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Thinking about getting a SMSL M8 DSD DAC
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February 13, 2016, 09:55:03 PM
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  • BSD2000
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Massdrop has it for $149 and it seems too good to pass up. I always wanted a DSD DAC and I'm interested in how the ESS Sabre 9018 chip sounds. Here's the specs:

SMSL M8 DAC Details:

   • Sabre Reference 32-bit ES9018 DAC chip
   • XMOS 32bit USB receiver chip
   • Maximum support 384KHZ / 32Bit, DSD
   • Professional circuit layout
   • Aluminum Housing
   • Digital Toslink Optical/Coaxial/USB
   • Analog Output: single ended output via RCA port
   • THD + N is less than 0.0004%, dynamic> 125dB, SNR> 126dB
   • USB support 32bit, 384KHZ PCM signal
   • DSD direct decoding
   • 7 kinds of filter modes
   • Automatic jitter remove control switch
   • High precision DPLL locked bandwidth set automatically
   • OLED display
   • Automatic memory
   • Automatic shutdown environmental design
   • High precision and low phase noise clock system
   • Ultra low noise power processing system
   • High precision ultra-low noise resistor
   • Solid aluminum CNC aluminum alloy chassis pure aluminum buttons
   • 110-240V supported
   • THD + N: < 0.0004%
   • Output level: 2.15 Vrms
   • Dynamic range: > 125dB
   • SNR: > 126dB
   • Channel separation : > 120Db
   • USB Input: PCM = 16bit-24 bit/32kHz-384 kHz, DSD = DSD64, DSD128 (1bit 2.8224MHz - 5.6448MHz)
   • USB support: Windows, Mac OS, iOS (need purchase connector), Android 4.0 or more (most models)
   • Optical fiber coaxial: 16bit-24 bit/ 32kHz-192 kHz
   • Digital Input Format Support:
   • Coaxial: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192 kHz
   • Optical: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192 kHz
   • USB: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192, 352.8, 384 kHz
   • DSDx64 (2.8224MHz), DSDx128 (5.6448MHz)

I'm getting kinda bored with my Audio-GD NFB-12.1 (Wolfson 8740 based DAC/headphone amp) and I wanted something that would compliment my Burson HDA-160 headphone amp. Also, I want a DAC that can playback DSD recordings I make with my Korg MR-2000S - the SMSL M8 seems like a perfect match. The reviews I've seen so far have all been positive but this is a relatively new DAC.

What do you think?
« Last Edit: February 13, 2016, 10:16:02 PM by BSD2000 »
Rega P25 • Zyx Omega G • Zyx R100H • Audio Research PH5 • Denon DP-52F • Denon DL-103D • Burson HA-160 • Sennheiser HD-650 and HD-800


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February 15, 2016, 07:29:47 PM
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Well, I ended up joining the drop - but it won't ship until next month so it'll be a while until I can test and review it.  :)

I figure, if I don't like it I can always sell it for what I paid for it - or a bit more since they sell for $249 on eBay. Once I get it and break it in I'll post a detailed review.
« Last Edit: February 17, 2016, 03:39:50 AM by BSD2000 »


February 26, 2016, 03:46:17 PM
  • shadowlord
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I'm looking forward for you impressions.
> Rega RP8 / Audio Technica AT440mla -> Exposure 3010 s2d.
> Dual CS5000 / Ortofon 2m blue -> AMC 3100 mkII.


March 04, 2016, 01:41:36 PM
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It's here!  ;D

I just brought it in and it's ice cold. I'll let it warm up a bit and give it a listen later this afternoon.


March 04, 2016, 06:10:41 PM
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Ok, so far I'm pissed beyond belief. I have 30+ years of computer experience, I work in the IT industry, I have a degree in electronics and for the life of me - I can't get the thing to play DSD audio through USB, nor can I get it to play ANYTHING without static being present in the right channel.  >:(

Does SMSL do ANY quality control testing before they send these out?

