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SMSL D400ES DAC Review

Rate this DAC:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 12 5.1%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 11 4.7%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 58 24.7%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 154 65.5%

  • Total voters


Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Feb 13, 2016
Seattle Area
This is a review and detailed measurements of the SMSL D400ES Balanced Stereo DAC with Bluetooth support. It was sent to me by the company and costs US $800.
SMSL D400ES Stereo USB DAC XLR Balanced Review.jpg

The D400ES is quite stylish especially if you look at it an angle where it exposes the black heatsinks. Alas, the rotary control is not my cup of tea but you can use the remote to control the full functionality. Not much else to talk about other than show you the rear terminals:

SMSL D400ES Stereo USB DAC XLR Balanced Back Panel Bluetooth Review.jpg

Naturally power supply is built-in. Minor nit: I wish SMSL would use color coded RCA jacks as it is hard to tell their respective channels easily.

SMSL D400ES Measurements
As usual we start with our 1 kHz tone at full volume using USB connection and XLR output:

SMSL D400ES Stereo USB DAC XLR Balanced Measurements.png

No matter how many times I see such superb measurements out of a DAC, it still puts a smile on my face! Distortion is incredibly low at -140 dB or so making SINAD dominant by noise. That lands the D400ES easily in our top 20 best DACs ever measured:
best stereo DAC review 2023.png

RCA output as usual gives up a bit of performance but it is still superbly transparent:

SMSL D400ES Stereo USB DAC RCA Measurements.png

In case you want to drive a more sensitive amplifier at lower volumes, here is that performance:
SMSL D400ES Stereo USB DAC XLR Balanced THD vs Level Measurements.png

Signal to noise ratio is better than dynamic range of your hearing so you are good to go there:
SMSL D400ES Stereo USB DAC Dynamic Range Measurements.png

Linearity is perfect:
SMSL D400ES Stereo USB DAC XLR Balanced Linearity Measurements.png

Multitone is state of the art:
SMSL D400ES Stereo USB DAC XLR Balanced Multitone Measurements.png

Despite use of ESS DAC, there is no hint of "ESS IMD Hump:"
SMSL D400ES Stereo USB DAC XLR Balanced IMD DIstortion Measurements.png

Jitter over USB is perfect and nearly so using Toslink:
SMSL D400ES Stereo USB DAC XLR Balanced Jitter Measurements.png

Numerous DAC reconstruction filters are provided:
SMSL D400ES Stereo USB DAC XLR Balanced Filter Measurements.png

Note that "off" is not really "off:"
SMSL D400ES Stereo USB DAC XLR Balanced DAC Filter Off Measurements.png

Not that you would want to use it anyway as it cuts way into the audible frequency response:

SMSL D400ES Stereo USB DAC XLR Balanced Frequency Response Measurements.png

As noted, Fast Linear filter seems to be the best compromise of all, resulting in excellent wideband noise+distortion vs frequency measurement:
SMSL D400ES Stereo USB DAC XLR Balanced THD vs Frequency Measurements.png

SMSL D400ES delivers flawless state of the art performance in digital to audio conversion. It also looks quite attractive. The only negatives are the cost and the rotary control. Not much else to say really. In case you are comparing it to its D400EX sibling, I think it performs a bit better yet costs less.

I am happy to recommend SMSL D400ES DAC.

As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
The SMSL prices are not competitive any more.
$800 for a DAC with SOTA performance and nice looks is reasonable these days.
Lesser price would possibly mean not as nice cosmetics, no bluetooth, no internal PS and no display or a lesser display. The ESS chip is also a high end one.
All that makes the retail price go up.
BTW the MQA feature also costs real money in licensing fees, as we've seen from identical models with and without MQA.
You may think none of that matters, but it means a higher price.
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Something I remarked in these new ESS9039PRO measurements out so far, another one courtesy of RAA here
is that the harmonics are extremely controlled, some H2 and H3 but all higher harmonics are really suppressed.

ESS9038 (Q2M):
Screenshot 2023-01-11 at 10.32.18.png

(we are talking levels below 110dB until the very end so not an audible thing, but still cool to see this measured)

ESS9039 (Pro):
Screenshot 2023-01-11 at 10.32.13.png

In a way this is yet another thing that bridges AKM's and ESS's final analog response closer together in that they perform almost exact same. All that's left is the implementation of the oversampling filters which are still quite different between the two manufacturerers.
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Like this DAC pretty much with headphone setup. Also it's a real eye candy (except display layout:D).
For speaker setup still prefer D300.
Thanks for the review. Performance and iterations speed are insane. Some older consumers may quickly find their products outdated somehow, though still having top notch measurements.
They should start make some variations of their products in bigger metal boxes IMO. So it can be stable when holding some heavy cables.
One more great DAC with AES/EBU digital input at less than $ 1,000. I would like an LDAC 0 dBFS too, if it does not add too much to Amir’s to do list. Occasionally I do use BT for some Music.
Do they have local dealers? Or if something goes wrong, do you have to send it to China? I'm willing to take a chance on something at the $1-200 level, but I think that for high-ticket items you need some kind of local service network.
Totally agree. Making the supply chain shorter avoiding local distribution costs helps for lower pricing, but It only makes sense for low cost items you use and throw to a container when they fail and ask for a refund. Quite a bad system and culture...
Totally agree. Making the supply chain shorter avoiding local distribution costs helps for lower pricing, but It only makes sense for low cost items you use and throw to a container when they fail and ask for a refund. Quite a bad system and culture...
That's why it's always better to order from stores like audiophonics.fr when U are in Europe for example. Sure you end up paying local tax but you have warranty and it's the retailers problem when the device fails. :)

Amazon works as well but I would only buy there if it's handled and shipped by Amazon from a local warehouse.
Interesting to see the AK slightly outshone by the ESS chip design variant. However, the SMSL SU10 outshines them both. The SU10 is cheaper than the D400EX and about $100 more than the ES, which has a single "new" 9039 pro chip that Amir considers a slightly better performer that two AK top line chips, but not two 9038 chips. Strange product line up with all product specs very closely aligned with cosmetic finish being the biggest attribute difference between SU10. It would appear according to Amir the SU10 might have won in that department too. IMO. if SMSL offered a SU10 unit with streaming capability without losing its intrinsic performance, without significant price increases (they have a good visual display) then it certainly would be a truly new product offering in this very competitive market.
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i think at this point people should be looking at an smsl or topping dac that has close enough performance to these $800 units with the features you need and just 'settle' for that

and yes... i wouldnt personally want to trust any $800 dac i had to buy from china... hell i wouldnt even buy an $800 smsl dac from a local dealer because I dont beleive that smsl can support HIM properly...

if a dac goes bang I doubt a local dude would get much help from smsl in china
Thanks Amirm is 1st ES9039MPro test review. Great shot. I'm thinking to buy it to replace my old Wired4sound dac2dsd.
Looks to me like their SU-8 in new cloths including current dac chipset and aptx dongle to make impossible bitperfect listening, at 5x its price tag. Nice.
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From a user perspective, the differences with the SU-10 are little enough to be confusing, to say the least. Those products close to 1k without headphone amp... smells like SINAD oil to me.
Another superlative SINAD achieving DAC. I mean “Ugh, another SMSL DAC”.
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