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Matrix Audio mini-i 4 Streamer Review

Rate this streamer/DAC:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 11 5.8%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 50 26.5%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 107 56.6%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 21 11.1%

  • Total voters
    189

mash

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I was interested in seeing how this would perform. I own a Mini 3 Pro (amongst other RPi streamers) and use it primarily for Roon streaming. I can't complain about my 3 Pro, its a nice unit and has held up well. The Matrix boxes are a bit over priced but I wanted a single box solution for my living room and the Mini 3 fit the bill. I like the improvements they've made on this box. The addition of Spotify connect support is a important for my house (due to the kids wanting to connect and play their music using Spotify).

I agree with others that the lack of a volume knob (coupled with an optional remote) is a definite step backwards. The other software bugs should have also been worked out prior to release.....I'm not worried about the Roon support. Matrix will almost certainly add it (all of their other boxes support it), its just a matter of when.

I will add that as a fairly big Roon user, the delay in getting devices certified is annoying. While I appreciate that Roon goes through a comprehensive process to certify devices....taking many months to complete the process is not consumer friendly........maybe a better approach would be to allow a quicker beta approval while waiting for final full certification. That way, the device could be used for streaming (even if it had some issues) prior to certification.
 

delta76

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Even if it performed the same, what I would have expected from @MatrixAudio is a better support and a flawless product when it comes to features. Seems like we're not quite there yet.

I had this Matrix Mini-i Pro 3 for about two years. They did tell that they could (will?) add volume acceleration by firmware. The volume control was the slowest I ever experienced and it really needed this update. Update that just never came. Never ever. When I asked them back here, they just went silent. Very disappointing when you spent 1k for one of their products. Now this one is discontinued, and would probably not be supported anymore, barely three years after its release.


C'mon @morillon .... Just read the review! :facepalm:
My Denon x3400h (released in 2017/2018) was still received firmware updates in 2023. And I can't even say Denon is the best in the business. Just an example to remind that when buying stuffs - especially expensive stuffs, customer service and long term support are just as important as SINAD ;)
 

Tangband

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Matrix Audio mini-i 4 streamer, balanced DAC and preamplifier. It was sent to me by Shenzehenaudio and costs US $649.
View attachment 324545
I am neutral on the look of the unit. The only button for power is on top. The front panel is touch sensitive in different areas. It is not discoverable as the up and down indicators for volume and input flanking the display go off after you use them. Likewise, to go into settings, you have to swipe left and right on the main display -- something I had to look up to find out. Fortunately touch sensitivity is very good and the processor behind it and the display is quite responsive. Older streamers from Matrix were not so situated.

Back panel shows clear differentiation:
View attachment 324546
Notice the inclusion of HDMI ARC and RCA for analog input. This completely eliminated the need for a pre-amp for just about audiophile.

I was sad to find out that the remote was optional and not included. I downloaded the Matrix control app. It however was not able to discover the unit by itself. I had to manually configure it using a QR code that it shows under the settings. Upon doing so, the app noted that there was an update. I told it to download and while it started, it just hung with its hour glass showing forever. So I resorted to using the front panel to do the upgrade. That went OK except for it getting stuck for a long time in one point, making me think it is hung. Fortunately I waited a while longer and it eventually finished.

Matrix mini-i 4 DAC Measurements
Let's start with USB input and XLR output with level adjusted one notch to get closer to nominal 4 volts:
View attachment 324547
Distortion is very low at less than 130 dB, landing the unit squarely in our "Excellent" category (red) and inline with other Matrix products (pink):
View attachment 324548

View attachment 324549

Performance naturally drops a bit with RCA:
View attachment 324550

I wanted to test the streaming functionality using Roon. Alas, Roon complained that the implementation was not certified and it would not let me use it. :( I also don't have HDMI ARC test source so couldn't test that as well. Previous Matrix streamers have had similar performance with network vs USB so I am not too worried about that.

I expected noise to be the limiting factor for SINAD but for reasons I can't explain, that performance is much better:
View attachment 324551

Multitone test shows the very low distortion again:
View attachment 324552

Combination of noise and distortion in IMD is excellent:
View attachment 324553

Here is the reference 50 Hz distortion test for comparison to reviews elsewhere:
View attachment 324554

I did run into a bug with linearity test though:
View attachment 324555
When the test starts -120 dB, there is huge deviation which is likely due to the unit muting. I discovered a second bug when I ran the filter tests:
View attachment 324556

The unit ships with "Minimum Phase" as the default. That response was surprisingly slow (in red). But after I went through all the filters, it showed the more correct response (in dark blue #9). I have seen this once or twice in other DACs. It seems the DAC filter is not setup correctly. At any rate, I like fast linear filter better anyway so set it to that:
View attachment 324557

Using that filter, wideband THD+N vs frequency response is quite good:

View attachment 324558

While not an audible concern, I expect better from Matrix engineering than what I saw in the Jitter test:
View attachment 324559

These could be interference patterns from onboard streaming processor.

Matrix Mini-i 4 Analog Preamplifier Measurements
It is super useful to be able to route the output of a turntable or Reel to Reel deck through the streamer so let's see how that does with RCA in and out:
View attachment 324560
Distortion is kind high resulting in unexciting SINAD of 89 dB. This is inline with the last streamer I tested from Matrix although the approach is different due to use of an ADC (see below). Using XLR balanced out gives similar performance:
View attachment 324561
You do get nice format conversion though with output being a proper 4 volts now.

As noted, the implementation here is with digitization of input signal:
View attachment 324562
Fortunately sample rate is quite high so not a worry.

