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SMSL D-6s Balanced DAC Review

Rate this DAC:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 9 2.4%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 5 1.3%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 24 6.3%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 340 89.9%

  • Total voters
    378

Hafnix

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Feb 13, 2024
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Hello

I would like to upgrade from very old CA DacMagic Azur.

I'm searching for a DAC in 200 to 300 EUR price range. Do you think that D-6S will be a good upgrade, or do you recommend and other DAC in this price range?

One additional question. Till now I did not use XLR cables (I use RCA). Is it a good idea to also buy XLR cables at the same time?

I will probably buy DAC here:


So, I was thinking to also buy XLRs in this online shop:


If you check above link, do you see any good XLRs up to 100 EUR or better less (for pair)? I need cable at least 1m in lenght.

Thank you

Kind regards

Hi, I am using the D-6S together with a Sabaj A20h Amp and I'm very pleased with this combo. Can't imagine anything better in this price range. I have also tested the SMSL DL200 and the Topping DX 3 Pro+ and can compare with my Presonus Studio 1810c. Wouldn't say that there are huge differences in soundquality between the mentioned devices. Maybe there are, but I don't hear them... But the D-6S is looking nice and does the job very well, so it stopped me looking for alternatives any further.

For cables I can highly recommend the Sommer Galileo 238. I use them for ages for everything XLR (Microphones, Studio-Monitors, D-6S to A20h). They are very well built and have sturdy Neutrik Plugs, absolutely nothing to complain about.
 

Veri

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Feb 6, 2018
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Hi, I am using the D-6S together with a Sabaj A20h Amp and I'm very pleased with this combo. Can't imagine anything better in this price range. I have also tested the SMSL DL200 and the Topping DX 3 Pro+ and can compare with my Presonus Studio 1810c. Wouldn't say that there are huge differences in soundquality between the mentioned devices. Maybe there are, but I don't hear them... But the D-6S is looking nice and does the job very well, so it stopped me looking for alternatives any further.
Nice little set-up.. :)
 

somebodyelse

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I'm searching for a DAC in 200 to 300 EUR price range. Do you think that D-6S will be a good upgrade, or do you recommend and other DAC in this price range?
A lot of DACs in that price range, and several below it, measure well enough that you won't hear a difference in properly controlled testing. The D-6S is one of them, but check the other reviews. I haven't seen any measurements of your CA DacMagic Azur - it may be good enough that you won't hear the difference anyway (again assuming properly controlled testing.) The real differentiators are features and customer service if anything goes wrong. That's one reason to buy from a European retailer instead of direct from outside Europe.
One additional question. Till now I did not use XLR cables (I use RCA). Is it a good idea to also buy XLR cables at the same time?
Only if you're connecting it to something with balanced inputs. If not then stick with the RCA outputs.
 

gregor

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Jan 25, 2023
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Hi, I am using the D-6S together with a Sabaj A20h Amp and I'm very pleased with this combo. Can't imagine anything better in this price range. I have also tested the SMSL DL200 and the Topping DX 3 Pro+ and can compare with my Presonus Studio 1810c. Wouldn't say that there are huge differences in soundquality between the mentioned devices. Maybe there are, but I don't hear them... But the D-6S is looking nice and does the job very well, so it stopped me looking for alternatives any further.

For cables I can highly recommend the Sommer Galileo 238. I use them for ages for everything XLR (Microphones, Studio-Monitors, D-6S to A20h). They are very well built and have sturdy Neutrik Plugs, absolutely nothing to complain about.

Hi

Thank you for your answer.

So, is this the cable that you use:


?

If yes, than I will buy pair of this cable. :)

Kind regards
 

gregor

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Jan 25, 2023
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A lot of DACs in that price range, and several below it, measure well enough that you won't hear a difference in properly controlled testing. The D-6S is one of them, but check the other reviews. I haven't seen any measurements of your CA DacMagic Azur - it may be good enough that you won't hear the difference anyway (again assuming properly controlled testing.) The real differentiators are features and customer service if anything goes wrong. That's one reason to buy from a European retailer instead of direct from outside Europe.

Only if you're connecting it to something with balanced inputs. If not then stick with the RCA outputs.
This DAC is very old, I'm using it around 15 years...


It's time to do some upgrade. ;)

I have Vincent SV234 amp which has XLR output, but in current setup I was using RCA connection.

Thank you.

Kind regards
 

Bleib

Major Contributor
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May 13, 2021
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This DAC is very old, I'm using it around 15 years...


It's time to do some upgrade. ;)

I have Vincent SV234 amp which has XLR output, but in current setup I was using RCA connection.

Thank you.

