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iBasso DX120

Rating:
4.25/5,
Tags:
  1. Zelda
    iBasso DX120 - Pure Audio Quality
    Written by Zelda
    Published Nov 26, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Sound quality
    Comfortable design & build quality
    Good battery
    2 card slots
    Balanced 2.5mm output
    DAC support
    Excellent touch screen response
    And customer service
    Cons - Cannot adjust volume with external DAC
    Max screen brightness is low (under the sun)
    REVIEW - iBasso DX120 - Pure Audio Quality

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    Website - iBasso Audio

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    Overview

    DX120. The new addition to the iBasso portable player's line priced at $300. A new design featuring Type-C USB, coaxial and 2.5mm balanced connections, with DAC support as well. It may skip all the cool add-ons such as Bluetooth wireless playback or WiFi streaming, but brings a nice battery performance that reaches up to ~16 hours. Solid Mango OS interface and excellent touch screen response, and with just a simple goal, pure sound quality that surely delivers.

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    Official DX120 info

    (Manual available in PDF format)

    Technical specifications

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    Price: U$299 (msrp); street price may vary.

    Available in two color options: "Sky Blue" and "Earth Brown".


    The unboxing...

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    Accessories

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    The included case is made of silicone (or so it seems). It is soft and easy to install (you need to start from the bottom part of the player) but only covers the lateral sides of the device.

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    USB cable, Type-C for the DX120 side and USB A on the other end. Both plugs are well made with a metal cover and the whole outer jacket is cloth braided.

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    The Coaxial cable.

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    And finally, the iBasso own "burn-in" cable. This time it arrives in the 2.5mm balanced plug version. iBasso suggest to burn-in the device for at least 100 hours to reach the best results.

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    There are also an extra set of protective film to install on the player if needed, and warranty card.

    Design & Build Quality

    The new iBasso DX120 not only looks nice but it is also very well built and finished. Opted for the Sky Blue color option which found to be sleek and more eye-catching, but there you also have the brown color option. The player arrives in a rectangular form factor but in comfortable finish with well rounded corners and smoother edges; a strong improvement over the most common players that usually look like a plain brick.

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    The whole lateral section is made of aluminum material, solid yet very smooth to the touch, while the front and back panels consist of glass; full black color on the back with the single iBasso logo, and at the front an already installed tempered glass cover for extra protection.

    The dimensions are very decent for a portable player at this level, comfortable in both height and width, similar to older ~4" screen smartphones, and if anything maybe a bit thick, which is more than acceptable taking in mind the high audio components inside. Weight is nothing out of the standard either, and considering the more ergonomic and smooth finish, the DX120 makes a comfortable and fairly pocket friendly option as a daily audio player.

    At the front, the LCD touch screen occupies almost the whole panel with its 3.2" display and 480x800 resolution. The numbers might sound low compared to the higher standard of common smartphones nowadays, but with no Android system or online connection there's really no need for anything else; pure sound quality is what the DX120 real aims for. In fact, the device doesn't even read image files alone unless it is an album cover. Nevertheless, the quality is actually very good with wide viewing angle, vivid colors and sharp resolution. The main fonts have good size and are comfortable to read, though smaller text parts may be too thin for some. However, the screen brightness doesn't get too high and even set at maximum level it will be hard to read directly under the sun; screen playback controls (play/pause, back and next) will be still easy to spot.


    The Layout: Input, Output, Controls

    The whole layout is well thought, with all the connections and playback buttons well grouped on each side.

    At the bottom there are the three analog output connections, left for Lineout (LO) for full external amplification use, middle for Headphone output (PO - Phone Output) for a standard 3.5mm headphone plug (compatible with TRRS in-line remote termination too), and lastly the small Balanced output for 2.5mm balanced option at the right. As can be seen the two 3.5mm LO and PO have a much larger golden colored ring that stand out over the player borders while the 2.5 Balanced is much simpler with a thin plastic black ring. Of course, the balanced output can be used for extra balanced amplifier entry as well. Worth noting both 3.5mm options rate a 1.8VRms of max output power, while the 2.5mm balanced doubles this number to 3.6VRms.

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    At the top side there are sorted slots. At the left, the Coaxial output to use the DX120 as source for a dedicated DAC; no optical option though, but not really missing.

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    In the middle, there are two Micro SD slots, and from the DX120 specs it should read up to 2TB cards. Only tested up to 128GB here and the reading process is fast enough. The DX120 has no internal memory, so the dual micro SD feature makes up for that.

