Review: Matrix X-Sabre Pro – Reference



You might assume that a DAC having a Sabre chip will have a more reference tuned sound, and in the case of the X-Sabre Pro, you would be correct in that assumption.  As has been proven many times now, neutral doesn’t in any way mean unmusical.  The X-Sabre Pro is very musical.  The flat frequency response gives every sound its due.  It doesn’t lack anywhere.  The sound blew me away when I first heard it, but a lot of things sound awesome at first, and then go sour once the honeymoon period is over.  If anything, my appreciation for the Pro only increased as time went on.  Layering and texture are terrific across the board, and it should surprise no one that the instrument separation is also first rate.  The depth and especially the width are really startling.  The Pro really throws out a terrific soundstage.  Despite doing so well in technical performance, the X-Sabre Pro still has an organic, natural sound.  Nothing sounds harsh, or metallic, or forced.  While it goes without saying that the Pro is a great match for some of my well recorded classical music, what I am finding amusing is how much fun I am having going through my collection of rock or pop music.  I wouldn’t have thought that they would have benefited as much from the step up in the DAC, but some really have.  One song in particular, Teaching Little Fingers to Play by Garbage, via the Pro, a V100 and the HE-560, has turned into a real ethereal   experience for me.  Shirley Manson’s voice front and center, while the electronic instrumental sound envelops my head.  I am giddy just thinking about it. Looking back at the other Matrix DACs I have reviewed in the past that utilized Sabre chips, some minor complaints I had was in being a little lacking in the bass, or lacking that last word in micro detail.  I am happy to say that the X-Sabre Pro has none of these issues.

I had been using as my reference DAC, the Lake People RS 06 (the sonic equivalent of the Violectric V850 which retails at a similar price to the X-Sabre Pro at $1659.95).  It is a wonderful sounding DAC, and I was prepared to really put my ear to the grindstone and see what subtle differences I could find between the two.  After five seconds of listening to the X-Sabre Pro, I leaned back, put my feet up on the table and said, “That was easy”!  The size of the soundstage created by the Pro in relation to the RS 06 really took me aback.  This makes me want to get an HD800 and see what the two can do together.  This is one area where the Pro clearly betters the RS 06.  The Matrix is definitely more forward and energetic than the RS 06 with more apparent detail.  Its treble isn’t as laid back.  That is how you would describe the biggest difference between these two excellent DACs.  The RS 06 (or V850) is smooth and laid back, without sacrificing detail, while the X-Sabre Pro is more “reference” tuned an energetic without sacrificing musicality.  I could see people having different preferences as to which of these they would prefer; The RS 06 has such an easy sound signature to love.  For me, however, the greater energy, larger soundstage and slightly better technical performance has me going with the X-Sabre Pro, all the way.

My Perspective

I hope Matrix will forgive me for this next part, but I feel the need for some self-reflection.  I have been writing for Headfonia for about 4 years now.  It has been a wonderful experience.  That feeling of being a kid in a candy store has yet to wear off.  Reviewing the X-Sabre Pro, and raving about it like I have, is making me wonder how I might have changed since I started here.  I am thinking back to a review I did my first year of the Neko Audio D100.  It was a dual review I did with Mike (the prince of darkness).  Mike loved its dark sound, while I wasn’t too happy with it.  I took special issue with the price ($1499).  I said, when looking at its price tag, “my thought isn’t, “OMG, this is going to be the most awesome thing ever!” I am thinking,” this better make gold come flowing out of my headphones if they expect me to pay this much money for a freaking DAC!” I am well aware that the law of diminishing returns applies heavily when the price starts to really climb, but I find that to be unacceptable. If I am paying $1500 for a DAC, I expect to hear $1500 worth of sound.”  Tough words!  And I don’t find myself disagreeing with that, either.  Now, it should be said that, in terms of build quality, features and functionality, the X-Sabre Pro is leagues beyond the D100.  Still, it doesn’t sound twice as good as the RS 06, or five times as good as the EL DAC (review forthcoming), etc.  So, what’s changed?  My perspective.

There are two kinds of people in this situation.  First, you have the people who would never spend that kind of money on one piece of headphone gear.  You are looking for a product to have a high price/performance ratio.  Why pay $2000, you say, when you can get 90% of the way there for $500.  You are willing to save up to have a really nice system at your disposal, but you have limits.  The second kind is the “all-in” audiophile.  You want the best sound possible, and you will do what it takes to achieve that.  It is more than a hobby; it is a way of life.  I suppose there is a third type of person who thinks those earbuds that come with the ipod are just jim dandy, but they don’t really factor in here.


I am finding myself sandwiched rather oddly between the two groups.  Personally speaking, I fall into group one.  I like high value products, and am bound by the fact that my wife and kids might just want to eat this week.  The fact is, were I not able to keep my review unit of the X-Sabre Pro, it would never be in my collection.  It isn’t that I wouldn’t want it, but it is simply a financial reality.  One the other side, I am a critic, and I have to be open all walks of audiophilia.  The Matrix X-Sabre Pro is not meant for the average Joe headphone enthusiast, and I have to acknowledge that the Pro sounds phenomenal, and that, under $1700, I have not heard its equal.  So, intrepid reader, you and you alone know if the Matrix X-Sabre Pro is something you would like.  If, you are looking for a no compromise sound, I will just leave this here:

3.8/5 - (266 votes)


  • Reply March 9, 2017


    Thanks for the (rare) review on X-Sabre Pro.

    I have a Matrix stack (M-stage HPA-3B Amp and Quattro II in DAC mode) and love it! Great value for the money!

    Having said that, I find it hard to justify such a high price on X-Sabre Pro. The law of diminishing returns you hint in your review.

    I know chips are not everything, but Oppo Sonica for example uses the same exact 1038Pro chips from ESS, at half the price

    • Reply March 21, 2017

      Robert McAdam

      You can’t compare the Oppo Sonica Dac with the X-Sabre Pro. Different applications. They do share the same chip but thats it.

      The Oppo is designed for multi tasks and is priced much lower. X-Sabre Pro is a dedicated Dac. It is comparable to the Holo Spring Dac and Benchmark Dac3 in price and tasks. Comparing these soundwise would be interesting.

  • Reply March 10, 2017


    I don’t blame you. You have a very good sounding setup. Does the X-Sabre Pro sound better than the Quattro II? You betcha! If you are sitting back, just listening to your music and you are not doing any critical listening, straining to pick out what differences, will you notice the improvements? Ehhh, maybe?

  • Reply March 21, 2017

    Robert McAdam

    Dave this is indeed a rare review, thanks. This Dac has been overlooked somewhat in the face of new R2r Dacs coming from China recently.

    I like the fact that one can upsample using Audio software to 768. Did you try this aspect?

    Are you or anyone able to compare to the latest Benchmark Dac3?

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