SMSL SP200 THX 888 Review

SMSL SP200 THX AAA 888 headphone amplifier

In this review we’re taking a look at the new SMSL SP200 THX 888 headphone amplifier from Chinese manufacturer SMSL, featuring the latest THX 888 amplification technology. It’s currently on sale for $289.99 by online distributor Apos Audio, who we must thank for arranging the evaluation sample used for today’s review. 

 

 

Note: We received the SP200 free of charge in exchange for our honest evaluation. As always, our words, opinions, and conclusions are our own.

About THX

THX is an acronym that’s probably more familiar with movie-goers than personal audio enthusiasts. You might recognise it as that really loud sound that comes on before films (which is technically called the ‘Deep Note’), but it actually stands for “Tomlinson Holman’s eXperiment”. Holman invented THX while he was working on the development of Return Of the Jedi for George Lucas’ Lucasfilm studios to ensure that theatres would be able to be certified to reproduce the film’s audio to the correct standards. THX has since become a company in its own right, creating audio technology and certification for a range of applications, and it’s currently owned by gaming hardware company Razer Inc. 

SMSL SP200 THX 888 headphone amplifier

THX has made waves in recent years in the field of personal audio, first with the release of the Drop.com (formerly MassDrop) THX AAA 789 headphone amplifier, reviewed here on Headfonia by guest reviewer HiFi Chica. The combination of low distortion, huge amounts of transparent power and a $400 USD price tag set new standards for performance, measurement and value. To break-down the acronyms even further, AAA stands for ‘Achromatic Audio Amplifier’, THX’s patented amplifier technology which uses feed-forward error correction topology that substantially reduces levels of distortion found in regular amplification circuits. AAA technology allows an amplifier to increase its maximum output power to improve dynamic range as well as sound pressure level. THX claim this can reduce harmonic, intermodulation, as well as crossover distortion by as much as 40dB.

The Drop 789 amplifier has since been joined by newcomers to the market also packing THX amplification technology, namely Monoprice’s Monolith Desktop amplifier, and the subject of today’s review – the SP200 from SMSL. Or, to call it by its formal name…the SMSL SP200 THX AAA-888 Headphone Amplifier. Catchy, huh? We’ll roll with ‘SP200’ from here on in. 

About SMSL

SMSL Audio or Shenszhen ShuangMuSanlin Electronics Co. LTD isn’t a newcomer on the market and I’m sure many have you have heard about them and their products before. Founded in 2009, they are located in Shenzhen and produce DACs, headphone amplifiers and desktop amps. We have reviewed many of their products before, which you can check out here.

You can find SMSL’s dedicated web page for the SP200 right here.

The SP200’s launch caught our attention here at Headfonia and we think it’s worth reviewing for our readers, because as on paper it appears to be even more of a price to performance contender than its THX predecessors. It’s currently on sale for $289.99, it features the newer THX AAA 888 Amplifier module, it has a substantially smaller footprint than most desktop amplifiers, and its specifications are frankly impressive for any amplifier, let alone one of its price:

  • Output Power:
    • 6W x 2 (16ohm)
    • 3W x 2 (32ohm)
    • 440mW x 2 (300ohm)
    • 220mW x 2 (600ohm)
  • SNR: 130dB, A-Weighted
  • Output Noise: 2.8uV, A-Weighted
  • THD+N: -122dB, 0.00007% (1kHz, 32ohm)
  • THD+N: -117dB, 0.00013% (20 – 20kHz, 32ohm, -3dB)
  • THD: -125dB, 0.00006% (1kHz, 16ohm, -3dB)
  • Output Impedance: Near 0ohm
  • Frequency Response: 0.1Hz – 500kHz(-3dB)
  • Gain: Low(+6dB), High(+18dB)
  • Power Supply Voltage/Frequency: AC100-240V, 50-60 Hz
  • Power Consumption (EN60065): 24W
  • Power Consumption in Standby Mode: < 0.1W
  • Size: 160 x 149 x 73 mm
  • Weight: 772g

The quick translation: this is one incredibly powerful amplifier, with vanishingly low distortion that’s beyond the range of human hearing. 

So, have SMSL gone and made every other amplifier on the market immediately redundant? As you and I both know, while they’re incredibly useful, measurements are only part of the equation, and can’t tell you what something sounds like with a range of different gear. And more importantly – they can’t tell you what it’s like to live with. Could the SP200 be the only amp you’ll ever need? Let’s read on and find out.

Head over to page 2 to hear about the SP200’s build quality and features.

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Matty's a musician, music-fan, and 'gear-phile' from Sydney, Australia. Outside of his day-job in creative advertising, Matty enjoys live music, lawn bowls, craft beer, and spending far too much money collecting vinyl.

    23 Comments

    • Reply January 13, 2020

      Shane D

      Nice write-up! I bought this unit on Black Friday. It took a while to get used to the sound. I have several amps and was slow to warm up to this one. However, I just got a pair of Fostex TH-610’s and plugged them into this amp. It has been audio bliss for ten straight days.

      Love the small size, the small price and now the sound.

      • Reply January 14, 2020

        Matty Graham

        That’s really interesting, what was unusual about the sound at first? Too ‘lean’ or neutral-sounding? Great to hear it’s working out for you, the 610’s are on my list to try.

