Pros: Amazing sound performance, resolution, detail, dynamics, features, large screen, fast interface, build quality, purchase presentation
Cons: Single micro sd card slot, minor features missing on initial release firmware, slightly heavy/large device for portability
iBasso Audio are no strangers to personal audio, they've been active on the scene for 10-years now. What I admire about the Chinese company is their attention on great hardware, price to performance and genuine appreciation of music quality for themselves and consumers. They definitely aren't unfamiliar with the portable DAP market either with releases such as DX100, DX50, DX90, DX80, along with several portable amplifiers, dac/amps and most recently branching out into IEMs. DX100 was their first endeavour into flagship players back in 2012, it wasn't without some persistent firmware concerns though well received in the sound quality department. Still today, members speak highly of DX100's performance alongside present players of 2017. Every player they have released has been extremely successful with large populated threads on Head-fi.
Today we're going to asses their newest flagship player, DX200, released on iBasso's 10th year anniversary. Decked out with top of the line dual Sabre ES9028 PRO DAC chips, 2GB RAM, 8-Core CPU, Wifi connectivity, Bluetooth 4.0, optical and coax digital out.. large 4.2” touch-screen interface running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, interchangeable amp modules, micro sd expansion, DAC functionality, OTG storage and much more. Like mentioned, iBasso are dedicated in providing powerful hardware and specifications, squeezing in everything they can for a competitive price.
I was provided the DX200 unit as a review sample directly from iBasso, I will be giving an opinion based on my personal experience only without any persuasion bias. Thank you to iBasso for considering me as one of the worldwide reviewers for DX200's release.
My opinion for this review will come from over 5-years experience with over 67 digital audio players, all of which can be 'found here' listed on my site profile under source inventory. I don't use highly technical terms or graphs so the review is easy to understand for all readers. Since my time owning and testing digital players I've come to learn much of how a player sounds to any listener will be determined on synergy and the performance ceiling of the IEM or headphone they're using. For the majority of sound impressions in this review I will be using TOTL hybrid in-ear monitors by a company called Tralucent Audio, my preferred brand by choice.
DX200 User Manual: http://ibasso.com/uploadfiles/20170123/201701230405436442.pdf
- Dual SABRE ES9028PRO DAC Chips
- Bit for Bit Playback Support up to 32bit/384 kHz
- Support of Native DSD up to 512x
- XMOS USB Receiver with Thesycon USB Audio Driver
- Easy to use USB DAC
- Dual Accusilicon Ultra Low Phase Noise Femtosecond Oscillators
- 4.2" IPS Screen (768*1280) with Capacitive Touch Panel, Bonded by OCA
- Mini Optical Output and Mini Coaxial Output
- 8-core CPU. - 2GB LPDDR3
- 64G of Internal Memory
- 5G WiFi and Bluetooth4.0.
- Patented User Exchangeable AMP Card
- Three Physical Buttons (Previous, Play/Pauses, Next)
- 150-Steps Digital Volume Control
- 4400mAh 3.8V Li-Polymer battery (Play time vary with AMP card)
- 2.5mm Balanced Output: Output voltage 6Vrms
- Frequency Response: 20Hz-20KHz -0.16dB Signal to Noise
- Ratio：125dB Crosstalk: -122dB THD+N: < 0.0002%, -114dB (64Ω@3Vrms) 3.5mm HP
- Output: Output voltage 3Vrms Frequency
- Response: 20Hz-20KHz -0.16dB Signal to Noise
- Ratio：122dB Crosstalk: -118dB THD+N: < 0.00032%,-110dB (32Ω@1.8Vrms)
- Lineout: Output voltage 3Vrms Frequency Response: 20Hz-20KHz -0.16dB
- Signal to Noise Ratio：122dB THD+N: < 0.00025%,-112dB Screen Size: 4.2inch 768*1280
- Battery Capacity: 4400mAh
- Case Dimension: 5.1L x 2.7W x 0.77H (inch) 128.5L x 69W x 19.5H (mm)
- Weight: 240g or 8.5oz
Audio Formats Supported:
- Support for M3U Playlists
The packaging has been extremely well prepared and presented for consumers. Apart from wanting to install a small window and door so I can live inside due to its outer exterior the boxing is nothing short of upper-class. It appears the days of Apple, Samsung and even the likes of Astell & Kern won't raise eyelids in comparison to iBasso's DX200 packaging box, I won't enquire how much it cost to produce because the attention to detail is above most I've encountered before, at least my personal journey in portable audio (and including numerous mainstream products). Flagship packaging indeed.
