S.M.S.L SP200 Headphone Amp - I'm Upgrading My Setup!
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StarTreker

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I've been on this site since 2016. I started down the rabbit hole with a Fiio A3 portable amp, then in 2019, I upgraded to a Fiio A5 amp. My choosing those were based on my budget, but realistically, those are quality amps, and great for portable use. Due to our current state of crisis, I find things to be so depressing. And since were forced to stay home all the time, I find myself using my headphones a little more often then usual. This is literally the first chance that I've had to upgrade to a high quality amp setup. And considering the cost of this thing, its probably going to be my last lol.

This is not just an amp mind you its THX certified, headphone amp, that can pump 6 whopping watts into 16-OHMS, or 3 whopping watts into 32-OHMS. This is probably the most powerful headphone amp that you can buy for the money, especially having THX. But what is great is, even if you have unbalanced headphones, like the V-Moda's, there is a 1/4 unbalanced headphone connection on the front for those. There is also a unbalanced XLR connection on the front as well.

On the rear of the amp, are both unbalanced left and right channel XLR inputs, as well as unbalanced RCA inputs. It comes with an on/off switch, input selector switch, and low/high gain switch, as well as the volume control. For someone of my income class, this is going to be the mother of all amps for me. If you have experience with this amp, please go ahead and give me your honest opinions about it. I know Zeo's reviewed it on both his Youtube channel, as well as on Amazon, with a glorifying review. Which I am not surprised considering the technology in this thing.
S.M.S.L SP200 Headphone Amp

Because I am going with this setup, I am going to be bypassing my speaker system all together. I am going to use the RCA cable at the link bellow, to literally connect from the output of my Realistic EQ box, directly into the headphone amp. And its so nice that the V-Moda's come with their own 1/8 to 1/4 adapter, cause I will need that to plug into the new amp.
Monoprice Premium 10' RCA Cable

I will update this thread with pictures once everything comes. :thumbsup:

EDIT: I know I am not the only one who got fooled into thinking the XLR connections were balanced, based off reading the description of the product. But like many of us, we eventually learn the truth. I had to update this with the new information that the XLR connections are not balanced. Not that big of a deal per say, they work perfectly fine, and offer convenience of connection if you do have XLR. But technically, it isn't balanced so ya.
 
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They have the new m200 can that will stack with the sp200.
Correct! But the M-200 is classified as a reference can, something more suitable for those who use can's in a recording studio.

However, if I ever feel like upgrading my cans in the future, at least I know that this amp, will power any headphone that is out there!

FYI: I bought this Golden Aluminum Volume Knob as a replacement knob for my Sp200. Its gonna look sick.
 
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Well, here it is folks, the moment you've all been waiting for. Presenting the................


S.M.S.L SP200 THX AAA-888
Desktop Headphone Amp!
IMG_1609.JPG

Oh I know you want to open it, so lets see whats inside the box shall we?

IMG_1613.JPG

You want this, don't you? Well you better buy one, cause this ones mine. LOL!

IMG_1622.JPG

I gotta say, this thing looks sexy! Time to fondle this beauty.

IMG_1627.JPG

If your headphone uses XLR, you can plug it in the 4-pin port. Or, if like me,
you have a 3.5mm plug, you can plug it into the 1/4 port with an adapter.

IMG_1640.JPG


Here is the famed horrible volume knob that looks better then it is. Good
news is, its replaceable. And I have one coming in the mail later in the week!

IMG_1641.JPG

Nothing really on the sides of the case. But this picture really shows how
the metal isn't just smooth, its metal flake looking.

IMG_1655.JPG

This is the top of the unit. More of that metal flake texture, combined with
the ever so famous, THX and High Res decals. Can you believe that Zeo's
peeled his High Res decal off during the review? I know like What dude?

IMG_1661.JPG

On the back of the unit are the two XLR inputs, RCA inputs, and power. I
wonder why they chose to make both the RCA ports black instead of the
usual color coded? So make sure to pay attention to the L & R polarity.

