SMSL DO200 Review
A full featured DAC with great sound and excellent measurements
Pros: + Crystal clear and dead silent
+ Musical and not boring
+ Resolving but not analytical
+ Not bright or harsh
+ Tight and controlled bass
+ High resolution Bluetooth
+ Fixed or pre out
+ I2S and AES/EBU
+ Fully balanced design
+ Good build quality
+ Remote control
Cons: – Slightly lacking in dynamics
– Could do with more body
– Decay faster than natural
– Can’t follow upstream gear
The DO200 was kindly provided by Aoshida Audio free of charge and I covered import fees and tax.
They never asked for a favorable review and this is my honest and subjective evaluation of it.
All links below are not affiliated and I don’t get commission by clicking on them.
The price is $489 an you can purchase it from Aoshida Audio
SMSL is by now, a well known and established brand from China focusing mostly on headphone amplifiers, DACs and Class D stereo amplifiers.
The company is committed to producing value for money products with a rich set of features, excellent performance and top notch measurements.
They have been learning from the past and are attentively listening to customer feedback in order to keep improving.
And this is true because for the past five years that I have been following the brand there is to be observed a steady development regarding craftsmanship and sound quality.
Aoshida Audio is one of the leading e – commerce platforms from China which specializes in providing audio products with excellent service and striving to make continuous improvements.
They offer an authenticity guarantee for everything they sell, lowest price and 2 year warranty plus a 50-day return policy on all the products.
The SMSL xO200 series
The SMSL xO200 series is an exclusive collaboration between the brand and Aoshida Audio to produce some unique and value for money audio products on specifications set after carefully considering the needs of the market.
The first product of the series was the AO200, a small Class D integrated amplifier that I have already reviewed here.
The HO200 headphone amplifier was the second installment of the series (review) and now they have released the DO200 partnering DAC.
SMSL DO200 technical information
Inside the DO200 there are two ES9068AS chips from ESS in a fully balanced configuration with an analogue output stage that utilizes 5 high-end OPA1612 dual op-amps.
The digital signal receiver is the XMOS XU-216, true 32 bit audio processing that supports DoP and Native DSD, with a resolution up to 32bit/768kHz and DSD512.
All interfaces (except Bluetooth) support the MQA decoding function and all inputs (except the Bluetooth) support DSD streaming, including coaxial and optical, although limited to DoP64 for the latter.
An ultra-low phase noise and optimized clock processing circuit are used to achieve ultra-low clock jitter and there is a built-in shielded, low noise power supply with specially designed discrete component linear regulated supply and multiple low noise regulated supplies to provide power for the analog circuits.
The DO200 except for the usual digital inputs (optical/coaxial/USB) has also, the rare to be found at this price point, I2S and AES/EBU audiophile interfaces.
If you are still not happy with all these digital inputs and you hate cables then there is no problem since the DO200 supports wireless connectivity through the Qualcomm’s latest Bluetooth 5.0 QCC5125 chip that can handle the high resolution codecs LDAC and aptX HD along with the usual aptX, SBC and AAC.
Build quality and appearance
The DO200 case is made from CNC machined aluminium of medium thickness, which also acts as a shield to block outside any kind of electromagnetic interference.
The craftsmanship and finish are top notch and the device has a minimalistic simplicity with an elegantly beautiful appearance.
Thumbs up here for the design and the build quality.
The AO200, HO200 and DO200 share the exact same appearance and dimensions, so they can be stacked together to make a beautiful and minimalistic sound system to cover both headphones and speakers.
At the center of the front face there is the multifunction button and next to it a tempered glass screen which is used to display the various menus and other useful information like sample rates.
The knob is made from light aluminium and feels a little loose but it gets the job although it is much easier to control the device from the included remote control.
The back is populated with all the inputs and outputs plus the IEC plug and the power switch but as you can see at the attached photo, the positioning is cleverly arranged so it is possible for the user to have everything plugged in simultaneously without a problem even with more bulky, high quality cables.
User interface and functionality
This is a multifunction unit with a lot of configuration options and all the available actions can be performed either from the center switch or even better from the handy remote control that is included inside the box.
You can configure the following
Select INPUTS between USB/OPTICAL/COAXIAL/AES/I2S/BLUETOOTH
Set the PCM FILTER between three available options Fast Linear/Slow minimum/Minimum Phase
Invert or not the PHASE of the outputs with the following options
ALL Normal/XLR Normal/RCA Normal/ALL Inverted /XLR Inverted/RCA Inverted
Configure the SPDIF MODE, a setting that is only valid for optical/coaxial and AES interfaces.
Only uses the digital receiver chip (DIR) to process the SPDIF signal,
used in most occasions, in this mode supports MQA renderer and DoP playback,
but at this time due to the limitation of the ES9068AS chip, it cannot display the current playing is DoP, and only 176.4kHz input can be displayed. This is normal,
and the internal will still decode DoP and output normal audio.
In this mode DO200 will use the XMOS processor to process the
optical/coaxial signal, so that it can have more powerful computing power and can handle various complex tasks including MQA, DoP, in this mode , Play DoP audio,
the DSD icon will be displayed correctly on the display.
SOUND COLOR which isn’t an equalizer since this setting is using the DSP of ES9068AS to make some different sound color and all of these settings will not change the frequency response curve.
There are 9 sound color settings in DO200 – Rich 1/2/3 – Tube 1/2/3 – Crystal 1/2/3
When set to “Standard” this setting will be bypassed.
