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SMSL A300 My Subjective-ish review

AMPaul

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SMSL A300 (£150/$175)


These are my impressions of the new SMSL A300 integrated amp.

I tested it with my SMSL SU9N DAC playing Spotify from my TV through TOSLink. I used a pair of Quad S2 (87dB at 8ohm impedance nominal) speakers as they are very revealing and fairly neutral from 200Hz upwards.

I ordered the unit straight from SHENZENAUDIO, it was discounted 10% because of the “late summer sale”, and it arrived (UK) without any glitches in 7 days.

I have been paying attention to this segment of the amplifier market as I was looking to switch from my Rega Brio-R class AB amp(£450 amp), to a Class D amp with more power ( 50W compared to A300 claimed 85W into 8 Ohm). I just wasn’t that impressed with the PA5 and DA9 but when A300 appeared at $175 equivalent, I was compelled to buy.

Overall, I am quite happy with this move (sold the Brio) and I will explain in more detail why. I would give the A300 a solid 8.5/10 score).

BUILD QUALITY

The amp feels solid , weighs about 1Kg, looks well designed, I like the in line speaker binding posts as it allows more easy connection, as opposed to the array (2x2) posts, which can be tricky to deal with because of lack of space- especially in this small form factor. I was a bit confused when I connected the RCA cables on the back as Line input 2 is the first one on the left of the back of the amp and then Line1 comes. So when I switched it on I heard nothing and for a moment thought I got a faulty amp (haha). Anyway I figured that I had connected to Line2 and it started playing. The menu is easy to navigate and I really like the fact that one can dim the display for late night dark listening.


HOW IT SOUNDS?

I tested the amp with Direct mode (E0) and Tone (E1) and SDB (E2). I didn't test the BT functionality or the SW out.

In Direct, it sounds really flat over 20HZ to 20Khz, i didn’t detect any kind of coloration to the sound, and with my flat sounding speakers, I would say too much of a neutral sound. I wouldn’t call it boring sounding but nothing stands out and that may seem boring to some. I didn’t detect any harshness in the upper registers, just neutrality ( and believe me if that was the case the Quads would have pointed that out to me). Compared to the Brio, I would say it is more neutral sounding and it extends a bit further in the upper and lower frequencies.

BASS (Direct) – one of my reasons for going Class D and going for more power was related to bass control provided that the amp is well built. Oh boy, there is plenty of bass control. Bass is tight, articulate, well controlled, especially when I crank up the volume to >80db. The amp doesn’t lose composure ( I cant say the same about the Brio), A300 grabs those woofers and makes them sing.

MIDS (Direct)- very neutral sounding , nothing stands out, voices are played well, natural sounding. Timbre sounds correct for most instruments, and there is no harshness detected at 2K-4K. IT is not mid centric as the Brio was, but I guess that’s what British sounds is all about right?

TREBLE (Direct)- this is quite funny and surprising, as many Class A/Class AB buffs have described in the past Class D as harsh, shimmery etc… This amp is the opposite of that , it is smooth ( too smooth for my ear) in Direct mode. There is detail, Cymbals and other instruments sound correct but with a bit of a veil on top, which can bother some, but hey we have DSP and tone controls.

SO to sum up, this amp is neutral, natural sounding, quite smooth and may fit many speakers. 9/10.

Now, the fun part, the DSP. SMSL promote their SDB patented DSP as the next best thing. To be honest, I like it quite a lot at low listening levels (<65dB). Think of it as a good ol’ LOUDNESS button on the old receivers. It does exactly the same thing.

What I preferred actually is E1 – TONE setting- for normal listening 65-75dB. I bumped up the BASS to +2 and Treble to +2 and the whole combo sounds amazing. To be honest I cannot believe that £150 Class D can bring this much to the table.

SOUNDSTAGE/IMAGING- quite wide left to right soundstage, instrument separation is excellent ( better than my old Brio-R), there is width and depth to the sound (the amp doesn’t play a role in this anyway). Very happy.

I have to mention the POWER, the amp is powerful, definitely more powerful than my old Brio, I t can play really LOUD without losing composure, without any harshness, and that is what I mainly wanted in this purchase. It gets a bit warm but nothing to worry about. Very happy.