    And to the right, the USB Type-C port with multiple purpose usage. Not only it supports faster charging and reading if available, but more also it adds the option for DAC use as well. As can be seen, the USB Settings allows setting the Type-C port for the different options. Choosing the DAC option allows the DX120 to be used as external DAC to replace a source sound card; and depending on the system it may be needed to install a driver for it (available at iBasso website). Moreover, an extra DAC can be plugged to the USB port too. However, the volume is fixed to maximum level from the DX120 side and cannot be adjusted, something I found as a disadvantage for gears like the AudioQuest Dragonfly Red; hopefully it should be improved on future firmware releases.

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    While there's nothing on the left side, the right side holds six different physical buttons for power and full playback control, all of them nicely arranged over the wavy line in very slightly different heights and sizes, made of black colored plastic. All these buttons do not stand much out of the player lateral bounds so won't be unnecessarily pressed. With the silicone case installed the buttons stick out just a bit more, though will need some extra more strength to press them. Either way, the responsiveness is very good; the different sizes also make it easier to recognize them without taking the player out.

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    At the higher part there is the small power button that turns and shut down the device when held for a few seconds, and also turns the screen on and off at a single press. Below are the two larger buttons for volume control.

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    And then, three small buttons for playback; middle one is for play/pause, while the other two are for next or previous track (or back to beginning of the current track), for a single press. These two buttons can be set up for either next or previous. Also, if long pressed it is possible to forward and rewind the song played. Moreover, the play/pause button works to lock the player if held for a couple of seconds, and to unlock it again it can be only done by the touch screen. It is worth mentioning that all the buttons work also on screen off (as long as the player is not locked).

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    User Interface & Software

    The iBasso DX120 runs on the new Linux based Mango OS software. A very nice option over the Android based players for those that search for a dedicated sound portable player and have no need for extra features such as WiFi streaming, Bluetooth or other wireless options. This new Mango system along with the strong hardware components provides a high level of system responsiveness and great stability. The device is not only fast but also the touch screen is very accurate. The unit here arrived with the firmware 2.1.20 version, and while there's also a newer 2.2.42 version, the additional changes didn't mean major changes to the already so comfortable interface. The navigation through folders and menus is very smooth with no lag to be noticed so far.

    Describing the whole menus and options in just words will take some time, so instead here below are actual photos of every section. (The PDF manual also covers all of them)

    First of all, there are three main screens on the DX120. The first one is the music playback screen, and where the player will always boot up. A slide to the left brings the 'My music' screen, and to the right the 'Settings' screen.

    The main playback screen shows the album cover at the upper half (if available), volume and battery levels (both in number and image indicator). At the lower half there is some track info and two options, one for playback order to the right and quick settings menu to the left. Also the playing time bar, and play/pause, back and next touch buttons.

    Main screen

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    Single touch on the center of the screen opens a short menu for music info, add to playlist and delete the file (from left to right).

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    Quick settings menu on main playback screen

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    'My music' brings all the music library options, including access to each card and playlists management. All the options here are more than self explanatory and doubt that anyone may need to check the manual for further help.

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    'Now playing' returns to the music playback screen.

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    Icon on the left to arrange all the music files by different options.

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    Two album views

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    Long press on a playlist open a new menu window.

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    The more complex section lies in the right screen of 'Settings', holding different system and playback setup options.

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    Equalizer 'off'.

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    Equalizer 'on'.

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    Display settings for screen brightness and three wallpaper options.

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    Battery

    Packed with a 3.8V 3700mAh Li-polymer rated battery, iBasso state a continuous playback time of about 16 hours. Surely, in practice the numbers may vary depending on the earphones or headphones, gain level, output and of course the frequent use of the screen. However, on low gain with easy to drive IEMs or on-ear headphones, and a volume of 30~50 (out of 100), the DX120 held around 14~15hrs without any issue. More importantly, the battery percentage indicator is quite accurate and doesn't show a sudden drop without notice.

    Full charging time will depend on the charger used. With the USB Type-C connection the DX120 supports the quick charge option up to 2 hours which is a good rate, and even with standard charging it takes around 3 hours. The device can be used while charging too.


    Sound Quality

    At the core of the DX120, the DAC AK4495 used this time is not new stuff compared to more advanced options on the company higher models; however, it doesn't matter too much considering the excellent implementation and more affordable cost of the DX120 DAP.

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    Power & Volume

    Boosting two gain sets and two headphones options, the DX120 packs more than enough power to drive any portable set. For very sensitive IEMs to standard 32~64 Ohm headphones, the low gain option doesn't even reaches the 50/100 steps to sound loud enough with zero distortion. Even with more demanding earphones like the VE Zen at 300+ ohm impedance, there was no need to pass the 60 steps (at low gain). With more hungry full-size sets the High gain may be needed before asking for extra amplification.

