pl | en



Price (when reviewed): 3299 PLN

Rm205, 14th Building, Zhifu Industrial Park,
Erhuan Rd, Xintan Town, Shunde District,
Foshan City, Guangdong ⸜ CHINA


Provided for test by:


images by „High Fidelity”

No 240

May 1, 2024

Founded in 2009, Foshan ShuangMuSanLin Electronics (S.M.S.L) is a manufacturer based in the industrial part of China's Schenzen province. It offers nicely made products for audiophile market, such as D/A converters, headphone amplifiers and power amplifiers. We are testing its PL200 Compact Disc player.

TWO, MAYBE THREE YEARS AGO, when writing about a Compact Disc player, I would have explained why I was doing it. I would probably cite my own experience with the format, only a very good one, I would say something about the sound quality, still better (in my opinion) than what we get with files and often rivaling analog records, I would certainly also refer to the convenience of use that the format gives, and finally I would mention the millions of CDs that can be bought for pennies at the moment and that these will be OUR CDs that we will be able to listen to anytime and anywhere, unlike streaming files, which are there today and may not be there tomorrow.

Today I don't have to do it anymore, it's obvious. And that's because trends are slowly, but nevertheless, changing. While until recently the so-called "mainstream" manufacturers argued that "only streaming and nothing else", now they have to admit that they have gone a bit overboard with this stream-enthusiasm. As it turns out, there are still a lot of audiophiles, because they're mainly the ones in question, who have plenty of discs of this type and who don't want to part with this medium.

The financial aspect is also not to be underestimated - streaming mainly earns money for the labels, not for the artists, and if they do, they are limited to the most famous (clicked) ones. In addition to LP releases, many are therefore pushing to release material on CD as well. This can be seen in CD sales statistics, which show that the declining trend has slowed down and may rebound slightly in the future.

Audio manufacturer have also noticed this. And not only tiny manufactures like Poland's Ancient Audio, Italy's Norma or Slovakia's Canor, but also middle- and heavyweight players. Suffice it to mention that Cambridge Audio offers CD transports, that the British company Leema Acoustics also offers devices of this type, and that the American company Ayre has never really moved away from this format, while the Austrian Ayon Audio offers both transports and complete players. Compact Disc transports are also offered by JBL (!).

And than there are also SACD players from Technics, Yamaha, Denon and Marantz, companies like Ruark are installing CD drives in their all-in-one systems, making silver (CD) and gold (SACD) discs do well. I'd say there's something to it.

Compact Disc+

I DON'T KNOW IF YOU REMEMBER, but the Compact Disc format was the result of a very long research and development process and cost millions of millions of dollars. It was a groundbreaking format that completely changed the music map, in every respect, and at the same time "froze" it for many years. Because it was so handy, and publishers and equipment manufacturers, made so much money from it that - literally - they didn't know what to do with this sudden wealth. The people managing them thought it would be like this forever, which is why streaming surprised them so much and destroyed their business models so easily.

It was already known at the time of its release that the boundary parameters of a digital signal that could be stored on disc, namely 16-bit depth and a sampling rate of 44.1 kHz, were a compromise. It resulted both from agreements between the two system developers, Sony and Philips, and from the physical limitations of the most common digital mastering systems, the U-Matic PCM-1600/1610/1630 stereo cassette recorders, which operated with just such parameters.

But relatively early, in 1995, the first new format based on CDs was developed, namely HDCD - High Definition Compact Disc. Developed by "Prof." Keith O. Johnson and Michael "Pflash" Pflaumer of Pacific Microsonics Inc. allowed a signal with a resolution of 20 bits to be stored on a disc. To decode it, a player with the appropriate Pacific Microsonic chip was needed. On the other hand, however, these discs were backward compatible with ordinary CD players. Although the Super Audio CD format presented by Sony in 1999 was promoted as a successor to CD, after all, we know that it is a completely different format, differing from Compact Disc in virtually everything except disc size.

