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S.M.S.L M400 MQA Audio DAC, AK4499 Chip Full Balanced Hi-Res Decoder, APTX-HD Bluetooth 5.0, Support MQA decoding DSD512 32Bit/768kHz,Coaxial Optical HiFi Music USB DAC XMOS

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About this deal

When it comes to sound performance, there are two instances that I will cover. If hard to drive planar magnetics are not on your daily menu, then SH-9 would be a better choice, since there is little to no difference between both siblings with desktop dynamic headphones or with easy to drive planars like Erzetich Phobos and Kennerton Wodan. Both are extremely neutral sounding with a slight tint towards naturalness and real textures. Wodan had a slightly better bass impact and a deeper stage on SP400, but others performed more or less the same on both devices.

SMSL M400 Review — Headfonics

When I’m getting new toys to play with, I would always pop their hoods, as good audio starts with good PCB design and component selection. I would follow their signal path, finding some cool ideas, simplified/overkill digital or analog sections, sometimes small mistakes, but always suggesting a few things. Opening it up was a difficult task, as several ribbon cables are holding its PCB in place, so I took just a small glimpse of what’s inside. Carving three rooms in its aluminum case, a huge one for its power supply section, one for digital and another for its analog section, already suggests that SMSL went slightly overkill with this one. SMSL opted for the ESS Sabre ES9039MSPRO DAC chip, which was announced last year. It supports up to eight channels, which means you can actually have a truly balanced setup with a single chip. On top of the “usual” 32 bit / 768 kHz PCM and DSD512 support, it also supports MQA. The connection is managed by a latest-gen XMOS XU-316, while eleven TI OPA1612A take care of amplification. The TI TPA6120A amp chips are the reason behind the massive output offered by the DO400, which goes up to an astounding 6 W at 16 Ω. That’s more power than many discrete headphone amplifiers, which puts the progress done in recent years in this department into perspective. The DPLL value, which can be set through the menu to values between 0 and 15, helps combat jitter and stuttering: by default it is set to 5, but it can be raised if you encounter issues.

Firmware Features​

For unknown reasons, from the land of delta-sigma converters, those that had ESS-Sabre chipsets were undisputed champions when looking at your music with a magnifying glass. Matrix Audio Element X stood out as being extremely technical sounding, so much so that I couldn’t part ways with it for about two years in a row. It just pushed all details forward, as if trying to get the attention of the listener. AKM based DACs can do that too, but only the ones carrying a flagship AK4499 with top components around it. As I’ve mentioned before, component selection around the DAC chip is extremely important and I believe SMSL did an amazing job in here, squeezing a higher dynamic range, making it the cleanest sounding SMSL DAC to date. There’s a Bluetooth 5.0 receiver on board that supports several codecs as SBC, AAC and AptX. Sadly, higher grade codecs as AptX-HD, LDAC and UAT are not supported, suggesting that it was put there mainly for convenience. Its antenna works as a wireless signal booster and its operating distance should be around 10 to 15 meters, depending on how many walls are in between both units (sender and receiver).


Honestly, if you don’t know SMSL, you have to get acquainted as soon as possible because you’re missing A LOT. They’re a Chinese company that focuses on a wide range of devices , the most notable ones being DACs & AMPs. They are famous for their value for money-oriented products and that’s the main reason I found them online about 5 years ago.The mids have a velvety timbre and at the same time, they are resolving and high-quality. Just like the bass region, the midrange also feels natural and realistic. Instruments such as guitars, flutes, piccolos, and pianos have a very organic and musical tone. The vocals are positioned in the center and blend in perfectly with the rest of the instruments. The coherency is top-notch and nothing feels out of place. Upper mids follow the same route as well, they are present with good energy, yet they never try to steal the show. I really love the dynamics of the midrange, the whole range is just delightful to listen to. High Headphone Amps: Flux Lab Acoustics Volot, Benchmark HPA4, Burson Soloist 3X, Musician Andromeda, SMSL SP400, Topping A90, Gustard H16

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