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S.M.S.L. Idol: A Qobuzism for this little DAC with headphone amp with breathtaking sound reproduction!

When it comes to digital-to-analogue converters, big things often come in small packages. This is definitely the case for the Idol, from the Chinese manufacturer S.M.S.L., which has completed conquered our ears.

By Mareile Heineke | Testing Ground | September 23, 2016
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Like the M2 model, also rewarded with a Qobuzism, S.M.S.L.'s Idol DAC with portable amplifier plays the miniaturization card without neglecting the quality of the sound reproduction. Its undeniable quality is explained by the minimalist structure composed of highly efficient components, especially the digital to analogue converter and the headphone amplifier.

So let's go straight to the auscultation of this small sound wonder whose size and price bear no relation to the immense musical pleasure it brings.


Presentation

It doesn't take long to do a tour.

On the front of the small aluminum box there is a 3.5 mm combined optical jack for connecting headphones or retrieving the optical S/PDIF digital signal from the micro USB input on the back. It is compatible with PC and Mac, and also with smartphones and tablets running iOS or Android.


On top, there is an oblong toggle button for volume control in the black Plexiglas, with a small LED.


Note that the S.M.S.L. Idol is delivered in a small bamboo box with a USB A-micro USB cable and an OTG cable (micro USB-micro USB).


Design

The USB interface used on the S.M.S.L. DAC Idol is a Texas Instruments model TAS1020B, which supports 24-bit at 96kHz and can operate in synchronous, adaptive and asynchronous modes.

Next to it is a Cirrus Logis CS8604 transmitter that will generate a S/PDIF signal from the I2S signals decoded by the TAS1020B and which can be found on the optical output of which the LED emission is located at the rear combined intake 3.5 mm jack for the headphones. The small circuit connected by four wires to the main circuit hosts the two small volume buttons.


On the other side of this small circuit is the STC microcontroller which manages and codes these keys to control the digital volume which is built-in to the PCM5122 digital-analogue converter chip on the other side of the main circuit. Next to it, the Quartz 6MHz internal clock of the TAS1020B and Quartz 22.579MHz and 24.576MHz, respectively, which ensure synchronization with the signals at 44.1kHz or 48kHz, and multiples.


The PCM5122 is 24 to 384-bit compatible and its current segments architecture eliminates the need for additional filtering on the operational amplifier. Moreover, it integrates a charge pump which creates a negative voltage from the positive supply voltage so the signal is referenced at 0V. This allows a connection to the headphone amplifier without capacitor, a Maxim Integrated model, MAX97220. As it integrates a charge pump, there are also no coupling capacitors with the headset because the amplified signals are referenced to 0V.

Sound It may not be that big but the S.M.S.L. DAC Idol has some serious muscle and, with our Oppo PM-3 headphone and via PC playback with Foobar2000 in KS mode, it gave us a colourful restitution full of punch, with strong percussion and cymbals blazing, for Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Tumblers by Kristjan Järvi conducting the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra (24-bit 48 kHz version), also offering the luxury of a good aeration (for headphone listening) highlighting every detail of the orchestration, in particular the tinkling of the triangle, and all with a very good tonal balance.

Going on to listening to a Qobuz streaming on iPad of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana by the London Philharmonic Choir and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Hans Graf, a work that is rich in colour, with dynamic and varied atmospheres.

Again, the small S.M.S.L. Idol amazed us with its dynamic qualities and ease as well as with its respect for the recording. We were struck by the clarity and punch of the # 5 track, Tanz, whose clean percussion had a pleasing impact! But this is just one example, and, whatever we listened to, the result was the same (on track # 10 the attack of the trumpets is a pure delight and we couldn't help ramping up the volume to really enjoy it), our ears were filled with pleasure and we want more, in short, we absolutely love it!

We also spent a powerful moment listening to How To Fall In Love, from the Bee Gees' album, Size Isn't Everything, where everything was clear and we were transported by the beauty and warmth of this music, that was so well served by the S.M.S.L. Idol DAC . An Idol fully committed to our idols' cause...

In conclusion, a well deserved Qobuzism for S.M.S.L.'s Idol DAC which is a real gem, giving sound performances that will satisfy the most demanding ears, and all for a very small size and price.

The S.M.S.L website


Our thanks to Audiophonics for the loan of the S.M.S.L. Idol.

Playback capabilities

The S.M.S.L. is able to decode 24-bit digital audio files from 176 kHz to 192 kHz, with an iPad or with an Android tablet, but changing the sampling.

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