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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 12.9%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 201 83.4%

  • Total voters
    241

gonzoznog

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Oct 14, 2020
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7
After doing more research, I am torn b/n this M500 MKII, a VMV D1SE or the DO200. I like nearly everything about this, but am hesitant bc of the "DAC concerns" people have expressed. Wondering how much extra performance I would get by going with one of the more expensive choices.
I do plan on using both PCM and DSD files. I was super close to buying the M500 but am really smitten with the D1SE tbh. Money absolutely is a concern though and they seem very similar, on paper at least.
 
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Vangelo

Member
Joined
May 23, 2021
Messages
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20
I actually received and set up the M500-II today but have only streamed through it via my Fire tablet. So rar no problems. I've run through the menus changing filters/colors etc. but have not found any real benefit there. I also hooked it up to a set of Elac Navis which are newly arrived and it's a great combination. Comparing directly with Elac UB52's, the Navis sound "bigger, warmer, more complete". As well they should. I only mention it because I had some system matching worries. But no, they're fine. I am very pleased with the sound and, for the first time in a long time, I have imaging suffcient to having the speakers *disappear*. Oh yeah, I'm happy.
This is a magical combination, especially with M500mk2.
I was using M400 with Navis, and it was too laid back. The M500 brought everything to life. Just using XLR cables for hook-up, and high gain setting on Navis.
I also tried the Kali IN-5, which are kinda cheap clones of the Navis. Ugh.....I know they are 1/4 the price, but the reviews were impressive. The were Kalis were awful......bloated bass and veiled mids/highs. I suppose if you make your mix sound good on these, they will excel on the Navis. Sent them back. The Navis have me totally spoiled.....
I have the speakers facing fully forward, no toe-in. Give a huge wide soundstage with sharp imaging & space in between instruments which just pop! Bass slams with fast stops & starts, but is also textured & detailed. I dont care so much about extension as I use with OB clamshell subs. Here the HPF on the Navis is vital & works perfectly allowing seamless integration.
I also owned the passive Uni-Fi Reference before. A nice speaker, but too laid back, let down by its huge cross-over which just saps power & dynamics. Not a patch on the Navis.
 
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E-Lint

Member
Joined
Apr 20, 2022
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14
I remain very pleased with the setup. I also found that the higher gain setting on the Navis was best. I tried increasing upper frequencies via the backside switches but didn't care for it, at least on the tracks I played. So, back to flat. The different PCM filters in the 500 haven't impressed me yet. Every time I go back to baselne, fast roll off I think, it just sounds right so I have left it alone. Pretty stoked that the two them seem to go together so well as is. Not a natural course of events usually.

Good for you too Gonzonog. Always nice when a *deal* happens!
 

E-Lint

Member
Joined
Apr 20, 2022
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14
Just a short followup....the headphone output works very well and will provide more opportunities to work through the different filters/colors in the 500-2. I am always very sceptical of those sorts of things but I'll keep exploring. The realism (a word I try to use without other audiophile gobbletygook) through the phones is just really special (easily understandable considering most of my listening has been streaming bluetooth). One telling attribute - you notice the quality of recordings right away. Still waiting for various cables, pieces (blue ray specifically) before going full hardwire. A few more words about the Navis - continuing good impression. The bass is so strong for a small speaker but you need to hqve it up to a reasonable level to take advantage. A subwoofer may yet be called for to even out listening at lower SPL. But, until then, this works! Happy camper so far.
 
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James-F

Member
Joined
Jun 18, 2022
Messages
33
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22
If you still can easily check can you do crosstalk?

A novice audiophile question, I don't see very frequent in the measurement reports that include the crosstalk measurement. Is it difficult to measure? Thanks


It's around -70db

Source:

Worse than EX5 which is around -87db according to L7AudioLab measurement.
It saddens me that I need to use Google and Youtube to find Crosstalk values. :confused:
 

Music1969

Major Contributor
Joined
Feb 19, 2018
Messages
3,649
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2,115
Does any have one of these and can show me a photo of what the display shows when you feed it MQA via optical or digital coax?

Not USB input

It does support MQA on all inputs.
 

Music1969

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Joined
Feb 19, 2018
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Saludos! I've been playing with my new SMSL M500 II for about a month now, and wanted to chime in with some feedback (and contribute to the RCA vs. XLR discussion).

