Topping D30 vs. SMSL m8a - a novice impressions

Discussion in 'DACs' started by ron1999, Dec 22, 2017.

  1. ron1999

    ron1999 New Member

    For whom it may concern, i was reading a lot in the past couple of weeks, trying to decide what DAC from the "entry spend level" DAC's would be the most significant improvement to my audio system.

    i actually wasn't aware that there was something wrong with my setup until i visited a friend who was running a Teddy DAC, as me being the "musical explorer" of the group, i came with my portable HD and played him some new music over on his system (Luxman Class A amp, Teddy DAC and Marten speakers)
    to my surprise i was hearing way more details than i used to in my setup, the stage was way bigger and stereo separation was exceptional.
    even on tracks i felt well-familiar with i was surprised, if not by the added details than by the stereo separation.

    cutting a long story short - i was blaming my speakers for the lack of performance when my friend commented that for playing MP3 (!!) the most significant change he'd done was the Teddy.
    having not wanting to spend $1K on a DAC i decided to explore the lower level of devices out there.
    quick search brought up two main candidates:
    Topping D30 and SMSL m8a (going to refer to them as D30 and SMSL from now on)
    ordered both from Amazon for the sake of one of them going back once i set my mind on the other, i received them both early this week.

    my setup is simple -
    CDM1NT driven by a recapped, refreshed NAD S300, fed by a DAC connected to a small NUC i5 pc.

    first impression:
    D30 - i started with the D30 as it got here couple of hours earlier, connecting it instead of my old MF V-DACii made a huge difference, clicking, knocking, hissing went away and was replaced by an improved stage, greater stereo separation and a sound that was a bit on the bright side from one hand, but maintained nice bass on the other.

    bass performance are not extremely tight, they are present, not too dominant but on the verge of being.
    i also blame that a little on the speaker's location though.

    highs were crisp but not harsh, the CDM1NT are known for their maybe squeaky tweeters, and it looked like the D30 is avoiding falling into this trap.

    All in all, the sound was very "analog", separation between instruments was ok, and stereo separation was much improved over my MF VDAC unit.

    SMSL - connecting the SMSL was not a breeze, the driver from SMSL site is lacking a signature, so some OS refuse to sue it and will render the device useless.
    you can overcome it by "special start" of the OS with "allow unsigned drivers" to be loaded, but i cant say it is something i appreciated a lot.
    off to the sound of the unit, once i got it to work i used the same tracks to compare the two and these were my initial impressions:

    Bass - the SMSL is obviously more conservative when handling the bass section, the feel is that it is more moderate, not boomy at all, very controlled, i would almost call it flat. on one hand some may miss it, on the other on some setups it will allow more room for more details on other sections to get noted.
    on my setup the bass was "just right"

    on the higher notes - the high section of the SMSL was very crisp, with the combination of the CDM tweeter this was almost too bright to my ears, i could really see how after a long listening i would get fatigue listening to some music genres, having that said, the amount of details with the SMSL was even greater than what the D30 had provided.
    the unit had a great "attack" performance, making it sound 3D and provided better imaging than the D30.
    Stereo separation was also better the what the D30 provided and i really liked the crisp and sharp edges it provided in some "softer" music notes.

    all in all, the sound of the SMSL is very digital, with high separation between instruments, good imaging and wide stage.

    Second impression and making choices:
    so i had to make a choice - didn't like the clatter in my living room and the too many options were not providing any help, so i called my wife, to have a pick and help me decide.
    played her both units using the same track, and vot went constantly to the D30.
    in her words, the SMSL was just to analytical, creating too much separation within the music that become almost not pleasant to the ear.
    so a choice made easier - the D30 is staying, and the SMSL will go back, as well as about a 100$ savings.

    not sure this review is on par with the levels you guys are sued to around here, but should it be able to help anyone who is debating between these two units, i hope it may help.
    ben_, stish, E.Auer and 1 other person like this.
  2. PAGS

    PAGS Super Member

    North of Philly
    Nice review!
  3. Poultrygeist

    Poultrygeist Addicted Member

    I've never heard the SMSL but my $99 D30 from massdrop sounds ever bit as good as my $250 Schiit Modi MB.
    stish likes this.
  4. ron1999

    ron1999 New Member

    thanks for the compliments.

    following keeping the D30, next question would be if it'll sound better replacing the switching PS that comes with it with a linear PS that i got for my MF VDAC unit.
    they are not using the same voltage, VDAC takes a 12v in, while the D30 needs 15v to operate, but the PS i got is actually 13.8v 2.5A, so i will take my chance with trying to adapt it to the D30 and see if it makes any difference.

