Matrix M-Stage

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; front and back.

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.

The 2010 version comes with a encapsulated toroidal for better noise protection.


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  • Laurent Monin

    I just bought the new m-stage amp, with USB input.

    Out of package it is working great, but i tried various op amps instead of provided ones.
    After many iterations and listening tests, i ended with 2 LME49720 (one in amp part, one in usb converter part), with much better results.
    Sound was improved on all criterias, better bass impact and depth, trebles are much less harsh, voices beautiful. I’m using an AKG 271 MKII for now, decent neutral headphones imho.

    • Derrik

      Do you use only Dac in M-stage??
      The sound is enough dynamic for mixing  in studio with AKG ?

  • http://www.alkopedia.net Biergourmet

    What do you think about the USB input of the new model?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Well I really haven’t had the chance to listen to one, but I think they kept the price roughly similar to the non-USB model right? So that should be a good thing.

      • http://www.alkopedia.net Biergourmet

        Buying from a German eBay shop the prices are:
        215 € for non USB version
        259 € for USB version

        Furthermore the shop offers:
        Yulong U100  for 165 €
        Matrix Cube for 229 €

        I wonder which one to get. I want to have a all in one device, so I can sell my current DAC (Pro-Ject USB).

  • Greg440

    Hi mike,
    I recently just sold my AKG K 702s that I had paired with my Matrix M-Stage because I didn’t like the lack of midrange. I am now looking for a new set of headphones to pair with the Matrix M-Stage but I am finding it difficult to find recommendations for headphones with good synergy. I noticed that you liked the Hifiman HE-5LE with the M-Stage and so was wondering if the HE-500 (which is now the same price) was a good pairing or even the HE-300, which might go better with my lower-end set up. My set-up will be Ipod-> Cambridge Audio id100-> Matrix M-Stage-> ?

    I mainly listen to classical and acoustic but also some rock. You’re opinion is greatly needed and appreciated. I just need to find some headphones so I don’t have to sell the M-Stage as well and start over again.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Greg,
      Yes the HE5LE is amazing with the M-Stage. I think the HE-500 would be wonderful on it as well, but I personally haven’t had the chance to listen to it on the M-Stage, so there is no guarantee there. But the HE-500 should give you the midrange and should be good for the music you listen to.

      • Greg440

        Thanks for the reply Mike,
        I think I will get the HE-500. They should be good enough with the M-Stage and if not I can upgrade to the Graham Slee Solo SRG II in a year or two. Do you think the HE-500 is a better headphone than the HE5LE or that they are just suited to different tastes?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Hi Greg,
          That sounds good. The HE-500 indeed is a clear improvement, although there are sound signature differences as well.

  • Greg440

    Sorry, I forgot to mention that I am using the Cambridge Audio DacMagic in my set-up.

  • Anonymous

    Mike,

    Can you let me know what you think of the M-stage vs. Schiit asgard.

    Thanks, Ian

  • swede92

    Hi Mike please answer to this:) Well Im gonna buy the Senn HD 600 and the HRT music streamer 2011 edition as a DAC, then I need an amp to, I live in sweden and cant decide If I should  go with the Harmony Design Ear 90 rca(and I dont think you have test lisent to that amp), but I have talk to one that have the Senn  HD 650 and he like it with the harmony amp, and the HD 600 is a little bit simlair to the HD 650. And the Harmony amp  is build in Sweden(easier to buy it here) and I think they offer 5 years warranty and it cost 593 us dollar here, but the Matrix m-stage is little bit cheaper than the harmony and I want an amp that I can have for a long time atleast 5 years or more does matrix hold up to that you think? what would you pick? The Matrix is clone of the Lehman Audio Black Cuce Lineear and the lehman fit well with the HD 600 but it cost a lot do you think the M-stage is a good choise with the HD 600 sorry for my long and messy text:D pls answer.

  • branko.liber

    So M-stage would be the best choice of all amps under say 300-400$ for AKG Q701?  I currently use them with Little Dot MkV, and find the setup too bright…well, not necessarily bright in the sense that there’s too much treble, but it’s just very sibilant with most recording and quite thin and fatiguing.  Also, sound stage is somewhat weird. There’s no depth to it, and center image is non-existent. I don’t know whether its because of a dual-mono nature of MkV, but it certainly isn’t pleasant to listen with majority of records. Not to mention MkV hasn’t got the power it takes to drive Q701′s, I find myself dialing the knob to 100% too often.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      That sounds like a nasty set up.

