Matrix X-Sabre Pro DAC Review - Stream of Consciousness

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by purr1n, Mar 19, 2019.

  1. GoodEnoughGear

    GoodEnoughGear Evil Dr. Shultz‎

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    Just thinking, this is a 32-bit ESS chip, so we should have 16 bits of headroom for redbook and 12 bits for hi-res. That's 96/72 dB?
     
  2. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    If we are free from reality, yes. But aren't lots of lower bits (closer to lsb) meaningless due to physical limitations (noise, distortion, and whatever)? I think it's fair to assume all modern dacs (no matter how many bits they claim to handle) treat 14-17 bits effectively at best.
     
  3. GoodEnoughGear

    GoodEnoughGear Evil Dr. Shultz‎

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    I don't know enough of the engineering to comment on what the effect would be. Got some reading to do it seems.
     
  4. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    I would also like to add that I believe running the X-Sabre Pro in preamp mode while using no attenuation is the same as running in DAC mode (at the very least, I couldn't tell any difference during my time with the XSP).

    But yes, I would also advise avoiding the preamp function if possible.
     
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  5. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    The only thing you need to know is that anything over 19-20 digital bits is bullshit because that is the limit of analog components, noise, distortion, etc.

    And 6db is approximately one bit.
     
  6. GoodEnoughGear

    GoodEnoughGear Evil Dr. Shultz‎

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    Yup, that I do know. What I'm unclear on is if you have digital 'headroom', and the volume attenuation is digitally lossless, what are the other real-world effects of that attenuation (least significant bits etc. as commented above).
     
  7. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    The limit is THD+N (distortion and noise).

    dbFS: DAC level relative to full scale
    dbSPL: sound pressure level

    Say if your DAC has these specs and your system is configured as follows:
    • THD+N at -105db
    • 0dbFS (max volume) of your DAC is mapped to 110dbSPL (which is not unreasonable)
    • And you listen normally to music at around 75dbSPL with 85dbSPL peaks, the peaks roughly correspond to 0dBFS DAC output give or take a few.

    110dbSPL - 85dbSPL = 25dbSPL of attenuation which would be your typical volume setting = around 4-bits (25/6 = 4). Therefore, on a 24bit DAC, we are still digitally lossless, since 24-4 = 20-bits, assuming we are using 16-bit recordings.

    The only factor remaining would be the DAC's THD+N at -105db.
    • 0dbFS (DAC output) = 110db SPL (max volume). This has already been established.
    • -105dbFS (DAC THD+N) means that 5dbSPL is the noise / distortion floor. (110 - 105 = 5db)
    • 85dbSPL listening level with 5db noise / distortion floor means we have 80db of effective THD+N, which is good.
    • FWIW, 5dbSPL is lower than ambient sound in a quiet room which is about 30-40db SPL.
    Now there are several caveats:
    • Proper mapping of the highest output level of the DAC to max possible SPL. I doubt most home audiophiles will know how to pad the DAC outputs properly to a power amp. Basically, the goal is to specify a max possible SPL as low as possible (to set a realistic ceiling on max SPL) to maximize the available bits / THD+N range. Most likely, this won't happen, and we might end up with 60db of effective THD+N left over.
    • We have no ideas of the internals of the DACs of what actually happens. For example, on the Convert-2, when the volume bypass is turned off, even by 0.1db, it immediately sounds worse. This is not so with the X-Sabre Pro (or the PSA PWD2 I owned before).
    • I don't trust software digital attenuation or driving cars with a touchpad. Give me a fricking knob or steering wheel.
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2019
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  8. GoodEnoughGear

    GoodEnoughGear Evil Dr. Shultz‎

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    OK, seems my understanding is correct. In my case my monitors have sensitivity pots which I use to keep my use of digital attenuation on the DAC1541 in the upper range. With 27 bits and hi-res I'm definitely losing a couple of bits, though, but that's the vast minority of my content.

    BTW the convert-2 volume control is not digital, it's a potentiometer (billed as a 'custom potentiometer') so that might explain the improvement in bypassing it.

    Coming back to the Matrix X-Sabre Pro, even up to -20dB attenuation it is digitally lossless even on hi-res assuming it's using the ESS chip and not some pre-processor. I'm wondering then what Vtory is hearing in his tests.
     
  9. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    While I don't think math cannot reveal full story, let's do some maths:

    1. Forget ESS 32 bits. That's nothing to do with our "real" bits. Also I recommend you not to believe 27 bits, either.
    2. Based on Marv's measurements, the hottest harmonic of XSP (when the base signal is 0 dbFS) reaches to -110 dBFS (roughly 18 bits). Note that this is a "single tone" test. Multi tones typically generate more and stronger harmonics. Even two-tone IMDs (still simpler than real music) are typically higher than THD without considering noise. 18-X (X=multi- or real- tone loss; X>0) bits is the actual bits we can get. This is why I roughly think modern dacs can handle 15-17 bits.
    3. Now let's reconsider -20db (=loss of 3-4 bits). Even with this ideal thought experiment, there occurs loss.

    Of course there are more issues to consider. Isn't there a dedicated thread of this topic?

