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SMSL D400ES DAC Review

Rate this DAC:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 11 4.9%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 11 4.9%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 56 24.9%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 147 65.3%

  • Total voters
    225

Angsty

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I'm from the same "old school": the audio gear must be "no-frills" or if you prefer "less is more".
Depends on which “old school” you come from. I remember when “hifi receivers” were festooned with buttons, knobs and gauges which communicated how advanced they were.
 

LugsyTL47

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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
I understand your point on a product support from different countries and no experience on SMSL, but there are a few N. American products that I’ve had extremely poor repeated experience with…GM can you hear me.
 

confucius_zero

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JSmith

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pictures of the remote
1673583907206.png


Superb results on this @amirm.


JSmith
 

Gio

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View attachment 256797

Superb results on this @amirm.


JSmith
This remote is the same of the 170$ model SMSL D-6.
 

Gio

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SiamXIII

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Of course: for 800$ a cheap remote is more than enough.
6FE2E3C9-8D74-4F71-B1A9-FCF5DCC7993D.jpeg

Two of them side by side. RC-8C still comfortable to use with good buttons. Doesn’t feel cheap, like chromecast or tv stick remotes.
 

Aleksandar RS

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It's been a little over a month since I received the SMSL D400ES. Almost everything is known about the input, output, and quality of the box. I agree that a DAC of this price range should have a better quality remote, but it's not a big problem.

What is strange is that all filters when turned ON, reduce the entire spectrum of frequencies starting from 0 HZ up to about 13 kHz by about 4.25dB. (thanks amirm for the detailed analysis). After that frequency (13KHz) filters do what they are supposed to do. Shouldn't the first part be around 0dB and not -4.25dB. This significantly affects the sound quality (dynamics and clarity) and cannot be make it up by turning up the volume on the amplifier. It seems that the speakers are covered, for example, by a curtain.

And one more thing (related to the above), when listening with the PCM filter OFF (at -0dB) the sound has nice dynamics, but with most of the tracks it forces the amplifier into clipping at normal volume, about 1/4 -1/5 max volume (I think that's what it's called "input clipping"). I tried it with three amplifiers (Pathos Logos, Marantz and Acoustic Masterpiece-201H). Same thing, and of course, in the same places in the songs. By turning ON any of the filters, the clipping disappears, as well as some of the dynamics and sound quality.
Eliminating clipping can also be done by turning down the volume on the DAC. but again you lose in quality, even though you increase the sound on the amplifier itself. It happens with the USB and Coaxial input, I haven't tried the other inputs.
I don't know why they made a DAC that with the filter OFF is practically unlistenable at -0dB and with the filter ON, the filters lower the volume at the start. They practically reached a dB that they cannot actually deliver without distortion, so they reduce it with a filter at the start. It doesn't make any sense.

I corresponded with SMSL for almost 3 weeks. At first, they proposed some solutions to avoid clipping, they even sent me a framework update. Nothing helped.

The SMSL D400ES is built that way and that's it. I think a better sound could have been obtained with better adjusted filters. It sounds average with these filters. Except for what it looks like, nothing else sets it apart from other similar dacs.
 

Rottmannash

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It's been a little over a month since I received the SMSL D400ES. Almost everything is known about the input, output, and quality of the box. I agree that a DAC of this price range should have a better quality remote, but it's not a big problem.

What is strange is that all filters when turned ON, reduce the entire spectrum of frequencies starting from 0 HZ up to about 13 kHz by about 4.25dB. (thanks amirm for the detailed analysis). After that frequency (13KHz) filters do what they are supposed to do. Shouldn't the first part be around 0dB and not -4.25dB. This significantly affects the sound quality (dynamics and clarity) and cannot be make it up by turning up the volume on the amplifier. It seems that the speakers are covered, for example, by a curtain.

