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Review and Measurements of SMSL M10 DAC & Amp

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of SMSL M10 desktop DAC and headphone amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. This is a "high-end" unit from SMSL and retails for USD $545 from Amazon including free Prime shipping.

As soon as you take out the M10 out of the box, you definitely get the feeling that this is one hefty unit. It is not as heavy as SMSL D-1 but it is up there with inclusion of a power supply and such. The display is also much larger than more budget oriented SMSL DACs and amps:

SMSL M10 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Review.jpg


As you can see, the SMSL M10 sports both 1/4 inch headphone jack and XLR for "balanced" headphone output. You would need to select either one of these in the menu in addition to whether the headphone output is on or line out.

For output, we have both RCA and balanced XLR outputs which is really nice and expected in this price range.

Menus are pretty intuitive to follow with push of the power button and rotary knob. The display supports a set of colors including white (above), green, red, etc. Wish it had used the colors within the same display to distinguish things but that likely takes up more RAM than the little microprocessor has.

For my testing I focused on USB input. Since there are both types of output, I focused both. Let's get into the measurements and see how she did.

Measurements
Let's start with measuring the DAC portion alone first using RCA/unbalanced outputs:
SMSL M10 DAC and Headphone Amplifier RCA Measurements.png


This is not a good way to start the show. SINAD (signal over distortion and noise) is just 94 dB. THD+N which is the same metric stated as a percentage, seriously underperforms the stated number (0.0019% versus 0.0004%) by a factor of five! Output is a bit hotter than we need so I dialed it down and it unfortunately did not improve the distortion metrics. Neither did switching to balanced output:

SMSL M10 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Balanced Measurements.png


Those second and third harmonics are way too high for this class device.

As an aside, notice how the mains spikes to the left of our 1 kHz signal in RCA output are completely gone in balanced mode. This is why I always suggest getting balanced interconnects between DACs and amps. It nicely eliminates mains/power supply related currents which are the cause of nasty ground loops.

Here is how the distortion rates among other DACs tested:

1546996642521.png


Not a good place to be for sure seeing there are much higher performing DACs that cost less.

Dynamic range for both outputs is decent with the balanced taking the lead:
SMSL M10 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Dynamic Range Measurements.png


Here is the intermodulation distortion test:
SMSL M10 DAC and Headphone Amplifier IMD Measurements.png


Balanced output (pink) is slightly less noisy than RCA (green). Both outputs saturate some at higher levels, causing them to underperform the much cheaper Topping DX3 Pro (dashed red).

For those of you who are fans of our 32-tone test signal, here is how the SMSL M10 performs with RCA outs:

SMSL M10 DAC and Headphone Amplifier RCA Multitone Measurements.png


We see an odd thing for the first time where the bottoms of each valley (noise floor) goes up and down. We call this "noise modulation" meaning the fact that there is a signal there in that frequency, causes the noise floor to go up.

The problem is not there with balanced outputs:

SMSL M10 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Balanced Multitone Measurements.png


Then again that is a pretty busy graph there showing more distortion products in between the tones as our dashboard predicted.

Jitter/spurious response is not perfect but very good nevertheless (ideal graph has only one spike at 12 kHz):

SMSL M10 DAC and Headphone Amplifier jitter Measurements.png


It is not all bad news: SMSL M10 nails the linearity test:
SMSL M10 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Linearity Measurements.png


Let's switch to measuring the headphone output with 300 ohm load:
SMSL M10 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Headphone 300 ohm Measurements.png


Boy, this is quite disappointing. We not only lack sufficient power but also suffer from much higher noise floor than our reference Topping DX3 Pro.

XLR headphone out has more power but still very much non-competitive:

SMSL M10 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Headphone Balanced 50 ohm Measurements.png


Power output is well under the spec prior to severe clipping.

Worst news here is the very high output impedance of 24 ohms for 1/4 inch output:
SMSL M10 DAC and Headphone Amplifier Output Impedance Measurements.png



Conclusions
The SMSL M10 starts with a good out of box impression with hefty chassis and decent design. Sadly the moment you put it on the bench, the results are very disappointing and non-competitive on both DAC and headphone amplifier. You could argue that distortion differences between DACs are hard to hear but amplifier power is very important and SMSL M10 is very deficient in that front. As such, I cannot recommend the SMSL M10 for purchase. If I were to give a letter score, it would be a "C."

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

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wadec22

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#2
Gross

- really weird part is the output impedance. I detected the distortion in the headphone amp without measurements (see my initial impressions) but the output impedance did not cause any hiss in my very sensitive headphones. very odd.
 
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#6
Hi Amirm, I think it is a good idea to test all the products!

But as I know for AKM's chip, the 0dB signal is alway not the best performace, I think your test is not fair to AKM's chips, and which the spec in the user manual is allways the best condition (not 0dBFS), and for the music, 95% elements are not beyond -3dB, 0dB is not that important for music playback.

From the TI's application note the -60dB THD+N wihch is dynamic range is more important ! I think you will misleading the manufacturer to a wrong way ! Everyone will just look at the 0dB THD+N. And no one will use any DAC except ESS dac. It is not a good thing!!!

I had compared the AK4497 DAC and ES9038PRO DAC, to me the AK4497 is much better, it is more musical, the sound stage also better!

