Product Launch: SMSL SH-9 THX AAA-888 Balanced Headphone Amp & Gustard X-16 Balanced DAC

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It’s an exciting time to be shopping for a new headphone amplifier or DAC setup in tome for the upcoming holidays! Following the SU-9, SMSL are proud to announce the SH-9 amplifier to play complement. On the DAC side, Gustard follow up on their successful A18 with the X16, now featuring the latest dual ESS Sabre ES9068S DAC chips, the new flagship (succeeding the 9038 line) for the company with native MQA rendering. Let’s take a first look.

SMSL SH-9

The SH-9 arrives two years after the SH-8 before it. It aims to fix issues with its predecessor and further improve performance in a small, desktop-friendly footprint. Those familiar with the SU-9 that we recently reviewed here, will find a similarly modern design here with similar dimensions for stacking and high-res colour screen enabling smart GUI front and centre. It remains a balanced amplifier design, utilising the renowned AAA-888 amp chips, the most exceptionally measuring and sophisticated design from THX yet. Though independent measurements of the SH-9 are yet to surface as of the post date of this article, earlier designs such as the SMSL SP200 with the same chip have offered reference-grade performance in measurements and a healthy step up from the immensely popular THX-789. It also appears SMSL know how to implement this chip well as the SH-9 looks to offer slightly higher measurable performance at the same price point in addition to offering a more modern design and interface. Expect a review on THL in the coming week!

The SH-9 launches at $289.99 USD. For purchase and specifications, please see the product page on Apos Audio (affiliate). Apos Audio are also including both the SU-9 and SH-9 in a bundle on their ensemble program at a discounted price here.

Gustard X-16 DAC

Gustard is a relatively new name in audio, but have certainly garnered a cult following for their cost-effective implementations of flagship hardware. In particular, their previous model, the A18, was one of the best measuring DACs of all times, implementing AKM’s AK4499 chipset. The X16 is their latest model using two of ESS’ latest flagship DAC chips, the ES9068S. In turn, it offers native MQA rendering and seeks to offer summit-fi performance at a mid-range price. Initial independent measurements suggest this may indeed be the case, as the DAC currently holds the 2nd place on Amirm’s DAC SINAD list with the highest place being occupied by a substantially pricier model. It bundles this performance with an OLED display and modern GUI in addition to BT 5.0 support and wide connectivity options.

The X-16 is available for $499.99 USD. For purchase and specifications please see the product page on Apos Audio (affiliate).

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Avid writer, passionate photographer and sleep-deprived medical student, Ryan has an ongoing desire to bring quality products to the regular reader.

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