Best sound quality I've heard so far, let alone on a DAP!

A Review On: iBasso DX100 Reference DAP

iBasso DX100 Reference DAP

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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Battery Life
Design
User Interface
Value
Purchased on:
Price paid: $765.00
the wizard of oz
Posted · 20127 Views · 11 Comments

Pros: The sound quality! Powerful amplifier, with an appreciated 3-steps gain-switch

Cons: Battery life certainly could be better, but the sound quality you get makes up for that disadvantage.

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A bit of background: I'm coming from using Sony MiniDisc Walkmans, Hi-MD specifically, with their ability to play full CD-quality LPCM, and providing true gap-less playback, aside a sound quality that is way above that of iPods and other typical MP3 players -and I have tried a few of those.

My musical library just keeps growing, the price per 1GB Hi-MD MiniDisc just isn't competitive any more, and lugging around many discs isn't always convenient, so I'd been on the look-out for a replacement for my Hi-MD Walkmans, and ideally even an upgrade in sound quality, since from using Sony MDR-EX90SL's I'd upgraded to the Audio-Technica W5000's.

 

I'd considered the iMod at one stage, with a large SSD and a good headphone amplifier with a long lasting battery, & that probably remains a solution for those seeking the longest on-the-go autonomy; also the iPod Classic + portable iDACs, CLAS (-dB) / HP-P1 / Go-DAP(-X) / PHA-1, but why support a product, the iPod, that is mediocre in its conception in its first place? Sure the UI is unanimously recognized as intuitive and practical, but for a music player, isn't sound quality the most important? Apple failed miserably here.

 

So Colorfly has an interesting device, the C4 Pro, but alas no gap-less, and 24bit/192kHz only via WAV, not FLAC, not quite practical.

 

HiFiMan just has a terrible UI, no gap-less either, and the design just doesn't appeal to me.

 

Then iBasso came along to announce their first DAP, and touting it as a "reference" one, setting a new high level standard.

Up to 64GB swappable memory via µSDXC, 64GB internal, gap-less, one of the best DAC's on-board, and a powerful amp; the ability to plug my W5000's straight-in without an adaptor, cool. Metal housing, nice.

All that sounded like a truly meaningful upgrade to my MD Walkmans.

 

So, bought it, and how do I like it?

 

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Built quality is pretty good, not quite Sony-Made-In-Japan level, but very acceptable. 64GB capacity and credits are printed just slightly slanted on the back*, and I have to insert the µUSB cable into its slot also in a slightly slanted manner. I don't mind that, but I can imagine others would return their unit immediately for these little faults. I'm too addicted to the sound right now to bother.

 

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Wow! As the listening mileage grows, all I can say is that I'm very impressed, and get a better idea of what my W5000's really are capable of.

 

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The DX100 is giving me the best sound quality I've ever heard with my headphones. My first true audiophile experience.

 

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The user interface takes some getting used to, but one gets the hang of it after a while. I've disabled all the applications but the music player of course. This reduces interferences and optimizes battery life.

 

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I'll post more in-depth impressions of actual musical comparisons eventually, but so far I can notice more depth in the sound, more impact, the power delivered is adequate, the treble extends higher and ever so smoothly, though still crystal clearly, without fatigue; bass goes lower too, while remaining tight and articulate, and I will hear no more "W5000's are bass-light": if you think that you either didn't bend the metal bands enough to get a good seal, either you won't admit you're a bass-head, or they weren't amped adequately! Since the thundering bass you get here when its called for is tremendous! I was already quite happy with what the EH1 or RH1 could deliver, but this is even more impressive. More bass impact would be too much.

Mid-range is beautiful, nothing special to add; will do more piano listening for this aspect.

Sound-stage, imaging are bettered too; instrument separation is further much improved.

Now, the details, those are amazing! I get so much more out of the music; typical comment, but indeed, I now hear things in the recordings much better or that I hadn't even noticed before!

All these qualities on the DX100 brings you closer to the live sound!

 

I'm very, very pleased with my purchase.

 

Disclaimer: You've noticed I'm only a budding audiophile, haven't had other high-end gear to compare to, so please take my comments with a pinch of salt. Just MHO, YMMV.

 

N.B.: User interface rating I have bumped up a notch since my first rating, since with firmware version 1.1.7 and proper ID3 tagging, album art & tags show up nicely, and the UI operation has become a little snappier.

N.B. #2: Support of 64GB µSDXC confirmed. After formatting to FAT32 it is perfectly recognized by the DX100. 120GB of flash memory at hand, ain't that nice! I will be adding more of these flash memory cards over time since my Norêve carrying case conveniently has a few slots for them, but moreso because those high definition albums do take an awful lot of space up...

N.B. #3: With iBasso's v.1.2.7 FW update for the DX100, the user interface has been much improved: nearly all my albums' cover art is showing up, the battery management is better in that the standby mode is effective, so that it doesn't drain as fast as it used to, and believe it or not, the sound quality has moved up yet another notch!

Thus, I have bumped up the UI rating by another half star!

 

*After more than six months of very intensive use which translate into a few scratches and dents, I made use of iBasso's excellent customer service & cheap spare parts catalogue & ordered a new backplate, and that one is impeccable. With a new display protection —that I got for free— I also ordered two extra mains adapters: one for in the backpack & one for at my other most visited location. All this was promptly shipped and delivered just as quickly as the DX100 itself via DHL.

 

 

P.S.: A few user interface images that show CUE file support:

 

11 Comments:

Not enough pictures.....
I know! More of the actual device, rear, top, & sides! And some with the latest firmware... Side by side comparisons with the EH1, RH1 and iPod...
No, you're right, this is more of a pictorial and short impressions article than a review in its current state, but that will be addressed eventually.
Thanks for the effort..appreciated.
So the update is helping a lot...at least its better, but ibasso still need some serious work on the Album cover and other more serious bugs
Album cover and correct tagging work fine if you have your audio files properly tagged following the guidelines in the DX100 FAQ.
What's the average battery life you're getting these days? I've got a Cowon X7 and am tempted to get the iBasso DX100 just to test them both side by side with my IE8, before I decide to splurge on something better than the IE8.
I was sold on the Cowon mostly because of good reviews about the sound quality and EQ but also becuase it has 160gb of space. It's a good player but the interface is clunky. Mind you the X7 is great but I wouldn't mind trading up on space if I could find another player with better sound and a smaller form factor.
6-7 hours. With high-rez closer to 5. But those moments are aural bliss. I have acquired two more mains adapters for more flexibility, and am considering an external 12V battery pack.
I am in the same boat, currently looking for a DAP but the move from minidisc has not made me happy.
I tried and sold a few Ipod's, Iriver players etc bottomline I keep moving back to my trusted minidisc. I have not tried this player so will give it a go. cheers for a great read:)
SQ-wise, you will not be disappointed. I was pleasantly surprised it beat my MiniDisc Walkmans, but I didn't expect it to beat my SACD/DVDA deck!
The only features you might miss are physical buttons, better battery life, maybe the nifty remote control, and of course, the DX100 is a bit bulkier, there's no denying that; but luckily it isn't as heavy as you would expect.
Great review. Thank you for your impressions :)
Agreed... great review! Can you tell me what model of Noreve case you purchased for the DX100? On their web site I don't see a DX100 case listed. Thanks!
Norêve - Universal PDA - Tradition - Large
No longer available according to their website, but shooting them an email might render some result. More people inquiring for that model and mentioning the DX100 might make them realize there still is a market for it.