SMSL DA-9 is a small integrated amplifier without anything especially striking at a first glance. At this point, I can easily say that I’m well acquainted with SMSL as a brand. Having tried many of their DACs scattered in different price categories, I always found them to be very good-sounding products and great bang for the buck. Even though I fully expected DA-9 to perform well, I was not expecting it to perform this well for the asking price of just 250 US dollars. So folks, fasten your seatbelts cause you’re in for a ride.
Build and Connectivity
Taken out of the box, SMSL DA-9 looks small and inconspicuous. The finish is nice with the enclosure being fully made of aluminum. The front panel is simple with a color display and one knob that doubles as a button. You can handle everything using this one, but a convenient remote control is provided in the box too. Taking a look at the back, we find essentials such as an IEC power inlet and a set of speaker binding posts that will accept banana plugs, spades, and bare wire of a smaller diameter. There’s a dedicated subwoofer output too, which is not that common in this price range so it’s a nice touch. When it comes to inputs, we are offered two sets of analog inputs, a pair of each single-ended RCA and balanced XLR. Finally, there is also Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity onboard, and that’s what the removable antenna is for.
As you can see, due to its diminutive size and space restriction, you don’t get several line inputs as you might come to expect with more traditionally sized amps. Furthermore, speaker binding posts are quite small and kind of cramped. On the other hand, getting fully balanced inputs is very unexpected at this price point.
Tech and Features
In the heart of SMSL DA-9 lies a class D amplification module made by the German producer Infineon. SMSL actually claims two of the Infineon class D modules are used to produce a fully balanced design. They’re also providing a very decent amount of power in such a small body, something that wouldn’t be possible with a traditional class AB design. So DA-9 is capable of delivering 50 W into 8 Ohms load, but the power almost doubles at 90 W at 4 Ohms, and then again at 150 W at 2 Ohms. There are basically no speakers declared at 2 Ohms, but this means that the amp has a healthy amount of power reserves and will not be easily scared by speakers that have noticeable impedance dips (heavy load basically).
In the spirit of using new technologies, SMSL didn’t use a typical attenuation potentiometer but decided to go with volume control chip NJW1194. As I have not encountered this type of construction so far, I’m curious to hear how the unit fares when it comes to sound quality.
When it comes to Features, DA-9 feels very modern. First of all, there’s a color display that you can use to navigate sources as well as other settings. Those other settings include several EQ modes as well as Bass and Treble adjustments. Important to note here is that you can opt to disable all of the EQ settings by simply choosing a direct mode, which is set as a factory default. Small details like dimming the screen to your preference are also on-board. This is much more than a usual amplifier will offer you these days.
I’ve started testing SMSL DA-9 in a price appropriate environment, hooked to the Loxjie D30 DAC on the one side and on the Elac Debut 2.0 B5.2 speakers on the other. Both of these are brilliant budget-friendly components, and I was immediately struck by the firm bass control and crisp sound that didn’t have any obvious shortcomings. Just a few songs in, I have realized this small amp performs better than I had any right to expect, so I excitedly moved it to my main setup. This one includes very price inappropriate Denafrips Ares II DAC and KEF LS50 speakers. This somewhat irrational move proved very revealing to the fact that SMSL DA-9 was clearly held back by the other components in the first setup.
The first thing to notice was how firmly in control of somewhat unruly LS50’s this small amp was. Bassline extended as deep as these speakers allow it to but more than that it sounded neat and punchy, without any trace of bloating. Upper registers are handled in a similar fashion, with clean and tidy tones striking with energy and intent. Because of it, DA-9 is tonally on the energetic and somewhat analytical side of things. For those expecting warmth and silky smoothness, better look elsewhere. That said, I never felt that DA-9 is overly sharp or sterile sounding, which is not that uncommon with many class D amplifiers.
Dynamically, SMSL DA-9 sounds very lively and brave. If speed, energy, and excitement are required, this amp will deliver them in a spectacular way. It’s almost hard to believe that kind of zest is coming from such a tiny amp, but it does.
Soundstaging is yet another area SMSL DA-9 does exceptionally well. The virtual stage is wide and layered with the skill that’s basically unmatched at this price point. Vocals are firmly locked in the center of the stage while instruments are pinpointed with admirable accuracy. At this point, I was well aware that we have a true gem here and it was time to test it against some proven opponents.
NAD D 3020 V2 is a much more versatile solution with both analog and digital inputs, meaning it’s offering an integrated DAC section. There’s also a phono input onboard for connecting your turntable if you happen to use one. That said, I was interested in its amplification section this time so I connected a few of my own DAC’s to it and compared both of these amps. It didn’t take much to realize that NAD sounds considerably warmer, with the heavier but more sluggish bassline. Midbass is bleeding into the midrange more, making it fuller sounding too. DA-9 on the other hand presented a much tidier and quicker bassline. It sounds leaner but much more energetic too. Finally, when it comes to the soundstage and pinpointing vocals and instruments, DA-9 is a clear winner – it simply feels like a small blanket has been removed from the speakers in comparison to D 3020 V2.
Yamaha WXA-50 is another all-in-one solution that even includes a network streamer. It’s a great value too, but again I was interested only in its analog section this time. Yamaha proved to be quicker and more resolving than NAD, but somewhat dryer sounding too. SMSL DA-9 sounded both more energetic and more fluid than Yamaha, with better layering too. So WXA-50 is a better and closer opponent to DA-9 than NAD’s amp was, but SMSL DA-9 is still a clear winner to my ears.