IMG_1671.JPG

Notice how the corners are nicely rounded, yet the shape of the box leans?
Most of us have no idea what S.M.S.L was thinking, but ok. lol

IMG_1681.JPG

Gotta love an amp that has all those certifications on the back of it, that way
you know your not buying something that is pure trash lol.

IMG_1594.JPG

This is the equalizer unit that I am using to do my EQ, it then outputs to this
RCA cable, that connects to the amp.

IMG_1600.JPG

And now that amp is hooked up and ready to go. Keep your seat belts
safely fastened, and your tray tables in their upright positions.

IMG_1689.JPG

Don't forget, full resolution of these pics cannot be seen, unless you click
on them. I tried to get the best pics that I could to show off this beauty.

Keep in mind that I am not running any form of Pre-AMP in the line. If your using a DAC, chances are it will have a built in Pre-AMP, which will amplify the input signal going into the SP200, which more then likely, you won't need as much amp power as I do. My source that I have tested comes from my notebook. The audio signal runs through HDMI into the TV. The TV offers no amplification through the optical output, which runs into a Fiio D3 digital to analog converter. From there it outputs using a premium Monoprice RCA cable into the EQ box, then it outputs into the SP200 through same high quality RCA cables.

When I first tried the amp on low gain, I felt it was too quiet, at all levels up to 50% volume. My V-Moda LP2's are 32 OHM headphones, and I think without a Pre-AMP in the line, its just a pretty low signal. Sure I could raze the input signal by razing the GAIN sliders on my EQ box. But if I run those sliders at 0DB flat, I get noticeable distortion from the cans. Again, there is a powerful transformer in that EQ box, it would surprise you lol. So I put the gain sliders back down to -10DB. I flipped the GAIN switch to HIGH POWER!

Why do I feel like emperor palpatine right now? All the sudden my can's woke up, and now when the volume is set to 50%, my cans get loud! I tested the cans with the typical bass track I always use, Wiz Khalifa On My Level - BASS BOOSTED, and holy crap. I have 0 reason to not compare these can's with the JVC SZ series, when using this amp! I thought they sounded like my JVC's before, and now they really do. I also listened to Jelly Role - Creature, Feel That Bass III, and Post Malone - Go Flex. They all sounded amazing with the amp at 50%.

The bass hits are punchy, and they get down low, so low, you'll be standing up for democracy! This amp seems to like straight up amplification with noise floor reduction. I find that it doesn't seem to mess with the mids at all, and if anything, the higher frequencies provide higher clarity without any sibilance. Of course, I still have my EQ +8DB for the highs, so there going to be crisp no matter what, but I like how this amp does its job. I feel like I can hearing everything in the tracks, even stuff I never heard before.

The THX portion of the amp seems to provide for a very clean sound. Most of the time, I can keep the volume at the 10 o clock position for general listening. Or if I want to listen to something loud, I push it to 50%. Other then songs, I tested this amp while gaming. How many of you have ever played Quake before? What about the Quake HD mod? OK, well, I am playing Quake HD, with both graphical, and audio enhancements. I cranked the volume on the amp up to 50% and then I proceeded to use the grenade launcher.

I gotta tell you, nothing like that delicious thunk sound you get from launching grenades with that weapon in the game. When the thunk happens, you don't just hear it, you freaking feel it. I got so excited, I ran to the fridge, chugged down a beer, then came back to hear some more. Have you ever listened to bass while on a buzz? Its quite an interesting experience. I haven't tested movies with this thing, again, just a quick test of some songs, gaming, and a few Youtube video's.

Overall, I am extremely pleased with this amp, it does exactly what I need it to do, bring headphones to life, that is what this amp excels at. I am aware that some people got defective boxes in the past, thankfully, mine was not defective. Nor did I have that strange volume issue that someone else had, where only the left channel was heard, until the volume was at 50%, my volume works perfectly fine. Also, some people complained about the POWER LED being super bright, blindingly like a flashlight. Mine is nothing like that, just a dim blue glow, so I think they fixed that.

