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SMSL SU-8s Review (Balanced Stereo DAC)

Zeeb

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This is incorrect. If it is a MQA track; it shows on the MQA indicator of my EX5.
I have been listening to MQA Masters for the past few days. I ran into a single FLAC file it seems, because the MQA light was not lit. Otherwise everything is MQA, there are a couple different versions but it works well using hardware unfolding.
I would imagine the SU-8S works the same way.
I'm not sure I understand. I've since moved to Qobuz, but I was talking about, for example: when you set Tidal's quality setting to the mid-level 'Hifi' - and choose a file that is not labeled 'MASTER' (because you want a simple FLAC).

In this case I think the MQA light on the DAC is always off - even though there has been MQA encoding done on many of these non-MASTER files...

Ie., many of these non-MASTER files are FLAC containers for partially unfolded MQA files, not simple lossless FLACs.
 
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Jimster480

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I'm not sure I understand. I've since moved to Qobuz, but I was talking about, for example: when you set Tidal's quality setting to the mid-level 'Hifi' - and choose a file that is not labeled 'MASTER' (because you want a simple FLAC).

In this case I think the MQA light on the DAC is always off - even though there has been MQA encoding done on many of these non-MASTER files...

Ie., many of these non-MASTER files are FLAC containers for partially unfolded MQA files, not simple lossless FLACs.
Yea if you are playing non mqa then the light is off. If someone took mqa files and partially unfolded them into flac (as you are stating here) then they are no longer MQA and the light/indicator on the DAC will be off.
 

Whodiini

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I got a 8S recently from a MassDrop for cheap, and got to compare with the SMSL 9. Very interesting. I would say the 9 is a better DAC, slightly cleaner, a bit more transparent and dynamic. But coupled with the right headphones, the 9 can be mesmerizing whereas the 8S is very good. In terms of bang for the buck, the 8S is a better value and at the Drop price, is outstanding. There isnt a $200 DAC that i know that is better than the 8S.

The 8S is close to the 9 except in one area, MQA unfolding. This is where it gets interesting. The 9 does the MQA unfolding on an XMOS whereas the 8S does it on the ESS chip. On the 9, with MQA on and off, there is not a very noticeable difference. On the 8S, there is a big difference. With MQA off, the tonal quality is different, like a different DAC. It is more balanced tonally, and the high end is less distorted it seems with MQA off. So for people comparing the 8S, do it with and without MQA. It makes a difference. The SMSL 9 was the first Chifi DAC I could stand listening to. The 8S is the second. Much better than the SMSL 8, the M500.

One more thing: MQA on the 8S decodes at whatever the MQA encoding is. I verified that a MQA recording was 88 khz.
 
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Jimster480

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I got a 8S recently from a MassDrop for cheap, and got to compare with the SMSL 9. Very interesting. I would say the 9 is a better DAC, slightly cleaner, a bit more transparent and dynamic. But coupled with the right headphones, the 9 can be mesmerizing whereas the 8S is very good. In terms of bang for the buck, the 8S is a better value and at the Drop price, is outstanding. There isnt a $200 DAC that i know that is better than the 8S.

The 8S is close to the 9 except in one area, MQA unfolding. This is where it gets interesting. The 9 does the MQA unfolding on an XMOS whereas the 8S does it on the ESS chip. On the 9, with MQA on and off, there is not a very noticeable difference. On the 8S, there is a big difference. With MQA off, the tonal quality is different, like a different DAC. It is more balanced tonally, and the high end is less distorted it seems with MQA off. So for people comparing the 8S, do it with and without MQA. It makes a difference. The SMSL 9 was the first Chifi DAC I could stand listening to. The 8S is the second. Much better than the SMSL 8, the M500.

