iBasso AMP8 MK2

HansBarbarossa

100+ Head-Fier
iBasso AMP8 MK2: push to the limit
Pros: Sound, the possibility of prompt replacement for another amplifying module, the price.
Cons: No
Hi friends!

In spite of everything, we continue to sow the reasonable, kind and eternal, namely, to talk about the beautiful sound. And in this we will be helped today by another creation from a brand beloved by many from the Celestial Empire, iBasso Audio.

Towards the very end of last year, we got acquainted with the wonderful DX240 DAP, released for the 15th anniversary of the company. And now iBasso has prepared a new gift for its fans, presenting an updated version of its, perhaps, the most popular replacement amplifier AMP8, designed for the DX240.
And if for some reason you are not yet familiar with the AMP series from iBasso, then let me introduce it: this is a line of interchangeable amp modules that allow you to upgrade your audio player yourself.

In short, the AMP8 MK2 is a brilliantly executed attempt to take even more out of a very good DAP!
I will talk about the sound of the AMP8 MK2 for a long time and admiringly in the review itself, and now I will note that the engineers were able to implement two audio outputs in the module at once, which allows us to put an end to the almost Shakespearean question “Balance or not balance”.

And now the screwdrivers for battle, we proceed directly to the acquaintance with the AMP8 MK2.



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Text: Alexey Kashirskey (aka Hans Barbarossa)



Specifications

Audio player compatibility: iBasso DX240
Headphone outputs: 4.4 mm, balanced (Pentaconn); 3.5mm stereo.
Output 4.4mm (balance):
Max output level: 6.2Vrms
Output power: 980mW @ 32Ω
128mW @ 300Ω
Frequency response: 10Hz - 45kHz (±0.3dB)
SNR: 125dB
Dynamic range: 125dB
THD+N: -114dB @ no load
-113dB @ 300Ω
-101dB @ 32Ω
Crosstalk: -122dB
Output impedance: 0.55Ω

3.5mm stereo headphone output:
Max output level: 3.1Vrms
Output power: 281mW @ 32Ω
32mW @ 300Ω
Frequency response: 10Hz - 45kHz (±0.3dB)
SNR: 122dB
Dynamic range: 122dB
THD+N: -110dB @ no load
-109dB @ 300Ω
-98dB @ 32Ω
Crosstalk: -117dB
Output impedance: 0.32Ω



Appearance and kit

The AMP8 MK2 comes in a minimalist black cardboard box, wrapped in white ribbon with the brand's logo printed on it. Such aristocratic restraint looks extremely impressive!

Inside, in addition to the amplifier itself, there is a screwdriver that will come in handy soon, a couple of spare screws, installation instructions and a warranty card.


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The amp module was made in nude-style: the board is completely open to our eager eyes. On the one hand, we see a docking connector, on the other, there is an external panel with two headphone outputs: a balanced (4.4 mm Pentaconn) and a classic mini-jack (3.5 mm).

Before installing it in the player, it is impossible not to admire the black textolite and the circuitry of the device: small parts, microcircuits and capacitors. You don't have to be a radio amateur to see at what highest level the board is made.


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The AMP8 MK2 is a fully discrete circuit using low VCE transistors and ERO film capacitors. Among other things, the new amplifier impresses with its power ratings: output voltage of 3.1 V (3.5 mm) and 6.2 V (4.4 mm), at +/- 8 V and an output current of 2000 mA.

For the new module, you need to update the player software to firmware V1.02. You can download it yourself from the manufacturer's website, unpack the archive, upload it to the player (on a memory card or internal memory), and then enter the player's settings and select "local update". The second method is much easier: just connect to the iBasso Audio server and update via Wi-Fi.


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Amplifier replacement is quick and easy. You need to turn off the DAP, unscrew the two screws located at the edges of the module, and pull the plug-in board towards you by prying it with something like a guitar pick, or inserting your headphone connector into the jack, and also gently pull towards you. After removing, I recommend that the unused amp module be carefully folded into a box so as not to inadvertently damage the board.


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Then we carry out all the simple manipulations from the first part of the operation in reverse order. We take our AMP8 MK2 and join it, inserting it into the grooves and sliding it forward into place of its predecessor. Now we twist the two screws back with a screwdriver. Voila, you're done, you can turn on the DX240 and plug in your headphones. I suggest that you do so immediately.


