Today I’m reviewing the SMSL C200 DAC and headphone amplifier. The C200 features an ES9038Q2M DAC chip, 4*OPA1612A opamps, 4.4mm balanced headphone output and TRS balanced outputs. It’s priced at $219.
Disclaimer: This sample was provided by Aoshida Audio for an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
SMSL C200 Review
For the price, the SMSL C200 is an outstanding all-in-one DAC/Amp.
SMSL’s C200 aims to be a compact all-in-one desktop or hi-fi audio device. It’s set up to be compatible with all your music sources and has Bluetooth, USB, optical and coaxial inputs. Heck, it even works with game consoles such as Xbox, PS4 and PS5.
The ES9038Q2M DAC can handle files up to 32-bit/768kHz and DSD512. For those who want the simplicity of wireless playback from a tablet or phone, the C200’s Bluetooth input supports aptX-HD and LDAC up to 24-bit/96kHz.
RCA and balanced TRS outputs on the back panel allow the C200 to work with active speakers or as a preamp for a hi-fi system. The 6.35mm single-ended and 4.4mm balanced headphone outputs on the front panel allow you to listen to IEMs and headphones.
With a power output of 1.3Wx2, it should have enough muscle to drive all but the most demanding headphones. Thanks to a near 0 Ω output impedance from the headphone section, the C200 is ideal for sensitive all-BA IEMs too. In addition, the headphone output has 2 gain settings: Low-gain 0dB and High-gain 11dB giving you more precise control over the output.
Looking at the SMSL C200, I can see it follows SMSL’s usual unassuming and minimalist design philosophy. It’s basically a small black box with a white OLED display on the front. You can adjust the brightness of the display in the settings: great if you are bothered by glowing digits.
Thankfully, the corners of the front panel are rounded, unlike the less ergonomic SMSL D6 that I reviewed recently. Coming in at 139x32x147.5mm (WxHxD), the C200 takes up little real estate on the desktop.
You can control the C200 either by the multi-function knob/button on the front panel or via the included remote control. The volume dial is stepped but with 99 volume steps, it gives you precise control over the volume.
On the front panel are the 6.35mm and 4.4mm headphone outputs, followed by the multi-function volume knob and OLED display.
Over on the rear panel are (from left to right): AC power input, Bluetooth antenna mount, USB-C input, optical input, coaxial input, RCA output and TRS balanced output.
The C200’s Bluetooth is in a word, excellent. I connected my Sony NW ZX-300 DAP and it automatically defaulted to LDAC. For the next hour or so, I enjoyed 417.3’s 40 album in its entirety.
It sounded so good that I forgot I was even using Bluetooth. When the album finished playing, it took me a second to figure out what was going on when I opened my MusicBee app only to discover it wasn’t playing anything. It was then I remembered that the music was coming from the Sony.
Pairing was easy and the connection was rock-solid. But most importantly, the music sounded amazing.
So what does the C200 have to offer when it comes to audio quality? Plenty as it turns out. Once again SMSL has gone with a flat, neutral tuning for the C200. It measures exceptionally well with its linear frequency response and low THD+N.
Sound Details and Pairing
I couldn’t detect any background noise, even on high gain with sensitive IEMs. The C200 springs forth music from a pitch-black background. The Meze ADVAR pairs perfectly with the C200. ADVAR’s meaty bass notes sound sharp and defined but they can also produce a gritty sub-bass rumble. Listening to Solar Fields’ “Vive Le Resistance”, bass notes were punchy, and the mids were delivered with perfect clarity.
One of the things I love about ADVAR is the way it picks up the smallest of details despite having such an inviting and musical tonality. That quality is highlighted even more by the C200’s transparency and dynamic presentation.
I was pleased to hear the level of organization in the soundstage and the strength of the positioning in Neil Cowley Trio’s “Couch Slouch”. The double bass is clearly positioned on the right of the stage with the piano situated on the back left and drums firmly in the centre. Instruments appear out of a black background, separated by clean air.
Switching over to the Hifiman Sundara, the C200 continued to impress. This gave me good opportunity to try out the 4.4mm balanced output with my Arctand RUBI cable. Despite its transparency, this unit sounds insightful and musical. All of the details are there and you can easily focus on and track every sound in the music.
Without a doubt, the Sundara is a great match for the C200. The sound is so organic and engaging yet highly resolving and scoring strong on technicalities. It really feels like a complete system. There’s no flabbiness in the bass and the scale of dynamics is nothing short of grand.
Soundstage and Technicalities
The transient response is great and at no time did the C200 sound slow with any headphones or complex music. Firing up Caligulas Horse’s “Rust”, my headphones came alive and I was nodding my head enthusiastically in no time.
While the soundstage isn’t huge, it’s definitely not restricted in any way. It’s not especially wide but it has excellent depth and I can easily guestimate the relative position of musicians in relation to me. It reminds me somewhat of the Topping DX3 Pro Plus, with its precise imaging and clean instrument separation.
I must admit I am a fan of all-in-one units and the SMSL C200 is currently one of my favourites in the entry-level segment. It just seems to work well with any IEMs or headphones I plug into it. I like the simplicity of it too and the build quality feels reassuring.
Having both the 6.35mm and 4.4mm headphone outputs means I can use it with any IEM and all but 1 of my headphones. That alone would make me choose this over the Topping DX3 Pro Plus and L30 II.
I think the C200 delivers one heck of a performance for the price. In fact, it performs so well, it’s worthy of our recommended award.