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Sabaj D5 vs. SMSL M500 vs. Topping DX7 Pro: measurement comparison

RickSanchez

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#1
Due to overwhelming ASR member demand (kidding) I thought it would be interesting to compare three high-performing DAC/amp combos: the Sabaj D5 vs. the SMSL M500 vs. the Topping DX7 Pro. Thanks to @amirm for all of the measurements; all of this info is from him (unless otherwise noted), I'm simply putting the measurements side-by-side.

Author's notes:
  • Sabaj --> SMSL --> Topping is simply alphabetical; I'm not implying one is better than the other.
  • All of the graphics are labeled, but to make it consistent: Sabaj D5 is always on the left, SMSL M500 in the middle, Topping DX7 Pro is always on the right.
  • I have no experience with any of these units, nor do I have any perspective on build quality / customer service.
  • If anyone sees errors / omissions please let me know and I will make corrections.
  • If anyone has issues with the measurements or conclusions ...... take it up with Amir! :D


BASIC SPECS
This is not an exhaustive list.

References:



Shared Specs:
  • DAC chip: ESS ES9038PRO
  • XLR line outputs: yes
  • Remote control: yes

Varying Specs:

  • USB: Sabaj D5 & Topping DX7 Pro = XMOS XU-208 // SMSL M500 = XMOS XU-216
  • XLR headphone jack: Sabaj D5 + Topping DX7 Pro only
  • Bluetooth: Topping DX7 Pro only (Bluetooth 5.0 with support for LDAC, AAC, aptX, aptX LL, and aptX HD)
  • MQA: SMSL M500 only
  • Optical input(s): Sabaj D5 (x1) // SMSL M500 (x2) // Topping DX7 Pro (x1)

Dimensions:
  • Sabaj D5: 24.5cm (W) x 21.0cm (D) x 5.0cm (H)
  • SMSL M500: 8.8cm (W) x 19.7cm (D) x 8.5cm (H)
  • Topping DX7 Pro: 22.2cm (W) x 17.8cm (D) x 4.5cm (H)




On to the DAC measurements ........
  • Note: For the SMSL M500 output was measured at 4.3 volt, not the ~4.0 volt of the other two DAC/amps.
  • You can click on each image to enlarge it.

SINAD
Measured using USB in / XLR out. However, the Sabaj D5 measurements were taken after 30 minutes of warm-up.

2.SINAD_XLR_out.png




DYNAMIC RANGE

3.dynamic_range.png





JITTER

4.jitter.png





INTERMODULATION + NOISE
A slight "ESS IMD hump" appears in the Sabaj D5 and Topping DX7 Pro units.
  • Note: the SMSL M500 has both the XLR and RCA outs measured.

5.intermodulation_noise.png





LINEARITY
All three units are capable of 20 bits of resolution.
  • Note: The Topping DX7 Pro only has the XLR out measured; it does not include the RCA out.

6.linearity.png




32 TONE INPUT SIGNAL (192 kHz)

7.32_tone.png





THD+N RATIO vs FREQUENCY @ 48 kHZ

8.THDNvsFrequency.png




FFT SPECTRUM OF WHITE NOISE @ 44.1 kHZ
For the DX7 Pro, please note this discussion regarding the filters between @Veri and Amir. As Amir states: "... either the manual or the firmware may be wrong."

10.FFT_sprectrum_whitenoise.png


*Note*: there is now a revised user manual for the DX7 Pro. The original manual -- which is what Amir used -- listed the filters in the wrong order. The new, corrected manual is in the same "Drivers and Documents" section of Topping's website: http://www.tpdz.net/support.html








The following are the headphone amp measurements ...

SIGNAL to NOISE RATIO (50mv | 600 Ohm)
I didn't find this for the Sabaj D5, so only the SMSL M500 and Topping DX7 Pro are pictured.

13.signal_to_noise.png





POWER VS. DISTORTION (300 Ohm load)

14.power_vs_distortion_300ohm.png






POWER VS. DISTORTION (33 Ohm load)

15.power_vs_distortion_33ohm.png







POWER VS. DISTORTION (XLR out using 50 Ohm load)
Only the Sabaj D5 and Topping DX7 Pro are pictured. As Amir mentions in this thread: the M500 does not have an XLR headphone out, so it was not tested.

16.power_vs_distortion_XLR_50ohm.png





CHANNEL IMBALANCE
I didn't find this for the SMSL M500, so only the Sabaj D5 and Topping DX7 Pro are pictured.