Kind regards
Yes, it's not stellar, D6s should be a great upgrade
 

Hafnix

Member
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Feb 13, 2024
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Hi

Thank you for your answer.

So, is this the cable that you use:


?

If yes, than I will buy pair of this cable. :)

Kind regards
Yes, these are the cables I'm using.
 

gregor

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Jan 25, 2023
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Thank you. :)
Now I must only wait for D-6S to appear on stock end of March in above mentioned shop.
 

Seikofan

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Feb 16, 2024
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Just ordered this dac to use with a pair of Kali V2 monitors.
When playing Amazon Music from my PC should I have windows at 100% volume, the monitors at (?) 0db then adjust the volume with the dac?
Crank the dac and adjust with windows?
Right now I have windows cranked, a no-volume control dac and I'm adjusting the volume with a topping e30 in preamp mode with the monitors at 0db.
 
Last edited:

nanook

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Volume at monitors set to the maximum level you usually use when Windows and DAC are fully open (i.e. the maximum volume you usually want to listen)
The monitors do attenuate in the analog domain and I do consider this as the best way to do it.

Resolution:
Windows or DAC: Depends on the bit depth of the transmission.
The DAC internally works with 32bit and thus the volume control is excellent.
If your USB connection has 24bit or more (the SMSL ASIO XMOS driver does) , you can use the windows volume control equally well.
These are both attenuation in the digital domain and thus sacrificing resolution - yet with 24 bit depth you still have CD resolution (16 bit) when you attenuate by 8 bit which is approximately 48 dB.

Noise floor:
Attenuating e.g. 40dB (which is a lot) in the digital domain means to reduce the dynamic range of the DAC by 40dB, leaving ca. 80dB dynamic range before signals vanish in the noise floor, which is still fair for many listening situations, but clearly below CD quality.

Hope this helps a bit.
Just ordered this dac to use with a pair of Kali V2 monitors.
When playing Amazon Music from my PC should I have windows at 100% volume the monitors at (?) 0db then adjust the volume with the dac?
Crank the dac and adjust with windows?
 

Hafnix

Member
Joined
Feb 13, 2024
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Just ordered this dac to use with a pair of Kali V2 monitors.
When playing Amazon Music from my PC should I have windows at 100% volume, the monitors at (?) 0db then adjust the volume with the dac?
Crank the dac and adjust with windows?
Right now I have windows cranked, a no-volume control dac and I'm adjusting the volume with a topping e30 in preamp mode with the monitors at 0db.
Here is a pretty useful article how to adjust the volume of your studio monitors: https://legacy.presonus.com/learn/technical-articles/how-do-i-calibrate-my-studio-monitors
 

Ecaroh

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Apr 23, 2019
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Here are all of my tests summed up. All the testing was done with the amp at 70% volume, playback paused and just switching songs back and forth without playing the actual song.

Tidal Android app

WIIM Mini (coax/optical)> D6-s (xlr/rca)> AO200 - Loud pops when switching bit rates

WIIM Pro (coax/optical)> D6-s (xlr/rca)> AO200 - Loud pops when switching bit rates

WIIM Pro (coax/optical)> 2ndD6-s (xlr/rca)> AO200 - Loud pops when switching bit rates

WIIM Pro (coax/optical)> D6-s (xlr/rca)> AO200mkII - Loud pops when switching bit rates

WIIM Pro (coax/optical)> 2ndD6-s (xlr/rca)> AO200mkII - Loud pops when switching bit rates

WIIM Pro (coax/optical)> DO300 (xlr/rca)> AO200 - Loud pops only when switching to a lower bit rate (192khz>96khz > 44.1khz), the reverse switch (lower to higher) has 0 pops.

WIIM Pro (coax/optical)> Sanskrit 10th MKII (rca)> AO200 - NO POPS whatsoever

Tidal Desktop app


Desktop PC (USB)> DO300 (xlr/rca)> AO200 - No pops - This doesn't really solve my issue since I exclusively stream through coax/optical.


I am feeling a bit lost as to what should be the next step, I really want a slight DAC upgrade so I can use my old Sanskrit 10th MKII on another system.

Is it possible I am missing something? Should I try another model like the DO100 hoping the stars align?

Thanks for all the input!
Feesh, am I reading your test write-up of February 15 correctly, and all cases of D6-s pop are via the XLR outputs? No cases of a pop when using the RCA outputs? Thanks.
 

Glennza

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Feb 19, 2024
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I asked the question a few weeks ago about whether it would be worth upgrading from the SMSL M8 which I have been using for the last six years or so. It got excellent reviews when it came out and I have been very happy with it. The M8 was very popular but it seems nobody has taken that upgrade path.

