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SMSL M500 MKIII DAC & Amp Review

Rate this DAC & HP Amp

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 6 2.3%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 5 1.9%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 48 18.4%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 202 77.4%

  • Total voters
    261

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the SMSL M500 MKIII balanced DAC and stereo headphone amplifier. It was sent to me by the company and costs US $530.
SMSL M500 MKⅢ stereo USB Balanced DAC MQA Review.jpg

While the formfactor remains the same as previous generations, the display is upgraded to have high contrast and attractive color. Great that volume level if emphasized. The processor behind the display is also very performant with great volume control display rate and acceleration support. Navigation is simple using the included remote:
SMSL M500 MKⅢ stereo USB Balanced DAC MQA remote back panel Review.jpg


A couple of minor complaints though: the USB connector is too close tot he upside down XLR jack which made it impossible to push its pin in with the USB cable attached to right channel. Also, I like to see red for right channel on RCA connector. Otherwise, included power supply is much appreciated.

SMSL M500 MKIII Measurements
As usual we start with our dashboard using XLR out:
SMSL M500 MKⅢ stereo USB Balanced DAC MQA measurements.png

Most superb results! SINAD (sum of noise and distortion) is essentially tied with the best tested so far:
Best stereo balanced DAC review.png

Distortion is exceptionally low with second harmonic at -140 dB! Just great.

Performance is nearly as good with RCA out:
SMSL M500 MKⅢ stereo USB RCA DAC MQA measurements.png


Dynamic range is naturally excellent:
SMSL M500 MKⅢ stereo USB DAC MQA SNR measurements.png


Intermodulation distortion+noise is superbly low:
SMSL M500 MKⅢ stereo USB DAC MQA IMD measurements.png


Linearity is perfect:
SMSL M500 MKⅢ stereo USB RCA DAC Linearity MQA measurements.png


Noise level with jitter is so low that the test signal's 250 Hz and multiples of 24-bit rightmost bit is clearly visible:
SMSL M500 MKⅢ stereo USB DAC MQA Jitter measurements.png


There is a tiny bit of low frequency random jitter that widens the "skirt" around our main tone. It is inconsequential from audibility point of view but seems like the USB clock could be a hair better in that regard. When using Toslink/Coax, that little issue goes away:
SMSL M500 MKⅢ stereo USB DAC MQA Jitter Toslink measurements.png


Multitone performance is superb:
SMSL M500 MKⅢ stereo USB DAC MQA Multitone measurements.png


Usual extensive choices of reconstruction filters are provided:
SMSL M500 MKⅢ stereo USB DAC MQA Filter measurements.png


The default fast linear seems to be the best bet:
SMSL M500 MKⅢ stereo USB DAC MQA Frequency Response measurements.png


You get flat and extended response beyond 20 kHz.

This brings us to THD+N vs frequency which with default filter produced superb results:
SMSL M500 MKⅢ stereo USB DAC MQA THD+N vs frequency measurements.png


SMSL M500 MKIII Headphone Output Measurements
Let's start with how much power we have into 300 ohm:
SMSL M500 MKⅢ stereo USB DAC MQA Power 300 ohm measurements.png


I like to see 100 milliwatts minimum and the MKIII clears that hurdle easily. It does that while looking really good with very low noise and distortion. Jumping to the other end of the spectrum with 32 ohm we see:
SMSL M500 MKⅢ stereo USB DAC MQA Power 32 ohm measurements.png


This is plenty good for the class with 1 watt per channel. No, it is not as powerful as dedicated amps in both measurements but should be good enough for vast majority of headphones out there.

Sweeping the load from 12 to 600 ohm shows stability and range of voltages you can use to compute the power:
SMSL M500 MKⅢ stereo USB DAC MQA Power vs impedance measurements.png


There are only two gain levels: low and high. Without an ultra low (negative) gain, SNR at 50 millivolts is very good but not class leading:


SMSL M500 MKⅢ stereo USB DAC MQA headphone 50mv snr measurements.png


Best headphone amp review 2022.png


SMSL M500 MKIII Listening Tests
I started testing with Dan Clark Expanse headphone which is difficult to drive with low impedance. Fidelity was to die for with superb detail and good enough of power. Mind you, this was in high gain and max volume. Switching to Sennheiser HD650 naturally provided much higher output with comfortable (loud) listening level of -7 dB. At 0 dB volume, you could get that sensation of subwoofer in your head with sold bass rattling my head for the one second I had it at that volume. Sound quality was once again exceptional (within the bounds of the HD650 response).

