SMSL DO200 Review

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Sound performances

For this review, I almost exclusively used the SMSL DO200 with the SMSL HO200. A setup, made to match, that I used extensively for the past weeks. For headphones, I chose my old Audeze LCD-3, the new FiiO FD7, and the good-but-old Sennheiser HD-800S.

Overall signature

To be completely honest, prior to this review a few of my friends advised me against the SMSL DO200, telling me numbers looked wrong. But, after a few weeks, I think I can prove them wrong: the DO200 is damn right good.

Once again, I have to point out how much SMSL progressed in the past years. Sure, cheap&good products are almost the norm in chi-fi, but cheap&great ones are rarer. And I think the DO200 can fit this position, especially once paired with the HO200.

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Ok, to be fair, dynamic range isn’t up to par with my Cayin IDAC-6 and head-to-head the Cayin was able to deliver more punch and more air. But… the SMSL DO200 is also twice cheaper, and for that price, you get a lot of sound!

First, the DAC is impressively silent, with pitch-black background, whatever the input you use. Even when connected as a Bluetooth endpoint, the DO200 delivered a flawless signal and allows the HO200 to show its full potential. Paired together, the combo exhibits the same behavior I found the first time. Exquisite detail retrieval, at no expense of musicality, with fast decay and rapid transients. 

In the long run, the DAC always appeared quite pleasant to my ears. SMSL found the sweet spot between accuracy and musicality, especially on the low end. The bass is clean, sharp, and deep. Perfect to my taste.

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While listening to Solee – Customer is King, my faithful HD800S continued to amaze me and confirmed my initial impressions: excellent layering, deep soundstage (even if narrower than the Cayin), and authoritative lows. I mostly listen to electro tracks those days, and what I’m seeking are fast transients and decay, good headroom, and hard-kicking lows. Good news, the DO200 gave me all of that and, paired with the HO200 it even took the LCD-3 in known territory, where some more expensive gear couldn’t.

I didn’t feel a difference between line and pre output, once I maxed out the volume, but there’s a clear improvement going balanced with some XLR plugs. First comes power, then follows depth. In balanced mode, the pan effects are more natural and if some notes could appear muffled, switching from RCA to XLR can definitely make a difference. 

I could immediately hear the enhancement on You Make My Life A Better Place from the Mammas Gun, a small ring unheard before, was unmistakable after. Especially with the Audeze, which really enjoyed the combo.

Overall, a very nice experience.

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Tonality

The sound signature is absolutely linear, but each frequency range got its own flaws and qualities. A quick overview.

Bass: deep, fast, accurate. The DO200 managed to reach deep notes with ease on my LCD-X and, paired with the HO200, the combo was almost equal to my Cayin in this aspect. Clearly, in this price range, the  SMSL manages an awesome job and with planar headphones, the result is amazing!

Test track : Ylang Ylang – FKJ

Mids: flat and clean. Good dynamic range combined with exceptional accuracy and absolutely grain-less/flawless background makes the DO200  unsurprisingly good in this regard. That said, its most impressive feat remains how musical it sounded, even with difficult tracks.

Test track : Customer is King – Meute

Highs: straight and technical. If everything seems flat to my ears, some might find the SMSL DO200 a bit too conservative, or even lacking in this regard. But, the DO200 shows excellent control and showed the same level of refinement as the amp, but fell short on spatialization. 

Good test track : The Spoils – Massive Attack

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Conclusion

Once again, SMSL delivers an excellent piece of gear and the DO200 is, first, a great DAC, second, the perfect addition to the HO200, to make a compact but powerful headphone listening station. 

Build quality and sound is good, I/O is complete, and either as a pure DAC or a DAC + pre-amplifier, the device was just impressive.

If I had to spot just one flaw, it would be the slight lack of dynamic range compared to other DAC in this format, but honestly, that’s only if you’re picky. Again, in the same price range, the only challenger that could come to mind for me would be JDS Labs, which may sound a bit more musical. Yet, if you want studio performances, for chi-fi prices, check this one, it’s a sure choice.

Page 1: About the brand

Page 2: Design & Build Quality, UI & Usage

Page 3: Specifications

Page 4: Sound performances

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A nerdy guy with a passion for audio and gadgets, he likes to combine his DAC and his swiss knife. Even after more than 10 years of experience, Nanotechnos still collects all gear he gets, even his first MPMAN MP3 player. He likes spreadsheets, technical specs and all this amazing(ly boring) numbers. But most of all, he loves music: electro, classical, dubstep, Debussy : the daily playlist.

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