Anyway, I bit the bullet and ordered a D6S anyway. Well, the difference is night and day! The D6S is stunning!! The biggest difference is in soundstage. The D6S is just so 3-dimensional compared with the M8. I am very happy.

The other question I asked was whether the D6S supported Native DSD. I was informed that no ESS Sabre DACs supported Native DSD. I was very pleased to discover that it actually does. I am using the Daphile headless frontend and I had it configured for DOP (no Native DSD on the M8). I thought I'd try it anyway and went into settings. To my surprise it had already set itself to Native DSD and works perfectly.

To anyone else with the SMSL M8. Just do it!

D6S > Quad 66 > Quad 606 > ATC SCM 20's (passive).
 

trungdtmc

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Mar 9, 2022
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I asked the question a few weeks ago about whether it would be worth upgrading from the SMSL M8 which I have been using for the last six years or so. It got excellent reviews when it came out and I have been very happy with it. The M8 was very popular but it seems nobody has taken that upgrade path.

Anyway, I bit the bullet and ordered a D6S anyway. Well, the difference is night and day! The D6S is stunning!! The biggest difference is in soundstage. The D6S is just so 3-dimensional compared with the M8. I am very happy.

The other question I asked was whether the D6S supported Native DSD. I was informed that no ESS Sabre DACs supported Native DSD. I was very pleased to discover that it actually does. I am using the Daphile headless frontend and I had it configured for DOP (no Native DSD on the M8). I thought I'd try it anyway and went into settings. To my surprise it had already set itself to Native DSD and works perfectly.

To anyone else with the SMSL M8. Just do it!

D6S > Quad 66 > Quad 606 > ATC SCM 20's (passive).
I listened to native DSD512 on my DIY ES9038q2m DAC with Amanero and had no problems, why can't d6s with Xmos XU316 ;)
1709883287036.png
 
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Glennza

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I listened to native DSD512 on my DIY ES9038q2m DAC with Amanero and had no problems, why can't d6s with Xmos XU316 ;)
View attachment 354947

It can - that's what I said! I was told, in this thread, that it couldn't...

Post #600
"Others familiar with your SMSL M8 may be able to reply to your first query. But as regards your additional question, no the SMSL d-6s will not be able to do DSD Direct since it is ESS Sabre based. [No DAC with ESS Sabre chipset can do DSD Direct]."
 

trungdtmc

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It can - that's what I said! I was told, in this thread, that it couldn't...

Post #600
"Others familiar with your SMSL M8 may be able to reply to your first query. But as regards your additional question, no the SMSL d-6s will not be able to do DSD Direct since it is ESS Sabre based. [No DAC with ESS Sabre chipset can do DSD Direct]."
yup, and i also said ;)
1709884013736.png
 

PhnomPenhPaul

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I see that my earlier post # 600 created some confusion over whether or not the SMSL d6s could do "DSD Direct" as asked by Glennza. Perhaps I too should apologise! I thought he/she meant "can the d6s process DSD bypassing volume control and Sigma Delta Modulation?", not just "not DSD over PCM". ESS chips can not do the former, but some AKM chips, eg the AK4499, can do so [as can be seen from the AK4499 block diagram]. This is only of interest for those with a large SACD collection or who convert PCM to DSD using their software player [eg HQPlayer]. Anyway, I am relieved that my earlier post did not put Glennza off buying the d6s and am pleased to read that he likes it. [I am awaiting delivery of a d6s and given Glennza's comments about it working well with his Quad/ATC system, I am hoping I shall be equally pleased with it in the context of a Meridian/Spendor SP1 system!]
 

nanook

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While modifying AVCC, I had a closer look at the implementation of the AVCC generation, the I/V-stage and RCA output stage.

Schematic:
I didn't unsolder the caps so I couldn't measure them and I forgot to check the AVCC-buffer negative supply (Gnd would do the job and there's only one decoupling cap, so very likely its +11V / Gnd).
The output stage seems to be a very straightforward I/V stage without de-glitching Cap and without elaborated Common-Mode measures. The ES9039 seems to be well behaved compared to the ES9038 (ESS-hump in IMD- plots) such that these measures are not necessary (the excellent results of Amir's measurements speak for themselves). SMSL choose a potentiometer to do the DC-nulling of the outputs; some other schemes would do this without manual adjustment. It might be, that the potentiometer- solution is the lowest-noise implementation.
The RCA- output amplifier simply subtracts the XLR outputs, applies a gain of ca. 0.5 and does some additional filtering.
The muting is performed by the well known SG3710. This chip seems to have a charge-pump for the internal negative supply such that it can handle +/-11V signal voltage range with just +11V supply. The active-path has an on-resistance of ca. 1 Ohm and the muted-path has ca. 11 Ohms which perfectly makes sense in terms of distortion (low and flat Ron in active position) and chip area (when muted).