DOWNSIDES

I have a few comments related to the build and functioning of the amp too.

  • The remote- while very nice to have – I use the amp in far field ( I sit about 2.5 m away from it) and sometimes IF I don’t AIM within a cone of 30-40 deg from the receiver diode – it is hit and miss. I wish they improved that.
  • The menus- sometimes they glitch ( some other characters appear on display)- not too bothersome but had to mention- 99% time it works perfectly fine- I guess they focused mostly on sound performance and didn’t put too much into the user experience budget.
  • The background noise- So I noticed as I connected my speakers that a high frequency HISS sound does come out of them when no music is playing- I can hear it at <20cm from the speaker. It doesn’t increase with Volume so at normal listening levels it is un perceptible. One thing I noticed is that if I mute the amp the noise disappears. Maybe this is just my unit ( although I doubt that) but yes, there is a background noise that may bother some of you.
This was it, my subjective review, and I hope someone gets to measure this amp soon and we can all see how well it stacks vs other high value Class D amps. Absolute steal of an amp for the money! If you asked me whether it beats the Brio-R- i would say yes by a small margin, and remember the Brios have been the best thing Class AB has to provide in terms of pure sound for under £600-$700 according to various HIFI magazines and websites.
 

JSmith

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SMSL A300
There is a thread about this already;
There are some measurements by the manufacturer, but no independent tests yet and not as thorough as ASR or L7 testing;


JSmith
 

nsfgp

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  • The background noise- So I noticed as I connected my speakers that a high frequency HISS sound does come out of them when no music is playing- I can hear it at <20cm from the speaker. It doesn’t increase with Volume so at normal listening levels it is un perceptible. One thing I noticed is that if I mute the amp the noise disappears. Maybe this is just my unit ( although I doubt that) but yes, there is a background noise that may bother some of you.
This was it, my subjective review, and I hope someone gets to measure this amp soon and we can all see how well it stacks vs other high value Class D amps. Absolute steal of an amp for the money! If you asked me whether it beats the Brio-R- i would say yes by a small margin, and remember the Brios have been the best thing Class AB has to provide in terms of pure sound for under £600-$700 according to various HIFI magazines and websites.
If it is not the tweeter/driver's natural noise floor you are hearing (sounds more like it might be a ground loop type hum/noise creeping in somehow) -> change/try as much quality RCA cable you can get your hands on. If your source are from a TV only ... try using a laptop as source and see if any difference.

You nailed it. Smooth and rich/natural sound from this amp stands out. Not your typical class-d metallic/dry sound at all.
 

ftiziatr

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hello. I bought an smsl a300 yesterday. Before that, I owned a denon 600ne. 45 wat x2 . I always listened at 9-10 o'clock. But in smsl 85 wat and I set the volume to 30, this is half of the volume. So it turns out smsl is weaker?? Or I don't understand something. If someone helps me figure it out, I will be very grateful. It sounds great, but I'm worried that I was deceived. I apologize in advance for my English.
 

nsfgp

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hello. I bought an smsl a300 yesterday. Before that, I owned a denon 600ne. 45 wat x2 . I always listened at 9-10 o'clock. But in smsl 85 wat and I set the volume to 30, this is half of the volume. So it turns out smsl is weaker?? Or I don't understand something. If someone helps me figure it out, I will be very grateful. It sounds great, but I'm worried that I was deceived. I apologize in advance for my English.
You cannot just compare 2 amps like that based on the position of the volume knob.
The Denon has higher input sensitivity than the A300. The Denon could (I am not sure) likely have an analog volume pot which could be either a log/audio taper pot OR a linear taper pot. A300 has a digital volume control. All these things will determine the volume settings you needed for your speakers in use for the loudness you need.

Just enjoy your system if you like the sound. Volume setting of 30/60 is a very healthy margin setting.
Does the A300 sound better than the Denon in your opinion??
 

ftiziatr

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You cannot just compare 2 amps like that based on the position of the volume knob.
The Denon has higher input sensitivity than the A300. The Denon could (I am not sure) likely have an analog volume pot which could be either a log/audio taper pot OR a linear taper pot. A300 has a digital volume control. All these things will determine the volume settings you needed for your speakers in use for the loudness you need.

