Pros: Lovely Sound, Nice Box, 15 Hours of Battery Life, USB OTG, User Replaceable Battery
Cons: Back Scratches Easily
The DX50 from iBasso Audio does seem like a direct competitor to the hugely popular Astell & Kern AK100 and the high value Fiio X3. Released at a price point of $239, it is slightly more than the X3, but much less than the price of the AK100. As you probably know, all three DAPs are based around the same Wolfson 8740 DAC chip and while some people believe that what matters is the implementation of the chip, I had previously believed that the DAC chip played a larger role – until I heard the DX50. Almost every DAC/DAP that I have heard which uses a Wolfson has sounded warm, but this doesn’t sound warm at all, but very neutral, leaning a bit towards the brighter side.
Girls Generation's picture.
This really surprised me, as well as how good the DAP sounded out of the box. For $239, I have absolutely no complaints about the packaging, accessories or most importantly, the sound quality of the DX50. There were some issues like songs with apostrophes not playing, and that caused quite a stir in the DX50 thread, but I’m sure that iBasso will fix it soon. Another thing to take note in this review is that it is running firmware v1.1.5 and iBasso have an odd habit of changing the sound with each firmware update. I will try and update this review once in a while when a new update comes out. Here are the specs:
- Bit Perfect, Support up to 24Bit/192kHz
- WM8740 24Bit DAC Chip
- Built-in 9V Voltage Swing Headphone AMP
- 2.4" IPS Screen(320*240) with Capacitive Touch Screen, Bonded by OCA
- Up to 24Bit/192kHz Mini Coaxial Output
- 3.5mm Headphone Output, and Line Out
- Three Physical buttons (Rewind, Play/pauses, Forward) on The Top Panel.
- 256-Steps Digital Volume Control
- 8GB Onboard Flash
- Support SDXC and SDHC MicroSD card, up to 2TB (In theory, currently the largest available microSD cards are 64gb)
- 3-Setting Gain Switch
- Audio Formats Supported: APE, FLAC, WAV, WMA, AAC, ALAC, OGG, MP3
- User Replaceable Battery(Compatible With Samsung Galaxy S3), 14hours Play Time.
Frequency Response: 20Hz~20KHz +/-0.2dB
S/N: -109dB +/-3dB
Output Level: 1.5V rms (1kHz 0dB)
Frequency Response: 20Hz~20KHz +/-1dB
THD+N: 0.004% (32ohm load)
Output Level: 1.2V(Low gain), 1.7V(Mid gain), 3.1V(High Gain)
S/N: -103dB +/-3dB(Low gain), -106dB +/-3dB(Mid gain), -108dB +/-3dB(High Gain) (32ohm Load)
Output Impedance: <0.5ohm
Battery Life: 14hours
Battery Charge Time: 3hours with AC adapter, 5.5hours with PC USB port
Case dimension: 2.52W x 3.98L x 0.67H (inch), 64W x 100L x 17H (mm)
Weight: 146g or 5.15oz
**Disclaimer** I am in no way affiliated with iBasso in any way and I will try my best to give an unbiased review.
Unboxing & Accessories
The unboxing experience was very pleasant indeed. It did not feel like a cheap product and the packaging was very appealing. While it was simple and cheap, it made the appearance much nicer. I can’t but help comparing the packaging of this to the X3’s...
I really didn’t expect the DX50 to come with many accessories considering its low price point and it didn’t come with a lot, but it did include most of the important ones. It came with a USB charging cable, coaxial cable, soft case and a screen protector for me, but other people got a warranty card as well. Not sure why I didn’t get one, but I should be able to get warranty if something happens.
The DX50 silicone case is available to order from iBasso as well.
musicheaven's picture of the DX50 and all it's accessories.