Nothing happened in this regard until 2018, when Ultimate HQCDs with MQA-encoded signals was presented. MQA is a data compression format developed by Meridian, conceived so that a signal of up to 32 bits and a sampling rate of up to 384 kHz can be transmitted through bandwidth-limited internet connections. In early 2018, MQA and Universal Music Group, in material titled MQA and Universal Music Group Collaborate on Advanced Hi-res Streaming on Demand, announced the collaboration and availability of UMG titles on Ultimate HQCDs with MQA signal; more of these techniques → HERE.

Regular Compact Disc and SACD players "see" such discs as standard CDs, while those with an MQA decoder can extract the signal as if it were streamed. So far, almost all the players I knew that decoded MQA were SACD players, from companies such as → CH PRECISION ˻PL˺, → ESOTERIC, Luxman, Pioneer and Technics. A Compact Disc player of this type had (has?) a company called Meridian (808 V6), TEAC also has one (VRDS-701), and Chinese companies offer them as well. And it is the latter that offer most affordable devices of this type. One of them is S.M.S.L.


S.M.S.L IS AN AUDIO MANUFACTURER from China. Shenzhen Shuangmusanlin Electronics Co., LTD, as that is its full name, along with its separate brand VMV technology (HK), make amplifiers, headphone amplifiers, file players and D/A converters. In addition to manufacturing, the company has its own research and development (R&D) department so that, as we read, "they are up to date with the development of technology, as well as with the demand of customers, whose requirements they try to meet effectively." The S.M.S.L. brand has sales networks in more than 30 countries, including the UK, Germany and Japan.

In the press materials for the PL200, the manufacturer asked in its description: "CD player or DAC?" And immediately answered: "Now we no longer have to choose, because we can have the best of both worlds." Because S.M.S.L's latest product is meant to be an offer for those who want a DAC, but also want to be able to play CDs on the same device. And that's because the PL200 features a CD transport, using a specially developed P.A.S.S. (Precision Access Servo System) servo system intended to be characterized by "fast operation and high resistance to reading errors." One of the more important features of the device is also the presence of an MQA decoder.

The PL200 is therefore a Compact Disc player. In fact, if we wanted to be accurate, we should say it's an MQA-CD player, because when it comes to backward compatibility we should start with the highest common denominator; similarly, players with an HDCD decoder should be called HDCD players, not CD players, just as SACD players are not SACD/CD or CD/SACD players, but simply SACD. But - so be it.

LOOKS • The device is tiny, as S.M.S.L is targeting the "desktop" market. In its lineup, the player would therefore complement the AO200 integrated amplifier (test → HERE). Measuring just 200 x 42 x 175 mm and weighing less than 2 kg, it is tiny. Its workmanship is excellent, and perhaps that's why the small size works in its favor - the player looks really good.

It owes its good looks both to extremely precise workmanship, the case being made of milled aluminum, and to the manufacturer's choice of disc loading - this is a classic top-loader player. That is, one in which the disc is placed from the top directly on the motor axis, without the mediation of a drawer. The disc is pressed with a small wheel made of aluminum, and the whole thing is covered with a large cover, also made of aluminum. An identical way of loading the disc, although using different materials, can be found in Ayon Audio players, including the CD-35 HF Edition model I use. Thanks to this solution, and I speak from my own longtime experience, disc playback takes advantage of the physicality of the medium, and is very sensual.

The lid and weight are low, the idea was to keep the form of the device, but it does not make them very easy to use. People with slightly thicker fingers may have trouble handling them. Thus, it would have been useful to have either moleting on their edges or rubber rings to prevent these items from slipping out of hands. The disc playback controls, however, are convenient and really cool. It is executed using four buttons on the top panel, which the manufacturer refers to as "piano-like" because they actually resemble the keys of that instrument. On the company's website you can even find a joke about the fact that in your spare time the buttons in question can be used to send a message in Morse code :) However, the set also comes with a plastic, quite handy, remote control.

