The two level gain selector accomodates a lot of different headphones, from sensitive IEMs to big full size dynamics. While I was able to drive the Audez’e LCD-2 with the Matrix, the sound is quite lacking and is not really the combination I would recommend. So, good for all full size dynamics, but not the big orthos.
DAC SECTION COMPARISON
The DAC section of the Mini Portable is roughly comparable to the Audinst HUD-MX1, obviously both on a USB connection. The Audinst is more spacious and wider, but instruments are less well defined and three dimensionality is rather flat on that big spacious soundstage. The Matrix is a bit less wide, but I get a much better depth, a blacker background, and also superior instrument body and definition. You can tell I like the sound of the Matrix better.
Interestingly, if your computer comes with both a USB and a Toslink interface (some Macs do), you can give the Toslink interface a try. Toslink has long been branded as the least preferable and as the inferior digital interface. But recently I’ve started to give Toslink another listen, and while it gives me a narrower and darker (hence less airy) sound than USB or Coax, I begin to really appreciate and love the superior instrument definition, depth, and black background. Likewise on the Mini Portable, while the USB is good and sounds more spacious than the Toslink, the optical interface is cleaner and gives me a much better instrument definition than the USB.
Specs wise, I need to add that the Matrix does 24/96 over USB, 24/192 over S/PDIF, and is based on the AD1955 chip.
I’m always happy to find a new product that performs well and that I can recommend to Headfonia readers. The Matrix Mini Portable is another one. The asking price is $320, but I think you do get a good performance for the price. It’s funny because earlier on this article I was questioning the merit of having S/PDIF inputs on a portable DAC/Amp such as this, but once I start writing about the amp section and comparing it to the ALO National (which costs $299 and doesn’t come with a DAC), now I can imagine treating the Mini-Portable as mostly a high quality portable amplifier, and the rest comes as sort of a bonus.
Remember the Matrix M-Stage amp that I wrote about back a while ago? I haven’t written any Matrix related gear ever since, but I don’t remember me being this excited about the M-Stage and the Matrix Mini-i desktop amps. I also have a Matrix M-Stage DAC which sounds pretty good (also a review coming up), but I’m definitely not as excited about that desktop DAC as I am over this little portable. Not that the M-Stage DAC is inferior, but it’s just another desktop DAC in the sea of desktop DACs out there. Whereas this little portable, not only does it come with an excellent build quality, it also comes with a sound quality that I happen to love: dark, weighty, clean. The S/PDIF inputs, I would consider as bonuses. Keep in mind, however, that the dark sound is not for everyone. And as I’ve mentioned before, this amp is, as far as I can remember, the darkest sounding portable amp I’ve auditioned. Some people won’t be able to get past the dark sound, but once you do, you should be able to hear all the beautiful things in the sound. Not to mention that it works beautifully with a lot of headphones I’ve used it with: The Sennheisers including the HD650 (of course), the new Aurisonic IEMs, the Sony MA900 and Z1000, the Etymotics ER4P (very nice) and a few Vsonics, up to the AKG K495NC portable headphone.
GEAR USED FOR REVIEW:
Other than the headphones mentioned on the review: Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo, Ipod Classic, MacPro, and probably some other headphones I failed to take note on.