Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 - For the Streamer in You!
In this day and age, everyone seems to stream music whether it be through a mobile device or a PC. There are various music streaming services; ie. Spotify, Tidal, Amazon, Quobuz, Deezer and many others. There are desktop music management options with Roon, J River, Audirvana and others. So to take advantage of these streaming services and to remove chances of tripping on cables, there are audio streamers like the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 available for our convenience. But for an old school audiophile like me, is there any reason to use a streamer?
Apos Audio provided the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 for review and only asked for an honest review. I wasn't influenced, directed to say something positive or paid for this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Do keep in mind that I have an affiliate link with Apos:
Specs: Check out the Apos link and Matrix website for more detailed specs then I can ever describe.
Notes of Importance:
I am not a user of Roon even though I did have a 2 week trial during this review period. I do not like Roon for many reasons; sonically it sounds oversampled and DSP enhanced, and I will not use Roon going forward. I have used Audirvana Studio as my PC music manager for several years. I stream with Tidal and Amazon HD. I didn't use most of the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 functions as they just don't apply to my listening ways; my most common uses were as a DAC/AMP.
The Matrix Mini-I Pro 3 is solid build with a premium look. There is a glass front with a LCD screen on the front. The volume knob is also a multi function button.
On the backside there is a plethora of inputs and outputs; from left to right: XLR & RCA outputs, RCA, coaxial, optical, IIS LVDS, USB-C, LAN inputs, reset button, power supply. All the inputs and outputs are well spaced and do not cramp on each other when wires are connected. No matter what type of input you are wanting to use, more than likely the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 will have it.
Usability is a frustration with a learning curve of high difficulty. I find that the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 is frustrating to max levels to use without the remote. With the remote, the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 is annoying, bordering on frustrating. To setup the device you have to use both the itty bitty blue reset button in the rear and the multi function selector volume knob, this was a major pain in the backside and involved many a moments of walking away to clear the head and try again. Once the device has your wifi network information it is accessible till the device is fully reset. Bluetooth and network stay connected but it is a chore to setup. Now on to the big draw about the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3, Roon and MQA.
Needless to say, I didn't use the streaming and bluetooth functions much at all. Connecting to Roon is also a nuisance.
The only cool thing about using Roon was seeing the screen provide the file and source information with a picture of the song and artist, Also, you can play those MQA files offered by Tidal and see the screen display MQA.
But be advised, the screen only displays minimal information when not streaming so if you care about detailed on-screen information then you better stream.
The Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 also has preset filters; fast roll-off minimum, slow roll-off minimum, fast roll-off linear, slow roll-off linear, brickwall, hybrid and apodizing, that can be implemented for playback. The differences are subtle but are noticeable on revealing headphones and speakers. I found that the apodizing filter was the most detailed and resolving in a natural way in comparison to the other filters. The filters come down to your preference and is a very subjective topic, select a filter at your own risk. I do wish that Matrix had included an option to turn off the filters.
(All sound impressions are based off the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 as a DAC and AMP using Audirvana. The filter used for sound impressions is the apodizing filter.)
Here are some random thoughts on the sound of the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3. Let's start with the headphone outputs, continue onto amplifier pairings and conclude with some comparisons.
Meze Empyrean: Using the 4.4mm balanced output with the Meze Empyrean is a lovely pairing. The Empyrean keeps the natural, realistic tone and timbre that it is known for. The details and resolution are good as well. The soundstage isn't as large as the Empyrean can be on other gear but it is has good imaging and placement on the Mini-i Pro 3. Swapping to the 6.35mm single-ended output the Matrix doesn't power the Empyrean as efficiently and requires more on the volume knob. Sonically the single-ended output is just about as lush and refined as the balanced output but does lack just a touch of refinement in resolution. The Meze Empyrean is right at home with the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 but I do recommend using the 4.4mm balanced output.
Rosson RAD-0: The Rosson RAD-0 reveals all the good and the bad of the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3. This pairing had a lot of moments of "I like that" and "I don't like that". The Rosson shows the limitations of the soundstage width, depth and layering of the Mini-i Pro 3. Don't get me wrong, the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 soundstage is good but it is a bit compressed. There is a lot of details retrieved and the resolution is good on the Matrix. Imaging is fantastic but there is limited space/separation and this makes some tracks come across as cramped. The tone and timbre is accurate and natural. Using the 4.4mm balanced output brings in a touch more clarity and space but it also reveals some struggles with resolution as harshness and sharpness appear at random times when they shouldn't. Overall, the Rosson Rad-0 and Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 are an okay pairing but not a favorite.