In the middle there is a knob. This element is unusual for CD players, but justified in this case. The PL200's knob is used to navigate through the device's menu, as well as to change the volume of both the headphone and analog outputs; the latter can also be set in the menu to a constant 3.75V output (XLR sockets). The knob can also be used to turn the power on and off.

On its left side, on the black part of the front (all the rest of the surface is silver, unfortunately there is no black version), there was a quite large IPS (In-Plane Switching) display. Although its indications are white, it is a color display. You'll notice it when a blue or green dot lights up next to the nice MQA logo, indicating what type of MQA file it is, and also when you enter the menu, where selections are confirmed with orange squares. It's a pity that when playing CDs, their logos are not displayed, only the boring 'PCM'. The display is covered not with acrylic, but with a tempered glass.

FEATURES • The PL200 is both a Compact Disc player and an MQA-CD player. What's more, the device can also work as a digital-to-analog converter. It offers an asynchronous USB-C input, which accepts high-resolution digital signals up to and including PCM 768 kHz and DSD512, and through which we will also send an MQA signal, for example, from the Tidal service. And it can, finally, work as a DAC or CD player with a preamplifier; volume control is done in the digital domain.

It doesn't stop there. The antenna visible on the back is part of the Bluetooth (5.1) receiver. It's one of Qualcom's newer decoders, with which we'll receive signals encoded in SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD and LDAC, that is, high-resolution (24/96). The company says:

Such a broad and unique set of features makes the latest model particularly interesting for those who want a very good CD player without sacrificing the broad functionality of a modern DAC and Bluetooth connectivity with the latest standards codecs.

And there is one more feature that turned out to be a particularly interesting one - a headphone amplifier. Its jack is placed at the back so as not to disturb the clean front, but I didn't have much of a problem with it. The signal is sent through a TRS (big jack) type jack with a diameter of ø 6.3 mm. The amplifier is rated at 1 watt per channel into a 32 ohm load, which is quite a lot. Its design is based on a proprietary and patented circuit called PLFC (Precision Linear Feedback Circuit) providing not only, as the manufacturer claims, "extremely low distortion," but also "clean, natural and organic sound known from dedicated, external headphone amplifiers." Its base is the Texas Instruments TPA6120A2 integrated circuit.

The Player provides analog signal via both unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR jacks. We can also use the digital, RCA and Toslink outputs, which makes sense - as the player's mechanics are of high quality - more on that in a moment. Now let's just say that in the menu we can change many parameters of the device, such as digital filter, oversampling, gain for headphone output, active outputs, etc.

TECHNOLOGY • I mentioned the mechanics - not coincidentally. Its top features a carbon fiber plate, characteristic of the latest CD-Pro8 transports designed by Austrian company StreamUnlimited Engineering. It can be found in players from Pro-Ject, which participated in their creation (more → HERE ˻PL˺), as well as Gryphon (more → HERE) or Ancient Audio (test → HERE).

It's high-end mechanics. In addition, it's controlled by the company's proprietary software, dubbed P.A.S.S. The Precision Access Servo System is said to feature "fast operation and high resistance to reading errors." The CD drive used in the PL200 is seated on anti-vibration isolators.

Equally high quality are the DAC chips used by the manufacturer: these are top-of-the-line chips from Asahi Kasei Microdevices (AKM), model Verita AK4499EX. Outside of devices from China, we find them in very expensive products, and here we have as many as two such chips, one per channel. As we wrote in the news, it was first shown at IPS/HIGH END 2022 in Munich, so it is a new product. Their special feature is a built-in MQA decoder (more about the chip → HERE). The output uses OPA1611 integrated circuits.

The digital section is clocked by the proprietary CK-03 word clock, which guarantees, as we read, very low jitter. And an additional PLL loop is supposed to further reduce such distortion from digital signals fed to the S/PDIF and TOSlink inputs. The power supply is provided by a tiny switching mode circuit, but - as the manufacturer assures - it is a high-end circuit. It's a pity that the player doesn't have a socket for an external 12V power supply.

