Matrix Audio Element X2 Network-Attached DAC Page 2

Depending on the digital input, the Element X2 can play file formats up to 768kHz/32-bit and DSD512/22.4MHz, and it also has MQA decoding and the ability to function as a Roon endpoint, as well as supporting Spotify and Tidal streaming and vTuner Internet radio. All of this is controlled smoothly by the MA Remote app, as is the setup of the Element X2's digital settings, which extend to the configuration of the I2S port and USB-B input, as well as settings for the DAC section, including switchable jitter elimination, dither and DPLL bandwidth.

PM has his own observations on these settings, and the digital filters selectable from the remote, but I concur with him that the asynchronous setting is preferable when using the USB-B input as the sound is simply messier when you allow the external digital device control of the clocking. The app also governs the analogue section, including switching between fixed and variable outputs and adjusting the gain on the headphone sockets, as well as some functional niceties like customising a couple of buttons on the remote handset to suit your own requirements.

sqnote Open Invitation
With so much connectivity, the Element X2 should cater for just about every need… and it does. I started listening by using it as a big headphone amp, where it proved itself adept with both balanced and unbalanced designs, and in particular sounded remarkably open and punchy when used with the 'normal' single-ended connection rather than with the 4.4mm balanced Pentaconn output. And that wasn't just the result of using different 'phones: with my long-serving OPPO PM-1s [HFN Jul '14], which allow the user to switch between the two modes of operation, unbalanced working was definitely peppier and more detailed with recordings such as the Oddgeir Berg Trio's While We Wait For A Brand New Day [Ozella LC 10268].


Digital ins include wired/wireless Ethernet, HDMI ARC, and I2S on HDMI (up to 768kHz PCM, DSD256 as DoP and DSD1024 natively), USB-B (also 768kHz PCM and DSD256 as DoP), 2x optical/coax S/PDIF and external files via USB-C. Analogue outs (fixed or variable) are offered on RCAs and balanced XLRs


Having heard this group the night before one of my listening sessions, where the sound was plagued with technical problems and dominated by the powerhouse drumming of Lars Berntsen, I was pleased to enjoy a much more harmonious balance through the Element X2 fed into my Naim/PMC system. From Berg's precise pianism to the bass and drums, the music was rendered with precision, space and a real swing, which is just as it should be. And it retains that control and definition even with the high-impact density of The Chemical Brothers' 'Block Rockin' Beats', opening the 1997 Dig Your Own Hole album [Virgin download], all that claimed purity of signal paths being deployed to keep that tight bassline motoring against the kitchen sink of samples and effects being piled on above it. It's an invigorating, hard-hitting sound, and really rather magnificent.

Something Special
On a totally different level is the luminous choral and orchestral sound on the 2L label's Tuvayhun release [in DSD64 from 2L-171-SABD]. Whether streamed from my MacBook Air or over the network from my NAS storage, the shifting soundscape of Kim André Arnesen's music – sometimes hushed and reflective, sometimes rhythm-driven, as in 'Forty Days And Forty Nights', with its sub-Saharan feel – was conveyed beautifully, with the choir explicitly ethereal and the playing of the TrondheimSolistene (Trondheim Soloists) as captivating as ever. This is a fine example of musical forces and production team – led by 2L's Morten Lindberg – working as one with an easy familiarity to produce something that's very special, all of which the Element X2 makes very clear indeed.

However, you don't need state-of-the-art hi-res recordings to hear the X2 doing its stuff. In practice it was just as persuasive with Radio 3 live Proms relays as it was with the vivacious one-mic DXD recording, released in DSD512, of Reinier Voet & Pigalle44's Ballade Pour La Nuit [Sound Liaison SL1035A]. This just leaps from the speakers with superb presence, from the real impression of musicians before you to the sense of the invited audience showing its appreciation in the Hilversum studio. I'm a big fan of jazz played in small local venues, and this is just the immediacy the Element X2 delivers with this recording.


The Element X (2) now includes a physical handset in addition to the MA Remote app (for iPhone, iPad and Android), offering input selection, volume, mute and access to the seven LPCM digital filters

If all this sounds rather familiar from my Element X review back in January last year, then so be it. As I mentioned, the fundamentals of the audio design haven't changed in this new 'Mk2' model, and while the internal tidying up does seem to give the newcomer just a little more clarity and bite to the sound, not to mention a punchier bass, most of the effort has gone into the user interface and the connectivity. But then there's a real sense of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it – just give it a dust down and bit of buffing' about the Element X2. Nothing wrong with that, and the work done here makes an excellent-sounding product that little bit more enjoyable to use.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Yes, the elephant in the room is the substantial price-rise as Matrix Audio's Element X2 now costs almost 60% more than the original, reviewed less than two years back. But in return, it's just as compelling a listen, and much more enjoyable to use, thanks to this latest Element's new user interface. Factor in the huge flexibility here, and you'll find it does everything you want, and then a whole lot more.

Matrix Electronic Technology Co. Ltd
Supplied by: Signature Audio Systems, UK
07738 007776