iBasso DX220 MAX

General Information

iBasso DX220 MAX DAP, a transportable answer to high quality sound reproduction

Specifications
DAC chip: Dual ES9028PRO
Body Material: Stainless Steel
OS: Android 8.1 & Mango OS
Output Ports: 4.4mm Line Out, 4.4mm Balanced, 3.5mm Phone, 3.5mm S/PDIF
Screen: IPS 5.0 inch 1080P Sharp full screen with On Cell capacitive touch panel
Corning glass on the tront screen and rear panel
Bit for Bit playback with support up to 32bit/384kHz
Support of Native DSD up to 512x
Support of QC3.0, PD2.0, & MTK PE Plus quick charge for digital section
XMOS USB receiver with Thesycon USB audio driver, making this an easy to use USB DAC
A Total of 5pcs of Femtosecond league oscillators, with 2 of them being Accusilicon ultra low phase noise Femtosecond oscillators
8-core CPU
Mini optical output and mini coaxial output
4GB LPDDR3
128G internal memory
5G WiFi and Bluetooth 5.0
Support SDXC and SDHC Micro SD cards
Three settings of gain control
Audio Formats Supported: MQA, APE, FLAC, WAV, WMA, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, OGG, MP3, DFF, DSF and DXD
Support for M3U playlists
4400mAh 3.8V Li-Polymer battery for the digital section, and 4pcs 900mAh Li-polymer battery form the +/-8.4V battery pack for the analog section


Price: 1888 USD

Latest reviews

Layman1

Headphoneus Supremus
Power and Poise: a review of the DX220MAX
Pros: build, innovative internal architecture, technical performance, sound signature, note weight
Cons: unusual size and weight, dual chargers may be required.
Introduction:

Greetings from the lockdown! :)

I think iBasso have by now thoroughly established themselves as a well-known and respected manufacturer of DAP’s (and other products too numerous to mention!).
With this in mind, it does seem somewhat redundant to provide an introduction to the company, given both the previous point I made and the fact that the DAP under discussion today is essentially their co-flagship.

As such, is likely to be under investigation by knowledgeable audiophiles who are already well-educated on what the market has to offer.
Suffice to say, iBasso are a Chinese audiophile gear producing company of some prestige, having been one of the first trailblazing DAP makers in the market, and they continue to up their game year on year.

Today, I’ll be reviewing a rather unique offering from them, the DX220MAX.
This was something of a concept product, designed to push the boundaries and see what they were able to engineer, without having to think too much about mass market concerns.

This is a ‘transportable’ DAP, small and light enough (I use the term relatively!) to be taken around in a bag (or capacious pocket, such as might be sported by fans of ‘cargo pants’ or circa 1990’s MC Hammer pants), but large enough to pack in a pretty staggering array of electronic architecture that is more normally within the purvue of products in the desktop DAC/Amp arena.

The details of this DAP can be found on the product thread here on Head-Fi:

https://www.head-fi.org/threads/iba...igh-quality-sound-reproduction-new-fw.911378/

The RRP at time of writing was $1’888 (8 being considered an auspicious number in Chinese culture). Only a limited number of these have been made, but like most top DAPs, there will doubtless be ones popping up now and again in the classified ‘for sale’ section here on Head-Fi :)

My sincere thanks to Paul and the team at iBasso, for providing me with a review unit to keep in exchange for an honest review.

You may understandably be wondering at this point what on earth a ‘transportable co-flagship DAP’ looks like.
Like a circa-1980’s ‘Pino’ Palladino, fret no more; all is about to be revealed in the forthcoming section which I have abstemiously titled ‘Photos’ :)

Photos:
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Unboxing, packaging and accessories:

The packaging and accessories are nicely done, very much at the standard that I’ve become accustomed to with iBasso. No complaints at all.
There’s a nice and delightfully comprehensive array of accessories, from a burn-in cable to various adaptors which will serve you well if you wish to use the DX220MAX as part of an audio chain perhaps involving an external amp or PC or similar.


Ergonomics and Tech:

As mentioned previously, this a clearly marketed as a transportable DAP, and it is only fair that it be judged in that context when talking about portability and use cases etc.

The good news is, it’s weighty, but not prohibitively so; with a sturdy pair of trousers or a coat pocket, you could indeed walk around with the DX220MAX, certainly around the house and even outside if one so wished.
In the case of using it outside the home though, I’d be more likely to carry it in a bag and either have my IEM cable extending out from that, or just leave it sitting there until I reach somewhere I can sit down and put it on a tabletop or similar.

It has a nice feeling gold volume wheel and the appearance overall is slick and with a weighty sense of presence and prestige.

To quote resident hardware wizard Whitigir from the Head-Fi thread, “The Max is 2 dedicated systems in one: A DAC with its own power supply and batteries + A discrete amplifier with its own power supply and batteries”.
I believe a key result of all this is a reduction in background noise, not to mention a fairly hefty power output.

One thing to note is the lack of any physical buttons except for the power button.
In practice, I found this didn’t make much difference, as generally it’s not the kind of player you’d be carrying around in a pocket much. I use it when sitting at a desk or when sitting/lying in bed, where it’s easy to navigate when needed.

Navigation was rapid and pretty easy; I found no real issues to report.

The screen is particularly fine, and I felt it had noticeably better contrast and detail than the DX300, which has an excellent screen itself.

Charging is a slightly more troublesome affair with the discrete batteries, requiring both a DC line-in as well as a USB-C charger.

Look on the DX220MAX thread on Head-Fi, where some people have posted links to chargers which are capable of charging both ports simultaneously.

Frankly, there’s been so much written about the DX220MAX on that thread that most of the things I could say here are fairly redundant. Any questions you might have or technical issues are already explained there many times over, with more detail than I could go into without making this review unfeasibly long!

And so, let us move on to the section you’ve doubtless been waiting for!

That’s right, the break for advertisements!

Just kidding :)

It’s time to talk about how the DX220MAX actually sounds.

To test this DAP, I listened predominantly with the Unique Melody MEST, as it’s the best IEM I have in terms of clarity, micro-detail retrieval and sub-bass depth and impact (barring my Nemesis, but that’s just too sonically coloured for this job!).
Added to that, of the IEMs I have with similar sound qualities, I’d say it’s the one whose signature I am most familiar with, hence it’s an ideal choice for critical listening with a new DAP.

I also listened with the IT07, CA Solaris 2020, the EE Phantom and the EE Odin.
None of them had any issues with synergy.

Test tracks were picked from a varied group of genres, and were predominantly lossless FLAC or WAV files, with many of those in 24 bit hi-res format.
With all this in mind, you may now swagger or sashay (the choice is yours!) onwards, into the section of this review that is imaginatively titled ‘The Sound’.


The Sound:

I’d describe the DX220MAX as follows:

Fantastic.

The End.


What, you want more? Sigh.. people these days.. so demanding.. grumble, moan etc.

Ok, it’s really fantastic.

What?!

Ok, FINE..

