Smsl M300 mii VS Zen DAC Signature

Forever Young

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I was looking for a good portable DAC/headphone amp combo for my second system, hoping to find something to drive all headphones and feed a power amp. I've since decided I will probably get a desktop decent DAC with volume control for my main system, and take my NAD DAC/headphone amp for my second system. Planning to get a separate headphone amp at a later date.

I'm currently looking at two quite different DACs, the SMSL M300 mkii and the Zen DAC Signature. Does anyone have any experience of either of these two, or do you have any other recommendations? Digital volume control is fine by me as well as analogue, so long as it's well implemented.
 

Tinman1952

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I was looking for a good portable DAC/headphone amp combo for my second system, hoping to find something to drive all headphones and feed a power amp. I've since decided I will probably get a desktop decent DAC with volume control for my main system, and take my NAD DAC/headphone amp for my second system. Planning to get a separate headphone amp at a later date.

I'm currently looking at two quite different DACs, the SMSL M300 mkii and the Zen DAC Signature. Does anyone have any experience of either of these two, or do you have any other recommendations? Digital volume control is fine by me as well as analogue, so long as it's well implemented.
For me I would go with the Zen DAC because it is very well made and has a proper volume knob…… I am very fussy about sound levels. The push button up and down volume on the M300 would drive me up the wall….but it does have a remote which the Zen does not….
 
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Forever Young

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Hi Tinman. Thanks for replying, it's much appreciated. I have a remote for my Technics pre amp, and it's really handy, just for volume up and down. Also (and this is a small point) the Zen relies on a pentacon 4.4mm for balanced out, which breaks much more easily than xlr or full size jack. My NAD DAC has a mini jack for headphones and it makes me very nervous. However, on a similar note the M300 has micro USB, instead of USB A, B, or even C. Perhaps I should be looking at an alternate.
 
Hi Tinman. Thanks for replying, it's much appreciated. I have a remote for my Technics pre amp, and it's really handy, just for volume up and down. Also (and this is a small point) the Zen relies on a pentacon 4.4mm for balanced out, which breaks much more easily than xlr or full size jack. My NAD DAC has a mini jack for headphones and it makes me very nervous. However, on a similar note the M300 has micro USB, instead of USB A, B, or even C. Perhaps I should be looking at an alternate.
unless you are constantly moving your dac around I wouldn't worry too much about that Pentacon connector.
 
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Forever Young

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unless you are constantly moving your dac around I wouldn't worry too much about that Pentacon connector.

Yeah, at least it's on the back. On the NAD it's the main headphone out connector. And this is the clincher, I only just realised the Zen has no optical. A few years ago, I upgraded my PC and decided optical (cd/dvd) drives are behind us, and so got a case without space. Now my car has no CD changer and I have to make CDs. I ended up having to get an external CD drive. I don't want to do the same thing. I still occasionally play a CD through my DAC. On the other hand, remember those huge floppy discs that were actually floppy? I kept that on my computer for years and never used it. I kept both my DAB tuner and minidisc for years without using them. I've seen optical to USB converters, but am assuming they are only for PC and won't work with the Zen. If I went down the Zen headphone amp route, I wouldn't know which to go for. They word the blerb as if you are meant to buy the headphones to match the amp, but that seems like putting the cart before the horse. On the other hand, the SMSL does look pretty cheap. Forgetting those two for a second, I wonder, have you got any recommendations?
 
Yeah, at least it's on the back. On the NAD it's the main headphone out connector. And this is the clincher, I only just realised the Zen has no optical. A few years ago, I upgraded my PC and decided optical (cd/dvd) drives are behind us, and so got a case without space. Now my car has no CD changer and I have to make CDs. I ended up having to get an external CD drive. I don't want to do the same thing. I still occasionally play a CD through my DAC. On the other hand, remember those huge floppy discs that were actually floppy? I kept that on my computer for years and never used it. I kept both my DAB tuner and minidisc for years without using them. I've seen optical to USB converters, but am assuming they are only for PC and won't work with the Zen. If I went down the Zen headphone amp route, I wouldn't know which to go for. They word the blerb as if you are meant to buy the headphones to match the amp, but that seems like putting the cart before the horse. On the other hand, the SMSL does look pretty cheap. Forgetting those two for a second, I wonder, have you got any recommendations?
only the Signature model is supposed to be tuned for particular headphones, the standard one isn't.
 
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Tinman1952

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Hi Tinman. Thanks for replying, it's much appreciated. I have a remote for my Technics pre amp, and it's really handy, just for volume up and down. Also (and this is a small point) the Zen relies on a pentacon 4.4mm for balanced out, which breaks much more easily than xlr or full size jack. My NAD DAC has a mini jack for headphones and it makes me very nervous. However, on a similar note the M300 has micro USB, instead of USB A, B, or even C. Perhaps I should be looking at an alternate.
For just a DAC I would look at the Topping E30 or D50s. If you want a built in headphone amp then Topping EX5…but it’s obviously more expensive.
 
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Forever Young

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"only the Signature model is supposed to be tuned for particular headphones, the standard one isn't."

Cheers Al ears, sorry I wasn't being clear. I was after DAC recommendations, unless I'm missing something reasonably well priced and with a great headphone amp as well.


" For just a DAC I would look at the Topping E30 or D50s. If you want a built in headphone amp then Topping EX5…but it’s obviously more expensive."

Thanks Tinman. I remember those models from when I was shopping for my D1050 for my main system. I was originally thinking of something portable for the second system in my cottage, but was instead wondering about upgrading my main system. However, an E30 doesn't seem like an upgrade. Maybe I should get a cheap DAC AND headphone amp for the second system instead of upgrading the NAD. I definitely haven't got D90ES money or RME money.
 

Forever Young

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Jul 28, 2016
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Another thing about the E30 is it has no XLR out, which I'd want if I later want to add a separate headphone amp. I wouldn't want to have to keep unplugging the power amp, to plug in the headphone amp. I like the look of the pre90, but it's a bit pricey atm. If I add it in later, I'd want the RCA in for phono preamp, and connect the dac with xlr. XLR (or balance) isn't essential, as long as there are 2 outs.
 

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