M300 SE is the latest model from SMSL in the M lineup. M series has a form in rectangular cube style which we know from previous models like the M500 MKIII or M500 MKII.
M300 SE is a very interesting product. Why? Because it just costs $119. Ok, it’s not as powerful as its 3x or 5x expensive big brothers but as a pure DAC, the rest of the specs hold up enough in my opinion.
What’s in the box
A new exterior design with tempered glass panel, both high-end feeling and durable.
M300 SE can work as a DAC or as a DAC and preamp combo, as its voltage output can be variable or fixed.
M300 SE’s menu can be accessed with the volume knob or with the remote control that doubles as a joystick. You can also choose inputs with the dedicated input button under the power button.
One downside of the DAC and this will make Bluetooth lovers sad, is that it only supports AAC and SBC codecs, no aptX versions or LDAC onboard. Not a big problem for me though because I never use Bluetooth connection on any gear, like I always say, the technology is not there yet to replace our beloved cables.
M300 SE supports true balanced XLR output. It utilizes two audio decoding chips, namely the C543131, combined with carefully crafted circuitry. Moreover, it employs a substantial quantity of audiophile-grade resistors and capacitors specifically designed for audio purposes, as well as multiple sets of low-noise LDO power supplies.
The M300 SE has a more neutral tuning, and it comes with a fast yet musical delivery. It’s the typical solid-state kind of sound you’re getting here, and it’s especially noticeable once you start comparing it to the dongles DACs in the same price range on the market. The first character I noticed about the M300 SE sonically was the full-bodied spectrum sound that is wide and tall, rather expansive but with a neutral but slight mid-centric character. It portrays overall a tonality that is rather large in scope.
The M300 SE is very energetic from top to bottom, especially present in the upper mids and treble regions. Also does well in the detail retrieval department, especially around the midrange section.
The M300 SE tends to be soft-mannered as to not emphasize anything within a recording but it’s no mister softie either. It seems to employ a relaxed tuning but a rather spacious one.
The balanced output does indeed have a small sonic improvement over the single-ended output, especially in the overall staging which gives credibility to the almost double and much higher crosstalk specification. It also tends to produce more detail.
What I like a lot about the M300 SE are the energy, top-end extension, and the vocal forward presentation. The stereo imaging and left/right balance are also remarkable. Imaging is almost spot on with just a very small amount of underfill but placement makes up for it and the M300 SE portrays an interestingly expansive capability, particularly within the midrange and high frequencies.
Here we have a neutral bass tuning. The warm bass tonality tends to relax the bass and presents it in a tamed manner but with a good amount of body and low-end extension nonetheless. Bass is fast and it has a good pace and attack. Bass comes with a neutral amount of body, but it’s punchy and impactful. Bass never feels exaggerated in presence. Detail-wise it’s ok, but it’s not the best. Layering on the other hand is impressive compared to dongle DACs as well as the depth.
The midrange takes front and center stage. The mids perfectly connect to the bass with the same presence, body, and impact. Mids have a neutrally musical presentation with a nice airiness and spacious feel to it. The mid-depth is very good. What I love about the mids are the dynamics, the energetic presentation, the stereo imaging, and the vocals. There’s a focus on the vocals but it’s done in an excellent way. I absolutely love this vocal mid-tuning.
The high frequencies also seem to be controlled and slightly timid, somehow held back from crossing over into distortion levels. Perfectly connecting from the mids, the M300 SE is balanced in the overall presentation. The amount of body is the same as before and what is remarkable here is the liveliness and energy in the delivery. Treble is not the most extended but for me, the treble tuning is the best, together with the mid vocals. I really like the M300 SE’s sparkle and energy on top.
As I said, the SMSL M300 SE is a very interesting unit. You can hook it up to your existing setup as a pure DAC in fully balanced mode. You can connect it to your PC as an external USB sound card and connect speakers alongside using it also as a headphone AMP. For the price of just $119, it’s like a dongle DAC for your desktop but much more versatile, sounds better than most, and also comes with a remote control for your comfy sessions.