17.channel_imbalance.png





OUTPUT IMPEDANCE
I believe Amir has previously stated that his test equipment adds about 0.8-0.9 Ohms? If that's the case you can subtract that amount from each of these measurements.

18.output_impedance.png






CONCLUSIONS

Sabaj D5

From Amir:
"The Sabaj D5 is a very well-engineered DAC and headphone amplifier. It nearly outperforms every DAC I have ever tested! The ESS ES9038Pro when implemented well (which is not common) brings stunningly low levels of distortion which shows here. Alas, it also brings the IMD hump which I blame on ESS for not working out before unleashing the design on implementers. If Sabaj and incorporate the fix that others are starting to roll out, it would have a complete game changer on their hands, obsoleting products at almost any price range!

The headphone output is simply very good. It doesn't break boundaries like the DAC side does but what is there is absolutely clean and distortion free. Only a person with very low efficiency headphone and/or need to play extremely loud would want to get something better. And if so, you have a fantastic DAC to drive whatever that is.

The only odd thing is having to leave the unit on for a few minutes for it to achieve its best performance. Then again even its "cold" performance is likely transparent enough.

Needless to say, It is my pleasure to highly recommend the Sabaj D5. A great example of a well engineered product at a very reasonable price."


SMSL M500

From Amir:
"SMSL packs just about every desired feature into a DAC and headphone amplifier including MQA decoding with great measured and subjective performance. The only weakness is that its amplifier doesn't blow your ear drums.

On the performance front, it is heart warming to see companies like SMSL continuing to refine the performance of their product, lowering noise and distortion in every way they can. We have seen this progress in just a year or so. All of this comes with no premium to us as consumers. And give us products that can be proven to be transparent to the source music. You hear what was given to you by the talent and production/mastering engineers with no molestation of said bits. Puts a smile on my face from just typing these words!

Given the features, performance and low price, it is my pleasure to put SMSL M500 on my recommended list."


Topping DX7 Pro

From Amir:
"The Topping DX7 Pro betters the DAC performance of all the produces Topping had produced. On SINAD measurement, it lands in the coveted range of near 120 dB, proving beyond a shadow of doubt that it is transparent to any content you attempt to play. This is a super challenging bar to reach and I congratulate Topping for getting there.

The headphone is a step below state-of-the-art from measurement point of view. Subjectively however, it is very powerful and clean and satisfies every need I personally have. Some of you know that I use a Topping DX3 Pro as my everyday DAC and headphone unit. Given the performance of the DX7 Pro, looks and usability, I am going to replace that with DX7 Pro.

Needless to say, I am happy to give my recommendation to Topping DX7 Pro."


19.conclusion.png



[edit: 2019-12-12]: added link to the SMSL M500 teardown (includes ESS ES9038Pro DAC chip thermal analysis).
[edit: 2020-05-31]: added references to WolfX-700's review of the SMSL-M500 v2.
 

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mkawa

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#2
great post! puts things in perspective: except for the headphone amplifiers they are basically audible indistinguishable. go with the input set, output set price and form factor you like best :)

now i have to decide whether to use the sabaj d5 in my loudspeaker system and the m500 in my headphone or v.v.!
 
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TC!!

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#3
Thanks for this, now if someone could explain what all the pretty graphs mean that would be great.

Seriously though, do you think the fix SMSL are using for the ESS hump could be added to their own Sabaj D5 with a firmware update or is this due to a hardware change between the 2 designs?

Edit: one small point in the shared specs, the SMSL M500 uses the XU-216 USB chip which is what allows it to offer MQA.
 

daftcombo

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#4
Seriously though, do you think the fix SMSL are using for the ESS hump could be added to their own Sabaj D5 with a firmware update or is this due to a hardware change between the 2 designs?
According to Amir in a post some time ago, the hump can't be adressed with a firmwire update.
 

mkawa

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#5
Thanks for this, now if someone could explain what all the pretty graphs mean that would be great.

Seriously though, do you think the fix SMSL are using for the ESS hump could be added to their own Sabaj D5 with a firmware update or is this due to a hardware change between the 2 designs?

Edit: one small point in the shared specs, the SMSL M500 uses the XU-216 USB chip which is what allows it to offer MQA.
from previous posts from amir re: the fixes that topping implemented between the d50 and d50s, there was a hardware design change that could not be duplicated in firmware
 

MediumRare

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#6
Hurrah!

Would be great to see a comparison of the DX7 Pro v. a top headphone amp (Monolith THX 887?). I'd like to see what additional performance might be obtained at normal listening levels (50 mW to 200 mW?), if any.
 
