• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required as is 20 years of participation in forums (not all true). There are daily reviews of audio hardware and expert members to help answer your questions. Click here to have your audio equipment measured for free!

SMSL HO200 Review (Headphone Amplifier)

Rate this amplifier:

  • Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 7 3.0%
  • Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 18 7.6%
  • Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 113 47.9%
  • Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 98 41.5%

  • Total voters
    236

Robbo99999

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
4,025
Likes
3,519
Location
UK
It mutes until condition is removed and then it plays again. Front panel LED indicates this situation.
Will it go into protection if any below 12Hz signal is played regardless of strength of that signal?
 

Robbo99999

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
4,025
Likes
3,519
Location
UK
I don't know. I only tested at the one voltage and load.
I think I'll still keep my vote as the headless panther, until they fix it or until we know that the vast majority of sub 12Hz content in movies can be played without protection mode kicking in (related to the voltage & load variable that you mention). Otherwise I'd up it to Great golfing panther.
 

PuX

Active Member
Joined
Feb 16, 2018
Messages
275
Likes
172
classic 5+ different fonts with variations on a single device, RCA labels on different levels. some things never change. :)

great performance though.
 

PeteL

Major Contributor
Joined
Jun 1, 2020
Messages
2,293
Likes
2,336
Nice device.
But the question for me is: Who nees such a device in this days? Normally more or less all DAC´s offer a headphone connector, most of all amplifiers do so. So where is the benefit of this thing? Okay, if you are using a cheap DAC with no headphone plug, than this device could make sense, but otherwise? Im using an older Benchmark DAC2 with headphone plugs and when im listening with my AKG K701 it does sound very well and more than loud enough. No distortion audible and no problems with sub-frequencies like 12 Hz or so ;-)

LG Walter
Hard to drive headphones is a thing.
 

jhaider

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Jun 5, 2016
Messages
1,977
Likes
2,877
That's a bit definitive, and I do own one that I love, with very nice PEQ settimgs, wich I always leave on... Many of us deploy EQ on the source, and that's enough for all use cases, with different presets..
If you’re limited to one source, sure.

Look at it another way: what value does yet another iteration of dumb (no PEQ, no crossfeed or virtualization, etc.) headphone amp add to the person who wants to enjoy recorded sounds? There are already scores of them out there at all shapes, sizes, and prices. It’s a solved problem. There’s an opportunity cost in mindless regurgitation

So, excellent DAC/can amps or preamps with no EQ, at a lower price than Equing variants still have their place,

Agreed. No issue with a $20 Lightning headphone dongle not having PEQ. That’s probably the reasonable price ceiling for such limited purpose gear.

Likewise, I ascribe zero value to a new integrated amp that fails to provide bass management and room correction, or at least a volume controlled preout/mainin loop to allow use of external hardware. Without that, it’s just another dumb and pointless box.

Depends on your setup and where you need to insert it, but with so many of us using computer based sources it actually makes more sense implementing it there, and with better results, with much more processing power.

Until someone else wants to play something from her phone, at least…
 

Rottmannash

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Nov 11, 2020
Messages
2,029
Likes
1,648
Location
Nashville
I think I'll still keep my vote as the headless panther, until they fix it or until we know that the vast majority of sub 12Hz content in movies can be played without protection mode kicking in (related to the voltage & load variable that you mention). Otherwise I'd up it to Great golfing panther.
Who watches movies with headphones?
 

Robbo99999

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 23, 2020
Messages
4,025
Likes
3,519
Location
UK
Who watches movies with headphones?
Ha, it's true that I don't, but I'm sure people do. I have done in the past, a number of years ago. If the amp shuts off when trying to play any sub 12Hz content then that would be an annoying bug, hence headless panther from me.....but if it was proven that in real world conditions that this amp doesn't shut off when trying to play "real" signals below 0dBFS below 12Hz then I would change it to Great golfing panther - or if they put out a fix.
 

groot

Member
Joined
Oct 26, 2021
Messages
9
Likes
26
Location
USA, East Coast
I'm a little surprised by the comments on this amp, given the hobbyist nature of this forum.

Sure, there are a lot of great amps on the market right now, but the vendors are differentiating within their own lineups. And I certainly don't think SMSL should just cede the market to Topping. Yeah, they may have the same parent company but they are still competitors.

