Here I should write something about SMSL, but I would be afraid that I would plagiarize something because I feel that there is everything written about this Chi-Fi company already and even if you’re using Internet Explorer you would have to hear something about them.
SMSL and Topping are currently leading the affordable DACs and AMPs market. A couple of years ago my audio gear journey started with their entry-level DAC/AMP SMSL M3, I used to have a significant amount of their gear and now I’m reviewing their almost flagship DAC.
What can I say at first sight? Have you ever driven a car that was made by the Volkswagen group? If yes, then I can say that SMSL is the Volkswagen of audio gear, for you who have never done it (if it’s possible) it’s painfully correct and if you have ever driven one of them, you will probably know what to expect from the whole lineup. The same case is with SMSL – if you liked the sound of M3, but you need more power and improvement in terms of quality sound, but with similar turning, then go for the recently reviewed C200, or a combo of SU-9 and SH-9 there are plenty of possibilities to improve experience staying in your comfort zone.
The unboxing experience of SMSL DO200 MK2 is pretty similar to any other gear made by the company. Simple white box with minimalistic graphics, with a lot of stiff foam that secures everything inside. I wouldn’t be afraid that the device would be hurt during delivery.
The contents of the box are typical as well: the DAC, a power cord, a USB cable, a remote, and a Bluetooth antenna. Everything you need to use the device (maybe almost, there are no batteries included with the remote).
Design and Build Quality
First of all, as I mentioned above SMSL is like Volkswagen – nothing fancy and painfully correct. Secondly, DO200 mk2 is a DAC – most DACs are simple bricks, sometimes with small displays, sometimes with a couple of buttons or a knob (apart from Chord or ifi). So if you expected fireworks, then you will be disappointed.
SMSL DO200 mk2 is a big (not as big as Ferrum ERCO, but bigger than Topping D90), black box with a display, which can dim after a few seconds (that’s a great feature for people that listen to music in darkness), and a multifunctional knob. The housing is made of aluminum, and it feels rock solid.
Shortly speaking, yet another SMSL device, that isn’t a piece of art, but I can’t find anything to complain about in terms of build quality, almost anything, because I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t find anything and this thing is the knob, which is very functional and looks great, but it could fit tighter, because the one from the reviewed model gently bends to the sides, pretty similar to the one from SU-9. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a big deal, but I had to find something.
Tech and I/O
First things first, let’s start with the heart of the device – dual DAC chips ES9068AS, which are characterized by very low noise floor and very transparent sound. The chips also allow full MQA decoding of signals provided with both USB and SPDIF connectors.
I’ve written that DO200 mk2 is quite big and this paragraph will clarify why it’s so big because I think you won’t blame Victorinox SwissChamp (that’s a swiss army knife that has over 70 different tools and many more use cases) for being so big since it has all the tools you will ever need or even some tools you will never need. As I mentioned, DO200 mk2 has USB and SPDIF inputs, but it’s also fitted with optical, I2S, and AES/EBU inputs – that’s probably more than enough for most users. Outputs are pretty standard – single-ended RCA and balanced XLR. To be honest, the DAC has the most ports among all my audio devices. My only problem is that DO200 mk2 is featured only with USB type B. I know it’s the audio world, and real, I mean REAL audiophiles have their super expensive USB cables, but come on, it’s 2022 and even lower-end DO100 has USB-C, so if SMSL didn’t want to block “experienced” users from utilizing their cables, then they could solve it as it’s done in HiFiMan EF400, there are both sockets – Oldschool USB type B and modern USB type C.
Another great functionality is Bluetooth 5.0 which supports AAC, AptX, and LDAC codecs, you can listen to music directly from your phone without any cable. I think this will be especially appreciated by audiophiles listening to music with their stereo setup because you won’t need additional devices, only the phone, and the music can be played remotely.
I’m not the guy who measures the gear, so I can only ask you to google it, but I’m sure that the DO200 mk2 has perfect measurements because it’s an SMSL DAC – yeah, it’s a synonym for a great measuring DAC.
Ok, now let’s jump to the most important part – the sound. To be honest, that’s the tricky one because this DAC is extremely transparent, but I think that audio objectivists will like this review.
I think it would be pointless to describe each frequency because the DO200 mk2 is… Neutral, I could write in each place that this frequency isn’t pushed forward, nor recessed, because it’s… Yeah! That’s right – neutral, I hope you’re getting my point and I promise, I will try not to overdose this word, but I feel I need to use it while describing a neutral DAC. Sorry I had to.
