Topping and SMSL with ASR Punking Us on DACs?

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by purr1n, Oct 23, 2022.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    I noted in the profile posts section that someone posted this:

    [​IMG]

    Normally I really wouldn't really care, because personally I wouldn't bother with the vast majority of the above. Until one guy I was talking with about audio gear said off-the-cuff: "Topping SMSL Shenzhen Audio's plan is to keep coming up with new models so people keep buying". I have to say that this is a interesting observation because now we are... comparing DAC SINAD to the tenth of the decimal? 123 point eight. Seriously? Talk about measurements for the sake of measurements. Now we are totally losing the forest for the trees.

    This is utterly ridiculous. As factually stated here (https://www.superbestaudiofriends.org/index.php?threads/throw-away-your-apx555s.12790/) is there absolutely no need for this level of performance given that there is no possibility for any of us to be in an environment where more than 80db of dynamic range is needed, not to mention CD quality audio is limited to 96db, microphones have a SNR of no better than 75db, and the SINAD of transducers (ultimately the limiting factor if you believe in the temple of SINAD) if even worse than that.

    Let's break this stuff down:
    1. SMSL SU-10 $900: ES9038PRO and x16 OPA1612 (parallelling the internal channels?)
    2. DX7 PRO+ $700: ES9038PRO and ?opamps
    3. SMSL M500 mk III $530: ES9038PRO x9 OPA1612
    4. Topping D90SE $800 (reviewed here on SBAF): ES9038PRO and ?opamps
    5. Gustard X18 $750: ES9038PRO and OPA1612
    6. Topping DX5 $450: ES9068ES (x2) and ?opamps
    7. Topping SU-9N $400 ES9038PRO and ?opamps
    8. Gustard X16 $750: ES9068AS and OPA1612
    9. SMSL M400 $860: AKM4499 and OPA1611 / OP1612
    10. SMSL M500 mk II $440: ES9038PRO x6 OPA1612
    11. Topping E50 $270 :ES9068AS and ?opamps
    12. Topping D90 $750: AKM4499 and ?opamps
    Basically, other than a a few standouts with the price since the performance is mostly the same, you would be buying more or less the same DAC, but repackaged, slightly tweaked for tenths of a db better SINAD. Somebody is pulling the wool over your eyes, or is being paid off by Shenzhen Audio.

    [​IMG]
     
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    Last edited: Oct 23, 2022
  2. YMO

    YMO Scatologically ribald obsessive

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    All the product name sound like Fiats built in the 70s, build quality 'n all.
     
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  3. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    [​IMG]

    Have you guys also noticed a little trick used in the above graph? Presentation and visualization techniques of data is everything and can be manipulated for nefarious purposes. Allow me to present the same exact data as the above in a bar graph of my own. Note that the differences are not so significant now.

    upload_2022-10-23_18-57-50.png
     
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  4. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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  5. Wilewarer

    Wilewarer Facebook Friend

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    The funny thing is that the differences already don't look real in his graph. If, instead of a numerical scale, the 100.0 said "great" and the 125.0 said "OK we're just fucking with you" I would've believed that someone here made it as a joke.
     
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  6. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    Right?
     
  7. nithhoggr

    nithhoggr Author of the best selling novel Digital Jesus

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    Never underestimate the ability of people to get fixated on a number and pay to make the number go higher. One of my other hobbies for a while was watches, particularly dive watches. A normal dive watch is rated for 200-300m of depth...bearing in mind that the deepest dive on record was 332.35m, that's enough for almost anybody, especially since dive watches really aren't being used for serious diving now that diving computers are a thing. But people will pay good money for watches rated for 500, 600, even 1000m! There's a Rolex rated for 3900m!

    So, yeah, the idea that people can get fixated enough on "higher is better" to ignore the practical limitations isn't surprising to me in the least.
     