    As usual, the Balanced 2.5mm output will also bring more power, and for instance with the own IT04 IEM the volume difference was of ~10 steps next to the normal 3.5mm output.

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    So far the DX120 proves to be a strong device, and more importantly the sound performance is nothing short of impressive. Regardless the whole hardware and different sound modes or selected filters, this last iBasso addition brings excellent sound quality.

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    Among the main gears used for the sound test, the list includes some good sounding IEMs like the CustomArt Fibae 3, Periodic Audio Be, FLC 8N, the own iBasso IT01 and current flagship IEM IT04. For earbuds, the VE Zen on the 2.5mm balanced output and also the Meze 99 Classics, u-Jays, SoundMagic Vento v3 and Sennheiser Momentum for larger headphones.

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    Overall, the presentation is very nicely balanced without adding certain coloration to the sound. It can be described as neutral but not flat in a reference kind of tuning as there is a very slight hint of warmth and delicate touch of fullness, giving a more natural timbre with a faint sense of musicality and that's still very engaging.

    Fullness of the sound already starts from the low end, not in simple terms of bass quantities as that will depend on the gears used, but there is excellent quality with slightly more weight and richness on the notes. There's more effortless extension too and very good layering, great control and resolution, especially when reaching the lower mids. Not aggressive in impact but improves the speed and with more natural depth, attack and decay.

    The midrange gains more clarity and detail. Neutral overall, but not thin in texture or cold in tonality as the fullness continues through the whole midrange, with just a hint of added sweetness that works nice for voices. It remains fairly uncolored with greater separation and coherent instruments positioning that improve the imaging. A wonderful match with the hybrid IT04 in terms of drivers' coherence, and with the so high detail oriented Fibae 3 (triple BA) the sounds is fuller through the midrange and still keeps all the micro detail in tad smoother presentation when it reaches the upper midrange.

    The highs have excellent quality. Precision and extension on the DX120 are very natural, with almost no added emphasis to what the headphones allow, so neither too smooth nor extra bright. Still, where the DX120 really stands out is in treble control; truly remarkable and hard to beat among the $300 tag portable sources. It does scale higher with better quality lossless tracks (mainly from the 2.5mm output), and yet not too unforgiving on lower recordings.

    The presentation is very spacious, and while it may not give that wider stage as the Aune M1s, it actually sounds more coherent with better imaging. Dynamics on the DX120 are great as well and the transition from bass to lower midrange or at the upper mids and treble is very smooth, offering a better rounded sound presentation.

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    The switch to the 2.5mm balanced mode not only raises the volume level, but also offers a better audio performance. As expected, improvements are in soundstage width, separation, higher micro detail, extension and more effortless sound overall. Changes are not too drastic but definitely worth if you already have the gears for it.

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    Conclusion

    The iBasso DX120 is an excellent portable player in many ways. It has very good build quality in a new friendly design with great screen quality and touch responsiveness. The battery runs enough for the daily portable use and supports quick charging too. The no Bluetooth support may be a disadvantage for some buyers, but the balanced and dedicated lineout outputs and the option for DAC function is well done. And of course, the more important part lies in the great sound quality with its fuller presentation and high detail.
      jamato8, log22, B9Scrambler and 2 others like this.
  2. earfonia
    Clarity oriented audiophile DAP that packs a punch
    Written by earfonia
    Published Nov 15, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Clean sound, Powerful 2.5mm headphone output, good built quality, well designed UI and Menus, 2x TF Slots, and USB DAC Feature.
    Cons - Similar gold ring appearance for headphone output and line output prone to accidental IEM plug to line output.
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    Product page:
    http://ibasso.com/cp_xq_dy.php?id=7280
    User manual:
    http://ibasso.com/uploadfiles/20181010/201810101813547040.pdf


    Many thanks to Zeppelin & Co. for the loan of the iBasso DX120!
    I have iBasso DX90 for many years and it is still one of my favorite DAP sound quality wise. I tried iBasso DX200 for a few times and really like the sound quality of it (default Amp card). But I feel the DX200 is too bulky and heavy for me, as I prefer smaller DAP. DX120 seems to be a good option for those who prefer smaller and lighter DAP with solid build and features.

    Review based on Firmware Version: V2.1.20 (22 September 2018) and V2.2.42 (28 October 2018).

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    Pros:
    • Clean sound with relatively low hiss noise from the 3.5mm headphone output, especially for a DAP at this price category.
    • Powerful headphone output, especially the 2.5mm balanced output.
    • Excellent build quality, solid metal body with good ergonomics. Good size, not too big or too small, and not too heavy.
    • Mango OS for quicker startup relative to Android OS.
    • Well designed and easy to operate UI and menus.
    • Good touchscreen with pretty responsive and smooth operation.
    • Well-thought accessories with tempered glass screen protector and protective case included. I wish all DAP manufacturers learn from iBasso to include a screen protector and case with their DAP.
    • 2x TF card slots.
    • USB DAC Function.

