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SMSL SU-10 DAC Review

Rate this DAC:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 12 4.0%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 11 3.7%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 51 17.1%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 225 75.3%

  • Total voters
    299

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the SMSL SU-10 Balanced DAC with Bluetooth. It was sent to me by the company and costs US $900.
SMSL SU-10 Stereo DAC USB Balanced XLR Bluetooth Review.jpg

Front panel is smooth and slick and sports the new colorful display from SMSL with large volume level which I very much appreciate. Interestingly volume goes up another 2 dB (or so) so you have a bit of headroom. Back panel shows some new features:
SMSL SU-10 Stereo DAC USB Balanced XLR Bluetooth Remote Review.jpg

For the first time we have a choice of USB-B and -c inputs which you can select from the menu. Another new feature is ability to turn on the balanced or RCA outputs independently or together. Nice!

The high cost is partially due to use of not one, but two ESS ES9038Pro DAC chips. The 8 channels in each chip is combined to get the best dynamic range for each channel.

Based on company recommendation, I upgraded the unit to latest firmware.

SMSL SU-10 Measurements
Let's start with our usual balanced output after letting the device warm up (SMSL recommendation):
SMSL SU-10 Stereo DAC USB Balanced XLR Measurements.png

Distortion is extremely low at -140 dB so SINAD is noise dominate as usual. It is hitting the limits of the analyzer in this front but it still manages to squeak by to get #1 place:
best stereo balanced dac review.png

Of course no one should worry about fraction of dB SINAD as the measurements are highly variable in that regard.

RCA output performance is a bit lower as usual but still excellent:
SMSL SU-10 Stereo DAC USB RCA Measurements.png


Dynamic range is superb as we would expect:
SMSL SU-10 Stereo DAC USB Balanced XLR Dynamic Range Measurements.png


At max volume, balanced dynamic range got close to 132 dB.

IMD distortion and noise is very low although there is more than a hint of "ESS IMD Hump:"
SMSL SU-10 Stereo DAC USB Balanced XLR IMD Measurements.png


Linearity is perfect:
SMSL SU-10 Stereo DAC USB Balanced XLR Linearity Measurements.png


Multitone test shows the very low distortion:
SMSL SU-10 Stereo DAC USB Balanced XLR Multitone Measurements.png


Jitter performance is uniform and excellent on all three inputs:
SMSL SU-10 Stereo DAC USB Balanced XLR Jitter Measurements.png


The usual set of filters are provided:

SMSL SU-10 Stereo DAC USB Balanced XLR Filter Measurements.png


As you can see, there is also an "off" mode available which oddly was the default.

Frequency response suggest Fast Linear as one of the better filters to use:
SMSL SU-10 Stereo DAC USB Balanced XLR Frequency Response Measurements.png


Using that we get excellent broadband THD+N vs frequency:
SMSL SU-10 Stereo DAC USB Balanced XLR THD vs Frequency Measurements.png


Conclusions
The SU-10 is an excellently engineered DAC. It aims to squeeze the last bit of performance available. Such improvement is limited by how well I can measure it due to analyzer noise itself. We clearly have state of the art performance here. Whether that justifies the higher cost is something that is your business and not mine. :)

Besides performance we have nice new functionality in the form of two independent USB inputs and support for independent audio outputs. One or the other may be critical for some of you.

I am happy to recommend the SMSL SU-10 DAC.

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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/
 

GWolfman

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I have a different, older SMSL DAC, and when it switches bit rates, bit depth, or from PCM to DSD (and vice versa) mode there's a ~2 second pause. Does this one or the other newer SMSL DACs still do this? If so, is this an SMSL thing, or universal for all manufacturers' DACs?
 

Jimster480

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Wow, amazing yet another chart topper... I guess we can't go higher now that the analyzer limit is reached?

I have a different, older SMSL DAC, and when it switches bit rates, bit depth, or from PCM to DSD (and vice versa) mode there's a ~2 second pause. Does this one or the other newer SMSL DACs still do this? If so, is this an SMSL thing, or universal for all manufacturers' DACs?
Bitrate switches don't have any pause, neither does MQA to non-MQA. At least not on my SU-8S.
 

carlcamper

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amirm

amirm

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Wow, amazing yet another chart topper... I guess we can't go higher now that the analyzer limit is reached?
I haven't done the math but I think we are at the wall.
 

Jimster480

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This is it.
I wonder what the mfg's will do now.... I mean if everything is SOTA then we have to find new ways to differentiate products? Really no idea..
Maybe when you aren't so busy (if that ever happens) new testing ideas can be brainstormed in order to differentiate products... amazing that we have come to this point in only a few short years.
 
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amirm

amirm

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There is a way to measure lower noise levels using a noise amplifier. And then subtracting that from the measured results. I just don't know if it is the right thing to do beyond the point we are now.
 