    • Reply January 13, 2020

      Timothy

      The volume knob can easily be replaced by a 20mm one from AliExpress, giving it more heft. On the plus side, the knob can be whatever colour you want

      • Reply January 14, 2020

        Matty Graham

        I’ve bought a few knobs in the past from AliExpress for my Crack – that’s definitely worth noting. This gets me wondering – an aftermarket stepped attenuator plus a filter on the blue LED light could be very nice mods on the SP200…

        • Reply January 14, 2020

          Shane D

          Yes on the lean/neutral sound. I am running SMSL SU-8 into my SP200.

    • Reply January 13, 2020

      Mike

      Great breakdown!! I bought the The amp and abesolutely love it! I paired a smsl su-8 dac (250$) and really enjoy the stack I’m looking for an eQ next and incorporate tubes at some point.. my cans are sennheiser 6xx and the Argon MK3s

      • Reply January 19, 2020

        Matty Graham

        Thanks for reading Mike! That sounds like a great set-up for your cans – if you’re looking for something ‘different’ to complement your SP200 try an OTL-variety tube amp to pair with your Senns.

    • Reply January 17, 2020

      James Longman

      Hi Matty,

      If you are using power hungry and high impedance headphones ( high ohms ) this amp is great. 🙂

      Regards
      James

      • Reply January 18, 2020

        Matty Graham

        I used to strap my old Hifiman HE-5’s into the back of a speaker amp, I reckon would sound great on this.

    • Reply January 24, 2020

      Bertrand

      Hello, thanks for this review.
      I’m looking for an amp or combo amp / dac to drive my HD800s, received a few days ago for an attractive price, but my MOJO seems to lack power.
      I’m eyeing the SP200 but would the JDS ATOM be a little warmer?
      The balanced headphone output is not balanced at all?
      For the DAC I don’t really know yet do I keep the MOJO or connect it to SP200).
      Sorry to be long …
      Thank you in advance for your opinion.
      Best regards.

      • Reply January 27, 2020

        Matty Graham

        Hi Bertrand, your Mojo will make for a perfect DAC – definitely hang onto it and use it in line-out mode if you’re looking to add another amp. I haven’t heard the Atom side-by-side with the SP200, but they ought to sound just about identical. Either should be a good pairing with your HD800, it just comes down to whether you need some extra juice + XLR connectivity options down the track.

    • Reply February 12, 2020

      Gerry

      Matty, I totally agree with your suggestion, I paired my Mojo with the SP200 using a SKW 3.5mm to RCA cable ($25.00 on Amazon). The result was superb on my HD6XX headphones. I highly recommend this combination. The warmth, clarity dynamics and impact are all greatly enhanced. I was surprised at the huge improvement.

      • Reply February 12, 2020

        Matty Graham

        Hey Gerry, that’s awesome to hear! Glad that’s working for you, enjoy the music mate. I might give this exact same combo a go myself : )

    • Reply February 23, 2020

      Gerry

      There is almost nothing on the internet about amplfying the Chord Mojo. I very much anticipate your reaction and review to the Mojo>Sp200 combo. Best regards.

      • Reply March 10, 2020

        Matty Graham

        Hey Gerry, there’s not much to it – simply put the Mojo in ‘line-out’ mode (depress both volume buttons when switching-on for a 2V signal) and plug into the SP200. It sounds expectedly transparent + excellent.

    • Reply March 9, 2020

      H

      Bought one recentl, pairing with Dx220 & Chord Mojo.
      Headphones: Sennheiser HD700
      IEM: Campfire andromeda + EA Thor Silver ii+/Ibasso IT04 + EA Thor Silver

      Compared to directly driven by Dx220/Mojo, the HD700 simply flies when driven by SP200. There is actually tangible bass slam and sub=bass rumble. Bass slam in comparison was a pop, and sub-bass has a “droning” sound. Sound-stage expanded for all devices. Pitch-black background (even with CA Andro), tiny bit of channel imbalance with CA Andro. Seems to pair with Mojo just as well as Dx220 (truly a transparent amp!), not warm or cold.

      Cons: The sides are not straight, OCD triggered.

    • Reply March 15, 2020

      Gerry

      H
      Thanks for your input. I love the Mojo/DP200 combination.
      Matty,
      I can’t wait for your hands-on review as well.

    • Reply June 6, 2020

      Venkat

      Hey, i am on the verge of pulling trigger on this setup: Topping D90+SP200+6XX and later LCD2C/X. Have you tried this setup? If so how did you find it?

    • Reply June 8, 2020

      JP

      Hi, how would you compare this to the THX 789?

      • Reply June 9, 2020

        Matty Graham

        Sonically indistinguishable, it depends on whether you appreciate a smaller footprint and price-tag (SP200), or would prefer three gain settings (789).

    • Reply September 17, 2020

      Steve Rios

      Hi Matty! Could you tell me if this amp and the THX 789, in your opinion and experience, are the best performers in bass and sub bass? I love hearing the heavy bass from movies and games. And I also have a taste for great symphony orchestras and great organ music. Thank you! (Headphones: HD600, ATH-M50x).

    • Reply September 17, 2020

      Matty Graham

      Hi Steve, ‘amp-rolling’ to find your preferred sound signature will never be as effective as using EQ or finding an actually bass-heavy pair of headphones. Having said that, both the SP200 and THX 789 (along with pretty much any competent solid state amp) will give you an accurate presentation of bass in any given mix without distortion or colour.

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