This will be my 4th look at SMSL DacAmps and I’ve not been let down yet so… here’s hoping.
The C200 incorporates many of the features of the D0 and H0100 stack that I reviewed not too long ago in these here parts. SMSL have taken $100 off and streamlined the stack into a fetching 1 piece, retailing at $219 via this link to my suppliers, https://aoshida-audio.com/products/smsl-c200?DIST=REM%3D
Whilst I am not paid for my review, or any writing I do come to that, I am, as a rule, supplied items in return for either a written or a video in which I have a little natter about them. This, I’d imagine, is where pretty much all established reviewers find themselves, barring a few professionals who are sent caviar and boats and a ton of money in return for their nod of approval. Crikey, my YouTube isn’t even monetised, and even if it was, I make it it my mission to get a copyright strike on every posting I do there! Ooh, I’m such a rebel!
Aoshida-audio.com have kindly kept me up to date with SMSLs prodigious dacamp output during 2020-2022. They have a habit of doing of doing some nice little packages with plenty of inputs, and plenty of grunt too.
The C200, out today, in actual fact, (if you’re reading this on Monday 29th August 2022), is a willing partner for many of the different dances that are, or were, in vogue. We have the obvious USB input and those most generous Chinese ChiFlyers have included a USB C to USB B connection. This will get you into a laptop or PC, for those others, you’ll have to convert, purchase, beg, borrow or already have a drawerful of cables that are so anxious to see the light of day after your 100th purchase of audio kit that you definitely needed at the time. I can hear them screaming at you – “let me out! let me out!” Onwards please, we’re getting nowhere yet again! So…old skool coaxial. Any of you got any of this stuff? I found coaxial on my Ibasso DX100. It worked a treat and actually only needs a tiny wee cable thingy.
Optical is another helpful input, and the old optical connection is a more abundant fruit growing from the Audio Tree. It can be worth giving it a shake sometimes. Optical is typically found on a Macbook, where those clever Apple people found a way to make a 3.5 headphone jack double up as an optical output. I used a CD Walkman to test out the C200. Yes, before the Apple people thought of the idea, it appears that Sony had realised they could have a dual purposed line out/optical out jack….
We have bluetooth here. The C200 has a cutesy looking aerial supplied that screws into the back and gets you some wireless sounds. Whoo! Beware though, (as we of the ultra skeptical, nit pickingly methodical critters undoubtedly are) , the lossless LDAC codec did not auto default as the acceptable standard when paired with my otherwise faultless Samsung A52 5G Smartphone. I had to suffer the indignity of sub standard tunes until I realised I had to go back into my connectivity menu to set the matter straight. Shame on you SMSL, or Samsung (I dunno which one is responsible) for not offering the cream instantly and forcing your average user to unwittingly put up with the skimmed milk! Hopefully, if you end up as a purchaser you can remember this little ramble and tweak the necessary. LDAC runs effortlessly smoothly so there is absolutely no need to put up with nasty lossy. Lossy be gone! And close the door quietly behind you!
Can I go out on a limb here? I’d have loved SMSL to have put some “get me up and running” leads for the posh TRS input and output bits, and charged $220, or even $230? I’d have liked a nicer box too while we are on the ask.
Built in power supply
There is a difference in the quality of an amplifier/DacAmp that is quickly apparent to the trained eye. Most of our cheaper stuff comes with a PSU which is known as a switching power supply. They are mass produced and have 2 bits to them – the mains bit and the transformer bit. They are inherently noisy, take up a lot of floor space, don’t look like they belong to the unit you bought, and are prone to breakage and just plain annoying. Companies that supply a switching PSU don’t have to worry about putting a decent power supply into their unit and can save a little bit on the design and get it out there faster. We shouldn’t dismiss every product out there for having an external PSU, we should just be mindful of it. The C200 has a built in power supply and just needs a kettle lead to get it working – easily replaceable. While I’m here – any chance of a longer lead? Or are we near a certain weight limit for transhipment?
Remote and tweaks
This tiny thing has a remote supplied! SMSL actually gives a remote with a C200…Will you use it? The volume knob can do all the stuff the remote can but, of course, takes a little learning to master. If you’re on a long lead with the display switched off then, for sure, it will have some benefits. I suppose my usage was more about discovery than it will be for those who live with this as their constant companion.
The C200 uses a ES9038Q2M Dac Chip which means you can configure your device to pull older sources into this Century. There is a setting that allows you to lower the clock speed for older TVs and the like, if you’re experiencing a ssssstutter. I didn’t find any issues so I left the setting where I found it. There are 7 filter settings for the C200. A lifetime of enjoyment for those of you who will be keen to hear what they can all do. Perhaps one of you can come back to me with which was best for what in the comments? I can’t hear enough in the time I’ve had to justify anything meaningful in writing other than to say, it’s there, go nuts. Brightness can be adjusted but doesn’t need to be, display can be switched off, that could be nice. Your display will highlight the file size you’re playing. The nerdy part of me always likes that, so I guess I’m never switching my display off….
The C200 has a preference. It wants your full sized headphones. The clue is in the headphone jacks, of which there are 2 on the front. No.1 is a full sized and no.2 is a 4.4 balanced affair. There is happily no prejudice between power ratings for either output. Both boast a 2.6W over 16 Ohms rating. Plenty enough juice to strike fear into the hearts of most of the phones out there, and with 11 dB of gain in high mode, enough to make an Abyss or Susvara raise an eyebrow…. Hooking up to your hifi should be easy enough. Either RCA (so simple, so many spare leads) or TRS (oh god! Not more leads to buy!) and you’re full steam ahead, for those times when only a visceral blast in your nether regions by your bass cannons will suffice.