    PS. Digital attenuation is not a magic. Bit-downshifting may be straightforward but it only handles -6x db where x is non-negative integer. Thus, it's fair to assume flexible attenuation introduces some compromises.
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2019
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  10. Taverius

    Taverius Smells like sausages

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    I think that's why mike says 21 on Yggdrasil, because it's 1 more than its physically possible to achieve.

    Iirc, if you put max loudness at the pain threshold, the 21st bit is someone flushing a toilet 2 floors up or something xD

    I know bit 24 is quantistic state changes of the electrons in the atoms of the mic, so I wonder what bit 27 is.
     
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  11. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Bit 27 = space time rifts / tachyon particles

    That's when our moms or wives in space-time travelling spacesuits come back in time to tell us to stop wasting money on this shit.
     
  12. GoodEnoughGear

    GoodEnoughGear Evil Dr. Shultz‎

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    Bit 27 is the minimum required for your dog to hear you opening a jerky packet.
     
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  13. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    No, mike says 21bit because he’s using 2x true 20bit DAC chips per channel.

    It is possible to make a DAC that measures better than 21bit, but not at 2 or 4Vrms.
     
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  14. supertransformingdhruv

    supertransformingdhruv Almost "Made"

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    The only 27 bit format:
    [​IMG]
     
  15. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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  16. JoshMorr

    JoshMorr Friend

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    Another month - another DAC comes in the mail to test out. Living the best life here as a SBAF Friend - thanks Friends. I really enjoy trying out new gear in my system, and then writing about it. There has been a bit of buzz out on this amp for a while, and I have to admit, I fell into the Sabre = bad camp and judged the DAC by its predecessors, which is something that once and a while can prove you wrong, good or bad. Marv / Brencho's excitement fueled my own. The Matrix X-Sabre Pro lived up to the billing and did not disappoint.

    Setup - PC w/ Jriver FLAC or tidal -> RME Thunderbolt PCI Interface card with AES Out -> Matrix X-Sabre -> Jensen ISOMAX BAL to SE (or just SE out, didnt hear any difference) -> Passive preamp - Pass XA25 - Klipsch Forte. In this write up, I will frequently compare to my current dac, the Soekris 1541. For the purposes of this review, pretend I only tested this with speakers - still use THX789 for headphone amp and while the THX sounds killer with this dac, its still feels funny to dissect minor source differences of a $1500 dac on a $350 headphone amp. The differences talked about can be heard on a head amp, just more obvious and exaggerated on speakers. Musical preferences - Rock, indie, jazz, 2000s rap - roughly in that order.

    I normally skip the obligatory build section of reviews, because you listen to it, not hold it and touch it all day. But when I first open the box and removed the dac from its fancy sock, I was pretty shocked by its size and weight. This is one dense little book sized DAC. In comparison to the Soekris 1541, its looks are more modern, flashy little screen, and roughly the same size. Matrix is a bit wider and deeper, but dammit my soekris is girthy and that's what counts (I hope). Remote is awesome to hold, can switch between digital inputs, volume in pre mode, standby (power), mute. If Matrix is reading this, would have been cool to switch between filters or other options with remote, even if I'm sure that would have sucked to try and program. I am going to say this is one of the better build pieces of gear that I've tried. But good build quality doent mean anything if it doesnt sound right.

    How does it sound? Unlike Sabre I've heard in the past. For first 2 days, I just listened to the Matrix - no back and forth, no test tracks, no crazy +.05db @3.2khz analysis. And it was a very enjoyable listen. My ears weren't bleeding? I could listen to hours on end, thought the sound was clean, everything was where it was supposed to be, sounded natural, few if any digital artifacts / digital glare. Soundstage was pretty wide, instruments weren't all mashed together. This is a high quality dac. I settled in on filter #3 - the fast roll off, linear. DAC mode, Dither sounded better on, I used ASYNC, but didn't mess around with this much. After 2 days, thoroughly impressed, could see what the excitement was all about, but at the same time, I wasn't overly blown away, because it sounded ALOT like my Soekris 1541.

    So - like any audio gear nerd, I needed to know which one was best, having 2 great dacs on hand wasn't the answer that anyone wants. Switched back and forth a bunch. This is difficult. Differences were fairly minor, but were clear after a few swaps back and forth. Outliers weren't smack you in the face obvious like Amethyst, Convert, Schiit, AGD, Sonic Frontiers, etc etc. I still like the Soekris 1541 better, but maybe that's because I've owned it for a quite a while and grew accustomed to it. Whats different? The Matrix wasn't quite as tight on low frequencies, didn't sound as natural, and was slightly brighter / fatiguing. Not nearly as fatiguing as I found the Convert2 (or detailed), but the Matrix is just a bit more forward. Maybe others would prefer a bit of added top end. The Matrix also didn't clearly separate the image or have the 3d stage I've grown to like on Soekris. I stated before, these differences were pretty minor, and if you tired me up, blind folded me, drove me around in the back of a van for several hours without food / water, and put me in a warehouse with my identical setup, I'm not sure I could tell which DAC was which. When switching back and forth over and over, I wanted to keep listening to the Soekris just a bit longer, it sounded more lively. The Matrix was just a bit flatter, a bit drier. Maybe switching to 4th filter would change this, maybe it wouldn't.