I am VERY thankful the M500 II comes with many outputs (RCA ,XLR, and Headphone) because my amp has a brutal input impedance. The amp is nothing more than a x10 interstage transformer driving a single-ended KT150. In theory, the circuit topology of the M500 XLR output driving the interstage transformer would be perfect, and I would benefit from the 3db boost. However, the relatively high output impedance of the M500's XLR output cannot cope with my amp's input impedance past 12KHz and is 3dB down. The RCA output does better because it's output impedance is half that of the XLR. The headphone output drives this nasty amp without any problems.

You can see the frequency rolloff at higher output impedance by looking at the grid voltage of the KT150 when the MK500 is fed via USB a 500Hz square wave. The high amplitude (but lowpassed) curve is when driving the amp wit XLR, the low amplitude (and less lowpassed) curve is when using RCA, and the curve with overshoots is when using the headphone output.

I plan to rewire the interstage transformer to x5 because I really do not need so much gain, and the KT150's impedance reflected to the MK500 would be even easier. But even then, I might stick with the headphone output even if it costs me a few dB in THD w.r.t. XLR and RCA.

Hi, your comment about high output impedance is for the Mk1 or Mk2 ?
 

Music1969

Major Contributor
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Feb 19, 2018
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Such great measured performance, both DAC and headamp.

But not popular?
 

yavormoskov

Active Member
Joined
Apr 9, 2019
Messages
119
Likes
103
Location
Atlanta, USA
I saw some reviews on Amazon where people complained their units stopped working after a short period of time. What's your take on the device quality/reliability if you own one?
 

E-Lint

Member
Joined
Apr 20, 2022
Messages
45
Likes
14
I think the price may be holding it back. There are plenty of DACs/Amps around $300 and up and this one has been $500+. Mine's still working just fine, no complaints. I am satisfied with the value/performance equation but, like I said, there are many effective DACs being sold for less. This whole horse race of seeking ever better measurements of things we can not hear also might finally be being recognized as well but thats only a guess.
 

Music1969

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Feb 19, 2018
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There are plenty of DACs/Amps around $300 and up and this one has been $500+.
This is is still top 20.

I guess one could say there are 'plenty' that perform good enough - but not many perform technically better.

It measures better than RME ADI-2 and less than half the price.

Of course ADI-2 has heaps of features part of that price (I have one)
 

E-Lint

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Apr 20, 2022
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14
I had very much wanted the ADI-2 but wife got wind of cost. My bad.. Definitely it's gear lust, those guys just do it right and I admire them. I'm OK for now.
 

AngryMetalGuy

Member
Joined
Jul 13, 2022
Messages
57
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29
Location
Portugal
Ok I have now the 3 DAC's with me SMSL D300, SMSL M500 MKII and Topping DX5 (did the firmware update with no problem) starting from the construction of the devices the Topping is definitely the best from the terminals to the enclosure there's no comparation.
I like the display of SMSL D300 since I use (all DAC's) as DAC only, I don't need to see the volume. The menu and display's on SMSL's are more user friendly and in M500 MKII it's nice to have the sound color modes to play a little, you'll will notice changes from the different 9 options also the remotes on SMSL are more intuitive overall their nicer.
From the three D300 as less options to play around. From "my" user experience the M500 was the best followed by Topping and last D300. It was I little hard to get my DSD files working on foobar but all three of them worked in the end. As for Bluetooth again the Topping was the best experience connected with LDAC (best connection).
As for sound with standard modes (no color modes and sound modes) they sound similar, same differences that I think to hear are subjective no blind test. So I'm almost sure I'll keep the Topping DX5.
The construction denotes care as does the firmware releases to address problems with the unit.
 

jmccaskey

New Member
Joined
Jul 25, 2022
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2
I saw some reviews on Amazon where people complained their units stopped working after a short period of time. What's your take on the device quality/reliability if you own one?
I bought one based on the ASR review and great performance back on March 19th. Week of July 4th it started sometimes stuttering/disconnecting from USB audio. I'd unplug USB cable, plug back in, or switch bitrate/mode and it would work again. Thought maybe my cable was bad and ordered a replacement USB cable. By July 18th the unit didn't work properly at all anymore, could occasionally get like 2 seconds of audio out of it. New cable didn't help. Finally came on here to check, saw this comment, checked Amazon reviews, all the failures sounded identical to mine. I couldn't get any support response.

I mostly used the unit with a solid state amp, but I also flip to a tube amp sometimes, and one of the disturbing things about the failure mode of the SMSL 500 MKII was that it started making one of the output tubes redplate. I thought the tube had failed/was failing, or the amp was bad, but flipping tubes around didn't help at all. Ultimately replacing the failed SMSL 500 MKII solved the issue and the amp is back to performing as well as it can. So while I didn't notice anything like that into my solid state amps I assume the SMSL was actually outputting some sort of bad inaudible distorted signal or bad voltage that could potentially damage an amp.

