Compact but mighty
Pros: + Neutral and transparent
+ Crystal clean and dead silent
+ Powerful headphone amplifier
+ 4.4mm headphone jack
+ Compact sized
+ Excellent build quality
+ Many inputs and outputs
+ Great functionally
+ Remote control and LCD screen
+ Great value for the money
Cons: – Headphone amplifier is not really balanced
– Could be more impactful and dynamic
– Not the most resolving or refined
– No MQA decoding (if you care)
The review sample was kindly provided free of charge in exchange for an honest review.
I haven’t received monetary or any other kind of compensation and I don’t use affiliate links.
The price of the SMSL C200 is $219 and you can buy it from Aoshida Audio online shop.
There is a limited time 15% discount offer lasting from 01-11-2022 to 12-11-2022 and you can have it as low as $186.15
SMSL needs no introduction, founded in 2009 are specialized in the audio DAC, stereo headphone amplifier and power amplifiers with a very competitive prices.
They pay close attention to user feedback in order to continue improving on their products and they rank now among the most well respected manufactures of audio gear.
Aoshida-audio is one of leading Platforms which specializes in providing Audio Products, such as: Amplifier, Decoder, Player, Headphone,Cable and Accessories with high quality etc.
All products sold are original and covered by 50-day returns.
They are also part of the World Wide Hearing organization so a portion of every headphone sale goes toward helping a child hear.
SMSL and Aoshida Audio
The SMSL DO/HO/AO series is a collaboration between SMSL and Aoshida Audio to build quality products with high value to performance ratio and specifications set by Aoshida Audio as they were collected by extensive user feedback.
The series was inaugurated with the DO200 DAC, the HO200 headphone amplifier and the AO200 integrated speaker amplifier.
Then they have released a scaled down, more affordable series of products, the AO100, DO100 and HO100.
You can find and read all the related reviews in my signature below.
Now the C200 is their first all-in-one DAC and headphone amplifier combined in one compact chassis.
The C200 is an all-in-one DAC and headphone amplifier which is based on the ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip and a 2nd generation XMOS receiver which supports DoP64, native DSD512 and PCM up to 32bit/768kHz but no MQA.
4x high-end dual op-amps OPA1612 and a large number of audio grade components are used while there is a built-in specially designed low-noise switching power supply and a discrete component linear power supply with multiple low-noise power supplies for the analog and digital circuits.
Additionally to the digital inputs (USB, coaxial and optical) the unit also supports wireless Bluetooth 5.0 reception with the high resolution aptX HD and LDAC codecs.
A special audio clock processing circuit is used for greatly reducing the clock jitter.
Build quality and appearance
The C200 is an ultra compact device, measuring just 139x32x147.5mm, so it will fit virtually everywhere.
The chassis is made from CNC milled aluminum with a black matte finish and build quality is really excellent, there is absolutely nothing to complain about while the unit has a modern and aesthetically pleasing appearance.
The C200 might be mini sized but it is packed full of features, ready to accomplish various use scenarios.
At the front face there are the two headphone outputs, a 6.35mm and a 4.4mm one which is just for utility since the headphone amplifier is single ended.
At the middle there is the multifunction rotary knob and at the right side a small, three digits display.
You can control the unit either by the multifunction button or the included remote control.
At the back side of the chassis you can see the AC input plug, the Bluetooth antenna, coaxial, optical and USB type C inputs, RCA line output and a 4Vrms TRS balanced line output.
Pretty good for such a compact device.
All functions can be adjusted with the multifunction knob or the remote control and there are no other buttons.
Browsing and navigating through the menus is pretty easy and straight forward with a small learning curve thanks to the display which is very helpful but first you have to read the manual carefully in order to understand the abbreviations.
You can set the headphone output gain between high and low, choose between headphone and line outputs, select between the seven available low-pass filters, set the digital phase lock loop, select the desired digital input etc.
Both the RCA and TRS line outputs are adjustable so you can use the C200 as a preamplifier and of course as fixed line output when you set the volume to the maximum.
Headphone and line output volume is independently stored in the memory so you can leave your headphones always plugged in.
While playing music, the screen will display the input signal sampling rate.