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    Cons:
    • Headphone output and line output are positioned side by side with similar gold ring appearance that might lead users to wrongly plug in the earphone into the line output socket and accidentally blasted by the line output higher output voltage.
    • SD card scanning is rather slow.
    • Besides the ‘Super Slow Roll Off’ digital filter, all other digital filters cut the high frequencies rather too early causing audible differences in the upper treble response. Although softer treble response might be preferable on bright recordings, In my opinion, we don’t need more than 1 digital filter with an early treble roll off. The rest of the digital filters could be set with a more extended treble response (check measurement section for explanation).
    • Update 2018-11-17: I removed previous comment about "Easily scratched back side glossy surface" as Paul and some other members informed me that it was the plastic protector that scratched, and the back side is actually made of glass. Thanks to Paul from iBasso, @jamato8, and @mbwilson111 !

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    Suggestions for Improvements:
    • Differentiate the appearance of headphone output and line output to avoid user mistakenly plug the earphone jack to the line output jack.
    • Feature to swipe the volume up/down using the touch screen after pressing the volume button.
    • In USB DAC mode, only volume control is accessible, headphone output gain and digital filter settings are not accessible on USB DAC mode. Would be nice if gain and digital filters are accessible in USB DAC mode.
    • In USB DAC mode, there is no indicator of PCM / DSD, or the current DAC sampling frequency on the screen. I prefer USB DAC mode screen to show more information rather than just a plain screen. This is very useful to check if the DAC is operating at the correct sampling rate as the audio file that is being played.
    • In USB DAC mode, digital filters 1 to 4 don’t show any differences in measurement, and all 4 filters behave like filter 2, the Slow filter. While in the DAP mode those digital filters clearly show differences in measurement. Probably a bug to fix in the firmware. See measurement section for more detail about this issue.
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    Sonic Recommendation:
    DX120 is a clean and neutral sounding DAP, and I don't consider it as a warm sounding DAP. Clarity, tightness, and dynamic are DX120 prominent sound signature, especially when using the 2.5mm headphone output. The 3.5mm headphone output is audibly less lively or less dynamic than the 2.5mm headphone output. Therefore my recommendation for DX120 users would be to use the 2.5mm balanced headphone output. As for IEMs or headphones, I would probably pair it with anything from neutral to warm sounding IEMs or headphones. In comparison to warmer DAP, DX120 may sound a tad dry with tight and punchy bass. That sound characteristic might help to improve bass and midrange clarity of warm and bassy IEMs and headphones. Although DX120 might pairs well with some analytical IEMs or headphones as well, I would be more careful in pairing DX120 with analytical IEMs or headphones.

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    Sound Quality
    Let’s discuss the sound quality first before everything else because others don’t matter if sound quality is not desirable. For this review, I’ve used DX120 for a few weeks, mainly compared with the sound quality of my Onkyo DP-X1 because that’s what I use to carry daily, and some USB DACs, like the Fiio Q5, Light Harmonic GO 2A, and Chord Mojo. So price wise it is not an apple to apple comparison, but more of a comparison of sound signatures to get the general idea of the DX120 sound signature. But to keep this review not too long, I will write comparisons with DP-X1 and Chord Mojo only. As for IEMs, I mostly use DUNU DK3001, Creative Aurvana Trio, 1964 Ears V3, and some others. For headphones, I used Beyerdynamic T1 (1st gen) and Kennerton Thror. I’m not going to be very detail about matching the DX120 with each IEM I tried, because it may not be relevant to many people that don’t have the same IEM model. But instead, I will share my general impressions of the DX120 overall sound signature.

    DX120 has 5 selectable digital filters. The first 4 filters sound pretty much the same to my ears with very little to almost no distinguishable sonic differences, but the 5th filter, the ‘Super Slow Roll Off’ filter sounds quite different than the others. The default filter is the
    ‘Sharp Roll Off’ filter. My preferred sound signature is with the ‘Super Slow Roll Off’ filter. Therefore the sound quality description below will be based mostly on the ‘Super Slow Roll Off’ filter.

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    As for the ‘Sound Mode’, my ears are not sensitive enough to hear any significant differences between the modes. So I set it to ‘Original’ most of the time. It is not clear what ‘Sound Mode’ does to the audio signal as I don’t see any differences in oscilloscope and spectrum analyzer when switching between the modes. I guess it probably has to do with the clocking mode.

