I reviewed the SMSL DO200 DAC (dual ES9068AS) back in November 2022. Our guest for today’s review is the latest model in this line up the new DO300 which has ESS’ latest flagship 8-channel DAC chip the ES9039MPRO inside. Here is a brief info about the new flagship ES9039 series DAC chips.
“The ESS Sabre® ES9039MPRO & ES9039PRO are the fully redesigned flagship 32-bit 8 Channel digital-to-analog converters (DAC) that target high-end consumer devices, professional audio applications such as recording systems, mixer consoles, and digital audio workstations (DAW), test equipment, instruments, audio processors applications. It was designed to create the new generation of the world’s highest-performing audio DAC.
The ES9039MPRO & ES9039PRO have 8 integrated DACs which use ESS’ patented Hyperstream® IV DAC Architecture. Using the QUAD modulator architecture, it delivers unprecedented audio sound quality and specifications, including a world-class +132dB DNR per channel, +140dB DNR and a THD+N of -122dB in mono mode.
The ES9039PRO SABRE® DAC improves on previous designs to include:
• MQA Hardware renderer (ES9039MPRO) to reveal the original master resolution. • TDM & SPI support for more options in connectively. • Lower power consumption than previous generations, including the Hyperstream IV DAC modulator. • New Hardware mode for simplified programming.
The ES9039MPRO & ES9039PRO have 8 built-in pre-programmed and programmable digital filters which allow the most discerning user to tune the SABRE sound to their own personal sound signature.”
Support MQA decoding and MQA-CD;
New 3rd generation XMOS XU-316, PCM support up to 32bit/768kHz, DSD support to DSD512;
The new generation flagship DAC chip ES9039MSPRO of USA ESS has built-in MQA hard decoding;
Designed with an eight-channel parallel circuit, the distortion is as low as 0.00005% (-125dB) and more stable.
Using 11 high-end dual op amps and a large number of audiophile components;
Adopt 2nd PLL to eliminate JITTER during SPDIF transmission;
The new self-developed CK-03 clock processing circuit significantly reduces clock jitter;
Support DOP independent display function, accurately determine the current decoding format;
USB, optical fiber, coaxial, AES, and I2S support DSD transmission, coaxial and optical fiber support DOP64;
Use tempered glass to fully fit the color IPS display;
Built-in low-noise power processing, while improving power efficiency, and lower power consumption;
Combined with multiple low-noise regulated power supplies, it provides a stable, reliable, efficient, and low-noise power supply system.
Qualcomm high-end Bluetooth chip, support LDAC (24bit/96kHz), APTX/HD, SBC, AAC;
High-quality all-aluminum alloy case supports high-quality gold-plated input and output connection terminals;
Japan Audio Association (JAS) Hi-Res certification;
Equipped with remote control and full-featured remote control.
SMSL DO300 comes in a unibody case, the same as the DO200 MKII, they look like twins from the outside. CNC carved from aluminum with two metal plates attached to its back and front. A 1.9” IPS LCD screen, an advanced UI, and a volume wheel that is positioned in the middle.
We also see the use of the new USB controller from XMOS. Called XU-316, this 32-bit multicore controller replaces the long-running XU-216. The plug-and-play feature, which allows the product to work seamlessly with all kinds of devices, has been further improved and offers maximum compatibility and stability with all devices except applications that require Windows ASIO.
On the back, you’ll find the gold-plated digital inputs which are USB, Optical, Coaxial, AES, and I2S. There’s a Bluetooth antenna socket and two analog outputs coming in RCA and XLR format. DO300 can work as a DAC or as a DAC and preamp combo, as its voltage output can be variable or fixed.
DO300’s menu can be accessed with the volume knob or with the remote control that doubles as a joystick. In the standby mode a single press will power it on and another press will enter its user menu where the following features can be accessed in settings:
Inputs – USB Audio, Bluetooth, Optical, Coaxial, AES/EBU, and I2S.
Outputs – All Line Out, XLR Balanced, and RCA Unbalanced.
