SMSL M300 SE Review

SMSL M300 SE review featured

In today’s review, I’m checking out the SMSL M300 SE desktop DAC. The M300 SE is equipped with dual CS43131 DAC chips, fully balanced headphone and line outputs and an OLED display. The price is $119.

Disclaimer: This sample was provided by SMSL for an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.

SMSL M300 SE Review
Verdict
The SMSL M300 SE offers an outstanding feature set and great value for money.
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Pros
Neutral tuning with smooth treble
Fully balanced circuit
Wide variety of inputs and outputs
Remote control included
Exceptional value
Cons
Front panel buttons feel a bit mushy
4.7
Our Score
WHERE TO BUY

SMSL M300 SE

What's in the box

Design

The M300 SE’s design differs from most contemporary desktop DACs. Instead of the usual box shape, M300 SE has a raised and elongated chassis, or in other words, it’s shaped like a brick.

The front panel features a 1.29 “OLED display, 4.4mm balanced and 3.65mm single-ended headphone outputs. In addition, there’s a power button, an input select button and a volume knob that doubles as a menu button/dial.

SMSL M300 SE front panel

At the back of the unit, there are balanced XLR outputs, a coaxial input, an optical input, a 3.5mm line out, a Bluetooth antenna, a USB-C data port plus an additional USB-C port for an auxiliary power supply.

As you can see, there is a lot going on here. Despite its modest price, the M300 SE is a fully-fledged balanced desktop DAC and amplifier. From within the menu, you can choose outputs from Line, Headphone, or a combination of both. In addition, you can change the digital filter, adjust the display brightness, switch between variable and fixed-level output and more.

M300 SE rear I/O

Internals and Power Output

Dual CS43131 DAC chips handle decoding. Furthermore, a third-generation XMOS XU-316, PCM supports up to 32bit /768kHz and DSD256. Bluetooth 5.0 is also included but only supports SBC.

The output level of the SE RCA is 2.0 Vrms and 4.0 Vrms for the XLR outputs. The headphone output level is listed as 148mW which seems quite low – I wonder if that’s just for the single-ended output because the M300 SE has no trouble driving any of my headphones, including the Sennheiser HD650 and Hifiman Sundara.

SMSL M300 SE with iPhone

Sound

I tested a variety of headphones and IEMs with the M300 SE, including the ones mentioned above and things like the Kiwi Ears Quartet and Letshuoer S12. In addition to that, I tested it as a pure DAC with the Topping L70 and Feliks Audio Elise.

I’d say both the line out and the headphone out sound neutral and uncoloured. It’s not as transparent or lean as the SMSL C200 but more akin to some of the higher-end models like the DO200 MKII and DO300 when it comes to tonality (albeit not as resolving).

It has good clarity and detail retrieval and it can create a stable soundstage with good imaging, perfect for music or playing games. The dynamic range is exceptional, especially when using the XLR output.

The bass is tight and deep. It’s not exaggerated but is in proportion to the rest of the frequency spectrum, maintaining a harmonious blend with the mid-range and treble. It’s got plenty of texture and impact while remaining articulate.

The mids are clear and have good body without sounding heavy or congested. M300 SE’s midrange reveals intricate textures and subtleties, allowing you to hear the fine nuances and articulation in the music.

Treble notes are crisp and well-defined, distinct but smooth. I like the airiness of the CS43131 DAC chips – they generally have a sense of openness and spaciousness, creating a feeling of lightness and breathability. And although it’s detailed, the treble is free from harshness or excessive brightness, offering a pleasant and non-fatiguing listening experience.

M300 SE front display

Comparisons

SMSL C100 ($119)

If I were to inform you that the M300 SE and C100 were priced the same, you might think I was kidding. However, the former is significantly more feature-rich compared to the latter. A notable portion of the C100’s higher cost can be attributed to its sought-after AK4493S DAC chip.

In terms of sound signature, both DACs exhibit a neutral tone to my ears. However, any discernible differences will largely depend on the amplifier you pair with the C100. The M300 SE stands as a more comprehensive unit, offering a broader range of inputs, outputs, and notably, balanced XLR and dual headphone outputs.

Although the C100 proves to be an exceptional device in terms of sound quality, it is undoubtedly overshadowed by the M300 SE, except for its utilization of the DAC chip. It’s worth noting that the C100 lacks a balanced output, limiting the full potential of its DAC chip.

Topping DX1 ($99)

The Topping DX1 incorporates the AK4493S DAC chip, offering a slightly lower price point compared to the M300 SE. However, it falls short in terms of functionality. The DX1 features only one USB input and a single-ended RCA line out. Additionally, its RCA output is fixed-level, meaning it cannot be used as a preamp. Both units do offer 6.35mm and 4.4mm headphone outputs.

In terms of sound, the DX1 delivers a smoother experience while maintaining a high level of detail, possibly due to its LNRD circuit. Conversely, I find that the M300 SE exhibits slightly better dynamics and a more expansive soundstage.

While the DX1 offers lush mids, it fails to match the M300 SE’s soundstage dimensions and width. In my opinion, the SMSL M300 SE emerges as the clear winner here, unless you have a particular preference for AKM DAC chips.

M300 SE on desktop

Verdict

The SMSL M300 SE DAC stands out with its unique brick-like design, distinguishing it from typical desktop DACs. It offers a wide range of features, including balanced XLR and dual headphone outputs plus multiple inputs and outputs.

Sonically, the M300 SE delivers a neutral and uncoloured sound, with tight and deep bass, clear mids with subtle nuances, and crisp treble. It offers a pleasant listening experience without harshness or fatigue.

Compared to alternatives like the SMSL C100 and Topping DX1, the M300 SE outshines them with its comprehensive features.

In summary, the SMSL M300 SE DAC impresses with its unique design, versatile features, and excellent audio performance. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the best-value audio products on the market right now and it’s more than worthy of our recommended award.

Recommended award
Specifications
InputsUSB / Optical / Coaxial / Bluetooth
Output LevelRCA 2.0Vrms, XLR 4.0Vrms
THD+N(UN-WTD)0.00013%(-117dB)
Dynamic range(UN-WTD)RCA 120dB, XLR132dB
SNR(UN-WTD)131dB
BluetoothBT 5.0 (support SBC)
USB transmissionAsynchronous
USB compatibilityWindows 7/ 8/ 8.1/ 10/ 11 Mac OS X10.6 or Later/ Linux
Bit depth USB1bit-32bit
Bit depth Optical/coaxial16bit-24bit
Sampling rate USB44.1-768kHz DSD64, DSD128, DSD256
Optical/coaxial32-192kHz
Power Consumptioin3W
Standby power<0.1W
Size70x73x165mm(WxHxD)
Weight0.54Kg
Founder of Prime Audio
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tony
tony
7 months ago

Great dac for £100 much better than my last dac topping e30

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