This attractive and full-featured MQA DAC gives you a truly musical and immersive performance. You will have to spend several hundred more to get significantly more definition and layering.
At one point in time, desktop DAC and headphone amp separates were only available to those with deep pockets. But over the last couple of years, brands like Topping and SMSL have released high-performance DAC/Amp parings at relatively low prices.
Even so, the A90/D90 tops out at well over a thousand dollars, so it’s still not within the reach of every headphone enthusiast. To that end, Topping released the A30 Pro/D30 Pro combo, which came out at under a grand, but left out features like a balanced output, Bluetooth, MQA, HDMI, etc.
I already reviewed the SMSL HO200, which I liked, but today we’re looking at the matching SMSL DO200 DAC, which packs in a lot of features for the cash, including a color screen, remote control, and full MQA decoding.
I know what you’re thinking– how does the HO200/DO200 combo match up to the A90/D90 combo? Is it a good value replacement for the Topping stack? Well read on, and I’ll give you the scoop as I always do!
Disclaimer: The SMSL DO200 was sent to us by Aoshida HiFi in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. It doesn’t have to be returned once the evaluation is complete.
As I said in my review of the matching HO200 headphone amp, the DO200 looks and feels great, with an unpretentious yet sleek matte black aluminum casing that has substantial heft.
The aluminum multi-function knob on the front panel also looks good and turns smoothly. Then, it presses in ever so slightly to select the myriad of menu functions.
The HO200’s build quality is basically on par with the aforementioned Topping D90SE, but it takes things up a notch using a color LCD screen as opposed to the black and white screen on the Topping.
While the screen is on the small side, SMSL does a good job of maximizing the space, with a huge section dedicated to volume and audio format. The bright screen also displays the output, output phase, sampling rate or Bluetooth codec.
In the rear, you have two outputs, Balanced XLR, and Single-Ended RCA. Then there are a bunch of inputs including USB-A for connecting a PC, Coax and Optical Digital, XLR AES/EBU, and HDMI I2S for DSD. There’s also an antenna for Bluetooth signal input.
Inside the DO200 DAC, there’s an impressive array of components like two high-end ESS ES9068AS DAC chips, five high-end OPA1612A dual op-amps, a low-noise power supply, and an XMOS XU-216 chip that allows for 32-bit processing, handling signals up to DSD512 (native), and PCM up to 768KHZ via USB.
DSD (and DoP) are also handled via the remainder of the inputs (except Bluetooth), and all inputs also do full MQA decoding except the HDMI D2S connection. This means you can play MQA-CDs on any CD player with a digital output, and they will be fully decoded by the DO200.
The Bluetooth 5.0 connection handles a wide variety of codecs including LDAC (24bit/96khz), APTX/HD, SBC, and AAC. I can personally say the LDAC connection (optimized for audio setting) is superb, playing music in a way that’s almost indistinguishable from the wired connection.
In the menu, there’s a lot of customization options, like three PCM Filters (Fast Linear, Minimum Phase, Slow Minimum), an option to bypass the XMOS chip, i2S inversion, plus a Sound Color setting that applies DSP to the output for different sound “flavors” (Tube, Rich, Crystal). I actually liked the “Tube 1” as it smoothed out the sound really nice.
Of course, there are also some operational settings like an input option to switch between inputs (which I wish had its own button on the front), “Pre Mode” to let you set a variable or fixed volume output, plus setting screen brightness and time until it shuts off.
All of these functions can be controlled from either the front of the unit or the included remote, which fits nicely in the hand. The remote also does volume and input selection, which facilitates the DO200’s use as a proper digital preamp.
Listening to the SMSL DO200 MQA Audio DAC
When it comes to sound quality, I have to say I was somewhat impressed with the DO200. For a sub-$500 DAC, it had a nice body and detail and added some decent air to the presentation.
The majority of listening tests were carried out with my Envy X360 laptop connected to the DO200’s USB input, through which I played a wide variety of music. The TIDAL desktop app provided the tunes, and most of the music I played was from Tidal Masters (MQA encoded).
I then fed the signal from the DO200’s RCA out to the RCA input of the SMSL HO200 Headphone Amp. The Hifiman SUNDARA was then plugged into the HO200’s Single-Ended headphone jack.
Listening to “Afro-Bossa” by Duke Ellington (MQA Studio/192kHz), the horns had a nice texture, even though they were a bit diffuse. I could hear a bit of ambiance from the recording space, as well as the texture of the percussion strikes. I also heard some dimensionality and separation, even though it wasn’t the most focused or layered DAC I’ve ever heard.
This DAC is a little forward in perspective, so you want to match it with headphones that are more laid back in the presence region.
Compared to the $899 Topping D90 MQA (the original AKM model, not the SE w/ the ESS chips), the Topping had more depth and didn’t flatten the performance as much as the SMSL DAC. It also had a little more focus and separation between the elements of the mix. The D90 had a more laid-back perspective, allowing you to hear “into” the song, as opposed to hitting you with a wall of sound.
That said, the SMSL had a little more presence, giving instruments and vocals more “pop”, making the music sound more “vivid” for lack of a better term.
Compared to the $499 Cambridge Audio Dacmagic 200M, the 200M had better image focus and dimensionality than the SMSL DAC, but the DO200 had much better resolution and detail overall. The SMSL was “cleaner” or less noisy.
The Wrap Up
The $489 SMSL DO200 MQA Audio DAC is an excellent performer at its price point, providing some good detail, separation, and better than average depth. It has a crisp, textured, sound that brings life to music.
Moving up to the $800-$900 price point will get you truly remarkable layering and separation, but the DO200 is quite enjoyable for a DAC costing less than $500. It also has a beautiful screen, and tons of connections, making for an attractive and versatile device.
Finally, If you’re looking for a more affordable alternative to the Topping A90/D90 stack, then the SMSL HO200/DO200 balanced stack is well worth a listen!
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I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My hunger for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.