Review: SMSL Audio T1 – A SURPRISE

Disclaimer: The SMSL Audio T1 was sent to us free of charge for this review and doesn’t need to be returned. The pictures are taken from the SMSL AUdio website.

SMSL Audio 

Hmmm, the T1 by S.M.S.L audio.  I have seen the name around, but I know very little about this S.M.S.L audio.  Well, it would seem they are a Chinese company that makes audio gear, DACs, amps and the like.  Looking through the lists of their products, I can’t help but notice that, besides having a fairly large selection of products, that most of them are rather inexpensive.  In fact, at $350, the DAC/Hybrid tube amp T1, which I am reviewing here, is one of their more expensive products.  But, like a high price not being a sure indicator of quality, a low price doesn’t necessarily make something a good value.  Let us take a look at this T1, and see where the chips fall.

T1

Well, the SMSL Audio T1 looks vaguely brick like, if bricks were black and made out of aluminum and have a tube sticking out of them, anyway.  It is a solid build and looks pretty nice.  It doesn’t have the unearthly beauty of the Woo WA7, but it isn’t the bland, forgettable RS 06.  The only real issue I have with the build involves the volume knob.  It turns smooth and all of that, but you know how, when you turn a knob to one end or the other, it stops when turned as far as it can go?  Whatever is supposed to stop it on the T1 doesn’t do a very good job, and you can force it further than it wants to go, without much effort.  I could see it happening, if you turn the knob too hard without thinking, and damaging the unit.  It might seem like a long shot, but if something can happen, it will at some point.

smsl-t1_5

For the price of $350, the T1 packs in some pretty nice features.  It can accept coaxial, optical and USB digital signals (and yes, drivers have to be installed for the USB on PCs), it can be used as a preamp out, a standalone DAC, and a standalone amp.  Of course, just because it does everything, doesn’t mean it does them well.  How well does it do?  We will see in a minute.

One the front of the unit, you have (from left to right) the power button, a DSD light, a ¼ inch headphone out, an output light and an input select button.  You will notice that both of the buttons have a small LED light in them.  The power button will glow red when the unit is turned off.  Holding down the button will make the light flash blue.  This is what it does when the unit is turning on.  It takes about a minute after hitting the button before you can use the T1.  This is normal.  Once the unit is on, a quick tap can be used to switch the output mode.  When the output light glows blue, the headphone out is activated.  Tapping the power button once will make it glow red, which means the T1 is outputting the analogue signal via the RCA outs in back.  The input light on the far right glows a different color depending on the input being used: red is for optical, green for USB, blue is for coaxial, white is for analogue.

The specs are as follows:

THD+N DAC out:0.001%
Ears:0.017%
Dynamic range:118dB
DAC out signal-to-noise ratio: 107 dB
Signal to noise ratio amp:94dB
The USB transmission mode:asynchronous transmission
USB compatibility: Windows 7/8/8.1/10;Mac OSX10.6 above
A deep;USB:16-32 bit 1 bit
Optical,coaxial:16-24 bit
Sampling rate.USB PCM:44.1-384kHz
USB DSD:2.8224/5.6448/11.2896/22.5792 MHz
Optical,coaxial:44.1-192kHz
Output power amp:

32Ω 59mW@THD=0.1%
64Ω 64mW@THD=0.1%

150Ω 58mW@THD=0.1%
300Ω 42mW@THD=0.1%
DAC output level: 2Vrms
Power consumption:11.6W
Standby power:1.4W

The DAC uses the AKM AK4490 chip.  Oh, it does DSD.

How it sounds? You’ll know right after the jump to the next page HERE or below.

Review: SMSL Audio T1 – A SURPRISE
4.4 (87.06%) 34 votes

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21 Comments

  • Reply October 10, 2016

    Tibor

    Hi.
    By looking at the pictures, the dac section looks almost indentical to what I have in my smsl sanskrit pro b, and the thing rocks!
    Chinesse stuff well made.
    Thank you for the review, this unit looks very interesting 🙂

  • Reply October 11, 2016

    Dave

    It is a nice piece. I hope I get the chance to hear some more of their gear.