If the DX300 took iBasso DAPs into a new musical direction, then the DX220MAX is the epitome of the ‘old skool’ (I’m down with the kids, don’t you know).

It’s iBasso’s ‘relatively neutral-reference but with a tinge of musicality’ house signature, done to perfection and then injected with a dose of steroids :D

According to what I hear personally, that really is about the best way I can describe it. It is relatively neutral-reference, in that it’s not excessively sonically coloured in any area, and in that it is supremely resolving and detailed.
So much so I could weep for joy (and I nearly did on several occasions!).

All this performance is set against a black background and couched within a soundstage that is beautifully wide, with height and depth to match.
The imaging is superb. The layering is superb. Handling of transients?
You guessed it; superb :D

There’s a gorgeous solidity and weight to every note throughout the sound signature.
That part impressed me especially. It’s just captivating how much power and presence the DX220MAX is able to bring, and the control and poise with which it can do so is equally astonishing.

I particularly like how it handles the low end; for me, it walks a line very well between allowing some rumble and a slight amount of warmth, without adding excess colouration to the sound signature. And the sub-bass can extend down deep when called for, for those who care about such things. E.g. Layman1 :D

The sound one hears out of any DAP is always going be strongly influenced by the IEMs or headphones one uses.
I found the DX220MAX to be a great all-rounder in this regard.

I felt the DX300 had a great sound overall but being significantly more warm and coloured than the DX220MAX, it could be a less-than-ideal fit for very warm IEMs.

No such issues with the DX220MAX; it excelled with everything I threw at it, from the very warm and rich Stealth Sonics U4 and EE Phantom, to the relatively much leaner UM MEST and IT07. The levels of detail and resolution with the EE Odin were jaw-dropping at times, a result of both the DAP’s and the IEM’s performance.

I only found that combo slightly sharp or fatiguing on a couple of tracks (out of a great many), and the main offender – Hong Kong opera singer Alison Lau’s rendition of ‘Lascia la spina’ is one that triggers that sensitivity for me on a pretty much everything except for the smoothest of IEMs.

On an especially bright IEM, then perhaps there might not be such a great synergy though, and if that’s what you primarily listen to, then I might point you more in the direction of the DX300 if you are not a treble-head.



Conclusion:

Overall and in conclusion, I have nothing really negative to say about the DX220MAX. It’s got terrific note weight, muscle and presence, great technical performance, a killer bass that’s as controlled as it is awesome, and it plays superbly with a wide variety of IEMs. It’s musical, but as detailed and resolving as a microscope.

It feels to me like a Rolls-Royce of a DAP, both in build and sound quality.
It’s a unique statement piece from iBasso, and the perfect way to draw the curtains on the older iBasso line-up as the DX300 moves them into a new era.

There may be a new king, but the DX220MAX remains very much the power behind the throne :)

Dobrescu George

Reviewer: AudiophileHeaven
Peak of Ambition – iBasso DX220 MAX Music Player
Pros: + Pure bliss sonically
+ Soft treble that is never fatiguing
+ Clarity, detail resolution are insane
+ Good Battery Life
+ Good Android Support, works with google play
+ Quick and snappy OS
+ Good Wifi
Cons: - Quite heavy in person
- Needs to charge two batteries, using two chargers
- You should invest in 4.4mm cables if you want the best it can do
Peak of Ambition – iBasso DX220 MAX Music Player


DX220 MAX is not your average DAP, this is the 700 grams of Music at your fingertips. We’re talking about the most ambitious DAP ever created by the best DAP company out there, so we’ll make it rough and compare it to desktop units, pair it with the most picky of headphones / IEMs, and make this the most ambitious review too. The main comparisons will be with iBassod DX229, FiiO M11 PRO (and M11), Hiby R6, Opus #2, and with QLS QA361. The main pairings will be with Meze RAI Penta, Dunu DK-3001 PRO, Rosson RAD-0, iBasso SR-2, and Lime Ears Model X.




Introduction

iBasso is known to usually be one step ahead of FiiO, but the two are still the most recommended and loved producers of DAPs and Audio stuff from China. iBasso usually refines their software & hardware a bit more, and provides a slightly longer and better warranty, but with the release of FiiO M15, iBasso had to step up, and this led to DX220 MAX, which is far more ambitiously engineered than M15.

If you need to order stuff from iBasso, you can use their own shop, order from Authorised Amazon shops, or purchase from Authorised dealers, all of those sources will have good warranty, and if you ever have an issue with any of their products, iBasso’s PR, Paul, will be more than happy to help. They are simply put, the best when it comes to warranty and support, and they kept growing ever since I first had a contact with them, more than four years ago.


It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with iBasso. I’d like to thank iBasso for providing the sample for this review. This review reflects my personal experience with iBasso DX220 MAX. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in iBasso DX220 MAX find their next music companion.



Packaging

First things first, let’s get the packaging out of the way:







The package of DX220 MAX is as large and cool as the DAP itself, and this time around, it really comes with a lot of extras. I know we sometimes like minimalism, but when going for such a pricy DAP, we want it all. We want the best, most complete package we can get, and happily iBasso delivered neatly.

The package includes a leather case, a charger (I will explain in the build part of this review, but we need to charge it for the Analogue Part), an adapter from 4.4mm to 2.5mm, a USB Type-C cable (Yay!) and a coaxial cable, as DX220 MAX also has Digital Out abilities.


DX220 MAX also comes with screen protectors applied from the factory, both on the front and at the back, so even if you will start noticing minor scratches after using it for a while, don’t worry, it is just the protector, and not the glass at the front or at the back.

I personally have never seen a more complete package before, and DX220 MAX is the best package of a DAP in 2021.



Technical Specifications

Operating System – Android 8.1
CPU – 8 Core
RAM – 4GB LPDDR3
ROM – 128 GB (118 GB free space / approx 10GB are reserved for the OS)
Screen – 5.0” 1920*1020 (1080P) IPS Screen
DAC – Dual ES9028Pro DAC Chip
Analog Outputs – 4.4mm Line Out, 3.5mm Phone Out, 4.4mm Balanced Out (TRRRS)
Digital Out – SPDIF/Coaxial, Mini Optical Out, USB Type-C
XMOS Receiver – XMOS USB Receiver for Native DSD Support (up to 512x)
Battery Digital Part – 1 x 4400mAh 3.8V Li-Polymer
Battery Analog Part – 4 x 900mAh (3600mAh) 8.4V Li-Polymer
Battery Life – up to 14 hours DAP section / up to 11 – 11.5 hours AMP section
Size – L145MM x W86MM x H27MM
Weight – approx 700 grams (1.55 pounds)

3.5mm Single Ended Output (TRS)

Output Level (No Load) – 4.40VRMS (-105.5dB, 0.00053%)
Output Level (@300ohm) – 4.35VRMS (-104dB, 0.00063%)
Frequency Response – 10HZ-40KHZ+/-0.2dB
SNR – 122dB
Dynamic Range – -122dB
THD+N (no load) – -114dB (0.0002%) (2.5VRMS)
THD+N (@300ohm) – -112dB (0.00025%) (2.5VRMS)
THD+N (@32ohm) – -97dB (0.0014%) (2.5VRMS)
Crosstalk – -118dB

