Topping A50s ($199): The SH-9 I find to actually have more in common with the A50s than the THX789 despite sharing the same THX tech. Both are clean, linear sources, both also less weighted in their note presentation. The SH-9 does have a slightly more dynamic low-end; it’s a bit bolder with slightly more impact. It has a lick more mid-bass and slightly better control while the A50s is flatter but also less dynamic. The midrange tells a similar story, the SH-9 is more revealing and defined, but also slightly brighter in its tuning. The A50s is more linear with a slightly more coherent voicing. Up top, the SH-9 provides a slightly cleaner transient response with slightly higher detail retrieval and a bit more sparkle. The A50s is smoother yet, sounding a bit more natural. The A50s has similar width while the SH-9 has greater depth and better imaging.
THX789 ($299): The THX789 is a prime competitor for the SH-9. It offers a deeper, more dynamic bass with a bolder voicing and greater note weight throughout. The SH-9 is a bit warmer and more natural while the THX789 is more aggressive. The midrange is fuller on the THX789 and a bit more coherent. The SH-9 is more defined with better extension and slightly higher resolution. The THX789 has a slightly more aggressive lower-treble note presentation while the SH-9 is a bit more even and refined. The SH-9 is slightly more detailed and has slightly more sparkle and micro-detail retrieval too. In terms of soundstage presentation, the THX789 has a bit more width but the SH-9 has more depth. It images slightly better, producing a more multi-dimensional experience.
Amp reviews have never been easier in the modern day where audible-distortion, noises and pops have long been snuffed out by discerning third-party measurements. Though all options are fairly safe, my recommendation is to find an amp that suits your price range and IO needs then filter through reviews to find the sound most suitable for your setup. To SMSL’s credit, the user experience is essentially what was promised – a device that is easy to navigate, sonically balanced and space-efficient. During use, I did find that the digital controls to take a little longer to navigate than a button-based system, especially when switching gain, and there was some background hiss on my most sensitive in-ears. This means that though its OI may seem ideal for low impedance IEMs on paper, it may not necessarily be the ideal choice for them if you are a low-volume listener. Altogether, it remains a well-rounded and versatile experience. The digital volume control, strong driving power and extra-low OI enable it to drive anything ranging from full-size headphones to multi-BA IEMs. Its sound signature also achieves versatile synergy and, though I would like a little more gusto in its voicing, I cannot fault its detail retrieval or soundstage performance for the asking price. Pairing the SH-9 with SMSL’s matching DAC, the user is treated to a delightfully modern and natural sounding stack that doesn’t disappoint.
The SH-9 is available from Apos Audio (International) for $289.99 USD at the time of writing. Please see our affiliate link for the most updated pricing, availability and configurations.