The outer layer has an almost felt like texture, the darkish grey with shades of white colour scheme and etched diagrams on the outside are simplex yet effective, even the inner insert concealing the player is cater designed with graphics walking you around the players outputs and functional buttons. The way you open the box by splitting it into two pieces unique. iBasso took one up on the trend setting beats by Dre boxes we knew years ago with their own specific approach. I will display some photos of the boxing, how the player arrives and that attention to detail. If you're a real packaging freak, who likes to meditate over unboxing's momentarily and cherish that moment, iBasso have not let you down in any shape or form.
Once you remove DX200 from the top layer there's a second compartment located underneath containing your accessories inside individually labelled boxes. Included is a leather carry case (iBasso branded), a very cool sheathed USB C cable, some extra cables including coax out, a burn in adapter and some paperwork such as your individual serial number and starter guide. The leather case isn't really for me, I appreciate a decent amount of effort went into it and the case may sit better on DX200 after that leather breaks in but its not something I will use personally. For me, the case takes away some of the design appeal DX200 offers, there's something about looking at its build, volume wheel and external buttons which gives a stronger essence of audio for me. In saying this, if I was taking the unit outside regularly without a doubt the included case would offer a large amount of protection for all sides and rear of the unit. If you use the case keep in mind its quite a tight fit at first, you may even feel the player becomes stuck inside. If this occurs take your time in removing it, don't press on the screen too generously or you risk damage. I hear very soon there will be alternative cases available, most likely from the company Dignis, their cases are extremely premium, neat fitting, usually with colour choices but also premium price depending on your location and where you order. Personally, I would like to see iBasso offer a silicon case in the future or by a third party. if I was to niggle I'd prefer one had been included as an extra protective option.
The USB C cable appears custom made, its thick yet flexible, sheathed with a soft nylon like material, very generous considering the cables provided with mainstream and general audio purchases, another well thought gesture of a flagship purchase. The USB C connection itself is quite new to the market, we're slowly seeing it more but the gist of things is the player side connection can be inserted either way and still be functional, there's also some advantages with data transfer speeds and the cable is included for using DX200 as an external DAC when connected to your laptop/PC. I really am impressed with the cable aesthetics, it sure looks great.
An alternative option provided for burning in DX200 (running in the player which iBasso recommend 200-hours) is using the accessory burn in adapter cable. With this cable you plug the connection side into DX200' headphone output, start some music on repeat allowing it to play for several hours at a moderate to high volume. The opinion on burning in devices is quite divided in audio, some people believe it helps, others decline the thought entirely. Myself, I remain neutral seated somewhere in between, I'm always open to the possibility but unless asked by the manufacturer don't become too concerned about it. None the less, if you wish to break your DX200 in this option is there saving you from using one of your expensive headphones or IEMs. The adapter also allows the process to be done completely silently.