Just enjoy your system if you like the sound. Volume setting of 30/60 is a very healthy margin setting.
Does the A300 sound better than the Denon in your opinion??
it's much cleaner than denon. And the acoustics control is much better. The sound from the speakers has become more free and open, with denon at a higher volume it is very muddy and some sounds stick to the speakers. with denon, I didn't hear 40 percent of what I hear in headphones (I have beyerdynamic and akg) a very muddy sound, although it is perceived more powerfully and envelops you. I'm thinking of buying a second smsl for btl, but I'm still worried that the volume control is 50 percent, and sometimes 70. I have kef 150, aad 550 and heco 502 speakers
 
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kaopad999

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it's much cleaner than denon. And the acoustics control is much better. The sound from the speakers has become more free and open, with denon at a higher volume it is very muddy and some sounds stick to the speakers. with denon, I didn't hear 40 percent of what I hear in headphones (I have beyerdynamic and akg) a very muddy sound, although it is perceived more powerfully and envelops you. I'm thinking of buying a second smsl for btl, but I'm still worried that the volume control is 50 percent, and sometimes 70. I have kef 150, aad 550 and heco 502 speakers
Thanks. this might be the amp i'm looking for to drive my Q acoustics 2020i's or my Mission Lx2's.
i'd imagine the Denon sounds quite simialr to my Marantz Pm5005, so i'd be happy if the A300 can sound even better
 

TonyJZX

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i just got mine today and i have a slightly different perspective...

I have tried a 2nd set of speakers and I think I have the same feeling so far after a short time listening... this amp doesnt seem to have the "body" or "warmth" of the traditional A/B amps I've owned or listened to. There's a certain cold coolness. Maybe I've been 'poisoned' by a series of Marantz NAD Parasound units...

I think perhaps you have to get accustomed to a new amp. There's heaps of detail, vocals are super clear, speed is all there, absolute heaps of power but I think it gets every so slightly harsh and "etchy" if you drive it too hard.

I personally cant think much even at $400 usd that comes close. The $600-$700 Sabaj's will show it up though.

Just using line in... cant be bothered with bt or digital in.

No hiss but I'm using ordinary 86-88dB speakers. I'm using a digital dac preamp as control. Hugely enjoyable experience. Get this one.
 

DriedFartz

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I have tried a 2nd set of speakers and I think I have the same feeling so far after a short time listening... this amp doesnt seem to have the "body" or "warmth" of the traditional A/B amps I've owned or listened to. There's a certain cold coolness. Maybe I've been 'poisoned' by a series of Marantz NAD Parasound units...

I think perhaps you have to get accustomed to a new amp. There's heaps of detail, vocals are super clear, speed is all there, absolute heaps of power but I think it gets every so slightly harsh and "etchy" if you drive it too hard.
What you've described is a typical sound characteristic of Class D. Not all Class Ds of course, but generally.
 

TonyJZX

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btw. the volume ctrl jog shuttle sucks... I cant imagine anyone getting used to this.. but then again one of the reasons why this thing is cheap because it reuses a case design in the more expensive D300 dac.

The LED display has default vol. control always on so you know what level is at but since the jog shuttle fades into the front inky black then you're dialing... "nothing".

You kinda have to use an external dac or preamp combo with a real knob to truly control it. Or use the remote?
 

longma

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i just got mine today and i have a slightly different perspective...

I have tried a 2nd set of speakers and I think I have the same feeling so far after a short time listening... this amp doesnt seem to have the "body" or "warmth" of the traditional A/B amps I've owned or listened to. There's a certain cold coolness. Maybe I've been 'poisoned' by a series of Marantz NAD Parasound units...

I think perhaps you have to get accustomed to a new amp. There's heaps of detail, vocals are super clear, speed is all there, absolute heaps of power but I think it gets every so slightly harsh and "etchy" if you drive it too hard.

I personally cant think much even at $400 usd that comes close. The $600-$700 Sabaj's will show it up though.

Just using line in... cant be bothered with bt or digital in.