I tested the C200 through a selection of weapons from my armoury. I included no IEMs – this is aimed at full sized headphones folks – and this is what I found.
There is a distinct quality in the sound – it’s tuned well – there’s no hiss on any of my phones. I did a comparison with the much more expensive EF400 R2R from HiFiMan and I did find that $499 gets you a little more insight into the music, with there being a little more resolution being offered compared to the C200 and a leaner, faster bass response. What I also was surprised to discover was that, for some of more demanding headphones, I preferred the signature of the C200.
Using HiFiMan HE-6
Those of you who have been following this site over the years will know that I am an owner of 1 of the original HE-6 Planar Magnetic Headphones from HiFiMan . The HE-6 predates the HE1000 range and was the (non electrostat) flagship for a while. It established a mythical status and continues to have a cult following, mainly due to a fast, punchy, wide delivery, especially when married to a suitably powerful amplifier. The amplification was 1 of several drawbacks to the HE-6. An extremely low sensitivity levels will put many modern DacAmps out of the running for getting decent sound from them. Most portable and many desktop Dac Amps will run out of steam well before the HE-6 has got off the starting grid, and more than 1 HE-6 has been literally blown to pieces when a hastily assembled hook up to a speaker amp has gone horribly wrong. The C200 will not disfigure your HE-6, nor will it deliver so much power that the drivers of said headphones are in jeopardy. However, with 2.6W and 11 dB in high gain under the hood, there is enough to have the HE-6 muscling around the circuit at a hellish rate. The next issue with the HE-6 is a rather dry, crisp character to the presentation, and some ringing effects in the upper mid/lower high frequency tonal range that most of us human beings have an intolerance for. This effect can be mitigated with some modifications, of which, naturally, I have been happy to make to mine. I have tamed the beast somewhat with an open design, and a less tempestuous cable. In fact, the C200 has taken what I’ve done and has added some of its own ingredients. The less linear presentation of the C200 has taken some of that over polished glare off the HE-6s upper ends. The HE-6 is, in short, more liveable. I found myself somewhat surprised on 1 fine Saturday afternoon when I realised I had been listening to the old warhorses for the whole day….. How long had it been since I’ve done that? If ever?
The HD-800 has so much going for it. It started the flagship battle, in my opinion. The HD800 is renowned for its splendiferously wild, wide soundstage. It throws your music into the outer depths of the galaxy; you are encased in a giant bubble of vivid, startling clarity, etc.etc. But… ohh….that lack of bass, that spike in the upper mids! I have summarised several years of praise and scorn here. The criticisms are spread across the pages of audio blogism and forum mongering. The HD-800 IS World Class. That IS the official view of subjective reviews. But…well…we at Team Subjective has tinkered heavily with ours, adding some fairly heavy felt around the driver rings and a little something to the dead centre of the diaphragms. The eccentricity’s of the 800s are still there, but we have added a little, and only a little, to the lower end, and have, delicately, snipped off some glare around the upper mids. We have not created an 800S on the cheap. We still have that sound stage and the HD-800 is not dark sounding like the S. The 800 can be improved further still; in fact a member of Team Subjective has sent his off for further expert intervention, at a not inconsiderable cost. That magic is still prevalent on the C200. The wide soundstage, the glasslike presentation of micro details is all still there on the SMSL DacAmp. It is not QUITE as much as some of my other DacAmps, but, as per the HE-6, I suddenly found myself having been sit with the Senn’s on for hours, and I hadn’t felt fatigue. No – it was hunger that drove me to call it a day and head for the kitchen.
Other normal headphones
Are fine. The C200 gives at good as it gets. For the money, it delivers bang. More money will get you more linearity, a little more micro detailing, a stronger sense of the rhythm and emotion of your music, provided of course that you choose well. For Planars the C200 has the drive to push when others out there tend to pull back their performance. For Dynamics, the bass and mids are given a suitably solid surface from which to smooth their way along the track. As always, my closed headphones – Mobius by Audeze, Audio Technica’s W1000Z and the on ear H1 from Even came up a little short against the open backs, being bloated in the lower ends, as the bass rattles around inside the cups, desperate for release. They’ve sounder far worse before though, believe me…
It is with great pleasure that I bring you the all in one C200. I have had a fine week mastering its ups and downs and ins and outs, but, in reality, it didn’t really need too much fiddling about with. The bits I wrestled with (so you don’t have to). DSD. Yep. Notoriously tricky. This baby can handle up to DSD 512, although Audivarna only recognised it as up to DSD 256. I mean who the heck has DSD 512 tracks anyway? In comparison, HiFiMan’s EF400 can handle up to DSD 64 on Audivarna. If you don’t put the C200 in a dedicated USB socket, DSD will not work. On my Macbook I got a thumping pulsing noise and nowt else. If the cable pulls out slightly on your socket, you’re gonna have to switch off, unplug, restart, the whole works. All the other files are fine, but DSD is a nightmare. The C200 is not alone with this issue, and close attention and maybe you’ll never hear this problem. But, if you do, I’m hoping you remember this article and, being ware, you are prepared. Is it worth all the trouble, just for DSD? I’ll leave that for you to ponder. Other than that, just note that this has a short kettle lead. An awkward person like myself can end up a dangling DacAmp, good for a dongle, potentially catastrophic for a C200…..
All perils aside – (and there weren’t too many were there?) the C200 is a competent, solidly built, affordable performer, a jack of many trades, a good looker and again shows just how much you can get from China for your money. Now, where did I leave that remote control?