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AOSHIDA SMSL C200 Review (DAC & Amp)

Rate this DAC & HP Amp

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 6 2.5%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 1 0.4%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther

    Votes: 44 18.5%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 187 78.6%

  • Total voters
    238

beagleman

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What makes these DACs so well engineered? I'd be curious if @amirm could put it into words or even an article. If you were looking at a teardown of something 120 db SINAD vs 100 (although not bad) or 80 or 60. It can't all be about the components on the board - we're talking a lot of cheapy DACs on here. What are these engineers doing to attain such measurements? :D
And from what I read, at least, many of the AVRs with mediocre SINAD measurements, are using Chips and components that are decent quality.

Is it just implementation and spurious noises that make their way INTO a component or chip, or is there something greater going on/.??
 

Jimster480

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And from what I read, at least, many of the AVRs with mediocre SINAD measurements, are using Chips and components that are decent quality.

Is it just implementation and spurious noises that make their way INTO a component or chip, or is there something greater going on/.??
It has to do with the overall implementation. If you see most of the devices that have poor SINAD figures are the ones that have massive main leakage or other input leakage problems.
 

nsfgp

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This guy worked thru this DAC pretty thoroughly and should answer at least some of the questions you may have.
 

xaviescacs

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Just ordered one.This is for my living room where I need a DAC with optical input, headphone output with decent power, balanced output for the monitors and remote, all in the smallest space (and price) as possible. So this, I hope, is ideal for me. I will report as soon I can try it.
 

ampguy

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What is the advantage of disadvantage of not having 2 DAC chips in the device?
 

godmax

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Thanks, but since the C200 has balanced out, but only 1 DAC chip, how does this work?
The used ESS9038Q2M DAC chip is already capable of outputting a differential current mode signal for left and right channel (you can take a look at the datasheet).
With using two DAC chips you could process each channel in mono mode which might have better dynamic range (but even the datasheet does not even specify if there is really an improvement in doing so - im contrast to the ESS9038PRO, where it says its some dB better in mono mode).
Nevertheless, its already balanced and when implementing a current-to-voltage converter for each channel (datasheet fig. 5), you have a fully differential/balanced voltage signal for left and right that is routed to the TRS output on the back of the C200 .
The C200 headphone amplification section just doesn't take advantage of that differential signal and uses single-ended design.
 

ampguy

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The used ESS9038Q2M DAC chip is already capable of outputting a differential current mode signal for left and right channel (you can take a look at the datasheet).
With using two DAC chips you could process each channel in mono mode which might have better dynamic range (but even the datasheet does not even specify if there is really an improvement in doing so - im contrast to the ESS9038PRO, where it says its some dB better in mono mode).
Nevertheless, its already balanced and when implementing a current-to-voltage converter for each channel (datasheet fig. 5), you have a fully differential/balanced voltage signal for left and right that is routed to the TRS output on the back of the C200 .
The C200 headphone amplification section just doesn't take advantage of that differential signal and uses single-ended design.
Thank you! So essentially it is a balanced DAC, but the ho amp section uses the SE outputs of the DAC internally?
 

virtua

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What makes these DACs so well engineered? I'd be curious if @amirm could put it into words or even an article. If you were looking at a teardown of something 120 db SINAD vs 100 (although not bad) or 80 or 60. It can't all be about the components on the board - we're talking a lot of cheapy DACs on here. What are these engineers doing to attain such measurements? :D
The usage of the latest generation of opamps with a lot of negative feedback facilitated inside nested feedback loops in output stage is a big one. The DAC chips themselves also being capable of low noise/distortion operation as well. Couple this with large amounts of power supply filtering (removing noise introduced by power supply) and a high quality SMPS or linear power supply. Each of those factors will limit each other in some way, so you need to optimise all for them to not bottleneck each other. Similar story with headphone amps and most devices.

Devices which don't measure as well will either have a deficiency in power supply quality or filtering, use topologies which have less negative feedback being used (some companies believe this results in better subjective sound quality, optimising for open loop gain) or using discrete circuits instead of opamps which tends to lend to more difficulty in tightly matching parts vs ICs - which is also a factor in optimising noise performance; again - this is often done as some designers believe it subjectively sounds better. Higher noise DAC's being used, such as those from Burr Brown being used in iFi gear as opposed to the standard AKM and ESS DACs being used. Beyond this, ofcourse the traces, layout and general design will have a large part in SINAD as well.

As for people who are already using these techniques which optimise SINAD and competing against each other, it'll all have to do with further small optimizations of the layout, traces, design or making small upgrades to the parts used. I figure this is why the SINAD race is starting to slow down quite a lot because I think things have been optimized to such a high degree already that it will be difficult to improve from here on out. The designs themselves are also getting close to reaching the wall where noise will largely be thermal noise dominated in normal ambient temperatures which is no easy task to get past.

