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.
Their products are always well-built and they are quite picky when it comes to components. I have never used anything from them that was not a CNC machine milled. That is some commitment right there! SMSL (ShuangMuSanlin Electronics Co. LTD) was founded in 2009 in China’s famous techno-city, Shenzhen. We have reviewed a lot of gear from them in the near past and none of them were even mediocre. I can honestly say that they are on a winning streak and I hope that they continue designing brilliant devices. Today we’ll be reviewing their latest DAC. The D1SE.
You can find all of our SMSL reviews here. Let’s take a closer look at the D1SE, together.
The SMSL VMV D1SE’s dedicated web page can be found here. It costs $719.99 USD. The D1SE is a VMV product, VMV is a sub-brand of SMSL and they focus on high-end audio devices. The D1SE is the current flagship DAC of the VMV line-up. It utilizes the ES9038PRO flagship DAC from ESS Technology coupled with ES9311 low-noise voltage regulators specially designed to accompany the ES9038PRO to maximize its performance. SMSL also added Japanese Nichicon KG-series aluminum electrolytic capacitors and a toroidal transformer to take it to another level. SMSL has again included many high-quality components in the circuit, let’s see how they affect the sound quality, together.
Packaging & Accessories
The SMSL VMV D1SE comes inside of a big, gold-colored, cardboard box. SMSL did not include any product details or specifications on the box and aimed for a cleaner, simpler look as usual. Only the brand name and a couple of Hi-Res badges are present on the outer cover. The unboxing experience is similar to the other SMSL products, the device, and the accessories sit inside a foam compartment, safe from any damage that might come from the outside. As for the accessories, you get a long USB-A to USB-B data cable, a power cable, an informative booklet, a couple of spikes and their bases, a Bluetooth antenna, and lastly, an elegant remote controller. I really like the remote and SMSL has been quite consistent with its inclusion. Nearly all of the SMSL products that we reviewed had remotes and this one, maybe because it belongs to the VMV line-up, has a different, all-metal remote and it looks absolutely wonderful compared to the regular black plastic SMSL remote.
- ESS Technology ES9038PRO DAC
- Native DSD512 & PCM 32bit-768kHz Support
- Full MQA Decoding via USB
- 2nd Generation 16 Core XMOS XU216 USB Controller
- Bluetooth 5.0 & AptX
- Advanced Audio Circuitry with a THD+N as low as 0.00009%
- 4-PIN-XLR and 6.35mm Headphone Output
- CNC Chassis
- Rich I/O
Design & Build Quality
Measuring at 21 x 18.5 x 3.9 centimeters, the D1SE has a medium-ish footprint and it will take some space on your desk. It is around %25 larger than the SMSL SU-9, SU-8s & the Topping EX5. It can be labeled as heavy at 1.64 kilograms thanks to the chunky transformer inside. The build quality is excellent as usual, I can not see any milling defects or imperfections. SMSL has been quite consistent with the build quality and QC. All the sockets and plugs are made of good quality parts and they will not disappoint you in long term. The D1SE features SMSL’s excellent anodized matte black finish that resists scratches up to some extend.
Let’s talk about the layout. On the front, we have a 1.9-inch color TFT display, 2 buttons, and a volume knob with an extra button on the center. The screen shows information about the volume level, sample rate, and active input. The volume knob can also be used to navigate through the menus of the D1SE. However, you might find the remote control navigation tad simpler, compared to the volume knob navigation.
On the back, we have plenty of in & out options. From left to right I/O options are as follows: XLR, RCA, HDMI, I²S, coaxial, optical, and USB. Additionally, there is a Bluetooth antenna socket present on the rear of the device to extend the wireless range.
The device comes with 6 spike isolators. 4 of which are measured at 1.5cm and the remaining two are 2.2cm in length. There are 4 screw inlets at the bottom of the device and these spike isolators are fixed by entering these inlets. SMSL also provides non-slip spike bases in the package for you to place under these isolators.
Controls & UI
The D1SE offers a comprehensive navigation menu. As I mentioned earlier, the device can be controlled via the volume knob or the remote. The user experience is quite nice thanks to the beautiful color display. In the menu, you can change input and output settings, you can change the PCM filter type between Fast Linear, Slow Linear, Fast Minimum, Slow Minimum, Apodizing, Fast Hybrid, and Brickwall. These filters’ effects on the sound curve are quite subtle and insignificant in my opinion. You can also have the option to change the DSD filter type between 47k cutoff, 50k cutoff, 60k cutoff, and 70k cutoff.
The DAC in the D1SE comes with a slight sound color adjustment option via the integrated DSP. SMSL included this feature in their menu and labeled the setting as ”Sound Color”. In my opinion, this setting has a more distinct effect on the sound signature and can be used to slightly tune the device according to your preferences. There are 3 options here excluding the Standard setting. Rich, Tube & Crystal.
As can be deduced from their names, these modes do have a slight impact on the color of the sound signature. Rich mode provides a smoother signature, where the upper midrange and highs are affected and trimmed the most. The tube mode provides an overall smoother sound but I felt like it hindered the detail retrieval capability of the DAC and didn’t like it very much due to this argument. I think if you’re aiming for a smoother sound, you’re better off with the Rich setting instead of the Tube setting. Lastly, the Crystal setting increases the upper mid sharpness and treble extension. This setting slightly increases the perceived clarity, resolution, and airiness.
Apart from these settings, you can also change the volume behavior of the DAC. You can use the D1SE in DAC or PRE mode. There is also a digital phase-locked loop (DPLL) setting in the menu, there are 10 steps and this is useful if you have a bad source (high jitter PC, etc) While not many people will use this setting, it’s nice that SMSL has added it to the menu.
SMSL added I2S settings in the menu, you can change the mode between ”normal” and ”inverted”. You can also change I2S’s DSD Channel between DSDL=PCM DATA and DSDL=PCM LRCK. Lastly, you can change the DSD FLAG between PIN14 and PIN15.
Furthermore, SMSL lets you change the brightness of the screen and set a dimmer timer between 5 to 60 seconds. I know many of my night owl audiophile friends are going to be happy because of this!
Alright, that’s a wrap about the menus of the D1SE. If anything goes bad, you can always RESET the device via this menu and return to factory defaults in seconds.
The review continues on Page Two, after the click HERE or by using the jump below.
Page 2: Features, Specifications & Technical Data, Sound, Low, Mid, High, Technical Performance, Pairings & Comparisons, Last Words