Review: Matrix Element M

Matrix Audio Element M

Comparisons:

I don’t have a single product that would fall into the same category as the Element M. The Matrix is so much more than just a DAC/Amp or single DAC unit. But to give you a better understanding how the Matrix Audio Element M fares against some of their competition, we let it step into a ring against the mighty Chord Electronics Hugo2 and the Cayin iDAC6 (original version).

These two have served me very well as desktop and portable DACs in the past. Now let’s see how they compare.

Mentioned prices are in USD and correct at the time of writing.

Chord Electronics – Hugo2 (2,495$)

The Hugo2 is one of my all-time favourite products. It probably is the one I use the most of all my DAC/amps or DAPs. It has served me well for the past two years as it handles anything I throw at it. Just like the Element M it brings Coaxial, optical and USB input. It features an RCA and two headphone outputs. The Element M is network enabled, brings Airplay and can serve as a media server. All things the Chord can’t do.

Sound-wise the Element M and Hugo2 are similar in terms of resolution, layering and imaging. Their sound stages are pretty much equal in dimensions. The biggest difference between them lies in their signature. The Chord has a more analytical and more true to the source tonality. The Element M sounds a bit richer in its midrange and more sparkle and glare up top.

The Hugo2 sounds a bit more direct in its treble, which I have seen a lot of people complain about. The Element M isn’t particularly fatigue free in its highs, but in comparison to the Hugo2 it might be better suited for more ears.

Overall I think you can’t go wrong with either of the two. It all depends on the use-case you need them for. The Element M is better suited for home listening, while the Hugo2 is unbeatable as a portable DAC/amp. I wouldn’t want to miss either of them.

Matrix Audio Element M

Matrix Audio Element M

Cayin Audio – iDAC6 (999$, discontinued)

The Cayin served as my home DAC for a long time, last year it got replaced by the Chord Qutest. Some weeks ago a lucky German won it in our 10 Year festivities. I have hooked up the Cayin again to my stereo. The iDAC6 is a DAC/amp without a headphone output. Like the Element M it comes with USB B, Coaxial, I²S and optical input, plus RCA and XLR outputs. The Element M additionally comes with Airplay and Network input. It also offers you a whole lot more features.

When the Element M arrived I mainly listened to headphones first, but a few weeks into the review I decided to hook up the Matrix to my integrated amplifier. Boy, was that a good decision. The Element M provides a much cleaner and more precise sound, that creates a larger scaled sound stage. It reaches wider and deeper, while it also has a more natural decay of instruments. The Matrix portrays more details and has a sharper imaging with higher resolution.

The Cayin on the other hand has a warmer and fuller sound with softer treble. The Element M comes with the typical Sabre glare in its high notes. The Cayin has a thicker bass, which sounds less controlled than on the Element M. The M goes deeper with a tighter grip. It has a more punchy low end, that sounds more dynamic and faster.

Mids are smoother and fuller on the Cayin, but they sound a bit veiled and congested in comparison to the Element M. The Matrix is more precise, more accurate and has nicer texture in the entire frequency ranges.

Conclusion:

Matrix Audio’s latest Element series is a product range packed with features. The Element M is not just a DAC/amp. It is a great and solid streamer, that comes with an App that actually works. I have met many different streamers in my life, but none seemed so thought-out as the Element M. Most of them came with crappy apps that just crashed or had weird bugs. The only annoying bug I came across is the switching language misbehaviour. When I told Matrix about it, they ensured me they are looking into fixing this asap.

The MA Remote app is fast and does what it’s supposed to. It controls your Element M and doesn’t make any frills about it. I know writing a good streaming app isn’t easy, but Matrix has passed. Although the random Chinese language bug really annoys me.

The Matrix Audio Element M is a wonderful example of a well executed all-in-one solution. Not only is it exemplary well built, it sounds great too. The Element M is a detail beast, that portrays your music with a nice harmonic touch. You get an natural sound, that convinces with body and soul. On top of that, it drives even very unefficient headphones like the HiFiMAN Susvara and makes it sound heavenly.

The Element M goes straight up to our Best DAC/Amp combos and I have a feeling it will be there for a long while. Well done Matrix Audio. This is how you do it.

4.6/5 - (111 votes)

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A daytime code monkey with a passion for audio and his kids, Linus tends to look at gear with a technical approach, trying to understand why certain things sound the way they do. When there is no music around, Linus goes the extra mile and annoys the hell out of his colleagues with low level beatboxing.

6 Comments

  • Reply February 5, 2020

    John

    How does it compare to the Burson Conductor?

    • Reply February 5, 2020

      Linus

      Hi John,
      thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

      I can’t speak for many of the Conductors, but I do have the C 3X at hand. It’s more neutral and less shiny in the treble in comparison. The Burson also puts more weight and body in the notes, which gives a fuller impression. The Element M on the other hand has nicer richness, which makes it sound more staturated.

      Apart from that the two units also have very different features. While I appreciate that the Burson is fully balanced, it would’ve been nice to get an RCA in and output as well… The Matrix is more versatile in regards to digital inputs and analogue outputs.

      Sound-wise I’ll get more into detail with the upcoming Conductor 3X review soon.

      Hope that helps.
      Cheers!

      • Reply February 5, 2020

        John

        Linus, thanks for your reply. When you say saturated, are you referring to warmer, analogue type of sound? Looking forward to the 3X review as it and the Matrix are on the dem list.

        • Reply February 6, 2020

          Linus

          Hi John,

          not necessarily warmer, but sweeter and wetter sounding compared to a more neutral and dryer sounding C3X.

          Hope that makes sense.

          Cheers

  • Reply February 6, 2020

    John

    It does. Thanks.

  • Reply September 17, 2020

    Edward

    ” The Element M goes straight up to our Best DAC/Amp combos and I have a feeling it will be there for a long while. ”

    It is not there yet.

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