4.4 mm Balanced Output (TRRRS)
Output Level (No Load) – 8.8VRMS (-108dB, 0.0004%)
Output Level (@300ohm) – 8.7VRMS (-107dB, 0.00045%)
Frequency Response – 10HZ-40KHZ (-0.2dB)
S/N Ratio – 125dB
Dynamic Range – -122dB
THD+N (no load) – -114dB (0.0002%) (3VRMS)
THD+N (@300ohm) – -113.5dB (0.00021%) (3VRMS)
THD+N (@32ohm) – -101.5dB (0.00084%) (3VRMS)
Crosstalk – -119dB

4.4mm Line Output
Output Level (no load) – 4.4VRMS (-112dB, 0.00025%)
Frequency response – 10HZ-40KHZ (-0.2dB)
SNR – 125dB
Dynamic Range – -125.8dB
THD+N (DAC141) – -115.4dB (0.00017%) (2.6VRMS)
Crosstalk – -115dB



Video Review

iBasso DX220 MAX: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JStQpL83jaM



Build Quality/Aesthetics/Functionality

There are so many features and highlights that it is complicated to know where to start when talking about the DX220 MAX. The first, and most obvious thing, is the size and weight. It is a huge DAP, with almost a kilo in weight. This is thanks to its build, which is metal + glass, but also thanks to its advanced circuits, and huge batteries. Batteries, because there are more than one battery inside.

We’re talking about five batteries in total, with four dedicated to the analogue stage, and one dedicated to the digital and OS / Processing stage. This means that you don’t have to worry about the noise introduced by the CPU and OS motherboard.


DX220 Max features a dual ES9028PRO, one of the beefiest DACs to ever be seen in a portable. It also decodes PCM up to 32 Bit / 384 kHz, and Native DSD up to DSD512. There’s 4 GB of RAM, which is more than enough for audio applications, and also the highest in a DAP, except for one or two outliers.

iBasso went all-in with audiophile-grade capacitors, as well as a full sized analogue potentiometer. There’s no channel imbalance on the volume wheel after about 9 o’clock. If you think you need to listen quieter, you can access the digital volume control, so it can be as grainy and expanded as you need.


At about 700 grams, it is clearly the heaviest DAP I ever laid my hands upon, and also the one with the most outputs, and most dedicated tech inside. The outputs include a Balanced 4.4mm output, a 4.4mm line out, and a 3.5mm headphone output, next to the volume wheel. At the other end of the DAP, we have the power button, the DC input button, for charging the power amplifier stage, a type-c USB port, and the SPDIF output.

As far as the display goes, we have a 5.0 IPS display with a FHD resolution of 1920*1080, which is both bright enough for proper outdoors usage, but also colorful, if you like to stare at your cover art.

DX220 MAX has one microSD slot with the ability to take in cards up to 2 TB, and as it runs Android 8.1, it can run videos, games, and many other things, but the whole point of it is to play music.


Besides supporting Bluetooth, in 5.0 format, it also has 5G wifi, and can even decode MQA. Tidal is supported too, including playing from memory.

If you’re curious if it consumes a lot, I could get almost 10-11 hours of battery life from it, with the digital volume set to max, and using the potentiometer around 11 o’clock on the 4.4mm balanced port.



Software

We have the Dual Boot system like on DX220, where you can use DX220 MAX in both pure mode, where it can only play music, for a small sonic improvement, or you can run it in full sized Android, with support for Tidal, Streaming apps, VLC, Hiby Music, and everything in between.


DX220 MAX doesn’t have Google Play support by default, but it comes with APK Pure and Cool APK, and you can install Google Play too, if downloading it from the APK Pure store. The whole point of not including it by default is that DX220 MAX is sold to the Chinese Markets too, and Google Play can’t be used in China.

There are third party software options out there too, like Lurker’s Free ROM, which brings Google Play too, along with other optimisations.

DX220 MAX also has the option of a DAC and a DAP mode, as it can work as your main USB DAC for your computer. It has no delays when used as such, and can be used for movie watching and competitive gaming. Given the choice of ESS 9028PRO, you can consider DX220MAX a worthy replacement of your current Desktop DAC, as it can replace something like the Mytek Brooklyn DAC+, and can / will totally outdo the likes of Aune S6 PRO, M2Tech Young MK III, and even can hold its ground against R2R DACs like the Ares II from Denafrips I just reviewed.



Sound Quality

DX220MAX sounds extremely natural, with a slight preference for warmth and a musical presentation. The bass is deep, kicks in nicely with a lot of impact, visceral even, while the midrange is clean, clear, and has a huge soundstage in both depth and width. The treble is sparkly, well-extended with no roll-off, and sprinkles the entire sound, leading to a 3D presentation.


I mainly used high-end IEMs for the sonic impressions, and to determine the sound of the DX220 MAX. Among those, I used the Campfire Atlas, Dita Fidelity, Dita Fealty, Sivga P2, iBasso SR2, iBasso IT04, HIFIMAN RE2000Silver, FiiO FA9, MEZE Rai Penta, HIFIMAN Deva, and even CTM Clear Tune Monitors X.

The overall bass presentation is dynamic, powerful and with a lot of authority / control. DX220MAX doesn’t add to the weight of a musical note, compared to what was in the original song, but it can totally go quick, enough for the fastest of trancecores. The tuning itself is close to reference, but the weight and depth of the bass are most impressive, when it comes to how hard can it kick, and it kicks as hard as you’d expect a device of this size and weight to, beating the likes of Sony 1Z in terms of how deep, quick, and dynamic the bass is.

The midrange of the DX220 MAX is clean, clear, but is a bit soft and has a warm tinge. This makes music sound quite euphonic, musical, and pleasing. Works well for both metal and rock, but also for Jazz, Classical and pretty much everything else. It tends to favor both male and female voices equally, with a soft emphasis on the depth of male voices, and emotion on female voices. The dynamics alone are enough to make you go “WOW” at first listen, but also to keep impressing you regardless how many times you hear it. The midrange is also in line with the bass and the treble, and there’s no dip or feeling of a distant midrange.

Given the slightly soft and slightly warm presentation, DX220MAX favors guitars and pianos, but given its extremely detailed presentation, it also favors complex orchestral arrangements. There’s a huge space between instruments, voices, and everything in general, and the imaging / positioning is probably the best I’ve heard from a portable DAP to date.

The treble is clear, clean, and sparkly, with a good amount of extension and air. Despite the neutral tuning, with not roll-off, the treble is also slightly soft, which means that there’s no trace of harshness, even on older and poorly mastered tracks, and DX220MAX presents rock and contemporary music quite vivid. Even distorted guitars from heavy metal songs have a beautiful upper midrange / lower treble presence with a good amount of color. I would actually go as far as to call DX220MAX the most refined and mature tuning so far, with the treble being the cherry at the top of a well-made audio cake.



