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2014 Model SMSL SAP-5 Portable Headphone Amplifer Introduction / Impressions

Discussion in 'Portable Headphone Amps' started by h20fidelity, Aug 7, 2014.
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  1. H20Fidelity Contributor
    Browsing eBay a few nights ago I came across this new 2014 model SMSL SAP-5 headphone amplifier.

    Apparently the amp is SMSL's 2014 upgrade from SMSL SAP-4 (which I never actually tried).

    It seems at the time of writing this SAP-5 had only been released very recently and none had been sold from the seller I used. Wanting to test the performance next to Topping NX1 and C&C BH I've gone ahead and ordered one.

    I'll create this thread because much of conversation surfacing about SAP-5 currently is in the Topping NX1 thread. SAP-5 uses MAX9722 amplifier chip, each channel rated at 130mW / 32ohms. The amp is priced at around $50 USD which is rather competitive, has a user replaceable battery and bass boost switch.

    I will say the design is what caught my eye, I especially like the curves and the run time for SAP-5 is confirmed at 40+ hours which will keep one going for quite some time on the go!

    I'll update this thread with a mini review once the amps arrived.

    For now let's take a quick look at the amp and some specs.





    Max output power: 130mW (32ohm)
    Distortion: <0.01%(10mW)
    headphone impedance:16Ω~300Ω
    Frequency Response:10Hz-48KHz
    USB power supply port:DC5V  ≥500mA
    Battery run time: 40+ hours
    Size:87 X 58.5 X 9.6mm
    Case material:Aluminum

    If you've heard SAP-5 or can offer any information / impressions please add them here, as it does seem quite interesting and the price is right in many peoples playing field.


                           SMSL SAP-5 Mini Review:


    As promised here's a quick look at the new 2014 model SMSL SAP-5 amp. 

    The box:

    Nothing overly fancy but still nicely presented package, the box surely keeps SAP-5 safe before arrival. Maybe you can use the box to store some random items in as it should last.

    (Underneath the foam insert there's another hidden layer where your accessories are waiting for you)


     The main attraction:


    Although pictures don't appear so the amp is rather small in person, at least, much smaller than these photo's lead you to believe.

    The actual dimensions are:

    8.5cm (long)
    5.7cm (wide)
    0.7cm (thick)




    That's quite light for portable amp standards also thinner than C&C BH portable amps housing, overall a slightly bigger footprint  but the extra size is nothing to be concerned about, it's still much smaller than FiiO E11. Build around the aluminum housing feels great in hand, while light in weight each seam where the end plates meet are closed up nicely. You cannot see any gaps, not with this unit anyway.

     Front & rear of the amp:


    On the far left you have the on / off indicator which illuminates blue in colour, it's nice and calm no midnight disco light shinning in a dark room. Next to it the headphone out and beside that an input for your source. I will say the inputs are rather close which hasn't worked the best for setups I tried so far though nothing to be overly worried about, the jacks do feel firm and tight. Moving onto the far right you have your volume pot.

    If you take a close look you will see it has little grooves for your fingers to grip onto, (but they don't go all the way round). I've found when not looking then reaching for the volume pot sometimes it's hard to feel exactly how much you're adjusting volume levels because your finger can tend to slide a little before gripping on, though it's really not a deal breaker. The upside to this volume switch is you'll have a hard time knocking it in your pocket by accident.


    On the back you have the USB charge input (for charging only), along with a three step switch: "bass-boost / on / off" for powering the unit on/off and engaging the bass boost. Because the amp is so new I'm needing to look which way to flick the switch when turning the amp off, if I go the wrong way I may turn the bass boost on by accident which is rather interesting, (more on that later) however I think with some adjusting one can work it out rather quickly in due time.

    Let's get back to that box for a second and see what's included with the package under the second layer.

    In the box you will get:

    x1 SAP-5 Portable Amplifier.
    x1 USB / Charging cable.
    x2 SMSL Stretch Bands.
    x1 Manual.
    x1 Saftey Passed Certificate.
    x1 (Right Angle) Interconnect cable.


    The usual amount of accessories going on here, a cable with right angle plugs is a nice touch rather than the cheaper hair thickness cables offered with C&C BH or Topping NX1 portable amps, I know SMSL actually sell line out docks and silver plated interconnects so it makes sense some extra thought went into the provided cable. The stretch bands are rather small, (about the same size as C&C BH bands but not as wide) and quite a bit smaller than FiiO stretch bands in general.

    Size comparisons:


    To give you an idea of SAP-5's actual size I've taken some photo's next to an iPod Touch 5G. It does appear SMSL's 2014 amp has been designed with very close specs to the size of Apple devices. As you can see here how neatly it tucks behind an iPod Touch.


    Next to Sansa Clip: This photo really doesn't do the amps size justice, although it looks much larger than Sansa Clip+ it really isn't, I think the angle this photo was taken is causing a little illusion here.