In a word - it’s a high-end device that doesn’t cost like one.


HOW WE LISTENED • The S.M.S.L PL200 player was tested in the HIGH FIDELITY reference system. It stood on the top carbon shelf of a Finite Elemente Pagode Edition Mk II rack on its feet. Its performance was compared to the AYON AUDIO CD-35 HF EDITION SACD player and the Lumin T3 file player.

The PL200 was connected to the Ayon Audio Spheris III preamplifier using Crystal Cable Absolute Dream unbalanced cables. One of the features of Ayre equipment is a balanced signal path, and arguably in a fully balanced system it would be worth trying this option as well. However, the HIGH FIDELITY system sounds better connected with RCA cables, so I opted for this arrangement. The power for the PL200 was provided by the Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version cable.


⸜ CZESŁAW NIEMEN, Niemen Aerolit, Polskie Nagrania MUZA/Polskie Nagrania | Warner Music Poland 50541 9 79358 9 3, „Polskie Nagrania catalogue selections – Limited Edition SACD Hybrid” ˻ SERIA 4 ˺, SACD/CD (1975/2024).
⸜ MICHAEL JACKSON, Thriller, Epic/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDSACD 2251, seria „Original Master Recording, Ultradisc II”, SACD/CD (1982/2022).
⸜ HAPPY END (はっぴいえんど), Hapy End, URC Records/Sony Music Labels MHCL 30914, BSCD2 (1970/2023).
⸜ BILLIE EILISH, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, Darkroom | Interscope Records/Universal International UICS-9161, “7” mini LP”, CD (2019).
⸜ BILLIE HOLIDAY, Jazz at the Philharmonic, Clef Records/UMG Recordings UCCV-9476, „David Stone Martin 10 inch Collector's Selection”, SHM-CD (1945, 1946/2013).

⸜ VARIOUS, Jazz Hi-Res CD Sampler. Jazz, Universal Music LLC UCCU-40126/7, CD + MQA-CD (2018).
⸜ VARIOUS, Jazz Hi-Res CD Sampler. Rock & Pops, Universal Music LLC UCCU-40217/8, CD + MQA-CD (2018).
⸜ VARIOUS, 2L - the MQA experience, 2L-MQA-CD-2021 (2021).


ONLY YESTERDAY WICIU, a member of the Krakow Sonic Society, wrote in the group's chat room that he was listening to the new version of Niemen Aerolit, that is, with Damian Lipinski's remastering, and that he felt as if he were listening to an LP in the 1970s. As he said, admittedly, one can find a fascination with the Mahavishnu Orchestra in this music, but that, as far as I understand, these are good associations, and that it is one of CZESŁAW NIEMEN's more interesting albums. I think so, too.

Listened to through the PL200 player it sounded exactly the same way, that is, dark, dense, low. There's not much of a higher treble, which Damian captured very well, but there's also a lot of stuff going on in this album, so we don't have time to get bored. Also when, as in ˻ 2 ˺ Pielgrzym we have to deal with electronics and vocals. The player from China captured it brilliantly.

Niemen's voice was big, with a clear echo in the left channel, with nice depth and a controlled upper midrange, that is, resolving but not bright. And when the Mellotron rings out in the right channel, from time to time, it has weight, you can almost feel its gravitational pull. The tested player, although after all an inexpensive device, showed these things effortlessly, calmly, as if it had been "doing" high-end all its life. And even the sometimes audible overtones underneath the instruments, which Damian - fortunately - did not eliminate with aggressive "cleaning", adds to the overall flavor.

So there is a low, dense sound with high resolution. It's also a sound with strong and dense bass. We believe in this principle in audio that big equipment translates into big sound, and big sound is built by the energy and depth of the bass. That's why we reach for big, powerful amplifiers, enjoy seeing oversized power supplies, and smile at the mere sight of a solid, large chassis. Well, the PL200 is an exception to this rule.

