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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

Pdxwayne

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I did. So far I like it and think I’ll keep it. Sound quality-wise, it isn’t a big upgrade from the Symphony Desktop I was using but it does have ridiculous amounts of power in comparison. Does anyone actually NEED the high-gain setting? I drive my AEON 2s at mid-gain comfortably at 11 o’clock on mid-gain.

I’m actually using the pre-amp function more and it works incredibly well there too.
I got one too. Mid-gain, at 11 o'clock, it is good volume for my K371. For my HD560s, a nice volume for me is at about 12 to 1 o'clock, mid-gain.

I plan to use it mostly as preamp too. Will see how it works in my stereo setup.
 

Diable

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Another "upgrade" from my SMSL SP200 where I highly doubt I could tell any difference.
I agree but Zeos and his ilk have convinced the sheep that the once amazing thing he sold them on last year is now boring and obsolete and must be replaced with this years hotness. The one benefit of these sheep's stupidity is there's lots of lighty used amps and dac's on the second hand market for those of us with patience to buy on the cheap.
 

avoidwork

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I agree but Zeos and his ilk have convinced the sheep that the once amazing thing he sold them on last year is now boring and obsolete and must be replaced with this years hotness. The one benefit of these sheep's stupidity is there's lots of lighty used amps and dac's on the second hand market for those of us with patience to buy on the cheap.
Hi, stupid sheep here; I don't think I bought this months before reviews of it came out because a shill on youtube told me to. It might be a crazy fact, but did you know things sound different? Kinda like how foods can taste different.
 

Diable

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Hi, stupid sheep here; I don't think I bought this months before reviews of it came out because a shill on youtube told me to. It might be a crazy fact, but did you know things sound different? Kinda like how foods can taste different.
If you came to the decision to buy this amp on your own then your not a sheep nor one of the guys I was referring to. I was talking about the guys who are posting about replacing their Drop 789 or SP200 with this amp or the Rebel Amp because the sound of their old THX amp went from amazing to boring in a years time. Or the guys posting about how amazing class A amps are but can't tell you what makes a class A amp great.
 

Raindog123

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All IPAs taste the same right? :D

Exactly! To me, music we listen is that heavenly IPA (lager, stout, Belgian…), in all its beautiful diversity. While an amplifier and DAC are merely a pint that holds and delivers it (has to be clean and spacious, but that’s about it.) :)
 

Sengin

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Was the weird 11.6Hz shutoff protection thing updated/fixed? I'm considering one of these, but right now the Topping A90 is only 50 bucks more and doesn't have that problem (or any problem at all, really).
 

Adaboy4z

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I received the unit a week ago ordered it before reading the review. Its my first dedicated HPA. Its connected balanced to the SMSL D0200 dac. I listen through HiFiMan 400se planars, KZ S10 Pro and Fii0 JH3 IEM. The sound is pleasing to my ears with plenty of power. I don't hear any hiss using the IEMs. On high gain it's at 9 o'clock with the 400se. I'm using the XLR preout to the A0200. When trying to Volume match I caused it to go into protect the light flashed red to blue a few times. Switching to medium gain all was good. I enjoy the ease of flipping the toggles to change sources and gain. I just wished the remote for the A0200 controlled the HPA volume as it has A, B,C buttons.

Question? Since I have the A0200 amp, D0200 Dac and H0200 should the Dac volume stay fixed when all three are connected? Also when I'm using the preout on the H0200 to the A0200 should I max out the volume on the H0200 and adjust the A0200 volume for listening sessions. Hope I made sense.
 
D

Deleted member 43441

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the SMSL HO200 balanced headphone amplifier. It was sent to me by the company and costs US $399.

I like the feel of the mechanical switches on the HO200:
View attachment 161220
And in-built power supply:

View attachment 161221

Notice the USB input for changing firmware that handles protection circuit duty. Nice new trend in this regard.

I focused my testing on the headphone output. I trust he pre-amp outputs are just the same but with higher impedance so should have identical performance.

SMSL HO200 Measurements
With balanced headphone amplifiers, I always start with XLR input and balanced output. Here, I ran into some issues in that regard with my measurements not matching what is published and some variability and sensitivity to cabling. In one case one channel had more distortion which then went away as I changed XLR cables and such. After some testing, I realized that best performance is achieved with unbalanced output, not balanced! This forced me to test a number of variations. So let's start with the best case which is 1/4 HP Out:

View attachment 161222

This level of noise+distortion lands HO200 neck and neck with the best of the best:

View attachment 161224

Switching to RCA input improved performance just a hair more:

View attachment 161225

When measuring balanced output however, performance drops:


View attachment 161227

But if we switch to RCA input, we get back up there:
View attachment 161228

The issue seems to be gain management. With XLR Input, I had to dial back the volume know whereas with RCA, I would have it at maximum. Normally I expect balanced input and unbalanced inputs to produce the same output with 4 and 2 volts input respectively. I don't like having RCA with the best performance because as you see in the last graph, it lets in mains noise. Best performance should have been XLR input to Balanced output.

Note that we are talking about inaudible differences either way but for the battle to land on top of rankings, this makes a difference.