PeteL

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What amaze me is how many variations of the same products these companies manage to spit out each years. Not in term of developpment, adding a second chip and an extra USB port is near zero in term of developpment cost based on the building blocks and PCB files they already have, can probably be done in a week, but in term of tooling, to be able to be financially viable to keep coming up with new enclosures and designs without canibalizing themselve and break even on the other competing products inside their own. brand, and other brands, is where I am baffled. The market must be much much larger than I would have tought to be able to pull that off. That’s what impress me. Not so much the engineering, really this have been engineered years ago, it’s very minimal, a couple little tweaks, an extra chip, and there you go you have an other product. why not take a step back. Spend a couple years, and take the time to design something that have something to add to the table in term of features? Don’t worry SMSL, you can still sell that in 2-3 years and no one will notice your DAC chip is a few years old. Transparent is transparent. This one is not more so than last year one.
 

MarcosCh

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What amaze me is how many variations of the same products these companies manage to spit out each years. Not in term of developpment, adding a second chip and an extra USB port is near zero in term of developpment cost based on the building blocks and PCB files they already have, can probably be done in a week, but in term of tooling, to be able to be financially viable to keep coming up with new enclosures and designs without canibalizing themselve and break even on the other competing products inside their own. brand, and other brands, is where I am baffled. The market must be much much larger than I would have tought to be able to pull that off. That’s what impress me. Not so much the engineering, really this have been engineered years ago, it’s very minimal, a couple little tweaks, an extra chip, and there you go you have an other product. why not take a step back. Spend a couple years, and take the time to design something that have something to add to the table in term of features? Don’t worry SMSL, you can still sell that in 2-3 years and no one will notice your DAC chip is a few years old. Transparent is transparent. This one is not more so than last year one.
Maybe they are trying to position themselves in a higher trier in the fastest possible way. If they would jump directly from a 100eur DAC with issues like mentioned in post #3 directly to this 900$ sota, who would buy it? But yes, at this prices they better start adding features....
 

Doodski

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Maybe they are trying to position themselves in a higher trier in the fastest possible way. If they would jump directly from a 100eur DAC with issues like mentioned in post #3 directly to this 900$ sota, who would buy it?
They need to change as new technology and silicon become available. They are probably very busy doing that with the various always newer and newer ICs that are available with whatever specs and features. These peeps buy ICs. They don't make them. They are at the mercy of the IC makers and must follow the IC makers' timeline to keep being relevant. Impressive test @amirm :D
 

Garrincha

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Chinese DACs and amps have stirred up the market, with performance and with price, but even if this DAC reaches the peak in the SINAD rating (clearly inaudible along many in the top 50 or 100 best measured), sometimes the price competitiveness seems a bit lost. If I were in the market for a DAC, I would clearly prefer the Okto Dac8 (it it were available). Better looks and design, probably also built quality, including in streamer and headphone amp and only slighty more expensive.
 

DualTriode

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Hello All,

In terms of testing, if you look at the operational amplifier data sheets the manufacturers hit the STOA of the audio analyzers years ago. They came up with some methods to test the op-amps beyond the audio analyzer limits.

Someone needs to put on their propeller hat and come up with a new test procedure for these DAC's.

look at page 23 of this data sheet.
https://www.ti.com/lit/ds/symlink/l...21379&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F

Thanks DT
 

respice finem

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There is a way to measure lower noise levels using a noise amplifier. And then subtracting that from the measured results. I just don't know if it is the right thing to do beyond the point we are now.
Probably not, because no one can even dream about hearing differences at these levels.
And, we should be glad, we can't. If we could, the world around us would be annoyingly noisy all the time.
Simple experiment: Record a quiet room with a sensitive mic and amplify the result.
 

StuartC

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Someone needs to put on their propeller hat and come up with a new test procedure for these DAC's.
....but do they really? If everything Amir is measuring is inaudible then attempts to improve beyond that are just unnecessary expenditure in terms of time, finance and resources. It's just vastly diminishing returns now.

I would humbly propose that the number of DACs from the likes of Topping, SMSL etc be drastically reduced to a few a year, with more emphasis on other electronic products such as amplifiers etc. These still have a long way to go to reach the levels of transparency seen in the measurements above. We all know now that these companies are quite literally at the top of their game for DACs, so lets focus on the downstream components which are letting the side down.
 

Doodski

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are just unnecessary expenditure in terms of time, finance and resources.
The DAC manufacturers are given/sold a selection of ICs and they make what they can from those. The DAC manufacturers cannot choose a grade of IC and expect it to be there in 6 months for cheap consumption. In other words the manufacturers of DACs and stuff cannot determine the IC makers agenda. Silicon is getting better and better and time marches on...
 
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