That's why, when a synthesizer strikes early on in ˻ 5 ˺ Beat It, a track from - we all know, but for the record - MICHAEL JACKSON's Thriller album, a bit like the bells of a cathedral, but a cathedral from the late 20th century, and therefore deconstructed, it is heard in a really big, powerful way. Eddie Van Halen's solo, which enters immediately afterwards, sustains this illusion of fullness and "cathedral" reverb, because it is massive and just - big.

In doing so, it confirms what I said at the beginning: the Chinese player tones down the highs putting everything on the same level, tightening the midrange and its bottom end. I liked it, oh, how I liked it! This is not a neutral sound, to be clear. The aforementioned Damian Lipinski probably wouldn't recognize the sound of the album he prepared, and that's because he likes the open, powerful playing provided by the APL active speakers he uses.

For me, however, it was something I look for in music: emotion, flow, fluidity, coherence. These are elements that are unheard of in so-called "digital sound" and which, mind you, are an immanent part of digital formats, only that they are far too rarely realized. That's why Billie Jean, on Jackson's album located at number ˻ 6 ˺, "flowed" smoothly while maintaining a perfect rhythm.

The low tones of this player are something that captures the listener's attention from the very beginning, from the first few seconds. That's why I couldn't help but reach for yet another 1970s album after Niemen - the excellent debut by Japanese band HAPPY END. Remastered by the excellent Mixer's Lab studio and released in 2023 on BSCD 2 (Blu-Spec CD2), it sounded phenomenal! Truly and without exaggeration. There was density, there was excellent resolution, and there was a sense of interacting with the music and even the musicians in the studio as the sounds "became".

| Our albums

⸜ HAPPY END (はっぴいえんど) Hapy End (はっぴいえんど)

URC Records/Sony Music Labels MHCL 30914
BSCD2 ⸜ 1970/2023

LITTLE, IF AT ALL, KNOWN AROUND THE WORLD, in Japan, the band Happy End (Japanese: はっぴいえんど, Happī Endo) enjoys the status of an "iconic". And that's no exaggeration. Although it was active for a very short period of time, between 1969 and 1972, and released only three studio albums before disbanding on December 31st 1972, that is, even before the final album, titled Happy End (in Latin letters), was released./p>

The reason for the termination was a disagreement with the artists' "confinement" to the American way of seeing their work. After all, the final album was recorded in Los Angeles under the guidance of Van Dyke Parks, best known for his work with Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys group, and who wanted the musicians to sing in English. The musicians could not agree with this - the band was a pioneer of Japanese rock sung in Japanese.

The late 1960s and early 1970s was a time when a debate known as the Japanese-language rock controversy (日本語ロック論争, Nihongo Rokku Ronsō) swept through the music press (and beyond) in Japan. The idea was to determine whether there was a chance to make a name for themselves in the broad music market with rock music sung in their native language - previously all Western music genres had lyrics in English. The success of the band's debut Happy End ended it by proving that it can and that it is possible. Wikipedia counts rock bands Carol, RC Succession and Funny Company among the most famous bands that followed this path, and lists Tulip, Banban, Garo and Yosui Inoue among musicians playing folk.

Hapy End is considered one of the best albums of Japanese folk-rock music, despite the fact that it included music from both that circle, and avant-garde developments that served as a guide and manual for other performers. Julian Cope, English musician and author of Japrocksampler, a book detailing the post-war fate of rock music in the Land of the Cherry Blossom, ranked it among the band's best albums, comparing its playing to that of the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

The version in question this time was released in 2023 on Blu-spec CD2. URC Records (Underground Record Club), the experimental label that released the album, is now owned by Sony Music Labels, and Blu-Spec and BSCD2 are its developments (more → HERE). Due to the writing on the cover, the album is also known as Yudemen (ゆでめん).

