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There is no spoon…

Diablo’s new high-end electropneumatic, the Matrix

© Ravi Chopra, 2000

Diversification seems to be the direction in which most paintball companies are moving. Look around and you’ll find that many manufacturers and distributors are moving to have their own lines of paint, paintguns, and apparel. Diablo is moving to take a prominent position. Already they have one of the most popular paint brands, made all the more popular by the fact that their sponsored teams continue to sweep the top spots in virtually every NPPL event. They have a line of colorful apparel designed to go head-to-head with JT’s popular jerseys. On the low end, they carry the entire line of Inferno blowbacks. Now, to give them tournament credibility, they’ve brought their own low-pressure electropneumatic paintgun to market, the Matrix.

Ads for the Matrix have been appearing in PGI for months now, but the official unveiling of the ’gun had to wait until the 2000 World Cup where it turned up in the hands of team Image. Impressively, they walked away with a 2nd place pro-finish using this new ’gun.

Anyhow, a great deal of excitement has surrounded the release of the Matrix, most surrounding its low-pressure operation (140-180 psi), Angel-like trigger, and low price ($800 retail). Excitement was spurred further by the release of an internet video on paintballchannel.com featuring Eric Stork of Diablo showing off the Matrix’s features and high rate of fire.

It wasn’t too much later that that very same Eric Stork sent me a Matrix to review. As always, I took it out and ran it around. This is what I found.

HOW IT WORKS

Apart from the trigger and tiny bits in the solenoid, the Matrix only has a single moving part: the bolt. The Matrix has what is called a spool-valve. A host of sleeves and spacers around the bolt make up the entire contents of the upper part of the paintgun and act to separate the area into three regions. There is a large back chamber that holds a reservoir of air used to fire the paintball. The front two chambers are around the front of the bolt and are separated by an o-ring on the bolt. Switching the flow of air between these two front chambers drives the bolt back and forth much like the ram-bolt in the Sterling Sovereign.

At rest, the bolt is held back by pressure in the front chamber. When the trigger is pulled, the solenoid is switched to send air to the middle chamber, driving the bolt forward. When the bolt reaches its forward-most position, a widened part at the back of the bolt clears an o-ring which separates the back chamber from the holes that lead to the face of the bolt. The air in the back chamber rushes through the bolt and fires the paintball. The cycle is completed by switching the solenoid back, driving the bolt back, and sealing the chamber off again.

The timing of the whole sequence is controlled by the circuit board. You can set both the bolt-forward time and the minimum time between cycles by alternating 4 dip-switch settings on the board. I’m not a big fan of dip-switches, but they’re inexpensive and reliable, so there they are. With both of these times minimized the Matrix can cycle as many as 16 times per second. Increasing these times allows more time for air to vent through the bolt and for the back chamber to refill, both reducing the operating pressure but decreasing the maximum fire rate somewhat. I set the ’gun for a 12 shot-per-second maximum for my tests.

The trigger set-up in the Matrix will be familiar to anyone who has looked into the grip frame of an Angel or Angel LCD. The trigger is a two-finger plate that activates a micro-switch on the board behind it. The trigger has two stop screws to allow you to limit both forward and backward trigger travel to whatever degree you like. A power switch on the back of the board rests in a small recess in the back of the grip frame.

Pressure into the paintgun is controlled with a regulator/forgrip threaded into the body just forward of the grip frame. This regulator is limited to a maximum output pressure of 200 psi since any more pressure than that will damage the solenoid. I feel quite certain that someone will come out with a standard ASA for the Matrix and a good number of people will damage their ’guns by using regulators not designed for this low pressure range.

If you do plan on changing regs, make sure you never put more than 200 psi into the Matrix. I became intimately familiar with what happens when you do this. The first Matrix sent to me had a bad regulator and blew the solenoid with a loud "bang!" the moment I screwed my 850 psi output, fixed-pressure nitro system into the Shocktech bottom-line ASA I’d added. The second ’gun they sent has worked perfectly and I have not seen or heard any news that might indicate this problem has happened to anyone else so I think it is just a fluke.

