SMSL needs no introduction, so I’m going to skip it in this review. You must have been living under a rock to never hear about them.
One of the leading DAC and AMP manufacturers nowadays, together with Topping. These two brands redefined what an affordable DAC/AMP should sound like in recent years, and it doesn’t look to change anytime soon.
We’ve reviewed their newest D100 and H100 quite recently, and found them to offer an incredible value. The newest C200 looks to be a combination of D100 and H100 in a single box, which would be a good thing. Some people just want a single device with all the functionalities they need.
It’s not going to be an overly long review, as we all know what to expect from a $219 SMSL AIO. Nonetheless, let’s see if they nailed it once again.
The unboxing experience of the C200 is pretty standard for this brand. A white, minimalistic box that is secure enough for you not to worry about your new stuff.
Inside you’ll find the C200, a power cord, Bluetooth antenna, a remote, and a USB-C cable. Basically, everything you need, absolutely no complaints here.
Design and Build Quality
I feel like both SMSL and Topping are stepping up their game when it comes to the build quality lately. The C200, even though it’s a budget-friendly device, feels dense in hand and is well-built.
No sharp edges, no imperfections. This is a rock-solid little device that won’t take up too much space on your desk.
Actually, this is significantly smaller than the D100 + H100 stack, which is yet another plus for the C200. People that want a single device are usually going to appreciate a small footprint, and they’ll find it here.
The design is pretty standard for SMSL. The C200 looks modern and its design is safe, and not too flashy. It has a small screen on the front and a nice-feeling volume knob.
Overall, yet another well-built device by SMSL that won’t steal your heart with its extraordinary design, but at the same time, it’s very safe and universal looking. The build quality is rock-solid and I can’t imagine anyone having any problems with it.
Tech and I/O
Let’s start with what you’ll find on the back of the C200. First of all, it has a USB-C input, and I’m glad that more and more manufacturers are catching up with USB-C, which is now a gold standard in every major electronics market in the world, apparently except for audio…yet. But we’re getting there, and I really like it.
Apart from the USB-C, you’re also getting Coaxial and Optical inputs, so you’re pretty much covered.
Another thing that SMSL highlights in the C200 is its console compatibility. You can use your PS4, PS5, and Xbox console with the C200, which might be highly desired by many.
Next up, is the analog section. You’re getting two sets of analog outputs – Rca, and TRS. Thanks to that, you can use the C200 as a DAC only, but I’ve got no idea what would you want to do it. If you only need a DAC, get the D100 and save some money.
Now let’s cover what’s inside the C200. First of all – the DAC chip is the ES9038Q2M, just like the D100. The D100 uses 2x ES9038Q2m, whereas the C200 uses a single chip. From the sound perspective, you’ll be having problems hearing this difference, to be honest.
Another great functionality is Bluetooth 5.0, which lets you stream the music from your phone directly into the C200. It supports LDAC and it works just like you would expect – flawlessly. We’ve got to the point where Bluetooth might be a valid sound source option for many less-experienced audiophiles. While I rarely use it, and still prefer a wired connection, I see the whole point. Well, I’m using Apple products anyway, so no LDAC for me sadly.
Let’s get into the headphone amplifier section. It is very clean and the distortion is basically nonexistent. It has a balanced output (4.4mm), so feel free to use your balanced cables, this is definitely recommended.
The only complaint I’ve got is the output power – at 1.3W into 32ohm, the C200 won’t be able to properly drive some big boy headphones, such as the Hifiman Susvara, HE6se, Abyss stuff, and some more. While I don’t consider it a huge con (who buys a $219 DAC/Amp to use it with a $x000 headphones?!), it is worth noting. You can’t have everything, can’t you?
Now onto the sound. I’m going to keep it quite short and simple, as the C200 sounds…like a good SMSL device.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing bad about it. SMSL has mastered its dead-neutral tuning with exceptional transparency and coherency, and I’m glad that the C200 continues this approach.