From what I've read so far, this particular amp is only the second (?) iteration of SMSL's precision linear feedback circuit (PLFC) design in an HPA, which they have obviously designed to compete with (and to stop paying royalties to) THX. I imagine Topping developed NCFA for the same basic reason. And good for them. If we stopped innovating once we exceeded human hearing, everyone should have just given up after Drop released the 789 and moved on to building wacky tube amps instead.

The other SMSL PLFC HPA is the SH-8s which has two-stage gain, no pre-amp out, and no 4.4mm jack; so the differentiation with the HO200 is substantive. Functionality (if not power) wise it sits between the A30Pro and the A90 but with a price closer to the A30Pro, and most people seem to agree that the high gain on all three amps is mostly there for show.

I grant that having the RCA->Unbal measure better than the XLR->XLR is unusual, but Amir's dashboard for the A30Pro and the A90 are both (XLR input and unbalanced 1/4 headphone out), and the HO200 measures practically identically to the A30Pro, so it's still in the 121 SINAD club (and deserves the golfer). Why would we penalize them for making the unbalanced chain competitive with the L30?

As to the protection kicking in at ~12Hz, I'll leave it to people who know more than I do to weigh in on the technical merits, but the official spec says "20Hz to 500kHz frequency response" so it's not like they claim it works down to 10Hz. From the protection behavior in the XLR->XLR impedance sweeps (and the presence of that USB service port), they seem to have put a lot of software controls in place. After what happened with the L30 I wouldn't blame them for being conservative with this much power and a relatively new circuit design.

I wish that storm hadn't cut the review short. I would like to get Amir's subjective assessment, even if it is "Yep, that's an amp alright." But I appreciate all the time invested regardless.

I have to say, I'm not a fan of the new voting thing so far. I think I prefer the panthers to be Amir's exclusive discretion. The whole conversation around this amp just feels weird and a little unfair, and I feel like the voting thing might be why. I'd love to hear JohnYang1997's take on this amp. He might be a competitor but he's always been fair.
 
Last edited:
OP
amirm

amirm

Founder/Admin
Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Joined
Feb 13, 2016
Messages
38,590
Likes
168,285
Location
Seattle Area
And I certainly don't think SMSL should just cede the market to Topping. Yeah, they may have the same parent company but they are still competitors.
They don't. There is no relationship between Topping and SMSL.
 

Tks

Major Contributor
Joined
Apr 1, 2019
Messages
3,104
Likes
5,100
I'm a little surprised by the comments on this amp, given the hobbyist nature of this forum.

Sure, there are a lot of great amps on the market right now, but the vendors are differentiating within their own lineups. And I certainly don't think SMSL should just cede the market to Topping. Yeah, they may have the same parent company but they are still competitors.

From what I've read so far, this particular amp is only the second (?) iteration of SMSL's precision linear feedback circuit (PLFC) design in an HPA, which they have obviously designed to compete with (and to stop paying royalties to) THX. I imagine Topping developed NCFA for the same basic reason. And good for them. If we stopped innovating once we exceeded human hearing, everyone should have just given up after Drop released the 789 and moved on to building wacky tube amps instead.

The other SMSL PLFC HPA is the SH-8s which has two-stage gain, no pre-amp out, and no 4.4mm jack; so the differentiation with the HO200 is substantive. Functionality (if not power) wise it sits between the A30Pro and the A90 but with a price closer to the A30Pro, and most people seem to agree that the high gain on all three amps is mostly there for show.

I grant that having the RCA->Unbal measure better than the XLR->XLR is unusual, but Amir's dashboard for the A30Pro and the A90 are both (XLR input and unbalanced 1/4 headphone out), and the HO200 measures practically identically to the A30Pro, so it's still in the 121 SINAD club (and deserves the golfer). Why would we penalize them for making the unbalanced chain competitive with the L30?

As to the protection kicking in at ~12Hz, I'll leave it to people who know more than I do to weigh in on the technical merits, but the official spec says "20Hz to 500kHz frequency response" so it's not like they claim it works down to 10Hz. From the protection behavior in the XLR->XLR impedance sweeps (and the presence of that USB service port), they seem to have put a lot of software controls in place. After what happened with the L30 I wouldn't blame them for being conservative with this much power and a relatively new circuit design.

