Matrix X-Sabre 3: fresh air
About hi-fi in general
The sensations that a high-fidelity component can provoke in you depend on so many factors that one cannot help but wonder if they were right to express them in writing. Headphones, an amplifier, boxes, a Dac… do not work at your own risk. It is true that we can weigh his character in isolation. And we probably won’t water it out of the pot (or not much). But only the combination decides the final (and supposedly optimal) result. Hence, we often refer to the synergy that may exist between the different components of a team. Perhaps some Audioquest cables, for example, are not the best option for connecting already powerful devices. Neither is marrying very low impedance dynamic headphones with OTL amplifiers, even when both are, each in their own right, of sufficiently proven quality. Ring, they will ring. But we will easily see how the bass gets out of control.
Now, and contrary to what we might initially assume, when we reach a certain level, the better a component is—the more high-end—the more it will depend on the rest of the factors… if it is about evaluating what it contributes more. Well, this contribution, usually, has to do with subtle differences… although, in the world of audiophilia, these are decisive. We are not talking, therefore, about the equipment sounding good. Well, it is taken for granted that he will. We talk about what makes performances have soul… and that is difficult to describe (if we ever manage to). As a prominent sound engineer said, what I want to know is not so much where the musicians are on stage, but why they are there. Certainly, it happens here as in the world of wine: the most expensive are not necessarily the best. However, the general rule is that the good product, and not just the good product, with some -few- exceptions, will not sell for four dollars.
We say the above in relation to one of the most impressive Dacs that I have heard lately: the Matrix In fact, upon hearing it for the first time I had a good impression… but only a good impression. It got better—a lot—when I realized that I had plugged it in with the phase reversed. Furthermore, the X-Sabre 3 reached its potential when I replaced the Mogami cables, already more than decent cables, with Cardas Clear Cygnus (the USB connection was made with Cardas USB High Speed). We are not talking, obviously, about differences between night and day, but about those that complete the feeling of naturalness. We will skip the technical details, which we can easily consult, and get straight to the point.
Neutrality and elegance
As we may already know, the X-Sabre 3 is one of the Dacs that measures best and, for that reason, it is a Dac that is committed to neutrality. However, it is not dry at all, as perhaps could be said of Toppings in general, whose measurements are also usually unbeatable. The high resolution offered by the X-Sabre 3, on par, however, with other Dacs in the same league, never hurts the ears… unless the recording is already strident. In reality, the opposite happens: here clarity – undoubtedly outstanding – goes hand in hand with a proportionate sense of beauty. I imagine this is because the output of the Dac accentuates the harmonics that provide precisely a touch of warmth without drowning out the main note or, of course, distorting it excessively. Elegance, would be the word, an elegance that does not, however, fall into velvety. We are not talking, therefore, about a Dac that fixes the problems in some recordings, but nor about one that puts them in your face. He shows them, without further ado. Due to its linearity, the X-Sabre 3 adequately translates the timbre of the instruments. In fact, it does so bordering on perfection. In this sense, we can easily distinguish between a Steinway piano and another Bösendorfer (and for example, Paul Badura-Skoda’s recording of Schubert’s D960 sonata for the Genuin label, in which he performs the same sonata with three different pianos: a gem of a record). It is true that this delicate distinction is also offered to you by other high-end Dacs. But few—and usually at a higher price—with the ease of the X-Sabre 3.
What it brings
In general terms, we could say what can also be said about the competition’s Dacs. Thus, the images are extraordinary, the bass, defined and forceful, while the mids are offered without accentuating any frequency (and hence, as we pointed out before, it respects the timbre of instruments and voices). The treble, for its part, is delivered without a trace of aridity or sibilance. The tonality is, therefore, coherent. Even if you realize that it doesn’t work with Burr-Brown chips, you wouldn’t say that there is an ESS chip inside. However, I think the most outstanding thing about the X-Sabre 3 – the feature that sets it apart from most – is the airy feel it provides. It’s not usual. Most well-designed DACs offer a sufficiently wide stage, preserve instrumental timbre, as well as convincingly display dynamic contrasts. And here the X-Sabre 3 is not far behind. But few get musicians to breathe, so to speak. In this sense, the X-Sabre 3 is reminiscent of a tube amplifier, although without its typical coloration. I imagine this has to do, on the one hand, with the ease with which it reproduces the micro dynamics and, on the other, with its impressive background silence. Simply put, the music seems to come out of nowhere. Resolute Dacs often seem to cut music with a scalpel. At first, they can catch our attention. But over time they become exhausting. Well, although they distribute in width, they do not usually do so in depth (and hence they give us a certain feeling of forcing things). This is not the case with the X-Sabre 3: the musicians are in their place and you know why. This Dac is by no means flat: it digs into the flesh, although without making it bleed. The realism with which he translates the performances, especially when they are live, is indisputable. It is enough to listen to some records from the Fonè label to realize what we have just said. Not all Dacs, even within the same league, manage to translate the sense of reality of these recordings, even if they can come close. The X-Sabre 3 not only conveys the contrast between forte and piano, but it allows you to distinguish between forte and fortissimo (or between piano and pianissimo). This is evident when listening to classical or jazz music. Thus, it is possible to capture the personality of the performers, which is revealed, for example, in how they attack the strings or press the piano keys and, of course, in the inflections of the voice. The XSabre 3 perfectly transmits the countless nuances that, for example, Peo Alfonsi extracts from the guitar on the album Alma. And this to such an extent that with similar Dacs you have the feeling that it is simply limited to tearing it (and here I may be exaggerating, but not by much). These subtleties are in the recording and the X-Sabre 3 displays them with great naturalness. And I would say that it is precisely these subtleties that make the difference between listening to a recording and being there. In many other Dacs, you have to strain your attention to imagine them. This is not the case with the XSabre 3. Perhaps the only Dac that, at the time, gave me a similar, but not identical, impression was the Ayre Qb9 DSD, designed by Charles Hansen. But it has been out of the catalog for years.
We could add the occasional comment about its functionality as a streamer – more than notable – or about the possibility of playing with different filters or settings, which is, without a doubt, an added value. But perhaps what has been said is enough to justify that the X-Sabre 3 is, in short, a literally exceptional Dac. Anyone looking for a Dac that transmits the air that musicians breathe, and not just their position on stage or the intensity of their performances, could perfectly stop here.