Comparisons

The main comparisons will be with DX220 + AMP9, FiiO M11 PRO, Hiby R6, Opus #2 and QLS QA361. The lack of hardware playback buttons on DX220 is something to note, as most of its competitors do have hardware playback buttons, but DX220MAX can be connected with a bluetooth remote, and you could keep it in a pocket / pouch, and hold a remote to control it. Apps like Hiby Music also work for using something like Hiby Link as a remote for controlling the playback on DX220 MAX, so a Huawei P20 or Xiaomi Note 9S are also good options for controlling it.


Those are the main DAPs that can compete with DX220 MAX, although as we’ll explore, when you invest in the price of DX220 MAX, and invest in carrying the weight of it around, you are rewarded by a better overall experience in sonics, and everything, except for ergonomics.

iBasso DX220 MAX vs iBasso DX220 + AMP9 ( USD vs 900 USD) – This is the big compa, the one that everyone cares the most about, and it is where I have to admit that DX220 the original still makes an excellent option for those who want to get a high-end DAP. There’s the DX300 that iBasso released recently, and which is worthy to consider, but that’s for another review, for now DX220 has a beautiful design, with playback buttons. The largest difference between DX220 MAX and DX220 is the battery life, which has been improved greatly on the MAX version. The sound is more powerful, and softer on DX220 MAX, with more detail and clarity, but DX220 is still fairly close. The midrange especially when using AMP 9, is a bit more colorful on DX220, while the MAX has a wider soundstage, with more depth too.

iBasso DX220 MAX vs Hiby R6 ( USD vs USD) – R6 will soon be replaced by “R6 New”, and Hiby also released R8, which supposedly has better hardware, which is more similar to a smartphone, but DX220 MAX is considerably better than the original R6 when driving both headphones and IEMs. With IEMs, DX220 MAX is silent, with no background noise or hissing, but R6 has a ton of hissing with most sensitive IEMs. With headphones, DX220 MAX has much more driving power, especially on the Balanced Output. The sound of DX220 MAX is softer, a bit warmer, with more emphasis on emotion and has a wider, deeper soundstage.

iBasso DX220 MAX vs FiiO M11 PRO ( USD vs 650 USD) – M11 PRO is actually no on the same ground as DX220 MAX, and FiiO has their M15 to be the best device to compare with DX220 MAX, but M15 is not available at all in Romania, or in most of the Europe, so M11 PRO it is to compare with DX220 MAX. Compared to M11 PRO, DX220 MAX sounds much more natural, has better bass, better treble, and more clarity. Despite all of this, DX220 MAX is harder to carry around and to use, and M11 PRO has a slightly quicker OS. From early reports, M15 runs extremely hot, so on this note, DX220 MAX stays about as cool as M11 PRO, and heat never came off as an issue with it, so I wouldn’t shy away from a big DAP, even if you had a poor experience with M15 before.

iBasso DX220 MAX vs Opus #2 ( USD vs USD) – Opus #2 is quite outdated now, but it still appears on sale on Drop and other websites, so it is still a DAP people consider, especially given how much hype was around it a few years ago, and given how much I liked it back then. You’d be right to think it sounds beautiful, especially if you have IEMs, but DX220 MAX overtakes it in all aspects, including details, soundstage, dynamics and clarity. The only part where DX220 MAX is not a direct upgrade is when it comes to its ergonomics, being larger and clunky to carry around, but that’s a sacrifice you have to make if you want to hear the best the DAP world has to offer.

iBasso DX220 MAX vs QLS QA361 ( USD vs USD) – Although QA361 has a pretty soft sound itself, it is no match for how musical, detailed and wide DX220 MAX is. The driving power is also much better for DX220 MAX, and even if you beef the settings on QA361 to their maximum, DX220 MAX still sounds much more vivid, more powerful, more dynamic, and has much more driving power. Also the stage is larger, and the instrument separation better. Adding Tidal, Android, Apps support and all of the other bells and whistles that DX220 MAX, to the equation, and it is clearly the better deal of the two.



Pairing

The main pairings of DX220 MAX will be with Meze RAI Penta, Dunu DK-3001 PRO, Rosson RAD-0, and Lime Ears Model X. It pairs favorably with headphones, even more than it does so with IEMs, since it has a TON of driving power on the 4.4 mm balanced headphone output, but you will need something like the Meze Balanced Cable for that, and a compatible headphone, like HIFIMAN Arya, HIFIMAN Sundara, or iBasso SR2.


DX220 MAX has much more driving power from the Balanced port than it has from the Single Ended 3.5mm port, and it is much better to use the Balanced port when you can, as it is better optimised for a good sonic experience. You should also get a little rubber protector and cover the Line Out 4.4mm port if you value your ears / headphones / IEMs, or at least pay attention when inserting something in that 4.4mm jack, to not mistake the 4.4mm line out for the headphone output.

The driving power is not such an issue for DX220 MAX when you have IEMs, but with headphones, especially with hard-to-drive ones, the 4.4mm port will feel like an entire new thing. It is most effective for the likes of Audeze LDC-2C, HIFIMAN Arya, Beyerdynamic T1, LSA HP-1, Kennerton Thror and heavyweight headphones.

iBasso DX220 MAX + Meze RAI Penta ( USD + USD) – Meze Rai Penta shows a beautiful overall pairing with DX220MAX, as it compliments their softer and musical nature, with a hard bass, but also a colorful midrange. There is no hissing, and no issue with the sound, the entire pairing sounds musical, yet extremely wide. Instrument separation is quite good, and despite the softer nature of DX220 MAX, it manages to have a good clarity and detail with the Rai Penta.

iBasso DX220 MAX + Rosson RAD-0 ( USD + USD) – RAD-0 doesn’t need any special cables to be driven from DX220 MAX, it works just right with the 3.5mm single ended cable. In fact, the pairing is incredible, with a liquid-sounding midrange, a lot of color in the sound, a smooth, yet airy treble, and a large soundstage. RAD-0 still brings a smile to my face every time I hear them, and DX220 MAX just made the whole experience so much better.

iBasso DX220 MAX + Lime Ears Model X ( USD + USD) – Model X has two modes, one which is bright and analytic, and one which has bass, and quite a beautiful, warm bass with a lot of emphasis on musicality. Regardless what is the mode you prefer to listen to, DX220 MAX will sprinkle some of its magic over it, and bring you a better overall experience, regardless whether that is by showing you a beautiful midrange and detail, or by giving you the best bass impact / depth you’ve heard in years with the Model X.

iBasso DX220 MAX + Dunu DK-3001 PRO ( USD + USD) – With DK-3001 PRO, you either love their V-Shaped sound, or you have a different IEM at the moment, because I personally can’t keep off listening to them when I want to plug in some old school rock, and well, rock on. The overall pairing is beautiful, with no hissing, no background noise, but with a lot of bass impact, treble sparkle that’s refined, and a huge soundstage. The imaging is also top notch, especially when it comes to how good the stereo separation is, making DK-3001 so much better for EDM / pop / Dubstep too.

iBasso DX220 MAX + iBasso SR2 ( USD + USD) – This is the first time I felt the need to mention that I prefer using the 4.4mm balanced output rather than using the 3.5mm Single Ended output. Especially when we mention the amount of dynamics and the natural sound that SR2 has, the overall experience is so awesome. The written review for SR2 is also coming in the next few weeks, so please keep an eye out for it, if you want one of the best Dynamic Headphones based on the Tesla Tech.



