I really liked the SH-9 and still love the SP400 amp from S.M.S.L so I was interested to see what the new lower cost SH-8S brought to the table sound quality and value wise. The SH-8S presents itself as a more “standard” amp with regular switches and no display. The SH-8S also gives a decent amount of power for the price. Will it keep up with the SH-9? Let’s get into the review to find out. The SH-8S comes in at $229.99.
Thanks to Shenzhenaudio for hooking me up with a review unit. While I always appreciate stuff being sent in to test and review, It never affects the rating of my review.
The SH-8S can be picked up from Shenzhenaudio here: https://shenzhenaudio.com/collections/all/products/smsl-sh-8s-opa564-chip-rca-xlr-input-6-35mm-balanced-headphone-amplifier
Gear usedS.M.S.L. SU-9, S.M.S.L. SH-8S/SP400, iFi hip dac, Ikko OH10, DUNU EST 112/ZEN, THIEAUDIO Clairvoyance and Focal Radiance.
Looks and FeelAll the recent S.M.S.L products come in a nice matte black metal casing. The unit is still fairly lightweight which means without something heavy on top of it, it can shift when bumped. While it’s missing the nice display the SH-9 has, it still has the same classy outer shell look and has switches and a normal volume knob vs the relay volume system in the SH-9. It looks fairly classy and doesn’t feel cheap. The volume knob is nice and smooth but still somewhat stiff which means a bit more accurate volume adjustments. Switches all have a nice feel when flicking them up and down. Overall, I’m fairly happy with the unit looks wise.
While both the SH/SU-8S look the same size wise as the SH/SU-9, The 8S devices are just a hair smaller in width and length, ll the devices are the same height however.
Accessories and unboxingThe unboxing is pretty straight forward. Cardboard box, power cable, QC card and user manual and that's about it.
Volume knob and switchesAs with most potentiometer volume systems, there is some type of channel imbalance in the first 10-20 percent of movement before things are normal. I’m happy to report that the SH-8S had the best potentiometer I’ve seen in a bit in terms of imbalance to normal channel performance. It was maybe 10ish percent from lowest volume to the point where things sounded matches from both channels. I’ll include pics below of course. The switches have a nice clicky sound and feel to them.
When channel imbalance ends
Sound (overall)These final impressions were done off the S.M.S.L. SU-9 connected to the SH-8S. This will be what the SH-8S sounded like with all the headphones I used. Since this is an amp, my sound section is mostly going over the common things I picked up from my headphones vs how they perform on other source gear. Things like DAC selection as well as different headphone pairings will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.
Lows have a nice thump and rumble while staying fairly accurate. If the music calls for some impact, the SH-8S does well in not going over the top. Mids have a more noticeable focus and have a sharper edge to certain instruments in the upper mids/lower treble. Vocals sounded fairly good but this was more dependent on what headphones I used with the SH-8S. The treble is fairly accurate sounding but lacks a little in the detail retrieval department when compared to more expensive amps. It has a slightly clinical sound at the higher frequencies but never sounds lean overall. At this price, I really have no concerns with the sound quality on this amp.