Well oh well oh well, oh my oh my o my oh my! (Said in my best Matthew Mcconaughey Texas drawl. My Scots-Irish Appalachian drawl makes for a pitiful voice impression).
This SMSL is simply an ENIGMA!
Things about it not so good, things about it a bit quirky, some a LOT quirky, but, I can already tell you its the best sounding DAC in the lab under $1500.00. Better sound that either of the impressive Topping E70 twin sisters that have since been 'rehomed', separated but both in a most loving and caring home surely providing great musical joy.
Usually I can put anything under $500.00 up against the iFi ZEN DAC V2 and immediately size it up quickly. The ZEN is truly a, well, master guru of its crowded target audience. And it does it for 200 bucks, plus it throws in a decent headphone amp practically for free in my opinion.
Still no headamp in this SMSL D300, but man, the SOUND. We are EUPHONIC Review and this thing truly nails the euphonic part like nothing I have heard close to this price. BEAUTIFUL sound. So much so I had to break out the heavy gear to truly place its sound and make an honest assessment.
My reference head-fi system begins, as many a system, with a Roon front end. Roon pushes audio data into the Roon Ready iFi ZEN STREAM, running in its Roon exclusive mode. Many people at this point would simply connect via ethernet to the Stream, guaranteeing no audio drops that one might very reasonably expect over Wifi when streaming say, high bandwidth DSD256 files. I prefer the opposite strategy and go with Wifi, because that is essentially an isolated system that shares no physical connections or grounding points that can bring who knows what unwanted 'heebie jeebies'.
Lucky for me, I have never had a single drop out of ANY file of any kind, regardless of bandwidth including DXD and DSD256.
For even MORE overkill, there is an Intona USB High Speed 2.0 isolator between the Stream and my reference DAC, the iFi iDSD PRO. Yes, the iDSD PRO has internal galvanic isolation, but I can show on the spectrum analyzer how some spurious anomalies completely disappear when I apply my overkill solution.
Oh, and my headphones of choice over here in Referlandia are FOCAL Clear MG Pro. (But for long listening comparisons while reviewing, I will still default back to the venerable and ever competitive wonder of a product Sennheiser HD650 cans.)
I say all this, just to get to the point that this SMSL is pushing Referlandia just a bit. No, it isn't close enough that instant regret sinks in my soul over how much money could have been saved. But, it was necessary to establish a new baseline of sorts for where we are going when it comes time to rate the sound quality of this strange little kit with the alternative DAC chip from ROHM.
Tonight? Direct battle between my second reference system, the RME ADI-2 PRO FS R Black Edition, with the SMSL. Some of you may recall in the Topping E70V review, THE RME's excellent DAC section was not worlds better than the Topping. It sounded better than the Topping, yes, but not enough so that one might pause and think hard about it, if all you want is a DAC and have no need for the ADC functions.
Cannot wait to dive into more of this little DAC that can! Assuming it keeps working. One of those little quirks is obvious cost cutting in chassis design. We will see as it is torture tested how it continues to fare!