|This review originally published at soundperfectionreviews.com, click HERE to view the original article.|
Firstly I would like to thank Matrix Audio, and Arthur from Matrix USA for sending my this sample.
*disclaimer: This sample was provided for the purpose of writing a review, no incentive was given to write a favourable review. All opinions expressed are my own subjective findings
Matrix Element M > HiFiMan HE-500 / HE6se
Sony TV / Marantz CD-52 / MA App (USB storage) / Bubble UPnP playing Qobuz > Matrix Element M > Keces E40 > QED XT25 > B&W 606
Packaging, Build Quality and Accessories:
The Element M comes in a big box that is matte black and very sleek. The unit is packed tightly in foam to reduce shipping vibrations/shock and it is also covered with a fabric bag. The box and packaging is really high quality and you really feel like you are unboxing a very high quality piece of kit, which it is.
Build quality wise the Element M is flawless, I cannot find a single flaw on it. The outer casing is CNC machined aluminium that is thick and give the Element M a sense of solidity. It feels substantial in weight, the sides have heat sinks and all the connections are very solid. The knob and buttons on the front are aluminium and everything has been well thought out. I am really impressed by the finish of the Element M, gone is the more industrial design of previous Matrix models and now you have a very modern and sleek looking device that exudes quality when you see it.
Accessory wise you get a standard power cable, standard USB cable, remote and the wifi antennas. You also get a quick setup guide and manual to help get you started. Overall everything you need to get set up is included.
The Element M is the newest model in the Element family and balances price/performance and functionality when compared to the other models. The Element M does not have as many inputs as the Element X, nor does it have the same DAC chip. It doesn't have an integrated amplifier like the Element P, instead it uses a slightly lower end DAC chip (ESS9028PRO) and has the perfect feature set for mid-range active speakers and headphone users.
The Element M is a DAC, streamer and player with a powerful headphone amplifier too.
First off you need to setup the network connection if you want to use the remote on the app along with the MA player for attached storage / NAS files. You can either plug in an ethernet cable and you're done, or you can attach the WiFi antenna and set it up wirelessly. The wireless setup needs to be done via the App and is quite a simple process, make sure to follow all the instructions of the tutorial on the app and you won't have any issues. Once setup you can change all the settings from the app, along with using it as a remote and accessing files for playback that are stored on attached storage or a NAS drive.
You can attach a hard drive or insert a microSD into the Element M to playback local files which show up on the app. You can set it up to locate files on a NAS that is on the same network too. You can stream music to it via DLNA (Bubble UPnP or similar app for android) and also AirPlay. It is rumoured that a future firmware update will bring chromecast support too, which would be great. The Element M is MQA capable
The Element M has 1 x optical input, 1 x coaxial input, 1 x USB input and 1 x IIS LVDS input. I really wish all these all-in-one devices included at least 1 analogue input though. The Element M works as a pre-amp and it would be nice to not have to have an external analogue pre-amp if you wanted use this along with an analogue source connected to a power amp for example. There is 1 pair of RCA outputs, 1 pair of balanced XLR outputs on the back and a 3-pin XLR/6.3mm combo headphone output on the front. The analogue outputs can be set as fixed (line-out) or variable so you can use the Element M as a pre-amp.
The included remote allows you to change the inputs, digital filter, volume up/down/mute and also to put the Element M into standby. You can also change all of these via the mobile app. The mobile app lets you go into the other settings too (dimmer/dither/jitter reduction/PCM filter/line-out mode/DSD filters/DPLL Bandwidth/IIS-LVDS Port Definition/Auto Sleep/USB Audio Mode/User Defined Button Settings).
I left the PCM filter on the default MOD1, which is fast roll-off, minimum phase, Matrix include a graph in the manual which shows the differences between the filters. All specs they have are measured using MOD1.
So I have mainly been using the Element M in my Hifi setup as a DAC/Streamer/Player and have not used the pre-amp function as it is running into an integrated amplifier. I will honestly say that this is the most resolving and detailed DAC that has been integrated into my system so far. However is is also one of the most natural and effortless sounding bits of gear I have had, it just removes itself from the system and sounds very pure and refined.
I run my TV through the optical input and my Marantz CD player through the coaxial, I have run my Pixel 3a phone through the USB input. I have a 1tb hard drive connected which has my music library on it, I stream Qobuz through the BubbleUPnP app.
Streaming has been super stable for me and I have never had any issues with the sound quality or the connection. There is impressive detail retrieval but what is most impressive is the depth of the sound coming from the Element M. Everything is very coherent yet well defined and separated within a wide and deep soundstage. Nothing every sounds out of place and the music has a certain fluidity to it without sounding congested or smoothed over.
Playing files from the hard drive is super simple and I have found myself not needing to use my CD player anymore as I just rip the files to FLAC and put them on the hard drive. I won't go in to depth as to what input sounds best, but I have found that playing files from external storage is both convenient yet has subjectively the best sound quality (ever so slightly more defined sound stage and also more effortless) when compared to USB input. The optical and coaxial inputs are both excellent, with no noticeable dip in sound quality over external storage.
Plugging in my HE-500's and you are transported into a world of aural bliss, the Element M powers them with ease and refinement. The Element M is an effortless and natural sound device, it has a pleasant warmth yet never falls behind when it comes to transients and slam. It is easy to listen to, there are other DAC/Amps that might sound more revealing but a lot border on the analytical side of things. The Element M can get good volume from the HE6se however the headphone amp is just a tiny bit under powered for them, this is to be expected though as they are one of the hardest headphones to drive.
The Element M has all the detail and transparency I could want yet it renders it in a way that makes you lose yourself in the music, with a fluidity that more reference sounds amps miss out on. Here the sound is emotional and detailed, but never harsh. Sound staging is simply stunning creating a coherent yet wide image around your head. I am very impressed by the internal headphone amp of the Element M, it works wonders with the built in DAC section, and has enough power to easily drive most headphones.
The Element M packs a lot of functionality into one small unit, yet it doesn't seem like Matrix have held back on any part of it. The build quality is sublime, the sound quality oozes effortlessness and has an open and airy sound with incredible refinement. For the price it really does offer a lot, and Matrix Audio have really thought about the design and usability which is great. Yes some separate systems might offer a little bit more detail here and there, or offer slightly better sound quality, but you would have to pay a lot more to get this level of performance from separates in my opinion.
Sound Perfection Rating: 10/10 (This is a solid device that deserves top marks for sound, looks and usability)