On top of that, I'm stuck in the Foobar2000 maze of components and .dll files, trying to match versions that work with other components because developers are lazy; they write code for ONE, SPECIFIC, EXACT version of a .dll AND NOTHING ELSE; so all the planets have to align for ANYTHING to work correctly. It's the 'Linux' mentality where packages have certain dependencies and simply crash if you mix and match.  ::)

So far, I give it:
Looks/build quality: [chart layout=stars max=5]x=5[/chart]
Ease of use in Windows: [chart layout=stars max=5]x=1[/chart]
Sound quality (when it works): [chart layout=stars max=5]x=4[/chart]
« Last Edit: March 05, 2016, 02:44:39 PM by BSD2000 »


March 04, 2016, 06:50:04 PM
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I finally got it to play native DSD64 files by wiping out the Foobar2000 install and starting everything from scratch using older files. But, I still hear clicks once in a while on the right side - it's like playing a dirty LP.

First impressions compared to my Audio-GD NFB-12.1 - the bass is a little fuller; the mid-range more pronounced and the highs are smooth with a bit more edge and 'bite' than the NFB-12.1. It's definitely much higher resolution sounding than the NFB-12.1.  :)
« Last Edit: March 04, 2016, 07:02:08 PM by BSD2000 »


March 04, 2016, 10:59:50 PM
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Well, I tried all the inputs and the clicks are still there, so I believe I had a defective unit. It also freaks out when I connect it to my Samsung Galaxy S4 cell phone (which is supposed to work) - it plays all kinds of funky digital noises when playing a file using USB Audio Player Pro.  :(

I contacted Massdrop to see what the process is for returning a defective item.


March 05, 2016, 03:40:46 PM
  • shadowlord
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sorry to hear your unit does not work as expected.


March 25, 2016, 05:51:17 PM
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UPDATE: Massdrop finally refunded my money. I have to say, the return process for Massdrop was easy, they even paid for return. The refund took longer than expected, but in the end, I'm happy with their customer service.

I did want to follow up on my thoughts on the M8 since I did get to spend quite a few hours comparing it to my Audio-GD NFB-12.1. I have to say, my first impressions were very positive for the M8 - until I started using my HD 800 headphones. I was using my Sennheiser HD 650's during my initial listening tests, which complimented the bright and 'airy' sound of the M8 quite nicely. The HD 800's were a different story altogether.  :(

The M8 and HD 800's were awful together. The HD 650's are very warm and forgiving headphones, with a slightly rolled off high frequency that makes them a joy to listen to for long periods of time. The HD 800's are brutally honest and revealing of poor source material; garbage in, garbage out as they say. With the M8, the highs were exaggerated; the mids recessed and the bass had a bump around 80hz which made it sound artificially fuller - but there was no definition to the bass notes; they sounded muddy and blended together.

Spending time with the M8 really made me appreciate the NFB-12.1 and realize now just how good it is. From top to bottom, the NFB-12.1 sounds more refined, natural and balanced than the M8. The NFB-12.1 has deeper bass where each note is easily heard; the midrange is clean and balanced with no peaks or dips; the highs are natural without sounding artificial like the M8 sounded. The sound stage of the M8 was very closed in and narrow. It's wide, expansive and enveloping on the NFB-12.1. The best part of the NFB-12.1 is when I use my HD 800's is sounds lush and relaxing; so it must be doing something right.  ;)

DSD playback on the M8 was interesting. At first listen, it sounded very defined and 'high resolution'; but it still lacked weight and definition in the bass department, the mids were still recessed and the highs were thin and exaggerated.

What it boils down to is, I'm not a fan of the ESS Sabre 9018's 'sound', at least not how it was implemented in the M8. Maybe the Burson Conductor with the 9018 is better. But for now, I think I'll play it safe and stick with Burr Brown and Wolfson DAC's until I hear something better.  ;)

Final score:
Looks: 5 [chart layout=stars style=default max=5]x=5[/chart]
Build quality: 4 [chart layout=stars style=default max=5]x=4[/chart]   (One star off for being defective)
Features: 4 [chart layout=stars style=default max=5]x=4[/chart]
Ease of Use: 4 [chart layout=stars style=default max=5]x=4[/chart]  (Once it's configured properly)
Bass: 3.5 [chart layout=stars style=default max=5]x=3.5[/chart]
Mid range: 3 [chart layout=stars style=default max=5]x=3[/chart]
Treble: 4 [chart layout=stars style=default max=5]x=4[/chart]
Value vs price: 4.5 [chart layout=stars style=default max=5]x=4.5[/chart]
« Last Edit: March 25, 2016, 06:05:50 PM by BSD2000 »



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