One more thing: MQA on the 8S decodes at whatever the MQA encoding is. I verified that a MQA recording was 88 khz.
Interesting even if it doesn't make much sense since both DACs are quite close in performance in all respects.
MQA is distorted on the 8s? That would be the opposite of decoding it on the chip itself... Maybe your amp doesn't handle high frequencies well, since MQA adds dynamic range.
It is weird though that tyou said you hear no difference with the SU-9 because I have an EX5 and MQA is the first real sonic difference I heard in years. So much so that I didn't even believe it and had to get my wife to test to make sure it wasn't some wild placebo.
 

Whodiini

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I do hear a difference with MQA on and off with the SU9. But it is somewhat subtle. More detail, more air. Its a bit more of everything with MQA. But with the SU8S, it is not a matter of more with MQA, it sounds fundamentally different, like a different DAC. Its strange. It explains what some other reviewers have been commenting when they compare the 8S with the 9. Some comments seem like they did the comparison with MQA on. Others seem like they did the comparison with MQA off. I agree with both, depending on whether the comparison was with MQA on or off. Would be interested to see if they did the comparison with MQA on or off.
 

Jimster480

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I do hear a difference with MQA on and off with the SU9. But it is somewhat subtle. More detail, more air. Its a bit more of everything with MQA. But with the SU8S, it is not a matter of more with MQA, it sounds fundamentally different, like a different DAC. Its strange. It explains what some other reviewers have been commenting when they compare the 8S with the 9. Some comments seem like they did the comparison with MQA on. Others seem like they did the comparison with MQA off. I agree with both, depending on whether the comparison was with MQA on or off. Would be interested to see if they did the comparison with MQA on or off.
I might get one of these and I will definitely test those claims if it is the case.
 

D00M

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I also bought SMSL SU-8S from Drop, and I just received it earlier this week. It is a great deal at $180 and $20 off summer coupon.

For amp, I'm using Drop THX AAA One. Yeah, I'm all about performance to value, so Drop products and pricing catch my attention.
 

Jimster480

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I also bought SMSL SU-8S from Drop, and I just received it earlier this week. It is a great deal at $180 and $20 off summer coupon.

For amp, I'm using Drop THX AAA One. Yeah, I'm all about performance to value, so Drop products and pricing catch my attention.
I didn't realize they had come out with another amp, I have the THX 789 and I've been really happy with it since literally launch day. I use it almost every day, still works great!
 

Chobot

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Having issues with GPU noise on a SU-8S connected via USB. It is externally powered. Motherboard on the PC is the Asus ROG Strix B550-F Gaming. GPU is the EVGA 3080 Ti FTW ULTRA.

Audio Chain
[Source - PC] -(USB Type B Cable)-> [DAC - SMSL SU-8S] -(RCA Cable)-> [Power Amp - Parasound zAmp v. 3] -(Speaker Cables)-> [Speakers - JBL 530 Speakers]

Symptoms
  • I am getting a lot of buzzing noise when gaming occurs. I believe increased GPU loads are the source of the noise. There is no noise when there is no games running.
  • Noise seems to occur between the DAC and the PC Source via USB.
  • Even when the DAC is turned off, the noise seems to make it to the speakers through the power amp from the PC Source. Unplugging the USB cable will stop the noise as does unplugging the RCA or turning off the power amp.
Attempted Fixes
  • I have tried to fix any ground loops by doing various combinations between two outlets. Having the audio equipment and the PC on separate outlets or sharing one outlet via surge protectors. Issue persists.
  • I have tried various USB ports from 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1 ports on the rear of the motherboard. Issue persists.
  • I have tried using the ifi Defender+ to lift the ground of the usb port the DAC is using. Issue persists.
Anyone have any idea what the issue is or what I should try next? It seems to be coming from the source. I'd like to get this working via USB if possible, but my last resort is a Toslink as that should prevent the noise at the source.

Thank you!
 

Jimster480

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Having issues with GPU noise on a SU-8S connected via USB. It is externally powered. Motherboard on the PC is the Asus ROG Strix B550-F Gaming. GPU is the EVGA 3080 Ti FTW ULTRA.