Bought a Schiit Modius E instead, I wish ASR had already reviewed it, but the prior Modius had good performance and the ESS chipset based one seems like it should too. Sounds good so far but I haven't done any measurements as I don't really have a setup to do so.

So long story short, I loved the SMSL 500 MKII, sounded great and measured great. I didn't really use the headphone out, MQA, or Bluetooth but liked having the various features. At the end of the day though I'd rather have a DAC with most likely good enough to not be audibly different performance like the Schiit Modius E but from an American company with good support where I'm confident I won't have a expensive piece of trash in a few months. Lesson learned I guess.

Edit: Also worth noting, Bluetooth still works fine, and I presume other inputs do. It seems like specifically USB that died on the SMSL. I have tried it with multiple PCs, and two separate Macbooks with the same broken results since it failed. So I'm reasonably confident the issue is not the PC or the USB cable or anything but the SMSL itself dying at this point. The number of Amazon reviews saying the same thing would for sure give me pause if I was buying currently.
 
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AngryMetalGuy

Member
Joined
Jul 13, 2022
Messages
57
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29
Location
Portugal
Ok I have now the 3 DAC's with me SMSL D300, SMSL M500 MKII and Topping DX5 (did the firmware update with no problem) starting from the construction of the devices the Topping is definitely the best from the terminals to the enclosure there's no comparation.
I like the display of SMSL D300 since I use (all DAC's) as DAC only, I don't need to see the volume. The menu and display's on SMSL's are more user friendly and in M500 MKII it's nice to have the sound color modes to play a little, you'll will notice changes from the different 9 options also the remotes on SMSL are more intuitive overall their nicer.
From the three D300 as less options to play around. From "my" user experience the M500 was the best followed by Topping and last D300. It was I little hard to get my DSD files working on foobar but all three of them worked in the end. As for Bluetooth again the Topping was the best experience connected with LDAC (best connection).
As for sound with standard modes (no color modes and sound modes) they sound similar, same differences that I think to hear are subjective no blind test. So I'm almost sure I'll keep the Topping DX5.
The construction denotes care as does the firmware releases to address problems with the unit.
 

AngryMetalGuy

Member
Joined
Jul 13, 2022
Messages
57
Likes
29
Location
Portugal
Ok I have now the 3 DAC's with me SMSL D300, SMSL M500 MKII and Topping DX5 (did the firmware update with no problem) starting from the construction of the devices the Topping is definitely the best from the terminals to the enclosure there's no comparation.
I like the display of SMSL D300 since I use (all DAC's) as DAC only, I don't need to see the volume. The menu and display's on SMSL's are more user friendly and in M500 MKII it's nice to have the sound color modes to play a little, you'll will notice changes from the different 9 options also the remotes on SMSL are more intuitive overall their nicer.
From the three D300 as less options to play around. From "my" user experience the M500 was the best followed by Topping and last D300. It was I little hard to get my DSD files working on foobar but all three of them worked in the end. As for Bluetooth again the Topping was the best experience connected with LDAC (best connection).
As for sound with standard modes (no color modes and sound modes) they sound similar, same differences that I think to hear are subjective no blind test. So I'm almost sure I'll keep the Topping DX5.
The construction denotes care as does the firmware releases to address problems with the unit.
Follow up...
Hi, I've had DX5 and SMSL M500 MKII (I think this is the same has Sabaj A20D but in a different outfit) and SMSL D300 . I've return the DX5 mainly because of user experience having to disconnect DX5 from the mains by power switch to access full menu option doesn't make sense to me. Sometimes when switching power on I get a message that is updating CPLD even if not connected to USB that's strange, even with the firmware 1.40. The M500 MKII as a better chip and some more options to play around with sound. I really liked the design on DX5.
After all I'm keeping M500 MKII around.
Now Purely Subjective.
As for sound I think (subjectively of course) their different the M500 as a more dimensional?!?! sound (voices a little forward) but between the speakers, DX5 seems more 2D sound but maybe wider. D300 for me was less clinical and less harsh.
 