It's a nice box with a thick booklet and the disc in a classic jewelbox. The material for the release was newly remastered by ISAO KIKUCHI of Mixer's Lab studio; the digital transfer from the analog "master" tape was in turn the responsibility of Tetsuia Naito of Sony Music Studios Tokyo. This studio has a STUDER A-820 tape recorder and records the material in the DAW Pro Tools HD. In addition to the basic eleven tracks, we also get two additional tracks, actually two other versions of two tracks from the basic program.

Let me be brief: this is an awesome album! Sonically, that's one thing, in which it reminds me of Three Blind Mice releases, but especially musically. What guitars, what synths! Great vocals and strong, dynamic drums with thick, low bass underscore the motoric nature of the tracks that follow. The recordings from this album have fantastic harmonies and an amazing atmosphere. My daughter, who shortly listened to it in passing, said that they sound - for her - very modern. In the sense that, although they have a 70s vibe, they are not "old," so to speak, not a museum artifact worth talking about, but which you don't necessarily need to listen to. I highly recommend them!

LET'S MAKE SOMETHING CLEAR: this is not a sound that everyone will like. Knowing what people are looking for I would even say that it will appeal to a smaller minority. Not because there is something wrong with it, but because the audio market is, in my opinion, not fully calibrated. Seemingly we all talk about the same thing, that is, neutrality, clarity, etc., and yet each of us thinks about something different. And that's fine, it's normal, each of us hears differently. But the interpretation of what we hear could be, it seems to me, more consistent and more - well, let me say it - "my way".

And that means low, dense and resolving, with excellent differentiation (some call it "contrasting"). Live sound is brighter and more emphatic. Except that we are not listening to live sound, after all. We don't listen to sound in a concert hall, or even in a an open space, where it gets soft and "physiological" in a peculiar way. And then there is, after all, the sense of sight, which determines 80% of how we hear something, that’s life. When listening to recorded sound, we need to get around these obstacles, and it's best to do it the way the PL200 does.

For, when a tambourine is heard in ˻ 4 ˺ Tobenai Sora (飛べない空, Unflyable Sky) in the left channel, it is both clear and slightly withdrawn with the tested player. You can hear that it was quite close to the microphone, but also that the producers didn't let its sound dominate and that the sound of the synthesizers underneath was more important, also the sound of the guitars, etc. That's why the sound of this album impressed me so much - it was very "direct" on the one hand, and "produced" on the other, that is, it was an artistic proposition, not a random recording of sounds.

However, let's get back to the point. The S.M.S.L player pumps a lot of air into the room. It does this, of course, with the help of an amplifier and speakers, but - as Linn says - the source is at the beginning of everything. But that's why I liked so much of what I heard from the player I tested, and why listening to any music I reached for, whether it was the aforementioned CDs, or BILLIE EILISH from When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, but also Jazz at the Philharmonic by BILLIE HOLIDAY were all so enjoyable.

The latter, a short one of just over 23 minutes, consisting of three excerpts from performances from 1945 and 1946, sounded focused and deep. I heard already before that the reviewed player assembles the presentation in the kind of orgigami, that we see the whole thing, and we know there are lots of bends and planes, but we can't quite tell where they are and from what angle we see them. The most important thing is the idea behind a given figure.

Here it was similar. Music was everything, and it was the music I listened to, not the sounds. This is why I spoke earlier about the need to reorient a large part of the audiophile community - from looking for details to looking for emotions. With the PL200 we will get them with ease. It may not be the most detailed sound we can think of, nor even somehow particularly selective. The details in this sound are there, there are plenty of them, but they are information about the sound rather than isolated "islands of sound." That's why we embrace the whole, rather than delve into the mechanics of the presentation.

MQA-CD • One of the most interesting options the tested player has to offer is decoding of the MQA signal from MQA-CDs, that is, discs that look like Compact Discs, play on CD players as CDs, but with the right hardware "decoded" into a high-resolution signal.