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    Before comparing DX120 with other player or DAC, let’s discuss briefly the sonic differences between the digital filters. From the 5 digital filters:
    1. Sharp roll off
    2. Slow roll off
    3. Short delay sharp roll off
    4. Short delay slow roll off
    5. Super slow roll off

    Filter number 1 to 4 sound quite similar to one another with only very mild differences. But filter number 5, the ‘Super slow roll off’ sounds more transparent, tonally more neutral and balanced to my ears. The super slow filter also have wider perceived stereo imaging, while other filters sound more forward with higher emphasis on the center imaging, that sometimes makes orchestral recordings sound smaller, but vocal may sound more forward and more intimate on filters 1-4. So it is a matter of personal preference, and my sonic preference is closer to the ‘Super slow’ filter.

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    Clear, neutral, and lively, are 3 words that I would associate with DX120 overall sonic signature that I perceived mainly using the ‘Super slow’ filter and the 2.5mm balanced output. Clarity seems to be the theme of DX120 sound signature. Clarity and instrument-separation are really good on DX120. Bass is tight punchy and impactful with good dynamic, but sub-bass sounds a bit lean, and I hear slightly less sub-bass rumble in comparison to my DP-X1 and other DACs. Sub bass decay is rather short, but bass speed, impact, and tightness are very good. Mids is on the neutral side, clear with practically no coloration. DX120 is not a warm sounding or vocal flattering DAP. As mentioned earlier relevant to vocal presentation, digital filter 1 to 4 bring vocal a bit more forward in comparison with the super slow filter. Treble is digital filter dependent. On filter 1 to 4, upper treble is relatively soft and less extended than the filter 5. For maximum transparency, set to filter 5, the ‘Super slow’ filter. Detail retrieval is relatively pretty good, especially when set on ‘Super slow’ filter. Dynamic is greatly improved on the 2.5mm balanced output. Usually, I don’t hear much improvement between 3.5mm to 2.5mm headphone output on a DAP, but on DX120, the 2.5mm output has a significantly better dynamic and impact in comparison to 3.5mm headphone output. To be honest, I was not very impressed when I listened to the DX120 on the first time, as the digital filter was set to Sharp and I was using the 3.5mm output. But when digital filter set to ‘Super slow’ filter and I use the 2.5mm output, I’m quite impressed with this player. So, yea the difference is quite audible, especially in the dynamic, therefore I highly recommend to use the 2.5mm balanced output on DX120. Please remember that the 2.5mm output is about 6 dB louder, therefore when comparing the 3.5mm output and the 2.5mm output volume need to be adjusted around 6 steps higher on the 3.5mm output.

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    Comparison with Onkyo DP-X1
    Since I’m quite used to the sound signature of Onkyo DP-X1 after using it for many years, once I tried DX120, my first impression was, it has kind of the opposite sound signature of the DP-X1, mainly in the perceived tonality. I perceived DP-X1 as a tad warm, silky smooth, polite presentation with a good low-end body. DP-X1 has a pleasing sound signature, but I don’t perceive DP-X1 as very impactful, especially on the bass, or having very lively and dynamic presentation. DX120 on the other is quite lively and impactful with punchier and tighter bass, but less sub-bass body and rumble. DX120 perceived tonality is very slightly on the brighter side in comparison to the DP-X1, with the lower treble section a bit more prominent than DP-X1. DX120 vocal sounds a bit more forward than DP-X1. Perceived clarity is slightly more emphasized on DX120 but it doesn’t mean that DX120 is more resolving. When listening in a quiet room, DP-X1 still has slightly better micro detail with slightly wider perceived stereo imaging. But at this price bracket, DX120 performs really well in detail and resolution department. The most obvious difference is probably on the bass section, with DP-X1 has fuller and powerful sub bass, while DX120 has punchier and tighter bass. I love full sounding bass, therefore when switching from DP-X1 to DX120 I do miss the DP-X1 bass. But when it comes to fast and punchy bass, DX120 performs really well.

    Comparison with Chord Mojo
    Overall Mojo has more tonal density. I’m not sure if tonal density is a common expression in sound quality, but what I mean is instruments and vocal sound thicker, denser, and have more weight to it. Mojo also sounds a tad warmer. DX120 emphasize more on clarity, clearer instrument separation, but it sounds somehow lighter and doesn’t sound as thick and weighty as Mojo. In comparison, Mojo sound signature is probably closer to the DP-X1 than the DX120. So yes, bass also sounds fuller on Mojo. At the end, I guess it is not about which one better but it really boils down to personal preference.


