Matrix Mini-I (Pro): The Budget Combo

Disclaimer: I received the Mini-I and Mini-I Pro from Matrix Digital Audio USA, the Matrix distributor in the USA.  I got to keep one of the units while the other one I had to send back.

Matrix audio has a pretty good record here at Headfonia.  The M-Stage amp and DAC both received solidly positive reviews, as did the original Mini-I and Mini-portable.  They were fairly well received reviews, but even so, there doesn’t seem to be the clamoring here for the matrix products compared to that of some other brands.  If, for example, someone from Schiit were to sneeze, I would expect no less than a dozen people to immediately ask us what we thought of that sneeze, and if it would mix well with the Mad Dogs.  This is a shame though, as the Matrix Mini-I and Mini-I Pro are pretty nice products.  We will get there in a bit, but first…  What are the Mini-I and Mini-I Pro? Well, if you insist…  (Just so you know, when I write Mini-I, I am referring to the basic version.  When I write Mini-I Pro, I am referring to the Mini-I Pro).

The Mini-I and Mini-I Pro are a pair of DACs with an amplifier built in.  They are intended to be DACs, so the amplifier is more of an extra than a main feature.  How good an extra, we will decide later.  Before we start talking about how these two units are different, let’s talk about what they have in common.  The most obvious similarity between the two is the enclosure; they use the same one.  This is to say that they both look gorgeous.  Coming in both black and silver aluminum, these are beautiful looking creations, at home to a computer or sitting on top of a CD player or other transport.  Looking at these makes me want to rewrite my Neko d100 mk2 review to be even more critical of the build of that $1500 DAC, for these ($380 for the Mini-I and $520 for the Mini-I Pro) are much sturdier and more pleasing to the eye.  Even more impressive than the solid build quality is the awesome LCD screen on both models.  It clearly illustrates the sample rate of the music, the input connection currently being used, and the volume or both the line out and the headphone out.  It is just terrific.  The Mini-I Pro comes standard with a remote control, while it is an extra available for purchase with the standard Mini-I.

The volume knob has several functions.  First, obviously, it controls the volume of both the headphone out and the line out.  It turns very smoothly, and adjusts the volume in .5db increments.  Pushing in the volume knob changes which digital input you have selected.  Holding the knob in when you turn on the unit brings you to a pre-startup menu with options to mute the headphone out and have the mini-I operate as just a line level source or have the unit go into sleep mode if it goes five minutes without a signal.

The rear panels of both units are awash in different input and output options.  The Mini-I and Mini-I Pro will accept usb, coaxial, optical and AES/EBU (a digital connection used in pro audio.  I had to look that one up).  Although I used usb almost exclusively, being a computer based audio guy, I tried the coaxial and optical as well, and they worked and sounded fine.  For outputs, the offer both balanced and unbalanced.  That is quite a few options offered for the price.  Also, I should mention here, as it is a big deal for some, there is a driver that must be downloaded for PC before the Mini-I models will work.  Spending 2 minutes downloading a driver in exchange for thousands for hours of audio enjoyment doesn’t seem like a huge deal to me.

Mini-I

The standard Mini-I uses two AD1955 DAC chips for its digital to analogue conversion.  This is the same setup the original Mini-I used, except that one could only handle signals up to 24/192.  This new model can accept signals up to 24/384.  Can you imagine having to restrain yourself to ONLY 24/192?  Who uses such a low sample rate anymore?  (Sorry for the sarcasm, but I think these sample rates are getting pointlessly ridiculous).

Anyway, what will you get for plugging into the Mini-I?  Well, it definitely slants a little warm and dark with good bass body and mids.  The treble is relaxed, but still present.  This isn’t Mike dark or anything.  Compared to the similar sounding HRT Music Streamer 2+, the Mini-I has a larger sound stage and has a smoother sound from top to bottom (I was never a big fan of the MS2+).  While the Mini-I certainly isn’t the last word in micro detail, or even perhaps a middle word, and I have to admit the sound is a bit laid back for my taste, the sound is musically enjoyable, and combined with its build quality and features, is a solid DAC for the price (amp section not included).

Go to the next page for the Mini-I Pro & more!

Matrix Mini-I (Pro): The Budget Combo
4 (80%) 4 votes

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8 Comments

  • Reply April 2, 2014

    George Lai

    Schiit sneeze, Mike dark … I love your sarcasm. An entertaining read.

    • Reply April 3, 2014

      Dave Ulrich

      Thanks George!

  • Reply April 3, 2014

    Sasmit

    You know you read headfonia too much when you see the words “mike dark” used as an adjective and know exactly what it means.
    DAC/amp combos always seem to have one weak part (particularly in budget products). As someone who has made this mistake, I personally feel that one is perhaps better off saving some money and buying separates. Anyway It is always good to read you reviews

    • Reply April 3, 2014

      Dave Ulrich

      One should notice the difference between a DAC with a built-in amp (like these) and an amp with a built-in DAC (like the Pan Am). It is usually the “bonus” that is the weaker part. Although, like I said, the amp here isn’t bad. It is good enough until you can snag a good stand alone.

  • Reply April 3, 2014

    ohm image

    Totally great to hear about the Matrix. I think not enough has been said about this brand of late. Great read.

    • Reply April 3, 2014

      Dave Ulrich

      Agreed. I should be getting their M-Stage 2 amp for review as well.

  • Reply April 6, 2014

    Don Rivella

    Interesting review, very nice looking device. How does it/they stack up against the Asus Essence One?

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