I have a confession to make. My favorite part of my desk setup isn’t my computer, or peripherals or even the monitor arrangement, it’s my audio setup. With high resolution audio equipment becoming more affordable than ever, anyone with an interest in delving into the world of HiFi can put together a high-fidelity system for a fraction of the cost from only a few years ago.
Recently the good folks at Aoshida Audio reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in reviewing the SMSL AO200 high-resolution 2.1 channel power amplifier – and I’m glad they did. The AO200 delivers powerful audiophile grade sound that’s friendly on the wallet.
The AO200 is marketed as a standalone class D amplifier that delivers 90 watts per channel @ 4 ohms and 50 watts @ 8 ohms via its dual Infineon 12070 chips - which is plenty of power for even the most demanding bookshelf speakers. While this amp will get you up and running playing music straight out of the box through its digital inputs, to get the most out of this unit, it’s meant to be paired with a separate standalone DAC.
In the box is a user manual, power cable, USB-A cable to connect the amp to a PC, a remote control, an antenna for Bluetooth connectivity, and of course the amplifier itself. One notable feature of the AO200 is its power brick is contained inside the body of the unit, so no cumbersome external power brick is required.
SMSL has plenty of amplifiers on the market, but what sets the AO200 apart from the rest of their amp lineup is the USB input on the back of the device. While some folks may see this addition as a pointless feature, I feel it gives users the versatility to connect to a PC and enjoy audio before investing in a standalone DAC. In addition to the USB input, included are balanced XLR inputs, standard unbalanced RCA inputs, and Bluetooth 5.0 for streaming wireless audio. Full sized subwoofer outputs are also included. Speaker wire connects via the 5-way binding posts.
The front facia of the AO200 is sleek and minimal. It’s held onto the all-aluminum chassis by 4 torque screws which is reminiscent of the SMSL AD18 integrated amplifier. The volume dial is also AD18-esque; however, I would like to have seen a chunkier dial on the AO200.
The display is vibrant and easy to read. Navigating the menu system via the front dial is intuitive and straight forward. With a push of the front volume dial, you are granted access to the menu which gives you the ability to select the different inputs, EQ and tone controls, soft clipping, dimmer settings, and display brightness.
This is a solid piece of audio gear that looks and feels like a premium product. All my previous desktop amps would get very warm to the touch after only 10 minutes of use, but the AO200 stays cool to the touch ever after hours of music play back. I feel this can be attributed to the high power efficiency of the Infineon drivers and a quality heat sink design.
When auditioning the AO200, I used the USB input and the unbalanced RCA input from the amp which both connected to my desktop PC. When using the digital USB connection of the AO200, the amps internal DAC is used for digital to analog conversion from the PC. When using the unbalanced analog RCA connection from the amp, the digital to analog conversion is done by the PC’s onboard Sabre 9018 DAC from its Asus Strix X570-I motherboard. For testing, I only used 16 bit or 24 bit lossless flac files.
Regarding preferred EQ settings, the general consensus of audio enthusiasts is when using SMSL products, the proprietary SDB setting provides the best sound signature. The SDB setting boosts the high and low frequencies a couple decibels. While I tested all the EQ presets and tone controls, I have to agree that the SDB setting was my favorite as it added a bit more bite to the music without adding coloration.
What struck me right away in terms of sound quality was the added depth to the sound stage and imaging of the AO200 versus my current desktop amp the Topping MX3. I could more easily tell if instruments like guitars or drums were closer to me or further away from me in the soundstage. Overall, music had more of a 3D quality.
Aside from the added depth, the music sounded more alive and dynamic using the AO200. There is more of a fullness to the midrange while not sounding bloated. The overall sound felt very controlled. While there is no information regarding what type of DAC is used in the AO200, I noticed the DAC in my PC sounded better than the DAC in the AO200. This reinforces that a separate stand-alone DAC is needed to get the best experience out of this amp. With that said, the internal DAC is still very usable and a casual listener may not notice any loss in sound clarity.
Bluetooth sounded on par with the USB input. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t overly impressive either. SMSL don’t list what Bluetooth codecs are used by the AO200, but either way, Bluetooth doesn’t provide a lossless audio stream. While I don’t plan on listening to audio over Bluetooth on the AO200, it’s a nice feature to have strictly for convenience sake and not critical listening.
To wrap up this review, I highly recommend the SMSL AO200 amplifier. If you’re looking to upgrade your desktop audio solution with component audio, or if you’re interested in experiencing what all the audiophile hype is about, the AO200 is worthy of your consideration. I’m looking forward to parring it with a dedicated DAC such as a SMSL DO200 or Topping DX7 Pro headphone amplifier.