    I don’t have comparable DAP price wise to be compared to DX120. Comparing to my old Fiio X3ii, DX120 sounds better with better instrument separation and more realistic 3D stereo imaging. DX120 also sounds more refined overall. The interesting comparison probably with my old iBasso DX90. Interestingly, DX90 as a much older DAP than DX120, DX90 still competes pretty well sound wise. DX120 sounds more refined, smoother and less grainy with better stereo imaging. And for sure a much better UI and touchscreen than DX90. But considering the time span from DX90 to DX120, I’m quite surprised that it is not a day and night improvement. DX90 is surprisingly still quite enjoyable. A legendary player indeed. I think the cleaner and the more refined sound of DX120 is a clear improvement from DX90, but I think adding a touch of warmness on the mids and fuller sub-bass sound on DX120 would be nicer. But again this is just my personal preference. For those who prefer clear and refined sound signature, DX120 if a great DAP. The headphone outputs are surprisingly quite powerful, especially the 2.5mm balanced output. It drives full-size headphones and 600 ohms headphone like my Beyerdynamic T1 with ease, with good power and dynamic.




    Measurement
    All measurements were done using QuantAsylum QA401 Audio Analyzer and Owon VDS3102 Oscilloscope. While RMAA measurements were done using HRT LineStreamer+ ADC. The objective of measurements in this review is only for observation purposes and comparisons between digital filters, and the results are not meant to be compared with the manufacturer specification or other measurement result using different measurement equipment.

    All headphone output measurements were done using 33-ohm resistive load.
    All line output measurements were done using 10k ohm resistive load.



    Output Impedance
    Measured Line Out, Output Impedance: 22.31 ohms
    Measured 3.5mm Headphone Out, Output Impedance: 0.18 ohms
    Manufacturer specification for the 3.5mm headphone out, output impedance: 0.24 ohms

    11 2018-11-01_LO Output Impedance.png 12 2018-11-01_HO Output Impedance.png

    I didn’t measure the 2.5mm headphone output because I didn’t have the proper cable for the 2.5mm output. But if it uses a similar amp circuit as the 3.5mm output, in theory, it will be close to twice of the output impedance of the 3.5mm output. So theoretically will around 0.36 - 0.48 ohms. To me, output impedance below 1 ohm is considered very low. Even 2 ohms usually still pretty safe and won’t cause any significant sonic differences on multi-driver IEM.



    Maximum Output
    I noticed that on 33-ohm load, at the maximum volume level, 100, the THD is slightly higher than at the volume level 99. But still at below 1% THD, therefore it is not considered as clipping.

    3.5mm Headphone Output - High Gain (33-ohm load) - Volume at 100:
    13 iBasso DX120 HO Bal HG 33ohm Super Slow Max Out 3.55V.png

    3.5mm Headphone Output - High Gain (33-ohm load) - Volume at 99:
    14 iBasso DX120 HO Bal HG 33ohm Super Slow Vol99 3.35V.png

    Manufacturer specification for maximum output:
    Line Output (fixed output) : 1.8 Vrms
    3.5mm Headphone Output : 1.8 Vrms
    2.5mm Headphone Output : 3.6 Vrms

    My measurement result for maximum output:
    Line Output (10 kohm load) : 1.81 Vrms
    3.5mm Headphone Output - High Gain (33-ohm load) : 1.80 Vrms
    3.5mm Headphone Output - Low Gain (33-ohm load) : 0.90 Vrms
    2.5mm Headphone Output - High Gain (33-ohm load) : 3.55 Vrms
    2.5mm Headphone Output - Low Gain (33-ohm load) : 1.79 Vrms


    I didn’t measure the maximum output power of the headphone output with other loads than a 33-ohm resistor. The general convention for maximum output power measurement is to load the output until the output distortion reaches 1% total harmonic distortion (THD). If we calculate from the balanced 2.5mm maximum output at 33-ohm load:

    (3.55 Vrms)2 / 33 ohm = 382 mW

    And at that output, it still maintains THD at around 0.01%. That means it probably can still output slightly higher power at lower impedance. That level of output power can be considered a very powerful output for a DAP at this size.



    Signal to Noise Ratio
    There is no standard SNR measurement in the audio industry yet, therefore in my opinion most useful SNR measurement is measured at the levels and conditions close to the intended applications. For example for headphone output SNR measurement, most of the time users have issues with hissing noise when using sensitive IEMs, and generally less hissing noise issue with headphones. Therefore SNR measurement at sensitive IEMs playback level is more relevant than SNR measurement at maximum output level. Especially for a portable DAP.

