When you are looking for a portable DAC headphone amp, what is your most concern?
Price, performance, build or any other thing?
Today, we are going to take a look at an affordable portable amplifier, that is SMSL M3.
SMSL is a company known to offer an extensive range of amplifiers and other audio products and accessories and is very popular for the durable build of its product.
SMSL M3 is the first USB-powered headphone amplifier from the brand and can be used with many different types of devices to ensure enhanced convenience. In this SMSL Audio M3 review, we’ll have a detailed look at the build, specifications, features, and pros and cons of this headphone DAC.
Design and Specification
Unlike most other amplifiers available in the market, SMSL M3 is designed in a much different way. It is more like a slab with small rubber feet which you can easily place on a flat surface. If you have used a DVD player in the past, M3 is just a smaller version of the DVD player as far as the design of the amplifier is concerned. The shell of the device is made from aluminum alloy and the buttons and knob are made from aluminum to ensure enhanced durability. As compared to the amplifiers that have a fancy design, buyers can rest assured that this amplifier is sure to last for a much longer duration.
M3 is highly compact and very light in weight. It only weighs 7.2 ounces and measures 4 x 4.5 x 2.5 inches. You can easily hold it in the palm of your hand and can easily carry in your pocket or backpack. If you want to buy the best portable DAC, M3 is definitely an excellent contender if the portability is the decision-driving factor for you.
On the front of the device, you have a single jack for headphones and volume control. On the left side is the function button and LEDs which light up based on the volume and input. With the help of the function key, you can select the audio source. While a short press will help you select the audio source, long press turns the device on and off. At the back you have multiple output ports, like RCA analog right channel input, left channel input, coaxial input, and optical input, as well as, two USB ports for power input and USB input.
SMSL M3 can be easily powered by a mobile phone, tablet, or a computer. However, it is not compatible with Apple iPhone and iPad which is definitely a letdown for a lot of people. The headphone DAC features an advanced purified power circuit and has a maximum power output of 1.5W. You can also connect this device to a power bank to generate better sound.
It has a 24 bit asynchronous USB input and its 24 bit/192kHz advanced decoding chip is CS4398 which is very commonly used in a number of high-end amplifiers. The DAC is compatible with all the Hi-Fi headphones and its full frequency sampling rate can be clearly seen from its front panel. It supports computer USB as well as OTG USB which makes it easier for the users to charge the device no matter if they are at home or traveling.
I tested this best portable DAC with quite a few high-end headphones and with a Windows computer as well as an Android smartphone. Also, I tried many different types of music with the amplifier, like rock, blues, jazz, etc. to get a better feel of its performance.
As soon as I plugged in the headphone and played the first song, it was very much evident that the amplifier has significantly improved the quality of the song even though I was using a high-end headphone. I was easily noticeable to me as I had been using the same headphone for quite some time. The lows and mids were clearer and the bass was tighter.
Apart from loud rock songs, its performance was definitely impressive. With rock songs, I felt that the amplifier was a little loud. Even when the volume was at its lowest, the sound was a little too much for me. But while I prefer soft music, this can be a good choice for people who love listening loud music. But do remember the fact that listening to loud music for long duration can damage the sensitive structures of the inner ear.
Pros and Cons
While there is no denying the fact that M3 from SMSL is an excellent product at a highly affordable price tag, it has quite a few flaws too. Let us have a look at some of the pros and cons of this best portable DAC-
√ Solid build
√ Multiple input options
√ USB powered
√ Easy controls
√ Highly affordable
√ Compact and light in weight
√ Can be used with computer and smartphones
⊙Not compatible with Apple iPhone and iPad
⊙Audio was too loud in some instances
⊙Some users have mentioned that the performance suffers when used along with high-end headphones
SMSL M3 USB Powered Audio Decoder is a value-for-money product. It is one of the most affordable USB-powered headphone amplifiers and is loaded with a number of features that further enhance your audio listening experience. It has a solid build, multiple output options, is compatible with smartphones, tablets, and computers, and is very easy to use.
But while it is an excellent product, it is not something that you can compare with the performance of a top-notch amplifier like Chord Hugo. The amplifier surely enhances the performance of your headphones and I tested it with a number of them, I have used high-end amplifiers too and the performance is not as good.
But how can we even expect the performance of M3 to match with Chord Hugo that is priced at more than $2,000? You get what you pay for right? So, with the price tag of M3, it is definitely one of the cheapest yet highly impressive headphone DACs. If you are an audiophile looking to enhance your audio listening experience, it is definitely a great option.