Review and Measurements of Element X by AudioScienceReview

2019-07-05 10:13Reviews
 This review originally published at AudioScienceReview.com, click HERE to view the original thread.

 

This is a review and detailed measurements of the Matrix Audio Element multi-function audio streamer, DAC, and headphone amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member who purchased it and had it direct shipped to me. As it turns out, the company also contacted me to send me the same unit so kudos to them for volunteering to have their product tested. The Element X cost US $2999.

The Element X leaves a positive impression as soon as you unbox it:

 

There are elegant strips on each side and the case overall fits well in the portfolio of any high-end audio company.

You have dual unbalanced headphone jacks to the left (or balanced pair?) and a single 4-pin for balanced out. The button with circle next to it lets you quickly select rear outputs, unbalanced headphone or both. The latter nicely light up with subtle white LEDs when enabled.

There is a nice high resolution display which as you see indicates MQA content being decoded and played internally from my Roon player.

A rotary control that is pushable and a menu switch complete the controls, sans the power button. You can configure the display to auto-turn off and the entire unit as well.

Here is the back panel:

 

We have our required XLR and RCA outs, dual coax and Toslink, IIS DAC input, USB, dual USB host ports and wired/wireless network. I connected the Ethernet cable and the unit ran flawlessly using that. I downloaded the Matrix Audio app for my Android phone. I was a bit dismayed that it asked permission for my location. What does it need the location for? Anyway, after that it scanned all the nodes on my subnet and reliably found the unit.

Once there, I could control the unit as well as using the supplied remote/front panel. Importantly this is how you update the firmware and it indeed, it proceed to do so. Alas, after upgrading it shut the unit down (or did it go to sleep?) and it did not power back up, leading to the app timing out with an error. Manually pushing the power button got things going again.

I tried to use the Wifi but did not succeed. It got its IP address alright but there was no way to enter my wifi password into it from the unit itself. Instructions say to use the APP which doesn't make sense because the unit is not on the network yet to be configurable this way. I tried adding Ethernet to it at the same time but it didn't get me there. So I gave up. I suggest better instructions as a minimum on how to do this.

EDIT: I was given a youtube video that shows the wifi configuration which got me going:

Note: make sure you let the Matrix Audio APP (MA) send you to wifi settings. Otherwise its wizard will sit there waiting for you to push that button. Also, initiating the wizard is done by hitting the "+" button on top right of the MA app. As I am typing this, music is reliably streaming over Wifi from Roon player.

Speaking of instructions, you get a bound, super high quality instruction manual which I appreciated as I went through the features of the unit.

Navigating the menus takes a bit of learning but since there is not a ton there, I got through it. One suggestion would be for it to remember the last place you were. Toggling headphone gain for example required cycling through all the settings again.

Finally, be sure to check the mains power switch under the unit. On this sample, it was set to 220. The unit still powers on that way but doesn't recognize the inputs. SInce it had powered on, I did not realize that the switch was in wrong setting. There must be dual power supplies here, one universal switching one and one linear. Suggest that firmware gets updated to detect this and tell the user to set the switch correctly. Or at least note it in the manual/online FAQ.

Overall, my impression was pretty positive on overall feel and operation of the unit prior going into the measurements.

DAC Audio Measurements

I suggest you sit down before you look at our usual dashboard view:

 

 

You are seeing what I am seeing? First DAC ever to break the 120 dB SINAD (signal over noise and distortion mark)!!! Distortion in the good channel is down a whopping 130 dB! Notice the perfect channel match. See the generated frequency of 1 kHz right on the money. Needless to say, the Element X comfortably takes the crown of the best DAC I have tested:

 

The unit has some headroom and if you max the output, you get another half a volt with SINAD "dropping" to 118 dB.

Notice the FFT noise floor down the weeds, almost falling off the chart. We can see the effect of that in exceptional dynamic range:

 

Spec is 130 dB but we can all forgive them for slightly lower performance. :) Likely they are subtracting the noise of the Audio Precision analyzer to get their number.

Surely there is something broken here that we can find. How about linearity?

 

Picture perfect! 20 bits of resolution without trying hard.

We have to expect good performance in our 32-tone test given the great SINAD and indeed we get that:

 

Intermodulation distortion is likewise excellent:

 

It is beating Topping DX3 Pro which is a very hard thing to do.

You can see that tiny raise in distortion at the limit which is why -1 dB gives slightly lower distortion still.