    Therefore after years of playing around with measurement, I set my own standard for SNR measurement for headphone output, which is a simple guideline to estimate the level of audible hissing noise, especially for pairing with sensitive IEMs. My headphone output SNR measurement is 1kHz SNR at 50 mVrms (+/- 10%) at 33-ohm resistive load. At 50 mV, SNR equal to or greater than 85 dBA is practically very quiet even for sensitive IEMs. Between 80 - 85 dBA, considered acceptable with probably only mild hissing noise on some very sensitive IEMs (sensitivity ≥ 110 dB SPL/mW), but generally relatively quiet for other IEMs with less than 110 dB SPL/mW sensitivity. While less than 80 dBA at 50 mV can be considered not sensitive IEM friendly, as hissing noise would be most likely audible with most IEMs. This is not an audio industry standard, this is just my own (Earfonia) simplified SNR guideline for the headphone output. And different people have different sensitivity to hissing noise, so YMMV.

    SNR measurement at 1kHz, at 50 mVrms (+/- 10%), at 33-ohm of resistive load:
    3.5mm headphone output SNR at 1kHz 50mV - Low Gain : 84.3 dBA
    3.5mm headphone output SNR at 1kHz 50mV - High Gain : 84.3 dBA
    2.5mm headphone output SNR at 1kHz 50mV - Low Gain : 81.4 dBA
    2.5mm headphone output SNR at 1kHz 50mV - High Gain : 81.4 dBA

    15 iBasso DX120 HO LG 33ohm Super Slow 50mv SNR Vol52.png 16 iBasso DX120 HO HG 33ohm Super Slow 50mv SNR Vol45.png 17 iBasso DX120 HO Bal LG 33ohm Super Slow 50mv SNR Vol45.png 18 iBasso DX120 HO Bal HG 33ohm Super Slow 50mv SNR Vol39.png

    So generally the headphone output is reasonably low noise and quiet, with only mild hissing noise when using very sensitive IEM such as my 1964 V3 universal (sensitivity: 119 dB SPL/mW).



    Digital Filters and Frequency Response
    When I did RMAA measurement, I was quite surprised at the result of the frequency response. I redo the RMAA test multiple times with various cables and load to verify the result, and it was pretty consistent, and it is also consistent to what I hear when listening to the differences between the digital filters. There is some audible treble roll-off on digital filters 1 to 4. While digital filter number 5, the Super slow roll off, produces the flattest frequency response. Please take note that the measurement is done on firmware Version: V2.2.42 (28 October 2018).

    All tests were done in 24bit - 96kHz mode.

    Line Output RMAA Test Comparing The 5 Digital Filters:
    Line Out RMAA.png

    Line Output Frequency Response:
    19 2018-10-31_LO FR.png


    3.5mm Headphone Output RMAA Test Comparing The 5 Digital Filters:
    Headphone Out RMAA.png

    3.5mm Headphone Output Frequency Response (33-ohm load):
    20 2018-10-31_HO HG FR.png


    I double check the frequency response using the QA401 Audio Analyzer, observing the frequency spectrum when playing white noise:

    Sharp roll off:
    21 iBasso DX120 LO 10kohm 1 Sharp White Noise.png

    Slow roll off:
    22 iBasso DX120 LO 10kohm 2 Slow White Noise.png

    Short delay sharp roll off:
    23 iBasso DX120 LO 10kohm 3 Short Delay Sharp White Noise.png

    Short delay slow roll off:
    24 iBasso DX120 LO 10kohm 4 Short Delay Slow White Noise.png

    Super slow roll off:
    25 iBasso DX120 LO 10kohm 5 Super Slow White Noise USB DAC.png

    In comparison to Onkyo DP-X1 Sharp Filter:
    26 Onkyo DP-X1 LO 10kohm 1 Sharp White Noise.png


    The result is pretty consistent, the digital filter 1 to 4 apply some early treble roll off, while filter 5, the ‘Super slow roll off’ filter has the flattest frequency response. I’m not sure if this is the default characteristic of the AK4495 digital filters, or if this is iBasso special tuning for the player. And I didn’t have time to redo all the testing at a different sampling rate, all test were done at 96 kHz sampling rate.


    I found that in DAP mode, all digital filters work properly and showing a different result in square wave test and measurement. But in USB DAC mode The digital filters 1 to 4 don’t show any differences in square wave measurement, and those 4 filters all look like the Slow filter, or filter number 2. Only the ‘Super Slow Roll Off’ filter is showing differences on measurement, as well as audible sound differences than the rest of the filters. Usually different type of digital filter always showing some differences in square wave measurement. So I’m not sure if this is a bug in the firmware V2.2.42 that I used for this testing. There is no point for having 5 different digital filters USB DAC mode if 4 of them don’t show any differences at all. It seems that this is a bug in the firmware V2.2.42.

