Matrix Audio X-Sabre 3 Network-Attached DAC Page 2

At the heart of the X-Sabre 3 is a new processor, a quad-core 1.2GHz NXP i.MX 6 Cortex-A9 to be precise, which handles all the extra demands of the new model's streaming capability. The display on the front is also new - a high-resolution LCD device and, while tiny, it can actually show album art when streaming, 'aligning with current technological demands from a user's perspective', as Matrix Audio puts it. Otherwise, while it shows set up and operational information, you're likely to find the well-designed in-house MA Remote app, available for Android and iOS, a rather more comfortable experience.

sqnote Welcome To The Matrix
The digital-to-analogue conversion here is in the hands of the ubiquitous ES9038Pro DAC with a Crystek CCHD-950 clock that, via both a front-panel touch-button or remote control, allows the DAC to work in asynchronous or synchronous modes. The former, asynchronous upsampling, mode is definitely preferable on sonic grounds.

The X-Sabre 3 also offers a range of user-selectable digital filters, using a key with a little 'slider' symbol. However, as PM notes in his boxout, Matrix Audio has rather got its wires crossed when labelling the various settings, and after some time playing with them, referring to his guidance notes to discover what I was actually getting, and not finding any consistent preference between them, I finally settled on the Apodising filter - I think! - for the rest of my listening.


AES/EBU and optical/coaxial S/PDIF inputs support 192kHz/24-bit LPCM and DSD64 while the HDMI (I2S) and USB ports handle up to 768kHz/32-bit LPCM and DSD512 (native mode). Fixed/variable line outputs are offered on RCA and XLRs

Even with the trippyhippy live bonkersness of Gong's Pulsing Signals album [Kscope download; n/a cat. no.], it was clear that the X-Sabre 3 sounded best either streaming directly or using my Mac mini computer as the source, connected via USB and with the DAC running in asynchronous mode. Switching to synchronous working brought (even more) confusion to the somewhat chaotic sound, a trait also much in evidence when clearer, cleaner recordings were loaded up.

The asynchronous mode yields better clarity and dimensionality across the frequency range if you use the X-Sabre 3 as a 'computer DAC' or just streaming to it, either using UPnP/DLNA from network storage, or letting Roon do the job.

Deep Breath
And the X-Sabre 3's sound is quite capable of being breathtaking, as it is with the intense focus of Trío Arriaga's Elegie set of Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich [Eudora EUDDR2201; DSD 256]. Listening to this remarkable ensemble in the format of the original recording, there's glorious presence in the wonderfully resolved instrumental timbres, not to mention a fine sense of the interplay between the three musicians, combining fluidity and real drama.

You really don't have to go for big 'warhorse' recordings to hear what this DAC can do, and that's as true with the simplicity of pianist Espen Eriksen and trumpeter Gunnar Halle's Sangboka [Unit Records 5301; 96kHz/24-bit].

Eriksen's piano has superb weight and real percussive impact here, while Halle's instrument has an intimate breathiness whether playing close-up before Eriksen's rhythmic basslines, sliding back into an ethereal presence while the pianist solos, or when wreathed in electronic 'voices'.

That's not to say the X-Sabre 3 is all about making the most of delicate, close-miked recordings. With the Swedish Chamber Orch/Thomas Dausgaard cycle of Brahms symphonies [BIS 1756/2253/2319/2383] there's no shortage of weight and drama right from the opening of the First, while the insight into the fine detail of these 'small scale' performances is remarkable, the X-Sabre 3 delivering a well-resolved view of the forces involved.

Orchestral Might
For those more used to 'big band' Brahms, it's a novel experience, revealing more of the texture of both scoring and performance. Similarly, it sounds all the more charming and intriguing by resolving the brisk tempi with a sharp-focused clarity as Dausgaard cracks through the First in about 45 minutes rather than the typical expansive hour!


In addition to the MA Remote app (for iPhone, iPad and Android), the standard IR remote offers input selection, volume, mute and access to the seven digital filters (LPCM only)

Even with the slightly thin sound of Steely Dan's live Mobile Homes, taken from a 1974 radio broadcast [Wicker Man WKMCD029], the X-Sabre 3 gives a thrilling account of the breakneck version of 'Bodhisattva' as the band kicks off after the MC's 'You may like them, personally I don't' introduction. I'm not sure if the band had a plane to catch back from Seattle to LA, but this speed is maintained throughout the set, and while the sound is far from hi-fi demo quality, the clarity of the X-Sabre 3 still makes it a fascinating listen, proving it doesn't need state-of-the-art recordings to do its stuff.

Give it just such a recording, however, and the X-Sabre 3 allows you to appreciate every bit of studio finessing. Adele's 30 [Columbia G0100046925635; 48kHz/24-bit download] may not be to every taste, with its introspection and snippets of personal conversations sometimes giving a 'too much information' feel, but the production is wonderfully lush and rich, whether with the more obvious stompers or simply the sheer power of the singer's voice on 'To Be Loved'.

While the engineers were clearly kept on their toes, the X-Sabre 3 is fully in control throughout. It reveals all the studio nuances and permits the sometimes extraordinary vocals full rein, creating the impression that - like it or not - you're getting everything the album intended, and in magnificent style.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
By adding onboard streaming to its DAC platform, Matrix Audio has upped the ante to create a truly compelling model offering network audio with minimal fuss. Ignore the wonkily-labelled digital filters and stick to driving it with either the custom MA Remote app or Roon. The reward is a sound that digs deep into fine recordings without making the rough stuff unlistenable - all this plus solid heft and good presence.

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