Sound Impressions

I think, before starting to analyze the sound of the new module, we need to dwell on the slightly changed “handwriting” of the DX240 after updating the firmware to version V1.02. This slight change mainly affected the high-frequency range (a small area in the region, approximately 1k). For example, the sound of the standard AMP1 MK3 amplifier has become a little more neutral. Otherwise, the “voice” of the device has not changed. And in general, perhaps this is only my subjective assessment, and others will not hear anything like that. But in any case, without the latest firmware, the correct operation of the new AMP8 MK2 is impossible.

For testing we used: Beyerdynamic DT 250 / 250 ohm, Vision Ears VE8, VE7, FIR Audio Xenon6, 64 Audio A12t, iBasso IT07 & FIR VxV (2.5mm jack/4.4mm adapter).

As always, I strongly recommend that you do not neglect the recommendations to "burn-in" a new amplifier module, since this simple procedure significantly affects the final sound picture. In my case, before writing a review, the device worked for about 90-100 hours.

I must say right away that no background noise and pickups were noticed. But noticeable increased power, dynamics and increased resolution, with better channel separation.
The DX240 + AMP8 MK2 handled both low-impedance sensitive IEM/CIEMs and high-impedance full-size headphones perfectly.


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From the very first minutes of listening, the DX240+AMP8 MK2 fascinates with increased dynamics, elaboration of plans, tonal balance and amazing musicality. This is a dynamic and massive layer of sound, in which a well-balanced manner, drive and sophisticated melody, embodied in a lively and organic form, harmoniously coexist.

Here you can guess the similarities with his older brother in the face of the DX220 MAX, although, of course, the “Mad Max” sounds even more mature and richer, drawing a more spreading stereo panorama with an extremely accurate display of sounds in space. But here it is important to clarify that I consider the DX220 MAX one of the best, and perhaps even the best DAP. And when by no means a flagship DAP, by replacing the amplifying module, approaches quite close to such a height - it's very cool! It is also appropriate to recall here that MAX with its separate power supply (analogue and digital parts) and two batteries can hardly be called a portable device, but here a DX240 device that fits in a pocket produces a about similar sound.


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With the new amplifier, the DX240 even more accurately builds sound sources in virtual space, delicately describing each instrument, naturally displaying every shade of the sound palette, whether it be voice vibration, pizzicato or sliding along the strings - everything is heard as clearly and reliably as possible.

I would characterize the sound of the DX240+AMP8 MK2 as well balanced, vigorous and extremely dynamic, with excellent processing of micro and macro nuances, good detail and extraordinary musicality.
Excellent speed characteristics, impressive impact density, fast attack and amazing dynamics, scrupulous display of string parts and vocals - this combination naturally makes you go crazy!

AMP8 MK2 lays out the sound palette more contrast, thicker, layer by layer, building a multi-level sound structure. Greater drive paired with light expression is achieved here due to small accents added at the edges of the frequency range and better dynamics. It is this small color, coupled with the increased resolution, that gives the overall sound a “masculine” character.

This is a cheerful, precise and at the same time beautiful manner of sound presentation. At the same time, the general style of the DX240 remains recognizable, becoming only more mature and energetic.


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Low frequencies are processed expressively, accurately, with a powerful, tight and perceptible impact and fast bass that does not encroach on the rest of the frequency range. The bass is agile, well structured and punchy. Lows have excellent texture transfer and energy, drawing the depth of the musical canvas and charging the listener with their incredible drive. Bass parts sound precise and honed, delicately outlining every sound nuance. Working out loud and quiet sounds, rise and fall, speed, attack, strike accuracy - everything is on top here.

Mids are even, smooth, natural, with a little bit of expression. Any sound here is endowed with its bodily shell. The presentation of the midrange register is both thick and detailed. Any vocal tremolo or instrumental passage is transmitted naturally and deeply, with drive and excellent transmission of the emotional part. Male and female vocal parts are displayed in relief, accurately and naturally. It is also worth noting the good detail and careful visualization of sound images in space.

Highs are reproduced clearly and harmoniously, in some places they go on a par with the entire frequency response, in some places they beautifully and unobtrusively seek to draw attention to themselves, giving the sound airiness and positive. This is a high-quality, comfortable and sweet-voiced manner of sounding. The register is transmitted cleanly, technically, accurately and in detail, without excessive sharpness and distortion. And the existing delicate accent in this part of the range gives the sound a contrast and a bit of expression, and, in any case, it never turns into a problem, but sounds like a chased and clean “spark” against the overall well-balanced background of the picture. I would call it a "taste" moment, which, with a probability of 99%, will be liked by everyone without exception.


