I recently reviewed the SU-9 from S.M.S.L and I absolutely loved it and it continues to be my main DAC for desktop use. It was the first ESS DAC I used that was super smooth sounding yet extremely detailed. It was definitely a big win in my books and came in just under $440 at the time it launched. Now we have a new DAC from S.M.S.L that comes in a little less at $359.99. It’s using the newest SABRE ES9068AS DAC(non pro) from ESS and has a few upgrades to the UI as well.
Thanks to Shenzhenaudio for hooking me up with a review unit early. While I always appreciate stuff being sent in to test and review, It never affects the rating of my review.
The SU-8S can be picked up from Shenzhenaudio here: https://shenzhenaudio.com/collections/all/products/smsl-su-8s-mqa-full-headphone-dac-es9068as-dac-xmos-dsd512-pcm768khz-32bit-bluetooth-5-0-uat-aptx-hd-uat-balanced-decoder
Gear usedS.M.S.L. SU-9, S.M.S.L. SH-8S/SP400, iFi micro iDSD Signature, Ikko OH10, DUNU EST 112/ZEN, THIEAUDIO Clairvoyance and Focal radiance.
Looks and FeelIt looks like all the more recent SMSl gear and comes in a nice black matte casing. There is a tempered glass over the lcd display which gives it a nice look quality wise. It’s still not very heavy and can move around if bumped and it’s still somewhat hard to get to sit aligned if used in a stack when stiff cables are in use.
While both the SH/SU-8S look the same size wise as the SH/SU-9, The 8S devices are just a hair smaller in width and length, ll the devices are the same height however.
Accessories and unboxingIt comes in a super simple cardboard box. It’s well protected in a bag inside of foam. We get a fairly meh USB type B to A cable(same cable that comes with the SU-9), a power cable and a remote. I like the simple S.M.S.L remote and it works with both the SU-8s/9 and the SH-8s/9/sp400 as well as the DA-9 from S.M.S.L. The QC pass card and the user manual is also included.
UII normally don’t go into super detail but I’ll include pics of the UI below. The biggest changes vs the SU-9 are the inverted sound output options, option to use the processor vs xmos chip for SPDIF, and finally the option to turn off the display after a certain amount of time. While I like the display on personally, I would prefer the option to turn the display off in a living room.
MQAIt works... It still has a hard time “latching” to the stream just like the SU-9 when you pick a random part of the song, which can make the song have a second or two of “compressed” sounding playback till it shows MQA again. I still don’t like MQA personally but I still like to check and make sure the feature work.
BluetoothThe bluetooth works really well and while I normally don’t use the feature in my desktop setup, I still had no cutout issues when paired to my PC, iPhone 12 pro or iPad air.
Sound(overall)These final impressions were done off the SU-8S outputting to both the S.M.S.L SH-8S and SP400. This will be what the S.M.S.L SU-8S sounded like with the headphones I used. Things like headphone pairings or using different external amps will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.
Lows are well maintained and sounded fairly good off both the SH-8s and SP400. There is a nice impact and thump. It can still come off a bit neutral/lean vs something like its bigger brother the SU-9. The mids have a nice presentation with fairly accurate sounding instruments and vocals. Where this and the SU-9 start to drift apart is the treble and soundstage. The SABRE “glare” is definitely more present and while this gives a nice impression of detail on first listen, it can sound a little metallic and artificial over time. I used to love the ESS SABRE sound flavor in my early audio reviewing days. I tend to enjoy detailed but warmer sources now that I’ve been doing this for a bit.