Do I recommend this amp? Ohhhh hell ya I do! Ohhhhhh, I'm quite afraid I will have 3-Watts into my can's, by the time the bass arrives. The SP200 mops the decks with the Fiio amps. If your budget allows it, I highly recommend the S.M.S.L SP200 desktop amp. 5 out of 5 stars!


EDIT: So as it turns out, I neglected to check my OS volume, and it was at 86% instead of 100%. As soon as I brought up the OS volume to 100%, now 50% amp volume hits super hard, in HIGH gain! And thats not the only thing I found out. I learned that there are hidden settings that are not found under the Pulse Audio control.

There is a Daemon.conf configuration file located in, /ETC/Pulse. I can't believe that I have been listening to audio in 16-bit all these years by default. I changed that to 24-bit which is the max my Fiio D3 DAC supports. (Make sure to remove the ; at the head of the code) I had to edit the setting with root privileges, and then I typed pulseaudio -k in terminal to restart the Pulse Audio system. I instantly hear better sound quality now!

Things are happening guys!
 
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gimmeheadroom

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This is not just an amp mind you, its a balanced, THX certified, headphone amp
As far as I know it is not balanced. Confusingly, it has XLR inputs and outputs but the output is unbalanced 4 pin.
 
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As far as I know it is not balanced. Confusingly, it has XLR inputs and outputs but the output is unbalanced 4 pin.
If the amp were truly balanced, it would cost twice as much, like a lot of the 500 dollar amps that are out there. Turns out your right, and the XLR connection is there purely for convenience. I was at the beginning of the journey with the purchase of the amp, and so I was going off of what I learned about it in the description of the amp. I've since learned about that watching other video reviews, just forgot to mention it in my review. I need to update my first post to reflect that. Most of us probably don't need a truly balanced amp anyways unless were in the professional recording industry lol. Thanks for posting!
 
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gimmeheadroom

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Yeah the jury is still out whether the benefit is enough. I'm using it most of the time in my setup and I'm happy with balanced. It doesn't mean I would hear it differently running unbalanced. The extra power is good and the theoretical benefits are nice. Yeah, it can cost a lot more.
 
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As it turns out, the biggest reason why this amp could never be truly balanced, is actually due to the volume pot. Yes, the volume pot that just about everybody hates on this amp lol. In order to be a truly balanced amp, the volume pots must have 2 sets of poles on it, one set to work each channel independently. But as it is, it only has 1 set, so not enough to work balanced connections. Sometimes companies will do marketing hype to sell a product, yes including even spin lies about its abilities. But thats why were all here, dissecting these products, and providing the truth out there. Since were talking about this, here is a picture of its insides...

sp200_c.jpg
 
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I didn't take a look at the circuit and my days of hardware hacking were long ago. But a balanced amp needs separate amps for both channels and some other things also. I suspect the lack of a suitable volume pot is the tip of the iceberg. If not, then I expect some 50 cent Aliexpress balanced conversions in the near future :D
 
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I didn't take a look at the circuit and my days of hardware hacking were long ago. But a balanced amp needs separate amps for both channels and some other things also. I suspect the lack of a suitable volume pot is the tip of the iceberg. If not, then I expect some 50 cent Aliexpress balanced conversions in the near future :D
If folks out there really want to learn more about the components in this amp, I highly suggest you read this guys component analysis at his blog.
SMSL SP200 Components Analysis
He also provides some nice pictures to go with his blog post. I'm not an electrical engineer, so I have limited knowledge on PCB circuitry. While it is true that I do learn more all the time, I still don't know what every chip does on a board. But he does a pretty good job of explaining most of it.
 
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Whats up everyone? :L3000:

My new volume knob finally came on a slow boat from China!

