The SMSL M200 is a desktop pure DAC featuring an AKM AK4497EQ chipset, LDAC Bluetooth, and a fully balanced analog output. It is priced at $289.99.
Disclaimer: The SMSL M200 sent to us for this review is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion. We thank Aoshida for giving us this opportunity.
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Note, this review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2020 which you can read up on here.
I received a care package that included SMSL’s M200 and M400 DAC’s and cannot wait to get into the nitty-gritty of the reviews core bits.
We will kick off with the M200 for the first SMSL review, so let us jump right on into this and see how it fares against the competition on the mid-tier DAC market shelf for the 2020 market year.
Packaging and Accessories
Nothing much to write home for here. The packaging is quite standard, just a cardboard box with the SMSL logos and product name. Inside, the only cable included was the power supply cable and nothing more beyond a remote control for the unit.
I would have liked to see a simple RCA interconnect included though. But, this is a trend lately with Hifi not to include the needed components. I’m not big on High-End cable quality, so a quick hop and skip to Monoprice or Amazon for a dirt-cheap RCA interconnect is going to be just fine for you.
Thankfully, I have some custom RCA cables and a barrage of interconnects already. If you purchase this, make sure to also purchase an RCA to (whatever input your Amplifier has).
Ohhh…sexy! I really like this design from SMSL. It is very sleek and modern looking. I enjoy the dark exterior look with the Blue lettered LCD panel. That really puts out a high-end vibe.
The unit itself is also a very nicely constructed, metal exterior with a solid LCD panel that is very bright. And No the picture is not warped there really is a slight tilt on the left side of the casing.
The volume rocket wheel is excellent as well. Little known to the general consumer, I assume, is a hidden factoid that revolves around lots of lower end to mid-fi products housing poor quality metal output connector components.
It wasn’t until recent years that we saw a rush of excellent quality parts actually being used for the XLR and RCA inputs, as I recall a time just a few years ago that I complained often about jiggle prone connection points.
Thankfully, nothing negative to report here. Usually, this is the first thing I dread with receiving a budget tier or mid-fi tier product. I immediately scout the connection points to see if they are stable. The SMSL quality is superb, so this shouldn’t ever be a problem with the M200.
The SMSL M200 uses an AK4497EQ series delta-sigma chip, but implementations can make any DAC “hit and miss”. Meaning, just slapping it into a product won’t result in a great sound, but proper and specific component matching and expert technician design results in this DAC sounding very good for the price.
Such is the case with the M200. Whoever put this together at SMSL knew what they were doing and had a specific intended resulting sound at the end of the day. I like to see that in products I review, where you can tell that certain areas of the listening experience were either boosted or tamed, in an attempt to house a specific sound for the buyer.
SMSL is quickly coming up with their own house signature, which to me, sounds like something with a pure but boosted low end, moderately forward mids, and a brighter than usual treble response.
However, the tamed part comes with the smoothness factor and lack of dynamic impact on the treble, such as the specific “house sound” as I’ve experienced with SMSL lately.
Shockingly, the past year or two has resulted in a plethora of DAC’s that support DSD512. My God. I still use my Cowon Plenue M DAP, which clocks out at a max DSD64 and cannot play higher res files without downconverting them to x64.
To see such a budget-friendly horde of DAC’s now support absurd DSD512 is amazing! I cannot believe how much the market has blossomed in the last 2 years or so on this issue. Quite amazing to watch happen over the course of my reviewing history. Who actually even has a lot of DSD512 files? I myself only have a few dozen DSD tracks that I test with and none of them are over DSD128.
This is overkill in the best way possible. Pointing out the advancing tech a bit more, the idea of BT 5.0 is a real eye-opener to see used in portable products these days.
Again, BT 5.0 is an excellent upgrade from the past iterations and older tech in the wireless industry. To get all of this plus LDAC decoding in a package sub $275 is stellar!
SMSL M200 Sound Impressions
As mentioned, the low-end house flavor of SMSL is going towards the neutral side, but not the cold or clinical side of the spectrum. To me, Neutral and Natural are in the center, while Clinical is on the icy and cold end and Warm/Musical is on the opposite side of the spectrum of tonality.
When I say neutral, I mean it is somewhat flavorless and different sounding than the very clinical Objective 2 DAC, for example, which exudes a metallic sheen to the entire listening experience.
Headphones like the HD800 from Sennheiser are “clinical and accurate” to me, headphones like the Audeze LCD series are more natural and neutral, headphones like the Sony XB1000 are straight-up warm and highly musical. Three different primary tonality types. This is why the rig pairing is vital.
The M200 is not about bass quantity, it is more about purity and smoothness factor, which at this price point, were very nice overall. This is a great stepping stone DAC to be connected to an analog amplifier for headphone usage.
