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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

Westsounds

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It's nice you can buy a state-of-the-art, high-spec DAC for this money. I like its features and the form factor as well. As good as Chord DAVEs, Naims, DCS's, subjectively maybe not but you have to admit it's probably technically as good, so you're in safe hands with an up-to-date great spec modern DAC.

And you are literally not missing out on anything by paying many 1000s more!
 
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Gradius

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Westsounds

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Great little DAC and the different form factor is refreshing if you ask me. It has plenty of outputs, a great remote, ton of features and a great headphone amp. A subjective sound review here would be completely pointless, there'll be plenty of those I'm sure with people hanging off every word.

I think anyone would have to leave it powered on for a few weeks anyway if it's new before they should pass judgement. It's a good modern DAC. And you can add your own effects speakers / headphones / distortion accordingly ;)

M500mk3.jpg
 
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Westsounds

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Soundnews do "subjectives" reviews, totally baseless (aka "golden bat ears", or just magic), so yes, they are 1000% pointless.
Scientifically speaking though subjective reviews will probably sell more DACs than factual ones. And in a market of listening to emotional content such as music, people often buy with their beliefs of what it'll do than with facts.
 

D1N0

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Has anybody put this head to head with the M500 mkII yet? I would like to know the sonical differences like frequency emphasis, sound stage width and depth. Is it more detailed and does that come at the cost of dynamics or presence or not? I am only interested in it as a DAC as I don't do headphones. I have seen the Soundnews review but that compares it to the mkI to which to mkII was already a significant improvement.
 
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pseudoid

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Depends... on what page you are on.
I learned how to properly cook sushi in one review page.
I forget what page of the thread I was on.:facepalm:
i tought the whole point of sushi is that it’s uncooked.
Now, this is 'funny' in an ironically funny way!
I attempted to make a funny and I got 2 "Likes", you missed my funny; yet you got 5 "Likes"!:(

EDIT: Make that 6 "Likes" for you; I clicked it too!;)
 

PeteL

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Now, this is 'funny' in an ironically funny way!
I attempted to make a funny and I got 2 "Likes", you missed my funny; yet you got 5 "Likes"!:(

EDIT: Make that 6 "Likes" for you; I clicked it too!;)
That was an attempt at funny too, don't worry I got yours. I'll add the like for good measure
 

yavormoskov

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Apr 9, 2019
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I have 2 questions. When you change between headphones and xlr outputs does it remember the volume level of the the other output? And second, is it good enough to drive my Hifiman Edition XS headphones well? Thank you.
 

D1N0

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Well I ordered one from Hifigo as they still had black friday/blue monday deals (Hifi-express even two days longer so if you still want to get it for $450) figuring that even if it isn't an improvement over the MKII, 75 dollars more is well spent for not having to look at the clown background the screen on mkII has.
 

MrSoul4470

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Soundnews do "subjectives" reviews, totally baseless (aka "golden bat ears", or just magic), so yes, they are 1000% pointless.
Why 1000% pointless? So that means measurements are 100% the way to go in the quest for sound quality? ASR is starting to scare me off a bit when I read stuff like that more and more often here. I'm not some audiophile who puts cables on risers or gets cables for hundreds of bucks, but I don't blindly believe in measurements and technical data either. I think that some here on ASR just want to be different so desperately from those hardcore audiophiles that they put more trust in measurements than their own ears. In the end this hobby should be about enjoying music and not making pure science out of it.

PS: Btw... the term "1000%" is kind of unscientific in that context.
 
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Joined
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Great little DAC and the different form factor is refreshing if you ask me. It has plenty of outputs, a great remote, ton of features and a great headphone amp. A subjective sound review here would be completely pointless, there'll be plenty of those I'm sure with people hanging off every word.

I think anyone would have to leave it powered on for a few weeks anyway if it's new before they should pass judgement. It's a good modern DAC. And you can add your own effects speakers / headphones / distortion accordingly ;)

View attachment 243262
Sorry, did you just say "great remote"? I really hope it's not as "great" as in the case of SMSL A300 integrated power amp. I mean no offence, it's just that I heard so many good things about A300 and was so fking disappointed when I got it that I packed it for return literally 1 hour later.. The remote control was the last nail in the coffin as I had to fish for signal like it was nineties again... Anyways, could you please give me an honest opinion of how MKIII compares to MKII? Thank you in advance :)
 

Westsounds

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Sorry, did you just say "great remote"? I really hope it's not as "great" as in the case of SMSL A300 integrated power amp. I mean no offence, it's just that I heard so many good things about A300 and was so fking disappointed when I got it that I packed it for return literally 1 hour later.. The remote control was the last nail in the coffin as I had to fish for signal like it was nineties again... Anyways, could you please give me an honest opinion of how MKIII compares to MKII? Thank you in advance :)
Yes, the remote's excellent, it 'almost' works when sat at a 90-degree angle to the DAC so as long as you're in front of it, it'll work. It's extremely quick and responsive as well.

