Headfonia Review: MATRIX QUATTRO II

2017-06-22 14:59

I was actually a little apprehensive about the Matrix Quattro II review. It’s not that I was worried about the quality of the product. I have reviewed enough Matrix gear by now to feel confident that it would be a solid product. I wasn’t worried that I couldn’t get a review sample or anything like that. No, it was the fact that my last two reviews of Matrix gear haven’t been too popular. Could it be that there isn’t the heat around the Matrix brand like there are some others? Maybe. Could it be that my skill with the written word isn’t what it was in my college days? Might be that as well. Whatever the reason, Matrix makes some darn good stuff, and I hate to see them not getting the notice they deserve. Of course, I can never resist playing with new toys, so here comes the Matrix Quattro II.

“QUATTRO Ⅱ is a new generation of multi-function DAC. It uses the ES9018S top level D/A chip, XMOS U Series Asynchronous USB interface, LME49600 ultralow distortion headphone AMP and LME49720 ultralow distortion opamp, support up to 32Bit/384kHz PCM and 1bit/DSD256 signal playback. The well-developed upgradeable digital processing platform, the new design dynamic display, full port DSD supported, with a built-in preamplifier give it better sound performance and makes it easier to use.”

The original Quattro series consisted of a DAC/AMP and a standalone amp (both unheard by me). The Quattro II series is just a DAC/amp (and my Matrix guy knows of no plans to add anything else to the line). One thing both of the original amp and DAC/amp had that the new model does not is the ability to drive headphones in a balanced configuration via a cable that terminates into 2 ¼ inch plugs. I personally don’t feel that is any great loss. On the rear of the Quattro II, you have a USB input, two optical inputs, two coaxial inputs, an AES/EBU input, and both balanced and unbalanced RCA outputs. Yes, you read that right. This only has one AES input! I mean, seriously! What kind of bullshit is that? That HUGE oversight aside, the Quattro II can take input from six different units at the same time. The only thing on back that might be a loss from the original Quattro DAC/amp are the rca inputs, which would be nice if you wanted to use this as a standalone amp (which I wouldn’t), a preamp for another DAC (which I wouldn’t), or you are routing something else through the Quattro just to make your setup less tangled (that I could see myself doing). Again, I don’t think this is a huge loss.

 

Visually, the Quattro II has seen a redesign in the same manner as the newer Matrix M-Stage models. They seem to be unofficially combining the M-Stage and Quattro lines, since, along with not putting out a Quattro amp, there aren’t any plans to develop and release a new M-Stage DAC, so it makes sense that they would make these two look like siblings. It is here, however, that I have my biggest complaint against the Quattro II. I think it looks… kind of fugly. It has a rather bland, utilitarian look. This aesthetic fit the M-Stage better. Also, despite the similar look, the short, wide Quattro II doesn’t stack well with the long, narrow M-Stage. For something that retails for up to $900, I would have liked something a little spiffier looking. I think the cheaper Matrix Mini-I models look better, per instance. However, like all of the Matrix products I have gotten my hands on, the Quattro II is very well built. Every part of it, from the RCA connectors, and the volume knob, to the aluminum casing feels sturdy and solid, like a piece of sound equipment made to last.

Whatever qualms I might have about the look of the unit, are dwarfed by a quick check of the features packed into this unit. In a way, it is less an update of the original Quattro than a combination of the design of the Mini-I with the higher end DAC chip of the Matrix flagship X-Sabre. For someone who will be using this as an audio center for a lot of different sources, the nicest feature on here might be the auto-detect. If you have six different sources plugged into the Quattro, it will automatically select the input that is receiving a signal, eliminating the need to futz with the controls at. For those whom prefer the futzing, you can also select the input manually. Through the on-screen menus, you can select whether you want your outputs to be a preamp out or a true line out. You can opt to add up to 10db of gain to the preamp out, if you so choose. There is an auto sleep feature, a fast or slow roll off switch for PCM signals (my ears didn’t detect a big difference), the works. To access the menu, you simply depress the volume knob and then turn on the unit.

Now, I want to talk about a feature of the Quattro II that some people may not be too fond of, but that I love (since it benefits people like me). If you go to the Matrix website, you will notice the price listed as $899.95. If you go down to the available options pulldown menu, you can select whether or not you want the ability to decode DSD. If you do, the cost is $899.95. Should you not care about the DSD format, you can knock the price of the unit down to $749.95. Obviously, not being a DSD man myself, I love this as that is a pretty nice chunk of changed I just knocked off the cost. Also nice, since this is done completely at the software level, should I someday need that DSD capability, I can download the upgrade, and there I would be. The people who are big into DSD might be crying foul right now. And on one condition, I might even see their point. That condition is whether or not it can hold its own as a $900 DAC.

Fortunately, the Quattro II more than holds up. Man, I am getting tired of describing what is, essentially, a neutral sound signature. The sound the Quattro II offers is very linear from bottom to top. I don’t notice any spikes or deficiencies anywhere. Also, banish from your minds the thought that the Sabre chips are analytical and not musical, because that is most certainly not the case here. I think the best way to talk about sound here would be by comparison.

First, with the Mini-I Pro. The sound here is pretty similar to the Pro with three small exceptions: fine detail is a little better, the highs are a touch smoother, and the bass has just a bit more body and weight. That may not sound like much, but it makes quite a difference, especially that extra kick in the bass. That is the one thing I really felt missing from the Pro. I can say with all certainty that this is a nice step up. I should also add that the Mini-I Pro I reviewed is not the 2015 model, so I can’t say what changes in sound occurred with the newer Pro.

Of course, if I am going to do any comparisons at this level, the opponent has to be the Resonessence Labs Concero HD. When comparing the Quattro to the HD, which share a similar balance that doesn’t give favor to any particular frequency; it becomes obvious quite quickly that there presentations of the sound go in two different directions. The Quattro here has a wider soundstage, and smoother, more laid back and spacious sound. Of course, everything is laid back compared to the HD, so don’t take that to mean the Quattro is lethargic in any way. In fact, you could argue that the Quattro has a more natural sound compared to the highly caffeinated Concero HD. There are two places where I find the Quattro to give up ground to the HD: depth and micro detail. The HD offers the image better depth than the Quattro, but not by a great margin. With the added width, I still feel the Quattro has a slightly bigger soundstage. As for the detail, that ability to pull out the little details in the music is my favorite thing about the HD, and the Quattro just isn’t quite up to that level. I don’t find it lacking in any way, it just doesn’t have the same strength. This is a pretty close fight between the two with both having the strengths. I have a feeling that, unless they find their system feeling a bit slow, people might prefer the slightly more laidback Quattro II. Let in not be said that Matrix doesn’t know how to make good sounding gear. If you have the money and the desire, the Quattro II justifies its $749 cost.

So, let’s look at the built-in amp. Since the DAC justifies the cost, the amp should be looked at as a bonus, and that’s where it stands. It is a fine sounding amp, but nothing really special. It is clean, and clear, but using the HE-400i as the test, the bass lost some tightness and control, and the highs lost a bit of sparkle compared to the V100 or M-Stage 3. I would say it serves its purpose fine as an amp to use in a pinch, or afford a better one. The M-Stage is still the best amp Matrix has to offer, but no shame in that!

I have really enjoyed my time (and music) with the Matrix Quattro II. I am heartbroken that the sun will soon set on my time with the Quattro II. It offers a strong showing in build, features and, most importantly, sound. A slightly ugly look doesn’t diminish the Quattro II one bit. If you are in the market for a DAC in this price range, don’t let a lack of flash or this reviews lack of rhetorical prowess stop you from giving this a serious listen.