Matrix X-Sabre digital processor

06.05.2015..
Matrix X-Sabre
Matrix X-Sabre

Made in China! This is the first thing I saw on the small package when I unwrapped the Matrix X-Sabre converter…

Well, you know, we all have some prejudices against the Chinese products. During the years, though, I have learned that if they do not aim to replicate the western low cost productions, the Chines realizations can be very interesting. And between the interesting things the X-Sabre by Matrix finds its place.

 

The D/A converter can obtain a 32 bit/348 kHz resolution and supports native DSD (Direct-Stream Digital) and DXD (Digital eXtreme Definition) files. I want to add that few brands in this market range can do better.

 

Unfortunately, I cannot tell you more about the company even if I have sent them many emails.

From their website and from the Italian importer I have known that the company was founded in 2006 and since then, it has been dealing with DACs and headphone amps. By now the X-Sabre is their top product sold in Italy at 1,500.00 euro.

 

Honestly, I found the price a little high but the importer told me that the street price was lower, let’s say around 1,200.00 euro plus three years of guarantee and the possibility of exchanging our secondhand gears.

 

Once unpacked, the cabinet shows up as a one CNC machined aluminium piece. It is solid, with a pleasant line and easy to place thanks to its compact size. It seems a toy, but when you lift it up you can weigh its 3,6 kilos.

 

Matrix X-Sabre

All the required info are on the front side, although the LED lights are so small that from the distance it is hard to see them. If you consider the average age of the audiophiles…

 

On the back panel, we find the following inputs: digital, coaxial, AES/EBU and USB. Unfortunately, the TOSLINK input is missing so check your player if you want to buy it. It is possible to use at the same time the two analogue outputs, RCA and XLR. By the way, since the X-Sabre comes out a bit high, it can have some interface problems, so check the synergy with your system.

 

I open the DAC. I suggest you to let it go and have a look at the photos that ReMusic proposes! A curiosity: the internal milling is not refined as the external milling but I do not see that as a problem.

Basically, inside there are three stages:

the front side with its LED lights and knobs, the supply stage with the Noratel toroidal transformer that is well isolated by a series of four 220 μF capacitors and two 4400 μF capacitors. Last is the regular DAC: the Ess Sabre Es9018s chip.

 

In brief, we find four DACs per channel and the famous Xmos interface for the USB port.

The USB input reaches 384 kHz, reads the DSD files and supports, through some drives provided with the DAC on a disc, Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8.

Everything works at the first attempt. For the Macs, all is plug and play. Just connect and go.

 

I have to say that I was expecting something different from the output stage. The solution, in fact, is experienced although cheap, with six LME 47910 opamps.

Before judging, listen to it. Sometimes the simplicity pays off and here it performs very well.

 

The X-Sabre supports DSD and DXD files. A DSD, or Direct Stream Digital file, is patented by Philips and Sony. A relative of the SACD. No doubt about the sound support of this technology. The outcome is a sound rich of harmonic contour, which does not run after the extreme hyperdetail and does not suffer the fake sensation sometimes typical of the digital formats. The only problem is that, although this technology is not new, there are few titles in this format. Moreover, the conversion of the DSD files comes from a master whose recording is questionable. That makes such conversion useless.

What I mean is that, if the DAC of your dreams does not read the DSD files, that is not a problem. I suggest you to read the interview that ReMusic did to Eng. Manunta of the M2Tech.

 

Sound

Honestly, I have tested DACs with a better low range, DACs with a more pleasant mid range, DACs with a more refined high range. Honestly, it is hard that DACs in this price range can do all these things in a proper way.

Balance. This is Matrix’s password. Better, a sumptuous balance. A product that can offer a coherent sonority. That can be Matrix’s purpose. You will never hail at a miracle for just one element but the uniformity of the sound playback will involve you and let you enjoy your favorite artists.

 

I start the listening session with my audio PC: Windows 7 software, Emu 1212m driver, Foobar 2000 media player. This is the first configuration plus a coaxial cable. The first track is Sara by Fleetwood Mac.

The first thing I notice is the great soundstage and some warmth on the mid-high range. Maybe it adds something that does not exist in the reality but, at the same time, it is something never exaggerate and gives a sensation of pleasure. I mean, a warmth sound but not connotative.

 

Now the big orchestras, like the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. There is a great involvement, the dynamics is good, mostly the micro-dynamics. There is a good separation of the instruments and a great scenic recreation with a wider stage and the right proportions of the instruments.

