Comparing the JDS Labs Atom and SMSL SP200 THX AAA 888

Hey there!

My SP200 just recently came in and I thought I’d try to compare my current amp, the JDS Labs Atom, against my new upgrade. I was wondering before ordering how these two amps compared in terms of sound but couldn’t find too much information besides “they both measure almost the same, thus they also sound probably the same”.

I hope anyone who’s thinking of the same upgrade path as me or just wondered how those two faired against each other, finds this short comparison useful (more or less).

I’m completely comparing by A/B testing with my ears. No measuring rig, no nothing, just my human ears and what they perceive.

The audio chain is as follows: My computer -> Schiit Modi 3 via USB -> Y-Splitter into both the Atom and SP200 -> beyerdynamic Amiron Home / HiFiMAN Sundara.

So, let’s actually talk about my findings during listening.

Straight up, the SP200 doesn’t sound the same as the Atom, nor vice versa. Just because they measure similarly and both come with the same perfectly flat frequency response does NOT mean they also sound indifferent from each other.

The main differences after matching volume to the best of my ability:

  • Bass and mid bass is MUCH tighter, full sounding and refined on the SP200
  • Highs around the 10k mark are not quite as straight forward and sibilant as on the Atom
  • Surprisingly, mids and especially female vocals are ever so slightly clearer on the Atom

The sound overall sounds tidier, a tad more dynamic and refined. Some sections piercing on the Atom are perfectly enjoyable on the SP200 on both headphones.

If I hypothetically gave the SP200 a score of 100/100, the Atom would be a very very close 97/100. The differences are barely audible whatsoever and that leads me to question myself if a 300$ upgrade is worth the residual 3 points missing on the Atom. Other than sheer power the SP200 can deliver, I honestly can’t see a valid reason if you already have an Atom and are happy with the power it produces to spend 300$ to upgrade.

Does that mean the SP200 is bad? No, by any means no, I enjoy listening to it. I just think that gets to show how incredible the Atom is and that many people will probably be very happy with it. If you’re tight on budget and could use the 200$ on something else, by all means go with the Atom. 97% of arguably greatness is still incredible for the price.

I hope I could help someone with my opinion on both of these amps. What’s your take on the SP200? Do you think it’s worth paying 300$ to upgrade from an already existing wonderful and clean sounding amp like the Atom? Would love hearing back from you guys!

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thanks for the review Riya. youve made me a very happy man lol. i got the sp200 but im very curious about the Atom. the last amp i had was the schiit magni and it was very sibilant with a lot of treble. it made some of my headphones painfull. i went with the sp200 as a upgrade cause i heard it was uncolored, powerful and had great sound. THX tech also. those headphones no longer sounded painful. the Atom seemed like a side grade. btw i got my sp200 for 260$ ive been very happy with it. sounds great.

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I mean, alot of modern amps going for the clean and linear sound tend to do really well in their implementation with very very subtle differences in tonality and such. Idk, I’ll probably go with the Gisheli Archel Pro 2.5 though, relatively in the middle between the Atom and SMSL with less power then the SMSL and slightly less Power than the Atom but less distortion than both and has Balanced Inputs (No Balanced Output but not really that necessary since distortion is low, The Balanced inputs essentially do their job in making the signal less noisy internally, and power output gets a boost with the XLR inputs and 6x Gain).

Besides I’m more of a tube amp guy (Have a Darkvoice and La Figaro, modded them like crazy and now building one from the ground up), but it’s good to have a linear reference to kinda see what the tubes are doing different you know?

Either way the Atom and SMSL are great options but just like you said, if you already have one of them (Or something like the Drop/Monoprice THX amps) then there really isn’t too much of a point in upgrading besides power output (if even necessary at all seeing how the only thing they might not be able to drive are like HE-6 or maybe some LCD stuff), seeing how they all sound really similar, clean and essentially audible noise/distortion free (I guess unless you push them too hard therefore the argument of upgrading to a similarly linear albeit more costly product).

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Youve made me unhappy again :slightly_frowning_face:

Because you don’t have a tube or because you don’t have that amp?

I have a tube amp

20 character

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Im starting to consider getting a Geshelli stack

Well I mean, the SMSL has more power than the Atom and the Gisheli, so essentially you paid more but got more power and proportionately less distortion even with said power increase, and idk if the distortion difference is even audible, but the power increase of the SMSL is probably quite noticeable for harder to drive headphones. I mean low distortion is great and all but not without some power to actually use your headphones.

If you guys would like me to I could go grab a pair of Argons from a buddy of mine and test them on both amps. Since (T50 MK3s) they’re notoriously known for being stupidly hard to drive (not necessarily listening levels, but to actually get the desired potential out of them).

I could imagine with the vastly more powerful SP200 they could sound differently if compared with the Atom.

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Honestly I’m pretty curious to see the difference a significant power increase can do (~1 Watt vs ~6 Watts in 16 Ohm Loads I think?), although the T50 MK3s are 50 ohm though, so maybe the difference may be less substantial.