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The DX240+AMP8 MK2 delivers a three-dimensional stereo panorama, harmoniously and proportionately arranging the virtual space both in width and depth. The overall musical canvas emerges as a whole, in contrast, with an accurate and natural transmission of sound timbres and a slight emotional coloring.

In terms of music genre preferences, the new amplifier module is ready for anything: it interestingly plays both classical music, instrumental, jazz, electronic, rock, and brutal genres. Like any good device, the DX240 + AMP8 MK2 can handle everything.


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Conclusion

The new AMP8 MK2 amplifier module turned out to be more than good (the main thing is not to forget its good “burn-in”), and the already stylish and modern DX240 DAP has become even more attractive with its main “asset” - sound!

iBasso Audio once again brilliantly proved that the audiophile "budget" sector is not at all a Procrustean bed where you have to give up something valuable for an affordable price tag, but a place to embody your skills and demonstrate them to a large audience.
In this case, just by replacing the AMP8 MK2 amplifier module, we got a significant boost in the sound of the DX240 audio player.

The suggested retail price for the AMP8 MK2 is $219 at the time of writing. If you already have a DX240 or are planning to buy one, then I strongly advise you to purchase this amp module, it will definitely impress you.

Ichos

Reviewer at hxosplus
The Timbre Master
Pros: + Organic and natural timbre
+ Analogue sounding
+ Holographic and layered
+ Powerful with extra headroom
+ Balanced and single ended outputs
+ Easy to install
Cons: - No dedicated line out
- Not as technical as the stock module
The review sample was kindly provided free of charge in exchange for my honest and subjective evaluation.
The AMP8 MK2 is priced at €190.83 ex.TAX and you can buy it using this non affiliate link.

Introduction

The AMP8 MK2 is a discrete amplifier module that can be installed in the DX240 digital audio player.
As you may already know the DX240 is a modular DAP from iBasso, a really portable digital player with excellent sound.
You can read everything about the DX240 in my in depth review.

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AMP8 MK2 - Discrete balanced amplifier module

According to iBasso, when using op amps to develop an amplifier, it is almost impossible to achieve high voltage output and high current output, especially, on a portable device.
Some engineers have used the famous TPA6120 on the buffer stage to achieve 750mA output current. However, it has 10Ω output impedance, which isn’t ideal for low impedance IEMs or headphones.

In order to overcome these issues, iBasso decided to use discrete components which are usually found on desktop amplifiers to develop the AMP8 MK2 but the development process was much more difficult when using discrete components.
The AMP8 MK2 card has both high voltage and high current output and at the same time maintains low output impedance with extremely good measurements.

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Main features

+/–8V high voltage swing.


This significantly improves dynamics
and headroom, resulting in a more accurate sound that is true to
the recording.
AMP8 MK2 is dedicated to the DX240 and features both a high
voltage and current output. High current output is very useful for
low impedance multi drivers in-ear monitors.

Low VCE transistors and ERO film capacitors

Low VCE transistors are utilized and are manually sorted and
paired, providing better consistency and linearity.
The low VCE also expands the linearity range.
The transistors used on the buffer stage have a 2000mA output
current rating, which are the same as the AMP11 MK2's transistors, which allows the AMP8 MK2 to drive IEMs and headphones that require high current, with ease.

ERO film capacitors are used to maintain extremely high quality
sound.

Dual headphone outputs

A Pentaconn 4.4mm balanced output port is used and with the
large contact area of this socket, resistance is lowered achieving
better current transmission, equating to better resulting sound.
Additionally a 3.5mm port is also included to cater for single ended use.
In contrast to the DX300 AMP12, there is no dedicated balanced line output but since the DX240 is mostly intended for portable use, the 3.5mm seems to be the better option than the missing balanced line out.
After all you can always configure the headphone outputs as line outputs through the internal menu.

Technical parameters

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Installation

The AMP8 MK2 comes with the faceplate attached.
The only thing you have to do is to use the supplied Torx screwdriver in order to unscrew the two tiny screws that are to be found in the left and the right side of the faceplate.
Then you carefully remove the installed Amp module, taking care not to touch the internal components, and replace it with the AMP8 MK2.
Two extra screws are included in the package in case that you lose or damage them.
One last step is to make sure that your DX240 is running the latest V1.02 firmware or else the new module will not be functional.

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Associated gear

iBasso suggested that I should run the module for at least 150-200 hours before listening and thus I did.