PRE MODE with two options;
Vol Fixed : In this mode, volume is fixed on max output level, and the DO200 will ignore the volume operations.
Vol Variable: In this mode, volume can be adjusted, and make DO200 a pre-amplifier.
Set the remote control FN KEY between the following values
MIN ~ MAX
A total of 15 values with the default being 5.
The larger the number is, the stronger the range to adapt to jitter, and the smaller the number, the better the performance against clock jitter.
This DPLL setting is a special function of ESS series products and it can adjust the internal DPLL digital phase locked loop circuit Bandwidth, so that the chip achieves a balance
between anti clock jitter and input tolerance.
When the clock stability of the input signal is good, this value can be reduced so that the clock performance of the system is better.
When the clock stability of the input signal is not good, the sound may be interrupted.
Increasing this value can avoid the sound interruption, for example when using TV as a signal source.
I2S input configuration for matching various sources with the available options between Normal/Inverted, DSD channel and DSD flag.
Lastly we can configure the DIMMER timing, the BRIGHTNESS level and RESET to factory defaults.
Bluetooth connection is stable with strong signal and good working range, at least inside the house where I have tested.
You should remember that the transmitter quality is of equal importance in order to achieve the best performance and sound.
Speaking of sound, with the LDAC codec enabled, the loss in quality is minimal and the DO200 is equally enjoyable from the Bluetooth input that many of you will prefer thanks to the ease of use.
Listening set-up and associated gear
Nothing more natural to pair the DO200 with its siblings so I have tested it both with the AO200 and the HO200.
With the AO200 I have used the easy to drive Magnat Signature 703 bookshelf speakers as for headphones I reached for the Sennheiser HD660s, HD8XX, Focal Clear Mg, HiFiMan Sundara and others.
Of course headphone listening wasn’t limited to the SMSL HO200 and I have tested the performance with the Schiit Vali 2+ and the Fluxlabs FA-12 among others.
Everything was plugged into an iFi Power station with a DC blocker at the input.
Regarding the digital inputs
After the review was published there were a few readers asking about the digital inputs and if they affect the sound quality.
I have used the DAC with all inputs sans the BNC and sound quality was exactly the same.
And this is something to be expected since they get handled by the same chipset.
So quality mostly depends on the outputs of your transport.
If you have something with better USB out then choose this one or if you have something with a special coaxial output like for example the Allo DigiOne Signature then you better use this one.
The DO200 is definitely an excellent measuring DAC and you don’t need to be an expert and browse into graphs to know, as a few listening sessions are enough to hear the flat and ultra linear frequency response, the exemplary clarity and the complete absence of internal noise.
The sound is very clean with a silent background that helps a lot with detail retrieval which is one of the strongest points of the DO200 which manages to stay resolving but in an effortless and natural way without sounding monotonous or analytical.
To tell you the truth I don’t care a lot about measurements and I am mostly interested in how a DAC actually sounds in everyday subjective listening tests because I use my ears and brain and not my eyes to listen to music.
And the DO200 proved to be transparent and stay true to the source material while sounding musical, engaging and not clinical, in a manner that actually connected me to the music and offered great moments of enjoyment.
The timbre is mostly natural and not too digital or artificial so music is portrayed real enough with an extended harmonic palette and great saturation.
The overall presentation is on the lean side and not as full bodied but it never felt lacking in weight and convincing dynamics.
The bass is clear, tight and controlled with good layering and able to resolve in complex and heavily populated passages like the first opening bars of Beethoven’s fifth symphony where I was able to hear every last note without compromises.
Mids are openly spacious and although slightly missing in roundness and heft, the listener gets compensated by the fine articulation and the immense effortlessness that allows vocalists and instrumentalists to sing and breathe in glorious grandiose like the opening chorus of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.
If you have been worried till now about the treble being sharp or hot then you should not because rest assured that it is not harsh nor fatiguing or bright even with strident instruments like the baroque soprano recorder.
Higher frequencies have plenty of energy and drive but they always stay under control and sound smoothly enough without losing in extension and sparkle with the only downside being the sense of metallic hue.
While listening to high pitched percussion instruments I noticed that time decay was a little rushed and although not too much as for instruments to sound overly thin, I should have preferred a more natural and relaxed decay.
The soundstage is wider than deep and during listening sessions with the speaker setup I liked very much the spacious and open sound aided by the accurate imaging but I found it lacking in holography and dimensionality something that became pretty obvious while listening to Tchaikovsky’s 4th symphony.
Further adjustments and fine tuning to individual preferences can be made with the included DSP and the low pass filters of the DO200 although I stayed with the default bypass mode.
If there is one thing to criticize, although not fair, is that the DO200 can’t scale accordingly with upstream gear and a better partnering set up exposes some shortcomings of the design.
But to be honest this is a note on a theoretical basis since I don’t see why someone with high end gear would buy the mid priced DO200.
As a final note I should say that I am very happy with the SMSL – Aoshida series and all three products pair well together and can form a great value for money combination system to successfully cover headphone and speaker listening alike.
At the end
The DO200 is cleverly designed to combine good measured performance with satisfying and musical presentation, something that holds true and confirmed during the listening sessions.
If you add the good build quality, the option to go wireless, the extended I/O interface, the multifunctionality and the competitive pricing it easily gets recommended as one of the best options in the sub $500 category and it should definitely be on your shortlist.
Copyright – Laskis Petros 2021