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Review and Measurements of SMSL M8 DAC

amirm

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#1
This is a detailed review and measurements of SMSL M8 DAC. It is on loan from a member and seems to be have been discontinued. It retailed for $249 when it was shipping. As such, I tested it against the Topping D50 DAC which also retails for the same money.

The SMSL comes in a miniature model of high-end equipment. Shrink a high-end DAC to 1/8 scale and you get SMSL 8! That alone looks fine. The problem is they also shrunk the display by the same amount. It has extremely small fonts for that reason.



The inputs are standard for this price range and comprise of USB, optical and coax S/PDIF. Power is provided through an external switching brick (the Topping D50 is USB powered). The device was plug-and-play in Windows 10 Creators edition and I had no trouble talking to it using Roon in exclusive WASAPI interface.

Measurements
Member BE718 already performed a set of measurements on the same unit he owns. See: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/measurements-of-smsl-m8-dac.2438/. For that reason, this is somewhat abbreviated set of measurements as there seems to be good agreement between his data and mine.

As usual, if you are not familiar with what these graphs are, refer to my tutorial on understanding audio measurements: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/understanding-audio-measurements.2351/

Let's start with J-Test and see what the noise floor and jitter looks like over USB interface:

SMSL M8 DAC Jitter and Noise Measurement.png


While not an audible concern, it is nevertheless disappointing to see those spikes in red around 18 kHz.

Next let's look at linearity measurements over S/PDIF and compare it to Topping D50:

SMSL M8 DAC Linearity Measurement.png


I would give a small nod to Topping D50 but really, this is excellent performance on behalf of SMSL M8.

Looking at the same test but done over USB (with different methodology) we get:

SMSL M8 DAC USB Linearity Measurement.png


So again, excellent results.

Let's look at THD+N distortion results of a full amplitude 1 kHz tone that has been filtered out. Everything seen now is unwanted noise and distortion:
SMSL M8 DAC residual noise and distortion Measurement.png


Some spikes are higher in one, versus the other. In the end, all of them are below threshold of audibility and is a draw. Note that in BE718's tests, the noise floor is higher, masking these spikes.

Looking at the same THD+N results but now relative to each frequency we get:

SMSL M8 DAC THD+N Measurement.png


Expectedly, it is another draw.

Intermodulation using SMPTE 4:1 test pattern shows this:

SMSL M8 DAC SMPTE Intermodulation Measurement.png


Here, the performance is the same other than that "hump" in mid-levels for Topping D50 which is a regression from previous generation of Topping/ESS Dacs. Would be interesting to see if the newer version of SMSL 8 (8a?) suffers the same. For now though, the SMSL M8 wins on this test.

Conclusions
The SMSL 8 DAC is competently designed and produces excellent performance. On that basis, I would not hesitate to recommend it. From usability point of view, I much prefer the Topping D50's much larger and easier to read display. And the fact that it is a current generation product (just released as a matter of fact), it would get the nod from me if you are new in the market.

The SMSL certainly puts me on notice that they can produce well performing products.

As always, questions, comments, corrections, jokes, etc. are all welcome!
----
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BE718

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#3
Hi Amir,

Can you do me a favour and repeat the 1kHz FS test without the notch filter so we can see where the noise floor moves to? This just confirms my initial suspicions that I mentioned about the qa401. I think all adcs suffer from this hence the need for a notch filter.
 
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#4
I was on the verge of buying this many times when it was being clearenced out by Amazon sellers about a month ago. However, the lack of balanced out made me decide to save my money and spend it on something more versatile, the new RME ADI-2 DAC (I don't have it yet).

Hope I made the right decision...:confused:
 
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#6

amirm

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#7
Hi Amir,

Can you do me a favour and repeat the 1kHz FS test without the notch filter so we can see where the noise floor moves to? This just confirms my initial suspicions that I mentioned about the qa401. I think all adcs suffer from this hence the need for a notch filter.
Will do that tomorrow. For now, your guess is correct. Here is the help file on AP regarding this notch filter:

upload_2018-3-17_23-11-5.png


You get something extra for the $25,000 cost of the unit over a sound card. :) The analog front-end of the AP is really class leading.
 