  • Reply October 26, 2016

    Dragos

    Dave, what do you think about SMSL M9, which has the same dac chip AK4490?

    PS thanks a lot for the review

    • Reply October 27, 2016

      Dave

      I am sorry to say that I have not heard the M9. It does look like the M9 uses dual 4490, so in theory, it might sound better.

  • Reply December 13, 2016

    Chris

    Please could you keep us updated when you roll the tube? Just ordered the T1 and will be keen to hear of possible improvements on that front. Thanks for the great review…really looking forward to hearing this budget beut!

    • Reply December 25, 2016

      Chris

      Have you received your unit? What do you think?

  • Reply December 27, 2016

    Marco

    Hi,

    it’s not clear to me if the DAC section uses anyway the tube output and also reading your review this remains unanswered; at this regard a question arises:

    are the DAC outs under volume control ?

    I think that if the answer to above Q is NO then it’s very likely that DAC section does not make use of the tube (output section) and it had better to call them (the DAC outs) DAC ‘Direct’ Outs.

    I’d like you make some clearness about this topic. THX

    About that little bit of harshness you heard in the upper mids and voices…
    had they used a better volume pot (a not so much costlier plastic one as NOBEL Black or ALPS Blue serie instead that cheap carbon one) most of that harshness, if not all, would probably be gone.

    As other readers, I’d like you compare the T1 with the Sanskrit Pro Decoder always by SMSL.

    Thanks for let us know about new stuff and review it as soon as you can.

    Marco

  • Reply January 17, 2017

    Franklin Gogger

    I purchased this chiefly as a novelty. How good is it? How bad is it? It can sound like analog, I will tell you that. It is musical top to bottom. It must break in and you have to replace that junk tube that comes with it. I tried new production JJ and EH with nice results but different sounds. I tried NOS Telefunkin and the one I settled on a cryoed National 7dj8. My DAC is a Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 and I’m just not using it anymore. This T1 is alluring. With break in and a better tube the upper mid/low treble issue is gone and the soundstage is BIG and focused. Based on my other DAC, this is a $1000+ DAC for cheap. Oh what gifts the factory direct Chinese Hi Fi industry has bestowed upon us!

  • Reply January 21, 2017

    Franklin Gogger

    Something I forgot to mention, the tube is in the signal path with both pre-out and dac out jacks.

    • Reply January 21, 2017

      Dave

      I really should give a few new tubes a try.

  • Reply January 26, 2017

    Steven

    Hello,
    I hope someone read this and reply.

    I’m really interessted in the SMSL T1 (especially because I own the HE 400i recently and the Soundmagic HP 150 for longer) but I have a few questions:

    1. I often read that the Hifiman 400i needs alot of current. The recommendations go up to 1 W. There are many statements that amps like the FIIO E10k are too weak for the 400i. The specs of the SMSL T1 AMP looks even weaker. Only 59 mW at 31 Ohm. So I wonder that the author could drive the headphone with this amp. Is it a good idea to buy the T1 without an extra solid state amp?

    2. Tube rolling: I have no experiences with tube rolling but it seems to be not that difficult…normally.
    At a chinese internet shop somebody asked: “Is the vac tube replaceable and what type of it?” The answer was:”The tube can replaceable and need professional equipment oscilloscope to adjust the working point voltage, ensure consistency around a track.The tube type is 6N11″
    This sounds to me like it’s not possible for normal people to roll tubes with the SMSL T1.

    3. Is this unit getting verry hot?

    4. If the SMSL Sanskrit Pro-B has the same DAC (has it?) wouldn’t it be a better idea to buy the Sanskrit and pair it with something like a Little Dot 1+ or Schiit Vali 2?

    Looking forward for an answer.