    Next to the popular C&C BH portable amp. As you can see their rather similar in overall size.

    So how does it sound?

    To my ears SAP-5 set to flat mode (on) is rather neutral all round, there isn't much of a bass emphasis besides what the recording calls and low end detail is above average, I think if your IEM benefits from a slight nudge in power you will hear fuller bass impact though I don't feel SAP-5 set flat try's to add anything.

    Moving onto the mid-range it certainly shows better posture and refinement than either an iPod Video or Sansa Clip headphone out, I notice a blacker space behind my music, more air around the stage compared to both sources alone along with a nice boost in clarity. The soundstage itself is especially impressive when connecting the amp to iPod Video line out. DX50 did not retrieve the same width or depth in soundstage (although still decent).

    There's generous detailing levels and the amp can sound a little coloured (just fractionally), Topping NX1 sounds rather dry compared so this slight coloration seems to give the amp a house sound or a little touch of SMSL individuality. The amp may exhibit just a slight amount of colouration but nothing like the extreme of C&C BH's coloured mid-range. Instrument separation comes across clean and considerably coherent for the price range.

    Overall, when I compare SAP-5 to C&C BH the older C&C sounds rather blurry and less focused around Its mid-range giving SAP-5 an advantage in coherency, separation and more accurate imaging.

    Bass Boost ON:

    And when I say on, I mean ON, the bass boost to speak lightly is massive, I don't know how many decibels exactly though it's too extreme for my tastes, the mid-bass boost and sub-bass became so enhanced I had to turn it off almost immediately. I was rather surprised considering how clean and balanced the amp sounds set flat.

    To put it simply, the bass boost on SAP-5 is absolutely enormous, there's no other way to explain it. Much more than C&C BH by around x3 times (at a guess) and reminds me more so of FiiO E11 set on EQ2., I think anyone short of bass-head material may find it overbearing. So what this does is kind of cripple the amp for me to only use set flat, I would have personally appreciated something more subtle to be honest.

    I don't mind so much as I do find the amp very capable set flat,  the improvements it offers an iPod Video from line out for example I would have paid more for SAP-5, plus I'm generally not a fan of bass boosting these days. Though any bass-heads out there seriously look no further, you will be pleased!


    Very little to speak of with most of my low impedance IEM, a tiny amount with 10ohm Dunu DN-1000 if no music was playing but if anything I was picking up a darker background behind my music. No audible hiss has been detected during playback with any IEM I tried.

    Channel imbalance:

    Very very tiny amount just on the lowest of volumes, much lower than I would normally listen. This unit is well behaved and well within reach of my lowest volume setting without causing an issue. (let's hope all units show the same result).

    There's a quick impression and first thoughts on SAP-5, hopefully some others will chime in once their amps arrive.

    TrollDragon, d marc0 and fnkcow like this.
  2. Wokei
    Me nearly pull the trigger ....thanks ..taking this one for the team ...lol
  3. H20Fidelity Contributor

    I'm borrowing a C&C BH unit to compare with SAP-5 so we can work this out.

    I know SAP-4 was rated at about 60 hours per charge so it would hopefully make sense SAP-5 carries on the tradition.

    Being my first SMSL product I really don't know what to expect, all I have is one of their cables. Though it looks promising.
  4. Miyaichi
    The "curve" could be really useful when using a rubber band, so it wouldn't stick out [​IMG]
  5. Wokei

    Wooot woot ....when are u expecting the amp to arrive ?

    Me nearly bought the SAP-4s but bought NX1 instead b'cuz of the size factor ..If me not wrong ...this SAP-5s is about the size of iPhone and have bass boost ( which SAP-4s do not )

    These are exciting times for bang for buck amp !
  6. H20Fidelity Contributor

    The word from my seller is 30-50 days. [​IMG]


    Though let us hope sooner, we're already about 10 days in. The main problem I see here is because of the lithium battery many sellers use Singapore post.

    And we know what happened to some members in the NX1 thread who's amps were posted with Singapore post. 

    Maybe it will pop up on amazon and members can tune in faster than myself.
  7. Miyaichi
    Same for me, ordered the NX1 more than a week ago and now an ebay seller started to send it to Germany as express for 2$ more than I've paid...
  8. H20Fidelity Contributor

    With an amp like SAP-5 it may help asking sellers to remove the battery and order your own . The battery for this amp is rather common, I could pick one up in my country for a few dollars. But too late now for me....
  9. Wokei

    How much you paid for it ? Links pls ....
  10. H20Fidelity Contributor

    $49 USD: http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/311028199217?ssPageName=STRK:MEWNX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1439.l2649
  11. Wokei
  12. Miyaichi
    Doesn't sound curious at all, since it uses an usual nokia battery. I even have one at home [​IMG]
  13. Wokei
    Me think the rated battery power of 60 hrs is about right ...me old FIIO E11 also uses Nokia battery ...
  14. svyr
    :popcorn: output impedance?
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