IMG_1729.JPG


The old knob was harder to pull off then I expected lol. When installing the new knob, I couldn't have it all the way back against the case 100% or the knob would scrape. So its about a papers thickness of a gap between the case and the knob. Its nice that they included a hex key wrench, kept me from having to go into the shop to grab my hex key wrenches lol. I got the screw tight, but I didn't go crazy on it, don't wanna strip it out, its a tiny screw afterall. But the new knob looks sick!

IMG_1739.JPG


This picture I took to illustrate the size difference between the two knobs. Yes, I have the old knob resting against the gain switch lol, and yes its a tad lower in position. But even still, you can clearly see that the new knob is larger. I believe the old knob is 20mm, and the new one is 25mm. Woman appreciate large knobs too, so its a win win. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

IMG_1744.JPG


And finally a picture of my V-Moda LP2's sitting proud next to my new SMSL SP200 amp, with its new gold aluminum volume knob!

IMG_1732.JPG


And lastly, yes, the volume pot rotates more smoothly now with the added weight of the aluminum knob. Just make sure there is a bit of a gap, and this knob will work out fine. Also, the color I chose looks wicked sick with this amp, I am very pleased. Also, notice that I didn't remove my decals like Zeo's did. I don't think that Zeo's realized that doing something like that ruins the resale value. And once these boxes become antiques some day, it also ruins the collectors value.
 
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It has come to my attention, that some people are having difficulty installing the new 25mm knobs, due to their larger size. You don't have to sacrifice knob size down to original 20mm, in order to get it fitted. I used a mechanics tool called a Feeler Gauge. Just place the feeler gauge up against the casing of the amp, behind the volume knob. Push the knob on until it stops against the feeler gauge. Hold the knob so that it doesn't move, then tighten the lock screw. If done correctly, the movement of the knob will be smooth, and it won't scratch against the case.

.005 is 5 thousands of an inch
.127 mm for those of you in metric land
Link To A Affordable Feeler Gauge

Picture for illustration...
IMG_1852.JPG


Hopefully this helps!
 
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... the volume pot that just about everybody hates on this amp lol. In order to be a truly balanced amp, ...
Hi ! while i understand my idea implies a complete replacement of the case ... i truly think that this beautiful board would deserve a stepped attenuator. I am thinking seriously to extract the guts of this excellent amp and put them in a new case. I have only been sincerely impressed by how a stepped attenuator can improved sound ... the difference between a decent knife and a surgical scalpel. You can taylor a little the sound selecting different brand and model resistors. But usually the result is astonishing. It's a DIY challenge anyway. Regards, gino
 
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Hi ! while i understand my idea implies a complete replacement of the case ... i truly think that this beautiful board would deserve a stepped attenuator. I am thinking seriously to extract the guts of this excellent amp and put them in a new case. I have only been sincerely impressed by how a stepped attenuator can improved sound ... the difference between a decent knife and a surgical scalpel. You can taylor a little the sound selecting different brand and model resistors. But usually the result is astonishing. It's a DIY challenge anyway. Regards, gino

Hey! I welcome anybody who has the DIY skills, to do a major makeover on this amp. Just make sure that you take lots of detailed pictures to share the makeover with us. There was somebody else who mentioned they replaced the volume POT with a green Alps POT made in Japan, not sure which model it was though. If your handy at micro soldering, I bet you could get it done. The only thing is, I haven't found any evidence that S.M.S.L honors warranties, can't find any information, nor a page where I could register my amp. Its not a cheap amp, so you want to be careful. Still, I am curious as to what you come up with, please keep me apprised. :L3000:
 
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All qualms in regards to the volume pot aside, this thing sounds fantastic. I have actually come to the conclusion that i prefer it to the amp integrated in my Burson C3R. If only it had a lower gain setting and of course a better volume pot by default.

Edit: Although, to be more precise, it's simply practically perfectly clean and neutral. If that's a good thing or not depends on the rest of the chain. Now if i only could get the C3R's DAC without the amp...
 
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