Sennheiser HD660s: A pairing made for one another, the Sennheiser HD660s and Matrix Mini-i Pro 3. There is a sense of space and separation that the HD660s doesn't show on all gear. The tone and timbre is accurate and natural with a pleasing musical kiss. Vocals are presented with clarity and realism. Imaging is excellent and the limited space and separation that is noticeable on other headphones isn't with the HD660s. Soundstage depth and layering is fantastic, making it easy to diagnose the stage. Resolution also isn't plagued with the harshness and sharpness that other headphones reveal. Overall, this is one of my favorite pairings for the Sennheiser HD660s that I have heard.
Amplifier Pairings: (No sonic differences were determined between RCA and XLR output)
HeadAmp GS-X Mini: The Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 as a DAC into the GS-X Mini is a sonic experience that is truly enjoyable. The Mini-i Pro 3 has a natural tone and timbre that is evident on any headphones of choice, Sennheiser HD660s, Sennheiser HD580, AKG K612 Pro, Rosson RAD-0, Meze Empyrean, Hifiman Ananda, MrSpeakers Ether C. Detail retrieval is plentiful and resolution is spectacular. Even though the stage isn't the largest in width or depth it loses the compressed sound that is found in the headphone output. Imaging is great fun as there are details in and around your head; accuracy and precise placement is readily noticeable; with the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 you can diagnosis a stage with ease. Overall, the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 is at it's best as a DAC paired with a high class amplifier.
Tor Audio Roger: Another pleasurable sonic adventure of the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 as a DAC is to pair it with the Tor Audio Roger tube amplifier. Now I was only able to use this pairing with Sennheiser HD660s, Sennheiser HD600, Sennheiser HD580 and AKG K612 Pro as the Tor Audio Roger doesn't power planar headphones very well. This was a good test of the RCA output as the Tor Audio Roger has a single-ended input. The Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 again is in it's comfort zone as a DAC with the Tor Audio Roger. There is a warmth and lushness to the sonics; a sound that takes me back to my grandparents house when Elvis, Beatles, J.B. Lenoir, Frank Sinatra and many others would be on the turntable and speakers in the den with a crackling fire in the corner. The Sennheisers are at home on tube amplifiers and the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 is as well. An intimate but detailed and inviting presentation that just sounds pleasing and different then most other setups. Natural warmth is present in vocals and instruments. I really like this pairing for my Sennheisers and AKG.
Comparisons: (Comparison was with the HeadAmp GS-X Mini, balanced output with various headphones. Also the single-ended headphone outputs of the Mytek Liberty DAC and Matrix Mini-i Pro 3.)
Mytek Liberty: When comparing the headphone outputs; the Mytek Liberty has more headroom and an overall cleaner sound. The Mytek Liberty has a wider, deeper stage. The Mytek Liberty also has a slight advantage when it comes to detail retrieval and resolution. Comparing the outputs of both into the GS-X Mini again brings the Mytek Liberty out slightly ahead of the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3. The Mytek Liberty has a more accurate and natural sound and there is just a touch more clarity. Details retrieved and detail resolution are noticeably improved on the Mytek. Tone and timbre are similar but the Mytek Liberty edges out the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 with realism; especially with natural harshness and sibilance. Summarizing, the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 has a slightly compressed stage in width and depth, layering isn't as defined, details and resolution aren't as refined and are smoother and rounded, tone and timbre is just a smidge less natural and real when comparing to the Mytek Liberty.
Schiit Audio BiFrost 2: Comparing the Schiit Audio BiFrost 2 and the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 has proven to be a challenge. There are a lot of similarities between them but a couple of differences that stand out. The BiFrost 2 has a more natural and realistic sound with tone and timbre. Notes aren't rounded and smoothed on the BiFrost 2 like they are on the Mini-i Pro 3; this adds in natural harshness and sibilance to the overall sound on the Schiit Audio. The BiFrost 2 and Mini-i Pro 3 are very close in detail retrieval and resolution. The difference lies with the presentation of said details with the BiFrost 2 being more forthright with the presentation and the Mini-i Pro 3 is softer in the approach. The Schiit Audio BiFrost 2 has an expansive stage with depth and layering and the Matrix just can't keep up. The Bifrost 2 is exceptional with imaging and positional placement and the layering capabilities are top notch. Summarizing, the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 has a compressed stage in width and depth, layering is compacted and not as defined, details and resolution are on par but are smoothed and rounded, tone and timbre is slightly less natural and realistic when comparing to the Schiit Audio BiFrost 2.