A comparison I did using two samplers released by Universal Music's Japanese label division with Memory Tech, which prepares these discs, showed that the MQA-CD versions sounded brighter, that more treble energy was present. The tonal balance was still based on the midrange, but now I could hear more of everything, so to speak, so the whole thing was livelier.

But also slightly masked was what I was writing about earlier, namely the saturation of the low midrange and the thickening of the bass. These were clearer and more punchy, only that they were no longer as low. Each time I switched from one version to another I had to acclimatize for a while before I started listening to the music, not the sounds. After a while, however, I began to appreciate what the MQA-CD discs offered and approached more titles with respect. Although in long listening sessions I preferred the sound of "regular" CDs, one album or even a few tracks listened to from the hi-res version gave me an energy "kick", which was also very cool.

CDs, on the other hand, showed a close foreground and seemed more filled in. This seemed to be the case because the macro-scale dynamics were slightly lower with them. The MQA-CDs slightly dismissed sounds that were on the line connecting the speakers, like the voice of JOÃO GILBERTO and his wife Astrud from the song The Girl from Ipanema, featured on the aforementioned sampler at number ˻ 3 ˺, while the CDs showed it in a tangible way. So I feel that the classical music recordings, such as those played from the 2L - the MQA experience sampler, benefit the most from the MQA-CD, because we get breath and large scale with them in the background as well.

DIGITAL FILTERS • The tested player offers six digital filters, developed by D/A chip manufacturer Asahi Kasei Microdevices (AKM). The differences in sound between them are quite pronounced, although they do not change the basic structure of that sound. The differences between them come down to how deep the sound is. After several trials, I determined that "my" filter was the "Super Slow". It produced the deepest sound, with a heavily saturated midrange. The highs with several other filters are stronger, but don't have the sophistication of the one I chose.

The second group of filters, named "Sound Colour" by the manufacturer, and which is a signal re-tuning circuit (5.6 MHz, two modes, or 11.2896 MHz, two modes), brings smaller changes, but they complement the choices made in the previous filters section. This time it's mainly about the focus of the sound and the length of the decay. After several trials, I chose "Sound 4 (11M)," and this is because it is the most "analog," that is, deep and natural sounding. Together with "Super Slow" it resulted in the sound I wrote about above.

HEADPHONES • And then there are the headphones. I have to say that I actually started my listening sessions with them, because the PL200 fit perfectly into the size of the coffee table standing to my right while I'm using my laptop.

Initial attempts were disappointing. Whether with the HiFiMAN HE-1000 v2 planar headphones or the Sennheiser HD-800 dynamic headphones, or the Leema Ears Pneuma in-ear headphones. The sound was jazzy and somehow somewhat repulsive. After a few tries, I let go ready to pack up the player and send it back to the distributor with an apology that I wouldn't be testing it. However, it so happened that I left the PL200 on all night and gave it one last chance in the morning. My goodness, what a change! Everything I mentioned above was gone, and a full, dense sound remained.

To be sure, I repeated this experiment two more times and the result was the same. It turns out that the Chinese player requires a long "warm-up" and that its components need to acquire the right temperature to offer what I'm writing about. Since then I have been listening to it every day, for several hours at a time using headphones. Its amplifier prefers the easier load of dynamic headphones and that is what I would stick to.

Beyerdynamics, Sennheisers, or - as in my case - Leema Ears will be a good choice. The headphone amplifier in it is tiny, but delivers very nice timbre and dynamic, and also a big sound. The resolution is not as good as with the reference system with speakers, but the quality didn't bother me. So I see no reason to buy an external headphone amplifier for it, unless you want to spend more than 5 K PLN.


I DON'T KNOW HOW TO START the summary so as not to come off as an overexcited idiot. Let's try it this way: The PL200 is for me one of the biggest discoveries and surprises of recent months. For a ridiculous price we get a top transport and top converters in a superb enclosure and with high-end components and subassemblies. And on top of that, it's a top-loader with top-of-the-line USB input and an MQA decoder.

