The first thing you’ll notice about the SMSL C100 is how small it is. It can literally fit in the palm of my hand. There’s an OLED screen on the front panel that displays the input method and volume as you adjust them. By default, the screen displays the current sample rate. In addition, there’s a small LED that lights up while playing MQA music files.
Adjacent to the display, you’ll find the MQA indicator light and touch-sensitive button. Simply tap the button to cycle through the input methods and hold it to turn the power on or off. On the back panel, you’ll find RCA outputs, coaxial, optical and USB inputs, plus the Bluetooth antenna mount.
The SMSL C100 is a pint-sized USB Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) designed for audiophiles. It features an ultra-tiny chassis, making it versatile for placement in a variety of settings.
The C100 is equipped with the latest XMOS XU-316 solution which supports a sampling rate of up to 32bit/768KHz and DSD512. The new self-developed CK-03 clock processing circuit reduces clock jitter, ensuring accurate signal transmission. The C100 also includes one of AKM’s new AK4493S chips, carefully adjusted to an unprecedented 0.00013% THD+N for optimal sound quality.
Additionally, the C100 uses only one USB interface for the power supply. The C100 also comes with a full-featured remote control for added convenience. It has adjustable volume (requires the remote to change), so it can also be used as a preamp.
The output power is rated at 2Vrms and the dynamic range plus SNR are both 121dB. Unfortunately, the Bluetooth connection only supports SBC and AAC, so I wouldn’t suggest this DAC if you want something primarily for Bluetooth streaming.
I tested the SMSL C100 as my primary DAC using the USB input and connecting it via RCA to my Feliks Audio Echo and also the Topping L70.
Budget DACs are really quite impressive these days. SMSL tends to aim for transparent, neutral sound signatures and they’ve nailed it again here with the C100. This makes it the perfect partner for something like the Feliks Audio Echo tube amplifier. Believe me, pairing this budget DAC with a higher-tier headphone amp is a totally viable option. It doesn’t have the depth or intricacy of pricier DACs but it delivers outstanding performance all the same.
I was also impressed by the C100’s clean signal and virtually silent noise floor when paired with the Topping L70. It sounded crisp, and lively, and had great spacing and soundstage properties. Tonally, it’s similar to the SMSL C200, but less etched and contrasty, which could be due to the AK4493S chip (the C200 has an ES9038Q2M) or simply a different tuning.
The bass notes are tight and controlled, yet still offer excellent extension. The midrange is neutral in tone, yet still expressive and natural. It’s a forward midrange that’s full of detail and presented with clarity. The treble has that unique AK Velvet Sound character, which is crisp yet smooth, like a smooth whiskey that’s easy on the throat but still packs some heat.
Topping E30 II
It’s similar to the Topping E30 II, (review here) which also has the AK4493S DAC chip, but to my ears, the C100 offers better instrument separation and detail retrieval. And for even more value, the SMSL also includes MQA support and Bluetooth input.
The difference in sound is very slight and almost imperceptible. Both of these DACs sound fantastic, especially in the context of their respective prices. If you’re interested in either of them, I’d suggest you focus on which features and aesthetics that appeal to you and make your decision based on that.
At the end of the day, the SMSL C100 is a great entry-level DAC with a small form factor and excellent user experience. Those looking primarily for a Bluetooth streaming device should look elsewhere but for anyone else, the C100 is a DAC I can easily recommend.