Conclusions
The Mark III revision of M500 improves on both looks and performance of this balanced DAC. In that subsystem, everything you could ask for is provided as far as performance. The headphone amplifier matches that overall but is a step down from total power point of view compared to what you can get. For most applications involving headphone use though, you should still be all set.

It is my pleasure to recommend SMSL M500 MKIII.

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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/
 

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fordiebianco

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Sigh. Why do I already have so much stuff. Great little thing, would be a perfect replacement for my SU-8.

Great review, thanks @amirm
 
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Lupin

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Awesome performance at a decent price point for this great AIO device.
So many things FiiO could learn from this *cough* K9 pro *cough* ;)
 

VintageFlanker

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At last... S.M.S.L understood that the volume has to be displayed bigger than the sample rate! :p
Screenshot_20221012-090714.png


Performance is out of this word. Thanks for the review, @amirm ! Is your dashboard at 4.18Vrms done at max volume? Previous version had higher output voltage (at least the mk1).

Edit: pics of inputs and DAC boards:

smsl-m500-mkiii-dac-amplificateur-casque-es9038pro-xmos-xu316-bluetooth-50-32bit-768khz-dsd512...jpg
smsl-m500-mkiii-dac-amplificateur-casque-es9038pro-xmos-xu316-bluetooth-50-32bit-768khz-dsd512...jpg
 
Last edited:

martijn86

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This is fantastic, end-game stuff for your desktop. The form reminds me of a lab analyzer. A brilliant implementation of balanced, unbalanced, international power supply, Bluetooth, headphone amplifier and instrument grade performance. The full distortion free dynamic range of this device covers the best case scenario of human hearing. This thing will satisfy bats and dogs.
 

martijn86

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I don't think the AP analyzer needs upgrading. Once this level of performance starts to seep into the $150,- territory, ASR can just become a blank page with a few affiliate links to those products and Amir can retire.
 

Koeitje

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Looks great. is there anyway for the latency of a DAC to be added to the testing? In ASIO if you can?
This only matters for studio usage, because for normal A/V usage DACs are pretty much instant. HDMI in A/V receiver or DSPs introduce latency that matters, not this DAC.
 

Jimbob54

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What are the 2 front jacks please? 6.35mm and is the other 4.4?If so, assume this isn't "balanced" but same output as the other?

EDIT- As @VintageFlanker says , it is 6.35 and 4.4 and (based on SMSL specs and fact Amir didnt test) both output the same- so no extra voltage from 4.4mm
 
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raif71

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SMSL can play golf, too :cool:

Sidenote: IMHO it would be nice to have the "Mk III" printed on the front panel, to avoid buyer confusion.
I know what you mean but to the informed buyer, the availability of the pentaconn headphone out is good enough.
 

liquidlino

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This only matters for studio usage, because for normal A/V usage DACs are pretty much instant. HDMI in A/V receiver or DSPs introduce latency that matters, not this DAC.
It's for studio usage that I'm interested.
 

evan123

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Can anyone who has the M500 mkIII and uses DoP on Mac confirm that playback to DSD256 is as expected (no dropouts)? Thank you.
 
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MarcosCh

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When i saw this picture i thought. Hm, maybe they have chosen the wrong (inverted) xlr socket? But it seems it is just a regular one, but the pcb is upside down on top of the other :D

Excellent results and review! My request to SMSL: make a version IV with the two boards side by side in a conventional form factor (which i like more) and with the additional benefit of automatically fixing the unfortunate design error :D:D
 
Last edited:

SMSL-Mandy

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Thanks amir, more info about M500 MKIII, can be check here.
Thanks
 
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