SMSL SH-8s Desktop Amplifier
The SMSL SH-8s‘ dedicated web page can be found here. It costs $229 USD.
Packaging & Accessories
The SH-8s AMP comes in a medium-sized, white rectangular box. It seems that the SMSL has changed their packaging design. At the top of the box, we see an outline picture of the SH-8s itself. SMSL did not include any product details or specifications on the box and aimed for a cleaner look as usual. Only the model name and the brand name is present on the outer cover. Upon opening the box, you are welcomed by the foam compartment that protects the device from damage. As for accessories, SMSL only provides the essentials. You get a power cable and 4 pieces of extra rubber feet. Unfortunately, there is no remote for this unit.
Design & Build Quality
The design of the SH8s is roughly the same as the SU-8s. The build quality is top-notch. Just like the SU-8s’s chassis, milling is perfect and there are no imperfections. It has the same form as the SU-8s and it is the perfect companion to the DAC. It is rather compact, especially when stacked. However, the layout is a bit different than the SU-8s. SMSL kept the volume knob of SU-8s but replaced the screen with a bunch of switches instead. You can turn the device on and off with the switch on the far left of the front panel, change the input with the switch in the middle, and change the gain setting between high and low with the switch on the right.
The switches are solid and feel durable. There is also a blue, power status LED next to the power switch. On the front, there is a 6.3mm output and an XLR 4-pin output. On the rear, we have the balanced XLR 3-pin inputs and the unbalanced RCA inputs. The sockets feel solid and well-made. As with the SU-8s, the build quality is impressive and the device is built to last.
Technology & Power
The SH-8s is quite a powerful amplifier. It can dish out 6W into a 16Ω load and 3W into a 32Ω load. It features a pop-less design and it features a precise linear feedback circuit. It has two gain options and here are the details of gain modes: L=+0dB and H=+17.5dB. These numbers mean that the amp is quite powerful and it can feed 90% of the headphones on the market. My Hifiman Deva and modded 58X likes the power and the amp can feed them very well. There is no clipping even at max volume in high gain mode thanks to the SMSL’s PLFC circuit design. Its output impedance is really low I had no problems with IEMs while using the amplifier.
The background was silent, with no hiss issues. It also features the SMSL’s low noise power supply to provide cleaner power to the components and improve efficiency. SMSL used the premium OPA564 chip on the amplification stage. The SNR and THD values are certainly impressive for this price bracket and the sound performance is on par with the measurements on the paper.
The sound signature of the SH-8s is neutral to my ears and as soon as you hear it, you will notice how clean it sounds. SMSL tunes their products in respect of measurements, and this amplifier’s measurements are incredibly good for the asking price. It is so good that it can rival its bigger brother, the SMSL SH-9. It is a highly revealing amp, even a tad bright in some areas such as the upper midrange. However, the control is very good and you won’t hear any sibilance or harsh transients. The bass is linear, tight, fast, and accurate. This band range reflects the source as is, unaltered, uncolored. If you pair it with an IEM like ER4, it may sound dry. However, I paired it with a modded 58X and it sounded amazing. Resolution, transparency, and detail-retrieval were excellent.
The midrange is articulate, clean, and accurate. Vocals have a good texture, they are not thin or dry. Note-weight is also good and feels accurate. The tonality of the upper midrange is a tad bright, this adds to the detail-retrieval capability of the amp and improves the perceived resolution, however, too much energy can lead to destruction, same can be said with this amp, if you combine it with an equally revealing amp such as the Gustard X16 and pair it with a brighter headphone, for example, the Hifiman DEVA, you may end up with a sound signature that feels dry and too clinical. To prevent that, you have to choose your gear by paying attention to their synergy with each other.
On another note, there are many audiophiles out there who love the analytical, sterile sound signature as well, so if you are one of them, go for the pairing that I mentioned a couple of seconds ago and find all the errors in your badly mastered tracks. Let’s talk about the treble region. First of all, the sense of air comes from the good instrument separation and energetic upper mid and treble ranges. The reproduction is amazing, the treble is extended, energetic, and neutral. The wide stage does help with the dispersion of the extension of the highs so they never bite more than they should. The amp has a very silent background as I said so everything feels more articulate and distinct.
The control is very good throughout the spectrum, there is no overlapping anywhere and everything manages to stay clean and tidy. The amp handles congestion very well, thanks to the wide stage and airy headroom even during fast and multi-instrument passages. The attack decay is fast and snappy, transients are quick, harmonics and fundamentals feel agile. The part I was most impressed with was the price compared to its performance and technical capability. It is detailed, transparent, spacious, and accurate at the same time. That is why I think this stack is worthy of an HFN award.
The SMSL SU-8s & SH-8s review continues on Page Three, after the click HERE or by using the jump below.
Page 1: SMSL SU-8s Desktop DAC, Packaging & Accessories, Design & Build Quality, Technology Inside, Controls & UI, DAC Performance
Page 3: SMSL SU-8s & SH-8s Stack Performance, SMSL SU-8s Comparisons, SMSL SH-8s Comparisons, SMSL SU-8s & SH-8s Stack Comparisons, Last Words
Page 4: Specifications of the SU-8s & SH-8s