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SMSL D-6s Balanced DAC Review

Rate this DAC:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 9 2.5%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 4 1.1%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 24 6.7%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 322 89.7%

  • Total voters
    359

staticV3

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I think that's a copy/paste. It's the signal path illustration that is identical to the figure in the ES9069 datasheet.
In the ES9039 datasheet MQA appears only in two figures
In the ES9069 datasheet MQA is described in more detail (37 occurrences of "MQA")
On the first page of the datatsheets MQA is in the feature list for the ES9069, not however in the one of ES9039
There is a nice overview: https://www.esstech.com/products-overview/digital-to-analog-converters/sabre-audiophile-dacs/

This raises the question: Does the D-6s indeed support MQA?
Since specs and pinout of the two chips are otherwise identical at first glance, it could as well be the D-6s is build around an ES9069, but marketing mentions the well known ES9039?
MQA decoding can be done either on the DAC chip, or on the XMOS USB bridge, which should be the case on the D-6s.
 

nanook

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It may not. It is lossy compression which inadvertently reduces fidelity.
Their claims of compensating for studio gear make no sense in the context of how a song is created.
Thanks, I had already watched the video and obviously MQA has been applied very inappropriate in many cases (even to true HiRes material).
And of course you're right, it is not lossless and calling it HiRes is problematic. And the marketing promises .... ;-/

If the process is applied properly it might improve the subjective sound given the same available file-size / bandwidth.
There is a nice article (and comments) here: https://www.headphonesty.com/2021/05/tidal-mqa-golden-sound-debate/

But we're pretty far off-topic - my fault.
-> Does anyone know about the MQA capability of the D-6s?
- which of the sources are covered? (the advertising logo says MQA / MQA-CD, so this points towards SPDIF/Toslink)
- the DAC chip is it indeed the ES9039 or eventually the ES9069?
 

Grooved

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I think that's a copy/paste. It's the signal path illustration that is identical to the figure in the ES9069 datasheet.
In the ES9039 datasheet MQA appears only in two figures
In the ES9069 datasheet MQA is described in more detail (37 occurrences of "MQA")
On the first page of the datatsheets MQA is in the feature list for the ES9069, not however in the one of ES9039
There is a nice overview: https://www.esstech.com/products-overview/digital-to-analog-converters/sabre-audiophile-dacs/

This raises the question: Does the D-6s indeed support MQA?
Since specs and pinout of the two chips are otherwise identical at first glance, it could as well be the D-6s is build around an ES9069, but marketing mentions the well known ES9039?
The D-6S uses the ES9039Q2M DAC chipset, and the decoding/rendering of MQA is made by the XMOS XU316 (like a lot of DACs)

- properly applied, MQA may indeed improve sound quality
It has almost never been used like in the best case it could be, and this would start with at least doing the mastering with an MQA encoder, if not using it to record tracks first.
And even in this case, it's not sure at all that it would improve something, but this would be the only way to make create a real master with MQA.
All the MQA files created with conversion from a WAV master (almost all tracks that you can find) can't be what artist wants you to hear because it was converted after the mastering.
Now, there's almost no possibility to see it used on the whole chains, because it would mean that at least mastering studio, if not recording studio, would need an MQA encoder, and it would have already happen if it what possible (but it costs way to much money to produce, and sell)
 

nanook

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The D-6S uses the ES9039Q2M DAC chipset, and the decoding/rendering of MQA is made by the XMOS XU316 (like a lot of DACs)

It has almost never been used like in the best case it could be, and this would start with at least doing the mastering with an MQA encoder, if not using it to record tracks first.
Thanks for the clarification regarding the chip that does the actual rendering. I was assuming only the audio- datastream coming through USB could get processed by the XMOS.

I agree, using MQA very early in the recording chain is required - and not really realistic at the same time. And of course this adds (licensing) cost almost everywhere.
And unless you have MQA decoding, the result will - as far as I understood the technology - be inferior to the unprocessed version (assuming the same file-size).
 

horstman

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Haha. All fair points.