      I’m more inclined to recommend you the Hifiman EF-5 simply because the treble is going to be softer, and the soundstage would be much better (especially the center focus part). Personally I’ve never tried the EF-5 & K701 pairing, but based on your complaints this is the amp that I would recommend.
      FYI the EF-5 is able to handle much harder headphones than the K701, so I think you shouldn’t have any problem as far as power is concerned.
      http://www.headfonia.com/hifiman-ef5-review/

  • derbii

    So
    M-stage would be the best choice of all amps under say 300-400$ for AKG
    Q701?  I currently use them with Little Dot MkV, and find the setup too
    bright…well, not necessarily bright in the sense that there’s too
    much treble, but it’s just very sibilant with most recording and quite
    thin and fatiguing.  Also, sound stage is somewhat weird. There’s no depth to it, and center image is non-existent. I don’t know whether its because of a dual-mono nature of MkV,
    but it certainly isn’t pleasant to listen with majority of records. Not
    to mention MkV hasn’t got the power it takes to drive Q701′s, I find
    myself dialing the knob to 100% too often.

     

  • Son Nguyen Minh

    Hi Mike
    How does this amp compare to similar priced DIY amp like M3 or Dynalo?

  • http://www.facebook.com/scytus Michael S Teufenkjian

    Would this work well with a DT990/600ohm?

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  • George

    Dear Mike

    I ‘ve ordered the m-stage to drive my K701.Until now I have been using the JDSLabs Cmoy with a second TLE2426 soldered parallel to the stock one ,to handle my demanding headphones ,as well as the built-in amp of my Xonar STX which I also use as a source through the speaker-out.To be frank the Xonar amp is clear and loud enough for the AKGs but the sound is kind of cold and harsh.The cmoy on the other hand is a bliss to my ears especially when I play HD recordings.Transparent,airy,detailed and warm ,makes the AKGs rise and shine (with the help of some extra bass gain through the EQ).Allthough I ‘ll have the chance to compare it myself to the m-stage in a few day’s time ,I was wondering if you could throw me a few lines as to what to expect ,the pros and cons of the Cmoy vs matrix comparison.I know you have reviewed both and being the expert you are ,I would very much appreciate your opinion.Thanks a lot…

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      George,
      The difference may be smaller than you’d expect.

      One of the strong point about the Matrix is the power output which can comfortably drive the average Hifiman orthodynamics. Other than that, the regulated power supply section does a much linear and better articulated bass section than the Cmoy’s. On the other hand the Cmoy is extremely musical and makes for a good pairing with high impedance dynamics. The midrange quality, soundstage and transparency is amazingly good. With the HD650 I definitely prefer the Cmoy. With the 701, I’m not so sure, I think you ought to share your impression with us after you’re done comparing.

      Cheers

      • George

        Thank you for your for your immediate response,much obliged.

  • thecansmancan

    Hey, I read another review on head-fi that gives an opposite opinion as to coloration.

    http://www.head-fi.org/t/475618/matrix-m-stage-amp-review-simple-cheap-and-excellent

    Take a look. Why is there such a discrepancy? I just purchased one of these off mass drop. Now I’m a bit confused as to what to expect when it arrives.

    • Trent_D

      Well, you can find someone on head-fi with almost any opinion. Wait for it to arrive and draw your own conclusions. Only way to be sure.

      • thecansmancan

        that’s true, but this isn’t just some random review. This guy is pretty well known and respected.

        • Trent_D

          See what your ears think, and then let us know.

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  • Aakshey

    Compared to Schiit amps like A2, does Matrix have better vocals? Better mids I mean, in terms of articulation and clarity?

    • Dave Ulrich

      Well, I wasn’t too impressed with the mids on the A2. Congested.

      • Aakshey

        And matrix m stage? How did that perform? Any other commercial offering in $250 which had better vocals?

        • Dave Ulrich

          The JDSlabs cMoy has nice mids and is fairly transparent to the source.

  • alfminus

    Is the HPA 2 (2013) similar anyone herd it ??