Value and Conclusion

At the end of Today’s Review, we should consider that the price of DX220 MAX is quite high. In fact, besides some extra fancy devices, it is one of the most expensive things I reviewed on Audiophile-Heaven, and it certainly is not as solid of a value as DX220 is in general. This being said, it is unique, it is special, it is magical. The whole sound of it, if you’re into music, makes it worth every penny paid for a DX220 MAX. Also, given the high-quality components, including the capacitors from Kemet, which are polymer tantalum, Toshin UTSJ, Panasonic, Nichicon and Amtrans PET Film ones, it will hold value in time for years, and makes a worthwhile investment, like any hifi component that holds value for at least five to ten years. The battery inside DX220 MAX is going to last a longer while than most batteries, and it has better battery life than most DAPs on the market.


In fact, it is not just the weight that’s special, but also the volume wheel, which has a 4-wiper custom potentiometer, providing a better performance than most on the market. The Femtosecond oscillators inside also provide an excellent performance for both DSD, PCM, and even MQA files, making the experience of listening music on DX220 MAX truly unique.


Not only that, but the whole sound is magical. The bass is deep, but also quick, having an ever so slightly hard character. Combined with the ever so slightly soft and warm midrange and the softer treble, the whole listening experience is mature, well defined, and versatile. Any music style will be beautiful, any rock will have juicy guitars, and any dubstep will hit you in the stomach with the bass.


Before the end of this review, I want to add DX220 MAX to Audiophile-Heaven’s Hall Of Fame for being one of the best DAPs I heard to date, with an excellent kick for detail, clarity, having a surprisingly good battery life, good OS performance, and everything the ultimate DAP should have.


At the end of today’s review, if you’re looking for the ultimate DAP, the mountain peak in audio, you’re surely going to be interested in DX220 MAX. Even more, if you’re looking to see what the best of the DAPs sounds like, you’ll be surprised by how much it can surpass desktop devices that are close in price, even some of the best taking a second place to DX220 MAX. Of course, you have to be ready to make a little sacrifice in ergonomic and get a pouch for this one, as it ain’t as pocketable as DX220 the original, but at the end of the day, if you want the best DAP, you totally have to check out DX220 MAX from iBasso, the most interesting transportable DAP I reviewed to date.



Full Playlist used for this review

While we listened to considerably more songs than those named in this playlist, those are excellent for identifying certain aspects of the sound, like PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you’re searching for new most, most of them being rather catchy.



Youtube Playlist



Tidal Playlist

https://listen.tidal.com/playlist/64555551-ec3c-4279-ae44-248fdfcf6c4b

I hope my review is helpful to you!




















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изvery strange. Where am I the qls 361 soft? what firmware was it on?

twister6

twister6 Reviews
Headphoneus Supremus
The Mighty MAX!
Pros: independent battery and charging system for analog and digital sections, desktop quality performance with high voltage output, solid build, large 5” display, 4GB RAM/128GB Storage, Parametric EQ with Mango v2 app, BT 5.0, fast charging, leather case.
Cons: higher price than original DX220, no hardware playback control buttons, 2 separate chargers.


The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion. The review was originally posted on my review site, and now I would like to share it with my readers on Head-fi.

Manufacturer website: iBasso.


Intro.

iBasso releases are always consistent but sometimes not as predictable. Three years ago, when DX200 was introduced, its new modular design was a step forward relative to their previous DAPs. Last year, DX220 release was focused more on sound refinement rather than drastic design changes. Fast forward to this year, and we have DX220 MAX. The first time I heard about this DX220 model with MAX suffix, a flashback of limited edition DX200 Ti crossed my mind since I thought iBasso was not due for a new flagship yet. But I was in for a BIG surprise, no pun intended.

Is this a limited edition? No, but it is a limited run of only 999 units. Is there an overlap with original DX220? Maybe some, considering the same CPU/GPU, DAC, and display. And that is where similarities end and you start to wonder why they didn’t just name it DX MAX? iBasso always puts sound performance ahead of other features. And they did take it to the MAX with an all new advanced design based on DX220 platform without a modular part. As a matter of fact, the changes were so drastic that “DX220” reference might even confuse some people.

So, let’s take a closer look at this new premium flagship DAP from iBasso, and find out what MAX brings to the DX-series family table! Keep in mind, it is a long read, but as usual, I partitioned everything into multiple sections to make navigation easier in case if you want to “fast forward”.

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Unboxing and Accessories.

Bigger DAP needs a bigger packaging, and indeed, MAX arrived in a bigger all black carboard box with another giftbox inside of it, stamped with iBasso logo on top. Under the cover with a foam to protect the screen, MAX was sitting securely in a foam cutout of the top tray with a velour lining.

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With that top tray out of the way, you will find a number of very useful accessories organized inside of velour drawstring bags. There was a short coax cable for digital SPDIF output, 2.5mm balanced burn-in cable along with iBasso own CA02 2.5mm to 4.4mm balanced adapter, 4.4mm balanced to 3.5mm SE one-way short LO cable, AC adapter (18V), quality usb-c cable, extra screen protectors, warranty card, and a quick start guide.

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iBasso recommends at least 200hrs of burn in time, and using a burn-in load cable is a lot more convenient and quieter since you don’t need to use the actual headphones. Due to 4.4mm balanced Line Out only, the included custom cable “converts” LO from BAL to SE by using GND pin and only L+/R+ side of the connector pins. The 4.4mm side of the cable even has a directional arrow to make sure you plug it in the right away.

A custom leather case was included as well. A decent quality leather case to enhance the grip of MAX, with a fully open top where the DAP slides in, a slot on the side for micro SD card, and an open bottom to provide the access to all the available ports.

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Design.

Starting with exterior dimensions, DX220 MAX has been supersized to 145mm x 83mm x 26mm with a weight of about 700g, the reason why iBasso now calls MAX transportable instead of portable. But why increase in size considering it is no longer even a modular design? I will go into more details in the next “under the hood” section of the review, but you have to keep in mind extra room required for 5 battery cells (for separate analog and digital circuits), all dedicated ports, big/tall audio-grade capacitors, custom volume pot, stainless-steel heat-dissipation chassis, and a big 5” 1080p display with 1080x1920 resolution.