I have both the Topping E50 and the SMSL D-6s. Love them both but for different applications. That we can get this level of subjective and objective performance for under $200 is astonishing to me. The rest of the world is a mess, but life is good for audiophiles and Hi-Fi enthusiasts here in late 2023. :)

Couldn't agree more, it is quite amazing what we can get these days for our money.
I've been in this audio hobby for decades, and I'm currently using the Smsl C100, a Fosi V3 and an ancient 10€ DVD player.
Pretty decent for a low budget solution, to say the least.

Plus some cables and speakers which cost a bit more, but still.
 

wavetrade

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I don't like MQA and wish it did not exist. But I do like Tidal and find much of what I listen to is still in MQA format. So, I have given in and am using MQA capable DACS. To me it seems the DL200 (similar to D-6S) gets to processing faster than either my E50 or SU-1 DACS. The E50 hiccups at the beginning of MQA tracks and the SU-1 pauses the sound slightly at the beginning. The DL200 lights up, and gets playing, without pause or hiccups.

I do find the MQA capable DACS sound better with MQA tracks than my D-6, that does not have the capability.
 

nanook

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I don't like MQA and wish it did not exist. But I do like Tidal and find much of what I listen to is still in MQA format. So, I have given in and am using MQA capable DACS. To me it seems the DL200 (similar to D-6S) gets to processing faster than either my E50 or SU-1 DACS. The E50 hiccups at the beginning of MQA tracks and the SU-1 pauses the sound slightly at the beginning. The DL200 lights up, and gets playing, without pause or hiccups.

I do find the MQA capable DACS sound better with MQA tracks than my D-6, that does not have the capability.
Thanks a lot for these inputs. The DL-200 and the D-6s are pretty similar indeed, so the D-6s should also cope well in case I happen to play MQA coded tracks.
 

Jimster480

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This really has monster performance for such a low price and it really only adds to the question of why the 400 exists....
 

Bleib

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This really has monster performance for such a low price and it really only adds to the question of why the 400 exists....
Yup, a nicer box and display shouldn't add so much to the price.
Even C200 was a monster for its price, now it appears DL200 has that crown
 

Jimster480

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Yup, a nicer box and display shouldn't add so much to the price.
Even C200 was a monster for its price, now it appears DL200 has that crown
Yup, I'm all for Value with decent features.
Honestly this DAC is all I would use. I have a D70S & a SU-8S and this is just as good at a lower price.
 

nanook

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The DL200 lights up, and gets playing, without pause or hiccups.
I do find the MQA capable DACS sound better with MQA tracks than my D-6, that does not have the capability.
@wavetrade: Sounds like you have both available, the DL-200 (very similar to D-6s) and the dual AKM4493S version D-6.
Do you have a preference between these two sound-wise when playing non-MQA material?
 

wavetrade

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@wavetrade: Sounds like you have both available, the DL-200 (very similar to D-6s) and the dual AKM4493S version D-6.
Do you have a preference between these two sound-wise when playing non-MQA material?

As it turns out, yes I do. But I have to go full subjective here. LOL

When I recently discovered how good these inexpensive Chinese audio products were I went on a bit of a buying streak. So I have a SU-1, E50, C100, D-6 and DL200. When something new arrives I usually hook it up to a SMSL A300, that has two inputs, so that I can A/B it. In doing so I hear a difference in all five of them, although it is really slight like changing a filter setting. There are definitely gain differences and in a blind test I don't think I could ever figure out which is which. With that said, during the A/B I have formed some strong preferences. I really don't care for the C100 or the D-6., they both seem kind of closed up compared to the others. I do really like the SU-1 and the E50. And the DL200 just strikes me as perfect. I could wax on about it but won't. But I like it so well that I just ordered a DO300 and I am going to see if I can sell the D-6 and C100.

I recognize this is totally subjective, but nanook asked. :)
 

Jimster480

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As it turns out, yes I do. But I have to go full subjective here. LOL

When I recently discovered how good these inexpensive Chinese audio products were I went on a bit of a buying streak. So I have a SU-1, E50, C100, D-6 and DL200. When something new arrives I usually hook it up to a SMSL A300, that has two inputs, so that I can A/B it. In doing so I hear a difference in all five of them, although it is really slight like changing a filter setting. There are definitely gain differences and in a blind test I don't think I could ever figure out which is which. With that said, during the A/B I have formed some strong preferences. I really don't care for the C100 or the D-6., they both seem kind of closed up compared to the others. I do really like the SU-1 and the E50. And the DL200 just strikes me as perfect. I could wax on about it but won't. But I like it so well that I just ordered a DO300 and I am going to see if I can sell the D-6 and C100.

