Pros: Great sound quality, slick UI, good build quality, OTG input
Cons: Buggy Operating System
My experience with the iBasso DX50 has been one hell of a wild ride. Many bumps in the road, trials and tribulations along the way but somehow, as if by the grace of the Audiophile Gods themselves the DX50 has finally evolved into something functional. By no means did it start out that way, but I don’t want to bore you with the details right in the beginning of this review. I will start off with the conclusion first, you can read the details afterwards. That is just how I roll. #likeaboss
Bugs and Glitches
Many people have experienced a vast array of problems, bugs and glitches along the way. Thankfully, I am not one of them and have only experienced a few minor bugs myself. I guess I was one of the lucky ones. Cyrus at iBasso and I seem to get along really nicely and I’ve had nothing but positive experiences with the company. Due in part to making an impression upon them, I was able to snatch a DX50 early on before Batch 1 was made available to the public. I received mine just after Batch 1 was released for order and have experienced the player from the stock v1.0 firmware, all the way up to the current third firmware release titled v1.2. The Stock v1.0 firmware in Batch 1 was so buggy that I refused to use it after the first day, instead waiting for the next firmware update about a week later. Load times were excessive, constant freezing and a host of other issues that made the DX50 almost totally unusable.
Many people experienced excessive system crashes, freezes, connectivity issues and volume related problems. I personally experienced severe connectivity issues up until the latest v1.2 firmware release, forced to factory reset the player each and every time I wanted to add music to the internal drive or update the firmware. Once the DX50 was removed from my computer, it would not re-recognize again until the Factory Reset was performed. Daunting, to say the least. I’ve experienced only one serious system crash that forced me to pull the user replaceable battery out of the back side of the unit. Beyond that, I’ve experienced only a handful of random freezes that only lasted a few seconds to a few minutes.
I am extremely giddy over the idea that iBasso seems to care about these problems and is addressing them piece by piece with these firmware updates, but 3 firmware updates in less than a month should be a warning sign to the company that they did something wrong, rushed it and got too excited. Some companies tend to get overexcited at the idea of a multi-hundred page thread on the internet about their product even before it is ever heard by human ears. Take your time with it, make it right, do it right and put your finalized product out with a functional firmware and UI. Unfortunately, iBasso did not follow this formula and instead opted to push their product out before any trials were completed. Thankfully, the very first firmware update fixed a ton of issues and made the player usable, but still very unstable. 2 updates later, it still has some issues that need to be worked out but are only minor gripes to my ears. The Playlist function needs to be fixed immediately.
Originally and on all pre-v1.2 firmware, the Add to a Playlist function appeared when you were navigating the All Music, Artist or Album directories. Once inside, you are forced to touch a very small album art icon next to the track name of any given song. Upon touching that area, a new menu would appear with the option to Delete the track or add it to a Playlist. If you improperly touched that tiny album art icon, it would enable the song to play in the Now Playing window from where there is no way to add that song to a Playlist. Firmware v1.2 finally brought the Playlist directory when previously where was no menu to enter to view your tracks or Playlists in the first place. Currently and thankfully we can now add tracks to the Playlist in the aforementioned navigation directories, however they are all still completely useless. Whoever coded this software, as it seems to be with every single Hi-Fi Dap on the market, tends to leave the Playlist / Favoriting function completely broken, impaired, missing or even unusable. My advice to iBasso is to get on this quick and enable the larger Album Art inside the Currently Playing track window to open the Add to a Playlist menu. What is up with this broken Playlist function in most Audiophile music players, it is as if the very same engineer was hired by each company to code that area of the UI.
Hey, remember a while back in this review when I said the sonic quality was stellar? The DX50′s internal Dac is the very same WM8740 24bit ( lol ) audio sampling rate chip inside the equally great iBasso D42 Mamba revision. I had no doubt early on that this new music player would sound fantastic based on that specification detail. I wasn’t alone, a 100+ page thread appeared on the popular Audiophile internet forums months before the product was even released. Simply put, the WM8740 is highly regarded in the audio community and anyone who has ever heard it was well aware of what it is capable of. On a side note, the Fiio X3 shares the same chip yet sounds noticeably inferior to my ears than the DX50. Whatever other components are inside of this DX50, they are of a very high standard and work together wonderfully.
The stereo imaging on this little thing is fantastic and rivals the famous Hisoundaudio Studio V in many ways. While it doesn’t have the angelic stereo sound-stage depth the V is known for, it does however crush it in width and height, immersion and separation qualities. Nobody expected the DX50 to sound this open and spacious. Astell and Kern, are you paying attention?
The low end quality and quantity of this product is good and more than acceptable for the price. The major downfall here is that the DX50′s customized EQ functions are basically useless and offer very little bass enhancement. You can crank that baby up to 88 miles per hour and not hear a lick of difference in the bass department over a flat neutral setting. The entire EQ area acts like a radiation zone. Nothing works right and it is a place that you don’t want to revisit after the first test or trial run. Summed up, the EQ area is almost totally non responsive. The flat neutral setting is the best. Stick with it, as the DX50 is simply not capable of pushing even nearly as much quantity on the low end as something like a Cowon J3. Don’t let this downfall bother you though, the stock bass output on the DX50 is still good, but if you are a bass head and don’t plan to run the DX50 through an amplifier, I would certainly avoid this product.
