Review: SMSL Audio T1 – A SURPRISE

So, how does this hybrid tube DAC/amp sound?  It sounds pretty darn good if my ears are telling me the truth.  SMSL refers to the sound as warm and moving, and that seems to be a pretty accurate description.  It certainly has a bit of that “tubey” warmth, but it isn’t excessive with it either.  Still, when describing this unit, the word warm will probably be the first one out of your mouth.  It is the bass section that really nails down this sound.  The bass has quite a bit of body to it, not to the point where it gets bloated, or overpowers the rest of the sound, but it has some good weight to it.  The impact is very, uh… impactful as well.  When hearing the sound in the bass, I immediately thought of the HE400i, and it proved to be a terrific combo.  The extra bass body gives the Hifiman HE400i some wonderful extra presence in the lower region.  Yet, even using the Soundmagic HP150, which already has good bass body, that goes plenty deep, the bass never felt excessive.  The bass is clean and has pretty good detail.  It never felt muddy.  Its biggest issue is that, although not bloated, the bass isn’t the tightest either.  I never found it a problem by any means, but it does lack the final word in control.  It never is anything but fun.

The segue into the midrange happens pretty seamlessly, and continues to follow the path set by the bass with good body and detail.  Voices have good presence, but, I find vocals, and the upper midrange, and maybe the lower treble as well, maybe a little bit… splashy?  Strident? Harsh? Thin?  I am not sure exactly how to phrase it.  Nothing that renders the sound bad or unenjoyable by any means, but listening to a more refined (and expensive) setup does reveal a small lack of polish.  My instinct is to blame the tube here, as the few Chinese made 6N11 (ECC88. 6922, 6DJ8) tubes I have heard have all been harsh or screechy when we start getting to the upper reigns.  And I should reiterate, it quite minor here, and not a big deal, but it is there.  The tube can be rolled, so at some point (presuming I get to keep the T1), I will probably try a few other tubes just to see what I can tweak here.


Treble, despite the niggles I just mentioned, still behaves itself pretty well, with a little sparkle.  Once the tube was burned in a bit, I never felt the need to make the bitter beer face during any really high notes (and the 3rd movement of Shostakovich’s 6th symphony has some real screechers).  If it can pass that test, it has to be pretty decent.  Still, I am looking forward to seeing if I can refine it that little bit more with a good roll.

The T1 throws out a pretty good soundstage.  Width is better than depth, but with the exception of the Resonessence Labs Concero HD (HP), I almost always find that the case.  Claustrophobic, it is not.  The image is about what you would expect for the price.  It does not have pinpoint accuracy, but then neither do most seats in a concert hall.  I have no complaints here.

Extras (if I can still call them that)


So, while I start writing the review, I thought I would plug the DAC of the T1 into my Violectric V100, and see how it does.  I did, and it is better than the RS 06.  Moving on the the amp… wait, what did I just write?  Better than what I just called the best DAC I ever heard?  That can’t be right.  Perhaps I better back up.  So, I plug the T1 into my V100 and I start to listen, and my jaw hits the floor.  The soundstage is about the same as the solo T1, with maybe a touch better imaging, but everything else…  The little bit of loose bass has tightened up and is driving hard, and that little bit of harshness I heard in the upper mids and voices is gone.  It is now nice, full and smooth.  I can’t get over it.  Those little tweaks, and I have the HE400i sounding EXACTLY how, in my wildest dreams, I want it to sound.  Now surely, I am saying to myself, I just forgot how good the V100 and RS 06 combo sounds.  I just need a refresher.  So, I plug that back in and there it is… No, wait… There it isn’t.  I actually prefer the DAC on the T1 to the RS 06.  Surely, there is something wrong in my head.  I have an idea, however.  I have an old friend coming over tonight.  We go to a lot of concerts together, and he has a solid pair of ears.  He likes to listen to some of the review samples I have float through my house.  I sit him down with a bunch of tracks I like to use for reviewing, hook him up the T1/V100 combo, and let him go to town.  When he finishes, I switch the DAC over to the RS 06, and have him return to town.  I make no mention of price, or what’s what.  I just let him listen.  I a little bit, he will tell me the second combo with the RS 06 is better, and I will realize that I had just gone a bit silly in the head.  I will listen to both setups again, and correct my obvious wrongs.

But no.  Of all things. My friend hears EXACTLY what I did.  He describes the T1/V100 sound as having a robustness that is absolutely intoxicating.  Its attack is stellar; the Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem is beyond savage.  He feels that, especially in the classical tracks, the RS 06 just doesn’t compare.  What am I to do?  Dejected, I hook up the HP150 to the T1/V100 to have a listen, and… huh, nothing special.  It is a fine sounding combo, but it isn’t rocking like with the HE400i.  Weird.  What’s more, the RS 06/V100 combo just kills it with the HP150.  So, what am I hearing?  What is really going on?

What happened is I simply got ahead of myself.  The RS 06 is the better DAC.  My friend also said, and I concur, that, with the RS 06, the soundstage is bigger, and you can pick out some details that just aren’t as present with the T1.   It is higher end.  Even with the HE400i, you can hear the RS is more refined, especially in the treble.  What this really is, to me, is a reminder to something that I don’t always remember.  That is how damn important synergy is between your audio components.  With the HE400i/T1/V100 setup, everything else just falls away.  Technicalities become unimportant.  It is just me and the music.  What a brilliant, exciting reminder!


Plugging the RS 06 into the amp section of the T1 also yields good results, but not to quite the extent it did before.  The soundstage is certainly a little bigger, but the bass is still a bit on the loose side.  The upper mids and low highs are a bit less intense, however, that just the T1 by itself.

I have to say, this review was quite a journey for me.  What I thought was going to be a solid performing, DAC/amp for the reasonable cost of $350 ended up taking to a place I never expected to go.  A low price, good sound quality, versatility, a rollable tube.  It’s really hard to go wrong with this one, especially should you have a Violectric V100 and an HE400i lying about.


3.9/5 - (82 votes)



  • Reply October 10, 2016


    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


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

  • Reply October 26, 2016


    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


      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


    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


      Have you received your unit? What do you think?

  • Reply December 27, 2016



    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.


  • 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


      I really should give a few new tubes a try.

  • Reply January 26, 2017


    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.


  • Reply January 27, 2017


    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


      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


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

  • Reply March 23, 2017


    Hello Everybody,

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

    Thanks and Cheers!

  • Reply May 24, 2017


    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?

  • Reply May 24, 2017


    • Reply May 25, 2017


      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

  • Reply July 15, 2017

    Rolf Sitzler


    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.


    • 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.

  • Reply March 7, 2018


    Fantastic sound supplying a Lazarus H-1A power amp and an active sub. Put a Gold Lion in and the sound is marvelous tbh. Way better than my Quad 44. Amazing value. ????

  • Reply June 4, 2018

    Bjorn Sigurdsson

    Can it drive 300 ohm cans decently well? I have a Massdrop Sennheiser 6XX.

    • Reply June 4, 2018


      Sure. Driving the 6XX will not be a problem.

  • Reply June 19, 2018


    Will it drive my fostex t60 rp ? Thinking of buying this.

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