I also have compare these DAC to a CH's DAC which using PCM1704UK, I think the PCM1704 is much much better, and as I konw the THD+N spec is much worse than others, The R2R performs a real sound stage ! I can hear clearly instrument's position, and the sound characteristics is much close to the real thing!
 

wadec22

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#7
Hi Amirm, I think it is a good idea to test all the products!

But as I know for AKM's chip, the 0dB signal is alway not the best performace, I think your test is not fair to AKM's chips, and which the spec in the user manual is allways the best condition (not 0dBFS), and for the music, 95% elements are not beyond -3dB, 0dB is not that important for music playback.

From the TI's application note the -60dB THD+N wihch is dynamic range is more important ! I think you will misleading the manufacturer to a wrong way ! Everyone will just look at the 0dB THD+N. And no one will use any DAC except ESS dac. It is not a good thing!!!

I had compared the AK4497 DAC and ES9038PRO DAC, to me the AK4497 is much better, it is more musical, the sound stage also better!

I also have compare these DAC to a CH's DAC which using PCM1704UK, I think the PCM1704 is much much better, and as I konw the THD+N spec is much worse than others, The R2R performs a real sound stage ! I can hear clearly instrument's position, and the sound characteristics is much close to the real thing!
The JDS Labs EL DAC and RME ADI-2 are based on lesser AKM chips and not only measure better than this but rival top units with sabre chips as well.
 

amirm

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#8
But as I know for AKM's chip, the 0dB signal is alway not the best performace, I think your test is not fair to AKM's chips, and which the spec in the user manual is allways the best condition (not 0dBFS), and for the music, 95% elements are not beyond -3dB, 0dB is not that important for music playback.
As I noted in the review, I adjusted the level down and it made no improvement in the distortion measurements.

In general, I will adjust the digital (and analog if allowed) in the dashboard measurements to see if there is an issue there.

Your comments regarding AKM are incorrect though. See the review of Topping DX3 Pro which handles 0 dBFS fine. And there is tons of music that has essentially 0 dBFS amplitude due to loudness "wars."
 

confucius_zero

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#9
Another fumble worthy of a facepalm... perhaps SMSL should stick to making ESS DACs and let the more experienced brands handle AKM...

On the same subject, it seems SMSL has been silent lately here....

On your end, do you believe you've been the victim of a sample lottery or these measurements are somewhat representative of most M10 units out there?

Thank you for your measurements and review!
 
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amirm

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#11
On your end, do you believe you've been the victim of a sample lottery or these measurements are somewhat representative of most M10 units out there?
Can't say definitively but things like output impedance and power levels are likely the same across the board. And there, this unit is quite deficient.
 

amirm

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#12
I know the headphone amp part is completely broken because they are based on the same design as Loxjie D20. But DAC shouldn't perform that bad. Could this be a USB driver issue? Have you tried the spdif port of this one and the Loxjie D20?
The issue is harmonic distortion. Changing inputs won't impact that.

I am shipping this unit back since the owner needs to get his refund. So won't be making any other measurements on it.
 

Hugo9000

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#13
Many thanks to the owner of the unit and to @amirm for this! That model looked very attractive to me (both the clean lines and the feature set), so the results are disappointing, but I'm grateful that you both saved me from potentially being a guinea pig on this one!
 

maxxevv

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#14
SMSL are confusingly inconsistent. They must have multiple engineering teams, to be able to put out the M10 and also the VMV D1 under the same label.
They probably do. It may be a holding company that has sub-contractor / sub-company teams working on various products in its varied line-up. The functional variety and variation in price points of their product range certainly suggests such.
 
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#16
That is some disappointingly bad results, hope Topping does a good job with their D70 so people who want the AKM 4497 can get a well designed dac.

Can you do some testing with the low-dispersion short delay filter? Its one of the big draws of the AKM 4497 as the lower end chips do not have access to that filter. I am curious to see what it does different if anything.
 

Veri

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#17
That is some disappointingly bad results, hope Topping does a good job with their D70 so people who want the AKM 4497 can get a well designed dac.

Can you do some testing with the low-dispersion short delay filter? Its one of the big draws of the AKM 4497 as the lower end chips do not have access to that filter. I am curious to see what it does different if anything.
The 4493 chips like DX3 have the filter too :)
 
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#19
I know the headphone amp part is completely broken because they are based on the same design as Loxjie D20. But DAC shouldn't perform that bad. Could this be a USB driver issue? Have you tried the spdif port of this one and the Loxjie D20?
I had checked the internal PCB, this two design is a lot diferent, I think it is not the same design.
 
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#20
As I noted in the review, I adjusted the level down and it made no improvement in the distortion measurements.

In general, I will adjust the digital (and analog if allowed) in the dashboard measurements to see if there is an issue there.

Your comments regarding AKM are incorrect though. See the review of Topping DX3 Pro which handles 0 dBFS fine. And there is tons of music that has essentially 0 dBFS amplitude due to loudness "wars."
I had research the AK4497 DAC for a few times, it's 0dB is worse then the AK4490, AK4493, even low-end AK4452! Can I say the AK4497 is worse then AK4452 ? I don't think so ! I had compared then and the AK4497 win in every way!
 
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