The right side of the DAP features no controls, while the left side only has a spring-loaded micro SD card slot. While sides are bland and the top/bottom are covered in glass, the visual eye-candy of the MAX design comes through when you examine the front and the back of the chassis. With every individual port having a golden surrounding faceplate, the contrast with stainless-steel chassis makes it look premium. On the front, left to right, you have 4.4mm dedicate Line Out, 4.4mm balanced headphone output, 3.5mm single ended headphone output, and a large golden knob of a custom 4-wiper potentiometer to adjust the headphone output volume.

On the back, you have DC-in for 18V wall charger to juice up analog section batteries. Then, you have a power button with a typical short click screen on/off and long press power on/off functionality. Next to it is USB-C port for charging digital section battery and other digital in/out functionality, and btw, this port also had a cutout with a gold faceplate. And last, but not least, 3.5mm digital SPDIF output which doubles as optical out. For me personally, considering I have been using MAX as my desktop DAP, the location of ports is perfect with power supply cables on the back, and headphone ports and volume control on the front.

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I’m sure many will notice something is missing in the design, a traditional hardware transport buttons for play/pause/skip. I honestly don’t know why the decision was made not to include those buttons. Maybe because this is transportable rather than portable device? I don’t want to speculate about the reason, but I do miss this functionality, though you can use many Android media control Bluetooth remotes as a workaround.

Under the hood.

As part of its “DX220” name, MAX still uses a dual SABRE ES9028Pro DAC, the same 8-core CPU and GPU, and 4GB LPDDR3 RAM with a benchmark performance (according to AnTuTu test) being close to the original modular DX220. As already mentioned, you will also find 5” IPS touch screen, Bluetooth 5.0, 5G Wifi, XMOS USB receiver with Thesycon usb audio drivers, and support of QC3.0, PD2.0, & MTK PE Plus quick charge for digital section. The internal storage now is 128GB, and you can expand it with high capacity micro SD card. You still have a support for bit-for-bit playback up to 32bit/384kHz, and native DSD up to 512x, as well as all popular audio formats: APE, FLAC, WAV, WMA, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, OGG, MP3, DFF, DSF and DXD. MQA decoding is supported as well, and so does M3U playlists.

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The big change here is in power management where MAX digital and analog sections are partitioned, completely isolated, and powered separately to make sure the noise doesn’t couple from one side to the other. They literally use a separate 4400mAh 3.8V LiPo battery for a digital section of the MAX, and separate 4pcs 900mAh +/-8.4V LiPo battery for analog section of the DAP. That is a reason why you have 2 separate chargers, standard usb-c charger for digital 3.8V battery, and 18V wall charger for analog 8.4V battery. This way you don’t need to use voltage boosters or converters, further isolating digital and analog circuits inside the MAX.

This is especially important for analog Amplifier section of the design, powered by +/- 8.4V battery without loosing efficiency or introducing distortion due to voltage boosters, keeping the power pure. The amplifier section itself is based on AMP8 module with its optimized class A discrete circuit architecture. The headphone output from the amp is very powerful, single ended 3.5mm @4.4Vrms (measured 4.35Vrms with 300ohm load) and balanced 4.4mm @8.8Vrms (measured 8.7Vrms with 300ohm load). With the balanced output alone, this translates into roughly 2.4W of output into 32ohm load and 258mW into 300ohm load. With such high desktop level output power, it comes in handy for MAX to have 3 gain settings. And in addition to independent volume pot controlling analog amp output, you can also use digital volume control to adjust DAC output level like in a pre-amp.

I’m sure many will be curious about battery life considering advanced power architecture and high output power. I ran the battery test on MAX with DAC volume at 135 and Analog volume pot at around 9 o'clock (normal listening), using average impedance and sensitivity IEMs connected to 4.4mm balanced out, med gain, filter 1 setting, BT/WiFi off, screen mostly off, only the occasional glimpse to check the battery status while playing a mix of mp3/flac files in a loop. Under these conditions MAX lasted about 11hrs 45min with digital battery down to 0 and analog battery remaining around 20%. Switching to higher gain, playing higher resolution files, streaming and having BT/WiFi on, and using demanding headphones will add more variables to drain batteries faster.

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GUI.

DX220 MAX is similar to DX200/220 with a dual boot design where you have access to either full Android OS with its Mango audio app or stripped-down Mango OS with a main interface being that audio app. Each one has its own advantages depending on user requirements. With access to full Android you have support of wifi and Bluetooth, can load other apps, stream audio, etc, though you have to be aware that stock DX220 doesn't have Google Play. Instead, it comes pre-loaded with APKPure and CoolApk apps where you can search and download most of the apps to install on your DAP. And, with MAX running 8.1.0 now you can download and install Google Play straight from APKPure without any issues. Plus, you can always download and install Lurker's free ROM which usually brings Google Play and other optimizations, along with a few other goodies, to iBasso Android DAPs.

Since GUI section of the review is identical to DX220, please refer to a detailed description of it in my original DX220 review on Head-fi.

Sound Analysis.

I analyzed MAX sound with Odin and U18t IEMs while playing a variety of my favorite test tracks, such as Agnes Obel “The curse”, Sandro Cavazza “So much better” (Avicii remix), C-Bool “Never go away”, Ed Sheeran “Shape of you”, Alan Walker “Darkside”, Galantis “Hunter”, Iggy Azalea “Black widow”, Indila “Boite en argent”, Dua Lipa “Love again”, Counting Crows “Big yellow taxi”, David Elias “Vision of her”, and Michael Jackson “Dirty Diana”. As recommended by manufacturer, I let MAX burn in for 200hrs using the provided balanced burn-in cable.

I prefer to describe the DAP sound based on the comparison to other DAPs and pair ups with different IEMs/headphones since the DAP by itself doesn’t have a “sound”. What we hear is how it sounds through IEMs/headphones connected to it or the difference from other sources using the same pair of IEMs/headphones for monitoring the sound. As a result, this section of the review usually summarizes what I find in the follow up Comparison and Pair-up sections.

Tunings of many flagship DAPs is usually focused on neutral less colored tonality, with MAX being no exception, but in many pair ups and comparisons this DAP stood out as being more natural and detailed without coloring the sound with additional warmth. Perhaps due to my preference of using BAL output with its higher voltage, I found bass response in many pair ups to be stronger, more articulate, and with better control. Mids/vocals always sounded natural and micro-detailed at the same time, of course, depending on technical performance and limitations of IEMs/headphones under test. But the mids always sounded layered and very dynamic. Treble was extended, detailed, and natural in majority of pair ups.

Overall sound is very layered and dynamic, the background is black, with details popping out from the darkness creating a fast transient response of note on/off. With some very sensitive IEMs you can hear a faint background waterfall hissing, though lowering DAC volume and changing the gain helped to lower this effect. But the star of the sound performance here was the soundstage expansion – being nearly 3D holographic. That was the first thing I noticed in every listening session of MAX, with the sound surrounding you in 3D space, putting right in the middle of it. And again, if your pair of IEMs has a narrow soundstage turning to begin with, don’t expect miracles, but otherwise, MAX pushes the soundstage width, depth, and height to the limit.