So, the C200 doesn’t really sound like anything. It’s very transparent and doesn’t color the sound in any way. As I said a couple of times now, this is a fantastic thing for all audio newbies, that should be getting the most neutral DAC and AMP they can. This is by far the best way to get into your audio journey, as it’ll let you get to know the different sound signatures of various headphones manufacturers, and decide what you like and what you don’t like.
The SMSL C200 is neutral, we already know that. What about the objective aspects of the sound then? Very impressive, just as I expected after the D100+H100 combo.
First of all, the C200 sounds incredibly clean, giving you impressive detail retrieval and resolution. You’d have to spend A LOT more on an AIO 5 years ago for this level of performance, trust me. I actually see it being good enough for many audio beginners to not have to worry about upgrading for years.
SMSL also focuses a lot on its low-noise power supply, which is built into the device, so no external power supplies this time, which is just great. Who on earth like external power supplies hanging under your desk and creating a mess?
Back to the “low-noise” aspect. Because of that, the C200 offers an incredibly clean signal with a pitch-black background. There’s not even the slightest amount of hiss on this little guy, even when paired with the most sensitive IEMs you’ve got on your hand. Because of that, all the little details that are in the music are sharp and very present, improving on the aspect of the technical capabilities of the C200.
The built-in headphone amplifier is a bag of mixed feelings for me though. If you plan to use the C200 with IEMs, this is just an incredibly capable device, that is able to rival a lot of more expensive competitors. Its incredibly low noise, great technical performance, and dead-neutral tuning are just a marvel if you pair it with IEMs.
The situation looks a bit different with headphones though. My Hifiman Edition XS, HE-R9, and Meze Elite all sounded great out of the C200, with excellent dynamics, detail retrieval, and control over the entire frequency response.
However, when I tried to pair the C200 with the HEDDphone, Susvara, or Final D8000 Pro, the limitation of the power output came into play, resulting in a sound that was rather underwhelming and lacking in dynamics. Once again, I can’t imagine anyone buying the C200 to pair with a Susvara, but as a reviewer, it is my job to highlight any potential cons, and the low power output of the C200 is definitely one.
If you use IEMs and easy-to-drive headphones though, the C200 has all the juice you need and it shouldn’t bother you at all. It is the quality of the signal, not its raw power, that should be the most important for you, and in these regards, the C200 definitely delivers.
SMSL DO100 + HO100
Maybe my hearing is playing tricks with me lately, but I’m having a hard time hearing any differences between the sound of the D100+H100 vs C200. For me, these two setups sound basically the same, with excellent detail retrieval and resolution, and a wonderfully neutral tuning that doesn’t alter the sound of your IEMs and headphones at all.
The choice between these two setups should come down to your preferences, whether you’d like a single device, or you want the flexibility of a separate DAC and Amp. With the latter, you can just upgrade the amplifier for a more powerful one if you happen to get a more demanding pair of headphones in the future.
Well, actually, you can do the same with the C200, thanks to its analog outputs, but it won’t be too convenient, to be honest. You paid for a DAC/Amp and you’ll end up using just half of the device. If you think that the low power output of the C200 will be a problem for you, and you will upgrade the amplifier rather quickly, just get the D100 and save yourself $100 that you can invest in your future amplifier upgrade.
Overall, both options are exceptional, and you simply can’t go wrong with either. Well, unless you’re not a neutral sound type of guy.
SMSL just doesn’t disappoint. The new C200 is a highly capable AIO that offers immaculate technical performance for its price. It has a built-in Bluetooth 5.0 with LDAC support, can work with consoles, has a USB-C, Coax, and Optical inputs, and an analog output if you want to skip the amplifier section.
All of that, together with the very good build quality and a sound that is just incredibly clean and resolving, makes for one of the best ways to spend around $200 on audio currently.
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- Headphones – Fir Audio Kr5, Fir Audio XE6, Unique Melody MEXT, Campfire Audio Solaris 2020, Hifiman Susvara, HE-R9, Edition XS, Final D8000 Pro, Meze Elite,
Big thanks to Aoshida-Audio for providing the C200 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.