The no-frills sMS200 Neo streamer from Korean firm Soul of the Music may be small in size but, as Chris Frankland finds out, it is big on sound quality. Read our SOTM SMS200 NEO Review.
This is my first review of a product from South Korean manufacturer SOtM, which stands for Soul of the Music. When I asked the importer if this was a deliberate play on words (Seoul and soul), they laughed and rather disappointingly told me they’d never got an answer to that question.
The company certainly makes no bones about sound quality being top priority. It has designed its own dedicated ARM processor board, eliminating what it says are unnecessary features that degrade the sound.
The sMS200 Neo is indeed minimal. Measuring 48mm high by 106mm wide by 152mm deep, its front panel sports just a logo and two LEDs for power and operational status. The rear panel offers one USB audio output, two USB ports to connect to storage devices, an Ethernet socket and a power supply input. There is also a microSD card in a slot, which contains its operating system. Make sure it’s pushed home as it won’t work without it.
Having no Bluetooth or wireless, the unit has to be connected to a network – usually your wireless router. To get it to work, you will need a Mac, PC or other connected device. Simply type ‘mysotm’ into your browser to access the Eunhasu control interface. Once it has found the sMS200, you can choose to control streaming using a variety of DLNA and UPnP protocols, including Squeezelite, Minim, Shairport and Roon. Simply select and activate (play) the one you want. If Eunhasu doesn’t display the sMS200 on screen,
just turn it off and on again.
The importer recommends the free app MConnect Lite as a good way to get started. I downloaded it to my phone and, having selected DLNA through Eunhasu, it was then a simple matter of logging in to Tidal. I could then select an album and use the ‘Play to’ option to select the sMS200, which showed up straighaway.
This may all prove a bit intimidating for the first-timer. The basic user guide lacked detail and the full manual was rather confusing for a beginner. However, importer Elite Audio in Scotland is just a phone call away and they are very helpful.
MConnect Lite allowed me to navigate Tidal with no real problems, so I thought I would check out how easy it was to use Roon on sMS200 Neo.
Roon has gained quite a following and many enjoy how it brings your networked music, streaming and internet radio together while providing album artwork and artist information.
The Neo comes with the code for a 60-day free trial for Roon. You just have to download the Roon Core software it needs to function to any device on your network. Then download the Roon app to your tablet or phone. Go to Eunhasu to activate Roon then to the Audio tab in Roon’s settings and add the Neo
Web-based Eunhasu interface allows you to choose how to access streaming through either Roon or a variety of DLNA and UPnP options, but you’ll need an app such as MConnect on your phone or mobile device too.
as a new device. Roon worked well with the SOtM and of course also allows streaming of music in hi-res MQA format.
So why do you need a separate streamer like the sMS200 Neo? The
Rear panel is minimalist. A microSD card in a slot (centre, bottom) contains the operating system. Two USBs connect to external disc ‘mass storage’, whilst a third (bottom left) connects to a DAC.
main reasons given by SOtM are that a tablet or computer is a very noisy environment with many sources of interference that degrade the sound quality. The SOtM has a dedicated ARM processor board, boasts better quality components, has its own power supply and claims to be better at clocking the signal, resulting in less jitter or phase noise.
So the obvious thing to do was to compare music streams on the Neo to those from my MacBook Pro. And to help with this, I pressed into action the excellent HA500H hybrid valve/solid-state headphone/amp DAC from Korean manufacturer Novafidelity, which is probably best known for its rippers and servers. The HA500H uses ECC82 valves as well as transistor op-amps and the user can choose which they prefer – valves for me, please!
It is a great-sounding DAC, which, like the Burson DAC/headphone amp I have reviewed elsewhere in this issue, uses well-respected ESS Sabre32 converter chips, but in this case the 90I8K2M as opposed to the Burson’s 9038Q2M. I connected the Neo to the HA500H directly using a high-quality Chord Company USB cable.
I used two pairs of headphones for my listening – Audeze LCD-X and the Focal Clear. Both are excellent – different, it is true, but still both high-quality performers – and these would certainly help show me what the SotM was capable of.
On Tidal, I chose the title track from guitarist Peter White’s album Groovin’. Immediately noticeable was how much more bite, leading edge detail and dynamics there were on his guitar on the SOtM. Backing vocals were better separated too. By comparison, the MacBook Pro seemed stodgy and robbed the track of its immediacy and rhythmic impetus.
John Mellencamp’s Hurts So Good was also a triumph for the Neo. Vocals were more open, articulate and human, while drums were sharper, more incisive and guitar had more presence and inner detail. Again the MacBook Pro seemed to constrict the music, making it slower and less involving.
On a fave album of mine from singer/songwriter Ben Sidran, the sMS200 was sharper, snappier, more dynamic, making his vocals more expressive and intelligible, while piano had more note shape, body resonance and dynamics. We’re not talking subtle differences. There was certainly more soul to the music on the Neo.
The sMS200 Neo may prove tricky for the novice streamer to get their head around, but the improvement in sound quality over using a computer is well worth the asking price.
And using Roon, it can also stream MQA hi-res files. It is extremely capable, sounds good and is highly recommended.
SOTM SMS200 NEO
EXCELLENT – extremely capable
VALUE – keenly priced
+ 44 (0)1334 570666 www.eliteaudio.co.uk