PCM Filter – You can select your desired digital filters that are built-in directly into the ESS Sabre 9039 Pro DAC chip, there are 7 filters to play with which are Minimum Phase, Apodizing, Linear Fast, Linear Slow, Minimum Fast, Minimum Slow, Low Dispersion. There is also the option to turn off the digital filters, which I have used during my tests. We can see this mode as NOS (Non-oversampling) mode. There were only 3 filters in the DO200 MKII with no option to turn them off.
Sound Color – Standard, Rich 1,2,3, Tube 1,2,3, and Crystal 1,2,3. I like the standard one the most, but if you would like to alter the sound, there are plenty of options to choose from. Rich and Tube are particularly interesting with brighter-sounding headphones/speakers.
PRE Mode – Volume Variable or Fixed. If you will be using it as a DAC-only device, leave it at Fixed. The SMSL DO300 can work in a DAC-only mode, or feed a power amp with a variable-level output, like a pre-amplifier.
FN Key For – Switch XLR/RCA, All Outputs, Bluetooth, or Switch Phase – you are selecting the function of the FN button on the remote control.
DPLL Bandwidth – 15 positions, 5 is the default one. This setting is changing the jitter reduction algorithm, leaving it in the default position.
I2S Mode: Normal or Reversed.
DSD Filter: 47k, 50k, 60k, 70k CUT-OFF.
Dimmer – OFF or 5 to 60 seconds.
Brightness – 6 positions, the lowest one is almost dimming completely.
I want to thank Aoshida Audio for providing me with the review sample of DO300. They have one of the best inventories out there when it comes to desktop DACs and AMPs. You should definitely check them out.
DO300 has a neutral, transparent, uncolored sound signature with no emphasis on any range. It utilizes a neutral tonality and feels technically proficient. It reflects the speakers/headphones as-is, without introducing any manipulations to the sound. There’s plenty of power and the background is dead silent. No hissing, no hum, nothing. The resolution and the clarity are both really good.
The bass is impactful and deep, but also snappy. It recuperates fast and the quantity is satisfactory. The mid-bass is quantitatively adequate and very controlled. The midrange is extremely clean with great detail retrieval that highlights every little nuance in a guitar passage or a vocal performance. Tonality feels right, without any coloration to the human voices. The guitar timbre is excellent and the space does an excellent job of conveying the note weight and micro-vibrations of the guitar to your ear. Upper-midrange is controlled yet extended. Hi-hats do not feel splashy, they rather have a dedicated place as they should and the extension feels natural. The treble follows the successful upper midrange. It is extended, airy, and spacious without any control issues. The treble is resolving, clear, and open. Good dynamic range combined with exceptional accuracy and absolutely grain-less/flawless background make the DO300 unsurprisingly good in this regard. That said, its most impressive feat remains how musical it sounded.
The sound is very crisp and detailed. The micro detail performance is very impressive as well as resolution and transparency. The presentation and delivery are rather intimate than relaxed. The dynamism is very good with good attack and speed overall.
SMSL found the sweet spot between accuracy and musicality. With clean, sharp, and deep lows with fast transients and decay, good headroom, excellent layering, and texture. DO300 presented a very clean, transparent, airy, almost ethereal, and accurate performance. It easily reached the lowest pits, and it had a faster decay. The DO300 felt not only clean and transparent but also wider and deeper sounding on all ranges. DO300 can push huge quantities of micro-details, leaving a ton of headroom for high dynamic range tracks. High-quality formats and especially good recordings can benefit from this extremely well.
I tested the SMSL DO300 with two AMPs. One is SMSL HO100 and the other one is a hybrid tube AMP from xDuoo the MT-604. When connected to HO100 there is barely a difference in sound compared to the D0200 MKII, as both sound nearly identical and amazing in my opinion. But when some tubes kick into the mix (two for each channel exactly) there you start to hear some differences mainly in the staging, headspace, and dynamics. And I must say that this combo makes me grin with joy all the time when I’m listening to music.
The SMSL DO300 is one the cheapest audio gear right now with the new flagship 8-channel ES9039 Pro DAC chip inside and I think it’s worth every penny.