Design / Build Quality:
DX200's casing is CNC engraved using high-grade aircraft aluminum, this keeps the unit light as possible while remaining robust, the unit weighs in at 240grams total. DX200 resembles something of a thick(ish) smartphone with dimensions 128mm x 69mm x 19mm. There are physical play/pause/ forward/rewind buttons and a nicely designed volume wheel located along the right-hand side with nicely allocated clicks, on the opposite the micro sd card slot is capable of cards up to 256gb in capacity. On top of the unit you'll find your power button, coax/optical 3.5mm ouput jack (combined) and USB C port for charging, DAC connection, data transfer and OTG storage. At the bottom the removable amp labeled 'AMP1' is bolted on securely with two easily accessible flat head screws. When observing the design there is one small issue comes to mind, at first glance two screws holding the side plate cover in place give the appearance of extra buttons, I would recommend in the future changing the colour of these screws to a matching tone so they blend in with the side-plate more consistently and prevent confusion.
On the rear of unit is a hard molded plastic backplate sporting the iBasso logo which provides the player a sense of identity. Overall, the build quality and design represents a quality finish and DX200 is considerably easy to hold one handed, the side buttons lending extra attention to its functionality. I still feel DX200 stands against competition when considering Astell & Kern's designs and build quality if considering flagship units, DX200 unit may appear slightly behind its time since we first heard about it however, what iBasso accomplished is excellent craftsmanship regardless with no real flaws I can uncover.
On the display side DX200 uses a high quality 4.2” IPS screen, resolution coming in at 768*1280 which is quite respectable in the scheme of things. Album art images are full of colour and pop, the UI with its red theme nothing short of excellent, the quality is surprisingly good for a portable audio player, above my expectations and generally quite a large screen when looking at other players on the market right now. Touch response shows no issues and the unit comes pre-installed with a factory screen protector. The large screen makes browsing albums and music a breeze, the speed of the interface makes it entirely pleasing to use, I encounter very little mentionable issues.
User Interface / Android 6.0 / Pure Music Mode:
Out of the box DX200 comes running a stripped down version of Android Marshmallow 6.0. Installed by default are a few simple applications such as web browser, file explorer, calculator, clock, video player, downloads manager and photo gallery. Unfortunately at this stage Google Play Store isn't available but many applications such as third party music players can be installed by downloading apk files directly from the Internet. The main application most will use is the iBasso music player app, an application built and designed by iBasso themselves for playing your music files on the device. The interface of this player is extremely colourful, modern and fast for navigation. Inside the app all your usual settings and features are present such as playlists, repeat modes, artist, album, genre, folder browsing, high/low gain including several DAC filter options and more, very similar to what you find in today’s audiophile players (especially iBasso's previous interfaces and optional settings)
Navigating the app is mostly executed with swiping motions across ways letting you zip between screens, the scrolling speed is fast, fluent, button presses are almost instant in response. Overall, the iBasso app player has been well implemented with little bugs or problems I can discover. The only thing missing (at the time of this review) is an on-screen volume adjustment icon activated by the rotation wheel. At this stage when within the application all volume adjustments must be done by spinning the physical wheel rather than anything on-screen, if you exit the app while music is playing back to the Android home screen there is a volume slide-bar on-screen within the Android interface. I have no doubt this feature will also be added within the iBasso app's updates really soon. There is also a 10-brand adjustable EQ within the Android app along with presets, while I won't be using this apparently there are future plans for an improved parametric equaliser to be added.
DX200 also has a second alternative firmware called “'Pure Music Mode'. After holding down the power button in Android mode DX200 will display an extra option along with regular shut down, restart icons found on Android firmwares. The third option will boot the player into a secondary firmware stripping DX200 down to a pure music playing only. The user interface is common and (almost identical) in appearance with iBasso DX80's interface. At this stage on early firmware there is slight lag or small delay present when swiping between screens here but this will be addressed as future firmware upgrades become available. DX200 will also remain in this firmware each power up until you decide to boot back into Android. Whether both playing modes of DX200 sound the same is debatable, we have users who hear no difference between them, and others who call it night and day, (the best person to judge this will be yourself).