No hiss but I'm using ordinary 86-88dB speakers. I'm using a digital dac preamp as control. Hugely enjoyable experience. Get this one.
I got the same impressions as yours when i listened to this amp at the 1st time. I felt i missed the "depth" of the soundstage of class A/B amp. It took me a while to get used to the sound. It is my 1st class D amp.
Some people hear some noise from the speakers if they get closed to the speakers. I verified it, but it does not bother me, for i sit 10 feet from the speakers to listen to music or watch movie.

I bought the amp thanks to the reviews from iiwi and Toku in ASR ( Toku said it sounds similar to Sabaj A02000 or SMSL DA9, but more power). Happy with my purchase, esp i got it at $150 at Amazon.

I use remote control. It works fine.
 

Kitarist

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Its one of the warmer sounding amps compared to other class d amps but at the same time yes it sounds kinda "thin" on the bass departmentit lacks that "depth" that CLASS AB has but it does have loads of detail and texture.

SMSL A100 sounds fuller but lacks details and texture.

You can compare these 2 videos to hear the difference (they both play the same soundclip):

SMSL A300


SMSL A100

 
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HarmonicTHD

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Except for the OP which explicitly wrote „subjective“ in the title, the rest of the listening impressions are just this. (And no YouTube vids don’t count as objective evidence).
 
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Kitarist

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Is there any amp that is similar to this one but that its not veiled on the top end ?
 

Bleib

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I haven't done a detailed review of the amp or comparison with Topping PA5 but I can also confirm the background hiss. It's inaudible unless I place my ear quite close to the tweeter though.
 

jaudio

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Thanks for the review! Can this amp be turned on in other ways than pushing the 'on' button? E.g. will it turn on when connected to the mains supply, so that one could use a 'smart' power strip? (I don't see a "trigger" input on the back).
 

neuron

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My short subjective review using KEF Q150 speakers at my desk.

I started with a Aiyima A07, which offered quite good sound. However, I have an inexpensive powered subwoofer so I upgraded to a SMSL A300 to allow direct sub volume control. The one thing the SMSL A300 does better than the A07 is expand the soundstage of my speakers. With the A07, the speakers sounded excellent but now with the A300 the sound is not only broadened but also focused more with vocals and solo instruments now sounding like they come from right in front of me, although the speakers are a couple feet away to each side of me.

Some people have mentioned a high pitched hiss. I don't hear that at all.
 

kaopad999

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My short subjective review using KEF Q150 speakers at my desk.

I started with a Aiyima A07, which offered quite good sound. However, I have an inexpensive powered subwoofer so I upgraded to a SMSL A300 to allow direct sub volume control. The one thing the SMSL A300 does better than the A07 is expand the soundstage of my speakers. With the A07, the speakers sounded excellent but now with the A300 the sound is not only broadened but also focused more with vocals and solo instruments now sounding like they come from right in front of me, although the speakers are a couple feet away to each side of me.

Some people have mentioned a high pitched hiss. I don't hear that at all.
Thanks for the review!
I've also heard the same thing with people upgrading to SMLS amps from the A07
They have all said that the soundstage and imaging is better with their SMSL amps. That included both the SMSL Da9 and the A300
 

neuron

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My short subjective review using KEF Q150 speakers at my desk.

I started with a Aiyima A07, which offered quite good sound. However, I have an inexpensive powered subwoofer so I upgraded to a SMSL A300 to allow direct sub volume control. The one thing the SMSL A300 does better than the A07 is expand the soundstage of my speakers. With the A07, the speakers sounded excellent but now with the A300 the sound is not only broadened but also focused more with vocals and solo instruments now sounding like they come from right in front of me, although the speakers are a couple feet away to each side of me.

Some people have mentioned a high pitched hiss. I don't hear that at all.
Update. I was able to hear a faint hiss by turning the volume up all the way and putting my ear right next to my speakers. It was faint and went away when turning the volume back down.
 

Docteur Poulet

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Hi!
I would like to upgrade my Technics SU-500 Mk2 for a smaller and more efficient amplifier.
It would be to drive a pair of Cabasse Sloop 321-5 (~93-94db 1w/1m)
I don't want to spend to much money because its not my main speakers which will be very soon a pair of PSI Audio A23-m.

Is the A300 a good choice? I like the internal psu. This is the main reason I don't want the Topping PA3S.
Are there other good amplifiers in this price range?
Thank you for your answer
 
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