AVCC generation:
- LP2985-50 regulator (5.0V)
- resistive voltage divider (R1 / R2 in my schematic); I would have loved to see MELF resistors (metal film) in this position because the tiny 0402 resistors would certainly make some excess current noise in case they are thick-film. Possibly SMSL was considerate and used 0402 thin-film (metal-film) resistors here. This resistive divider brings down the 5V to ca. 3.67V. (In case there is excess current noise, it shows up common-mode at the XLR and at the substractor for the RCA- output such that it will be eliminated to a large extend. So it would be ok. even if the divider consists of thick-film resistors)
- there is some filtering applied. There are two ceramic SMD caps that form an RC-filter with the source-resistance of the divider network.
- the dual OpAmp OPA1612 does the buffering for both channels separately with a capacitor between output and Gnd to bring down the impedance for high frequencies (this is in principal risky (capacitive loading of the OpAmp), but when the cap is large enough, the cap will bring the loop-gain down far enough and the circuit will not oscillate.
EDIT: AVCC buffer U2 might be supplied by +5V / Gnd. I have to check next time I have the unit open.

AVCC modification:
I did not feel comfortable with a AVCC_DAC supply voltage close to the absolute maximum ratings and I looked for a simple modification that is fully reversible.
Since AVCC is generated using a resistive voltage divider, it is straight-forward to simply modify this divider. I decided not to change one of the tiny 0402 resistors, but instead solder a resistor in parallel to R2 (the resistor that goes to Gnd). Soldering a 0603 resistor on top of one of the two filter caps (that are in parallel to R2) is a very conveniant and safe way (see photo).
A parallel resistor with 22k will bring AVCC down to approximately 3.31V. It would be nice to use a metal-film (thinfilm) resistor - see above).
In case you decide to do this modification, you can check the result by measuring AVCC at the outputs of the OPA1612. There is a footprint where no SMD component is fitted (see photo). AVCC should be ca. 3.31V after the modification.
(I would recommend to check AVCC before and after the modification; SMSL might have changed the resistor values during production such that it needs a different value for the parallel resistor).
EDIT: I would also check the offset voltage on the XLR outputs. The "+" and "-" are a bit different and both should be within ca. +/-1 ... 2mV compared to Gnd. If this is not the case you can adjust the small potentiometers located between DAC-chip and OpAmps. For both of my units no re-adjustment was necessary.
The RCA output is close to 0mV anyway because it subtracts "+" and "-" of the XLR.

Output level:
The output current of the DAC scales with AVCC such that a reduction of AVCC will reduce the output voltage by the same ratio. 20*log(3.309/3.665) = -089dB
Noise:
I would expect that the noise does not scale with AVCC. I did measure something like 0.2 dB less noise with AVCC = 3.31V, but in case this is real, it's basically "academic"
Distortion:
Within my measuring capabilities I did not observe increased distortion with AVCC = 3.31V compared to 3.67V. Measurement condition was 1 kHz sinewave at 0dBFS generated with REW. I did measure with a passive notch filter and an Audio-Precision Portable-One as analog frontend for the (not so nice) USB audio-interface. A second instance of the REW with Real-Time-Analyzer was used to observe the spectrum. With "coherent averaging" (a method that suppresses non-harmonic noise) I can measure down to ca. -140dBc.
(I verfied the distortion measurement capability by adding -120dBFS of k2 and k3 (in REW); these lines then rose by almost 20dB).

Conclusion AVCC modification:
Bringing down AVCC to the nominal value of 3.3V (+/-5% according to the datasheet) will lower the output level by ca. 0.9dB. Since noise does not (or only little) scale with AVCC, SINAD will be worse by ca. 0.7 ... 0.9dB. This has no practical relevance to my humble opinion, but it would surely affect the position of the D-6s in the "Best in SINAD" plot.
As already mentioned, I do assume ESS has designed the ES9039 for 24/7 and for customers expecting a lifetime >10 years. It is therefore very possible that the D-6s "as produced" will work as expected for many, many years. Being familiar with CMOS IC design and product qualification, I just felt I should trade 1dB in SINAD for a good conscience :)

PS: I'm absolutely happy with this DAC. It looks nice, the features are just perfect and -last not least - it has a stellar performance.
 

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chosen1ft

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Hi every one. If I connect the d6s's xlr to L30II's rca, can I get the 129dB Dynamic range?
 
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