    So uhhh, how do I wrap this up......Matrix X-Sabre Pro is a really good dac that does a very very good job of sounding similar to my current dac, and I ended up slightly preferring my current dac, but I might not even notice if someone slipped a cover over the two. Lots to like here, top notch build, quite a few features for the money, really nice compact size and rugged as hell build. Value is high. I think it walks the line of "fun" hifi dac and "neutral" "transparent" source that seems to be coming about, maybe in response to the dacs we've used the last couple of years from bigger manufacturers. Maybe I've just found my preference, a clean dac that makes you forget you are listening to digital, and just lets you turn up the music and enjoy. I would recommend this to friends. Matrix X-Sabre Pro gets the Josh Mo Seal of Approval (Trademark pending).
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2019
  17. porkfriedpork

    porkfriedpork Friend

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    I spent this week with the Matrix X-Sabre Pro SBAF loaner. Thanks @ChaChaRealSmooth for squeezing me in on this. I really wanted to hear this because my past experiences with sabre dacs have been pretty awful and I really wanted to hear a sabre dac that doesn't suck. My V20 phone has sabre dac... I don't know why everyone says this phone sounds good. I owned an NFB28 and it was horrible; smoothed over, with unnatural timbre with guitars and strings sounding compressed and metallic.

    I compared the Matrix to Gungnir Multibit A2, Soekris dac1541, Antelope Zodiac silver and Modi3. My sources were both JRiver and Qobuz hi-res. My headphone setup was Inspire IHA1 and Cayin IHA6 with SDR/Cork HD800. My speaker setups were Denon AVR X4200W to Soundworks T500 and also Almarro318B and Sansui G5700 to Klipschorns.

    The Matrix is really nice looking, and I really like the machined aluminum casing. Given my experience with sabre dacs, I thought it might just be lipstick on a pig. By comparison Soekris feel like a tin can. Getting the matrix into setup menu is a pain and makes it hard to A/B its wide set of options for filters, dither, jitter reduction etc. The DAC output is 2.25 Vrms, so I set the DAC to PRE mode to enable the volume control to volume match (1.5db down) the other dacs. I selected filter Mod4 because @JoshMorr didn't. Other settings were defaults.

    My first listening session was with headphones, AB'ing different dacs against the Matrix and each other. I find the Gungnir Multibit A2 and Soekris to be almost indistinguishable with headphones, unlike OG Gungnir Multibit A1. The Soekris edges out the Gumby2 on imaging and blackness when I can hear any difference at all. The Matrix is less laid back than either of these R2Rs. Matrix has a small bump in the mids and more forward presentation. I still hear the sabre steeliness and glare, its not bad but there. The matrix stage is very thin compared to the others and imaging suffered by comparison. I could see how the more aggressive mid presentation might appeal to some people, but I listen pretty loud and it’s just too much. Detail retrieval and dynamics were similar on Gungnir Multibit, Soekris and XSabre.

    My impressions on speakers were different. I first listened with the Denon AVR and T500s mostly because it was easy to feed all 5 dacs into the AVR and select via remote. It’s just fair as an audiophile setup but is very transparent. The speakers are mostly neutral but have seismic bass from the 10-inch subs and 12 inch passive. The Matrix and Soekris sounded more similar than different. I hear no glare on the XSabre and the staging, timbre and imaging were quite good. The XSabre had the most bass of any of the dacs. On this system it was a bit too thick and wooly compared to the Soekris. The Gungnir Multibit lagged both significantly and was quite disappointing.

    I then dragged everything downstairs to listen on the KHorns. Everything sounded the same with Almarro 318B, the Sansui was more transparent. Klipschorns can be sound bright and need the right stack to bring out the bass. The aggressive mids and bass on the XSabre was a good fit here and I preferred it over the Gungnir Multibit and Soekris.

    I haven't much to say about the Modi. Its really not in the same league as the others but does make it clear that spendy DACs sound better. The Antelope Zodiac is my favorite dac in the pile. It has less veil, more slam and detail, better timbre, imaging and stage, although its somewhat bright and can be fatiguing.

    So... the XSabre doesn't suck in the right setup. It can rock hard and sounded good with jazz and classical music too. I still prefer some of my other dacs but its ok.
     
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  18. Jerry

    Jerry Friend

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    When you say staging is very thin, do you mean small? Or the sound images are thin?
     
  19. porkfriedpork

    porkfriedpork Friend

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    It was thin from front to back, like a sheet of paper. Instrument placement was only really discernible from side to side but not in depth, or at least the depth was quite shallow compared to Soekris, Gungnir Multibit and Zodiac.
     
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  20. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    When I had the loaner unit, I found stage depth very decent.. but individual virtual images were very thin -- yeah like paper sheet, in comparison with schiit Y&G and cranesong . Similar things were heard with gustard x26. I was suspecting it as one character of 9038 pro. Matrix was tad better than gustatrd to my ears though. Maybe it was mitigated by ec (black widow) -- because bw does 3d fairly well.
     
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