Introduction to the SMSL AO200 MKII review
I’m a stereo guy. For quite some time, actually. Spent more time with two speaker setups, than with anything else in audio. Now, I’m happy as a clam in a high tide to deliver the first stereo review for Ear-Fidelity. I hope you guys are as excited as myself.
Lately, my daily use stereo is a desktop setup with KEF LS50 Meta and a Yamaha A-670 from the Pianocraft series. It brings me joy to see that small desktop amplifiers are still being made because, at one point in time, I felt like everybody are just using active speakers. As you can imagine, SMSL AO200 MKII and this review are right up my alley.
First of all, S.M.S.L. is well known for delivering excellent bang for a buck in their products. Then, out of their desktop amps, this is one of the most focused on amplification part. Finally, it delivers more than enough power to run those British mules standing on my desk. The reviewed amplifier is an upgrade over a popular MKI model and represents one of the most popular product lines from SMSL: AO/DO/HO.
This way, you can have a comprehensive audio system from one series. Besides phono, sorry vinylheads. Reviewed SMSL AO200 MKII promises a lot: lots of power, XLR and RCA inputs, and BT and USB input. To do all that, while having a $250 price tag..? I’m interested, alright. But, is it possible? Maybe there is a shortcut somewhere? Let’s see about that!
The amplifier comes in simple, but efficient packaging. Typical for S.M.S.L products. No surprises so far. White box, foam insert, everything tight and secure. You can throw it around, nothing is going to happen. But why would you?
The accessories are also exactly what you need: remote, BT antenna, and power cord. So efficient they didn’t give me the AAA batteries for the remote, but I assume that’s a silly mistake since I got the pre-production sample. No hard feelings, next time drop me two sets of batteries and we’re cool.
Design and Build Quality
The S.M.S.L. accustomed us to a really good build quality. Everything besides the knob is made out of metal. Fit of the elements is perfect. No wiggle or jiggle. The design is simple and effective. Everything you need can be done with a few touches of the knob. Or equally easily via the remote.
A nice LCD screen is bright enough to be used on even a sunny day. Reviewed SMSL AO200 is just pure efficiency, has great build quality, and no bell and whistles.
Tech inside the reviewed SMSL AO200 MKII
Let’s be real, fitting all of that in such a small enclosure is not a small feat. And with a 2x160W @ 4Ohm? That’s a lot. Too much? Or maybe just plainly a ridiculous claim? Let’s get down to the basics.
First of all, they haven’t detailed exactly how this power is measured. So it is probably a peak power. They also mentioned 300W peak power for the power supply. Two times 160W is 320W which is already over that, not even counting losses, or auxiliary circuits.
What can we reasonably expect? So the markings on the power supply “OF225-yadayada” suggests it is a 225W (continuous power) unit and that does seem reasonable looking at its size. Let’s count a few Watts for losses (the MA5532MS is an incredibly efficient amplifier!) and auxiliary circuits. I would assume we can expect around 90-100W per channel at 4 Ohms. Which is still stunning considering how small the device is.
We have two analog inputs: RCA and XLRs. The build inside suggests unbalanced internals. I’m not saying I peeked inside, but I’m not denying it. Still nice to have a choice, especially when you can connect it to the DO200 MKII via XLR and the HO200 to the DAC via RCA. The volume control uses JRC1194 which also handles the tone control and EQ.
The analog signals are being handled by OPA1678 opamps from TI and some TL072 (probably for sub-out). Yes, there is a pair of subwoofer outs, for your convenience. To top it off we have a BT receiver and a USB DAC. I honestly don’t know how to talk about those. On one hand, they can save your ass in a pinch, no question about it. On the other… Just use something else, because they severely limit the amplifier which is amazing (spoiler alert). Both seem to be handled by some custom IC I can’t recall.
Most of my listening was done at my desk with my KEFs, in a 16sqm room. I also had a few listening sessions in my other system, in the living room. The Harpia Acoustic Amstaff is a big, 3-way Polish floor stander. A flat impedance of 4 Ohms and a nice sensitivity of around 88dB seemed like a great opportunity for the subject in question. The other room’s size is 30sqm. The sources were S.M.S.L. DO300, HiFiMan EF400, and Oppo BDP-105D.
Reviewed SMSL AO200 MKII is a highly capable little integrated amp. It offers neutral delivery, with plenty of headroom. No matter how loud I played, it didn’t lose its breath for a second. Please note, that both my speaker sets have a nice flat impedance. On paper this amp is stable with 2Ohm loads, so there should not be an issue when your speakers like to dip below specified impedance. Focal Aria 926 is a great example of that. The tonal balance is completely flat, everything is perfectly equal.
If you know any other SMSL product, you’ll know exactly what to expect. Detailed, neutral sound with an infinite (seemingly) headroom. As with all of their product, they tend to impose that sound character on music, so if you like it, you’ll be more than happy.
It is tight and punchy. Lightning fast. Whether you want to blast some Machine Head – Beautiful Mourning, or Daft Punk’s Around the World, the effect will be expectedly good. Whether it’s drums or synthesizers, reviewed SMSL AO200 MKII delivers very good bass performance, being able to control even my big speakers. The main downside is that there is not much going on with the sub-bass, it felt rolled off. It might be because the big floor standers demanded too much from this little fella. In my desktop system, it didn’t matter, since LS50M has no sub-bass and I’m using a subwoofer.
