Saturday 25 June 2022

REVIEW: S.M.S.L. DO100 DAC [Part III - DSD, Subjective, AMPT Recording, and Conclusions]. And a very close look at the Topping D10 Balanced THD(+N) vs. Level graph.

As you can see, the SMSL DO100 displays DSD samplerate in the form of DSD64 (64 x 44.1kHz = 2.8MHz), DSD128 (5.6MHz), DSD256 (11.3MHz) and DSD512 (22.6MHz).

Okay audiophile friends, let's finish off the trilogy of posts on the S.M.S.L. DO100 DAC with some final measurements around DSD performance, let's talk about subjective listening impressions, and as usual, let me provide a direct recording from the XLR output for comparison with others I have done (as discussed here).

We'll then put this all together as final concluding thoughts on this device.

Saturday 18 June 2022

Notes on DAC DSD (1-bit PDM) measurements going forward...

In the early 2000's, we witnessed the battle over hi-res audio in the form of SACD vs. DVD-A. SACD, the brainchild of Sony, utilized a 1-bit Pulse Density Modulation (PDM) method they called DSD (an advertising term) whereas DVD-A had the ability to store up to 24-bit, 192kHz Pulse Code Modulated (PCM) digital audio data (multichannel up to 24/96).

From the beginning, there were concerns about this push towards 1-bit systems into the consumer space along with claims that 1-bit PDM should form some kind of archival foundation for music. There were critics include Lipshitz and Vanderkooy - see their paper "Why Professional 1-Bit Sigma-Delta Conversion is a Bad Idea" from the September 2000 AES. And the next year in May 2001, they followed up with "Why 1-Bit Sigma-Delta Conversion is Unsuitable for High-Quality Applications". Even Bob Stuart chimed in on the unsuitability of DSD for "high-resolution audio" back in 2004. This is no surprise since Meridian was firmly with DVD-A including developing the MLP compression system which subsequently has been licensed by Dolby and renamed TrueHD; it looks like Dolby and Meridian had an arrangement dating back even to 1998.

These concerns around fidelity and the unsuitability of 1-bit PDM as an editable format in audio production are why in the professional world, we see audio recorded and edited in 24/352.8 "DXD" and Sony's own "DSD-Wide" (8-bit/2.8MHz) instead of DSD64/1-bit "DSD-Narrow".

While this was playing out in the academic/professional arena, the advertising industry including the "mainstream audiophile media" championed DSD and published all kinds of flowery words suggesting how it sounded "more natural", or "analogue-like" compared to PCM. While I don't think we can put an exact date on when DVD-Audio officially died as a viable commercial product, I think by 2005 it was quite clear that hi-res physical formats were not going to be mainstream and DVD-A did not have the number of titles available compared to SACD. My sense is that the hybrid-SACD feature with both DSD and CD-compatible layers was a major differentiating factor that has resulted in still a trickle of SACDs released these days.

I'm bring this stuff up now as an extension to the discussions around SoX-DSD and the Philips Test SACD articles last year during my series on the Topping D90SE review because I've been thinking about how best to standardize the DSD test signals I use when testing. Different DACs tend to handle DSD playback differently and I wanted to make sure that my test signal parameters are at least somewhat in line with the music encoded on an SACD or maybe DSD128 download these days.

Saturday 11 June 2022

REVIEW: S.M.S.L. DO100 DAC [Part II - PCM Resolution]. (And on MQA's distasteful environmental claims...)

As we continue to evaluate the S.M.S.L. DO100 DAC, let's spend time today delving into the resolution that this machine provides as a PCM DAC (see Part I last week for filters and jitter performance). Given that PCM is the de facto digital modulation scheme, this post will form the heart of DAC performance evaluations. We'll leave DSD to Part III along with discussions of subjective performance.

With PCM data, this DAC will accept up to 32/768. Let's run some tests as per usual to see how this device compares to others I've looked at on this blog. For most of the tests, I will use my Raspberry Pi 4 "Touch" (USB) or a Logitech Squeezebox Touch (S/PDIF) as digital source. The E1DA Cosmos ADC will be used with or without the Cosmos APU to measure. For some of the REW-based tests, I will perform a simple loopback that looks like this:

Intel NUC → SMSL DO100 DAC → [Cosmos APU] → Cosmos ADC → Intel NUC

As usual, all cables are generic RCA when testing unbalanced, for XLR measurements 6' Monoprice Stage Rights were used.

Unless otherwise noted, the DO100 will be set-up to use "FL6" Linear Steep filter.

Without further ado, let's jump to it...

Saturday 4 June 2022

REVIEW: S.M.S.L. DO100 DAC (dual ESS ES9038Q2M) [Part I - Overview, Filters & Jitter]. (And the likely continued contraction of MQA...)

Over the last number of years, we have seen a proliferation of DACs from Chinese manufacturers offering models of increasingly better resolution - higher fidelity - and greater feature set. These days, I am of the opinion that we have achieved way above and beyond the ability for human hearing to differentiate these machines unless the manufacturers purposely added some kind of "coloration" to the analogue output whether it be frequency response or changes to the noise and distortion levels (the "tube sound" being a prototypical example we may come across).

As you can see in the image above, we have the S.M.S.L. DO100 DAC (~US$250) in today for review. I bought this unit through retail channels and intend to either use it myself or give it away if I have no need for it.

For many devices these days, opening the manual will show us technical information like the frequency response of the filters in this example. I think this is a nice evolution among manufacturers recognizing that showing product performance is important to educated customers with graphs and technical details rather than mere prose which often provides little satisfaction for the consumer's intellect.

Today, let's start a multi-part look at this DAC; no need to hurry because I think the performance at this price point warrants serious consideration and the many ways and features one can gather performance metrics on (I don't promise to test everything of course!). Obviously it's not an expensive device, has a remote controller, has both unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR outputs, Bluetooth 5.0 input, capable of up to 32/768 PCM and DSD512 (1-bit, 22.6MHz) using USB 2.0, along with S/PDIF TosLink and Coaxial inputs for up to 24/192 and DoP DSD64. No money wasted on MQA licensing. Depending on what we find, this might be right for you...