SMSL DO200 MKII DAC Review

The original SMSL DO200 DAC has been launched almost a year ago and is a desktop DAC that comes with dual ESS Sabre ES9068AS DAC chips, full MQA decoding, rich I/O options, and a full set of features. The DO200 MKII on the other hand is the new upgraded model. It has a new and brighter IPS LCD screen and the latest XMOS USB controller chip XU-316 (which was XU-216 on the previous model). DO200 MKII is a full-featured and full-balanced desktop DAC.

DO200 MKII uses two of the latest (2021) ESS Technologies DAC chips, the ES9068AS which offers full MQA support, without the need for a software decoder for the first unfold.

MKII comes in a unibody case, CNC carved from aluminum with two metal plates attached to its back and front. An IPS LCD screen, an advanced UI, and a volume wheel that is positioned in the middle which is a first for SMSL. Is it a good idea? Well, it’s not very practical if you are right-handed as you block the screen while dealing with the settings. I recommend using the remote control for the setup menu as it is both easier and more practical.

DO200 MKII has a clean design on the front with a volume knob and a 1.9” IPS LCD display. On its back, you’ll find the gold-plated digital inputs which are USB, Optical, Coaxial, AES, and I2S. There’s a Bluetooth antenna socket and two analog outputs coming in RCA and XLR format. MKII can work as a DAC or as a DAC and preamp combo, as its voltage output can be variable or fixed.

SMSL went with two ES9068AS DAC chips of ESS Technologies that incorporate a full MQA decoder in the same chip. Additional electronics were no longer needed to fully unfold and decode MQA content, shortening the signal path as much as possible, and instantly locking on such files.

ESS Technology’s ES9068AS is a current output DAC chip, meaning that a current-to-voltage conversion (I/V) stage needs to be built around it. SMSL went with warmer and more natural-sounding OPA1612 op-amps, which are better suited for these particular chips. OPA1612 are dual op-amps and since there are five of them, it seems that SMSL used all four channels of ES9068AS, working in a truly balanced configuration. There’s a DAC chip per channel for lower channel crosstalk and for a slightly higher dynamic range.

We also see the use of the new USB controller from XMOS. Called XU-316, this 32-bit multicore controller replaces the long-running XU=216. The plug-and-play feature, which allows the product to work seamlessly with all kinds of devices, has been further improved and offers maximum compatibility and stability with all devices except applications that require Windows ASIO.

I/O

The back panel comes with two outputs ports:

  • XLR to connect a balanced amplifier
  • RCA to connect an unbalanced amplifier

A total of 5 input ports, to cover every type of source:

  • XLR AES/EBU port, mostly used in a studio environment
  • USB-B port, to connect your computer or a DAP
  • Coaxial port, a classic found on a wide lot of sources
  • SPDIF port, same as above, you can find it on CD-Players or even your game console
  • Bluetooth antenna, the DAC supports Hi-Res Bluetooth decoding (LDAC, aptX-HD, SBC, AAC)
  • HDMI port for I2S support

Features

  • Both USB and SPDIF support the MQA decoding and support MQA-CD
  • 2x ES9068AS DAC chips, fully optimized to THD+N as low as -122dB, far exceeding the official specifications
  • 5x High-End dual OPA1612A and a large number of audio-grade components
  • XMOS XU-316, a true 32bit USB solution, supporting DoP256 and native DSD512, PCM supports up to 768kHz
  • All input ports support DSD (Except BT), coaxial, optical and AES support DoP64
  • Qualcomm Bluetooth chip supports LDAC 24bit/96kHz, APTX/HD, SBC, AAC
  • Ultra-low phase noise and optimized clock system to achieve ultra-low clock jitter
  • Tempered glass display panel, higher light transmittance, longer service life
  • Low-noise power supply, while improving power efficiency and lower power consumption
  • Discrete component linear power supplies and multiple low-noise power supplies specially designed for analog circuits
  • High-quality gold-plated input and output connection terminals
  • Full-view color IPS display with dimmer function
  • Japan Audio Association (JAS) Hi-Res certification
  • Equipped with full-function remote control.

What’s in the box

Specs

  • Model: SMSL DO200 MKII
  • Type: DAC
  • DAC Chip: ES9068AS x 2
  • Output: RCA/XLR
  • Input: USB / Optical / Coaxial / Bluetooth / I2S / AES/EBU
  • THD: 0.00008% (-122dB)
  • SNR: > 128dB
  • Output impedance: 100 ohms
  • Sampling rate: USB/I2S – PCM up to 32bit/768kHz / DSD512 // Optical/Coaxial/AES – PCM up to 24bit/192kHz / DSD64(DoP)
  • Bluetooth: v5.0 – SBC / AAC / aptX / aptX HD / LDAC
  • Size: 210mm x 170mm x 40mm
  • Weight: 1200g
  • Price: $469  ($399 for Black Friday)

I would like to thank Aoshida Audio for providing me with the review sample of DO200 MKII. They have one of the best inventories out there when it comes to desktop DACs and AMPs. You should definitely check them out.

The SMSL DO200 MKII can work in a DAC-only mode, or feed a power amp with a variable-level output, like a pre-amplifier. You can even use both outputs at the same time, or just one at a time (XLR/RCA), in case you only use one AMP with this DAC. But, thanks to its rich I/O ports, the DO200 MKII can also become a hub for all your sources.

I paired the DO200 MKII with the xDuoo MT-604 balanced hybrid tube-AMP through its balanced XLR outputs for my review.