Audio Chain
[Source - PC] -(USB Type B Cable)-> [DAC - SMSL SU-8S] -(RCA Cable)-> [Power Amp - Parasound zAmp v. 3] -(Speaker Cables)-> [Speakers - JBL 530 Speakers]

Symptoms
  • I am getting a lot of buzzing noise when gaming occurs. I believe increased GPU loads are the source of the noise. There is no noise when there is no games running.
  • Noise seems to occur between the DAC and the PC Source via USB.
  • Even when the DAC is turned off, the noise seems to make it to the speakers through the power amp from the PC Source. Unplugging the USB cable will stop the noise as does unplugging the RCA or turning off the power amp.
Attempted Fixes
  • I have tried to fix any ground loops by doing various combinations between two outlets. Having the audio equipment and the PC on separate outlets or sharing one outlet via surge protectors. Issue persists.
  • I have tried various USB ports from 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1 ports on the rear of the motherboard. Issue persists.
  • I have tried using the ifi Defender+ to lift the ground of the usb port the DAC is using. Issue persists.
Anyone have any idea what the issue is or what I should try next? It seems to be coming from the source. I'd like to get this working via USB if possible, but my last resort is a Toslink as that should prevent the noise at the source.

Thank you!
I would say that Toslink is the only way to fix the problem... I had a friend with this problem (also with an ASUS Board) and we couldn't ever figure it out. He eventually ended up buying another motherboard down the road and it has been fixed since then. Otherwise he had to use toslink.
 

Chobot

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I would say that Toslink is the only way to fix the problem... I had a friend with this problem (also with an ASUS Board) and we couldn't ever figure it out. He eventually ended up buying another motherboard down the road and it has been fixed since then. Otherwise he had to use toslink.
Ah, that's disappointing. I am assuming that balanced cables won't help either in this case? I plan on eventually adding a Balanced Headphone Amp with a pre-amp feature. If I go balanced cables into the Headphone input and then I output RCA to the Speaker Amp would it eliminate the noise from the first round of balanced cables? I'd imagine not since the noise is coming from the source.

I ordered a Toslink cable already and a USB cable with ferrite chokes. I doubt the USB cable with chokes will help, but I am up for trying anything.

In terms of avoiding ground loops, is the optimal configuration to have all the equipment on the same surge protector to the same outlet? Or is it better to use separate outlets. I have two sets of outlets (each with two plugs) near my computer desk. I can do a few different configurations between them.

Thank you for your help.
 

Jimster480

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Ah, that's disappointing. I am assuming that balanced cables won't help either in this case? I plan on eventually adding a Balanced Headphone Amp with a pre-amp feature. If I go balanced cables into the Headphone input and then I output RCA to the Speaker Amp would it eliminate the noise from the first round of balanced cables? I'd imagine not since the noise is coming from the source.

I ordered a Toslink cable already and a USB cable with ferrite chokes. I doubt the USB cable with chokes will help, but I am up for trying anything.

In terms of avoiding ground loops, is the optimal configuration to have all the equipment on the same surge protector to the same outlet? Or is it better to use separate outlets. I have two sets of outlets (each with two plugs) near my computer desk. I can do a few different configurations between them.

Thank you for your help.
Neither of those changes helped my friend so I don't think it really matters. Balanced also won't fix the issues specifically when the noise comes straight from the source.
 

D00M

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I didn't realize they had come out with another amp, I have the THX 789 and I've been really happy with it since literally launch day. I use it almost every day, still works great!
THX AAA One is a much cheaper version of THX 789. I don't heard 789, but I read reviews on it. THX AAA One is close to entry level. The price started at $200, but often it is at $150. Then with coupons, can knock the price down further.
 

Jimster480

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THX AAA One is a much cheaper version of THX 789. I don't heard 789, but I read reviews on it. THX AAA One is close to entry level. The price started at $200, but often it is at $150. Then with coupons, can knock the price down further.
Yea I looked it up now and it looks like it is a single ended circuit version of the 789. Personally this amp is awesome, I've had it since launch and it works flawlessly after like 3 or 4 years (don't remember when it came out now) of daily use!
 
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