The package includes the remote control, a USB to USB-C cable and the power cable. There is also a manual and a warranty card.
Power output and associated gear
The amplifier is rated at 2.6Wx2/16Ω and 1.3Wx2/32Ω so it is very powerful and did a great job driving all my usual headphones with plenty of headroom.
At the same time the noise floor is as low as inaudible so you can use it with your sensitive IEMs.
The unit was left playing music for about 100 hours in order to settle down and most of the listening was done with the Sennheiser HD660S, the HiFiMan Sundara and the Meze Audio 109 PRO.
All headphone cables are of pure silver and made by Lavricables.
The sound is transparent, crystal clear and neutral with an absolutely flat frequency response and great fidelity.
The bass is deeply extended and fast, precise and well layered with convincing dynamics.
It has good timing and it is not lean sounding but not too full bodied either, it mostly comes to headphone matching but don’t expect it to fill a lean sounding headphone or surprise you with thundering impact.
Mid-range is crystal clean with spacious allocation and excellent articulation, smooth enough but not warm.
The overall texture of the C200 is more dry than wet but in exchange you get excellent definition and fast transient response.
The C200 is lively and sparkling, it is resolving and detailed enough but it could be more refined and nuanced.
The treble has great extension and some kind of sharpness but it is not bright, forward or fatiguing and it is also quite forgiving when it comes to lesser quality recordings.
Digital glare does exist but it doesn’t get annoyingly intrusive and it doesn’t add a metallic timbre to the sound.
Timbre is convincing and realistic but you will eventually find it somewhat lacking in harmonic diversity and sonorities.
The C200 is quite musical and engaging but you shouldn’t be expecting an organic and analog like sound signature with a very colorful tone palette.
The C200 has a reference type approach to the sound reproduction which feels quite detached but on the other hand it shouldn’t be considered as clinical sounding or boring.
The soundstage is spacious and well organized with accurate imaging and surplus of air.
It never becomes congested, it is grand sized but it should be considered more wide than holographic or layered on the background.
The truth is that the C200 did an excellent job with all kinds of music and was very competent with classical but it could do a little better with timbre realism and harmonic intensity.
Bluetooth implementation is great, the connection is stable without drop outs and the sound quality is just fine with the usually expected degradation due to the Bluetooth technology inherent weaknesses.
Compared to the FiiO K5 PRO ESS ($150)
The FiiO K5 PRO ESS is another all-in-one solution featuring the ES9038Q2M DAC chip with an admittedly excellent sound performance.
It is $50 less expensive than the SMSL C200 but it is bulkier and it doesn’t have an LCD screen, a remote control, TRS balanced line output and Bluetooth connectivity.
But it has an RCA line input though so you can use it as a standalone headphone amplifier to connect another source like a phono.
The headphone amplifier can do 1.5W/32Ω and has three gain settings for a better matching between various headphones but it misses the convenience of the 4.4mm jack.
Sound quality is more or less on the same level, both devices sound pretty identical, the K5 PRO ESS has a touch more natural timbre and it is just slightly more musical when the C200 is more technical and transparent.
The differences are so blunt that are not worth considering when deciding between the two devices where functionality and price difference are much more important factors.
Compared to the SMSL SU-6 and SH-6 stack ($247 with RCA cable)
The SU-6 and SH-6 stack is the entry level solution from SMSL when it comes to separate desktop devices.
The C200 is essentially the two of them combined under the same chassis with the added feature of the TRS balanced line output and the 4.4mm headphone jack.
Less bulky and space saving, full remote controlled, cheaper and without the need for interconnects it is the obvious choice despite the stack sounding just a little better.
The purists may prefer the stack because of the separate power supplies and the fully analog headphone amplifier (thanks for the analog potentiometer and gain control) which translate in a slightly better, fuller and more dynamic sound performance but the rest would not bother at all given the extra convenience of the C200.
In the end
The Aoshida – SMSL C200 is a great entry level all-in-one solution which ticks most of the right boxes.
With good sound performance for the category, excellent build quality, super compact size and impressive functionality it would be an instant recommendation even if it wasn’t so aggressively priced.
Copyright – Petros Laskis 2022.