And one more thing (related to the above), when listening with the PCM filter OFF (at -0dB) the sound has nice dynamics, but with most of the tracks it forces the amplifier into clipping at normal volume, about 1/4 -1/5 max volume (I think that's what it's called "input clipping"). I tried it with three amplifiers (Pathos Logos, Marantz and Acoustic Masterpiece-201H). Same thing, and of course, in the same places in the songs. By turning ON any of the filters, the clipping disappears, as well as some of the dynamics and sound quality.
Eliminating clipping can also be done by turning down the volume on the DAC. but again you lose in quality, even though you increase the sound on the amplifier itself. It happens with the USB and Coaxial input, I haven't tried the other inputs.
I don't know why they made a DAC that with the filter OFF is practically unlistenable at -0dB and with the filter ON, the filters lower the volume at the start. They practically reached a dB that they cannot actually deliver without distortion, so they reduce it with a filter at the start. It doesn't make any sense.

I corresponded with SMSL for almost 3 weeks. At first, they proposed some solutions to avoid clipping, they even sent me a framework update. Nothing helped.

The SMSL D400ES is built that way and that's it. I think a better sound could have been obtained with better adjusted filters. It sounds average with these filters. Except for what it looks like, nothing else sets it apart from other similar dacs.
I assume it has DAC mode and pre mode? Have you tried it in DAC mode?
 

bennetng

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What do we need an hi-res audio Dac for, if It comes with an always on lowpass analog filter in the audio band?

Or am i loosing something?
It's been a little over a month since I received the SMSL D400ES. Almost everything is known about the input, output, and quality of the box. I agree that a DAC of this price range should have a better quality remote, but it's not a big problem.

What is strange is that all filters when turned ON, reduce the entire spectrum of frequencies starting from 0 HZ up to about 13 kHz by about 4.25dB. (thanks amirm for the detailed analysis). After that frequency (13KHz) filters do what they are supposed to do. Shouldn't the first part be around 0dB and not -4.25dB. This significantly affects the sound quality (dynamics and clarity) and cannot be make it up by turning up the volume on the amplifier. It seems that the speakers are covered, for example, by a curtain.

And one more thing (related to the above), when listening with the PCM filter OFF (at -0dB) the sound has nice dynamics, but with most of the tracks it forces the amplifier into clipping at normal volume, about 1/4 -1/5 max volume (I think that's what it's called "input clipping"). I tried it with three amplifiers (Pathos Logos, Marantz and Acoustic Masterpiece-201H). Same thing, and of course, in the same places in the songs. By turning ON any of the filters, the clipping disappears, as well as some of the dynamics and sound quality.
Eliminating clipping can also be done by turning down the volume on the DAC. but again you lose in quality, even though you increase the sound on the amplifier itself. It happens with the USB and Coaxial input, I haven't tried the other inputs.
I don't know why they made a DAC that with the filter OFF is practically unlistenable at -0dB and with the filter ON, the filters lower the volume at the start. They practically reached a dB that they cannot actually deliver without distortion, so they reduce it with a filter at the start. It doesn't make any sense.

I corresponded with SMSL for almost 3 weeks. At first, they proposed some solutions to avoid clipping, they even sent me a framework update. Nothing helped.

The SMSL D400ES is built that way and that's it. I think a better sound could have been obtained with better adjusted filters. It sounds average with these filters. Except for what it looks like, nothing else sets it apart from other similar dacs.
Looking at that analog filter thingy it think I have the same one in my SU-9N. They just say custom 1 und custom 2 and I actually asked SMSL what those do but I got no response so far ... after half a year.:eek:
Because quite a number of people asked very similar questions, here are the explanations. For example in this post I posted a ESS datasheet screenshot...

Pay attention the bottom of the screenshot has such a paragraph:
Oversampling Filter (OSF) Bypass

The oversampling FIR filter can be bypassed using bypass_osf in Register 37: Programmable FIR Configuration, sourcing data directly into the IIR filter. The audio input should be oversampled at 8 x fs rate when OSF is bypassed to have the same IIR filter bandwidth as PCM audio sampled at fs rate. For example, a signal with 44.1kHz sample rate can be oversampled externally to 8 x 44.1kHz = 352.8kHz and then applied to the serial decoder in either I 2 S, LJ, or RJ format. The maximum sample rate that can be applied is 1.536MHz (8 x 192kHz).
Which means with OSF bypass, user should send an externally 8x upsampled signal to the DAC chip. If there is no additional hardware (e.g. an upsampler chip inside the DAC box), the only option is software upsampling (e.g. within a PC playback software), and therefore it is incorrect to directly send unmodified signal (e.g. 44.1k) to the audio driver.

