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Sabaj D5 vs Topping DX7 Pro vs SMSL M500 - battle of the ES9038Pro

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#1
We now have reviews from Amir for both the D5 and the DX7 Pro both showing amazing results for relatively cheap DACs.
The other DAC just released but not yet measured is the SMSL M500 which also uses the ES9038Pro.

I wanted to start a thread discussing the merits of each DAC in terms of functionality, use and cost.
I've created a google sheet with all the information I could find on these devices to compare them technically.

For me there is an obvious difference which separates the M500 from the other 2, it's a much simpler device. It doesn't provide the same connectivity for headphones, offering no balanced output for headphones just 1 single ended output. But it does offer some features the others don't, its USB input uses the new XMOS XU-216 chip (over the XU-208) which provides MQA support, has 1 extra optical input and is very much portable when compared with the other 2 devices being smaller and weighing less than a Kilo. The simplicity also means there are no AES or I2S digital inputs.

The Sabaj and the Topping are much more similar, in terms of features and inputs but the Topping is the only one of the 3 devices to offer support for Bluetooth as an input, it's also the only device with AES inputs and a 4.4mm balanced headphone output.

Finally in terms of specs one of the most important, cost. The Sabaj already seems to be discounted as it was the 1st to arrive but as of writing the cost of each from Ali Express is Sabaj D5 $470, Topping DX7 Pro $599, SMSL 5400 $399.

I know there are people on the forum who already own these devices so it'd be great to get their feedback on what it's like living with these products rather than just looking at the specs and review scores. I'd be very interested to know what people think of each of the companies in terms of support, for example I understand the Sabaj is only able to have its firmware updated by a tool required from the manufacturer.

P.S. I have very little understanding of headphone amps so if I've missed something really important please forgive my ignorance.
 
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daftcombo

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#2
As I said elsewhere, I think Topping is a more reliable brand than SMSL=Sabaj.
Just my experience though.
 
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#3
As I said elsewhere, I think Topping is a more reliable brand than SMSL=Sabaj.
Just my experience though.
I think that's a very important point to make. Right now I'm considering all 3 of the DACs but if the SMSL scores well and is significantly cheaper then the Topping then it might be a risk worth taking.

I'm considering all 3 and headphones aren't important to me. I really need something the replace my M-DAC which has a terrible USB input that is causing me problems all the time. If the M500 comes close to the others then it'll probably be my choice, the extra optical input is another plus for me.
 
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Sak

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#4
I think Topping is a more reliable brand than SMSL=Sabaj.
Just my experience though.
I read a lot of negative reviews about topping, but I have only positive experience with SMSL. Owned SMSL SU8v2, now Sabaj D5 works with Jds Atom, and i'm very satisfied.
 

Yuno

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#6
I wouldn't even bother with SMSL M500, it's amp is borderline anemic. This thing is pretty much not suitable for anything than it's DAC functionality. It's fine if you only ever use low impedance headphones, but for anything slightly harder to drive you may easily run out of volume. For the comparison, my Aune x1s has close to 4 times output power @ 300Ohm, and this is budget dac/amp, not a flagship unit.
I don't see what's the point of making flagship all in one unit with amp so weak that you won't be able to run good portion of higher end headphones on it.
 

RickSanchez

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#7
I wanted to start a thread discussing the merits of each DAC in terms of functionality, use and cost. I've created a google sheet with all the information I could find on these devices to compare them technically.
Interesting thread, and nice work on the spreadsheet. For your spreadsheet I think it's important to add 3 rows for the Headphone Output section, specifically the output impedance for each output type:
  • XLR (balanced)
  • 4.4 (balanced)
  • 1/4 (SE)
For example, with the Sabaj D5 the 1/4 output was measured by Amir to be 3.0 Ohm. (Although I believe his test equipment adds some impedance, so the actual value is likely slightly less than that.) It's my understanding that balanced outs are 2x the value of the unbalanced 1/4 output.