Design & UI
First of all, I really like the design and the look of the player, but I also know some people who think that it is very ugly. The pictures from iBasso’s website really don’t do it any justice. The body and back are a type of brushed metal and very similar to the material used in the AK1X0s. I also love the 3 gain settings which will come in handy if you are planning to use it to drive more inefficient headphones. Build quality is very impressive indeed but the back scratches quite easily. I did put some clear book contact on the back and while it doesn’t scratch, it does look pretty bad. Another downside is the jack is one of that tightest that I have ever encountered and I feel like it might damage the plugs of my headphones. Overall, I am quite impressed by the design of the DX50 but there are some quirks.
I don’t feel like it is entirely fair to judge the UI of the DX50 right now, but I will for the people who are interested. Keep in mind that there is a very high chance the iBasso will improve it over future firmware updates. Ok, so the scrolling and everything is great, and it is easier to use than my HDP-R10, but there are pretty annoying issues like not playing songs with an apostrophe in them and skipping about ½ a second from the start of some songs when you forward or in some cases, select a song. I have no idea why this is, but it is certainly very annoying. Some other issues include listing the same album several times if there are different artists (fixed in firmware v1.1.6) and the fact that there is no playlist option (fixed in v1.2.0) as well as the apostrophe issue (fixed in firmware v1.1.6). I hope that iBasso rectifies these problems quickly.
Edit 1: The UI in v1.2.2 is extremely smooth and the user experience is way better than on the first firmware. The first firmware was incredibly buggy and now just about all of them have been fixed.
Edit 2: iBasso have been improving the UI in each firmware update and here at v1.2.8 I feel like the UI has improved quite a bit from v1.2.2 and now I have absolutely no complaints about it. The scrolling is very easy and no more accidentally selecting a song while you are scrolling. Also, no more freezes since v1.2.6. The directory and album view is also perfect. I just wished it was easier to add songs to the playlist. Yes, the first few firmwares that iBasso rolled out were terrible, almost unusable for some people, but they have a come a long way from there since the beginning. The UI is absolutely wonderful; now.
Yes, the DX50 looks pretty and on the v1.2.8 firmware works flawlessly as well. It is easy to skip or rewind and it has all the features most people would want in a DAP. This leaves the just the sound quality. What is a DAP if it doesn't sound good? Not much really. And I think here is where iBasso have done their best work; they have absolutely hit it out of the park with the DX50's sound quality. Hell, a few people including me even sold their DX100s! What does that tell you?
Edit 1: After I updated to firmware 1.2.2 I think that it is time to update my review. I feel like there were some large sonic improvements here.
Edit 2: After I updated to v 1.2.8 I've decided to update the entire sound quality section again. I feel like it is a solid upgrade over the v1.2.2.
As mentioned above, the DX50 has a Wolfson WM8740 chip in it. This chip has been immensely popular in DAPs since the AK100 was introduced. It may not have the same micro-detail retrieval as the reference sabre chip (ES9018) found in the DX100, but the DAC section of this is more forgiving and IMO more musical and enjoyable, but that does not mean that it is not detailed because it is detailed, just not as much as more sterile and cold DAC chips based on the sabre chip. iBasso have created a very nice DAC section that does performs very well and is extremely listenable and a bit fun. On the v1.2.8 firmware the sound coming from the DAC has opened up and is more detailed and has a bigger soundstage. From memory, it is still not as detailed and resolving as the DX100's ES9018 DAC, but the DX50's has the cleanest and best line out I have ever heard in this price range. I still think that if iBasso managed to lose that little bit of warmth the DAC has, it can be even more spectacular. Don't get me wrong, the DAC section of the DX50 is awesome, but I think that they can perhaps squeeze that last bit out of the WM8740 chip to make it even better than it already is.
There is plenty of power for IEMs, but just not enough juice for headphones like the HD600. The amp is very neutral and resolving with great separation with IEMs, but with my HD600, it struggles and you can immediately hear it. It can easily get to listening volumes, but there is just not enough power to make them sound nice, resulting in them sounding lifeless and boring. However, with IEMs, the amplifier does incredibly well and separation, detail, dynamics etc are well above DAPs that I have heard at this price range. To sum up, the amp is great for lower impedance headphones and IEMs, but is not a good choice for harder to drive headphones. I feel like I should go on a bit more about the amp section for IEMs - it is very clean and with all IEMs I tried on it one v1.2.8 I did not find they had any hiss on slightly higher than normal listening volumes. Some people say that the amp section is the weaker part of the DX50 and whilst I don't totally agree, I do understand why people think that. Indeed, the DX50's DAC is fantastic and if you want the DX50 to go to the next level, go ahead amd strap on a nice amp.