As for audio level issues, you can also see in the Digital filter "game" post above I have attached an SoX script, you can see that there is a command called "vol 2", this command is used to compensate the level difference when the signal is being upsampled, and the amount of compensation could be dependent on how the filter is generated.

For other DACs without the OSF bypass feature (or whatever it is called in other DAC chips or DAC boxes), the closest thing is upsample the audio to the highest sample rate that the product supports, with appropriate level settings so the signal doesn't clip or being too low.

iir.png

...and here is a block diagram for the ES9039 datasheet. OSF bypass does not bypass the subsequent digital (not analog) IIR filter. Because the bandwidth of this digital IIR filter is relative to input sample rate, if you don't upsample, the center point of the filter will be 22.05kHz with about 6dB drop, and stopband is 44.1kHz, like what Amir posted. With 8x upsampling, the center point will be 176.4kHz with a stopband of 352.8kHz, and resampling artifacts (imaging) between 22.05kHz and 352.8kHz will be suppressed by the software upsampler. Therefore with 8x upsampling, this IIR filter is not going to affect audible frequencies. Because delta-sigma modulators these days often operate in dozens of MHz, the IIR filter is needed to suppress imaging artifacts beyond 8fs before going into the modulator.

So there should be nothing wrong with the filters, if there is something wrong, SMSL should not have exposed the OSF bypass feature to users if they are not going to explain what the feature is supposed to do.
 
Last edited:

Robbo99999

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Snorefest, I wouldn't spend this much on just a DAC (even with it's balanced & bluetooth, not that I care about bluetooth).
 

Robbo99999

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At this price tag a set of premium cables or ultra grand PSU conditioner should have been in the box as well. Only saying.
I would not buy something that includes this, would set off some serious snake oil alarm bells :p
He's just being facetious! Implying that the high price tag is somewhat akin to buying snake oil products, albeit of course this SMSL DAC is of course well designed, just too expensive. He's playing on the idea that the SINAD race and aesthetics are akin to snake oil when combined with high prices, because ultra high SINAD and aesthetics are just not important in your sonic experience.
 

Aleksandar RS

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Because quite a number of people asked very similar questions, here are the explanations. For example in this post I posted a ESS datasheet screenshot...

Pay attention the bottom of the screenshot has such a paragraph:

Which means with OSF bypass, user should send an externally 8x upsampled signal to the DAC chip. If there is no additional hardware (e.g. an upsampler chip inside the DAC box), the only option is software upsampling (e.g. within a PC playback software), and therefore it is incorrect to directly send unmodified signal (e.g. 44.1k) to the audio driver.

As for audio level issues, you can also see in the Digital filter "game" post above I have attached an SoX script, you can see that there is a command called "vol 2", this command is used to compensate the level difference when the signal is being upsampled, and the amount of compensation could be dependent on how the filter is generated.

For other DACs without the OSF bypass feature (or whatever it is called in other DAC chips or DAC boxes), the closest thing is upsample the audio to the highest sample rate that the product supports, with appropriate level settings so the signal doesn't clip or being too low.

View attachment 257287
...and here is a block diagram for the ES9039 datasheet. OSF bypass does not bypass the subsequent digital (not analog) IIR filter. Because the bandwidth of this digital IIR filter is relative to input sample rate, if you don't upsample, the center point of the filter will be 22.05kHz with about 6dB drop, and stopband is 44.1kHz, like what Amir posted. With 8x upsampling, the center point will be 176.4kHz with a stopband of 352.8kHz, and resampling artifacts (imaging) between 22.05kHz and 352.8kHz will be suppressed by the software upsampler. Therefore with 8x upsampling, this IIR filter is not going to affect audible frequencies. Because delta-sigma modulators these days often operate in dozens of MHz, the IIR filter is needed to suppress imaging artifacts beyond 8fs before going into the modulator.

