Review: Matrix Audio HPA-2C Desktop Amp/DAC Combo

Firstly I would like to thank Matrix Audio for sending me this sample to review, in exchange for my honest opinion. I always try to write honest reviews, this unit received over 50hrs of burn-in before reviewing, no differences were noted.

Gear Used:
Dell XPS 15 / Audio Opus #1 > Matrix Quattro II DAC > Matrix HPA-2C
Dell XPS 15 > Matrix HPA-2C
Headphones: Fischer Audio FA-003ti W / Fostex T50rp Mk3 / Fostex TH-500rp (IEM’s more on that later)


Tech Specs:
A comprehensive list can be found on the Matrix Website: http://www.matrix-digi.com/en/specifications/102/index.html
MSRP: $289


Packaging, Build Quality and Accessories:
The HPA-2C comes in the standard White Matrix Audio box, it is made of quality cardboard and has a good finish, albeit plain. This is a device you will have read about or seen rather than needing the packaging to sell it, because of this no specs or images are needed on the box. Inside the box you get the HPA-2C very well padded in a foam insert, along with the accessories and instructions. The device is well packaged being held with foam, and also the device has a thin protective pouch over it. Overall the packaging is plain, but very well made and serves it purpose of getting the product to you undamaged, even when handled by the worst of couriers.


The build quality is superb, I didn’t find any blemishes on my unit, the finish is a neat matte black and everything fits together very nicely. All the inputs and outputs are gold plated and of excellent quality, the headphone socket is tight, the volume knob rotates every so smoothly. It all feels very sleek, smooth and solid. The full metal design with small opening on the sides also help keep the unit cool, and it only gets a little warm when being used, considering it is a class A amplifier.

Accessories included are the power cable, which is a standard 3 pin kettle lead, a USB cable, manual and CD which includes the driver. All in all you get everything you need to get it up and running.


Functionality and Setup:
The main improvement Matrix have done is add a high quality DAC to the HPA-2 amp as standard, not longer having it as an optional extra. The HPA-2C can be used as a pre-amp for a stereo setup, as a headphone amp only and as a DAC/Amp combo, you can also use it as just a DAC but the volume control controls the RCA output level, so as a DAC it doesn’t have a fixed line level out.
This amp has 2 gain settings, however I have never needed high gain, it is only really needed for very hard to drive headphones.

Setup was nice and easy, I am using windows 10 and just installed the driver and it was simple to setup and use.


Sound:
Well what can I say, this is a powerful desktop amp that has a great built in DAC for a neat all in one solution. It is suitable for full size headphones, and inefficient IEM’s only, with most IEM’s there is a constant audible hum unfortunately, which is never audible with full size headphones, no matter how efficient they are, a little odd. I should add that the output impedance is 10 Ohms so it is best suited to headphones 80 Ohms and over really.

This as an amp on its own tries not to add too much flavour, it is powerful and balanced, well refined and ever so slightly smooth. It takes the slightly sharp edge off the sound which makes it an enjoyable listen. It may not be the flattest in terms of overall sound, but it is also not as smooth as a valve amp at the same price. It works wonders with Beyerdynamic T1 1st Generation as it takes the edge off the slight sharpness in the treble without taking away the detailed nature of the headphones. The sound is articulate and extended on both ends, with the FA-003ti you get the great separation and soundstage, along with the very tight and detailed sound, but the amp adds a little warmth and adds a little something that makes them sound tonally correct.

Using it as a DAC/Amp also works very well, I cannot hear a huge difference between the Quattro II and the internal DAC, the Quattro II definitely has the upper hand in detail retrieval and also refinement where you can nitpick things a little easier, and the Quattro II is fantastic in its own right, but if you only need a USB input I cannot see anyone going wrong with just using the internal DAC and this as a standalone device.


Using the Fostex TH-500rp I still find myself going to my Feliks Audio Espressivo Valve amp, as it sound smoother and overall compliments the TH-500rp better than the HPA-2C, the HPA-2C does make them sound a little more open and also extension up top is better, but with the Espressivo they sound buttery smooth. This is not a fault of the HPA-2C, just personal preference.

Comparing it to the JDS Labs Element, the HPA-2C has a touch more authority and body, the Element sounds a little cold in comparison, even though it is an exceedingly good product. I feel the HPA-2C adds some realism to the sound. Both very good products, and the Element works better with IEM’s but the HPA-2C works better with hard to drive headphones.

Conclusion:
This is a great looking, well built amp/DAC combo that would stand proud as an all in one desktop solution, or as a lone headphone amp fed by another source. It is perfect for driving hard to drive full size headphones effortlessly with control, body and refinement. It may not be the most versatile amp out there, nor is it the flattest sounding amp, but is does offer a slightly full sound which I find works very well with the Beyerdynamic T1, Fischer Audio FA-003ti and others. Overall a great device, with an MSRP of $289 I can highly recommend it.
And if you are adventurous the op-amp is interchangeable too, so it opens up the possibility to roll others.


Sound Perfection Rating: 8.5/10 (the hum makes it not suitable for IEM’s, but if you use it for what it’s made for, it is fantastic for the price)

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