is a nice beefy knob. Volume is controlled with the knob and to navigate the units OS options (input selection, sample rate, et cetera) simply click the knob inwards. If you wish to forgo using the knob, you can also choose your input settings and control the volume via remote (included with the unit).
Located on the back you will find a wide variety of input/output options to experiment with. The Mini-i Pro supports USB, optical, Toslink, and AES/EBU input. It also supports analog balanced output of XLR, as well as unbalanced RCA. Under the hood, the Mini-i Pro uses an ESS Sabre 9016 DAC along with a XMOS asynchronous USB interface to ensure ultra-low jitter and provided support for DSD/DXD up to 24 Bit/384kHz PCM.
Yet, the Mini-i Pro isn’t just another pretty face. It has won me over as a wonderful sounding mid-tier Amp/DAC combo.
Clarity, precision, and finesse are the hallmarks of the Mini. All frequencies are heard clearly, while instruments are placed with excellent pinpoint accuracy within the soundstage. Generally speaking, the highs to the lower mids are presented in a rather linear fashion, while the lower end provides a wee bit of extra emphasis, resulting in some pleasant kick-you-in-the-pants bottom end.
The highs coming out of the Mini-i Pro are well extended, controlled, detailed, and above all, smooth. There is sparkly, but for the avid treble-head the Mini might sound a tad lacking. Personally, I rather liked how Matrix Audio chose to voice the highs. The highs sound natural and without even a hint of the tinniness other gear I have run across suffers from. Many other companies have chosen to tune their products on the brighter side, thereby attaining more micro detail throughout the other frequencies. It’s a trick that has worked to impress the general masses. The drawback is that the music tends to sound quite unnatural at times – which is God awful to these ears. Not so with the Mini.
For me, the mid frequencies are where the heart of the music lives and the Mini never disappoints here. Because of the near pinpoint clarity and excellent soundstage, the instrument presentation excels above the Mini’s price point. Transition from the high to mid-highs is smooth and sibilance control is quite good. Vocals are slightly pulled forward, but never overpowering. End result: All instruments are wonderfully represented, with excellent detail retrieval, from mid-highs to lower-mids.
The bass is slightly overly emphasized, yet only a hair. Even so, the Mini doesn’t disappoint in the bottom end and bass control is wonderful. The lower frequencies extend deep, think a three-hit bass, not a two-hit bass, with a very slight mid-bass emphasis giving the lows a pleasing kick. The most impressive aspect of the Mini’s low-end is its control. The bass can hit quite hard, even rumble and boom, without bleeding into the lower mids, thereby never decreasing the clarity of the midrange.
I’m highly impressed with the Mini-i Pro. For the consumer looking for a space-saving all-in-one desktop solution with an assortment of inputs/outputs and a rich feature set such as DSD/DXD 24 bit support should look no further then the Matrix Audio Mini-i Pro. Considering the price, the features, and the excellent mid-tier sonics, the Mini-i Pro is practically a steal.