FEATURES

Compared to the other electropneumatic paintguns coming to market these days, the Matrix is surprisingly spartan when it comes to electronic features. Power is activated with a mechanical switch in the back of the standard, 2-finger, .45-style frame. The two dwell times, as already mentioned, are set with dip-switches. There is no LCD screen, no burst or turbo fire modes, no electronic hopper control. This is a bare-bones semi-auto. Turn on your air, flip the power-switch, and pull the trigger to start rocking. I’m sure some people will see this as a step back, but I suspect that many tournament players will see it as a bonus. Though all those electronic features can be fun to play with, they don’t add much to the experience once you get out on the field. Most people just want a paintgun that shoots when you pull the trigger, and the absence of all that electronic gimmickry means there is much less to go wrong. My Dark Angel LCD has suffered two electronic-component failures just this year. My old non-LCD Angel never had a problem once. I suspect this Matrix will prove to be every bit as reliable from a solid-state standpoint.

The regulator in front is adjusted by screwing it’s bottom-half in or out. A small set-screw allows you to lock it in place once your pressure is set. The Matrix is a fixed-volume paintgun, so this pressure is what drives the bolt and determines velocity. A low pressure modification has already become available to drive the bolt at a lower pressure by adding a Rock regulator (or equivalent) to the front of the ’gun. This mod promises to reduce the incidence of chopped paint in the breech by running the bolt at a pressure so low it can no longer cut a paintball in half. Diablo has promised to send me a Matrix thus equipped for an update review in the future. For now, all of my comments refer to the standard Matrix.

The Matrix is very easy to strip down. A thumb-screw at the back of the ’gun runs the full length of the ’gun and threads into the front-block. At the back, the screw holds on the back plate. Removing the plate uncovers the back-plug of the spool valve and the 9V battery that resides below it. The entire spool valve and bolt assembly can be removed through the back of the paintgun by unscrewing the back-plug with an allen wrench. All the rest of the components drop out without tools.

Once the thumb-screw has been removed, the front block can be pulled off the paintgun as well. The front block consists of the breech, barrel threads, and two rubber ball detents. A high-rise hopper adapter is threaded into the top of the front-block and the standard barrel threads are Autococker compatible. Rest assured that other front blocks will be made available with barrel threads compatible with most other popular paintguns, making the switch to the Matrix as painless and inexpensive as possible by allowing you to use your current custom barrels. The hopper adapter is drilled to fit the current smaller-diameter Viewloader hopper necks.

The stock barrel included with the Matrix is a 12" Custom Products barrel. This gloss-black anodized barrel has a 0.689" ID and three rows of straight-porting over its terminal 4". These barrels have become quite popular as aftermarket alternatives thanks to their superb finish, clean looks, and reasonable price. It is a very good stock barrel, though I am surprised it didn’t come with a tighter-bore given the ’gun’s low pressure operation.

HOW IT SHOOTS

I finally got the chance to take it out and put some paint through the Matrix. When fired, the Matrix has a typical low-pressure kick - soft and quiet. Interestingly, the faster you shoot it, the more it seems to settle down and stabilize, making rapid fire strings very accurate since the ’gun hardly moves with each shot. It is very much like a Shocker that way.

Also like the Shocker or Autococker is how the paintball seems to travel from the paintgun. I’ve never bought the argument that low pressure paintguns and Autocockers shoot any further or straighter than any other paintgun. It doesn’t make much sense and in practice, there are people who can shoot any paintgun every bit as effectively as any other. I do have to admit that ’guns like the Shocker and Autococker do have a different subjective feel when fired. The Matrix shares that same look and feel, so if you genuinely believe that low pressure ’guns and Autocockers shoot further or more accurately than others, you’ll likely find the Matrix to perform in the same way. I do have to say that shooting Diablo Blaze through my old Autospirit barrel it was dead-nuts accurate out to maximum range. The Matrix is a real pleasure to shoot.