As a lay person, I think that would be most of it. Someone more knowledgeable please correct me if I'm wrong or missing anything.
 
Last edited:

Jarrett

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The usage of the latest generation of opamps with a lot of negative feedback facilitated inside nested feedback loops in output stage is a big one. The DAC chips themselves also being capable of low noise/distortion operation as well. Couple this with large amounts of power supply filtering (removing noise introduced by power supply) and a high quality SMPS or linear power supply. Each of those factors will limit each other in some way, so you need to optimise all for them to not bottleneck each other. Similar story with headphone amps and most devices.

Devices which don't measure as well will either have a deficiency in power supply quality or filtering, use topologies which have less negative feedback being used (some companies believe this results in better subjective sound quality, optimising for open loop gain) or using discrete circuits instead of opamps which tends to lend to more difficulty in tightly matching parts vs ICs - which is also a factor in optimising noise performance; again - this is often done as some designers believe it subjectively sounds better. Higher noise DAC's being used, such as those from Burr Brown being used in iFi gear as opposed to the standard AKM and ESS DACs being used. Beyond this, ofcourse the traces, layout and general design will have a large part in SINAD as well.

As for people who are already using these techniques which optimise SINAD and competing against each other, it'll all have to do with further small optimizations of the layout, traces, design or making small upgrades to the parts used. I figure this is why the SINAD race is starting to slow down quite a lot because I think things have been optimized to such a high degree already that it will be difficult to improve from here on out. The designs themselves are also getting close to reaching the wall where noise will largely be thermal noise dominated in normal ambient temperatures which is no easy task to get past.

As a lay person, I think that would be most of it. Someone more knowledgeable please correct me if I'm wrong or missing anything.

Thank you, that was so helpful. It itched my curiosity :)
 

okok

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rumor said Sabaj is SMSL-backed knock off of Topping
 

Timstunes

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Yes this looks great value. It seems to have the same major components as the SMSL DO100 DAC with very similar performance. Only difference in features i can see is the balanced output is TRS in C200 vs XLR for DO100. The DO100 was rated an excellent DAC and great value a few months back. The C200 gives you basically that DAC for the same price but also includes a very decent headphone amp. ... unless i am missing something.
I agree!
 

Boxermotor

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the AOSHIDA SMSL C200 balanced DAC and headphone amplifier. It costs US $210.
View attachment 227075
The unit looks attractive enough for a desktop product. The LED is function but sadly displays the sample rate rather than volume (until you change that). Navigating the menus is a bit hard but the included remote helps some. It is very nice to see built-in power supply:

View attachment 227076

As well as balanced output in the form of TRS outputs.

SMSL C200 DAC Measurements
I expect excellent performance from SMSL and it delivers:
View attachment 227077

View attachment 227078

This easily lands the C200 in the upper section of our "excellent" category:
View attachment 227079

View attachment 227080

Sum of distortion and noise is well below transparency.

Dynamic is naturally excellent:
View attachment 227081

Multitone is naturally so as well:
View attachment 227082

And IMD:
View attachment 227083

Linearity is textbook perfect:
View attachment 227084

Jitter falls in the same excellent category:
View attachment 227087

We have the usual choice of filters:

View attachment 227085

Each naturally impacts ultrasonic noise so varies performance in our wideband distortion+noise sweep:
View attachment 227086

SMSL C200 Headphone Amplifier Measurements
Let's start with noise performance:
View attachment 227088

This is well above average:
View attachment 227089

Power is most important so let's see how well the C200 performs:
View attachment 227090
View attachment 227091

Both of these indicate available juice to drive 90% of the headphones out there to very satisfactory levels with superbly low noise and distortion. If your headphone has a different impedance, you can compute it using the following measurement (power = V*V/R):
View attachment 227092

SMSL C200 Headphone Listening Tests
I started with the Dan Clark Stealth headphone. Fidelity was excellent but power output was average. Switching to Sennheiser HD-650 fixed that with plenty of dynamics now and detail. You get a bit more power still with Drop Ether CX. I could not get the unit to distort with either one of these headphones.

Conclusions
You get a superb DAC in the C200. The headphone amplifier is also quite clean and competent but just shy of the power in the highest tier products. I suspect the price will justify this (will update the review if not). Really, not much else to say.

I am happy to recommend the AOSHIDA SMSL C200.

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As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
Jumped on one of these at Amazon after reading the review. Got it yesterday and absolutely love it - drives my headphones much better than the Topping EX5 using the hight gain function. Coupled with my SMSL DA-9, drives my Elac DB6's with plenty of volume to spare. Thanks for the review!
 

nsfgp

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@Boxermotor ... nice new toy congrats!!
Is the line out fixed output only (DAC mode)?? Is there a Pre-Amp mode for volume-controlled lineout?? Both line RCA/TRS output at the sametime, right??
 
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