Matrix Audio – Element M (1,799$)
The Matrix Audio Element M is a product that caters to a slightly different audience in my opinion. It’s a network enabled DAC/Amp. Both use an ESS implementation, but of different chips. The Element M uses a single ESS9028Pro while the Burson makes use of a dual setup of ESS9038Q2M chips. The Burson has higher output power on the headphone front, but doesn’t offer the flexibility of the Matrix in terms of digital inputs. If you want to hook up other analogue sources to your unit, the Matrix can be taken out of consideration, as it only has digital inputs.
Sonically the Element M and the Conductor 3X share some similarities. The most discerning difference between the two to me is again in body and weight. The Conductor 3X puts more of both into the music, while the Element M is more nimble feet in that regard. It feels to me that the Element M is more agile in the midrange. Its lower weight makes instruments and singers appear a bit more energetic. With the C3X I get more emotions and more pure kick-back enjoyment.
The Element M also features more of the typical Sabre top-end. It shimmers brighter than the Conductor 3X. Both units have very nice richness, but the Element M to me saturates notes even more than the Burson. For some this might be even a little too much wetness in the sound. The Burson renders finer information with higher accuracy. As mentioned before in the example with chatter in the background, the Burson brings that out with better clarity than the Element M. The Matrix seems to blur over that information to make it blend in more.
Again, the Conductor 3 seems to handle headphones better. It controls my Susvara with more authority and grip. Although the Element M also manages to pull off the Susvara, it doesn’t do it at the same level of the C3X to me. My headphones seem to scale better on the Burson than on the Element M.
With the Conductor 3X Burson has created a solid piece of equipment. It shows exemplary engineering on all fronts. The case is crafted at a high level, the internal layout is a beauty to look at and the sound completely convinces. I do have some negative remarks about it though. Like the missing channel information on the back, the not so good looking 4-pin XLR connector and the missing gain information on the screen. And maybe the remote control that doesn’t allow you to turn the unit off or switch outputs. The biggest issue for me though, is the background noise you get with more sensitive earphones.
The sound the Conductor 3X produces is wonderfully neutral, balanced and natural. It brings excellent body, resolution and enjoyment to both my speakers and headphones. Its high powered output gives enough juice to make any headphone blast. But on top, it also makes them really sing. When it comes to amplifiers, it’s not all about the power, the implementation is far more important. And Burson definitely made a high quality product that wins.
All in all, I find the Conductor 3X to be a very good product. One that deserves its place on our Best DAC/Amp list for sure.
Chapeau Burson Audio!