Review: Matrix M-Stage HPA-3U

There is all with the built-in DAC.  With the Bifrost, that line got crossed.  Even with the HD650, the third movement of Shostakovich’s Sixth symphony had moments that made me wince.  Again I say, with the built-in DAC, this is a very nice amp and the treble can be very nice.  If you are using another DAC, this is where you might need to be careful.  I should say though, my ears are a little more sensitive to treble than some.

Soundstage performance is pretty sold.  Much like the DAC, the width is only fair, but the depth of the sound is good.  It has a nice three dimensionality, which isn’t to be taken for granted.  There is a little bit of grain to the sound, not an issue with the HD650 which has grain itself, but it is there.  Clarity is pretty good for the price point, but this isn’t the most transparent amp on the market.

Now, I happen to have a M-Stage HPA2 with me here, and there is definitely a family sound resemblance between the HP3 and its older brother, but the difference are quite telling.  The HPA2 is warmer and darker.  It has more body in the mids and bass, and is much more rolled off in the treble.  It makes the HPA3 sound a lot more neutral.  Although, leaner in the bass and mids, the HPA3 still has plenty of body, and offers a bit more detail and clarity.  The treble is a pick your poison type of situation, I prefer the HPA3, since I can always use the built-in source, or even a little EQ if I need to bring the treble under control a bit more.  The older HPA2 has an output impedance of 5Ohms, which makes it a poor fit for more Custom IEMs.  The HPA3 has a headphone out of 0.2Ohms which means it shouldn’t have an impedance mismatch with anything ever.  With the new Alclair Curve IEM, the noise floor was noticeable with the volume at 0, but it wasn’t noticeable with music playing, so this amp should be an option with all but the most sensitive IEMs.

As far as the build goes, while I can’t claim to love the styling, it is built pretty solid, and at this price point, that’s what matters.  The front panel switches, which control the input (RCA inputs or USB input), and the gain (5, 10, 20), and the volume knob don’t look very high end, but they are functional and again, feel solid.  Now that I look at it, if you squint, and imagine docks on both sides of the amp, it kind of looks like a battlestar.  The Battlestar M-Stage doesn’t have a bad ring to it.  It also comes with a power cable and a USB cable (not something to take for granted), so you can get started right away.

Overall, I am a pretty big fan of this amp, but, besides possibly screechy treble, I do have a few other minor issues to point out.  First, I don’t like the fact that there isn’t an option to buy it without the DAC.  Now yes, I really like the DAC, but if someone already has one (and they think it a good match), it would be nice if they could say a few bucks and get the amp sans the DAC.  You can buy the HPA3B, which removes the DAC and adds balanced inputs and headphone out, but it costs the same, so no money is saved.  It might be the way to go if you see yourself using a balanced connection. The other point is that this is an entry level amp.  It is a very good one, but it is still just that.  Bumping up the G109s by the Lake People brings a blacker background, more detail and clarity, and treble that never turns harsh. While, at $420, the M-Stage HPA3 is $200 less than the G109, $420 is getting to the edge of what I would consider to be an entry level price.  If you are looking for a nice entry level amp, I can make this recommendation fairly easily.  If you already have something, like the HPA2, for example, and are looking for an upgrade, I would say save up your money for a G109 or V100 or Soloist SL or something else that is a clear step up.  The HPA3 is better than the HPA2, but not by a great margin.

All of this naysaying aside, the M-Stage HPA3 is a very nice, very musical entry level solid state amplifier.  It can power just about anything you can throw at them, and make good music with them too.  Having reviewed three matrix products now, consider me a fan.

In the USA, the M-Stage can be purchased at http://matrix-digi-usa.com/

 

 

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25 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

  • Reply December 5, 2017

    Nate

    Dave, I need your opinion.
    Which of these entry-level DACs will sound best pairing with Crack and HD800?

    Matrix M-Stage HPA-2C, Schiit Bifrost, Topping DX 7, TEAC UD-301 or EL DAC?

    Thanks 🙂

    • Reply December 6, 2017

      Dave

      Ok, well… the M-Stage HPA-2 (or 3)U are amps with built-in DACs, so unless you wanted to use them as preamps, they aren’t what you are looking for.

      I haven’t head the DX7 or the UD-301. I did like the Bifrost Uber, but I have not heard the latest iterations. It is suppose to be an improvement. I like the EL DAC quite a bit. It offers a hint of warmth and is a bit laid back. I am also a huge fan, in general, of JDS Labs. So, if that sounds like it would fit the bill, I would go with that.

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