  8. LetMeBeFrank

    LetMeBeFrank Won't tell anyone my name is actually Francis

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    This is like comparing the lap times of the top 10 cars in the Nürburgring as a normal driver choosing a new car, who might occasionally take a highway off-ramp at 65MPH. At that point it's just a higher (or in this specific case lower) number to make you feel bigger than the other guys.
     
  9. Biodegraded

    Biodegraded Friend

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    Specifications and even real-world performance aside, some of the Fiats were at least fun to drive (reportedly, for the ones I never had the pleasure); not sure the same could be said about the DACs in question.
     
  10. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    I have to hand it to SMSL and Topping, they either invented a niche or managed to exploit one extremely well. It’s so funny to read the ASR reviews of the latest product from those companies because there are so many posts from members congratulating the engineers for their ever more impressive SINAD numbers. Just don’t make the mistake of pointing out how far beyond the threshold of human hearing any of these numbers are…
     
  11. Serious

    Serious Inquisitive Frequency Response Plot

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    I was sort of curious about the SMSL M400 myself considering it uses the AK4499 instead of yet another ESS chip and could be had for a deal on Amazon including free returns...

    I can do a more proper comparison, but suffice to say that I found my Gungnir Multibit V1.5? to be leagues ahead in terms of realism of sound. My dad even preferred his Audiolab 8200CDQ.

    What I find more worrying is that this is now AKM's TOTL chip (or used to be now that the EX variant has come out) and the whole DAC sounded mid-fi at best. It could also just be the implementation, but I have a feeling DS chips aren't moving forwards anywhere near as much as numbers would suggest. Hell, even the mobile CS43131 in the Moondrop DAWN isn't much worse.
     
  12. nishan99

    nishan99 Friend

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    I don't think there are people with an IQ above 70 will upgrade from another high SINAD DAC. At this point those two manufacturers are playing with the included features, inputs/outputs + software.

    At one point they will run out of features to include and they will kill themselves or they will switch to pure subjectivity like what SMSL and Gustard is doing with their recent release of R2R DACS. I bet the latter would happen.
     
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  13. Brubaker

    Brubaker Rando

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    I'm not following the criticism here. Isn't it widely agreed on ASR that there will be no audible difference between these dacs and buying decisions should be about the features. ASR would agree with what has been said here. No?
     
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  14. Lyander

    Lyander Official SBAF Equitable Empathizer

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    I abstain from viewing ASR mostly because I don't go out of my way to run nose-first into a migraine but, were that the case, wouldn't the best course of action be to denounce these measurements as the differences between the units on display are negligible even in unrealistically ideal listening conditions, as you'd pointed out, and advise that chasing fractions of increments of quarks for increasingly ludicrous sums of money during a global recession might not be in one's own best interests?
     
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  15. Ardacer

    Ardacer Almost "Made"

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    As usual the best way to go about everything is to listen to what everyone has to say and make up your own mind about things. If you learn something new in the process and can confirm it's actually solid piece of info all the better.

    There absolutely is a good enough performance and as stated above anyone with any idea about this topic can see how this is quite pointless. It's impressive for sure if true, but it's probably a way better idea (imo) to pursue stuff like multibit(iirc) or similar better ways of handling waveform reconstruction than focusing all your efforts on just one aspect, if one is really invested in dacs so much.

    To quote Nelson Pass, high end audio is an entertainment business.
     
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  16. wbass

    wbass Almost "Made"

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    I occasionally look at ASR. While I do think the measuring thing has gotten pretty out of hand, every once in a while I find some use from what the objectivists are saying. I do think AB testing can be difficult to do and that confirmation bias can be a thing. That said, I'm not sure, at the end of the day, this really matters. I mean, leisure-time pleasure--never mind something as ephemeral as music listening pleasure--is about the most subjective thing one can imagine. So, I can double-blind all day, with absolute rigor, but that's not how, ultimately, I'll end up listening.