    Greetings

  • Reply January 27, 2017

    David

    The 400i is not that difficult to drive. The T1 has no problem.

    As long as you use the proper tube type, it is simply a matter of taking the old tube out and putting a new one in.

    The Sandscrit has the same DAC chip I believe, but I can’t say that it sounds exactly the same. There are often sound gains to be made by using separate components, but the T1 is a very nice unit, and people have said tube rolling can make it even better.

    • Reply January 27, 2017

      Steve

      Hi,
      thank you for the answer. Do you own the T1? When you are right I don’t get what the chinese salesman is talking about.

      I found out that the SMSL Sanskrit Pro-B has the same DAC chip. It’s a AK 4490. But I don’t like the bluetooth feature. Btw the Aune s6 (which is really beautiful) has a 4495 chip and if I’m not wrong there is also a 4497 out. Unfortunetly the S6 is above my budget. I noticed that the SMSL M9 DAC has two 4490 chips. What’s the benefit of two DAC chips?

      For all I know the Hifiman 400i has high sensitivity but a not so low resistance. That means it’s not that easy to drive. Correct me if I’m wrong.
      Furthermore I have found the following statement: “Planars, with a different way of laying out their voice coil, always have the same linear resistance. You could supply more power to it and it would sound better/louder, as opposed to the dynamic voice coil that would hit that resistance it couldn’t go past. (And I’m not saying you can’t blow out a planar, it just gets better the more power you put to it.)”

      I wouldn’t be surprised if 59 mW are even too low for low-resistance, high sensitivity headphones.

  • Reply January 27, 2017

    Franklin Gogger

    I need to amend something I wrote earlier. The vacuum tube is ONLY USED IN THE PREAMP OUT SECTION. My circuit tracing took a bad turn along the way. Using the headphone out or the DAC out bypasses the tube, which is used for a preamplifier only, to drive another headphone amp OR a power amplifier. The DAC OUT uses a OPA1604A op amp which is a Texas Instruments/Burr Brown creation. It is exclusively for audio. They specify pro audio, studio, high end audio and the like. While the tube is not in line when using the DAC out, it still manages to sound tube-like. According to what I have read elsewhere, this may be due to the choice of digital IC’s. There is (supposedly) a “synergistic match” between the CM6632A and the AK4490EQ which results in a rather warm and organic sound. SMSL even mentions this.

    • Reply August 8, 2017

      Pierre

      so does this mean that the tube is not working when using the headphone output?

  • Reply March 23, 2017

    Adrian

    Hello Everybody,

    Can I use my genalex gold lion – 12au7 or ecc82 – with this amp?

    Thanks and Cheers!

  • Reply May 24, 2017

    Marco

    hi,
    I have recently bought a smsl T1 but I cannot install it on my PC (Windows 7) because I don’t find the driver on the disk inside the package.
    Where I con get the necessary driver?
    Thanks
    Marco

  • Reply May 24, 2017

    Dave

    • Reply May 25, 2017

      Marco

      Thank you Dave,
      I tried that link before write, but I don’t konow why download doesn’t start.
      Do you know the filename of driver? I’ll try to search it in another way.
      Thank you very much
      Bye
      Marco

  • Reply July 15, 2017

    Rolf Sitzler

    Hi,

    For some months now I’ve been using the smsl T1 in my office setup with Sennheiser HD800 cans. And this is a great combination!
    The HD800 can sound bloodless and harsh when combined with the “wrong” amp. Even with my RME ADI2pro I had to use the equalizer quite heavily to achieve a satisfying result.
    But with smsl T1 I was very surprised: warm and pleasing sound, great soundstage. I am missing some of the fines details the HD800 is able to deliver, but this is compensated by this combination’s presentation. I love it!
    Thanks for this review, I would’ve missed a lot of fun without being informed about the smsl T1.

    Bye
    Rolf

    • Reply July 15, 2017

      dale thorn

      The HD800 is such a monster for detail (heh) that you’d need a really bad amp to lose much detail.

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