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Review: iBasso T2

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
Intro

The iBasso T2 caught me at a great point in time while I was transitioning towards adding a DAP to my audio system. This amp came to me as a review sample directly from iBasso Audio some time ago. It was on the backburner for a while as I had to attend to other more-pressing reviews first, but finally I was able to sit down and spend some time with it recently. The amp is certainly an impressive piece, not just because of its looks, but its price of $109 is eye-catching too. Of course I had to find out how good this piece is for that price, and if it could compete with some higher-end amps, so up it went against the Practical Devices XM4 (which was a review sample acquired via StereoMojo), the Go-Vibe V6 w/ AD8620, RSA Hornet M, and Xenos 1HA-EPC.

Thanks to iBasso Audio for the loaner of this unit.

Equipment Used
Sources: Arcam FMJ CD33, iAudio X5 via line-out (FLAC & 320 kb/s MP3)
Comparison Amps: Practical Devices XM4, Go-Vibe V6 w/ AD8620, RSA Emmeline The Hornet "M", Xenos 1HA-EPC
Headphones: AKG K701; Audio-Technica ATH-AD2000, ATH-ES7, & ATH-CK7; Grado SR325i; Sennheiser HD650
Interconnects: Signal Cable SilverMini on CD33, generic-grade 8" mini-mini on X5

The amp was subjected to ~200 hours of burn-in before any listening started.

Listening CDs
Alison Krauss - Lonely Runs Both Ways
Jewel - Spirit
KT Tunstall - Eye To The Telescope
Massive Attack - Mezzanine
Neotropic - Mr. Brubaker's Strawberry Alarm Clock
Orbital - The Altogether
Radiohead - OK Computer
The Crystal Method - Tweekend
Thievery Corporation - Richest Man in Babylon

Pics
(click for larger versions)






Features

The T2 is surprisingly feature-packed for something so small - it has two headphone jacks, along with a "Wide Sound Stage" switch, a Bass Enhancement switch, and a gain switch that triples the gain (or reduces it by a factor of 3, depending on how you look at it). Its internal lithium-ion battery also runs for quite a while and ran for over 24 hours with the load of the K701 (didn't do an official test though so I can't provide a more specific number). The battery can be recharged via either an AC adapter (supplied) or an available USB port on your computer.

In actuality, these features are both hits and misses. First, the dual headphone jacks aren't designed for full-size headphones for obvious reasons and are primarily made to work with headphones that are naturally terminated to 3.5mm mini-plugs. While you can use a 3.5mm-terminated headphone with a 1/4"-terminated headphone (using a 1/4"-3.5mm adapter), you can't use two 1/4"-terminated headphones - it just won't work because there's not enough space between the headphone jacks.

The Wide Sound Stage ("WSS" for short) switch has an effect that can be subtle or obvious, depending on the headphone - but in the instances of the headphones I tried it with (listed above), it was mostly a pleasant change and didn't sound terrible. It mostly just adds concert-hall-like acoustics, with a convincing sense of projection, with the difference like going from a large closed room to an auditorium.

The Bass Enhancement switch increases bass quantity by a much less margin than the similar Bass Boost option on the XM4. Whereas the XM4 can literally create thump where there's barely any, the T2 sounds like it's doing barely anything in comparison. If we take the input bass as 100%, the T2 increases it to something like ~115%, while the XM4 increases it to something more like 175%, so there's an instantly noticeable difference between the two.

Finally, the gain switch ends up being a very essential feature, primarily due to the default gain - it's way too high for any efficient low-impedance headphones. Don't even try using the default gain setting with 40 Ohm or less headphones - your hearing will go before the headphones of course, but the amp can push way more volume than any <60 Ohm headphone ever needs, and the default gain does nothing to help that. Switch the gain over though, and it decreases by a factor of 3, finally making things useful for <60 Ohm headphones. It's still higher than what it should be though, as it's extremely hard to get a comfortable volume, and it was very frustrating on the Grado and all three ATs. The slippy volume knob doesn't help either, as it's easy to unintentionally slide it in either direction, which makes possible sudden volume bursts - NOT a good thing on lower-impedance headphones, especially sensitive IEMs, so caution is advised when using this amp with IEMs especially. Needless to say, the T2 ends up better paired with full-size, high-impedance headphones for this reason - it easily swings plenty of voltage for them to get loud.

Physical Aspects

The T2 has to be the slimmest portable amp in the world, at approximately 1/4" thick. Its diminutive body is also highly pocketable, making it one of the few amps that you can truly travel anywhere with, no matter where you go. Its dimensions are close to the iPod Nano - paired with that DAP, a truly hand-held rig would be achieved.

However, just because the T2 is ultra-compact doesn't mean its ultra-compactness is a good thing. Because it's ultra-compact some usability suffers as a result - it's hard to flip the switches without resorting to the use of a fingernail, the volume knob is prone to unintentional adjustment due to placement (and some slippiness), and the labeling for the switches is very small and can only be seen up-close.

Finally, the amp's aluminum body doesn't automatically mean it's rugged enough for travel - because it isn't. It's good that the package includes a leatherette carrying bag, because the faceplate and the backside are very prone to scratches. The leatherette bag is essential if you plan on taking the amp with you. Oh and not only is the amp prone to scratches, it's also very prone to fingerprints - WAY too prone to fingerprints. It's a shame that such a nice-looking piano-black faceplate is so easy to get smudges on - some more foresight on iBasso's part would have helped this problem.