Overall, even on early firmware DX200 is practically free from any critical or crippling bugs, there are some minor features missing or need adding eventually. As owners receive units some forgivable issues have been reported only. Considering DX200 was held back intentionally making sure there wasn't stability problems the player does basically everything asked of it out of the box from my testing and how I use it. Doesn't crash, freeze, become unresponsive, it scans my cards quickly without problem, no glaring faults making me overly frustrated. I give huge credit to iBasso for holding back the release date making sure the unit was stable, it means a lot to consumers and far less headaches for them long term. From reading the forums iBasso had around (20) DX200 units set-up doing multiple tasks at their location to help straighten out the initial release firmware.
DX200 will come attached with a stock amp module called AMP1, it supports all popular outputs by default including 3.5mm single ended output (most common headphone connection), 2.5mm balanced output and your normally found 3.5mm line out jack for feeding DX200 into portable or desktop amplifiers. iBasso have confirmed the output impedance for the headphones outputs is below < 0.3ohm. In the future other interchangeable amp modules will be released, while iBasso haven't specifically said what their functionality will be I imagine they have some clever ideas up their sleeves. Some that come to mind are modules that concentrate on high output power, possibly a premium module to take the sound up another notch, they mention on their website something about 'synergy matching', there's every chance they could design alternative modules that sound a little warmer, thicker, cooler, brighter etc, perhaps one for longer battery life. Regardless of anything said, the modules themselves have great advantage, as time goes by you can customize DX200 into virtually an entirely different sounding player, there is lots of potential and possibilities which expand the duration of DX200's life cycle on the market. When considering hiss and background noise I cannot detect any from my IEM inventory which were all low quite sensitive impedance, I don't have anything here hiss prone such as Shure's SE846 to try though every IEM I try (mostly Tralucent branded) don't display anything I can detect with or without music playing using the default AMP1 module.
Additional Outputs / Connection Options:
Additional outputs include optical out, coax out, line out, Wifi, Bluetooth 4.0. DX200 was specially designed with its metal casing to be excellent at keeping unwanted interference noise out. Many players on the market have displayed some types of RFI interference when streaming music with their Wifi active. From my testing with Wifi active doing tasks I cannot hear any interference with my low impedance IEMs. Reports are also coming in solid DX200 is silent when doing this and its advertised on the iBasso website as a highlighted area they worked on during the design phase. From my research all people using single ended 3.5mm output report no noise, there was one case I read a member reported a small (negligible) amount from the 2.5mm balanced out. DX200 has the ability to connect wireless headphones via its up to date Bluetooth option, portable dac/amps can take advantage of the coax out and optical out which shares a 2in1 3.5mm output jack located on top of the player. The only option I've not tried or looked into is whether DX200 has the ability to perform a USB audio out signal, at this stage without Google Play Store on the unit some of the paid apps used to create a connection cannot be installed. I would suggest anyone to checkout the Hiby Music app which is free to use and able to achieve this task with Android smartphones. DX200 can also be used as a USB DAC to your laptop or PC, it seems a feature popping up on all players in the market these days even cheaper offerings so its obvious to see the implementation here.
DX200 uses an internal 4400mAh battery, the run times are coming in between 7-8 hours depending on the file format used which is around 2-days of casual listening for myself. If you're simply playing lower resolution files (which are also smaller file size ) like MP3 or 16/44 FLAC the player has far less processing work which keeps power consumption down. When utilising DX200's hi-res playback with 24bit or DSD the player needs to work harder, reports are coming in around 5-6 hours with these kinds of formats. The battery itself charges via the provided USB C cable taking around 3-4 hours depending what percentage you let it drop. Myself allow players batteries to drop around 40% before topping them back to 100%, people have different methods they follow and that's fine. An interesting aspect about DX200's battery is while the internal battery isn't user replaceable like Samsung smartphones or the earlier DX50/90 players iBasso thought ahead when designing DX200 which makes accessing the battery quite easy and convenient in the future. As things stand, DX200's battery will last many years providing its looked after correctly When reading comments iBasso explained they specifically used a high-grade battery inside DX200 and expect it to last a long long time.