This section was only added in after firmware v1.2.2. Previously, the separation was particularly good, but it has improved in the new firmware. Starting off with vocal separation, I used the song "Some Nights" by fun., which is my go to track to test vocal separation. The DX50 passed with flying colours on the latest firmware and you could hear the person on the very right very clearly, something that you could not do on the previous firmwares. The level was almost up to HDP-R10 level, but not quite there yet. I think that due to the mids coming a bit forward, the vocal separation has benefitted greatly. On the v1.2.6, the separation was really taken up a notch. Bands' vocals seem much clearer well defined than before and I think sometimes I am perhaps just hearing a bit of detail in the vocals that I don't think was there on previous firmwares. On the newer v1.2.7 and v1.2.8 firmwares I didn't detect any change in the vocal separation.
Some Nights Album
Moving on to instrument separation, I can also say that it does very well, but it is slightly behind vocal separation. The instrument separation has really improved with the wider soundstage. On congested tracks it can still get a bit hard to make out some things, but those are hard to make out on much more expensive DAPs so the DX50 does very well. Previously, the instrument separation wasn't great, but it has substantially improved with the new firmware. The v1.2.6 firmware was a very solid upgrade in every way over the v1.2.2, v1.2.3 and v1.2.5 firmwares. Songs got a less congested and this was more noticeable on more complex sections of songs. Now we reach the v1.2.8 firmware and I think that even though the vocal separation was roughly the same between v1.2.8 and v1.2.6, I think that the instrument separation may have just improved a little bit.
Soundstage & Imaging
The soundstage isn’t very wide, but it is quite deep and height isn’t bad either. This is the area that the DX100 absolutely trumps it, but that is to be expected, costing over three times as much. The soundstage is bigger than the X3 though, which is probably seen as it’s biggest competitor. Previously I put the soundstage as one of the cons, but that was because I was listening to the HDP-R10 before so that's the reason I though the soundstage was small. On firmware v1.2.2, the soundstage actually opened up significantly. Even though it is still smaller than the DX100's and it's Japanese brother, the soundstage is big enough to finally list my HDP-R10 on the for sale forums, a thing that I certainly did not foresee when I got the DX50. The soundstage opened up further with the v1.2.6 and v1.2.8 firmwares which I consider the two best so far. No longer was is small like in the first few firmwares. Now it is actually closer to the DX100 from memory but it's still quite far off.
As for imaging, it does incredibly well, but it does not have that pin point imaging that higher end DAPs have. You can easily tell where instruments or the singer(s) is/are on a normal track, but in more congested tracks, things start to get a bit “muddy”. Still, it is great for its price and I am really not being fair at all by comparing this to TOTL DAPs. Once again, imaging has improved a lot of firmware v1.2.2 and everything is much clearer and imaging is much better on congested tracks, partly due to there presentation being more spacious. I take back what I say about the imaging being muddy because on the v1.2.8 firmware these have exceptional imaging. I feel like the biggest jump was from v1.2.5 (rather bad, worse than the v1.2.2) to v1.2.6. It's hard to imaging iBasso improving much more in future firmware updates.
Random, but here is 00lunar's picture of the DX50 (bottom left) with various other DAPs.
This section has changed the most after the firmware update (from v1.0.0 to v1.1.5) and the bass has increased in quantity. Whether this is a good or bad thing is your call. IMO, this made the sound more neutral and fuller. I did find it more appealing and it did not drown out any details. There seems to be more sub-bass rumble as well. The bass quality and detail is absolutely awesome and I certainly did not find this in similarly priced players like the X3 and RoCoo BA DAP. Each drum hit sound very real and has great speed to it. It is a bit heavy, but it does not have bloated bass at all. The bass was the highlight for me, but only on the updated firmware since I found the bass lacking on the original firmware that came with the DX50.
