What's new

Move Over SMSL, There's A New Budget DAC In Town - SUCA AUDIO DAC-Q5

Daway

In before the lock
Joined
Jan 30, 2019
Messages
1,821
Likes Received
3,375
Location
Maritimes
Ok, you guys and gals know the way I write. If you're in the long haul on this one, grab a cup of coffee and sit back.

My SMSL SD793-II I picked up in 2019 (and reviewed here in November 2019) was getting a bit long in the tooth. It only had optical and coax inputs and I was looking for USB support to expand my digital transport options. I began the search for a new sub-$100 DAC that showed promise and came across the Suca Audio DAC-Q5 on Amazon. Now I'm a sucker for budget audio and I love playing with inexpensive gear in the hopes that I find something that makes me say "WOW!" For only $80 bucks CANADIAN, I would say this little dac didn't disappoint. Here's a link to Amazon (scrubbed of personal info- I do this because I love discussing cheap as hell audio, not to make a buck) if you want to check it out:


I wasn't able to find too much on Suca Audio in my searching. I found they were a company based out of China but their website is in Vietnamese. There's a few reviews on YouTube but again, the two I could find were in Vietnamese. Still, based on the specs I decided to give it a shot. So, was I a "sucka" for buying this Suca? Okay, I'll let the cat out of the bag now... no. Compared to my reference SMSL SD793-II, its pretty good.

I'll start with the basic specs. input options are coax, optical and usb. No matter what you're using as a digital transport, you're covered. Digital support up to 24 bit, 192KHz which is superior to the SMSL 96KHz ceiling. The front panel has a 6.35mm headphone jack but includes an adapter if you're using headphones with a 3.5mm plug. The back as two RCA outs if you want to send the output to a power amp or powered speakers. There's no option to disable the built in preamp that I could find, and quite frankly at this price point I'd be surprised if you could. The SMSL doesn't let you disable the preamp either.

The box it came in was first rate and had a wave ripple effect on the box. It was very well packed in foam and came with a power cord (very small wall wart), a USB cable, and an optical cable. I thought that was a nice touch for the price point, but the power cord... jeez Suca... you must have broke into my house and measured the distance from my desk to the floor, because thats EXACTLY how long the power cord is. I'd supply my own USB cable if you just gave me 2 extra feet of power cord.

Now the exterior. I like the case. The metal feels sturdy and there's some heft to it. For a budget chinese product it actually feels rather sturdy. Its a bit bigger than my SMSL (148.5x98.0x33.0mm vs 128x77x35mm) and has a bit more heft, but still fits neatly on the corner of a computer desk. The buttons to control power and input selection have positive tactile feel with distinct clicks to indicate engagement, but they feel cheap. The headphone jack has good retention of the headphone plug but the SMSL is the winner here as when its in ITS IN. When it comes to volume control, the Suca is a clear winner. I really like the the larger knob with good tactile feel and the detents as you turn the knob giving a feeling of volume control precision. Overall, based on the volume control I would give the Suca the nod over the SMSL in presentation.

For some more detailed specs what's happening inside, the DAC-Q5 uses the Cirrus Logic CS4398 chip for doing the digital to analogue conversion. I compared the specs on this chip to the venerable PCM1793 from TI that is in my SD793-II. If you went based solely on specs, the CS4398 is the better chip as it should be considering its a newer chip (I believe it was released in 2014 versus the TI offering which came out in 2004 or thereabouts). The CS4398 has a superior noise floor and from what I could read in the tech specs better jitter control, higher sampling frequency and even DSD support (though not implemented in the Suca). The preamp stages are also slightly different chips. The Suca uses the OPA275 op amp whereas the SMSL uses the OPA2134 (NOTE: For the Suca, the amazon page lists the op amp as being the OPA2134, however Suca's website lists the OPA275 in the specs. Since I haven't cracked the case I'm going to defer to the manufacturer's website for the spec). If you hang out on DIY audio websites you'll see that both are acceptable chips and it comes down to personal sound preference.

