Review: Matrix M-Stage HPA-3U

Disclaimer: The Matrix M-Stage HPA-3U was sent to us free of charge for the purpose of this review, I have no idea if Dave has to return it. Lieven

The M-Stage ReLoaded (see what I did there)

So, back into the Matrix again with their redesigned M-Stage-HPA-3U.  Mike (remember him?) reviewed an earlier M-Stage model here.  I generally agree with his take on it, so it would be worth reading up on first.  Matrix actually released two M-Stage amps recently: the HPA-3U and the balanced HPA-3B.  This review only covers the 3U.  So, anyway, what is the HPA-3U all about?

Before I really answer that question, I need to get all nonlinear on you, dear readers.  Usually, I would talk about the build and look of the unit, move onto the sound, maybe offer a comparison or two, and then get to the extras features (if any) of the unit in question.  Today, I have to start with the extras, in this case, the built-in DAC. “It will do fine until you can afford a better DAC, but it isn’t anything special” is what I figured on writing.  I mean, these built-in DACs aren’t usually anything special, right.  What experience does Matrix have with DACs anyway?  What’s that you say?  Mike liked their M-Stage DAC a while back?  Well, true, and he thought the DAC that came with the Matrix Mini Portable was very good.  And whoever did the reviews of the Matrix Mini-I DACs felt quite favorable about both of them… and that was me…  Yep, I’m a moron.  I don’t know why I didn’t expect this DAC to be good.  I certainly should have.  Despite having a Bifrost Uber (very good DAC) at my disposal at the time, I used built-in DAC for most of my listening.  It just fit so well with the sound of the amp.  The Bifrost threw out a wide sound, with more treble presence and a hair more detail. The smoother treble of the Matrix DAC just played better with the amp section.  This DACs width isn’t the greatest, but it has surprisingly good depth.  It is fairly clean with pretty good detail.  Both the Bifrost and Concero HD and what not are better DACs, but the synergy going on here can’t be denied, and musicality is always my bottom line.  It will do up to 24/192, and can do DSD over DoP, if DSD is your thing.

Now, we can talk about the amps sound.  Of course, any talk of the sound of this amp has to start with the bass.  It’s big, bold and beautiful.  If you have a headphone that you think needs just that little something extra down below, this amp might be just the ticket.  The M-Stage reminded me just how hard the HD650 can hit.  Yet, connected to this amp, the bass never bled into the mids, or made the sound feel unnaturally dark.  It doesn’t go out of its way to impart its will on the headphones connected to it.  When throwing the Grado SR80s on there, they sounded like Grados.  The SR80s bass is on the lean side, and still is connected to the M-Stage.  Impact is really good.  I would call the bass body as being just a little more than neutral, but not to the point that I find it intrusive.

The midrange follows suit with the bass in offering a full bodied experience.  The mids sit slightly forward and there is definitely some warmth to them.  Both male and female vocals are given their proper place in the music, and don’t get buried among the body of the instruments (unless it was recorded that way.  In that case, there is nothing you can do about that.  That’s my biggest issue with the album Bleed like Me.  The voices are mixed too far back).  The sound is smooth, and uhhh… very enjoyable.  No issues so far with the sound.

But here comes the treble (see what I did there)!  The upper frequencies are pretty well extended, with some nice sparkle and air to them.  With the HD650 anyway.  This amp is an excellent pairing with the classic Sennheiser: hard hitting bass, full midrange and extended treble that mixes nicely with the rolled off upper frequencies of the HD650.  When I plugged in the Grado SR80e, things almost went too far.  It threatened to get screechy.  It never quite crossed that line, but it was close.

It continues on Page 2 after the click HERE or below

Review: Matrix M-Stage HPA-3U
4.1 (82.4%) 25 votes

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23 Comments

  • Reply October 13, 2015

    Maxim Tsigalko

    This is the first time that i hear you say that you have a bifrost.

