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. 

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Matty's a musician, music-fan, and 'gear-phile' from Sydney, Australia. Outside of work in creative advertising for global youth media network VICE, Matty enjoys live music, lawn bowls, craft beer, and spending far too much money collecting vinyl.

    9 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.

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