Last edited:

Jimster480

Major Contributor
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Jan 26, 2018
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I bought one based on the ASR review and great performance back on March 19th. Week of July 4th it started sometimes stuttering/disconnecting from USB audio. I'd unplug USB cable, plug back in, or switch bitrate/mode and it would work again. Thought maybe my cable was bad and ordered a replacement USB cable. By July 18th the unit didn't work properly at all anymore, could occasionally get like 2 seconds of audio out of it. New cable didn't help. Finally came on here to check, saw this comment, checked Amazon reviews, all the failures sounded identical to mine. I couldn't get any support response.

I mostly used the unit with a solid state amp, but I also flip to a tube amp sometimes, and one of the disturbing things about the failure mode of the SMSL 500 MKII was that it started making one of the output tubes redplate. I thought the tube had failed/was failing, or the amp was bad, but flipping tubes around didn't help at all. Ultimately replacing the failed SMSL 500 MKII solved the issue and the amp is back to performing as well as it can. So while I didn't notice anything like that into my solid state amps I assume the SMSL was actually outputting some sort of bad inaudible distorted signal or bad voltage that could potentially damage an amp.

Bought a Schiit Modius E instead, I wish ASR had already reviewed it, but the prior Modius had good performance and the ESS chipset based one seems like it should too. Sounds good so far but I haven't done any measurements as I don't really have a setup to do so.

So long story short, I loved the SMSL 500 MKII, sounded great and measured great. I didn't really use the headphone out, MQA, or Bluetooth but liked having the various features. At the end of the day though I'd rather have a DAC with most likely good enough to not be audibly different performance like the Schiit Modius E but from an American company with good support where I'm confident I won't have a expensive piece of trash in a few months. Lesson learned I guess.

Edit: Also worth noting, Bluetooth still works fine, and I presume other inputs do. It seems like specifically USB that died on the SMSL. I have tried it with multiple PCs, and two separate Macbooks with the same broken results since it failed. So I'm reasonably confident the issue is not the PC or the USB cable or anything but the SMSL itself dying at this point. The number of Amazon reviews saying the same thing would for sure give me pause if I was buying currently.
I guess this is why their products are considerably cheaper in the second hand to Market. Also the sales numbers versus topping seem to be quite low.
So it's hard to say about how many units do or don't fail.
There is a smsl rep on the forum here @SMSL-Mandy so you might be able to reach support through her.
Ok I have now the 3 DAC's with me SMSL D300, SMSL M500 MKII and Topping DX5 (did the firmware update with no problem) starting from the construction of the devices the Topping is definitely the best from the terminals to the enclosure there's no comparation.
I like the display of SMSL D300 since I use (all DAC's) as DAC only, I don't need to see the volume. The menu and display's on SMSL's are more user friendly and in M500 MKII it's nice to have the sound color modes to play a little, you'll will notice changes from the different 9 options also the remotes on SMSL are more intuitive overall their nicer.
From the three D300 as less options to play around. From "my" user experience the M500 was the best followed by Topping and last D300. It was I little hard to get my DSD files working on foobar but all three of them worked in the end. As for Bluetooth again the Topping was the best experience connected with LDAC (best connection).
As for sound with standard modes (no color modes and sound modes) they sound similar, same differences that I think to hear are subjective no blind test. So I'm almost sure I'll keep the Topping DX5.
The construction denotes care as does the firmware releases to address problems with the unit.
How do you like the D300? I wanted to get one just to check out ROHM DACs since they are new! If you are in the USA and want to part with it, let me know haha
 

drake5000

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Joined
Feb 16, 2021
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Sorry for the lame question, but is the circuitry between DAC-part and AMP-part balanced as well? Asking because I’m looking for the ability to break ground loop while using internal amp.
 

Kitarist

Member
Joined
Jul 23, 2021
Messages
90
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39
Follow up...
Hi, I've had DX5 and SMSL M500 MKII (I think this is the same has Sabaj A20D but in a different outfit) and SMSL D300 . I've return the DX5 mainly because of user experience having to disconnect DX5 from the mains by power switch to access full menu option doesn't make sense to me. Sometimes when switching power on I get a message that is updating CPLD even if not connected to USB that's strange, even with the firmware 1.40. The M500 MKII as a better chip and some more options to play around with sound. I really liked the design on DX5.
After all I'm keeping M500 MKII around.
Now Purely Subjective.
As for sound I think (subjectively of course) their different the M500 as a more dimensional?!?! sound (voices a little forward) but between the speakers, DX5 seems more 2D sound but maybe wider. D300 for me was less clinical and less harsh.
What you are saying how D300 and M500 MK2 sounds is almost exactly how iwi reviewer explained it ;) D300 does sound smoother especialy on the edges but does it keep the details?
 
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