You can see the same drop in performance in our SNR tests with XLR output:
View attachment 161229

And the same with 50 mv output but with less difference:
View attachment 161230

Using the better of the two, HO200 again lands shoulder to shoulder with the best there is:

View attachment 161231

Frequency response test is usually uneventful but such was not so here. The amplifier went into protection as I swept below 12 Hz:

View attachment 161253

While content with < 20 Hz may be rare, they do exist and I hope SMSL investigates and provides a firmware update for this.

Power vs distortion+noise is the most important test here so let's start with 300 ohm load:

View attachment 161234

View attachment 161235

Once again we see the superiority of the unbalanced mode in lower noise but as usual, you get more power with balanced output. Same happened with 32 ohm load:

View attachment 161236

View attachment 161237

Sweeping full set of loads, we see that RCA mode just clips but the balanced output goes into protection at lower impedances:

View attachment 161238

View attachment 161239

Note however that at the onset of protection, you still have a ton of power so I would not take this as a negative. Balanced output has higher gain so gets pushed harder and hence the pull back.

Channel balance was good but as you usual, your mileage will vary:

View attachment 161240

Listening Tests
I did not get a chance to listen to the HO200. I expect it to perform superbly. There is a lightning storm going on and we just lost power (running on generator) so I want to get this out quickly.

Conclusions
The HO200 is a powerful headphone amplifier with very low noise and distortion. There is however something slightly odd about its design when it comes to balanced I/O. It is not enough to have any audible consequences as sum of distortion+noise is below threshold of hearing. But when it comes to competing with top of the class, I like to see this not be there. As well as the protection against playing sub 12 Hz content.

Overall, I am going to recommend the SMSL HO200.

Thanks for the review.

So the firehose panther means??
 

groot

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It looks like SMSL (with Aoshida) have released a scaled back version of the H0200 as the H0100. Looks like the same architecture but with the Pre-Out's and the XLR HP jack removed. Smaller form factor, half the power, still has Balanced XLR+RCA inputs, 4.4mm and 6.5mm jacks, and the internal PS. List is $149.

REF: https://www.smsl-audio.com/portal/product/detail/id/790.html
REF: https://aoshida-audio.com/products/smsl-ho100


HO100.jpg
 

RHO

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It seems that the annotation in the screenshot does not match the actual measurement.
index.php

RCA in XLR HP out, 2V in. But the dashboard says it's 4V in. How would this effect the SINAD number? Do we subtract 6dB from the number shown?
 

groot

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It seems that the annotation in the screenshot does not match the actual measurement.

RCA in XLR HP out, 2V in. But the dashboard says it's 4V in. How would this effect the SINAD number? Do we subtract 6dB from the number shown?

It's correct. The 2V input is via the RCA inputs. The 4V out is the output of the XLRs.

This was a "special" extra run of the dashboard to measure this particular setup because the Single Ended (RCA) chain was measuring (SINAD 121) better than the Balanced chain (SINAD 117), which is not normally the case.
 
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mrjayviper

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Has anyone compared this amp vs the SP400? What was the verdict? Thanks
 

avoidwork

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Has anyone compared this amp vs the SP400? What was the verdict? Thanks
compared subjectively: i own both; got em when they were brand new - both sit unused on a shelf; both are great. if sound was like a wine, id say ho200 is a nice white, and the sp400* is maybe a cab sauv. the difference comes across with grado headphones more so than the others i have.
 

mrjayviper

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compared subjectively: i own both; got em when they were brand new - both sit unused on a shelf; both are great. if sound was like a wine, id say ho200 is a nice white, and the sp400* is maybe a cab sauv. the difference comes across with grado headphones more so than the others i have.
if you can share, what amp are you using now? (seems they didn't "meet your expectations if both are unused on a shelf")

Thank you.
 

avoidwork

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if you can share, what amp are you using now? (seems they didn't "meet your expectations if both are unused on a shelf")

Thank you.
currently a gsx-mini & smsl vmv d3. they're both great - they have perm spots in my hardware collection. the sp400 is like any other well done thx amp but with digital volume control (awesome!); the ho200 is imo more enjoyable than a topping a90. i have had those 3 & some others wired up on my desk in the past, but i'm trying to optimize space for my large cat to be a co-pilot during work hours.

i found the ho200 more impressive out of the box. it pairs well with akm dacs, which is a little ironic because the do200 is not akm - best pairing i've found is a k9 pro in dac mode - just a really pleasant sound.

the ux is about as different as it could get; sp400 is designed for remote first, ho200 is only physical switches. if you have 2+ headphones i think this is a consideration.
 
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RHO

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compared subjectively: i own both; got em when they were brand new - both sit unused on a shelf; both are great. if sound was like a wine, id say ho200 is a nice white, and the sp400* is maybe a cab sauv. the difference comes across with grado headphones more so than the others i have.
And objectively the will sound exactly the same.
 

avoidwork

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And objectively the will sound exactly the same.
no, they dont. why do people on this forum perpetuate that myth? it's as dumb as thinking thd will tell how you something sounds.

i've owned/used everything i've mentioned - do you have any experience, or just an opinion?
 

Robbo99999

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no, they dont. why do people on this forum perpetuate that myth? it's as dumb as thinking thd will tell how you something sounds.

i've owned/used everything i've mentioned - do you have any experience, or just an opinion?
If they measure the same or beyond audible limits, then they'll sound the same. So I'm far more likely to take @RHO 's side on this one. Frankly it's ridiculous to compare amps (incl with headphone pairings) with wine analogies, I mean that is silly!
 
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