SMSL HO200 Review

Select Comparisons

Topping A30 Pro



Like most of Topping’s other amplifier releases lately, the A30 Pro makes use of Topping’s Nested Feeback Composite Amplifier(NFCA). Like PLFC, the NFCA topology’s goal is to achieve diminishingly low distortion numbers that are well below audible levels.

With both amplifiers employing technologies with a similar goal, they have the same distortion numbers as low as 0.00006%.

When it comes to power output, the A30 Pro also has similar power specifications with both amplifiers capable of 6W into 16Ω, while the A30 Pro is more capable with 32Ω loads being capable of 5W instead of 3W. Both amplifiers are capable of driving most headphones in the market though, so power numbers won’t be a deal-breaker for either amplifier.

While both amplifiers have similar input/output ports, the A30 Pro’s output ports are just bypass ports. Meaning the outputs are just shorted to the input signal if the amplifier is turned off, so the A30 Pro doesn’t have any pre-amp output capabilities.

Topping A30 Pro


The A30 Pro’s footprint is only a bit more than half the size of the HO200. Both amplifiers are made of mostly aluminum, but the one on the A30 Pro has more ventilation holes instead of a solid aluminum chassis all throughout.

The layout of the front fascia on the A30 Pro is more crowded since it needs to accommodate the same 3 output ports, a volume knob, and 2 toggle switches. Both are equally easy to use though, but the volume dial on the A30 Pro is a bit more difficult to move.

At the rear, there is the same number of inputs and outputs also, but the balanced outputs on the A30 Pro are ¼” TRS outputs instead of the more traditional 3-pin XLR. Also, it’s worth noting that the A30 Pro’s rear is much more crowded, so it might be a bit more difficult to organize the wiring if all ports are used at the same time.


Compared to the ruler flat frequency response of the HO200, there is a more energetic midbass hump on the A30 Pro. This gives drum hits more weight and body, while bass guitars have a more flowy presentation overall. Drum hits are more immediate on the A30 Pro while having a more rounded and smoother overall presentation.

The vocal presentation of both amplifiers is not particularly forward, however, the A30 Pro has more euphony and richness making it seem more forward.

However, when it comes to vocal texture and detail retrieval, the A30 Pro is more glossed over and smoother comparatively. Acoustic instruments on the other hand have a brighter harmonic shift to them.

With treble instruments, the A30 Pro is more energetic overall, allowing cymbals to be more prominent. However, the smoother nature of the A30 Pro makes cymbals and horns smoother and less realistic comparatively.

The A30 Pro induces a wider and more expansive soundstage into the mix compared to the HO200, but the imaging presentation is more blurry and dispersed comparatively.

Layering within the soundstage is also more compressed on the A30 Pro, while also having an overall more forward presentation. The dynamic range on the other hand is not as wide as I expected, as the A30 Pro plays louder than it should in most passages.





These 2 amplifiers utilize SMSL’s own PLFC topology, so I’m sure that the 2 amplifiers will have quite a bit in common. It’s also interesting to see that they have the same power numbers, so that means they both have a rated output of 6W into 16Ω, and 3W into 32Ω.

However, there are some distinct differences between these 2 devices, the first being that the SH-8s doesn’t have a preamp output. Also, there are only 2 gain stages with the SH-8s, and a measured rated dynamic range swing of about 135dB. And finally, the SH-8s doesn’t feature the quiet power supply from the SMSL HO200’s 140dB THD.


Physically, the SH-8s is a much smaller device with a footprint only occupying about 2/3 that of the HO200. This is mainly because of the more streamlined features available to the SH-8s. In front, the SH-8s is not as busy partly due to the absence of a 4.4mm balanced, and the pre-amp/headphone amp mode toggle switch.

The finish of these 2 amplifiers is strikingly similar as well, having the same aluminum chassis with the same matte black finish. The design elements are also very similar where there are retro toggle switches and a similar-looking volume knob. However, the volume knob on the SH-8s is thicker than the HO200, so it’s a bit easier to grip.

At the rear of the device, the SH-8s is more cramped despite the absence of any pre-out functions because the RCA jacks are nestled between the XLR connectors instead of having a separate space for them. Both devices also have the same IEC power plug, but the SH-8s doesn’t have a power switch at the rear for physically isolating it from the electrical mains.


Having the same technologies under the hood, the 2 amplifiers have essentially the same tonal balance. Maintaining control over most of the frequency response despite cranking up the volume, while having an overall honest presentation that won’t embellish the music with and richness or added thickness.