During the listening sessions I used a variety of headphones and IEMs like the Meze Liric, Focal Clear Mg, Sennheiser HD8XX, HiFiMan Arya V3, UM MEXT and FiiO FDx just to name a few.

Power delivery

The DX240 with the stock AMP1 MK3 was already a very powerful DAP even without considering its compact size.
The specifications suggest that AMP8 MK2 has the same power output with the stock module both from the balanced and the single ended outputs, so someone should naturally expect the same level of performance.
And this is partially true, since all the headphones I used got equally loud with both modules.
But then, interestingly enough, the AMP8 MK2 always sounded more effortless and unrestrained.
I don't know if this happened due to the larger voltage swing or the increased current flow but the AMP8 MK2 exhibited a surplus of headroom with better driver control.

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Sound impressions

Some people believe that it is the DAC chip that sets the sound signature of a player and some others that it is the analogue stage.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle, both stages are equally important, maybe the analogue just slightly more.
So don't expect that swapping the stock module for the AMP8 MK2 will result in a whole different sounding player.
The core components of the DX240 are still the same, so are the general sound characteristics.
With the AMP8 MK2 we can still hear the same enjoyable sound with the known technical superiority, the excellent clarity, the supreme detail retrieval, the ultimate linearity, the unconstrained dynamic behavior, well everything that made the DX240 one of the best players of the market.

But then there is a turning point, the AMP8 MK2 builds on the same principles and then deviates, leading to a slightly different sound path.
The stock DX240 was already very enjoyable and musical sounding but just slightly leaning towards a leaner and more technical presentation, not absent of the tiniest digitus, especially in the higher frequencies.
The AMP8 MK2 pushes technicalities in the background aiming for a fuller, meatier and even more musical presentation.
The sound signature is warmer with a tube-like analogue character to it.
The notes are not so firm, they appear to be more loose with a lazier and relaxed decay.
Harmonics are heard more saturated, the tonal palette is further extended, with increased intensity, overtones are present and diverse, the overall timbre is more natural and texture is sculptured with greater relief.
The bass is still tight and controlled with the known extension but now dynamics are not so forwardly intense, the presentation is more relaxed, a little calmed down, better suited to classical music and acoustic material.
The mid range has greater liquidity, voices and acoustic instruments sound just slightly warmer with more natural tonal characteristics and a fuller body.
Although the AMP8 MK2 will not mute the treble or rob it of its energy, in the end it sounds smoother than the stock module, it isn't as extended and crisp nor does it have the same crystalline clarity.
Detail retrieval is satisfyingly good but the gaze is not so deep and the presentation not too upfront, the details are more randomly scattered into space than being contrasted as with the stock module.
While the stock module soundstage is very extended, expanded, spacious and vast with exemplary positioning accuracy, the AMP8 MK2 is purposely sacrificing some of these attributes to present the listener with a more holographic and structurally layered soundscape.
Where the stock module is more competent in arranging the musical information into strictly and sharply organized spots, the AMP8 MK2 fares better in communicating the overall ambience of the recording venue.

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In the end

You have probably been wondering by now which module is the better one.
Well, no one, because they are equally good with two different and distinguishable sound profiles.

The AMP1 MK3 is technically superior, it is super clean, extra accurate, ultimately precise and extended, deeply detailed but not analytical, extremely dynamic, more transparent but not so forgiving and yet quite enjoyable and musical sounding.
Many people are going to stick with it exactly for the above mentioned advantages that make it the perfect choice for some kinds of music or listening habits.

On the other hand the AMP8 MK2 is like bridging the gap between the DX300 and the DX240.
Extra musical and analogue sounding with more organic and natural timbre, relaxed and not as nervous, smoother on the treble, slightly more liquid and mellow with better holography and not so anxious about being the best technical performer.
From solo piano to larger symphonic and choral works, the AMP8 MK2 feels more at home with classical music and is ideally suited to music lovers who value timbre more than technicalities.

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Ideally the best option is to own both modules as the DX240 becomes instantly one of the most versatile digital players in the market, literally suitable for everything and everyone, very difficult to find a single fault in it.

Test playlist

Copyright - Laskis Petros 2022.
M
mentega
Thanks for your review man.
In your opinion, the amp8 would push the already warm MEXT way off the left end?
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Ichos
Ichos
Thank you.
Not really, I am greatly enjoying the MEXT with the AMP8, they sound very musical, full and engaging.
But still if you want to spice them up or make them a little less thick then you probably stick with the stock amp.
M
mentega
cheers
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