I wish that storm hadn't cut the review short. I would like to get Amir's subjective assessment, even if it is "Yep, that's an amp alright." But I appreciate all the time invested regardless.

I have to say, I'm not a fan of the new voting thing so far. I think I prefer the panthers to be Amir's exclusive discretion. The whole conversation around this amp just feels weird and a little unfair, and I feel like the voting thing might be why. I'd love to hear JohnYang1997's take on this amp. He might be a competitor but he's always been fair.

Panthers doesn't influence the decision, it just shows what the community feels.

I agree, spec race is still nice, but not 4V output for example (that level is useless in my book, even after you account for whatever loss due to impedance and current requirements your potentially hard to drive headphones may have). I more look at 4V/2V performance as a potential gauge of how well the gain selection is which sometimes manifests in the more important 50mV spec (actual listening levels for me personally). I like to see amps that can cross that 90dB mark (ideally 96dB getting crossed for true TOTL transparency since I take CD quality to be good enough for my ears to the grave).

Besides that, I look for filters (I can't really tell the difference between them by listening all the time, or most of the time, but I like seeing proper brickwall filters since I have no use for 22kHz+ content that my tweeters potentially have to bother recreating for no reason). And things like jitter/IMD graphs are also nice. As well as low output impedance (actually pretty important with the entire headphone and IEM industry going full retard mode seemingly trying to out compete one another for the lowest impedance headphone/IEM on the market).

As for the unbalanced/balanced discrepancy, it's weird for sure. Not sure what's going on there (I know that with "true balanced" you get a doubling of noise and distortion in theory, but because of ground loops being better controlled, it usually results in a less noisy reading of the lower Hz range where you would usually see things like mains related issues). Though I personally am stunned to see such unbalanced performance, and the fact that's is better than balanced is pretty cool since balanced usually has a slight edge, meaning SMSL worked hard to get the unbalanced performance so good.

One day I hope Amir can demonstrate the balanced approach by including a metric or an article showing how well balanced does when purposefully introducing a disgusting groundloop for instance. I hear talk about what it does, but I've never seen an actual graph demonstrating how much it can actually do when pushed to the limits of the theoretical approach itself.
Who watches movies with headphones?

I love watching movies with headphones :confused: especially with the crossfeed options available on some devices it's awesome!
 

EJ3

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Dec 10, 2019
Messages
1,107
Likes
831
Location
James Island, SC
It would really be cool if we could have a ratings page where you choose your piece of gear and rate it on some of this stuff - you rate how satisfied you are with BQ, usability/ergonomics, you mark whether there is audible channel imbalance, whether there was a malfunction at some point.

Build up a database. Then one could actually quantify unit to unit variation of the same model and statistically compare different products on various things. It's not perfect since it depends on the honesty of people doing the marking - that they 1) actually own the product and 2) are responding honestly. Even with those (and some more) limitations, it would be really interesting to have.
Would that BQ be for Build Quality or Bull$!tt Quality?
 

Joel

Member
Joined
Apr 5, 2021
Messages
10
Likes
12
Strange question, does anyone know if the pre-amp function will pass audio to both the XLR and RCA outs? I have balanced speakers but an unbalanced sub. I have a passive pre-amp I'd love to replace it and gain a high-power headphone amp. I'm told the Topping A90 will do it, but this looks tempting for $100 less.
 

restorer-john

Master Contributor
Joined
Mar 1, 2018
Messages
9,120
Likes
25,767
Location
Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
classic 5+ different fonts with variations on a single device, RCA labels on different levels. some things never change.

As you say, the performance is very good, but the thing is a complete ergonomic and design disaster.

There's so much wrong, I don't know where to start. Will they ever learn? I doubt it. SMSL are one of the worst and can always be counted on for a good laugh.

Maybe one day they will ready for prime time- I hope so. That time when people look at their product as aspirational, highly performant and oozing quality. They have one of the three qualifiers. The other two, not so much.
 

Haruko

Member
Joined
Sep 14, 2021
Messages
63
Likes
59
y no multi ? is that not worthy of measurement anymore or ?
 
Top Bottom