Pros: Good size and design comparing to other "audiophile" players.
Cons: Poor sound quality, poor firmware.
Not so long time ago I bought IBasso DX90, now I feel necessary to review it for other people not to repeat my mistakes.
A Little Background.
I’m 23, during my teenage portable electronic devices were actively evolving. I remember my first IPod Nano with a lot of memory (it was 1Gb). For me it was really cool to listen to music outdoors with that much comfort. Then first cell phones with 3.5mm jack were appearing, evolving, offering more memory, more comfort. I was changing IPod to another IPod, another IPod to phone with audio jack, then to better one. But also i was changing IEMs from cheeper ones to more and more expensive. At some point I came to buying quite expensive earphones and for me it wasn’t enough anymore. I wanted better audio quality, so I decided to buy Hi-Fi DAP. I read a lot of reviews, was doubting between options, but, finally, I read about new model of IBasso with pretty serious hardware and good vendor reputation. I read first extremely positive feedbacks and pulled the trigger with DX90.
Build quality is good, device is solid. DAP itself is not large and can easily feat jeans pockets. Design is universal, I like it far more than other «audiophile» DAPs.
It’s not that much good. Menu is very simple and easy to use. But sometimes it’s too uninformative and uncomfortable.
Just to give you an example:
1. Some buttons on the screen are hard to tap because they are too small.
2. When I start playback and see playback screen (with song name, progress, cover) there is no way to know what is the number of current song in playlist/album and overall number of songs.
3. When I plug DX90 to my PC for battery charge there is no way to know charging progress, UI simply shows that my player is connected somewhere via USB.
Actually, there are big amount of issues with UI, some of them are quite significant, but I won’t criticize IBasso for that because when I was paying $400 for DX90 I knew what I’m going for. Main point that drove me to buy this DAP was sound quality, otherwise I’d go for some another IPod.
But DX90 has also some critical bugs that make using player really uncomfortable, hope IBasso won’t be too lazy to fix it. In general UI responses quite OK, touchscreen scrolling speed is acceptable.
Sound, Part 1.
This is was that all was about. I was ready to carry separate device, risk to loose it, synchronize music in not the most convenient way, live with all this poor software and short battery life. It was all about sound.
My current IEMs are Astrotec AX60. Most of the time I was listening DX90 with them. Also I had long auditions with Sennheiser IE800 and Sennheiser HD25-2 (80 Ohm version). Briefly I was listening DX90 with German Maestro GMP400 and Vsonic Gr07. Neither of this headphones gave significantly different sound from DX90 comparing to my Macbook Pro.
So I brought DX90 home, copied my most favorite music there, turn on and… hear nothing special! It was absolutely ordinary sound that may be produced by any smartphone or IPod. I was a bit messed, but decided not to panic but to play around with it. I tried different headphones (my IEMs, another IEMs, big headphones, high/low impedance headphones), amplifier gain settings, but still nothing. I tried DX90 to play different formats: MP3, AAC (m4a with 256 kbps), ALAC (m4a with 600+ kbps), FLAC, APE, 24 bit recordings, but still nothing.
Then read IBasso claims about DX90 needs 400 hours of burn-in. Of course all this «burn-in»’s are lies but player is already bought, money are paid. I had no good sound and definitely nothing to loose, why not to try it? So I tried. I was charging it and leaving to play music (mostly overnight) with burn-in cable, then trying to make short listening sessions between cycles to find some positive shifts. Now I have about 40 hours of burn-in, but still nothing. At this point I’m coming to conclusion this is final sound of IBasso DX90 and I’m ready to describe it.
Sound, Part 2.
I’ve never heard Fiio X5 or Hifiman 802/901 or other audiophile players, so I will compare DX90 to Sandisk Sansa Clip, recent smartphones, and my Macbook Pro 2011. First thing I’d like to mention: IBasso DX90 is NOT Hi-Fi player. I know it because I have some background in desktop DAC’s and amp’s and I know what real High-Fidelity sound is.
DX90 produces neutral sound, it has no coloring.
Bass is present but neither boosted nor suppressed. It is not deep and doesn’t have good attack or impact. Sansa Clip, iPhone or IPod Touch have very similar bass.
Also neither forwarded nor recessed and also very similar to Sansa Clip or Apple products. Music is flat, sounds have no third dimension, details level is low. I can’t hear with DX90 details that I don’t hear with my laptop or Sansa Clip. Sometimes I feel some details more audible comparing to Macbook, but after intensive comparison I understood: it’s not about higher resolution, it’s just about slightly different sound signature. Some details sound lauder (and getting more audible) on DX90, some details, due to different signature, are lauder on my Macbook.
DX90 has really sharp treble. For me it’s a double problem because I have IEMs with sharp treble as well. I tried to pair DX90 with headphones without emphasis on highs, but treble is still harsh on high volumes. Usually it wasn’t problem for me all because all normal players have equalizer. When I feel some specific headphones or recordings too harsh I just suppress highs for a few DBs and things are getting right.
IBasso doesn’t have the equalizer, there is salvation from harsh sound. The only thing you can do is to pair it with headphones with suppressed highs or to listen music on low volume levels.
This parameter is usually more headphone-driven rather than source-driven, but, anyway, DX90 hadn’t widen soundstage for a tiny bit comparing to Macbook. With my own IEMs I get all sound inside my head playing in one single mess with a very few space between sounds/instruments. This «soundstage» stretches from ear to ear, some particular sounds on particular recordings are getting positioned slightly beyond ears. Absolutely the same results I have with my Macbook.
