SMSL SP200 THX 888 Review

SMSL SP200 THX AAA 888 headphone amplifier

Packaging and presentation 

 

 

The SP200 ships in a nice, simple small-ish box proudly wearing the ‘THX’ and ‘Hi-res Audio’ badges, a theme repeated when you open the box to find the same trademarked symbols stamped on the top of the SMSL’s case. By way of accessories, the SP200 is accompanied by an IEC power cord and a brief instruction manual. That’s it.

SMSL SP200 THX AAA 888 headphone amplifier

Build and design

The SP200 is a headphone amplifier, pure and simple. No DAC, no remote, no eq, its job is to make headphones go loud. There’s no bling, no fanfare, and most interestingly, there’s actually not much of it – it’s small. By way of reference, it’s not much bigger than Schiit Audio’s Magni/Modi, and it’s considerably smaller than Drop’s THX 789 AAA. 

However, the SP200 does feel fairly hefty and substantial for its size, giving the impression of a well-built and solid device. Desktop users with minimal table-top real estate will be thankful for its diminutive footprint, but I found a couple of instances where thick XLR cables would cause it to rock off all four feet, or drag around on top of other equipment. 

The SP200’s chassis is all-aluminium, the main body of the amplifier consists of a single ‘tube’ with no joints, with face/rear plates held on with screws. A universal AC power supply is in-built, meaning that no chunky wall-warts are required, which is another tick in the box of benefits over Drop’s THX amp. Nice. 

SMSL SP200 THX 888 headphone amplifier

XLR and single-ended RCA line-level inputs are provided on the rear of the unit, but there are no output or preamp facilities – the SP200 is a headphone-only affair. 

The front of the unit features both four-pin balanced XLR and 6.3mm single-ended headphone outputs, a volume knob, and three ‘clicky’ toggle-switches: power, XLR/RCA input selection, and low/high gain. The power indicator light on the front is a fairly bright, lurid blue that’s slightly offensive, but not a deal-breaker.

And there you have it, we’re done the entire tour of the SP200. But there’s one thing we haven’t discussed yet: its shape. Yes, it’s not your eyes, the SP200 isn’t rectangular – it ‘tilts’ slightly to the right, and from front-on, the SP200 is shaped like a parallelogram (yes, I paid attention in primary school geometry). It’s an unusual choice from SMSL, but it does tend to give the SP200 a somewhat quirky and distinctive appearance. However, I could see this offending the design sensibilities of those who’d prefer a more symmetrical layout. I can confirm that it’s possible to stack the SP200 upright, but I wouldn’t recommend it (if you do, pop it on its left with the volume pot at the top – the weight of the power supply makes it more stable that way).

Head over to page 3 to read about the SP200’s performance and sound quality. 

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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.

    21 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).

    Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.