MQA rendering, via USB & SPDIF. DSD decoding, via all 5 digital inputs. 2x ES9068AS Dac chips. 5 dual Op Amps. XMOS XU-316 Chipset native support up to DSD512, DoP256 or PCM 768kHz. LDAC Bluetooth with external aerial included. Fully operable via included remote control. IPS tempered glass display with dimmable brightness and display off features. Variable or fixed output via balanced or RCA.
Pros: Clean, and Accurate Sound Representation
Cons: Not a fan of the front-facing exposed fasteners
The DO200 MK II is the successor and a new DAC from SMSL which features dual ESS ES9068AS DAC chipsets and retails for $469 on Aoshida Audio's website. I personally never had an opportunity to try out the original DO200 DAC, so this is a new experience for me, but I am quite familiar with SMSL DACs and headphone amps from owning and reviewing many, many of them in the past.
This DAC is medium-sized -- still small enough to put on a desk, but it wouldn't look too tiny on a shelf either. It's roughly the size or slightly smaller than that of the Topping A90/D90, or the Schiit Asgard/Bifrost/Jotunheim. Despite the small footprint, this DAC has a lot of input/output options for users to choose from.
The rear of the unit has both balanced XLR and single-ended RCA outputs to feed an external amplifier or speakers. The central input section has options for USB, Toslink Optical, Digital Coax, and the less common AES and I2S input connections. There is also a screw-on bluetooth antenna attachment included that provides a wireless connection from your bluetooth devices.
There is a main power switch on the back that cuts power completely, and pressing in the function button on the front of the unit turns on and off the unit from standby. The multi-function knob also controls volume and scrolls through the various menu options. There is also a remote control for easier use included.
One of the new visual items this unit has that I have not seen on other SMSL products is a new menu interface on the display. It's a much more colorful, and easier to see display. It's easier to use as well and lets you control a lot of options from the input/output selections, the digital filters, and other unit options.
General Sound Impressions
The SMSL DO200 MK II is a very detail-rich DAC that sounds more exacting than rich and warm. Its not overly analytical like some DACs that may have this description and I don't find it overly bright on my choice of amps.
For my listening, I mainly used the Bakoon AMP-13R with it, which I find as a warmer than neutral source. I also used it briefly fed to the iBasso P5 portable amplifier when used with IEMs. For headphones, I mixed between the Hifiman Susvara, the ZMF Caldera, and the Sennheiser HD600 for listening.
One sound that I enjoyed a lot was Mipso's Hey, Coyote. This is a very gentle, acoustic song with an airy nature to it and both male and female backing vocals in a progressive bluegrass folk sound. The notes come off very crisp and clean. The plucks on the combination of fiddle, mandolin, and guitar are very gentle and defined at the same time. I enjoy this definition and exactness in a song like this where each acoustic instrument can express their own character clearly and free from embellishment.
DACs are a pretty hard thing to discern differences from in my cases, and it becomes a little harder when you are comparing chipset to chipset based DACs. My main DAC, however, is an R-2R-based DAC which uses resistors ladders and produces a unique sound that is different.
When I compare the SMSL DO200 MK II to the Holo Spring 3, I found that the Spring 3 had a bit more of an engaging and rounded sound, that was slightly warmer, and deeper in its texture capability. The Spring 3 had a more natural resonance to it, while the DO200 MK II sounded crisper, cleaner, and in some ways, flatter, in this not very apples to apples comparison in many regards (chipset, price, etc.).
I also compared the DO200 MK II to the other SMSL DAC I received, the DO100, which is quite a bit smaller, and half the cost. In this case, the DO200 MK II sounded just slightly more refined, though the differences were not night and day at all.
In many ways, they sounded quite similar, and in this regard, the differences in price and size is more geared towards having more plentiful options for input choices, and an easier to navigate and colorful menu system that looks better than just a simple white OLED screen.
and is currently (06/01/23) on sale at $459. The review will focus on the bits and bobs that make up this DAC, how well it works , what it sounds like, and how it matches up to the competition. SMSL are a company based in China. Aoshida sent me the C100, which I reviewed last week, and the DO200 MKII, which deserved a little more time, given it's higher price tag.
