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SMSL M500 MKII Review (DAC & HP Amp)

Rate this DAC:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 5 2.1%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 4 1.7%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 31 13.0%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 198 83.2%

  • Total voters
    238

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the SMSL M500 MKII DAC and Headphone Amplifier. It was sent to me by the company and costs US $440.
SMSL M500 MKII Review Balanced Stereo USB DAC.jpg

I really like the look of the new SMSL UI. It is more modern and nicer to look at. I am surprised though that they still show the input data type in large letters (PCM) rather than volume level which is far more important. Most people play nothing but PCM anyway. Would be nice to also see the selected DAC filter on the home screen.

Another nit is that the 4-way arrow in the remote control does nothing unless you are in the Menu. Would have wanted a set of those to control which input is playing.

Otherwise, the unit is nice and easy to navigate and use. Here is the back panel showing the usual connections:

SMSL M500 MKII Review Bluetooth Balanced Stereo USB DAC.jpg

The unit is based on ESS ES9038Pro DAC chip.

SMSL M500 MKII Measurements
Let's adjust the output to get 4 volts nominal output and run our dashboard:
SMSL M500 MKII Measurement Balanced Stereo USB DAC.png


This is excellent performance and easily lands the M500 MKII in our top 20 DACs ever tested:

Best USB stereo DAC review.png


Output capability is higher though and with it, better SINAD can be had, matching company advertising:
SMSL M500 MKII Measurement THD vs Level  Balanced Stereo USB DAC.png


RCA output as usual drops performance a bit but still superb:

SMSL M500 MKII Measurement RCA Stereo USB DAC.png


Dynamic range is exceptional showing great attention to keep noise at absolute minimum:

SMSL M500 MKII Measurement Dynamic Range Balanced Stereo USB DAC.png


Note again that the output is at 4 volts. It does get better if you allow full output.

Multitone test shows the exceptionally low distortion again:
SMSL M500 MKII Measurement Multitone Balanced Stereo USB DAC.png


Linearity is textbook perfect as one would expect in this class:
SMSL M500 MKII Measurement Linearity Balanced Stereo USB DAC.png


USB Jitter is as good as it gets:
SMSL M500 MKII Measurement Jitter Balanced Stereo USB DAC.png


And rather surprisingly, so is Coax and Toslink which tends to not be as good in other products:

SMSL M500 MKII Measurement Jitter Coax Toslink Optical Balanced Stereo USB DAC.png


IMD distortion is kept at minimum with almost no sign of classic "ESS IMD Hump:"

SMSL M500 MKII Measurement IMD Balanced Stereo USB DAC.png


You have the usual choice of filters:

SMSL M500 MKII Measurement Filter Balanced Stereo USB DAC.png


Fast linear is the default from factory.

Finally, here is our THD+N vs frequency with that filter:

SMSL M500 MKII Measurement THD+N vs Frequency Balanced Stereo USB DAC.png


Other filters produce different results due to different levels of attenuation as you see in the previous measurement (but still very good).

SMSL M500 MKII Headphone Output Measurements
You can select to turn headphone on and off through remote and it has its own volume control which is nice. Let's measure its power output relative to distortion and noise:

SMSL M500 MKII Measurement Headphone Output 300 ohm Stereo USB DAC.png


SMSL M500 MKII Measurement Headphone Output 32 ohm Stereo USB DAC.png


These are very respectable power levels for an included headphone amplifier with superbly low noise and distortion.

Dropping the level way down to 50 mv to see noise for very sensitive IEMs and we get very good performance but shy of state of the art:


SMSL M500 MKII Measurement Headphone 50mv noise Stereo USB DAC.png



Best Low Noise Headphone Amp DAC Review.png


Sorry but have not had time to listen to it. I expect it to sound superb though.

Conclusions
The tests I run probe audio devices from different vectors to attempt to find weaknesses in them. Often one or two tests show something. Not the case here. It is clear SMSL engineers have meticulously tested and optimized this design as to leave nothing for me to complain about. You have a superbly performing DAC with more than good enough headphone amplifier in one box. And price is reasonable compared to anything higher performance.

