On this page we’re checking out the SMSL SU-8s & SH-8s stack performance.
SMSL SU-8s & SH-8s Stack Performance
SMSL SU-8s & the SH-8s complement each other and have a very good synergy together. SMSL seems to have designed this duo as a result of serious R&D. Both the DAC and the AMP are technically capable units and together they have a transparent, neutral, and clear sound signature. They are not analytical but they are not very forgiving either. The reproduction feels accurate and precise, with plenty of air and detail.
The resolving nature of both of the units makes them a very competitive stack in this price range. The stack offers a breathy, big, wide soundstage and the layering is really good for the price. Tonality feels accurate, in fact, it is as accurate as it gets in this price bracket. The PRaT is very good as well. Transients, attack, and decay feels quick and agile. The bite is well-tuned, neither too much nor too little. Since the DAC & AMP combo has a very resolving nature, combining it with warmer-sounding devices is quite logical. They can take the 6XX to another level and improve its soundstage, layering, and technical capabilities, without breaking a sweat.
Tight, fast, and linear. The bass is highly dependant on the headphones or IEMs you use the stack with. The stack can provide authoritative and strong bass with the right gear. Overall, the bass is clear, rounded, and airy. It never lacks and never bleeds. It is very controlled and definite.
Bass body is also well-tuned, low range dependant instruments such as bass-guitar, contrabassoon, pipe organ, or percussion types feel natural and organic. When combined with equally fast gear, the stacks bass can keep up with the fastest tracks you can throw at it with ease. The transition from bass region to midrange feels effortless and smooth, too.
The midrange of the SMSL SU-8s & SH-8s is clear, articulate, and transparent. Both female and male vocals are breathy and spacious with plenty of details. You can track micro-details such as the mid-sentence breathe-ins of the vocalists. The stack puts every detail in front of you and wants you to notice them.
Additionally, the tonality of the midrange feels accurate as well. Guitars, cellos, violas sound very neutral and clear to my ears. The extra energy in the upper mids boosts the perceived clarity and adds definition to the sound signature. The control is excellent so you won’t have to worry about snares and cymbals sounding harsh and sharp.
The treble extension of the stack is truly impressive. It has a definitive, extended treble response with plenty of air. The overtones are clean and delicate. Nothing feels saturated or colored. Articulacy and transparency are quite impressive for the price. The control is just as great as the upper midrange, the sharpness, the bite, everything is under complete control. The resolution of the high frequencies is quite good and being able to achieve this in this price range is admirable.
SMSL SU-8s Comparisons
SMSL SU-8s Vs. SMSL SU-9 ($459 USD)
Of course, the first product we compare the SH-8s with will be the SU-9. There is exactly a 100 USD difference between the two products. The most obvious technical difference between the two products is that the SU-9 comes with the ES9038PRO chipset and has a Bluetooth module that supports LDAC. Sound-wise, they are not a hundred miles away from each other. The SU-9 has better PRaT, a more aggressive presentation with sharper transients compared to the SU-8s. Also, the tonality of the SU-9 is a tad more natural.
SMSL SU-8s Vs. Gustard X16 ($499 USD)
The Gustard X16 uses two of the SU-8s’ DAC chip, ES9068AS. It is a very competitive device and it is yet another DAC with excellent transparency and technical capability. Compared to the SU-8s, Gustard X16’s detail-retrieval and resolution are better and it sounds even more layered with more air. Apart from that, X16 has less energy in the upper mids compared to the SH-8s and more low-end authority. It also sounds slightly thicker than the SU-8s, tonality-wise.
SMSL SH-8s Comparisons
SMSL SH-8s Vs. SMSL SH-9 ($289 USD)
The SH-8s features SMSL’s PLFC circuitry whereas the SH-9 utilizes THX’s AAA-888 design. Both of the devices offer plenty of power for your demanding headphones. Although there seems to be a big technological difference between the devices, the performance difference is quite small. They both sound transparent, clear, and dynamic. The biggest difference according to my ears is the tonality. The SH-9 sounds a tad more natural and organic compared to the SH-8s but the margin is small. Also, the SH-9 has a smoother upper midrange that makes it a tad smoother compared to the SH-8s. You can’t go wrong either.
SMSL SH-8s Vs. Geshelli Labs Archel 2.5 Pro ($179 USD)
Geshelli Archel 2.5 Pro is one of my favorite amps. It sounds smoother and warmer compared to the SH-8s. It doesn’t have the resolution and clarity of the SH-8s but it is not far behind. If you are in the market for an unbalanced, budget amp, you might as well take a look at the Archel 2.5 Pro. It outperforms its price tag just like the SH-8s. Additionally, for me, the biggest difference between the two is the soundstage. The SH-8s has a much bigger headroom and it feels more spacious compared to the Archel. Archel’s soundstage is more focused and compact compared to the SH-8s.
SMSL SU-8s & SH-8s Stack Comparisons
SMSL SU-8s & SH-8s Vs. SMSL SU-9 & SH-9 ($749 USD)
Apart from the features, the biggest difference, sound-wise is the superior PRaT of the SU-9 & SH-9 stack. Transients feel faster and more aggressive. There is a small difference in the perceived clarity and resolution as well. The SU-9 & SH-9 stack sounds a tad more natural and relaxed compared to the SU-8s & SH-8s stack. Also, detail-retrieval is slightly better on the SU-9 & SH-9 stack. The SU-8s & SH-8s stack sounds slightly more linear. The SU-9 & SH-9 stack’s layering and imaging are slightly better than the 8s.
SMSL SU-8s & SH-8s Vs. JDS EL Stack II ($549 USD)
JDS EL Stack II is a bit outdated but it is a good competitor nonetheless. It offers a similar, neutral signature with good clarity and resolution. However, technology is constantly evolving, in consequence, DACs and AMPs have come a long way since the last year. The SMSL SU-8s & SH-8s stack measures and sounds better than the EL Stack II. The biggest difference is the resolution and the soundstage. The 8s stack offers a wider, more spacious stage and better resolution. The EL Stack II sounds more forgiving compared to the SMSL SU-8s & SH-8s.
SMSL has been designing incredible devices since the last year and they have achieved a marvelous success rate. I hope they will continue their success streak and continue to bring us products with great price to performance ratios. The SMSL SU-8s & SH-8s stack performs above my expectations and it is definitely not a stripped version of the SU-9 & SH-9. SMSL designed them from the ground up and they did a great job too.
They outperform their price tag and they deserve the HFN recommendation award, without any doubts. Be sure to try them if you are looking to upgrade your desktop rig. You won’t be disappointed.
The SMSL SU-8s & SH-8s review continues on Page Four, 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 2: SMSL SH-8S Desktop Amplifier Review: Packaging & Accessories, Design & Build Quality, Technology & Power, AMP Performance
Page 4: Specifications of the SU-8s & SH-8s