DX200 can pack out a large amount of power for full-size headphones even with the stock amp module, while I haven't been able to try anything overly demanding there are several reports being logged in the official DX200 thread .It comes as no surprises, the level of dynamics created and headroom even in low gain using AMP1 module expresses the amount of driving power DX200 should be capable of. Due to not owning anything physically demanding in my inventory its hard for me to give a exact impression on this area though safe to say I've seen reputable (trusted) members mentioning the HD800 being driven by DX200 (somewhat) comfortably, but please take this section from word of mouth and myself following the official thread everyday for quite sometime now. Even check some other reviews if your interest is specifically this area.
Something to mention about DX200, when running for hours on end the unit becomes quite warm, it may even feel slightly hot around the sides and backplate. After experiencing this mild heat myself along with several other reports its a completely normal occurrence. I will always recommend turning the unit off when not in use, its an audio player not an Android phone you leave in standby, when the power is on DX200 will probably not deep sleep like a smartphones, its amp section will be on, its internals, and you will be losing battery power. Apart from this when the unit is running (especially with hi-res and at higher volumes) the heat produced is nothing to worry about. Unless of course, there is some obvious fire or smoke pouring out...
Firmware Version: V1.3.60
Firmware mode used: Android firmware/mode – iBasso App Music Player.
Files: 16/44 FLAC (all files)
Output: 3.5mm single ended (AMP1 Module)
Headphone/IEM: (not listed in order of preference)
- Tralucent 1Plus2
- iBasso IT03
- Tralucent 1Plus2.2
- Tralucent Ref.1
On the sound front its full steam ahead, DX200 serves up potent doses of resolution and detail, its tonality leans every so slightly cool due to the dual Sabre DAC's and stock AMP1 module but with a particular addition. While DX200's voice leans on the energetic lively side its also quite full/thick sounding in note weight particularly around the mid-range, this thickness and fleshed out detail is also accompanied with an ever so slight essence of warmth layered inside the tonality, not too much it ever sounds veiled but enough to lessen a majority of long-term listener fatigue many experience with several Sabre DAC implementations, it provides a slight amount of smoothness to the detail retrieval and a percentage of musicality. Overall still lots of Sabre attitude voiced within DX200. Areas like dynamics in combination with DX200's high output power come into force when listening at moderate volumes, side instruments and backing vocals create individual walls of abrupt detail letting you hear them in new fashion as they enter in/out. Areas like refinement are strong strong aspects allowing high levels of coherency and separation so there's hardly any loss of understanding samples within a track. With many players some samples become lost or slightly blurry throughout busy or complex passages, DX200 does a fantastic job keeping the music posture tight, you will perceive samples with higher accuracy providing your headphones are capable of revealing them.
The players balance between bass/mids/highs is considerably flat, there's no emphasis in bass regions that shouldn't be in recordings, lows have large amounts of bubbly clarity and texture which provide levels of depth. Extension can reach down extremely low into sub-bass region’s with impact when called upon but only if DX200 detects this in a recording, its the tell tale story of 'if its in the recording' DX200 should display the music accurately as its primary role suggests reproducing reference sound. When listening with Tralucent 1Plus2.2 occasionally I notice there can be a slight lack of speed in the lows or tightness on busy tracks which doesn't seem apparent when switching over to another IEM, it makes me question if the IEM or player is producing the difference. When moving into the highs detail and extension are clear without any harshness, there's a good balance of treble that never treads out of line, you'll especially notice high frequency samples and instruments on the left/right outer channels quite obviously within the layering, its not metallic or unnatural and particularity inoffensive. Very well polished upstairs.