The trigger on the other hand feels identical to the Angel. With the exact same trigger, stop-screws, and micro-switch configuration, the Matrix will appeal to any who likes the feel of the Angel trigger. As with the Angel, the trigger can be set very short and can very easily be shot extremely fast. It was no trouble at all for anyone at all to rip out quick strings with this trigger.

Surprisingly, I found the Matrix to be as easy to get comfortable with as my own Autococker. I’m a natural Autococker shooter and as a result all other paintguns feel a bit strange, at least at first. The Matrix felt very natural and I thought I was playing every bit as effectively with it as I did with an Autococker. It’s a completely subjective judgement but Danny Love and Cesare Pizzo, both notable Autococker enthusiasts, have had very positive things to say about how the Matrix shoots as well. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think it’s fair to say that people who have not liked the electropneumatics available to date may just find something appealing in the Matrix.

Less appealing is the Matrix’s efficiency. Like the Shocker, this low pressure electro sucks down air at an absurd rate. Diablo claims 800 shots from a 68 ci 4500 psi air system and 1200-1300 from an 88 ci 4500 psi system. For those not familiar with this issue, let me just say that this is atrocious. If you want to shoot nitro/HPA, you either have to be guaranteed a good 4500 psi fill (often not available) or have a large capacity tank (88 ci minimum) to get enough shots to make it through a 20 min NPPL game. Front guys who only shoot 2-3 tubes per game may be able to get away with less but they’ll be suffering if they ever shoot more than that.

Fortunately, the Matrix works quite nicely on CO2, a gas source which should give you quite a few more shots from a non-gigantic tank. If you do shoot CO2 though, I’d recommend two things: an anti-siphon tube and a pair of gloves. The tube will help ensure you don’t suck liquid into the ’gun and the gloves will keep you from getting frostbite on the hand gripping the regulator/for-grip which frosts up quickly. You may also want to consider some sort of regulator-bottom-line like a bottom-line mounted Palmer Stabilizer for added pressure control.

HOW IT LOOKS

I think it’s fair to say that the stock Matrix embodies the concept of function over form. It isn’t the ugliest paintgun I’ve ever seen, but neither does it have the subtle grace of WDP’s Angel. Neither is it as compact as the Angel, though it doesn’t feel as shoe-box-bulky as a Shocker or freakishly tall as a Bushmaster or Defiant.

The Matrix’s shape and black anodizing are inoffensive. The .45 frame and for-grip reg are welcome and comfortable. A set of pewter "limited edition" grip panels help give the Matrix a unique appearance, though some have said they would have preferred a set of rubber wrap-arounds for better comfort.

Expect to see a slew of custom milled and anodized Matrix’s to hit the market in the next year. Diablo is happy to provide raw bodies to anyone interested in making a custom ’gun so they should end up being much more accessible than custom Angels.

CONCLUSIONS

To me, the Matrix feels a lot like a hybrid paintgun. It has an Angel’s trigger coupled with a Shocker-like low pressure cycle and a Bushmaster’s low price. It’s major failing is it’s rotten efficiency which will be an issue for some players.

Though the paintgun is very nice out of the box, it leaves a lot of room for aftermarket manufacturers and custom shops to trick it out. Expect custom hopper adapters, front blocks with a variety of barrel threads, quick strips systems for the front block, custom grip panels, replacement regulators, etc to hit the market in the coming months. Also expect a slew of efficiency-enhancing modifications to appear as well. This paintgun is generating a lot of excitement and many people are working hard at addressing this ’gun’s one major problem.

On the whole, I find the Matrix to be a great deal of fun to shoot. It is the one electro that I feel very nearly as comfortable shooting as I do my own Autococker. I must admit that I also really like the absence of largely useless electronic gimmicks. I suspect that this will make this ’gun all the more reliable over the long term. Finally, at $800 I find it to be quite affordable for a high-end tournament marker.

It’s certainly not for everyone, but if you’re willing to put up with a large nitro tank or CO2, the Matrix should be a serious consideration for anyone looking to get into a high-end, ultra-fast electropneumatic paintgun.

All material at this site is © Ravi Chopra, 2001