No idea what a MkII subjectively sounds like. All I know is this one has slightly better or perhaps improved components like the linear power supply, which should be better. Given the measurements, the improvements seem to have worked. Audiophiles are mad for a decent power supply and often those alone take up many of their precious shelf spaces and wads of cash.

It's as modern a design as DACs come and it measures well here so it's a good up to date design for the moment.

I've had much more expensive DACs almost x10 the money but those never came with built-in headphone amplifiers, USB, adjustable dual line level outputs, remote control, Hi-Res Bluetooth (LDAC) or different filter flavours/sound colours. All I can say is I don't hear anything more with more expensive DACs than I do with the SMSL.
 
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Westsounds

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I can't compare the M500 mkIII with previous M500 versions, but I have the mkIII here and also my recent Topping D30 Pro. I am not a native English speaker, so I apologize for all the typos and grammatical errors I will make.

I know there are many here that think that DACs are all transparent and looking for sound differences makes no sense. I think it still makes a lot of sense even if they measure basically all the same.

I watched the YouTube review from Soundnews before getting the S.M.S.L DAC and in that video the guy also compared the mkIII to the Toping D30 Pro. His conclusion was that the mkIII is a fun sounding DAC with better, meatier midrange, more power and dynamics and a great soundstage.

My speakers are Genelec 8331s and my listening distance is no more than 2 feet.

Let me tell you what I think. I've used the mkIII for about one week now. I hook up my old Topping DAC again and did some comparisons today. And since I am a human being and easily influenced I asked my wife about her opinion after I had come to my conclusion. She doesn't care about HiFi and stuff, so when she tells me what she thinks it is totally unbiased.

Of course I took care of the loudness level of both units and made sure they both play at the same volume.

When I turned on the mkIII for the first time, the first thing that came to my mind was: It seems not to be as loud as my Topping DAC. It just seemed like I had to turn up the volume knob a bit more to get the same feeling of loudness. But, they measured exactly the same SPL. Everything seemed more laid back, softer with the mkIII. The second thing that was obvious to me was the lack of bass. Bass was there, but somehow softer, rounder. Where the Topping D30 Pro hits unbelievable hard, dry and fast, the mkIII just seemed to lack power. Sometimes the bass with the Topping can be a bit tiring because of its dryness, but often it is just more structured and detailed with more punch.

Where the Topping sounds really direct in your face, almost like the speakers are hooked up directly to a microphone amp, the mkIII sounds like you move a few steps back from the speakers. With the Topping it sounds more like the band is playing in front of you in your room. Maybe the Topping sounds a bit flatter, but in my opinion everything fits together better. Like voices are not coming from a ghostly cloud in front of you, but from a real person with a real body.

Transients on the Topping just sound faster with more power. Impulses seem a bit rounded from the mkIII. Basically everything just sounds softer through the mkIII. Maybe that's less tiring and more "HiFi", but I'm not sure it is for me.

I really disagree with some of the things the guy in the Soundnews review says. No, I don't think the mkIII has a lot of power. I think it really lacks power compared to the Topping D30 Pro. It also lacks attack and speed. He says that voices have more body through the mkIII and I totally disagree. Voices just sound thinner and somehow ghostly. And he says the mkIII is a fun sounding DAC. No, it is not. To me it is almost a boring sounding DAC. I prefer half an hour of hard hitting, dynamic and fun sound that is maybe a bit tiring over 2 hours listening to music that gives me no excitement (through the mkIII).

Those sound differences are not small. I did not have to struggle to find them. Those differences are absolutely obvious and for anyone to hear.

This morning I played a few songs for my wife. I told her to sit down and listen. To listen to the bass, soundstage, voices and just how she likes the sound overall. Then I set up the Topping DAC. She didn't even know which one was playing or which one was the new DAC. When I asked her which DAC she liked better, she said the second one (meaning it was the Topping that she liked better). I asked her what it was that she liked better. And she told me exactly the things that I felt about the two units. Like the mkIII overall was boring to listen to, lacked bass and precision, like voices just seemed unreal and so on.

