The D1SE has an XMOS XU-216 16-core USB chip and it can decode DSD up to DSD512 and PCM up to 32bit-384kHz. It also supports full MQA unfolding. If you don’t know what that is, let me explain. In a nutshell, Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) is an audio codec that lets you stream songs in Master/HiFi quality. After capturing and recording the performance, MQA folds the file to make it small enough to stream or download. They call this ”Music Origami”. Products with a full MQA decoder, like the SU-9 & the D1SE, unfold the file to deliver a higher rate for the user.
Additionally, the D1SE comes with an integrated Bluetooth module.
The Bluetooth 5.0 is supported by the D1SE but there is no hi-res wireless codec support whatsoever. The D1SE only supports SBC, AAC & Apt-X. I have no idea what SMSL was thinking with this decision. This is their flagship-tier DAC with a really good audio circuit inside, I don’t know why they didn’t include a Bluetooth chipset that supports the LDAC codec.
There are couple of things you should know about the device before getting it. Firstly, the DAC gets warm compared to other DACs in my inventory. This may be because of the toroidal power transformer inside, however, I had no problem using it stacked with the SMSL SP400. Although the temperature of the room I was in was 27 degrees Celcius, the device did not heat up more than I expected. It is not an issue or anything bad, I am just giving you a heads up about it. Additionally, the device allows the user to use both of the outputs at the same time. That’s good if you need to pair it with multiple setups.
Specifications & Technical Data
THD+N: 0.00009% (-121dB)
Dynamic Range: XLR 130dB, RCA 123dB
Output Impedance: XLR 207 Ohms, RCA 142 Ohms
USB Transmission: Asynchronisation
USB Compatibility: Windows 7 / 8 / 8.1 / 10, Mac OSX, Linux
Bit-Depth USB: 1bit, 16-32bit
Optical/Coaxial: 1bit, 16-24bit
Sampling rate USB – PCM: 44.1 – 768kHz
USB – DSD: 2.8224 – 22.5792Mhz
Optical/Coaxial: PCM 44.1 – 192kHz
Optical/Coaxial: DSD DSD64(DoP)
Bluetooth Specification: BT5.0(support APT-X, SBC, AAC)
Power Consumption 5W
Standby Power: <0.5W
Dimensions: 210 x 39 x 185 mm (WxHxD)
Weight 1.64 kg
The D1SE shows the usual characteristics of the ESS’ flagship DAC, ES9038Pro. At the first listen, you immediately notice how clean and resolving it sounds. It features a balanced, transparent, and detailed sound signature. Furthermore, the D1SE sounds airy across the spectrum and portrays an accurate instrument positioning and soundstage around the user. Instruments have ample air between them and feel very coherent. Despite being a highly resolving DAC, the D1SE is not analytical by any means.
It manages to stay musical and smooth while having top-tier resolution and clarity. That is certainly impressive for a sub $1000 DAC, in my opinion. SMSL aimed for a musical yet technically capable, high-fidelity focused signature for the tuning of the D1SE and they masterfully achieved that. I will try to explain this more clearly with an example.
Compared to the SMSL’s SU-9, D1SE sounds smoother despite carrying more detail. The SU-9 feels more analytical after A/B’ing both of them side by side, however, the detail retrieval capability of D1SE is superior and the tonality of the D1SE feels more natural, organic, and effortless. Let’s take a closer look at it.
I’ll start by going over the low range of the D1SE. The sub-region is present with good authority and slam. The harmonics are easily trackable, thanks to the excellent technical capability of the DAC. The bass is tight and rounded with a good punch. It is not overly thick and it is definitely not thin. It shows great balance and that gives a nice boost to the spaciousness of the presentation and makes the transition between the bass and the mids more effortless. The overall tonality of the bass is really good, the D1SE features a bass that feels realistic, yet not dry at all.
The mids have a velvety timbre and at the same time, they are resolving and high-quality. Just like the bass region, the midrange also feels natural and realistic. Instruments such as guitars, flutes, piccolos, and pianos have a very organic and musical tone. The vocals are positioned in the center and blend in perfectly with the rest of the instruments. The coherency is top-notch and nothing feels out of place. Upper mids follow the same route as well, they are present with good energy, yet they never try to steal the show. I really love the dynamics of the midrange, the whole range is just delightful to listen to.