This DAC has a very good ability in reproducing the pianissimo without making lose anything of the sound message.

The timbric is good and each instrument is easily recognizable.

 

Also the tonality is good, although the high range is sometimes a bit forced and in evidence. But this is a sensation that all the digital device transmit, especially in this price level. I do not think that it depends from the run-in, but after a couple of hours the sensation seems to fade, or are my ears that get accustom to the X-Sabre.

The midrange is fluid with a hint of warmth that I do not dislike.

The low range is very controlled. You will not hail at a miracle, but as far as it goes, is very coherent.

 

Second setup

Audio PC with Foobar 2000 alternated to Jpaly via USB.

I think that with this setup I have reached the optimum.

Transparency, details and harmonic contour.

With the same tracks I listened before, I realize that to get the best from the X-Sabre, you need to use the USB input.

Everything is more clear, more focused and there are more details.

 

I have also tried to use an USB interface like the hiFace by M2Tech. Some friends hailed at a miracle, others asked to come back to the previous setup.

 

My opinion? If the DAC has a good USB input why add other elements? Let’s enjoy our DAC in order to avoid a sound without any realism, that in the beginning can be great, but then it becomes tiring.

 

I want to say something about Jplay. Despite all the negative comments by many people, I find that it has a great synergy with the audio chain. The sound is more airy and the low range is more extended and controlled. So I suggest you to try the free demo version.

 

Last setup with His Majesty CeC TL 51 used as transport.

The adjective I would use is different.

The music is different, very pleasant. Maybe there is something less in terms of dynamics and detail, but there is more naturalness.

 

Would I purchase the Matrix X-Sabre? Yes, I would. In a world where in three years a DAC becomes obsolete, the Matrix X-Sabre offers great performances at a good price, to get something more we will have to spend more.

 

I do not like very much the manufacture of the output stage but, considering the performances, I cannot complain.

The general balance in the sound playback is very good. The manufacture is very good too. The price is honest. It would be great making a comparison with its direct rival the Yulong DA 8.

 

SCHEME SUMMARY

Dynamics: on top. Microdynamics: the right details also in the pianissimo and gives back all the components of the musical message. Macrodynamics: from pianissimo to fortissimo without hesitation, with the right contrast.

Image: good. The listener can clearly distinguish the instruments and then put them in the right position with the right proportions. Wide and three-dimensional stage.

Timbric: good. The instruments are easily detachable one from the other.

Price/quality ratio: excellent. All you need. DSD, DXD media player, 32bit/384kHz resolution, USB input, unfortunately no optical input. Honestly to have better results you have to spend more money.

 

 

Official technical specifications:

 

Input

Asynchronous data transfer mode
DSD×64 (2.8224MHz) / DSD×128 (5.6448MHz)
Sample rates supported USB: 16-32Bit at 44.1kHz/48kHz/88.2kHz/96kHz/176.4kHz/192kHz/352.8kHz/384kHz
Sample rates supported Coax/AES-EBU: 16-24Bit at 44.1kHz/48kHz/88.2kHz/96kHz/176.4kHz/192kHz
Low latency ASIO/KS drivers supported
Drivers available for: Windows XP/ Windows Vista/ Windows 7/ Windows 8 - 8.1
Natively supported by: Apple Mac OSX & Most Linux Distro's

 

Output

RCA Output Level: 2.2Vrms at 0dBFS
XLR Output Level: 4.4Vrms at 0dBFS (XLR Interface: 1=ground 2=hot 3=cold)
Frequency Response: 20Hz~20kHz +/-0.1dB

SNR: 124dB 0dBFS Unweighted
127dB 0dBFS A-weighted

THD+N: 0.0003% at1kHz 0dBFS
0.0003% at1kHz -1dBFS
0.0003% at1kHz -3dBFS

Channel Separation: -145dB at20Hz, -143dB at1kHz, -136dB at20kHz

 

AC: 120 volts 60Hz / 230 volts 50Hz - 10 watts (A voltage switch is located on the bottom of the unit)

Weight: 8lb / 3.6kg
Dimensions: 8.07x10.23x1.89" / 205×260×48mm

Included accessories: Power cable & Driver CD

 

Official Italian dealer: to Il Tempio Esoterico website

Official current price in Italy: 1,500.00 EUR

Associated equipment: to Francesco Taddei’s system

 

 

 

 
by Francesco Taddei
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