This is a critical spec when people evaluate headphone amps as it relates to matching headphones to the amp. For more info check out NwAvGuy's article about this:
From NwAvGuy's article:

"THE SHORT VERSION: All you really need to know is most headphones work best when the output impedance [of the headphone amp] is less than 1/8th the headphone impedance. So, for example, with 32 ohm Grados the output impedance can be, at most, 32/8 = 4 ohms. The Etymotic HF5s are 16 ohms so the max output impedance is 16/8 = 2 ohms. If you want to be assured a source will work well with just about any headphone, simply make sure the output impedance is under 2 ohms."
 
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#8
Interesting thread, and nice work on the spreadsheet. For your spreadsheet I think it's important to add 3 rows for the Headphone Output section, specifically the output impedance for each output type:
  • XLR (balanced)
  • 4.4 (balanced)
  • 1/4 (SE)
For example, with the Sabaj D5 the 1/4 output was measured by Amir to be 3.0 Ohm. (Although I believe his test equipment adds some impedance, so the actual value is likely slightly less than that.) It's my understanding that balanced outs are 2x the value of the unbalanced 1/4 output.

This is a critical spec when people evaluate headphone amps as it relates to matching headphones to the amp. For more info check out NwAvGuy's article about this:
From NwAvGuy's article:
Thanks, I've added the Ω measurement for the 1/4 outputs into the sheet in the row showing how many 1/4 outputs there are. I've just listed the values we 100% know for sure.
 
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#9
We now have reviews from Amir for both the D5 and the DX7 Pro both showing amazing results for relatively cheap DACs.
The other DAC just released but not yet measured is the SMSL M500 which also uses the ES5038Pro.
I suppose you mean the ESS ES9038Pro? But why bother? The RME ADI-2 Pro uses an AKM DAC, the Chord Qutest a FPGA and the Benchmark DAC3 an ES9028, and they are all truly excellent DAC’s. So, what does it matter?
 
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#10
I suppose you mean the ESS ES9038Pro? But why bother? The RME ADI-2 Pro uses an AKM DAC, the Chord Qutest a FPGA and the Benchmark DAC3 an ES9028, and they are all truly excellent DAC’s. So, what does it matter?
Sorry, yes 9038, fixed in title but missed it in post.

The RME ADI-2 costs about $1000, the Chord Qutest is $1700 and Benchmark DAC3 is thousands. The measurements from the new ES9038Pro DACs show you can get similar results from DACs costing a fraction of the money. My feeling is this chip and the supporting chips such as the ES9311 voltage regulator and XMOS XU-208/XU-216 are allowing the chinese manufacturers to match more expensive DACs. In the past there was a lot of extra engineering required to get the best from these DAC chips, if you look at the board for the Sabaj D5 you see very few components.

But, when I say results I'm just talking about the measurements Amir is looking at. Living with a DAC day to day is about a lot more than just the SINAD measurement. I started this discussion to look past the measurements and get some discussion of other factors, such as company support to see if it's worth buying such a cheap DAC or do other factors make it worth spending more for something like the RME ADI-2?
 
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#11
As I said elsewhere, I think Topping is a more reliable brand than SMSL=Sabaj.
Just my experience though.
Dunno multiple users complain of clicks and pops on Topping gear and my D30 has an intermittent clicking and popping problem. I'm dealing with it for now because I'm not sure what I want to replace it with.
 
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#12
Living with a DAC day to day is about a lot more than just the SINAD measurement. I started this discussion to look past the measurements and get some discussion of other factors, such as company support to see if it's worth buying such a cheap DAC or do other factors make it worth spending more for something like the RME ADI-2?
Ah, understood. I can elaborate.

I also tried the Topping D70, also with an AKM DAC. Looks well build, but has a bit of a weird monochrome display with an old fashioned font type, and is not to bright. Has XLR out, which I prefer, and an integrated power supply, which I prefer. It can be used as a pre-amp, but doesn’t have a volume knob, only small up/down switches. It comes with a small plastic remote. I wanted to download the (mini) manual, but I couldn’t find the D70 manual on their website. If it breaks down it is probably end of story.