Soundstage is an assorted area for me, reports from several trusted owners are expressing DX200 being extremely airy and wide in staging, many of them suggest this from the 2.5mm balanced output. Unfortunately, using the single ended 3.5mm output I don't hear the stage to these lengths, its not closed in or compressed, I can make it wider with different tip selections on my IEM's though naturally I do hear slightly wider/airier stage from my Tralucent DacAmp by default. Some tracks may sound quite wide with DX200 another lacking though this doesn't appear to be the recordings when switching between the two sources as the Tralucent DAC is always slightly wider. From my experience with iBasso's players (and others) soundstage width can alter after simple firmware updates, I'm hoping this is the case for me down the road. Moving on from soundstage layering on the left/right channels are reasonably strong aspects, hearing side instruments on the outer channels imaging accurately in precise locations, again, when the layering displays itself you achieve high levels of detail accompanying the instruments which forms an extremely detailed almost energized presentation.
Something a player or any source needs to accomplish is accurate timbre reproduction, a well-recorded piano track is a great starting point, others familiar with classical music may use string instruments such as the violin. Its these kind of tracks you really begin to test a digital sources capabilities and when competent enough you occasionally extract feeling or emotion from sound quality alone. I'm not talking about simply enjoying a song because “its a good song”, if your IEM's are capable enough and the quality of music is outstanding enough you begin to draw a new state of feeling, the shear sound quality can make you teary-eyed, or feel overwhelmed from its presence. Does DX200 produce such a timbre, atmosphere and emit this sensation I've heard from a small amount of others? Well, I won't say the timbre is in anyway inaccurate it does a fabulous job, vocal reproduction and detail absolutely provides such sensations, it can really blow you away, but its a little different from what I've become accustom too particularly when a piano key note decays, its quite fast in decay with the default filter option (4) I use by preference. If anything it simply offers a different take on timbre. The note weight is quite solid, DX200 uses this along with dynamics to push out full fleshed detailed instruments. Its accurate, not unnatural or at fault, just taking on different entity to what I've accustom too in the past, not a bad thing when owning multiple sources.
DX200's sound alone is worth more than its asking price, there's no other way to put it, I can confidentially say this from experience with digital audio players over the years. The strong hardware speaks for itself even before considering the additional features. It leaves DAP's like my Astell & Kern AK300 priced similarly far behind, even to laughable extents. Instead, DX200 raises muscle to the likes of Sony's new $3000 Walkman, PAW Gold and flagship level AK380. When a product reaches these players in performance at just fractions of their retail price its not only self-explanatory, there's also little standing in DX200's way currently on the market. The sound is highly detailed, dynamic, super strong in resolution, refinement and technical ability, it makes me underwhelmed with other gear in several sound areas when hearing my favourite tracks played through it. Extremely high (and in my opinion) practically unmatched price to performance where we stand in 2017 now in terms of audio players. Like mentioned in opening paragraphs, iBasso are about bang for buck, sound for pound, DX200 is an absolute testament to that phrase.
Along with the premium packaging, well thought out accessories and incoming amp modules you're getting a lot for your money in terms of satisfaction and versatility. The unit overall can be a little large/heavy to cart around, I would have liked to see a secondary silicon case provided and the single memory card slot is a turn off for some (although I'm confident when people hear DX200 their priorities may shift). The large screen and easy to use swift Android interface makes the unit a breeze to navigate. While the overall design doesn't quite impact as AK luxury the literal $2-3K you save keeps those thoughts at bay. I give big congratulations to iBasso getting DX200 released so stable, its been a pleasure to use, review and listen to, you should be very proud.
I'm giving the review 4.5-stars because the price to performance ratio sound-wise is extremely high. When I think through the entire review pro/con there's really nothing glaring I can personally fault with DX200 besides some minor sound characteristics purely preference related or a non-critical bug/feature that needs adding. When I consider the steadily increasing prices of flagship players from companies like Sony, Astell & Kern, (and others) quickly stretching out of reach for many consumers, then considerate DX200 challenging these in sound quality for under $1000 USD this type of demonstration cannot be ignored and should be praised.