It would actually make a somewhat larger difference with the t50, as they aren’t that sensitive

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Yeah, true that, great cans especially as Argons (Waiting for mine) but low sensitivity due to manufacturing or something, honestly idk. Hopefully the 6X High Gain on the Archel 2.5 helps out, since that amp seems to prefer higher impedances from the ASR review of the Archel 2, so hopefully that carries on to the 2.5, then again, the HD600s which he used for the 300 ohm listening test (which I also own, so kinda helped to pull the trigger on the 2.5 seeing how the 2 can work well with them) may be more sensitive than the Argons even with a 300 ohm load, don’t quote me on that though since idk the sensitivity rating on either.

I’m happy with my Sp200 and my SU8. I think they are much better than standard amps and dac’s. Ive spent about 500$ on them. and thats all i really want to spend. People are telling me i should get a better amp and dac, but i dont want to lol.

Still i wonder. What if my headphones could sound better? I’m getting the ZMF Autuer soon and idk if my rig will get the most out of it. i mean theyre pretty good. they should, but maybe… ugh

Hapy New Year everyone! :tada:
I just got home about 3 hours ago with the Argon MK3s and gave them a quick test. I will of course test them more thoroughly in the coming days with the two amps, but my quick first impression is:

They sound ever so slightly fuller on the SP200 in general, but boy oh boy, the bass for some reason is worlds better on the SP200 compared to the Atom. I’m on low gain about 1 o’clock on the SP200 and need high gain around 10 o’clock on the Atom for the same loudness. The SP200 is a clear favorite so far for T50RPs.

I will come back in the next few days and reply with my thorough conclusion.

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Are your Argons balanced?

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They are balanced, yes, but there’s virtually no difference on the SP200, as both the 1/4" and the XLR outputs have the same output stage with 6 watts per channel @ 16 ohms and the amp itself isn’t fully balanced anyway. I’ll give it a more thorough listen for sure, using both connectors, but as I see it the XLR output is just a convenience output for users already having a balanced cable.

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Another little update from me now. After listening for the past 4 hours on all three headphones (Amiron Home, Sundara, Argon MK3) I found a few other things pretty interesting:

  • The channel separation is ever so slightly, but still noticeably, better on the SP200. I often had to check the wave form of both channels because I thought I was hearing channel imbalance on the SP200, but not the case with my unit, it’s just one channel being ever so slightly louder than the other. I wasn’t able to notice those very small differences in channel loudness with the Atom amp.
    Here you can see the right channel being ever so slightly louder. This subtle deviation isn’t nearly as obviously audible on the Atom as on the SP200.

  • Coming back to very insensitive / power hungry headphones (a.k.a. the Argons): Yes, they indeed sound better on more power. I couldn’t hear any audible difference between the XLR and the 1/4" output on the SP200, which isn’t very surprising considering how it’s built internally (both using the same output stage). As described earlier already they sound ever so slightly fuller and round on the SP200 compared to the Atom and the bass is literally worlds better. It’s such an obvious difference that every random stranger on the street could tell as much. It’s that much better.

  • Surprisingly, female vocals if mixed with many instruments sound slightly clearer on the Atom amp. I can’t exactly tell why. Has anyone maybe got an idea as to why this is? For instance on the chorus of Someone like you by Adele the Atom actually is able to reproduce Adele’s voice slightly clearer, whereas on the SP200 her voice starts to scratch and isn’t as smooth. This effect is very noticeable on the Amiron Homes, not so much on the Argons and almost completely fades away on the Sundaras.

This leaves me with the initial point I made: Is it worth upgrading to the SP200 (or any THX amp for that matter) if you already have an extremely clean sounding solid state amp like the JDS Labs Atom (or the like)? Is the final 3%-5% jump in sound quality worth it to pay 200$ on top?

I can’t answer this unfortunately and am still not certain if I want to send my unit back or keep it. It’s pretty much state of the art and if you’re searching for the best and flat solid state sound currently available on the market without having to sell your organs on the black market to be able to afford something like a Benchmark HPA4 then I think it’s absolutely worth it to go spend the 300$ on it and “be done” (on the solid state amplification side of things).

I still have to find an answer to that myself. What would you do?

Thanks for reading!

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I mean honestly I just want a clean SS for (Filthy Acts at) a Reasonable Price so right now I’m between the Archel Pro 2.5 and now getting curious for the SMSL SP200, since they both seem to be good for SS, one has more power and the other has less distortion but the difference atm is Price range, so idk, I wish had the 2.5 to get an idea.

Also about the Atom vs SP200 on Female Vocals, maybe Output Impedance has something to do with it? I mean the impedances are super low tho so idk how that could actually affect it (I think they both have around just 1 ohm), or maybe power output being more current than voltage heavy or vice versa, or internal inductance at some point, idk tbh. Still great read and while the HPA4 gets me excited, idk how much of a step up it is vs Other SS THX offerings. Idk, maybe it’s better sounding but idk how much of a difference there could be.

The Internals tho of the HPA4 are pretty damn sexy (in a Big PCB-ridden type of way), especially the Motorized Potentiometer.

Getting the Archel 2 pro in a couple of days. Have the original archel pro. Will update if it’s better than its predecessor. Whatever said and done their service is freaking amazing.

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I don’t have the sp200 nor the atom. But using my thx789 and liquid spark, I hear the same difference. With th LS vocals sound clearer and thick on the thx789 they sound a little haze. I did notice more sound on one side or it became more apparent with the thx789.

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