So no, the mkIII is NOT MY favorite $500 DAC (the Soundnews guy seems to love it). I think the Topping is really better. The mkIII is a nice, pretty unit. It looks good with a nice display, but it's just not powerful or anything. Maybe the mkIII doesn't play well with my Genelecs (for whatever reason that might be) and the Topping just matches better. Maybe it is also my personal taste and I just like the sound signature of the Topping better.

It drives me up the wall when I read that DACs all sound the same. No, no and no, they do not. A DAC (device) is more than just a D/A converter chip. Yes, they all play perfectly linear, but there is more to music and sound than just linearity. I really couldn't care less if the SINAD of a device is 130 or just 100dB. It makes no audible difference, so why measure it?

So. That’s what I think. No one has to believe what said and I don't want to keep anyone from getting the mkIII. This DAC is just not for me and I am going to return it. I think I am better off with my old Topping D30 Pro.

View attachment 248239
That's really intersting you say the SMSL is not 'as' powerful. I have three other dacs here which my smsl sounds relatively louder than, with no adjustment.
 

Westsounds

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Thanks for your kind reply and not doubting everything I said. Sometimes people can put you through a real hard time here for having an opinion that is not respected here.

I can totally relate to what you said about your speakers. I used to have Neumann KH120s (2-way) and thought it would be a huge upgrade if I got Neumann KH310s (3-way). I ordered them (something that of course needs appoval from my wife and that's hard work to get). I was looking forward to getting my KH 310, then I compared them at home and was dissapointed. I liked the small KH120 better than the more premium KH310. Again I experienced that it is not about reviews and technical data, but my personal preferences and my taste. I don't have to impress anyone with my stereo setup. I don't have to show off with it. The only thing that matters is that I enjoy it.

But back to the topic. I've had other DAC before and all of them sounded different. I was just a bit surprised that my experience was so different from that guy's from the YouTube review. Did we even listen to the same DACs???? But then again it just proves to me again that you can't trust anyone but yourself.

Maybe SINAD is a good indicator for the general engineering quality of a device, but sound quality wise it is pretty irrelevant (at least to me). A SINAD of 100dB is perfectly fine.
I think what's way more important is like input and output impedance of a device, impulse response or the capability of a device to deliver long-term current. I think those are things that would explain sound differences better.

And like I said, maybe the S.M.S.L M500 mkIII is just not for me. I don't want to convince anyone not to get it. The thing that just bothers me here on ASR sometimes is the complete denial of audible differences.
I understand what you mean about some giving people a hard time but a lot of it is justified as they just do not buy into the subjective reviews or biased listening. A lot of the time DACs when listened to blindly and if are all level matched perfectly, will sound extremely similar, they should do if they have a flat frequency response. Of course, you know there are other factors that can influence the sound. And then on top of all that we all listen to an infinite amount of different music and like certain things.

At least with measurements, you are proving as you have already said that a device has been designed well and to the best of the company's ability at the time of manufacture. Whether it will sound ideal in your system, room and with what preferences you like is another thing.

As an all-in-one unit though the SMSL I think works great on a desktop or even in a big system with all its functionality, form factor and it's still good value for money.

I was just wondering about you said the SMSL has a lower output level than the Topping as well. Are you comparing the Toppings balanced output to the SMSL's or are you using RCAs? I know the level is quite a bit lower from the SMSL RCA outputs.
 

timelessound

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OK thanks, I was just offering a little benign comment, admittedly off topic. I have the iFi xDSD Gryphon, one of their latest offerings, and it’s on deck to send to Amir for review. I’m actually very pleased with it, and I know of no other unit with its feature set from any other manufacturer at a lower price point—and I’m also very happy with how it sounds. We’ll see how it measures up.

IFi’s Zen Stream is also a very fine Volumio-based streamer that does a very nice job transporting PCM 384/native DSD 256 via USB, at $399–which is quite fairly priced in my opinion when compared to their competitors that offer streamers at equivalent bandwidths.

I’m also well aware of how balanced connections work, and all I was saying is that the Gryphon doesn’t include a fake single ended pentaconn jack—it’s a balanced connection with a substantial increase in power output compared to its 3.5mm equivalent. Cheers

The 'iFi Audio xDSD Gryphon' got the EISA AWARD for MOBILE DAC 2022-2023

@amirm I guess it's good?
 
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