Hegel H90 is a much more expensive integrated amp, and the only one that uses the old-school class AB construction, meaning it’s much chunkier too. This comparison might feel out of place and utterly unfair to small SMSL, but I was eager to test its limits. To put it shortly, Hegel H90 did outperform DA-9 with a deeper soundstage and similar if a slightly higher level of subtle details that sounded more refined and less forced. That SMSL DA-9 really held its ground and the gap between the two was much smaller than I would ever dare to expect.
To conclude this part of the review, SMSL DA-9 leapfrogged both NAD and Yamaha, and it was stopped only when eight times pricier amp was brought into the fight. It actually sounded closer to Hegel H90 than it did to NAD D 3020 V2.
SMSL DA-9 is small in appearance but big when it comes to its skills. If it was priced two times its price, I would still have trouble finding it an equal. But at $250 I can only say this little amp is a steal. I can easily imagine it in a system containing the source and speakers that are twice the price, and DA-9 in most of those cases would still be the strongest link in the chain, it’s that good. Now it’s time for the competition to answer the challenge given by the SMSL, but until then I’ll be recommending this one gladly.
Update: The score was readjusted to lower values due to the SMSL A300 arrival.
|SMSL DA-9 – CHARACTERISTICS|
Inputs: XLR, RCA, BT
16 thoughts on “SMSL DA-9 Review – Best Value on the Market”
Would love to have a sound demo of this DA-9 and LS50 ! Maybe compare this DA-9 to other amp with different prices.
Thank you for the awesome review as usual ! 🙂
i drive mine on a 2 pair of 4ohm focal components makes it 2ohm…….it drive sweet without any degrades of sound quality as always aspected ,,,this is the first time i heard 2ohm setup that is surreal and pleasing.
Any chance of comparing the SMSL DA-9 to the SMSL AO200 or Sabaj A20a?
Or perhaps to a lesser class AB amp then Hegel, more like IOTAVX, Rega Brio or Rotel A11 Tribute?
Does the equally cheap Cambridge AXA 25 or NAD 316BEE provide more emotion, more beauty?
Thank you! Love your reviews. Do you have any recommendations for DAC pairings? I have the Topping E30 now, do you think these would pair well or be top bright?
Thanks for an excellent review! Would Triangle BRO3 match the DA9 or would it be a too bright combo?
Unfortunately I haven’t heard Triangle so can’t tell you that. The brand just recently got the distributor in my country, so maybe sometimes I get the chance.
Yes. I have DA9 with BR03. Even with the Bluetooth, DA9 blew my mind. It’s my best pairing now (Bluetooth). Will dig to the DAC game even more soon.
I just received DA9. Pairing it with my Triangle BR03. I did some dac rolling between my old Matrix Audio X Sabre and SMSL SKMK2. The presentation difference I got from these two are very significant. X Sabre being with spatial holographic with a slight recessed mids and smoother. SMSL SKMK2 is quite in the front. Everything sounds at the front and a bit too forward.
For fun I tried to use the Bluetooth and man I LOVE the sound presentation I got from the Bluetooth. It’s so open and airy with a very sweet vocals. However, it has quite less pinpointing imaging that I could get from Matrix Audio. Any idea of DAC that I could get to have the same signature of the Bluetooth but with much better imaging?
i have marantz pm6006 powering voncept 20 . im planning replacing marantz with da9 .is it good upgrade or go with topping pa5 plz reply.
That is a tough choice. PM6006 is a very fine amp, on the warmer side of things as far as I can remember from the few times I’ve heard it. DA9 is very detailed but slightly analytical sounding. It would depend a lot on your personal taste… That said, I actually listed a similar Marantz amp (I think it was NA6006) with Q Acoustics 3020i, and that was a really good-sounding combination without any obvious flaws that I could notice.
Are the two analogue inputs available for two different sources so to be able to switch between the two?
Yes, you can switch between balance and single-ended at will.
I left comment on your channel but I was misunderstood.
I was going to say than my RCA inputs are significantly (to me 4dB is significant volume drop) louder then XLR. I doubled checked my cables and still there is a volume drop when I switch to XLR. Strange.
Other then that amp has no other issues and sound really decent for the price.
So it looks like my unit has factory fault. I contacted SMSL support but they are useless, don’t understand what I am saying and have problems with English. I bought it via Amazon so I better return it that way.
Regards from Poland
Hi Konrad, I misunderstood you the last time around by thinking that XLR outs are louder, which is the way it should be. If you’re sure that the problem is not coming from the source itself but it is due to DA-9 then I would definitely return it. Furthermore, if you don’t really need balanced input, think about A300 that’s even better sounding in my opinion.
I have watched several of your amplifier videos and think that there are some topics that you are not covering.
I’m searching to upgrade the amplifiers for my active three way DIY JBL speakers that have drivers with sensitivity abow 100db/1W.
So are these D-amps quiet. I have earlier generation cheap D-amps and need to use L-pads to suppress hiss 10-15 db. Several small size active studio speakers have had issues with reported hiss. Now it seems that new versions are quiet. So has this development also reflected on SMLS and Toppings current amplifiers.
An other matter of interest is how do you turn on these amps. It is not a option to switch on three amplifiers and a multichannel dac plus some other gear separately each time you want to listen to some music. What happens if you start the amps by switching them on from a common rail. Do they go into standby mode or does they play the in coming signal. Also does the amps send any sound to the speakers when powered up..
These SMSL amps lack a trigger input so they are not thought to be used as truly power amps in a multtichannel system. But their power capacity is more than enough for most hi and mid drivers. Topping has considered this need but I have not found any information about how quiet their amps are. SNR does not say if there is hiss with no signal playing.