4.4mm vs 3.5mm

In the comparison of Balanced vs Single Ended headphone outputs, volume matched and using the same pair of IEMs/headphones and playing the same track, I hear a noticeable difference of soundstage being wider/more holographic from 4.4mm and background being blacker with an even faster transient response of notes on/off. Of course, there will be a difference in output power, but for the sake of this testing I volume matched the output to compare the sound performance.

Sound difference Mango app vs Mango OS

I went many times back and forth between Mango app under Android OS vs Mango OS, playing the same track at the same volume level and the same digital filter setting. And I hear a consistent difference where in Android OS playing Mango app the sound has a more holographic soundstage expansion and more transparent layered mids. In Mango OS under the same conditions, soundstage has a more intimate feeling, still wide but not on the same holographic level, and mids/vocals having more body and being smoother in tonality.

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Pair up.

The sound of a DAP is based on pair up synergy with different headphones. Afterall, you are hearing the sound of headphones connected to the Source. In this section of my review I will go over how various earphones and headphones pair up with DX220 MAX with DAC digital volume set at 150. Seems like DAC digital volume is very helpful with sensitive IEMs to adjust "pre-amp" volume to give wider dynamic range of volume adjustment, but with many demanding headphones the quality of sound was scaled down when DAC volume was below 135, so I preferred to keep it at 150. Also, I noted below if I was testing 4.4mm (BAL) or 3.5mm (SE) ports.

iBasso SR2 (SE) - This pair up works great in either high gain or med gain, the sound is very balanced, natural, detailed. Soundstage is wide, but I hear more depth/height than width and it could be partially due to me using SE instead of BAL outputs since SR2, unfortunately, only comes with SE cable. The bass is very textured, smooth, mids are natural, detailed, with a little bit of warmth, treble is crisp and natural.

Beyerdynamic T5p 2nd (BAL) - With these Beyer headphones pair up could be hit or miss when it comes to bass texture and retrieval of details. The overall sound is very balanced, also natural and detailed, but the bass is what shines here, going deeper with more textured rumble and having more control and articulation. Mids have a natural retrieval of details, not smooth or warm, also being layered, nicely separated, and focused. Treble is another indication of T5p2 being driven to its full potential since it doesn't sound too bright or harsh, instead, having a natural non-fatigue sparkle. Soundstage is very wide and expanded, but the depth/height of the soundstage has more intimacy, bringing you closer to the stage.

Audio-Technica ATH-R70x (SE) - These demanding 470 ohm open back headphones are usually hard to "satisfy" since they are very source picky. You have to push them hard, while here I didn't even have to turn analog volume dial more than half way. The sound is very open and spacious, natural, detailed, but with a noticeable improvement in bass response, going deeper, punching faster, being more articulate. Mids/vocals are natural and very detailed, again, being nicely layered with an excellent separation of instruments which I don't get in many pair ups with these cans. Treble is crisp, but in a natural way, not splashy or dull.

Meze Audio Empyrean (BAL) - With Empyrean the best pair up synergy is when MAX is in high gain and digital volume is at 150. There is plenty of power to drive these planar magnetic cans, and either way the sound is balanced and very detailed, you get a textured analog bass, natural detailed mids, and natural sparkly treble. But at higher gain with max DAC/digital volume the mids open up more, becoming less colored, even more detailed, being driven to their full potential.

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Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 (BAL) - First of all, the hissing is down to a minimum. Yes, there is some background waterfall level of noise when idling or at a very low volume, but nothing is audible when playing at a regular listening level. The soundstage is wide/deep, a very spacious sound. The signature is W-shaped, with a balanced emphasis on lows, mids, and treble, maybe with just a little more emphasis on mids, bringing them forward with extra focus. Bass is deep with a strong punch, mids are natural, detailed, revealing, treble has a little extra sparkle, especially lower treble which is a little brighter, but I didn't find it splashy or harsh. Due to high sensitivity of these IEMs, I had to lower DAC volume to 135 so I have a wider range of volume tuning.

Vision Ears Elysium (BAL) - To start off, this pair up has very wide soundstage expansion, plenty of depth/height as well, but more width. The tonality is natural, revealing with a deeper sub-bass rumble and faster mid-bass, natural organic layered mids with a more textured analog tonality, and crisp natural treble. Different pair ups can push Ely's treble to be a little harsher, but here it was very natural and still crisp and detailed. Great pair up. No hissing.

DUNU Luna (BAL) - This was a surprise because MAX really made Luna shine in this pair up. As expected, the soundstage is wide/deep on a holographic 3D level here. But the usual smoother warmer tonality in this pair up took a different turn, being more revealing, more micro-detailed, and overall sound being faster and more layered. Bass is fast and articulate, I do hear sub-bass rumble but it is a bit distant, instead mid-bass is the low-end star here. Mids are more revealing, layered, and micro-detailed, and treble is crisp and extended, but not harsh.

Empire Ears Odin (BAL) - The soundstage here is holographic, literally 3D. The sound is very spacious, transparent, balanced signature with a more reference brighter tonality. Very powerful deep bass impact with a textured rumble, mids are more revealing, layered, super micro-detailed, treble is crisp and natural, definitely no harsh peaks. Also, no hissing.

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iBasso IT04 (BAL) - I was actually surprised how holographic IT04 soundstage sounds in this pair up, it is usually wide, but here is was more 3D holographic. The signature is still quite balanced, but the tonality went from the usual neutral to more energetic with deeper sub-bass rumble, more forward detailed mids/vocals, and crisp airy and still non-harsh treble. No hissing at all.

Empire Ears Legend X (BAL) - Another example of holographic soundstage expansion, nearly on 3D level. The signature in this pair up is L-shaped with a very deep and textured elevated sub-bass and fast lifted mid-bass punch. The bass is still well controlled, but its quantity does push mids/vocals into the background. Those are still clear and detailed, and treble is crisp and airy. But the analog bass slam of LX DD cannons is clearly a spotlight here due to their overwhelming quantity.

64 Audio U18t (BAL) - A holographic 3D soundstage is the first thing you notice in this pair up, expanding wide and deep without sounding artificial. The sound signature here is more balanced since the bass quantity comes up, with a deeper sub-bass textured rumble and punchy fast mid-bass. Mids are forward, layered, very detailed, not analytical, but approaching micro-detailed level. Treble is crisp and airy, maybe even a bit too crisp, non-fatigue but a little brighter than usual. No hissing.

Venture Electronics Sun DICE (BAL) - These 180ohm earbuds are always a good indicator if I'm dealing with a powerful enough source to drive them to their full potential. VE Sun in this pair up sounds very natural and open, with a wide soundstage, though I find more depth/height than width in this pair up. Bass has a soft analog texture, more laidback and less aggressive, but still with a noticeable presence. Mids/vocals are natural, detailed, very organic and with plenty of clarity. Treble also has plenty of clarity and still very natural.

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Comparison.

In this test, I was using Meze Audio Empyrean, EE Odin, and Campfire Solaris ’20. Each of these DAPs, besides a difference in tonality and pair up synergy, has their own Pros/Cons when it comes to features, all of which should be taken into consideration depending on your priorities if you need streaming or not, which balanced termination you prefer, how much output power do you need, your battery requirements, etc.