I recognize this is totally subjective, but nanook asked. :)
I understand your feelings. I too have bought lots of DAC's and formed preferences for specific ones even if comparing them in A/B for hours I either couldn't tell a conscious difference or the difference was so slight that it really didn't matter. However some of these same products I found that I didn't enjoy listening to them for long periods of time.
 

wavetrade

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I understand your feelings. I too have bought lots of DAC's and formed preferences for specific ones even if comparing them in A/B for hours I either couldn't tell a conscious difference or the difference was so slight that it really didn't matter. However some of these same products I found that I didn't enjoy listening to them for long periods of time.
That is a great way to put it. For whatever reason I had that non enjoyment experience with the D6. Despite it working really well going from track to track with zero hiccups. And I like the display prioritizing bitrate over volume. LDAC over bluetooth worked pretty well too. I eventually saw the cheapaudioman video where he was slamming the D6 and noted it as interesting. LOL

The DL200 on the other hand went into my main system and has only been pulled for a real quick A/B test. I hope it gets tested here eventually, I will be surprised if it doesn't test just the like the D-6S.

I was ashamed of my DAC craze but it has been fun and I haven't encountered any defects yet. I have a digital version of the Mini DSP Flex coming and and hoping I can use it to filter the signal for highs and lows, then output those channels digitally to separate DACS for the amp and sub. The extra DAC's will come in handy.
 

Jimster480

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That is a great way to put it. For whatever reason I had that non enjoyment experience with the D6. Despite it working really well going from track to track with zero hiccups. And I like the display prioritizing bitrate over volume. LDAC over bluetooth worked pretty well too. I eventually saw the cheapaudioman video where he was slamming the D6 and noted it as interesting. LOL

The DL200 on the other hand went into my main system and has only been pulled for a real quick A/B test. I hope it gets tested here eventually, I will be surprised if it doesn't test just the like the D-6S.

I was ashamed of my DAC craze but it has been fun and I haven't encountered any defects yet. I have a digital version of the Mini DSP Flex coming and and hoping I can use it to filter the signal for highs and lows, then output those channels digitally to separate DACS for the amp and sub. The extra DAC's will come in handy.
I have mostly used Equalify for the last years until it was killed a few months ago by new Spotify changes....
I don't watch videos about audio products so I can't get any of these "reviewers" personal "impressions".
 

NexusOne

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Until know I wanted to buy Topping A70Pro and D70Pro. But I think the Aune S17Pro and Smsl D6s / D100 could be as good (or maybe better?). My questions are:

- Does the D6s have got any disadvantages in comparison with the D6 which I owned?
- I can't decide between D6s and DO100. D6s looks worse with this strange display part but it is a bit cheaper with slightly better measurements and USB 5.1. What would you do?
- So it is possible to connect it with a Iphone 15 as a source. Does it work well?
- Which DPLL setting would you choose with a Tv and optical in?
- The display from the D6 was too bright at the lowest setting. Is the D6s also very bright?
 

nanook

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As it turns out, yes I do. But I have to go full subjective here. LOL
Thanks a lot for sharing your preferences, I really appreciate.
When I recently discovered how good these inexpensive Chinese audio products were I went on a bit of a buying streak. So I have a SU-1, E50, C100, D-6 and DL200. When something new arrives I usually hook it up to a SMSL A300, that has two inputs, so that I can A/B it. In doing so I hear a difference in all five of them, although it is really slight like changing a filter setting. There are definitely gain differences and in a blind test I don't think I could ever figure out which is which. With that said, during the A/B I have formed some strong preferences. I really don't care for the C100 or the D-6., they both seem kind of closed up compared to the others. I do really like the SU-1 and the E50. And the DL200 just strikes me as perfect. I could wax on about it but won't.
Background of my question was, that the D-6s is build around the ES9039 and the D6 has dual AK4493s. Some friends of mine do not like the sound of the ESS DAC Chips, that's why I'm struggling to decide between D6 and D-6s.