    Will update once done
  5. phosgene

    phosgene New Member

    i'm no electrician by any means, but i believe the adapter for the d30 is 15v 1a, so bumping it to 2.5a seems like something to reconsider, but then again, i couldn't fill a thimble with all i know about electronics....
  6. dewdude

    dewdude I fix stuff.

    Manassas, VA
    On the original M8...the drivers were literally just the reference XMOS package. The drivers I got from their website (which was marked malicious at the time), and the ones on the disc all had matching md5 sums to the reference package I got from SMSL's website.

    The situation may be different on the M8A though given the newer XMOS controller. I haven't checked for driver updates in a long time; Windows 10 automatically got the XMOS drivers when I installed the OS a few months ago.
  7. Poultrygeist

    Poultrygeist Addicted Member

    Any news to share on the update?
  8. rogerfederer

    rogerfederer AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Northern VA
  9. Poultrygeist

    Poultrygeist Addicted Member

    FWIW I read on another board that some of the eBay D30's may use a different board ( counterfiet perhaps ) than the one I bought from massdrop which is the real McCoy.
    stish likes this.
  10. opa1

    opa1 Tenacious Subscriber

    South Texas
    Have a link to source or pictures?
  11. Poultrygeist

    Poultrygeist Addicted Member

    No link but I think I read it on headfi.
  12. opa1

    opa1 Tenacious Subscriber

    South Texas
    I'll take a look.
  13. Poultrygeist

    Poultrygeist Addicted Member

  14. opa1

    opa1 Tenacious Subscriber

    South Texas
    It is different. I'll check whats in mine when it gets here.
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2018
  15. mjw21a

    mjw21a Super Member

    Brisbane, Australia
    I've the original S.M.S.L M8 in my secondary system. When I first used it I also found it quite digital sounding and otherwise quite harsh. Knowing it's reputation as a decent DAC I left my digital radio to run through it, though with my amp off for two weeks. After this time the next time I tried it the harshness/brightness had disappeared and I'm left with a great DAC.

    I'd suggest doing something similar to burn it in and get the best from it. All up its a great DAC though not quite to the level of the Gustard DAC-X12 in my main system.

    I only use the fibre and coax inputs on the M8 so I've not experienced the driver issues others have had. My media centre goes through the Gustard on my main system.
  16. DirtFarmer

    DirtFarmer Active Member

    Mad City
    The Topping d30 must be selling like hotcakes! I bought one yesterday from Amazon (via Shenzhenaudio), and it is not due for arrival until the end of January up to mid February!
  17. ron1999

    ron1999 New Member

    after couple of weeks with the linear PS vs. Topping original switching one -

    First - i will admit that unlike the SMSL vs. Topping comparison, when both were connected and i could easily switch between the two, here the comparison was more cumbersome and not as swift as the first one.

    Connection was pretty straight forward, i used an old external HD plug instead of clipping and reusing the original PS from the Topping,

    After moving to the linear PS,i could not hear difference in details level or stereo separation, they remained unchanged to my untrained ears,
    As for highs and bass - highs remained pretty much the same, bass also did not change a lot, it remained wide and spacious,

    Only place i believe i noticed changes (i use believe as again, this was not an AB test and comparison took time for switching) was in the more "crowded" places in tracks, where it seemed like the topping is struggling less to maintain levels and tonal separation between sounds, where previously i thought i heard kind of a level's drop on specific sections within a track.

    To conclude - in my POV, should i not have this extra PS ready and available, not sure im would go and get one just for use with the Topping,
    but as i already had it - it is a nice add, even if i can suggest at least some of it might probably be my imagination :)

    Hope it gives some further perspective
  18. Poultrygeist

    Poultrygeist Addicted Member

    ron, thanks for the update

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