MAX vs Hiby R8 - In order to match the performance for comparison, I switched R8 to turbo mode boosting its amplifier voltage. In this comparison the first thing that stands out is how holographic MAX soundstage is. R8 has a wide/deep soundstage as well, but MAX is still the widest. Bass response is very similar, again, once the turbo mode of R8 is enabled. Mids tonality is very similar as well, though MAX has just a touch fuller body while R8 is a little more transparent and slightly more revealing. Treble is similar. Another difference here, besides soundstage, is in vertical sound dynamics where MAX is a little more expanded in comparison to R8. Also, with sensitive IEMs, like Solaris, R8 has a higher level of hissing, while MAX is quieter, though switching to lower gain improves it. Another thing, R8 has a dedicated playback control buttons, faster processor, and overall faster OS. So, while these two are very close in sound tonality, MAX has advantage in technical sound performance, while R8 has the advantage in OS performance.

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MAX vs A&K SP2000 SS - Soundstage is always the first thing I take a notice of, and here SP2k comes closer in width, but MAX is still a touch wider and has more out of your head expansion, creating a more 3D holographic space. Tonality is close as well, though I still hear it a bit smoother MAX mids in comparison to a little brighter SP2k mids/vocals. Treble response similar as well. And, they both have very good vertical sound dynamics. Even the level of background hissing is down to minimum with sensitive IEMs. But the difference shows up when you start comparing these using more demanding headphones. For example, with Empyrean MAX had an advantage of a better pair up with better sound control and more natural tonality. Overall, both have a similar interface speed, though you have to keep in mind that MAX is open Android while SP2k will require sideloading of apps.

MAX vs Lotoo PAW Gold Touch LPGT - Again, soundstage of MAX is more holographic and it is more noticeable in this comparison, though I have no complaints about LPGT soundstage, MAX pushes it a little wider and deeper. Tonality is not too far off either, though in some pair ups MAX mids/vocals were a little bit smoother in comparison to more reference quality LPGT mids. Both handle IEMs in a very similar way, but with more demanding headphones MAX sound was a little more open and expanded in comparison to LPGT. It will vary from pair up to pair up, but I think Class A higher voltage output of MAX has a little better synergy with harder to drive headphones. In general, LPGT is not android, thus don't expect running streaming apps like in MAX, but that also makes LPGT a faster and more responsive DAP. Both have a relatively quiet background with minimum hissing with sensitive IEMs.

MAX vs Sony WM1Z - This comparison will have more differences. Starting with a soundstage, MAX is more holographic due to a wider L/R spread. Both have a similar depth/height, but MAX spreads a little wider. Tonality of WM1Z is warmer, smoother in a relative comparison to a more revealing and transparent MAX. But that is just a relative comparison. Also, WM1Z bass is more elevated, and slams harder. Treble sounded the same to my ears, maybe with WM1Z having a bit more sparkle. Also, have to keep in mind WM1Z is audio playback only device, no support of apps or streaming.

MAX vs iBasso DX220 w/amp8 - As expected, MAX holographic soundstage expands wider/deeper/taller in comparison to DX220. The tonality of DX220 w/amp8 and MAX has a lot of similarities, though I would say that MAX treble response is a little bit smoother and more natural in comparison to DX220, especially with more demanding headphones and IEMs w/EST drivers. Also, I hear MAX to have a better layering and separation and a more dynamic sound in comparison to DX220 with stock amp8. You can also hear a blacker and quieter background in MAX when compared to DX220 w/amp8. Other than that, these have nearly identical interface, though DX220 has hw buttons to control playback and modular design to interchange amp modules.

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Other Wired/Wireless connections.

In this section of the review I will go over various wired and wireless connections I tested and verified with DX220 MAX.

Optical out
  • By default, it’s turned off, thus needs to be enabled in MAX.
  • In my testing I had optical out going to Micro iDSD BL, volume on DX220 MAX seems to be fixed.
  • The sound is very clean and transparent, though the soundstage from Micro iDSD is not as wide as from MAX directly, plus the sound loses some of its analog texture.
Coax out
  • By default, it gets activated automatically.
  • Also used it connected to micro iDSD BL and found volume to be fixed on DX220.
  • The sound is a little smoother, less resolving in comparison to Optical output, still not as wide as being directly from MAX. In this pair up, the sound gains more of its analog texture, but loses resolution and some of the detail retrieval.
Digital usb-c out
  • By default, it works automatically.
  • Need to use OTG USB-C adapter.
  • In comparison to SPDIF (both optical and coax), in this pair up using MAX as a transport to drive Micro iDSD the sound was more revealing, more layered, more detailed, and even wider in soundstage. I still prefer the output directly from MAX, but this demonstrates versatility of MAX as a transport, and I personally preferred Digital out connection.
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Line Out
  • I was using Romi Audio BX2 portable amplifier in this testing.
  • BX2 is a very linear transparent amplifier and while having headphones connected directly to MAX vs through LO + BX2, I hear that MAX internal amplifier adds a little bit of warmth to the mids, giving them a little more analog texture versus the direct DAC output from LO.
ibasso_dx-220-max-31.jpg

USB DAC
  • Need to have iBasso USB DAC drivers installed.
  • Turn the USB DAC on from Mango App (Settings->Advanced->USB DAC).
  • Recognized by my Win10 laptop without a problem.
  • Playing the same file from my laptop to MAX as DAC vs directly from MAX sounded nearly identical.
Bluetooth Wireless
  • To test Bluetooth, I paired DX220 MAX with iBasso CF01 TWS wireless adapter. The sound was on the same level as connected wireless to DX160, working within 25ft from the DAP. With my Galaxy S9 phone I can go for 45ft, but the sound quality was similar.
  • Bluetooth mode supports both Tx and Rx, so you can use MAX just like DX160/220 as wireless DAC/amp paired up with your smartphone.
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Conclusion.

With this latest DAP release, iBasso continues to demonstrate that sound performance is still their #1 priority. And while some could argue it is a gamble to have yet another flagship with the same DAC/CPU/GPU as previous models, we continue to see a steady sound performance improvement from DX200 to 220 and now MAX. Here, iBasso took their design to the next level, even removing modular amp feature to accommodate new power architecture with a more advanced partitioning of analog and digital sections of the circuit, separate batteries with independent charging, and pure high voltage output to scale up audio performance to a desktop level.

Despite a common model reference name, DX220 and DX220 MAX are quite different and will appeal to different groups of audiophiles, depending on how they are planning to use this DAP and what they are willing to compromise. If you want to go portable and modular, you can get the original DX220 and its collection of AMP modules. But if you don’t mind transportable form factor to step up in audio performance, especially with more demanding headphones, MAX is one serious consideration on the level of other popular flagship DAPs that cost a lot more. And as usual, my imagination already running wild, thinking about what DX3xy could bring to the table.
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