    • Reply October 13, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      I am pretty sure Dave did. Do note this Is a review from Dave, not Nathan or myself. I seem to be allergic to S. 😉

      • Reply October 14, 2015

        Dave Ulrich

        Yep, it was me. And I am no longer in possession. I did like it. be careful, though, it can make L break out in hives.

  • Reply December 21, 2015

    Eugen

    So, Audeze Deckard or this?

    • Reply December 22, 2015

      Dave Ulrich

      I have not heard the Deckard, but I understand them to be quite… similar. What are you looking to use it for?

      • Reply December 22, 2015

        Eugen

        HD250 modded, HF2, HD600 (HD800S maybe)

        My question was about how different are they, the HPA-3U and the Deckard? The Deckard looks like it has better cooling to the transistors, small parts differences and the DAC isn’t the same (no DSD but I could care less about DSD). That can be anywhere from significant to imperceptible.

        • Reply December 23, 2015

          Dave Ulrich

          Unfortunately, not having heard the Deckard, I can’t say. I can tell you that Deckard is a replicant, though.

          • Reply December 23, 2015

            Eugen

            Did you read the thing? If anything is a replicant, it’s the Matrix.

            • Reply December 24, 2015

              Dave Ulrich

              That was a joke. Deckard is a character from the movie Blade Runner. My guess (and that is all this is) is that Matrix makes the Deckard.

              • Reply December 24, 2015

                Eugen

                You got the joke backwards.

                • Reply December 26, 2015

                  Dave Ulrich

                  ohh, good one!

  • Reply August 14, 2016

    nicolas bustos

    is the line out in the back controlled by the volume knob?

    life or death situation here.

    • Reply August 14, 2016

      Dave

      Yes it does.

      • Reply August 14, 2016

        Dave

        It’s a preamp out, not a line out

  • Reply December 22, 2016

    Erin

    I’m thinking about getting this amp/dac but in the new “plus” version. Do you have any experience with it or have an estimation of what the difference in sound could be? I don’t think there are any differences other than it using the CS4398 D/A chip instead.

  • Reply December 23, 2016

    Dave

    I don’t know. I shot an email to my Matrix guy. I will let you know what he says.

    • Reply December 23, 2016

      Erin

      Thank you.
      I wrote the US distributor and I was given links to your article and a topic at head fi, all were about the non plus version.

    • Reply December 23, 2016

      Erin

      If you can find out anything, I’m also wondering if you would know if this would be a good match for HD-650 and AKG-K7XX. If not, do you know a better amp/dac or stack for around $500-$600?

  • Reply December 24, 2016

    Dave

    According to my matrix guy, the only difference between the + and the non + is the ability to do DSD 128, so nothing as far as I am concerned. I am listening to the HD650 with the HPA-3U right now, and they sound very nice together. Good enough where this message got delayed 40 minutes while I listened to Mozart’s Jupiter symphony. I don’t have the AKG, so I can’t comment, other than to say the HPA-3U is a darn good all-a-rounder for the price.

  • Reply December 24, 2016

    Erin

    Thank you very much! 🙂 I have been using my LG V10 phone and that uses a sabre dac which sounds ok with both headphones. I’m hoping the HPA-3U+ will bring a little more out my headphones and cut down on having to use that phone so much.
    Haha I was up most of the night last night listening to CDs I haven’t listened to for a very long time. The HD-650s are very addictive.
    Thank you for your help and for the writing that you all do here on your website. I hope you have good holidays and a happy new year.

  • Reply December 24, 2016

    Dave

    Make sure you let us know your thoughts when you have had a chance to give the HPA-3U a good listen.

  • Reply December 24, 2016

    Erin

    I will do that. I’ll probably order it Monday, but next week for sure..

  • Reply December 24, 2016

    Dave

    If ordering from Matrix USA, don’t forget to use the coupon code Winter-10 for 10% off

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