Overall impressions about sound:
Player doesn’t perform main thing it was designed for and people are buying it for: it doesn’t play music better than ordinary gadgets. Furthermore, if i would slightly adjust equalizer on my Macbook (sharp up highs a little), DX90 and Macbook would became totally indistinguishable. If to talk about my own personal preferences, I prefer gadget like HTC One over DX90. It has more soft sound that feels more volumetric.
Comparing DX90 to desktop Hi-Fi DACs&Amps is irrelevant. True Hi-Fi sounds like music flows from somewhere under big pressure, like it’s has a lot of power and is very massive. Also on good Hi-Fi I have the illusion like music is not getting emitted from headphones, it is levitating around my head, creates stereo panorama. Music itself is very tight, feels like there’s more music in music. Listening it for a first time is like a magic. IBasso DX90 not just doing all this things not good enough, it’s not doing it at all!
Overall impressions about player.
They are so: IBasso DX90 is weird. Hi-Fi DAP without audio settings and equalizer is weird, doesn’t it? Furthermore, DX90 is Hi-Fi DAP without audio settings, and equalizer, AND SUDDENLY HI-FI SOUND!
Turning back to equalizer, this is equalizer:
This is not the equalizer this is SHAME:
Audio playback in DX90 is also weird. Back, forward, and Play/Pause buttons have 2 seconds delay. It means software player has 2 seconds buffer. I have no idea why it was done that way, it doesn’t improve sound quality somehow, but delivers read discomfort while use.
Those built-in «equalizer» is also weird. Beside the fact you’d have no ability to adjust sound with it, turning it on makes sound quieter. I thought it was done for those who are going to increase volumes in eq. bands, it would lead to sound quality reduce. But no, when i turned all bands up, sound quality was reduced on quieter sound as well.
Also another interesting fact: you may have problems when listening music outdoors with DX90 in pocket. When I tried to do so, sound in both ears (sometimes one) was getting disappeared rather often (1 time per 15-30 seconds) and returned back. My first thought was I broke my IEM’s cord, but no, this is DAP issue. Also sound wasn’t disappearing/appearing-back instantly, it was smooth. However I never get this problem at home even when I’m shaking player in my hand. Also I never get this problem using another IEMs.
My assumption of a problem: I have 12 Ohms IEMs, player while being carried in pocket under some stress on audio jack «feels» too few resistance and «thinks» there is no headphone plugged in. So it cuts off audio jack electrical current supply for 1-2 seconds. But its only assumption, I may be wrong. However I never experienced this issue with 16 Ohms IEMs, maybe because of higher impedance, maybe because those IEMs have L-shaped jack that makes less physical stress on DAP’s audio output.
When IBasso DX90 may be really useful.
DX90 has very narrow use. It has more powerful amp comparing to other DAPs, so if you lack volume level on your smartphone or IPod, IBasso DX90 may be the option for you. But I barely can imagine such case, because smartphones usually have enough power.
Why I wrote this review.
IBasso DX90 has obsolete CPU and display, poor firmware, nothing really expensive. Additionally IBasso were forced to install rather expensive audio chip, because of marketing, otherwise they wouldn’t sell it. All such devices usually supported by creating panicle euphoria on forums with target audience.
Later, a lot of people are writing reviews with the same fancy words: «black background», «soundstage», «intimate vocals», «price winner» and so on. (By the way, all devices are getting reviewed by the same people, and that’s probably what they do living.)
In result devices with cheap components and $440 price from no-name vendors (IBasso doesn’t spent money on advertising, marketing, research, maintaining stores around the world like big companies do) have complete sold-out of first parts on preorder stage.
It’s not just about IBasso made bad device. I don’t think the situation would dramatically change if I’d buy Fiio X5 instead of DX90. But anyway, I bought DX90, so I’m reviewing it and do think IBasso don’t deserve to earn money on this device.
I wrote this review for people like me. I can’t say there is no portable devices with really high sound quality. To claim it I need to listen to all «Hi-Fi» DAPs, but I listened only DX90. However, I would recommend you to save your money. You wan’t to have a good sound? Buy yourself desktop DAC+AMP. For the price of HiFiMan 901 you can buy really good combine. Outdoors just enjoy your music from your smartphone.
I have no permission to comment my own review (or I just don’t see «comment» button), so I update the review itself.
I will probably surprise a lot of you: I’m not going to conquer the World with my outstanding reviews. Also I’m not native English speaker, my English is far from being perfect, so my text may be, somewhat, hard to read. Well, I’m sorry that.
I’m not professional but I write what I think(hear), nobody pays me money for that, so I think my review has value. I bought DX90 and felt huge dissonance between what I read about it and what I hear from it. That’s why I wrote this review. Or you think if I registered few days ago, I’m not pureblood enough to write user reviews? If you have advises how to improve it, write something in more details - it’s alway welcome. But what arguments you expect me to provide? I say: there is no soundstage. What arguments can be here? You believe me or don’t believe me, but what arguments? You expect me to come to you house and organize you blind comparison DX90 vs. Macbook Pro or what?
I already mentioned headphones I was listening DX90 with. I should’ve done it at the the very beginning. I’m sorry for that too.