What is the best sub 99$ Desktop/ Portable DAC? – This is the question; I have seen many budget music lovers asking this time to time. But the answer is not as straight forward as one may think. 99$ is a price point where either a manufacturer has to limit features or a buyer has to compromise to get a fully featured product. Here comes the SMSL M100.
Thankfully the situation is now far better and some fully featured, very good sounding DACs are available in the market and a buyer with a tight budget can pick one of them without any hesitations. Shenzhen ShuangMuSanLin electronics Co., LTD or in-short SMSL manufacturing high-end audio equipment from 2009 and very well know in our hi-fi community. Products like SMSL IDEA, Sanskrit, A8, and M10 are already quite popular.
SMSL recently came up with their M series of desktop Digital Analog Converters and M100 is theirs under 99$ entry-level offering. I would like to thank DILVSHI HiFi Store for sending me a unit of SMSL M100 for this review. Let’s see how M100 performed with all my Headphones and IEMS.
SMSL M100 Specifications
- Model Number – M100,
- Color – Black, Blue, Red,
- Structure – Aluminum & Glass,
- Inputs – 2 X USB, 1X Optical, 1 X Coaxial,
- Outputs – RCA,
- DAC Chip – AKM 4452,
- Amp Output Stage – JRC2114,
- Output Level – 2 Vrms,
- THD+N – 0.0005%,
- Dynamic Range – 114dB,
- SNR – 106dB,
- USB Compatibility – Windows 7/8/8.1/10, MAC OS X 10.6 later, Linux, Android.
- Bit Depth – USB (1 to 32 Bit), Coaxial and Optical (24 Bit),
- Sampling Rate – USB (44.1- 768 KHz, DSD 64 – 512), Coaxial and Optical (32 – 192 KHz),
- Power Consumption – 1.2 W,
- Standby Power – < 0.1 W,
- Size – 55 X 55 X 93 (W X H X D),
- Weight – 258 g.
Controls, Display Instruction, and Led Indicator of SMSL M100
Power/ Input Key
- Hold on to switch power on or off.
- Press to switch inputs between USB (in 1), Optical (in 2) and Coaxial (in 3).
- Connect the power cord when pressing the power button, until the screen shows _ _ _.
- 100 – Device Name.
- _ _ _ – No signal or sampling rate exceeds the range of the unit.
- In 1 – USB, In 2 – Optical, In 3 – Coaxial.
- 44/48/96/192 – Input digital signal sampling rate.
- Red – Standby.
- Blue – DSD.
- No Light – PCM.
For More Product Information – Here
What’s in the Box?
- M100 DAC,
- Micro USB Cable,
- High Res sticker,
- Warranty card/ User Manual.
SMSL M100 Driver
Windows 10 users have to install the driver first to use this device and can feed data to SMSL M100 by USB or Optical. To hook up with Android devices first, you have to attach micro USB power cable in the power only port from any 5V 1 amp adapter then proper OTG cable from your Android device to M100’s (Power+ DATA) port. To use the Optical/ Coaxial connection, a separate power source is required and power (5 V 1 Amp) can be provided in any of those two micro USB ports.
Driver link – Here
Tested Sources – Windows 10 PC, Poco F1, Oneplus 6T.
Tested AMP – XRK Class A, Topping NX3S, Magni 3.
Tested Cables – AudioQuest Pearl RCA cable, AudioQuest Pearl Optical Cable and Lavri silver USB cable.
SMSL M100 Presentation, Design & Build Quality
Presentation is simple, SMSL M100 comes inside a 170 X 80 X 80 mm (W X L X H) small paper box. The device, USB cable & manual has been packed inside neatly. Everything has been packed securely using good quality foam inside too. SMSL branding and actual device images on top of the box with highlighted features.
Outer design and build quality are exceptionally good. The entire M series products from SMSL shares a new fresh design which is very eye-catching. Even you can choose your favorite color between blue and black. Anodized aluminum housing and Matt finish on it feel really good and the size of SMSL M100 is so small that anyone can carry it in his pocket.
Front of the device a piece of glass has been applied which looks good but also a fingerprint magnet. Sampling rate display is under that glass and multi function (On/Stand by, Input mode selection) switch has been placed this side.
All input and output connectors have been placed back of the device, good to see that all the connectors are gold plated. M100 is relatively heavy for such a budget DAC, even my Modi 3 is lighter than it. Good thing is that weight and four good quality rubber bumps are helping M100 to hold its ground firmly.
