It’s amazing to hear the kind of sound you can get from a $290 amplifier. Coolfungadget sells the M-Stage amp for $289.95, and he was kind enough to send me a unit for review. This is the newer 2010 version of the M-Stage, which has a re-designed circuit and upgraded power travo. Moving between the HD800 and the HE5LE headphones, I totally enjoyed music through the M-Stage. The source is my new favorite DAC, the HRT Music Streamer II+. Between solid state amps, the M-Stage falls to the warmer sounding group, where amps such as the Burson, the Beta22, and the Grace m902 falls to the more neutral/transparent sounding group.
For less than $300, I don’t expect the M-Stage to compete with the leagues of the Burson, the Beta22, or the Grace m902, all top solid state amps. However, I do find myself enjoying the sound that is coming from the M-Stage. It definitely is a potent performer for $290. If I think the Burson gives a bigger sound than the $699 price tag, then the M-Stage also gives a bigger sound than the $290 pricetag.
The M-Stage comes with two pairs of RCA inputs, an RCA output, and four steps of gain settings, which makes this amp highly versatile. Having two pairs of RCA inputs is a nice convenience, and the RCA out allows the Matrix to be used as a pre-amp. It comes with four gain settings: 0, 10, 18, and 20 dB of gain, which can be changed through the dip switches below the amplifier chassis. Four gain steps turn out to be a major plus feature for the M-Stage, as that makes it a very versatile amp for driving anything from IEMs to big headphones. The lowest gain setting is very ideal for IEMs. Using the JH16Pro IEM, I’m listening comfortably at around 11 O’clock, which is nice since that gives you some real control over the volume, even for low level listening. What’s more the M-Stage is hiss free all the way to just a tad below the maximum volume, even with the JH16Pro IEM! For big and hard to drive headphones, gain 18 and 20 is recommended. plenty of gain to drive either the HD800 or the HE5LE headphones. The Matrix will drive just about anything you need short of speakers.