Edit 1: The bass has actually reduced a tiny bit in quantity in v1.2.2, but detail and layering have been improved. I have emailed iBasso asking them to slightly bring the bass up in the next firmware and they told me that they would work on it. Anyway, the bass is still very fast with good impact and it makes the previous firmwares' bass sound a bit thicker than it should.
I am quite unsure of what I think of the mids yet since it does seem like on the v1.0.0 firmware they are a bit thin and a bit recessed, and on the v1.1.5 firmware it seems a bit warmer than neutral. I do feel like I am leaning towards the v1.1.5 firmware more because it suits what I listen to more. I would say the original firmware is better for female vocals while v1.1.5 is better for male vocals. That aside, the detail in both vocals and instruments are exceptional and singers are dead centre and you feel like you are in a concert. Pianos sound very good on v1.1.5 and string instruments are great as well, but I feel like the original firmware may be a bit better.
Edit 1: Wow, the mids have really changed quite a lot from the previous few firmwares. In the first few firmwares, the midrange was perhaps a bit recessed and the sound was somewhat V shaped, but now I feel like the DX50's midrange presentation has become the highlight. It is slightly forward, and pairs very nicely with my UM Miracles. Vocals also sound clearer. I love the mids on this firmware!
The treble is a bit rolled off on v1.1.5 and a bit over prominent on the original firmware. If I had to pick one, I would go for the updated firmware, but I do wish iBasso will make the treble in between the original and update firmware. On the v1.1.5 firmware, cymbals sound great but have a slightly short decay bit still have great detail. Woodwind instruments sound very pleasant and while the detail levels are good, they do not reach those of TOTL DAPs, not that I am expecting it to. The treble instruments are extremely well rendered and while they were sometimes harsh on the original firmware, they are never harsh on the updated firmware.
Edit 1: When I first got this the treble seemed slightly too emphasised and made some songs quite harsh. Luckily, iBasso have listened to everybody's suggestions and toned the treble down to a more neutral level. The detail and nice decay is still there, just without the harshness.
Picture of the firmware updating from earmass.com.
The new firmware update has corrected the apostrophe option at last! They actually play properly now and the album issue has been sorted as well, but still no playlist. I've been informed that it will be added in the next firmware update. As for the sound, the bass seems to be a bit tighter and punchier, but that can just be me because the comparison is based on memory. Treble seems to be better even though the quantity doesn't seem to have changed. Everybody should update to v1.1.6; it is by far the best firmware yet.
The new firmware update has added a playlist, but it takes ages to add songs to the playlist. Some people have said that the sound has become smoother, but I'm not sure because I did not use it for a day before the firmware update. The text has become a bit weird though and instead of it being "Game Of Love" and then in the artist section, "Daft Punk", it is now just "Game Of Love - Daft Punk in the title. Not a huge problem, but it is a bit annoying. The 1/2 second skip is not corrected and according to iBasso, won't be corrected in future firmwares. The skip is due to the pop or something like that. If there was no skip, there'd be a pop at the end/start of each song.
Updated this firmware this morning and I've used it for a few hours now. Upon the first listen, I immediately thought that the soundstage improved quite a bit. Previously, the DX100 & HDP-R10 trashed it completely, but now the gap becomes smaller, small enough to make me list my HDP-R10 for sale. The midrange seems to be a bit more prominent, and sweet, pairing terrifically with both the 1plus2 and my Miracle. Hiss seems to have been improved quite a lot for me. The battery meter also finally works and doesn't last half an hour on the last 2 bars. Apparently the playlist function has been improved, but I haven't tried it yet. One thing my HDP-R10 does better is the bass section, which despite all the firmware improvement s and sometimes sonic improvements still does not have bass with such authority. This firmware update has taken the DX50 one step up and with the way that iBasso is going, I might be changing this review to 5 stars. Best firmware by a long way! I have a few suggestions for iBasso though - please do put a battery percentage meter and please do somehow automatically add half a second to a start of a song so there is no delay.