As I mentioned in my SMSL review, specs on the chipsets are one thing, but if your implementation is crap, its going to sound like crap. So, how does Suca's circuitry design work with the chips they've chosen? Overall, pretty damn well. Here was my setup and music choices for A/B comparisons:

Transport: AMD Threadripper based gaming rig with USB3.0 and TOSLINK (optical) outputs. VLC player set to let the DACs do their thing.
DACs: Suca Audio DAC-Q5 (tested) and SMSL SD793-II (reference)
Headphones: Superlux HD681 (reference)
Speaker Testing: Lepy LP-2020A Power Amplifier (cheapie class D for 35 bucks on amazon) to Klipsch RB-41 II bookshelf speakers set up for near-field listening.

Music Evaluated:
-Rush, Spirit of Radio, 192Kbs MP3 (Headphone/speakers)
-Rush Tom Sawyer, 24bit/192KHz FLAC (Headphones)
-Mischa Maisky, Bach Cello Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Prelude, 24bit/192KHz FLAC (Headphone/speakers)
-Daniel Barenboim conducting Beethoven 6, 1st movement, 24bit/192KHz FLAC (Headphone/speakers)
-Yes, Owner of a Lonely Heart, Youtube stream (Headphones)
-Jesus Jones, Right Here Right Now, Youtube stream (Headphones)

If I had to describe the difference between these two DACs in one word it would be "clarity". The Suca had a cleaner presentation than the SMSL without being cold and clinical. The intro to Spirit of Radio sounded less "muddled" through the Suca. Instruments had slightly better separation and it seemed a little more "crisp". There seemed to be more detail in Neil's cymbal and snare work listening through the Suca versus the SMSL. I flipped back and forth between these two DACs ALOT when I was listening to these two Rush tracks and I know them inside and out and thus make great reference tracks for me. The SMSL I think had a bit more bass emphasis but it didn't have the control of the Suca. To my ears I'd give the Suca the nod for having a superior reproduction in a way I like.

To further evaluate the bass I threw on the prelude to Bach Concerto 2. I chose Mischa's interpretation because it was recorded in a church and the room acoustics combined with Mischa's tempo choice make for a really good recording. That slight edge in clarify and resolution came through. When you just have one instrument in a room all the focus goes there making it easier to pick out details for things like bow attack/speed.

I think for me the track that made it all come together was Beethoven 6 for both detail and soundstage. When I first listened to this through the Suca on my headphones I was pretty impressed. My headphones being semi-open gave me pretty good resolution of instrument placement, but when I heard it through the Klipsch speakers I smiled in spite of myself. Both the SMSL and the Suca have soundstage, but it was "wider" with the Suca. How to describe this.... with the SMSL I heard the violins off to the left and the cellos and brass were to the right, but they were more coming "out of the speakers" than being "in the air". With the Suca I could close my eyes and hear the violins coming from space just to the right of my left speaker, the cellos (with a hint more detail and clarity) were right front and the brass was behind them with less "out of the speakers" and being more "in space". Instrument placement was better with the Suca versus the SMSL. In rock music with Spirit of Radio geddy's voice was definitely front and cetre through the Suca where there was a touch of "drift" through the SMSL.

Finally I picked two random tracks off Youtube just to see if you needed high quality recordings to tease out any differences in audio. To my surprise, I could still get that difference in clarify. The whispered "right here right now" in the right headphone was clearer and more distinct through the Suca and that overall "tightness" edge that the Suca has followed through on casual listening. I imagine using a hi def streaming service you'd continue to hear differences between these two DACs.

All in all, I am absolutely impressed what 80 bucks gets you today in a DAC. Fit and finish is good, knob feel is nice, and the implementation of the budget chips they chose is really good- definitely superior to the SMSL I bought a year and a half ago. Even through a cheap $35 class D amp I could hear a difference through speakers and I'm looking forward to hearing what the Class A kit I bought designed by Nelson Pass can do for the sound. If you missed out on the SMSL SD793-II when I reviewed it (it's now a discontinued product) or you're interested in digital music but don't want to spend a ton of money to get your feet wet, I strongly encourage you to give this DAC a try. Honestly, if you listened to each of them in a vaccum, either one at the price point would be an incredible value. However, after being able to A/B test the DAC-Q5 is now going to be my new reference as I begin to explore DACs in the sub-$200CAD range


(edited multiple times to fix spelling and add other thoughts because I hit "save" instead of "preview" by mistake)
 
Last edited:
Top Bottom