It is my pleasure to recommend SMSL M500 MKII.

P.S. I did test for one channel being active which was an issue with the original M500 and the bug is not here so all is good.

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

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digicidal

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If this would have been available 2 years ago I would have gone with it over the DX7Pro due to form factor alone... that's a fantastic size for a PC DAC running balanced monitors 80% of the time and HP 20%. Definitely not worth upgrading to it from a completely transparent DAC and competent HPA (despite this being ~0.5% better), but more excellent options are always a good thing - especially when they are less expensive as well!
 
OP
amirm

amirm

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Yes, if you have purchased highly recommended DACs from me in the last couple of years, there is no reason to upgrade to this unit. These reviews are aimed at people making new purchases giving them the data to find the best performing ones within their budget. It is not a call to upgrade. This is why I don't upgrade my own everyday system either.
 

VintageFlanker

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I am surprised though that they still show the input data type in large letters (PCM) rather than volume level which is far more important.
Is there any way that people at S.M.S.L/Loxjie/Sabaj could take this into consideration once and for all? It has been a complaint for years and from just about any user. At least, it should be customizable in settings. Doesn't seem that "complex" with some firmware update...:rolleyes:

Glad it has 99 volume steps instead of 40 for Mk1, tho.
 
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phoenixsong

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I thought it was somewhat expensive until I realised it is a combination unit lol
 

Χ Ξ Σ

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Is there any way that people at S.M.S.L/Loxjie/Sabaj could take this into consideration once and for all? It has been a complaint for years and from just every users...:rolleyes:

Glad it has 99 volume steps instead of 40 for Mk1, tho.
Many users would get eargasm when the display shows the three magic letters "DSD" in a large font size. That's why.
 
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Dennis_FL

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I had purchased a M300 MKII last spring and returned it. When I switched digital sources on my Mac (for example Roon to Amazon Music) it didn't handshake and I got very ugly and loud white noise.

I did the same thing with its replacement (Gustard X16) and it was fine.
 

Koeitje

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Does anyone know if this uses the same receiver chip for the optical connection? I had the MK I and it dropped the sound for short periods every once in a while when connected to the optical out on my tv. Never had that issue with other DACs.
 

staticV3

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Does anyone know if this uses the same receiver chip for the optical connection? I had the MK I and it dropped the sound for short periods every once in a while when connected to the optical out on my tv. Never had that issue with other DACs.
Was it an LG TV? Because those are known to have stuttering issues with Toslink out. In fact, my E7 stutters from time to time with the Toneboard.
 

ezra_s

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aren't balanced out and rca out graphs the same?
 

Koo

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Seems like the Sabaj D5 is still a much better overall product if you don't mind the form factor. The remote behavior of this unit is inexcusable.
 

Koeitje

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Was it an LG TV? Because those are known to have stuttering issues with Toslink out. In fact, my E7 stutters from time to time with the Toneboard.
Yes, I have a B7 (or C7?). It just completely drops. Not a really a stutter, but simply no sound for half a second and then no issues for like half an hour or more.
 

staticV3

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Yes, I have a B7 (or C7?). It just completely drops. Not a really a stutter, but simply no sound for half a second and then no issues for like half an hour or more.
On Amazon.de there's a review of the Sabaj D5 mentioning the same dropout issues with the D5 and with the M500 MK1 using an LG C9 via Toslink.
Sounds to me like LG's TVs can't keep a stable clock and just stumble every once in a while.
If only they supported audio output via USB, after all they support Ethernet input this way.

Anyway, that's the last from me regarding this issue. Sorry for going off-topic.
 
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Koeitje

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On Amazon.de there's a review of the Sabaj D5 mentioning the same dropout issues with the D5 and with the M500 MK1 using an LG C9 via Toslink.
Sounds to me like LG's TVs just can't keep a stable clock and just stumble every once in a while.
If only they supported audio output via USB, after all they support Ethernet input this way.

Anyway, that's the last from me regarding this issue. Sorry for going off-topic.
I didn't have an issue with some cheap DAC I used and the Topping E30 that I used for a short time.
 
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