Its sound is big, dense and low. It is also superbly dynamic. It plays brilliantly through the line outputs, but its headphone amplifier is also of high quality. Everything has come together in it to produce something that gives an incredibly satisfying presentation, where we don't fight the recordings, but make friends with them. It's thanks to it that I've recently listened to more silver discs for pleasure, unrelated to work, than in many previous months.

I realize that Chinese products are a difficult topic, both in terms of politics, economy, human rights, etc. But until we completely disassociate ourselves from products coming from the Middle Kingdom, and that's impossible, let's not be hypocrites and admit that it's an important part of the modern world. And the PL200 shows what can be done with the means, knowledge and musical sense, which the makers of this player do not lack. You can even feel their passion and commitment when you put another disc on, place the weight over it and close the lid by pressing the 'Play' button. Then the magic happens. Fully deserved ˻ RED FINGERPRINT ˺.

Technical specifications (according to the manufacturer):

Supported disc types: CD, CD-R/RW, MQA-CD
Dynamic range: XLR – 132 dB, RCA – 127 dB
SNR: XLR – 132 dB, RCA – 127 dB
Max output for headphones: 1 W/ 32 Ω
USB input: USB2.0, asynchroneous
Samplig frequency supported by USB input: PCM 44.1 – 768 kHz, DSD 2.8224 – 22.5792 MHz
Bluetooth: 5.1 with SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, LDAC
Power consumption (operation/standby): 10/<0.5 W
Dimensions (W x H x D): 200 x 42 x 175 mm
Weight: 1.7 kg

THIS TEST HAS BEEN DESIGNED ACCORDING TO THE GUIDELINES adopted by the Association of International Audiophile Publications, an international audio press association concerned with ethical and professional standards in our industry, of which HIGH FIDELITY is a founding member. More about the association and its constituent titles → HERE.


Reference system 2024

1) Loudspeakers: HARBETH M40.1 |REVIEW|
2) Line preamplifier: AYON AUDIO Spheris III Linestage |REVIEW|
3) Super Audio CD Player: AYON AUDIO CD-35 HF Edition No. 01/50 |REVIEW|
4) Stands (loudspeakers): ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom) |ABOUT|
5) Power amplifier: SOULUTION 710
6) Loudspeaker filter: SPEC REAL-SOUND PROCESSOR RSP-AZ9EX (prototype) |REVIEW|
7) Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|


Analog interconnect SACD Player - Line preamplifier: SILTECH Triple Crown (1 m) |ABOUT|
Analog interconnect Line preamplifier - Power amplifier: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RCA-1.0 Absolute-FM (1 m) |REVIEW|
Speaker cable: SILTECH Triple Crown (2.5 m) |ABOUT|

AC Power

Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - SACD Player: SILTECH Triple Crown
Power (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - Line preamplifier - ACOUSTIC REVIVE
Power Reference Triple-C (2 m) |REVIEW|
Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - Power amplifier - ACROLINK Mexcel 7N-PC9500 |ARTICLE|
Power cable | Power Receptacle - Mains Power Distribution Block: ACROLINK Mexcel 7N-PC9500 (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power Receptacle: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE |REVIEW|
Anti-vibration platform under Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE: Asura QUALITY RECOVERY SYSTEM Level 1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RPC-1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RAS-14 Triple-C |REVIEW|
Passive filter EMI/RFI: VERICTUM Block |REVIEW|


Speaker stands: ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom)
Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|
Anti-vibration platforms: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RAF-48H |ARTICLE|

  • HARMONIX TU-666M "BeauTone" MILLION MAESTRO 20th Anniversary Edition |REVIEW|


Phono preamplifier: Phono cartridges: Tonearm (12"): Reed 3P |REVIEW|

Clamp: PATHE WINGS Titanium PW-Ti 770 | Limited Edition

Record mats:


Headphone amplifier: AYON AUDIO HA-3 |REVIEW|

Headphones: Headphone Cables: Forza AudioWorks NOIR HYBRID HPC