Veri

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#8
Really interesting. Months ago, I was going to buy this DAC. Had it ordered and everything. The seller on amazon was so slow I changed my mind. In hindsight, this looks like a very competent DAC, especially for the price. I wouldn't have made a bad choice :) Thank you for the objective look on this DAC! Lke always, very much appreciated.
 
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#9
You and me both seeing how I bought the more expensive RME option! :)
Hi Amir,
Where can I find your review of the RME dac? It looks to be an interesting device with many useful features.
Hopefully, you will share it with the PNWAS members someday soon.
Rene'
 

amirm

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#10
Where can I find your review of the RME dac?
Hi Rene. I have the combo ADC/DAC RME ADI-2 Pro. A member is sending me the DAC-only version. I have not tested either yet. I plan to test and compare them.

I am putting priority on clearing out the backlog of loaned gear. :)
 

Jimster480

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#11
I'm glad the tests came out to match my ears!.
I do wonder if you could test the isolation, because my friend when using this DAC ended up with noise from the USB port.
 
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#14
I too have this DAC and have been very pleased with its performance. But at the same time, also has been susceptible to noise/hiss, which was remedied with ferrite cores on the cables.
 

Jimster480

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#15
Could you elaborate on this?
I found that it was incredibly detailed, and when I got my DX7 I tested A/B for many many hours and couldn't discern any difference in the two DAC's.
There were a few times where I thought I heard more details in the DX7, but I couldn't reliably reproduce it.

I did alot of testing between the M8 and D30 and found the M8 to be overall "better" with vocals being more "true to life" in specific tracks (usually with female vocals on a very good recording) or specific sports announcers while watching Miami Heat games through my comcast online subscription.

Even in many tracks where I couldn't tell a difference with my M8 and D30 I decided to go back to using the D30 and put the M8 on another computer and I found that I had indeed "preferred" the M8 over the D30 (even though when I First got the M8 I was very skeptical of it being any "better").

The one downside that the M8 had was a "pop" or "crack" that happened every once in a while, it was rare but I did hear one from time to time. The D30 didn't seem to have this issue and I only heard this when changing sample rates sometimes IIRC.
 

amirm

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#16
The one downside that the M8 had was a "pop" or "crack" that happened every once in a while, it was rare but I did hear one from time to time. The D30 didn't seem to have this issue and I only heard this when changing sample rates sometimes IIRC.
Ah yes, the Topping has a relay to mute the output between sample rate changes which can cause this type of glitch.
 
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#17
I assume this was tested without a linear power supply? I wonder if that would make any objective difference, since many on forums claim that it offers more soundstage and separation.
 

amirm

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#18
Correct, I tested it with the supply that came with it. I don't see any mains related contributions so I doubt that a linear supply makes a difference. If I get a chance, I will test it with my lab supply.
 
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#19
I actually had a SMSL M8 running with and without the linear power supply SMSL P1. I actually preferred the sound without the power supply. With the P1 the M8 sounds maybe a smidgeon cleaner (could well be placebo) but also thinner. Through the switching power supply the sound is beefier. I've no idea if it was because I was running an O2 headphone amp on switching PS as well. Rather odd.
 

Jimster480

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#20
I actually had a SMSL M8 running with and without the linear power supply SMSL P1. I actually preferred the sound without the power supply. With the P1 the M8 sounds maybe a smidgeon cleaner (could well be placebo) but also thinner. Through the switching power supply the sound is beefier. I've no idea if it was because I was running an O2 headphone amp on switching PS as well. Rather odd.
You are not the first person who has this opinion.
Its part of why I never bothered to try to get a LPS for the M8.
 
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