When paired with Topping A90 and HiFiMan Ananda I received an extremely neutral setup, I received everything I wanted to hear in the right amount. This setup doesn’t have any WOW effect, but it can reproduce any kind of music on a decent level and it won’t make you bored or exhausted. When I’m writing about pairing, or in a more poetic way – synergy, I need to mention that SMSL DO200 MK2 will work well with any AMP and headphones, because it’s transparent, so it won’t add anything to the sound. That is really expected if you just want to improve your audio setup, but if you want to tune it slightly, then you need to look for another device.
The technical performance is amazing. In this regard I can’t remember any better sounding DAC, yes, you’ve got me, objectively, there is no point to look for anything else, DAC under $500 is more than your ears would ever need (and hear), but does it mean, that I wouldn’t buy, anything more expensive? Definitely NO, I would. Neutral sound is great, but I like distortions because it makes the sound more natural and analog. The DO200 is amazing and super tasty grape juice, but I like rotten grape juice (some of you would rather call this drink wine). But, that’s amazing, that we are able to get such a perfectly sounding device at such a low price – a few years ago, you would have to pay a couple of times more money for similar or even lower sound quality.
The SMSL DO200 MK2 is a great device as a benchmark, and the manufacturers show how perfect DAC they can make, but sometimes I just wonder what’s the reason to buy it. There are cheaper devices, like DO100, or SU-9, which sound very similar and perform nearly as well as the reviewed DAC, but their price is lower, so in that paragraph, you won’t find the answer, but the one above should do the job, because it’s a very powerful tool in terms of connectivity and available I/O.
I think that the most important question you need to ask yourself before buying the SMSL DO200 is if you are looking for a neutral-sounding DAC. Yes, this is quite a hard question, if you’re new to that hobby, you’re probably looking for the purest sound you can get. In that case, that’s a great device for you, but over time and with the number of gear you have the opportunity to listen to, it may become boring. That’s why you will be looking for something that fulfills only your needs, not the common needs of the average listener, but then the DO200 may be the device to benchmark other audio pieces.
SMSL SU-9 is a DAC priced at $399. It’s based on the ES9038PRO – the flagship ESS DAC chip of its time. The device has USB-B, SPDIF, and optical inputs, and is featured with both single-ended and balanced outputs, that’s the usual set of I/O at this price range, but DO200 MK2 has additional I2S and AES/EBU input.
The build quality of both devices is pretty similar, the SU-9 is slightly smaller and lighter, but it’s not even close to a portable device, so for me, that wouldn’t be a problem.
In terms of performance, when released, it was one of the best measuring DAC and it’s still on top, noise signal ratio, and dynamic range are still very impressive, DO200 mk2 probably improved the performance, but it was already way beyond human hearing.
The sound of both devices is pretty similar, it’s very correct and the biggest difference is the midrange, which is slightly more natural when reproduced by SU-9. The soundstage reproduced by both devices is pretty impressive, especially when considering that both of them are priced below $500.
If I had to decide which device should I choose, then I would go for DO200 MK2 because of its I/O and improved power supply, but if I already had the SU-9 then these features wouldn’t convince me for the upgrade.
Rock solid CNC machined alloy body, Bluetooth, remote control, and the sound – extremely neutral and ultimately clear. The SMSL DO200 MK2 is like a Tesla that leaves far behind much more expensive hyper-cars while racing for a ¼ mile. If you’re looking for a high-performance DAC with any I/O (unless USB-C) you can imagine, at a reasonable price, then I can recommend the reviewed device. For me, this will be the perfect tool for AMPs, and paired with Topping A90 for headphones reviews, because I know that these devices won’t add color to the sound, and it’s a great start for looking for setup synergy.
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- Headphones – Campfire Audio Vega 2020, Craft Ears 4 CIEM,, Dan Clark Ether Flow 1.1, Focal Elegia, HiFiMan Ananda, Meze Advar, Meze Liric,
- Sources – Astell&Kern SP3000, Chord Mojo 2, Chord Hugo 2, Fiio M11 Pro, HiFiMan EF400, JDS El DAC II, SMSL SP200, SMSL SU9, Topping A90, MacBook Pro 14,
Big thanks to Aoshida-Audio for providing the DO200 mk2 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.