    Case in point: I've been ABing an SPL Phonitor SE (bought used for a great price) next to a FiiO K9 and SMSL SH-9. The latter two are THX-based amps, and according to ASR, pretty much the first and only kind of amp anyone should ever need.

    But, well, I prefer the Phonitor SE. It doesn't stack up to the cheaper THX amps on the ASR charts, yet it's a more orderly, vivid, and pleasant listen. The FiiO and the SMSL are both pretty good--impressive for the price even--but they're kind of closed-in sounding and flat/dead in their overall presentation. They sound class D to me, for lack of a better term.

    I've tried to bias myself toward them--it'd be nice to prefer the cheaper amps--but pretty much every time I like the SPL more. It's not the ultimate, certainly--I like my Starlett and EC Studio Jr (both in storage) even more--but it meets my own personal definition of very acceptable fidelity. Never mind that I hear zero hiss on the Phonitor SE. Not even with Andromeda. That, to me, is the only really useful benchmark of SINAD.

    My speculation about good measuring vs. good performing amps... There's a more complex interaction between amp and tranducer than can be quantified in charts. Music isn't a constant test tone or electric signal. Drivers have impedance swings. And different headphones like different sorts of amps. Good amp designers account for this and do a lot of listening. They make compromises on things like absolute measurements, b/c they know these don't matter as much, ultimately, as listening pleasure.

    But, then, I'm not an amp designer.

    My big beef with ASR is the tone of the place. It's such a joyless, airless, scolding sort of conversation. Plenty of "you can't possibly be hearing any difference" and "you have been fooled/are a fool" posts. From people whose exposure to hifi stuff seems to begin and end at Topping.
     
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  17. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    Yeah, until you point this out to them and then suddenly you’re a troll.
     
  18. Vtory

    Vtory Audiophile™

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    ASR is ASR and Amir is Amir as usual. This dude is AFAIK the only AP555 owner loving to over-bash or over-praise products based on meaningless ranking. I suspect there's some financial incentives to push it further. Tenth of the decimal is totally useless. I'm even thinking reporting tens of the decimal would suffice. More generally I don't care ranking or bar charts at all, let alone discredit (regarding reproducibility, reliability, or robustness). I strongly believe anyone with basic knowledge of logarithm can interpret the magnitude correctly, too.

    That said, I don't quite think all the products listed in OP sounds nearly identical. I do own two of them for many months and auditioned several more within one year in various comparative configurations (including some single-blinded tests). Difference is subtle but meaningful enough for me to prefer one over the other. I'm inspired to say the ones I picked up really worked for me, saving my hard-earned 3k+ (the amount I was about to dump for dac upgrades atm). For the reference, among the two products I own, I mildly prefer the one with poorer place in the ranking chart.

    The way I view well-measuring products these days is close to snake-oil products. Objective results don't make much sense to me. But some of them just happen to sound subjectively more convincing to me in the way I enjoy audio. I don't care they are hated by seasoned audiophiles in the forum for whatever reasons.
     
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  19. Tekker

    Tekker Acquaintance

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    Ah ASR, the scientology place of the audiophile world
     
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  20. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    The criticism is for the potential of misunderstanding, the fake news, the fake science aspects. For a site that purports to believe in science, providing such a graph, not just that - manipulating it so the small differences are exaggerated - would seem highly irresponsible.

    Not just irresponsible, but actually shilling for the entity known as Shenzhen Audio. At this point, I'm more inclined to believe that the APx555 was purchased for Amir by Shenzhen Audio, or that other backroom deals were made.

    Secondarily, it's also a criticism of Topping and SMSL. As I've said, these two manufacturers just seem to add "new" DACs with the same parts, same architecture, with slightly different footprints, each time tweaking their PCB layouts to get tenths of a db better SINAD. I mean how many fricking models priced in the same bracket does a manufacturer need to release in a few years, all using the same chips.
     
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    Last edited: Oct 24, 2022

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