Note - HDMI inputs and Bluetooth aerial (supplied)
About the DO200 MKII
The DO200 MKII has 2 ES9068AS Chips. The DAC will accept a DSD through all inputs excepting the Bluetooth, because BT don't go that high in the bandwidth. LDAC is admirably covered by the DO200 for those wishing the ease of wireless streaming from their phone or laptops. MQA has been put right at the heart of the DO200's skillset. MQA is covered into the final stages of unpacking. Think of MQA as a letter that is folded into 4 pieces. Quite a few DACs can look inside the envelope, but this DAC can take the letter out , unfold it once, twice, thrice, and there's a magenta colour to prove it's been done properly. I managed to achieve the Magenta colour through the audivarna plus software on my Macbook Pro - I couldn't achieve that final stage through the Tidal Software, despite enabling exclusive mode and passthrough. The results were pretty impressive, especially for streaming software. DSD played pretty reliably, with their being no noise at the start of the tracks if I had DSD over PCM Standard 1.0 selected.
There are various enhancements input wise that are possible with this new ES9068AS chip - there are the usual slow minumum, fast linear and minimum phase PCM filters
The filters - Fast linear is the cloest to no filter - but these settings are very subtle, given that the sharp drops are all past human hearing thresholds
plus a sound colour setting which can subtly alter the signature of the DO200; 3 Rich settings, 3 Tube settings and 3 Crystal settings. We can argue til the cows come home as to how subtle these settings are; they will lend some longevity to your DAC if you decide to buy it, because you can adjust yourself to a new sound every so often, and keep things fresh. Clock stability settings are also accessed via the remote control; the default setting (5) can be changed up or down according to how good a clock is in your source. A TV may experience stuttering on the 5 setting; SMSL recommend that you adjust this setting downwards until the sound is as it should be. Brightness/display timer/volume on/off variable/fixed output are all catered for from the remote control, as are all switching between inputs. As well as unbalanced outputs, there are balanced on this higher end model. Do not expect too many goodies with the DO200 MKII, SMSL don't believe in jazzy packaging and have not yet bought into the magic of the unboxing experience. They give you a plain white box with black and white drawings and a gold HiRes decal. Inside you get a mains cable, a leaflet, a USB A-B cable, a remote and a warranty card, and that's your lot.
I tested this against the HiFiMan EF400. The EF400 is a similar price ($599), and is primarily a DAC/Amp - sporting a 4.4 Watt Headphone Amp, whereas the DO200 is a separate DAC. The EF400 only takes USB inputs - that's where the compromise seems to lie. My gut feeling - this was a fair match - 1 is cheaper with more features and the other is more expensive and has an amp built in. For the match up, we won't have to worry about the EF400 amp. Good as it is, well, just let's say, I've gone up a few notches, even allowing for my usual overkill style of putting ludicrously expensive kit in between much cheaper stuff.
The Japanese only SACD release of Avalon - super rare
With digital components the differneces are far harder to detect than with headphones, so I figured I'd need all the help I could muster. The testing was done over many hours, and I recorded a track that I used in that process. The audio sample is available for you to listen to, either embedded on the YouTube video below, or available as a WAV download in the description on the YouTube page. I recorded the sound from a set of HiFIMan Susvara Headphones being fed by a McNeish Designs Class A Speaker/Headphone Amp, using a set of Pro Binaural In Ear Mics which were placed at the entrance to my ear canals. The mics were plugged into a Pro Olympus PCM recorder. You can hear the results for yourself and make a judgement on the sound quality you prefer. I have used the same wiring to do the test - the same USB cable and the same phono cables were interchanged for each recording. The volume level is set at the same. Both sources heard the same track, at the same bitrate.
What do I think? I prefer linearity in my bass and detail in my mids, above all else. Whilst I appreciate that a smooth, refined sound is likely to be preferable to many audiophiles who have to live with that sound for many hours over many years, I always go for that slight lifting of the veil, that extra bit of transparency. This means that today, the SMSL came 2nd to the EF400. The R2R chip had that extra squeeze on the track - that ability to add a little more edge to the end of the note and that extra depth to the sound stage won me over. My able assistant, Wife Jo, felt that the smoothness was a winner over what she felt sounded "too loud" through the DO200 MKII. This is why it's soo important that 1- you work out what type of sound you are looking for and 2 - you take the time to research for the components that can give you that sound. It isn't easy, but I'm trying my best to make it easier, review by review, box by box. Is it working?