The experience has drastically evolved after each firmware update. On the stock 1.0 platform, the DX50 sounded lean on the bass, but snappy as well. Upon the first firmware update, the bass changed texture and became more broad and solid, clearly with an additional weightiness as well. Running on the current v1.2, the bass was again changed to yet more smooth, more solid and noticeably less snappy. This is a good thing that improved on an already good thing to begin with. All the changes were positive in my opinion, yet that EQ remained useless throughout each rendition of the firmware.
As a reviewer, I am positively puzzled beyond imagining as to how to review the mid range of this Dap. When the unit arrived on the stock 1.0 firmware, the mid-range was extremely forward, tall and airy. Almost muffled were my first impressions with regard to clarity. Once again, similar to the bass experience evolution, the mids also evolved into a more relaxed, clear and solid feeling experience. I personally enjoy a forward mid experience, I like my vocals up close and personal. With the latest v1.2 firmware, the mids are noticeably more pushed back and in turn the stereo image seems shorter and wider than before. I am a bit saddened by this.
Now, despite all that, the overall clarity is excellent. The player remains quiet for most of my headphones and iems even on High Gain output. With High Gain active, the upper mid-range takes a nose dive in clarity and smoothness and turns into something a bit more snappy and a bit shaky. This is a common issue with High Gain modes on most amplifiers and music players that use a similar feature. Via my JH16 custom iems, the Low Gain setting is very quiet and smooth. I dare not increase the voltage output into the Medium or High Gain mode, as the DX50 on High Gain is powerful enough to drive my Audeze LCD3 and MrSpeakers Mad Dog Planar Magnetic headphones. Medium gain seems to be the most common switch I stick to, as it is almost equally quiet as the Low Gain but has the benefit of the higher output, however it is also not as shaky in the mids as High Gain seems to output with my LCD3 and Mad Dog. The switch from Low to Medium renders slightly more mid bloom in the vocals, making the artist seem a bit closer to you. Stick to Medium gain mode with a higher volume number instead of High Gain mode with a lower volume number. Seems to work out the best for overall clarity to driving power ratio.
Jamie Foxx’s – Why off his album titled Intuition is a highly engaging vocal experience in the mid range as well as the low end. This is one of my go to albums for testing ever since it was released back in 2008. It offers a wide variety of low end bass texturing and quantities and mirrors that variety into its mid range experiences. Jamie is an excellent vocalist and I enjoy his music very much. The DX50s more forward than relaxed mid range is accentuated and reflected backward by most tracks off this album. They work very well together, as will any tracks that are not overly forward or too distant in the mid experience. Exceptional clarity for the price of $239. Beautiful, potent, buttery smooth and very satisfying.
Throughout each firmware update, I’d never found the upper regions to be a nuisance. Quality seemed to gently increase after each firmware upgrade and I shrug my shoulders at the overall upper region experience. While the Highs are not particularly amazing like the Hifiman HM-901 or the AK120 ( both of which are over 5x the price of the DX50 ) they are pretty much the same as the other major players in the price tier like the Fiio X3 and the HM-602. Both of which had a brighter than normal upper range with some sparkle and bite factor. It could be deemed overly snappy and forceful at times if your source track is more sibilant than flat. I wouldn’t call the DX50 forgiving or smooth on the upper end, but I am on the fence about calling it aggressive. Despite getting stuck on that barbed wire gate, the Highs are still fairly clear despite being a bit potent.
The DX50 is clearly going to be an ongoing endeavor. This product is built on an Android platform, so expect Rockboxing to come along sometime in the future. Who knows how many more firmware updates will be needed to finalize the DX50 into a complete product, free of bugs and void of all quirky glitches and stress. I never expected this player to be half as great in sonic quality as it is, yet one that gives me the option of future large media storage expansion with the OTG input option via an external hard drive. USB Thumb drives increase in size much faster than MicroSD cards, right now you can land a 128gb USB Thummy for under $100, with proper driving power via a wall outlet, any compatible external drive should be fine. For the time being, we are all stuck with 64gb MicroSD cards and the internal 6GB or so hard drive space of the DX50. Dropping an extra Thumb drive capacity into the mix is mind blowingly awesome and a very appreciated function. This will be great for those who attend meets and wish to have a large storage device and enjoy showing off their gear to others. Being stuck with a small amount of music is never a good thing.
At the end of the day, I found the DX50 to perform remarkably well. Despite the bugs in the system, the UI is slick, beautiful and simplistic. I rather enjoy it and the thought of a potential Rockbox UI swap in the future makes me overly excited. I will be recommending the player and ignoring the current list of system glitches, they are lessening with time and improving with each firmware update. A few more is needed to make the system perfect though. With great build quality, a nice LCD screen and a simplistic, pocket friendly power house design, the DX50 scores high clarity marks across the board. It is sleek, potent, wallet friendly and one of the best looking portable players I’ve ever seen. Highest overall audio quality to price ratio in the current portable music player world, no doubt about it. 9.5/10 for sound quality to price performance on the current firmware…was still a 9/10 in the dreadful v1.0 original firmware!
Current v1.2 firmware experience – 6.5/10
Original v1.0 firmware experience – 0.5 /10