How about jitter? Surely there is some noise there from display, the networking subsystem, etc. Nope:

 

Once again noise floor is so low it is falling off the chart which normally would reveal anything problematic. But none is there. The few spikes on the left are at most -140 dB below our test signal at 12 kHz. We are talking 25 dB headroom over your hearing dynamic range.

Someone scrubbed the heck out of every noise and crosstalk inside the Element X.

THD+N versus frequency shows that the unit provides the same performance across the full audible range:

 

At this point, we are stuck with the mundane measurements like frequency response:

 

This is for the default filter (see below). With other filters you get the tiniest amount of ripple (we are talking sub 0.1 dB).

Here are all the filters and their in-band, transition and out of band response:

 

Ideally we see everything flat to 20 kHz and then fully attenuated by 22.05 kHz. Filters 5 and 7 give you that. The default filter 1 is not bad as it gives the flattest response but takes up to 24 kHz to provide full attenuation.

Network Audio Performance

The Element X is "RoonReady" which I was very pleased to see although there is a warning in Roon saying it is not certified. Using Roon, I played my standard 1 khz tone and got the same result as using USB shown before:

 

So we have bit perfect performance here just as well (sorry the FFT is not calibrated with respect to level).

Headphone Amplifier Measurements

Let's start with dynamic range test at full level:

 

Can't ask for more. Here it is at just 50 millivolts though for sensitive headphones:

 

Ah, that is not quite as excellent as the rest of the unit:

 

Output impedance is spec'ed at 1.5 ohm and my measurements essentially show the same:

 

Should not be a problem for just about every headphone.

Most important measurement here is the amount of power versus distortion. First 300 Ohm:

 

Other than low gain being a bit noisier than Topping DX3 Pro low gain, it cleans DX3 Pro's clock in output power. I usually like to see 100 milliwatts here and the Element X gets 280 milliwatts. That should give plenty of headroom to drive even higher impedance headphones.

Notice that even low gain has a lot of power. Conversely, there is not much penalty to using high-gain. In that mode, around +2 dB on volume control, you hear a relay and another gain stage clicks in. In other words, it is a clever multi-gain setting where in low volume you don't pay much penalty for noise.

Comparing to Massdrop THX AAA 789 in unbalanced mode, we get:

 

We actually have almost twice as much power available! Signal to noise ratio though is a bit worse than THX.

Switching to 33 ohm load to emphasize current delivery, we get:

 

Once again, we have tons of power to the tune of 1.2 watts.

Balanced Headphone Amplifier Measurements

Switching in my 50 ohm balanced load, we get this as compared to Massdrop THX AAA 789:

 

We have more than 1.8 watts of power now. We do fall short of catching up to THX AAA 789 though on noise, distortion and max power. What is there though should be ample for just about any headphone there.

Subjective Listening Tests

I connected to Sennheiser HD-650 headphones to the Element X and started listening to my critical playlist for headphone amplifiers. Ah, this was a sublime experience. I had infinite power and could easily have my ear lobes resonate with the music if

I wanted. :D Resolution, fine detail, etc. was as good as you could get, limited just by the content itself. It was so good that I sat there going through my audiophile playlist, just enjoying the music.

I then fired up Roon and told it to play the Tidal Jazz playlist. It was fun to see the MQA indicator light up on the DAC. I did a quick test of having Roon decode MQA versus the Element X and was surprised that the latter had a bit more highs and different tonality. It is a difficult test because you have a 5 second or so switchover time in Roon. I should capture the output both ways and compare.

Conclusions

I was full of excitement when I finished the DAC testing last night. It is not everyday that a piece of audio equipment clears such important bencharms. No question about it: the Matrix Audio Element X is superbly engineered. According to the company they use an Audio Precision analyzer to verify their performance so no wonder no stone was left unturned as far as optimizing its performance.

The headphone amplifier is also wonderful. It is certainly better than my everyday combo unit, the Topping DX3 Pro and by a mile as far as available power.

The all-in-one functionality is great to have in this integrated fashion. Push your audio streams to it with your PC or phone anywhere. No need to build a media server and putting it next to the DAC.

You get pride of ownership in the industrial design and fit and finish.

The company principal is active on this forum and willing to have their gear measured which is a huge plus in my book.

So it comes down to the US $3,000 price tag. Not everyone can afford this of course. But provides aspiration to save up and purchase it. For those who can purchase it now, you can buy it and be done with your digital to analog pipeline. You will have the comfort of knowing that you have a state-of-the-art DAC, streamer and headphone amplifier that puts countless high-end products to shame.

I am going to give my highest recommendation for Matrix Audio Element X. Congratulations and thanks for putting engineering and quality first.