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    Taking The S.M.S.L. AO200 & Neat IOTA For A Desktop Spin




    S.M.S.L. AO200 Front.jpg




    The S.M.S.L. AO200 is a small/desktop integrated amplifier with Bluetooth, USB, unbalanced and balanced inputs.  There is one set of speaker outputs and subwoofer outputs.



    S.M.S.L. AO200 Neat IOTA.jpg S.M.S.L. AO200 USB A to USB A.jpgThere is an excellent little display on the front of the unit for status, etc.  The volume control is smooth, and it also acts as an input device with a press to select operate the menu.  The unit also comes with remote control. 


    The USB A input can accept a USB stick with digital files; there is no playback control; it just plays them in order.  S.M.S.L. provided a unique USB A to A cable that connects to your computer for playback as a USB DAC.


    The D.A.C. in the AO200 is a fixed rate unit 24/48, which is similar to the D.A.C. in my Audioengine A2+ speakers.  These seem unusual to my audiophile brain.  


    The compact size of the unit presents some issues.  First, the speaker terminals are tiny, and because they are so close together, they are tough to connect wires.  The R.C.A. connections are also too close to each other for comfortable use.


    S.M.S.L. AO200 Tiny Terminals.jpg




    Neat IOTA 2.jpgMy initial use case was to improve my desktop sound system.  The folks at High Fidelity Services, Neat Acoustics' USA Distributor, sent over a pair of the Neat IOTA speakers in their blue color.  Thanks Paul! I set them up on Isoacoustics stands to isolate them from the desk.  The IOTA speakers are horizontally oriented.  You can swap the left and right to put the tweeter on the inside or the outside.  


    My desk is in the corner of my office.  The "magic"  equilateral triangle is impossible with two 27 in. monitors in-between the speakers.   I was able to get a pretty good sound stage presentation in the corner.  But, I found that it was better when I went to my other desk with a flat wall behind it and only one display.  In that location, the staging was much simpler to get "right."   Close near-field setups are tricky to get right.  My case is worse than many.


    Most small desktop speakers can use some help on the bottom end of the spectrum.
    One of the features of the AO200 is a subwoofer out.  I tested this with a R.E.L. T0 Subwoofer.  Setting this up over a short term was not as simple as I had hoped.  It took me several days of listening and adjusting until I found the sweet spot.  The subwoofer balanced the system out rather nicely.  For this class of design, it might be too much cost.


    While I had the setup in my office, I tested both the balanced and unbalanced inputs from my Soekris DAC2541. The sound quality over those inputs is a natural step up from the internal D.A.C. or Bluetooth.  Of course, I added a $1400 DAC in front of the $279 integrated amp!


    I did a few days of listening using my Volumio Primo via their analog out into the speakers.  While this sounds pretty good, you start pushing the price up into other hardware that might be a better fit, such as a BlueSound Power Node.  In addition, I use Roon as my primary streaming system, so adding Volumio is a bit of extra work I do not want to do.


    During this testing, I had no way to compare other amplifiers in a meaningful way.  I did some casual testing with an older Rotel class A/B system, and there was no significant difference for the applications.  

    S.M.S.L. AO200 NEAT IOTA Desktop.jpgThe system ended up in my workshop, where I am moving around more and is a bit more casual listening.  I use Bluetooth from my iPhone in the shop, and I am using a Raspberry Pi running Vitos hooked Via USB to the AO200 as a Roon Endpoint.  I am using the NEAT IOTA speakers for now.  They will be leaving soon, so I will hunt for small speakers for that room.

    Thinking about use cases such as a garage system or my shop, where you want music, podcasts, radio, etc.  In those cases, the compression on the Bluetooth link or the lower performance of the USB input is not a limitation.    The AO200 might work well in a dorm room or bedroom system.  


    The AO200 is a building block for the playtime audiophile.    It is priced well for the features; it looks good and takes up very little space.  The manual is overly brief and needs expansion.  The size of the case is a blessing and a curse for connecting all the wiring up.


    I am not sure what speakers I would pair with the amp.  Time and budget do not allow for any research in this area.  I leave that up to you, dear reader.

    While the AO200 did not end up at my desk it is now the “basement/workshop” system for general use.  With Bluetooth and Roon using a Raspberry Pi, it is NICE!.


    I continue to use my Audioengine A2+ speakers in my office because they image almost perfectly due to the front ports.  


    I have returned the subwoofer. It was Wonderful, but not really in the budget.


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    So the A2+ are harder to beat than you thought?

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    11 hours ago, Rexp said:

    So the A2+ are harder to beat than you thought?

    You are correct.  As a basic desktop speaker they stage well, they are reasonably articulate.  They are electrically flexible.  Get them off the desktop with a stand, and they are even better.  Right now, I have the USB hooked up to the Mac.  The analog in is connected to the pre-amp out on my LYR-3 which has an Allo USBridge Sig and Squeezelite hooked to the multi-bit DAC.  The analog on the LYR-3 in comes from a Teac CD Player.  


    The AO-200 fills an interesting niche.  I am using it in my workshop I have the USB hooked to the Windows PC in the shop and the balanced in goes to a Topping D10Bal to a Pi4 running Squeezelite.   I am using the Neat Acoustics speakers until I have to return them.    It really sounds good, using the D10Bal+Pi4 input.  I listen to many podcasts and the BT works well for that.


    Oh, the whole system in the house is now Logitech Media Server running on a Pi 4 with a 4 TB SSD.  

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    Might I suggest that the use of the AO200 as a desktop amp is limiting a full appreciation of its capabilities?


    As a retiree with modest disposable income, I very recently purchased the AO200. I'm using it in my living room system. It definitely punches far above its cost. It's driving my 6ohm, 86db Dynaudio Emit M10 bookshelves just fine in a 600 sq ft living/dining/kitchen area. It's subwoofer output is connected to my Quad subwoofer. I never have to go above midway on the volume. 


    Source is a Paradigm PW-Link with ARC room correction software. Qobuz accessed through the Link's Play-Fi software is occasionally a bit glitchy and the optical/toslink connection downconverts all files to 16/44-48 file rates. Nevertheless, a well recorded piece sounds very good indeed. I do plan on replacing the Link but currently, truly affordable equip. with room correction capability is scarce. I now consider that capability a necessity. The ARC made a substantial upgrade in fidelity. 


    IMO, the AO200 is a nice blend of transparency and tonality. It doesn't ruthlessly expose bad recordings but makes the difference clear between well recorded and the poorly recorded. I have a Marantz PM6005 Integrated and a Rega Brio (2017 model) both of which have died on me but if memory serves, it beats both those highly rated units in transparency, tonality and in its 'black background'. Midrange is where it shines with bass and treble nearly as good. Dynamics, imaging  and soundstage are fine but not its strong points. Chip amps are definitely improving and the AO uses better quality parts from Japan and Germany and has an upgraded power supply. 


    I'm bypassing the PW-Link's poor DAC by outputting the stream through the Link's toslink output to an Eastern Electric Tube DAC Supreme. Which then feeds the Amp.

    BTW, banana plugs will fit in the small binding posts but it is a very tight fit. 


    I have a bit of a mashup of equipment but the amp is no longer the weak link in this system. I plan to at some point migrate the AO200 into my desktop system but currently I'm a happy camper with it in my living room system. Hopefully, some here may find my perspective on the AO200 worth consideration.

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    It is a pleasure to hear from other uses.  It is even better to hear about great successes!  Thank you very much.

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    According to this guy, the AO200 is much better with an external pre amp:


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