After I updated my DX50 to v1.2.2, I noticed that even though basically all areas improved, the bass quantity decreased and I sent iBasso an email asking them to please increase the bass level in the next update. They said that they would work on it and I haven't heard anything about it sine then. Today, I updated the firmware to v1.2.3 and to my surprise, the bass has been taken up a level and now has great impact and the sub-bass is very powerful, but never overpowering at any time. Now it is not lacking bass at all. On top of that, I also found that the separation has improved a bit and it now does better on congested tracks. Imaging has also improved slightly. As for soundstage, I'm not sure whether there is any change, but I feel like there is a slight increase.
A few suggestions for iBasso: please put a + on the side of the playlist so that it is easier to add songs to the playlist and make an option to have playlists arranged in alphabetical order.
Finally, I decided to update to v1.2.5 even though I heard some dodgy things about it on the DX50 thread. Quite a few people complained that there were problems with freezing but fortunately, I didn't encounter any of these problems. My first impression was that the bass hit harder and was a bit muddy and not as fast as the already slightly bass heavy v1.2.3 firmware. Personally, I prefer the bass from the v1.2.3 firmware because it is faster, more detailed and is generally cleaner. The midrange feels more recessed and vocals don't have that sharp clarity that they had in the v1.2.3 and v1.2.2 firmwares. Treble is good and not much is changed. The deal breaker for me was the crappy separation and small soundstage. I prefer the v1.2.3 firmware by far and l would not bother updating if you haven't already.
Wow... Just wow... When the v1.2.6 and v1.2.7 firmware rolled out I was on holidays so I didn't have time to download and update the firmwares. However, I did read some things that I liked on the DX50 thread and after downloading it, I must say that I am pleasantly surprised. The sound became rather neutral and lost its bass boost that the v1.2.3 firmware did. For some reason I feel like I am hearing more details and better overall separation. This is just a joy to listen to. Also, I love the new media scanning bar - it's a lot better and faster than v1.2.3.
The sound is just about the same however I find that the mids are more recessed and it is less detailed. The soundstage may just be a little wider though. The gapless issue is really fixed, something that iBasso told me they weren't able to do a while ago. The issue was that it would skip the first part of a song which got rather annoying at times - well done iBasso! They claim the EQ is better and perhaps it is, but I am not an EQ guy so I'll leave that for you to judge. Also another feature they introduced is that you can change the wallpaper. Personally I'm not really into that, so it's back to v1.2.6 for me then I guess.
I must say, jumping from v1.2.6 to v1.2.8 was quite a surprise for me. For me at least, this is because the sound is so different from the last firmware. I think that the midrange has been changed somehow to a much more pleasant and unique tone. As some people have said, the midrange veil that is on some headphones is gone; well, the veil on the AX60 has been tamed a bit, but it's not gone and I don't expect it to be. The DX50 stock almost sounds like a Palaios amp :) Bass is nice and solid and treble has become clearer resulting in an increase of clarity and detail. Soundstage has gotten a little wider as well and separation is just as good as the v1.2.6 firmware. However, from what I hear the wallpaper function is gone but DSD is added. Best firmware yet IMO!
iBasso have certainly created a winner DAP at just $239. When it was released it was almost a disaster... Complaints flew everywhere and there was even a bug thread that was very popular from memory. Well, it certainly seems like iBasso have listened to the customers' problems and, in time, solved them. To me, the DX50 is a stunning looking DAP which does just about everything right for me. I love the 3 buttons on the face, the jacks on the bottom, the gain switch and in general, the entire DX50 design. But, the icing on the cake is the superb sound quality which is just amazing for the price. At this price, iBasso has well exceeded my expectations; this is a product I feel comfortable recommending to everybody looking for a DAP but doesn't want to dish out the extra cash for a DX90.
Edit: Only reduced to 4.5 stars because the DX90 is a large step up and significantly better.