Originally Posted by theosteopath
My first review for Head-Fi:
After several failed attempts to contact iBasso to locate my tracking information, I was very pleased to receive a DX90 before traveling this week.
I've been excited to listen to and review the new iBasso since it was announced last year. I was very interested to compare it to the new Fiio X5, which one of my associates received this past week. Both of these players had the potential to take reasonably affordable high resolution DAPs to the next level.
A little background: I've been an audiophile for most of my 46 years, with a home system built around a pair of large Quad electrostatic speakers. I listen primarily to jazz and pop, and value equipment which provides real intimacy and insight into recordings. I began taking headphone listening more seriously when I had my first child thirteen years ago, when late night listening sessions became a problem.
I've listened to many headphone/amp combinations over the years, and have settled on two headphones which satisfy enough of my critical criteria to turn auditions into actual purchases. My headphones needed to meet my critical listening needs with regards to imaging, soundstage, resolution, and low level inner detail- but for my needs I require closed back headphones as 1) I don't feel right keeping my wife awake all night when I listen in bed and 2) I do a lot of writing in public places so noise leaking in both directions would significantly diminish my listening enjoyment, and probably annoy those around me. I know that closed back cans bring a few compromises, so I've settled on the two sets of headphones which give me the most bang for my buck, and the least amount of perceived compromises. My first set is a custom set of Westone 3 armature IEMs made for me by an audiologist friend of mine. The second set are the controversial Beyerdynamic T5p's- which I will discuss further in a minute.
My most recent playback rig included an iPad loaded with AmpliFLAC connected to a Fostex HP-P1- a combination itself a compromise as FLAC files played back on an iPad, while better than any other file format you can play on the device, were all digitally 'dumbed down' by the digital output of the lightning connector. That being said, it was the most convenient high end option for the iPad, and has given me tremendous enjoyment for the past two years.
I am happy to report that I feel very good about replacing the HP-P1 with the iBasso DX90.
Some listening observations I've made over the past several days, with some comparisons to the X5 for good measure.
Bass: The DX90 has very well defined bass, with just enough punch to not be overwhelming. It's ability to reproduce complex baselines without getting bogged down and congested is reminiscent of much, much more expensive digital gear. There is good separation between notes played on the double bass and the sound of a kick drum- which are often muddied together on inferior gear. Very impressive.
Midrange: The midrange has good resolution, without the artificial boost so many devices rely on in an effort to make them sound more lively. The best word I can use to describe the midrange is 'neutral'. Vocals come through with natural timber, and on better recordings you can hear a richness missing in many DAPs. Ella Fitzgerald's take on 'Signing Off' from her album 'Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie!' has never sounded better to my ears on any portable device. By comparison the X5 has a more 'in your face' midrange presentation, which while more exciting at first listen, can become fatiguing over extended sessions. Through the X5, vocals can sound glarey and over pronounced- which some people find preferable- but it's not natural.
Treble: This is the one area where the DX90 truly excels. The treble is extended without being harsh. The decay of cymbals is natural and clear. The attack of plucked guitar strings and and drums/cymbals sounds as it should- fast and well resolved . Interestingly, this is one area where the DX90 and X5 sound remarkably similar.
The areas where this player really stand out are in the areas of resolution of inner detail and soundstage- which typically go hand in hand. The DX90 punches way out of its class, and bests even the far more expensive AK120in this area.
Earlier I mentioned the Beyerdynamic T5p's- one of the things which make them controversial is that they sound very differently with different rigs, and some amplifiers make them almost unlistenable. With the DX90 they sound glorious- having almost the clarity, resolution, and dynamics of the Beyerdynamic T1- itself a reference level product. This is an incredible match, negating any need for a external amplifier, and making my portable rig all the more portable. As for the Westones- this player is optimally suited for IEMs- the DX90 having sufficient power to drive them to dangerous volume levels.
All in all, the new iBasso is a remarkable player- besting several devices much more expensive than itself. I like it much more than the X5 (I preordered both- so the X5 will be going back.) In some ways, it beats iBasso's more expensive brother, the DX100-sacrificing a little maximum power output for better low level detail and 'blacker' background. I've never heard the previous DX50- but by all accounts, the 90 is far superior.
Much like the OPPO 105 player (which actually has a very similar sonic signature to this portable player which makes some sense when you understand the basic design principles behind both of them), the DX90 should be regarded as an incredible bargain- offering a real taste of high end sound for a little more money than an iPod.
Now who wants to buy my HP-P1??