Whenever I receive a budget device, my first concern is its internals. Manufacturers usually compromise with cheap electronics components to cut down the price further. So I have also started to open the device removing the 4 screws backside but sadly the internal PCBs can’t be fully removed without removing the front glass panel which I don’t want to open and destroy. But the purpose of opening M100 is solved now without opening it fully.
I am surprised to see the quality parts used in this small device. PCB is completely clean and no extra flux is there, even each and every resistor is very high in quality. PCB and parts completely matching the images SMSL put in their product page.
One more thing I would like to point out that the topology of the PCB, two separate PCB has been used inside M100 instead of a single one. One for power management and another one for audio signal decoding. Both the PCBs are connected with each other using header pins and a good amount of space is also there between them. This type of design is very helpful to reduce electrical and RFI noise inside the DAC. So overall M100 not only looks good but well build and has been designed too.
Input power, Output power, and Noise
Input power draw is very low while playing music, M100 draws only 250 – 300 milliamp current from a 5v source and in its standby mode current draw is 10-20 milliamp. That’s why M100 can be used with any OTG enable portable powered device too.
The output power of M100 is 2 Vrms, which is a very good figure for a budget DAC, especially when using a DAC with power speakers. M100’s audio output is very clean and no noise at all. Supplying Data and Power from a single micro USB port is not advised, to achieve the lowest noise. From my experience, M100 with Optical input for data and separate micro USB for power is best.
SMSL M100 Sound
Judging the sound of a DAC is quite tough; the overall sound largely depends on the AMP you paring with that DAC. In this review, I am using M100’s direct RCA outputs (RCA to 3.5 female) and RCA to AMP, both connections so that I can easily evaluate the actual sonic characteristics of M100. Sonically M100 is almost balanced with a little lean towards high frequency.
Lower frequency part of SMSL M100 is not overpowered. Bass is punchy and can reach deep; the transition is fast and accurate. The emphasis is more on the sub-bass area than mid-bass. Quality of lower frequency part is good with sufficient quantity. M100 is capable of rendering a good amount of energy, rumble, and texture in the lower frequency part.
The midrange is natural and transparent, no such boost or drop is there. Mid-range is well extended and no harshness is there. A good amount of details can be noticed in this area too. Male and female vocals are crisp energetic. For some users, M100’s midrange could feel like a bit softer side but with a proper external AMP, this softness is hardly noticeable.
Higher frequency part where M100 has drawn my attention with its well controlled and spacious presentation. M100’s higher frequency part is well extended and no such sudden peak is there. Treble part is airy and not fatigue for long listening sessions. The presence of brilliance and sparkle also can be noticed. Personally, I am very much satisfied with M100’s treble extension.
The added soundstage is also very good. The stage is wide and both depth and height relatively prominent. Instrument separation is also clean and good. The detail retrieval of M100 is surprising for its price. M100 has maintained the overall tonal balance over the spectrum and qualifies itself the major aspects of an ideal DAC. Due to this tonal balance when paired with an external AMP, it’s very much easy to create synergy as per users taste.
SMSL M100 vs Schiit Modi 3
Among the budget DAC users Schiit is a well-known name, their DAC/AMP lineup is extended from 99$ to 2500$. In 2019 Schiit launched their third Modi upgrade, Modi 3. Equipped with AK4490 and 5V input, Modi 3 has become a choice of budget audiophiles. Though the official price of Modi 3 is 99$ in the USA, in the outer part of the world it’s around 149$. M100 is marked as 99$ DAC but most of the time it’s being sold around 80$ which is way cheaper than Modi 3.
Physically Modi 3 and M100 are different, M100 has a smaller footprint than Modi 3. But all inputs and output connectors are the same. The only added benefit of M100 has is its power button, which is very handy when the device is not in use. Modi 3 using next-gen DAC chips AK4490 where M100 is using AK4452 but sonically they are quite identical.
After a long side by side testing, I can say Modi 3 is warmer than M100. Mids in Modi 3 a bit recessed but the thing Modi 3 offers over M100 is some extra weight and mass. Modi 3 also sounds a bit fuller. Other than these minor characteristics it’s really impossible to choose any of these two a clear winner.
SMSL M100 ticks each and every box to be a perfect budget entry level DAC. The new monolithic design approach and detailed sound are sufficient for it’s offered price. Overall M100 is cute, good sounding and affordable.