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#7
Used purely as a DAC (ignoring the amp) which would you choose?

I prefer to keep DAC volume maxed and used analog volume on the amp. That 6.8v output on the M500 would be annoying for that reason. But it's the only one with MQA.
 

MediumRare

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#8
from previous posts from amir re: the fixes that topping implemented between the d50 and d50s, there was a hardware design change that could not be duplicated in firmware
At these levels that "hump" means a few dB more distortion at very specific output levels, so is it even conceivable that it's audible?
 

TC!!

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#9
One question that's come up across the forum and I still don't see answered is whether the M500's XLR output is considered 'true balanced'. Does the higher voltage output point at it being different to the others? (I honestly don't understand this well enough to know if it's a problem but I'm going to be buying the M500 on 11/11 so I'd rather ask these questions before then.)
 

mkawa

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#10
if you want MQA, your choice is pretty clear.. also keep in mind that the dx7 pro costs 50% more than the m500 and > 20% more than the sabaj d5

in general, i think the consensus is that the ess hump is inaudible in most devices, but almost certainly not audible in these devices.

i don't think there's any reason to believe that the m500 is pseudo-balanced, and performance increases measurably via the balanced outputs.

finally, both the sabaj and smsl m500 are in stock on amazon for prime delivery either now (m500) or next week-ish (sabaj) (!)
 
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MediumRare

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#12
Used purely as a DAC (ignoring the amp) which would you choose?

I prefer to keep DAC volume maxed and used analog volume on the amp. That 6.8v output on the M500 would be annoying for that reason. But it's the only one with MQA.
I chose the DX7 Pro for its feature set (XLR/RCA/Headphone combinations) and ease of use (menu and display are outstanding). I don't see anything in the performance specs that really differentiates the DACs, though I might be missing something. For headphones, that extra bit of output from the DX7 Pro was the edge for me.

By the way, I'm finding using the DAC remote for volume control to be the way to go. I think @amirm mentioned that technically it's also superior, although I'd like to hear what the EEs have to say about that.
 

MediumRare

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#13
finally, both the sabaj and smsl m500 are in stock on amazon for prime delivery either now (m500) or next week-ish (sabaj) (!)
Check Apos.audio customer service for price-matching and free shipping. I have found them to be excellent.
 
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#15
Used purely as a DAC (ignoring the amp) which would you choose?

I prefer to keep DAC volume maxed and used analog volume on the amp. That 6.8v output on the M500 would be annoying for that reason. But it's the only one with MQA.
The M500 is my choice, considering its price and small form factor. The volume control is available when using lineout, so just set it to somewhere between 32~34 out of 40 (Amir measured the XLR output at volume 34 and got a 4.3v output) then you can get the right output level. And doing this won't hurt its performance. So just take it easy (or maybe imagine that it has a max volume of 32? :D)
 
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#19
Greetings.
Thanks to the author of the site for his work and please excuse my google-translated english:)
Please help me decide - I choose between Sabaj D5 and SMSL M500. I have headphones with
balanced connection (AT-MSR7B). How much difference in sound will be between
balanced and SE connection (MSR7B have low resistance 36 Ohms)?
For me, Sabaj's advantage is only in the presence of a balanced headphone output, if the difference is small - I prefer the M500.
Thanks for answers.
 
OP
RickSanchez

RickSanchez

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Thread Starter #20
Greetings.
Thanks to the author of the site for his work and please excuse my google-translated english:)
Please help me decide - I choose between Sabaj D5 and SMSL M500. I have headphones with
balanced connection (AT-MSR7B). How much difference in sound will be between
balanced and SE connection (MSR7B have low resistance 36 Ohms)?
For me, Sabaj's advantage is only in the presence of a balanced headphone output, if the difference is small - I prefer the M500.
Thanks for answers.
Welcome to ASR.

Borrowed from @Julf from a different post: "Balanced/differential interconnects actually offer common mode noise rejection and avoidance of ground loops. For headphones all they offer is a slight increase in output level (that could be easily be done unbalanced too)."

So having balanced interconnects between your equipment (e.g., XLR outputs on your DAC --> XLR inputs on your amp) is a good thing, but likely more of an insurance policy; it's only useful if you have a ground loop problem.

As for your question (the balanced headphone out): no change in sound quality, just more power. Perhaps useful if you're planning to drive high impedance headphones, but in your case (36 Ohm headphones) the SE output on either the Sabaj D5 or the M500 will be plenty of power.
 
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