Settings Menu

MKII’s menu can be accessed with the volume knob or with the remote control that doubles as a joystick. In the standby mode a single press will power it on and another press will enter its user menu where the following features can be accessed in settings:

Inputs – USB Audio, Bluetooth, Optical, Coaxial, AES/EBU, and I2S.

Outputs – All Line Out, XLR Balanced, and RCA Unbalanced.

PCM Filter – You can select your desired digital filters that are built-in directly in the ESS Sabre DAC chip, there are 3 filters to play with as Fast Linear, Slow Minimum, and Minimum Phase, but the sound difference is slight at best or none at worst.

Sound Color – Standard, Rich 1,2,3, Tube 1,2,3, and Crystal 1,2,3. I like the standard one the most, but if you would like to alter its voicing, there are plenty of options to choose from. Rich and Tube are particularly interesting with brighter-sounding headphones/speakers.

PRE Mode – Volume Variable or Fixed. If you will be using it as a DAC-only device, leave it at Fixed.

FN Key For – Switch XLR/RCA, All Outputs, Bluetooth, or Switch Phase – you are selecting the function of the FN button on the remote control.

DPLL Bandwidth – 15 positions, 5 is the default one. This setting is changing the jitter reduction algorithm, leaving it in the default position.

I2S Mode: Normal or Reversed.

DSD Channel: PCM DATA or PCM LRCK.

Dimmer – OFF or 5 to 60 seconds.

Brightness – 6 positions, the lowest one is almost dimming completely.

Reset – Reset to factory settings.

Sound

SMSL made the DO200 MKII as a dual-mono DAC, fully differential, and fully balanced, by the use of two ES9068AS chips in current-mode operation. MKII is impressively silent, with a pitch-black background. The more I listened to it I found myself the more I like it. SMSL found the sweet spot between accuracy and musicality. The bass is clean, sharp, and deep with fast transients and decay, good headroom, and hard-kicking lows with excellent layering, and texture. The MKII felt not only clean and transparent but also wider and deeper sounding on all ranges.

DO200 MKII can push huge quantities of micro-details, leaving a ton of headroom for high dynamic range tracks. High-quality formats and especially good recordings can benefit from this extremely well.

I didn’t feel a difference between line and pre-output,  but there’s a clear improvement between XLR balanced and RCA. First comes power, then follows depth. In balanced mode, the pan effects are more natural and if some notes could appear muffled, switching from RCA to XLR can definitely make a difference.

I also tested the Bluetooth late at night, works perfectly in general, and pairing is easy with Windows or Android. But the sound quality even with LDAC codec made me immediately switch back to the wired balanced connection. I don’t like and use Bluetooth for music listening in general, the technology is not there yet.

Lows

DO200 MKII presented a very clean, transparent, airy, almost ethereal bass performance. Deep, fast, and accurate. The DO200 MKII managed to reach deep notes with ease. There isn’t any kind of distortion down low, air is moving freely around and it’s a fast type of bass. It was more than enough in my tracks. It easily reached the lowest pits, and it had a faster decay. I liked it when it comes to quality, I just wanted a higher quantity and a better presence in my tracks. If you want a nicer presence and a nicer slam, just use a solid-state amplifier and you’re ready to rock.

Mids

Flat and clean. Good dynamic range combined with exceptional accuracy and absolutely grain-less/flawless background make the DO200 MKII unsurprisingly good in this regard. That said, its most impressive feat remains how musical it sounded, even with difficult tracks. If you expect a mellow, smooth, and organic midrange, then I’m going to disappoint you. There is still some meat to the bone, some soul, and a few harmonics felt sweeter, there are natural decays and you can spot even warmth from time to time, but it isn’t putting an accent on the human pitch and on the emotional side of the music listening. It wants to be honest and true, without adding or subtracting anything from the mix. The good thing is that I never found its midrange section lifeless, boring, or dry-sounding, nothing like that.

Highs

Straight and technical. If everything seems flat to my ears, some might find the SMSL DO200 MKII a bit too conservative, or even lacking in this regard. But, the MKII shows excellent control and showed the same level of refinement. Its treble performance felt right from the get-go, it was clean, defined, and very extended even past the top octave. It never jumps ahead of that low-end and midrange, but it sometimes asks for more attention from the listener. I don’t find it rash or bright, or elevated, but sometimes it might appear metallic or slightly fake sounding. Cymbals were really snappy; snare drum hits were quite impactful and the tambourines had the right amount of shimmering. It had everything I wanted from the treble.

Overall, the frequency response of DO200 MKII felt complete, and extended at both ends, without any rises or drops. Expect a straight line from the sub-bass to the tops.

Sum-Up

Pairing the DO200 MKII with a hybrid tube-AMP, you get a softer impact and smoothness while remaining clinical and accurate overall. But what most impressed me in this journey was the soundstage/3D space that got much more extensive compared to some high-end USB DACs or some DAPs. Although I had some doubts about the difference between a good and capable portable USB DAC and a desktop DAC, now I totally get it. Some say that you can’t tell the difference in sound if you do a blind test among DACs, well in theory this might be true as the DAC’s task is to convert digital bits to analog sound. But the important part, I mean the engineering of the whole unit, kicks in after that conversation and that makes the difference, maybe slightly in general tonality but definitely more in the whole perception of the final sound including dynamics, energy, and spaciousness. Some of my IEMs sounded better, easy as that. And there is no turning back for me after experiencing this with the SMSL DO200 MKII.