Soundstage

The T2 doesn't throw much of a soundstage, and in fact comes across as downright compressed compared to the amps it was up against. Noticeably flat, and not open or 3D, with a presentation that sounds like it's throwing itself at you more than anything else. Decent width though, at least in comparison to the Go-Vibe V6 which has a very narrow, tunnel-like soundstage - good width span with some good channel separation too.

There's also a loss of ambient air that sucks the image depth out.

Transparency/Frequency Response

Sonically, I found the T2 to be a disappointment, for its price and its segment, and even as a portable amp.

First of all, its treble just isn't refined and quick. There's a lack of speed on it, as it lags behind extremely fast sounds and can't completely capture them. It weakens as it approaches the very top too, so there is some roll-off, up to and beyond the point at which decimation occurs (14-17 kHz). This recession overall just makes the amp sound unrefined and incapable of providing true detail.

The amp's mid-range disappoints too, as more than anything it simply sounds cloudy and masked, as if it's all a hazy, soupy mix rather than a focused and concentrated one. The layers and elements just don't come together in a convincing image, and in fact come across as completely uncontrolled - they collide into each other with consistency, so it's hard to localize any given instrument, as the sounds just shift around way too much. Indeed, shifty may be an apt word to describe the mid-range - there's a constant struggle towards layer separation, as it's simply never achieved. Consistently messy-sounding, with the literal sound of everything everywhere. And to add to this lack of separation, there's also a chunk that's seems sliced out of the lower mids, as there's a distinct loss in body and fullness, that takes away from the presence of both vocals and instruments.

And the bass isn't all good either. It does go relatively deep, so it has that going for it, but there's a distinct lack of power and force. It's also largely undefined with a very generic tonality, and doesn't provide much in the way of texture - bass instrument palettes are largely missed on it, like those from kick drums, kettle drums, timpani, acoustic bass, etc. And to add further to all of this, the bass also has a "loose" tendency, as the amp consistently loses control over it - impacts sound like they're the result of a loose hand and jump out with a perturbing sense of being unplanned.

And going beyond the specifics of frequency response, there's also a loss of dynamics - the amp doesn't exactly swing between loud and soft very well, and instead has the sound of a volume preset on moderate. Subtle, low-key moments don't contrast with loud bursts, they have an unnatural volume similarity instead.

Conclusion

Despite an attractive price tag of $109, I really find it hard to recommend the iBasso T2. The sonics don't impress on any level, and its form factor and other physical aspects make it hard to operate. It's too slim - something a little bigger with more intuitive controls would help out immensely. Add that it's easy to scratch and scuff up with fingerprints, and I honestly don't understand why iBasso Audio chose to go this way. Something this nice-looking is so easily turned into something that can quickly no longer look nice.
post #2 of 9
Although I only had a T1 for short period of time I had the same issues with it. It was a pain to operate and sonically disappointing.
Thanks for the honest and detailed review.
post #3 of 9
Well done review, ASR. Your findings are quite similar to mine. I agree that the T2 was disappointing sonically, especially given how good I feel the less expensive iBasso P1 is. Perhaps that small package just doesn't allow for great sound.
post #4 of 9
A very nice review, gives me some things to think about.

You say that the T2 is loud; how well would it pair with a set of Shure E500's, which are themselves said to be naturally loud? I've seen some folks with this combination in their sigs, so I guess it isn't completely unbearable.
post #5 of 9
And that is why I no longer own the T2
post #6 of 9
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MaillerPhong View Post
You say that the T2 is loud; how well would it pair with a set of Shure E500's, which are themselves said to be naturally loud? I've seen some folks with this combination in their sigs, so I guess it isn't completely unbearable.
You'd need to use it with a DAP for starters, since DAPs have weaker line-out signals. It could work I guess, but it'd be frustrating. I wouldn't recommend it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by stuff View Post
Thanks for the accurate review Asr. Now it would be great if you could get your hands on some C&C amp to review for us.
Sure, if you buy it for me.
post #7 of 9
Quote:
Originally Posted by stuff View Post
Perhaps you could've bought yourself a BOX+ rather than this disappointing T2 in the first place.
It's obvious you did not even read the first sentences of the thread.
post #8 of 9
Quote:
Originally Posted by Asr View Post
You'd need to use it with a DAP for starters, since DAPs have weaker line-out signals. It could work I guess, but it'd be frustrating. I wouldn't recommend it.
I would be using it with an Archos 504, which is able to drive Ety ER6i's quite well. I'd largely be using the amp to remove the signal hiss, as well as to improve the overall audio quality.

The Archos is bulky enough that I wouldn't want to add more mass from an amp, so the T2 is definitely attractive from that standpoint.
post #9 of 9
I kinda like the T2 with my CK7. It isn't great for the treble but I think it improves the bass presence and impact. It also looks nice with my Meizu... and that's what's important.

Has anyone tried it with an ER4-S. I am considering getting a P -> S adapter but I really don't feel that the T2 adds any sonic benefits to the ER4-P so I am hesitant.
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