Sadly, the M200 doesn’t have a headphone out, it is a pure DAC only and that makes it difficult to judge exactly what presentation the product actually offers. I have to rely on knowing my amps to connect it to, and how they differ in sound setup connected to this M200 vs other DAC’s I have experience with.
I’ve found the M200 to be light on the low end, but moderately responsive to EQ and boosting if need be. You can drop in +5dB, or maybe even a bit more, and yield a more potent low end.
Thickness was the issue, as the experience remained pure throughout. Adding in more bass does not thicken the sound signature, it does add more bass punch and depth/rumble.
The vocal experience on this DAC is not very engagingly forward, nor recessive. It is a fairly normalized and common “moderately forward” sound type that plays well with nearly every genre and headphone out there.
This is the “I can do almost anything well” product, as most budget to mid-fi DAC’s and amplifiers tend to be today. It is rare to get a specialist that is surgical in offering a sound tailored for lots of musicality, or pure and analytical sound type.
Typically, Neutral/Natural DAC’s like this sell very well to the general consumer. I think SMSL will do well with this. And interestingly enough, their much more expensive upgrade model, the M400, sounds like this M200 on steroids.
SMSL knows what they are doing and that makes me happy that they have a goal and intended sound presentation to offer. I would pair this M200 with headphones from Beyerdynamic, as I’ve found the 17xx GO model from Drop to pair exceptionally well with it and the Burson Playmate as a combo.
Also, pairing this to the recently reviewed Xduuo XD05+ was lovely as a proper small rig. The amazing 1000w output of the Xduoo, combined with the fantastic smoothness of the M200, resulted in experiences that are well tailored for the all arounder headphones out there (again, the DT17xx Go is one of them that paired magnificently with the M200 as a DAC).
The top end is actually noticeably brighter than I had anticipated before I got the product in house to test. I expected more of a physically tamed upper end, but instead, got a plentiful and aired out experience.
The top side is well into the bright sounding circuit of sound type for treble, but it lacks a physical slam effect that is hard on the ear. This is a good thing! Preferred even, I would like more treble like this, than a totally subdued top end, I’d take that route any day of the week over not having that.
The reason? I can EQ down if need be and retain good quantity and smoothness. I cannot do that with a stock tamed treble that is lower in quantity, which results in being unable to boost up if I want.
Treble dynamic kick factor is annoying at times with budget and mid-fi DAC’s, that wince factor, so to speak. The M200 doesn’t have that problem. It remains smooth and can be paired nicely with headphones known for good treble.
In fact, the Focal Elear + the Burson Playmate/Xduuo XD05+ was fantastic. Probably my favorite headphone pairing I tested this rig with, due directly to the unit being so smooth feeling and enjoyable on the top side. Fatigue is never an issue unless you pair with a harsh sounding headphone.
The SMSL house sound feels the same on nearly every product I review from them. This M200 feels like some of the other amps and DAC’s out there found in this price tier, such as the Topping series DAC’s. IMO, they sound similar in vastness and scaling.
The width factor is good, but not great. The height factor shares the same physical rectangular coherency that good DAC’s tend to offer. By that, I mean height doesn’t sound way too tall vs how wide the unit sounds. It sounds proper, and not overly stretched or lacking in any direction, including width.
The excellent treble factor lends good air and space between instruments, so the experience feels physically lighter and more aired out than most other DAC’s in this tier. However, for the price, I’d be opting to pay a bit more for something from Burson if you need imaging to be absurdly good.
Make no mistake though, the M200 offers a good imaging experience, but as mentioned, the M200 is a generalist and not a specialist in any of its sonic qualities. What it does, it does well in every manner.
The SMSL M200 is a proper modern DAC with a classy look and a striking smoothness factor for the price. It is a great stepping stone DAC that will make you want to buy something way beyond what it is capable of and that is the greatest sign of a fantastic product.
It sparks interest in new audio enthusiasts and can stand up with the Schiit Modi stacks out there as a solid new alternative DAC that can be paired with numerous types of rigs. I think SMSL has been killing it lately, as I’ve enjoyed everything they’ve sent me recently that I got a chance to play with so far.
The M200 is no slouch, it lacks nowhere and for a sub $300USD price tag, it would be my pick for one of the best generalist DAC’s on the market.
SMSL M200 Specifications
- Output Level:RCA 2Vrms、XLR 4.1Vrms
- Dynamic range(A-WTD):RCA123dB、XLR125dB
- USB transmission:Asynchronous
- USB compatibility:Windows7/8/8.1/10 、Mac OSX10.6 or Later/Linux
- Bit depth:
- Powe Consumption:3.5W
- Standby power:<0.1W
- Package Weight:1.25Kg