However, when it comes to the finer details, the SH-8s sounds more glossed over comparatively. Drum hits sound equally honest and essentially the same, except that the SH-8s lacks the textures and nuances in that drum hit.

With the vocal presentation, it’s also apparent that the SH-8s has an equally honest and uncolored presentation. However, it does lack the ability to present the nuances and finer details in the vocal range.

On the specs sheet, there is a difference in the dynamic range capability of the amplifiers, and I believe that it manifested itself in how the layering and depth are presented. This makes the SH-8s’ soundstage presentation comparatively more compressed and blurred together.


xDuoo XA-10



Although the XA-10 is a DAC/amp, we will only be comparing the amplifier section of the XA-10 to the HO200. Right off the bat, there are some striking differences between the 2 amplifiers, where the XA-10 is only limited to having single-ended inputs, while still having both balanced and single-ended outputs.

According to the power numbers, the XA-10 has a higher rated power output at 4W into 32Ω through the balanced outputs and 3W into 32Ω single-ended. The power output numbers on both amplifiers are sufficient for most headphone loads though, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

While having higher power output numbers, the XA-10 implements this using Class A topology, so the XA-10 will definitely be running hotter compared to the HO200.

Volume control on the XA-10 is done using specialized volume control ICs, however, both amplifiers can achieve good volume tracking since SMSL implements their volume control in conjunction with 3 gain stages.


While the XA-10 takes up much less desk space since it’s designed to be taller rather than wide. However, the XA-10 is a bit more cumbersome to set up, since it also requires the use of an external power brick.

On the front fascia, the XA-10 has a neater overall arrangement, only having the red volume ring, the LCD screen, and the headphone outputs while having the rest of the controls on the side of the device. With the controls on the side of the device, it proves to be less intuitive than having classic toggle switches.

The rear of the XA-10 is more cramped, considering that it only has space for a rounded DC adaptor plug instead of a standard IEC power cable. It should be noted though that the XA-10 is limited to just single-ended input with the rest of the inputs being a slew of digital inputs.


With the differences in topologies used, there are some striking differences between the 2 amplifiers. The amplifier circuit on the XA-10 is markedly thicker across all the frequencies compared to the HO200, while having an airier presentation allowing room information to come through more vividly.

With the thicker presentation, the XA-10 has more weight behind bass notes, making them more rounded comparatively. The additional weight comes at the cost of some texture so bass notes are a bit harder to pick out. Although there is still some semblance of bass detail, the XA-10 is simply more liquid-sounding compared to the HO200.

Although the XA-10 has a more euphonic vocal presentation, the vocal range itself is more pushed back. Acoustic instruments similarly have a more pushed-back quality while having more weight behind each note, making them sound thicker on the XA-10.

Similarly, the treble presentation on the XA-10 has more substance behind each note, while being more forward. This allows cymbals to be edgier and more distinct, while both amplifiers’ treble presentation is equally crystalline.

Both amplifiers do well with dynamic range, so they create an overall layered soundstage, but the additional airiness on the XA-10 creates more delineated images within the soundstage. The soundstage size is also expanded by the additional airiness on the XA-10.

Our Verdict

The HO200 is unmistakably an SMSL product, where some design elements can easily be found in other SMSL products. But simply improving and customizing an already proven formula isn’t such a bad thing. While it takes a lot of previous design elements, the HO200 has been customized to ensure that the features available with the HO200 can be used easily.  

As the 2nd amplifier that utilities SMSL’s proprietary PLFC amplifier topology, the HO200 isn’t just a larger version of their original PLFC amplifier the SH-8s.

Instead, it’s an evolution of the technology, allowing their implementation of PLFC in the HO200 to compete in its market segment because of its overall detailed and expansive presentation while creating an overall honest delivery of the music.

SMSL HO200 Technical Specifications

  • THD+N(un-weighted): -123dB, 0.00006%(1kHz, 32Ω).
  • SNR: 140dB.
  • Output noise: 1.0uV.
  • Input Impedance: 10kΩ.
  • AMP output impedance: Near 0Ω.
  • Pre-out impedance(Balanced): 44Ω.
  • Pre-out impedance(Unbalanced): 22Ω.
  • Output Power: 6W @ 16Ω, 3W @ 32Ω.
  • Gain(Unbalanced): Low(-10dB), Mid(0dB), High(17dB).
  • Gain(Balanced): Low(-4dB), Mid(6dB), High(23dB).
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-500kHz(-3dB).
  • Power consumption(EN60065): <30W.

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