Noise performance is better than distortion:
View attachment 324563

At nearly 17 bits, it is certainly a lot cleaner than any analog source you through at it.

Finally, here is a comparison of IMD distortion relative to Matrix Element X2 streamer:
View attachment 324564

The X2 has lower noise but somewhat higher distortion.

Conclusions
The measured performance is in excellent category which is nice for a streamer at this price. Alas, there seems to be a few bugs that need to be resolved. On functionality front, the feature set is excellent with inclusion of HDMI ARC and analog input -- something I wished more DACs would support.

Prices for Matrix products have really climbed since their inception so it is very good to see products in this price range.

Personally I wouldn't buy the mini-i 4 due to lack of certified Roon support and bugs observed. Your situation may vary.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

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I voted poor because of :

1. No remote control
2. High jitter - pity they stumbled on this.
3. Bad software - it has to be perfect to compete.
4. Digitalization of analog input - This is not an advantage.
5. No digital Peq or EQ - This is very useful If its of good quality.
6. Maybe to expensive because of this.

This is not good enough 2023 when we have WiiM and sota dacs for not much money, doing a better job.
Buying a streamer without PEQ is not a bargain at any price. Two years ago things where very different.

That said, it will probably be well reviewed, just like bluesound node 2i. Its not cheap enough to get bad reviews.
 
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thegeton

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This is quite an oversight by Matrix Audio IMO, an extra $50... otherwise a decent price for this dac/pre/streamer. Cheers for the testing too.


JSmith

I doubt it was an oversight. They probably had a COGS target to hit and the remote put them over.
 

KarVi71

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Seems reasonable.

If it had EQ like Dirac Live or something like that, I would consider it.
 

phoenixdogfan

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I think the biggest issue is the lack of Roon certification. Don't use it myself, but I can see how having it with this unit would make it an incredibly powerful solution for many use cases. Would not really be all that expensive IMHO if Roon readiness were part of the package. As far as looks go, it has that kind of minimalistic, Bauhaus kind of look which goes well with Danish modern furnishings. So thumbs up from me.
 
Last edited:

pseudoid

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Agreed. If they fix them, I will revise the review conclusion.
Thank you @amirm, for the review.
Please don't hate me for asking: Is it 'ethical' to revise your findings post-fix?
Rather than to just post your later findings in a reply, retaining the accuracy of the timeline.
 
OP
amirm

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Thank you @amirm, for the review.
Please don't hate me for asking: Is it 'ethical' to revise your findings post-fix?
Rather than to just post your later findings in a reply, retaining the accuracy of the timeline.
I will note it with "edit" notation so it is clear what happened.
 

BadAudioAdvice

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An interesting feature that I noticed, the USB-C port provides power.

I've been wanting to make a single cable solution to play Apple Music Lossless using an iPad.

With other DACs you need to use a USB Hub to route power to the iPad while its connected to the DAC.

A single connection from the DAC to the iPad that provides power could make for a very clean setup. Since it seems like iPads directly connected to a DAC are really the only way to get AM lossless without conversion.

I hope that more DACs offer this!

(The lack of physical volume control, especially if its to act as a pre-amp for lots of sources is a deal breaker for me. And to use it purely as a DAC is a bit out of my price range. A minor annoyance is touch screens for input selection - but that seems to be the norm for most DACs...)
 

VintageFlanker

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You can buy a 30$ SBC as a streamer and whatever DAC you want, less expansive, like SMSL C200, offering headphones amp.
I stand on this:
Is Roon the only thing you can test the streaming part with ?
Depends. In this case, if MA Player doesn't allow local playback, there is virtually no way that @amirm may use his test tones files, and then measures the result. I also use Roon when available, for measuring streamers. Better would be to use an app allowing local (or UPnP) playback for playing my own files. Anyway, measured results using either Roon, or the manufacturer's app, should not differ, unless there are some design issues...
 

Ajax

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I
If something wants to act as a preamp, in my opinion a headphone and sub out are mandatory features these days.
I agree, I get the impression the majority of members at ASR are at the stage where they want a fully functional pre-amp "with" a high performing DAC, not the other way around.

My ideal preamp would have all the features of the mini-i-4 + DSP + volume knob + remote.

As an aside I would like to thank @Matias for his excellent spreadsheet comparing power amps, which clearly shows what's available to complete a SOTA front end once we have the pre-amp sorted.
 
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amirm

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If something wants to act as a preamp, in my opinion a headphone and sub out are mandatory features these days.
For my main system, I don't need a headphone amp as I only do headphone listening on desktop. Sub out would be good though.
 

Jimster480

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You can buy a 30$ SBC as a streamer and whatever DAC you want, less expansive, like SMSL C200, offering headphones amp.
Except using a $30 single board computer as a streamer is not an out-of-the-box type of solution and requires custom configuration and software as well as a custom enclosure and wiring. Some people like to buy a product and have it all done for them and for it to look nice.
 

ExUnoPlura

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I've had similar firmware update oddities with hangs, etc. with the X-SABRE 3. It always comes back and updates, but on one occasion required a power cycle to get it completed (from UI) and on the second required killing the iOS app (initiated from app).
 

pablolie

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I've had similar firmware update oddities with hangs, etc. with the X-SABRE 3. It always comes back and updates, but on one occasion required a power cycle to get it completed (from UI) and on the second required killing the iOS app (initiated from app).
I many cases, audio vendors do a *horrible* job with firmware updates. They don't accurately inform of progress, and they warn you "whatever you do, do not interrupt this - your device will be bricked, warranty voided, your soul and your first-born's will go to hell"... it is a stressful process.
 
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