Your preferences are interesting because - if I got you right:
SU-1 AK4493s liked
E50 ES9068 (ES9038 with MQA decoding?) liked
DL200 ES9039 liked most
D6 2x AK4493S not in favor
C100 AK4493S not in favor
--> This is a mixed picture with more likes on the ESS side compared to AKM.

The DL200 has generously space inside, which is a good thing since you can separate clocks and audio from the SMPS. And it has got a phones amp included.
Unfortunately I just don't like the look :-(

But I like it so well that I just ordered a DO300 and I am going to see if I can sell the D-6 and C100.
That really sounds like an interesting unit build around the 8-channel ES9039MSPRO.
 

wavetrade

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Yes, you are correct Nanook. I started all of this reading here and thought that I should go with the AK4493 as my best bet. So, I bought the SU1 first and indeed really like it. But then I bought a Fosi V3 and needed volume control with a remote. This led to the E50. I also A/B listened to these two quite a bit and felt there was a difference in sound but I couldn't decide what I liked best. Since I liked the SU1 so well I thought why not get a dac with 2x of this processor. So along came the D6 (and a C100 just because it was on a good sale). But then I discovered that perhaps double chips don't always equal better sound.

Then a review of the D-6S came along and I really wanted one as I now knew that ESS can sound great and I liked the charts. And the price! But I am impatient and didn't want to order from China so I settled on the similar DL200. And it hit me perfectly right out of the box.

So I am not sure if I am an AKM or ESS guy. Both seem awesome to me, I just think each DAC is implemented a little differently. And I have avoided any of the ESS DACS that exhibit the hump in Amir's test. I really do love the SU1 and experimented a lot with the D6 filters hoping I could get the same sound. To my ears one of the D6 filters got fairly close. But by then the DL200 had arrived and I lost interest in experimenting with the D6.

Now it is happening again as I have a NCX500 amp on the way and want something with a 12V trigger. I wanted a DO300 as it seemed the next best step, but no 12V trigger. So I am now considering the E70 or E70V. I am fully falling down the rabbit hole and also ordered some Revel M105 speakers. My local hifi shop likes me and also sent me home with KEF LS50 metas to try over the long weekend. Thankfully I have been buying bitcoin over the last two years while prices were down. So I took a little profit and set it aside for the stereo equipment.
 

Jimster480

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Yes, you are correct Nanook. I started all of this reading here and thought that I should go with the AK4493 as my best bet. So, I bought the SU1 first and indeed really like it. But then I bought a Fosi V3 and needed volume control with a remote. This led to the E50. I also A/B listened to these two quite a bit and felt there was a difference in sound but I couldn't decide what I liked best. Since I liked the SU1 so well I thought why not get a dac with 2x of this processor. So along came the D6 (and a C100 just because it was on a good sale). But then I discovered that perhaps double chips don't always equal better sound.

Then a review of the D-6S came along and I really wanted one as I now knew that ESS can sound great and I liked the charts. And the price! But I am impatient and didn't want to order from China so I settled on the similar DL200. And it hit me perfectly right out of the box.

So I am not sure if I am an AKM or ESS guy. Both seem awesome to me, I just think each DAC is implemented a little differently. And I have avoided any of the ESS DACS that exhibit the hump in Amir's test. I really do love the SU1 and experimented a lot with the D6 filters hoping I could get the same sound. To my ears one of the D6 filters got fairly close. But by then the DL200 had arrived and I lost interest in experimenting with the D6.

Now it is happening again as I have a NCX500 amp on the way and want something with a 12V trigger. I wanted a DO300 as it seemed the next best step, but no 12V trigger. So I am now considering the E70 or E70V. I am fully falling down the rabbit hole and also ordered some Revel M105 speakers. My local hifi shop likes me and also sent me home with KEF LS50 metas to try over the long weekend. Thankfully I have been buying bitcoin over the last two years while prices were down. So I took a little profit and set it aside for the stereo equipment.
Don't go too far down the rabbit hole.... you can really end up blowing huge money if you aren't careful. Try to resell the gear you haven't been using. Either via the forum here or via ebay. Lessens the load a bit.
 
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