Conclusions: The Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 is a capable DAC/Amp/Streamer/All-in-One that I have enjoyed having in house for review. If I didn't have either of the other two DAC in house then the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 would be an option to sit on my desk for daily use. The Matrix is an accurate and natural sounding DAC. There are some flaws with it though; headphone output is lacking refinement, overall sonic signature is slightly compressed and tad behind competition with detail retrieval and resolution. But there are so many other options that the Matrix offers with Roon, streaming, Bluetooth and so much more. I am not integrated into the Roon ecosystem but I can see the draw to the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 if you are. I am not a streamer or Bluetooth user but I can see the draw of the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 if you are. This is a solid choice if you are looking for an all-in-one with as few cables as possible. But I am not looking for those features so the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 isn't for me but it might be for you. I like the Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 and recommend it for the streamers. But I will stick with my Mytek Liberty for now as it remains the best option for my needs.
YouTube reviews: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgMj7xJ1SDxGqqxZ5l3g_jg
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TalkDbs @TalkDbs
The Honest Audiophile research and review process: https://youtu.be/UkSnoZZNyYc
Audio Terms and Definitions: https://www.stereophile.com/reference/50/index.html
Rosson Audio Design RAD-0: http://www.rossonaudiodesign.com/
Meze Empyrean: https://mezeaudio.com/products/meze-empyrean
Hifiman Ananda: https://hifiman.com/products/detail/290
Sennheiser HD660s: https://en-us.sennheiser.com/hd-660-s
MrSpeakers Ether C (non flow version) https://danclarkaudio.com/
Meze Rai Penta: https://mezeaudio.com/collections/all/products/rai-penta
Meze Rai Solo: https://mezeaudio.com/products/rai-solo
Empire Ears ESR: https://empireears.com/products/esr-b-stock
Moondrop SSR: https://www.moondroplab.com/ssr
Monoprice Monolith THX AAA 788: https://www.monoprice.com/product?p_id=24459
Mytek Liberty: https://mytekdigital.com/hifi/products/liberty-dac/
HeadAmp GSX-Mini: https://www.headamp.com/products/gs-x-mini
Soekris DAC1421: https://soekris.modhouseaudio.com/soekris-audiophile-line/dac-1421
Tor Audio Roger: https://toraudio.com/main.html#
Schiit Auido BiFrost 2: https://schiit.com/products/bi-frost-1
Massdrop THX AAA 789:
Grace Design SDAC-B: https://drop.com/buy/drop-grace-design-standard-dac-balanced?utm_source=linkshare&referer=FTSS2S
Geshelli Labs Enog 2 Pro: https://geshelli.com/shop/ols/products/enog2-pro-dac-metal-case
Geshelli Labs J2: https://geshelli.com/jnog
Geshelli Labs Erish: https://geshelli.com/shop/ols/products/erish-balanced
https://tidal.com/browse/playlist/5bbf80ce-33f3-4222-a1fc-6539a95415d6 (in order of playlist)
Tingvall Trio “Beat” - piano tonality
Sinne Eeg “We’ve Just Begun” - multiple layer soundstage
Molly Johnson “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” - female vocal tone
Leslie Odom Jr. “Under Pressure” - male vocal tone
Eric Clapton “Change the World” - soundstage, layering and placement
Yo Yo Ma “Ecstasy of Gold” - acoustic instrument timbre
Adam Baldych “Spem in Alium” - acoustic instrument timbre
Pain of Salvation “Stress” - percussion balance
Michael Buble “When I Fall in Love” - orchestral dynamics
Patricia Barber “Code Cool” - sibilance check
Christian Scott “New New Orleans” - shouty upper mids
Tool “Chocolate Chip Trip” - imaging
Hans Zimmer “Why So Serious” - sub bass extension
Marcus Miller “No Limit” - bass control
Dave Holland Quartet “Conference Of The Birds”- bass check
Ilhan Eshkeri “47 Ronin”- orchestra and bass dynamics
Hans Zimmer: “2049” - sub bass extension
Cher: “Believe” - sibilance
Stanley Clarke - “Passenger 57 main title” - percussion, bass, separation and placement
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra - “The Pine of the Appian Way” - soundstage, imaging and separation
Houston Person - “You are my Sunshine” - tone and timbre
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