Technically perfect presentation of the reviewed amp will deliver the cleanest midrange around this price. Sound sources are separated and have a lot of texture. Whether it’s vocals or instruments they are squeaky clean. The tone is on the colder side. It might take away a bit of musicality, but guarantees you are getting all of the information that was recorded. Take a listen to Hall And Oates – Out of Touch. It sounds surprisingly good considering the price. Everything is there and you would need to spend a lot more to have this amount of resolution but with better musicality.
Nice extension, great resolution. Can’t complain about either cymbal from Machine Head, or Hall and Oates. They might not be as rich and open as other, more expensive amplifiers. Every complaint I had disappeared when I referred to the pricing of the SMSL AO200 MKII. There is a great deal of precision (duh) in this range, as with the others. What I appreciate a lot is the fact that every range sounds the same way, which is not that obvious in this price range. Great consistency is something SMSL has made us used to.
Oh, it’s big – that’s what she never said. I was very positively surprised by that. Sizeable, precise. The musicians are pretty far from you. I know I’m always saying that’s what I like, but in this case, it is put to an extreme. Works great in close-field listening, but with my living room stereo, it felt a bit disconnected from the listener. I’m complaining because it’s my job. Again, all of the complaints disappear when you consider the pricing. Play some New Order Blue Monday and you’ll get what I mean. Open, vast soundstage, rich with directional cues. It’s fun, especially with this fast and punchy bass.
Pairing – Source
Even though it’s a higher model than naturally compatible DO200 MKII I decided to give them a go. If you are a big fan of SMSL school of sound, you’ll be in heaven.
Detail and resolution for miles and miles. The warmer presentation of this DAC perfectly matches the more reserved sound of the reviewed amplifier. It was one of the best pairings I have tried. And it is visually compatible, which is a great pro.
A fantastic DAC/AMP also from China. The R2R architecture and its sound softened the cold heart of the SMSL amp. It made the sound more musical and palpable. Also, a great combo if you are looking for more enjoyment over technical perfection. It made the biggest impact on vocals, giving them more body and smoothness.
Internal DAC/BT receiver
As mentioned before, it might come in handy in a pinch. That’s it. Please use something else, as the performance is underwhelming. Any DAC that you can get will sound better, allowing you to appreciate the qualities of this really good integrated amp.
Pairing – Speakers
KEF LS50 Meta
Although on the bigger side for desktop speakers, using KEFs with the AO200 MKII is a great experience. It drives them effortlessly, which is not that obvious. Brits like to drink up some current. It’s kinda funny, that very often smaller speakers require more power than the big ones.
I like how the distant sound stage helps to remove the sound from the speakers. You can’t tell where the sound is coming from and it’s amazing. It’s also possible because of the KEF’s excellent engineering. They are one of my favorite speakers in existence and I used the previous version too, the OG LS50.
Harpia Acoustics Amstaff
The big boi speakers. Solid 3-way design with two 20cm each is a child of non-existent now company. Powerful, warm sound is how I would describe them. Normally run by a Marantz PM-14S1 SE I was curious how the small SMSL would handle them in a much bigger room.
Funnily enough, I was running them at a similar volume level as my KEFs. That’s due to their much higher sensitivity, but further distance. Who would expect that? Reviewed SMSL AO200 MKII was doing a solid job, but I felt it was lacking in the sub-bass department, not pushing the big drivers hard enough. Besides that, it was still a very comfortable experience.
A part of the Pianocraft series from this Japanese brand it is one of the most popular desktop amplifiers on the market. With fewer inputs, simpler tone control, less power, and a much larger footprint Yamaha has to pull its weight in terms of sound quality.
The difference was huge and immediately obvious. Both amps are serving you completely different sound signatures. Yamaha sounds softer, warmer, and closer. It doesn’t deliver the same amount of detail of spectacular sound staging as the S.M.L.S. On the other hand, it is much kinder to bad recordings and sounds more pleasing to the ear.
Yamaha was able to reach lower ranges than the tested amplifier. On the other hand, it lacked the control and resolution of the Chinese amp.
A-670 is a much warmer-sounding amplifier. Voices are more natural sounding. The lack of resolution of the Japanese amp is made up of a focus on enjoyment and how universally pleasant it sounds.
The AO200 MKII has a more extended top end and a bigger scale. The Yamaha is softer and lacks the resolution of its counterpart.
Yamaha A-670 is a warmer and more pleasant amplifier. While inferior in functionality, it is a viable option for those who prefer a more natural and softer-sounding setup. The AO200 MKII offers a more technical presentation with great resolution, open sound staging, and more functionality. Pick your adventure.
SMSL AO200 MKII Review – Summary
The S.M.S.L. has created a great integrated amplifier. It’s dumbfounding how they were able to fit all of that in such a small enclosure. Two inputs give you some flexibility in your home system. The extended EQ and tone control will allow you to tune in to your experience.
Lots of power will make sure to dive into anything you can sensibly connect to this amp. If you want to have a basic stereo setup, SMSL AO200 MKII is one of the best options on the market. Just please, don’t use the internal DAC/BT.
Big thanks to Aoshida-Audio for providing the SMSL AO200 MKII for this review. I wasn’t paid or asked to say anything good or bad about this product, all of the above is just my personal, unbiased opinion. Aoshida-Audio hasn’t seen this review before publishing it. You can get the AO200 MKII here and here.
I can really say “been there, done that” in regard to audio. Designing, building, fixing, reviewing, selling. All of that for big boy stereo. Headphones are something new and fresh for me. We all need something exciting now and then, so join me in my quest of discovering this cool world. We will listen to, drink and WE WILL bring the balance to the force. Oh, I like beer.