So there should be nothing wrong with the filters, if there is something wrong, SMSL should not have exposed the OSF bypass feature to users if they are not going to explain what the feature is supposed to do.

Thanks for the detailed post. I tried with Audirvana studio, I did upsampling PCM files (with MQA nothing can be done). With upsampling, when one of the filters on DAC is ON, the sound is very similar, but when the filter is OFF, the volume is reduced and there is no clipping. The sound is roughly the same as with the filter ON. I noticed in the review of the D400EX model that all filters up to about 10KHz go around 0 dB, as is normal. Only about 17Khz (and only one filter) reduces it to -4.25dB. With the D400ES, all filters reduce the volume from 0Hz by -4.25Hz. It doesn't make any sense.
 
Last edited:

Angsty

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He's just being facetious! Implying that the high price tag is somewhat akin to buying snake oil products, albeit of course this SMSL DAC is of course well designed, just too expensive. He's playing on the idea that the SINAD race and aesthetics are akin to snake oil when combined with high prices, because ultra high SINAD and aesthetics are just not important in your sonic experience.
I disagree that aesthetics are not important in the sonic experience, unless you are limiting the “sonic” experience strictly to what can be heard in a double blind test.

Pivoting slightly, the “listening” experience can be greatly impacted by aesthetic as well as acoustic influences. It’s important to delineate what can be measured and what cannot be in the listening experience. There are both subjective and objective factors. I certainly believe that some listeners might enjoy a 123 dB SINAD DAC more than a 117 dB DAC even if what comes out the speaker is not DBT verifiable due to other physical limitations. That enjoyment can come from the knowledge of having a SOTA DAC versus a lower spec one, versus hearing audible differences.
 

Grooved

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I disagree that aesthetics are not important in the sonic experience, unless you are limiting the “sonic” experience strictly to what can be heard in a double blind test.

Pivoting slightly, the “listening” experience can be greatly impacted by aesthetic as well as acoustic influences. It’s important to delineate what can be measured and what cannot be in the listening experience. There are both subjective and objective factors. I certainly believe that some listeners might enjoy a 123 dB SINAD DAC more than a 117 dB DAC even if what comes out the speaker is not DBT verifiable due to other physical limitations. That enjoyment can come from the knowledge of having a SOTA DAC versus a lower spec one, versus hearing audible differences.
Without talking about the fact that the 117dB can sound like the 123dB, I would have think more that one can get more enjoyment looking at or thinking about his 123dB SINAD DAC instead of a 117dB SINAD one, but IMHO, it should only be the case when you're not listening.
Everyone is free to do as they please, but if I start looking and thinking about a DAC, I'm not really listening... that's for this kind of things that my devices are the on one side, and when I'm facing my speakers, they are the only musical elements I can see (I'm talking about real listening, not background music and doing other things at the same time).
 

Angsty

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Without talking about the fact that the 117dB can sound like the 123dB, I would have think more that one can get more enjoyment looking at or thinking about his 123dB SINAD DAC instead of a 117dB SINAD one, but IMHO, it should only be the case when you're not listening.
Everyone is free to do as they please, but if I start looking and thinking about a DAC, I'm not really listening... that's for this kind of things that my devices are the on one side, and when I'm facing my speakers, they are the only musical elements I can see (I'm talking about real listening, not background music and doing other things at the same time).
I was making the remark about DAC SINAD because I do see some people on ASR saying that they have to get the latest SOTA DAC because, somehow, last year’s SOTA DAC is no longer good enough.

Genuinely, I can’t hear the difference between my 2020 SOTA DAC and the well-regarded DAC I have from 2004. The 2020 DAC does come with a wider range of inputs, though.
 
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