    DAP Mode:

    Sharp roll off:
    27 iBasso DX120 LO 10kohm 1 Sharp PCM 96k.png 27a iBasso DX120 HO HG Max 33ohm 1 Sharp PCM 96k.png

    Slow roll off:
    28 iBasso DX120 LO 10kohm 2 Slow PCM 96k.png 28a iBasso DX120 HO HG Max 33ohm 2 Slow PCM 96k.png

    Short delay sharp roll off:
    29 iBasso DX120 LO 10kohm 3 Short Delay Sharp PCM 96k.png 29a iBasso DX120 HO HG Max 33ohm 3 Short Delay Sharp PCM 96k.png

    Short delay slow roll off:
    30 iBasso DX120 LO 10kohm 4 Short Delay Slow PCM 96k.png 30a iBasso DX120 HO HG Max 33ohm 4 Short Delay Slow PCM 96k.png

    Super slow roll off:
    31 iBasso DX120 LO 10kohm 5 Super Slow PCM 96k.png 31a iBasso DX120 HO HG Max 33ohm 5 Super Slow PCM 96k.png


    USB DAC Mode:

    Sharp roll off:
    32 iBasso DX120 LO 10kohm 1 Sharp PCM 96k USB DAC.png 32a iBasso DX120 HO HG Max 33ohm 1 Sharp PCM 96k USB DAC.png

    Slow roll off:
    33 iBasso DX120 LO 10kohm 2 Slow PCM 96k USB DAC.png 33a iBasso DX120 HO HG Max 33ohm 2 Slow PCM 96k USB DAC.png

    Short delay sharp roll off:
    34 iBasso DX120 LO 10kohm 3 Short Delay Sharp PCM 96k USB DAC.png 34a iBasso DX120 HO HG Max 33ohm 3 Short Delay Sharp PCM 96k USB DAC.png

    Short delay slow roll off:
    35 iBasso DX120 LO 10kohm 4 Short Delay Slow PCM 96k USB DAC.png 35a iBasso DX120 HO HG Max 33ohm 4 Short Delay Slow PCM 96k USB DAC.png

    Super slow roll off:
    36 iBasso DX120 LO 10kohm 5 Super Slow PCM 96k USB DAC.png 36a iBasso DX120 HO HG Max 33ohm 5 Super Slow PCM 96k USB DAC.png


    The digital filters have no effect on the DSD playback. All filters in both DAP and DAC modes are showing the same result for DSD Playback (DSD128):
    37 iBasso DX120 LO 10kohm 6 Super Slow DSD128 USB DAC.png 37a iBasso DX120 HO HG Max 33ohm DSD128 USB DAC.png




    Conclusion
    There are lots to like from iBasso DX120. The form factor, build quality, user-friendly Menu and UI, features, and the powerful balanced headphone output. I observed only some minor issues (cons) with DX120 that I have listed at the beginning of this review. Sound signature is always a matter of both personal preference and equipment matching. Personally, I prefer neutral to a mildly warm sonic character with good tonal density. While I love the tight bass and dynamic of DX120, the neutral mildly dry sound signature is slightly off track from my preferred sound signature. But again this is just my own personal preference, as others might prefer dryer sonic character. Technically both headphone output and line output performs really well, especially on the ‘Super slow roll off’ filter. No doubt DX120 is a good performing DAP following the good tradition of iBasso good quality products. I hope this review provides sufficient information for potential owners of DX120. Kudos to iBasso!




    P1360294.jpg P1360295.jpg P1360296.jpg P1400340.jpg P1400342.jpg P1400343.jpg P1400344.jpg P1400347.jpg P1400349.jpg P1400351.jpg


    Equipment used in this review:

    Headphones:
    Beyerdynamic T1
    Kennerton Thror

    DAPs and DACs:
    Onkyo DP-X1
    iBasso DX90
    Chord Mojo

    Test Equipment:
    QuantAsylum QA401 Audio Analyzer
    Owon VDS3102 Oscilloscope
    HRT LineStreamer+ ADC



    Some recordings used in this review:
    Z Albums - 2016.jpg
      Quinto, Pokemonn, log22 and 6 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. davidmolliere
      Thanks for the detailed review including some very interesting measurements, clearly a lot of work put into it and very informative : congrats!
      davidmolliere, Nov 15, 2018
      earfonia likes this.
    3. earfonia
      Thanks! Unfortunately I have returned the DX120 to Zeppelin, so I don't have it with me now. For the demo unit that I reviewed, it seems there wasn't any plastic protector over the back side, but I will double check when I go to Zeppelin. Maybe it was early batch unit for demo? I'm not so sure about that.
      earfonia, Nov 16, 2018
    4. earfonia
      Paul confirmed that it was the plastic protector that showing scratches on the back surface. I have removed the comment about easily scratched back surface from the cons. Thanks @jamato8 !
      earfonia, Nov 16, 2018