The Qutest is cute, solidly build, only line out, is a DAC only, no pre-amp, no on/off switch, but doesn’t become warm at all in use, and stays cold when not in use. I bought a LSP with on/off switch for it, which I simply consider overkill. I love it, it is the first DAC I bought that sounds excellent.

The RME ADI-2 Pro FS is a DAC, ADC, pre-amp, headphone amp and equalizer in one small box, very well build, comes with a volume knob, XLR out, has a very informative and bright IPS color display, showing all off its many menu options, and is able to show for instance a real time 30 channel analyzer. This is some well thought out DAC, there isn’t much that the RME can’t do. Support is great, firmware upgrades are provided. It has a separate power supply, with as a nice touch a locking 12V connector. It comes without a remote, which I miss, and the RME becomes warm in use. One can buy the DAC-only version (without the ADC), which I have read does come with a remote. It sounds excellent.

The Benchmark DAC3 HCG is a DAC, pre-amp an headphone amp in one, is bigger than the RME because it has an integrated power supply, and comes with a nice rounded easy to handle remote. It is very well build, with a very solid motorized volume knob, and sounds excellent. Nice touch is the -20 dB button on the remote, which I prefer over the mute button. It has a 12V trigger-out, to switch any power amplifier with a 12V trigger-in on and off (with a proper short delay), and becomes warm in use. It is of course a great companion for the truly excellent AHB2 power amplifier. The HCG version also has analogue in, and it has both XLR and RCA out. It also comes in a version without headphone amp (DAC3 L) and in a version without analogue in (DAC3 DX).

The RME and Benchmark are professional audio, quality and service guaranteed. I consider the Qutest, ADI-2 and DAC3 all buy once, never look back DAC’s.
 
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mkawa

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#13
some edits for the google sheet

the m500 headphone amp is a new discrete design from smsl.

we have yet to figure out whether there is a consistent low output issue on the m500, and what situations it may or may not manifest in. we likely won't know until we get a first set of measurements from amir and then follow-up measurements from more production samples.

it's not that the xu-216 enables mqa per se, but that mqa is reported implemented via the 216, and because of this, the next generation of smsl dacs may also carry mqa support since they have worked out an implementation scheme for their dac platform.
 
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#14
some edits for the google sheet

the m500 headphone amp is a new discrete design from smsl.

we have yet to figure out whether there is a consistent low output issue on the m500, and what situations it may or may not manifest in. we likely won't know until we get a first set of measurements from amir and then follow-up measurements from more production samples.

it's not that the xu-216 enables mqa per se, but that mqa is reported implemented via the 216, and because of this, the next generation of smsl dacs may also carry mqa support since they have worked out an implementation scheme for their dac platform.
Confused a little by the last part, you say the next generation of SMSL DACs may have MQA support but with the M500 the current generation of SMSL has MQA support.
 

mkawa

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#15
ah, yes, good call. so the next generation of the su-8 (now known to be the su-8s), the m500 and probably a new vmv d2, as well as a 4497 and 4499 implementation hinted at by @SMSL_Liu will use the xu-216 with firmware similar to the m500 that will allow easy implementation of mqa.

what i mean by next generation is the generation started by the m500 that will end up replacing the d1, su-8, m300, etc.
 
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#16
So we have the review for the SMSL M500 and it measures very close to the other ES9038PRO DACs but they managed to get rid of the ESS hump!

I've asked Amir for confirmation in another thread but it looks like any concerns about the XLR outputs on the M500 being lower quality than its siblings were unfounded.

This has made my mind up which direction I'm going of the three, but I have no use for the extra inputs and headphone outputs you get from the other DACs. Maybe this would also be a good choice for someone who does need great headphone outputs as the M500 paired with the THX AAA 789 sounds like it could be an amazing setup.
 
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