When my friends at online retailer Apos Audio (www.apos.audio) recommended Matrix Audio’s X-SABRE 3 fully-balanced digital-to-analog converter (DAC, $2,999), I told them several times to send me the silver model. Not the black one, I emphasized. When the silver X-SABRE 3 did indeed arrive, I knew that I had something special in my hands.
With its clean and angular cuts, modern aesthetic, and over-the-top build quality, it was clear that the person who designed the X-SABRE 3’s chassis, controls, and user interface was extremely serious about their work. Rapping my knuckles with some authority on the unit’s thick-paneled aluminum chassis did nothing other than hurt my hand. The X-SABRE 3 didn’t flinch. Oh, did I mention that this thing is really small in size (1-3/4" H x 12" W x 8-1/2" D)? That’s good, because real estate in my headphone rig is in decidedly short supply, not that the X-SABRE 3 wouldn’t make a great DAC in a high-end stereo system that doesn’t contain a headphone amp.
Inside, the X-SABRE 3’s list of features is impressive. They include an ESS ESS9038Pro DAC chipset that can natively decode up to PCM 32-bit/768 kHz and DSD 22.4 MHz; support for Tidal Connect, Spotify Connect, Roon, Apple Airplay, and more; dual, hidden Wi-Fi antennas; and a bevy of input options. The X-SABRE 3 offers optical, coaxial, AES/EBU, USB, and even IIS/LVDS via HDMI connections. Nor did the X-SABRE 3 let me down sonically.
As usual, the folks at Apos Audio didn’t disappoint. I hate to trade in banalities, but if they wanted to, Matrix Audio could extend the X-SABRE 3’s chassis by a few inches and double its price. I promise, nobody would be the wiser.
We’ll let the pictures tell the story on this one…
Howard Kneller’s audiophile adventures are documented on his YouTube channel (The Listening Chair with Howard Kneller) and on Instagram (@howardkneller). His art and photography can also be found on Instagram (@howardkneller.photog). Finally, he posts a bit of everything on Facebook (@howardkneller).