The D1SE’s treble section is smooth and detailed at the same time. The treble is very clean, transparent, and effortless. It will never pierce your ears, no matter the pairing. The D1SE shows excellent control throughout the ranges and treble is no exception. The smoothness of the treble range contributes to the effortlessness of the sound and this provides a relaxed experience. The D1SE is very easy to listen to and enjoy. You won’t get tired of it easily so I’d prepare myself for long listening sessions.
As I mentioned a couple of times before, the D1SE is a very capable DAC. The instrument separation and layering are impressive, the soundstage is wide and the depth is good. The airiness and effortlessness of the presentation contribute to the realistic layering of the DAC. Furthermore, the D1SE has a solid PRaT performance. The transients are clean and precise but never sharp. The resolution and the detail-retrieval capability of the DAC are certainly impressive. The D1SE punches above its price tag with its brilliant technical capability.
Pairings & Comparisons
SMSL VMV D1SE & SMSL SP400
The D1SE and the SP400 are a nice couple together. The SP400 does a great job of reflecting the D1SE’s signature as-is, without any coloration. Thanks to the great technical side of the amp, we get a fast, accurate, and dynamic sound with both IEMs and hard-to-drive headphones. The stack sounds absolutely marvelous with plenty of details. I also have to mention that the D1SE and the SP400 pair well with the IEMs due to the low hp out impedance. The background is black and silent, even with sensitive IEMs. I definitely recommend this combo.
SMSL VMV D1SE & SONCOZ SGA1
This is a combo for those who want to take the smoothness of the D1SE to the next level. When combined with the D1SE, SGA1 offers a sound that is mellow, smooth, and musical. The details are not as present as with the combo above and rather presented subtly. The mids are vivid, smooth, and pure. The bass feels lighter and the treble region feels slightly smoothened. Overall the combo offers a pleasurable listening experience for the followers of the musicality cult.
SMSL VMV D1SE vs. SMSL SU-9
Both of the devices have the same flagship DAC of the ESS Technology. They both have detailed, clean, and resolving signatures, however, A/B’ing them side by side showed me that the SU-9 is a tad more analytical compared to the D1SE. The D1SE’s presentation feels effortless compared to the SU-9 and its micro-detail retrieval is superior. Also, the tonality of the D1SE is more organic and natural compared to the SU-9. The D1SE also has the upper hand when it comes to positioning and layering.
SMSL VMV D1SE vs. GUSTARD X16
Gustard X16 is a detailed, clean, and flat DAC. The main difference between the two units is that they are tuned with different ideologies in mind. The Gustard X16 is really good when it comes to transparency and detail-retrieval, however, it does not offer the natural tonality of the D1SE. The transients are more distinct and sharp with the X16 while the D1SE presents them more organically. It all comes down to the pairings. The sharper transients and in-your-face-detailed approach of the X16 make it a perfect companion for headphones with a warm signature. If you have a rather analytical headphone or a balanced one, I’d recommend getting the D1SE if you have the budget.
SMSL has done a pretty good job with the D1SE, in my opinion.
First and foremost, the device has a pretty musical, effortless, and coherent sound signature. It is a high-fidelity focused, high-quality DAC. You won’t get easily tired of it and it will definitely sate you, technicality-wise. Furthermore, the build quality and the CNC milling are perfect. The device looks really good and elegant with its black, anodized finish. It also offers a good UI and it can easily be controlled by the included remote or the integrated volume knob/button. Plus, it offers a pretty straightforward operation and it is easy to master on short notice.
The only bad side about the device is that the Bluetooth module does not support the LDAC codec. Of course, if you’re an enthusiast that wants nothing but the best performance out of the device, you probably won’t care about the LDAC at all. All things considered, the D1SE is a serious contender in the sub $1000 price bracket and I definitely recommend you to try and hear it!
Page 1: SMSL, D1SE, Packaging & Accessories, Highlights, Design & Build Quality, Controls & UI
Page 2: Features, Specifications & Technical Data, Sound, Low, Mid, High, Technical Performance, Pairings & Comparisons, Last Words