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iBasso DX220 Reference DAP

Rating:
5/5,
  1. twister6
    The next gen Refinement!
    Written by twister6
    Published Aug 13, 2019
    5.0/5,
    Pros - new large 5” display, new Mango v2 app, more RAM, improved sound performance, PEQ, BT 5.0, fast charging, new leather case.
    Cons - more RAM with the same CPU/GPU (as in DX200) doesn’t improve Android performance.


    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 blog at the end of May, and I was planning to mirror it on Head-fi shortly afterwards, but got flooded with many other reviews. Now, I can finally share it with my readers on head-fi.

    Manufacturer website: iBasso.

    It's a long read with lots of detailed info and pics, so grab yourself a :popcorn:


    Intro.

    Regardless if it’s an entry or a flagship level DAP, every manufacturer has a different approach when it comes to new releases. Some will do a major cosmetic overhaul, change internal hardware, or start fresh with a new product series. Others will introduce a model with a different chassis material or headphone jack, though those are variations on top of the existing design, not intended to be a replacement. A price bump could be part of the changes as well. But with today’s flagship DAPs the price could vary by a few thousand dollars, thus it’s no longer a deciding factor when choosing the top performer.

    Two years ago, when iBasso DX200 flagship was introduced, it had a big cosmetic overhaul using modular design and all new internal hardware. iBasso uses DX name across their DAP releases where the model number indicates its standing relative to other DAPs. For example, DX150 with a design similar to DX200 had a lower model number along with a scaled down performance. We also saw two variations of DX200, a very small batch of Gold Copper which I don’t believe was even for sale, and a limited production run of Titanium version. And who can forget all new amp modules, compatible with both DX150 and DX200 models.

    No doubt, iBasso was due for a new flagship release, so nobody was shocked when DX220 was announced, but it did catch some by surprise when company revealed the spec. Personally, I had a suspicion it will not have a drastic design change because the model went from 200 to 220. But seeing all the effort they put into the enhancement of sound performance while experimenting with various components in their amps and Titanium DAP version, I had a feeling it would be the main focus of improvements in DX220 as well. Now, let’s find out what this latest flagship from iBasso brings to the table!

    ibasso_dx220-35.jpg

    Unboxing and Accessories.

    Before you get to the actual product, analyzing the packaging could give you some clues about it. Coincidentally, the design of the packaging box didn’t change from DX200, just got refined with new bolder colors. From a silver exterior half-sleeve to a burgundy soft-touch storage box with a cool diagonal split opening, it still has a premium feeling. The DAP itself is in an open tray on display when you take it out, surrounded by foam cushions inside the box. The exterior sleeve had a spec on the back, but it referred to a new amp module.

    ibasso_dx220-01.jpg ibasso_dx220-02.jpg ibasso_dx220-03.jpg

    Inside you will find a number of accessories, including film screen protector with a few spares for the front and one set for the back panel and amp module. Good idea, considering the glass back of DX220 and its stock amp module. Tempered glass screen protector was included as well, but as iBasso pointed out after the release, it reduces the screen sensitivity thus not recommended.

    A premium quality USB-C charging/data cable with a nicely braided nylon sheathing was another included accessory. You will also find their burn-in 2.5mm cable which serves as a load to let you burn-in the DAP quietly without a need for attached headphones. A short SPDIF cable was included too (3.5mm to RCA) which comes in handy when using the DAP as a transport. Both burn-in and SPDIF cables had updated look with a silver-color theme.

    ibasso_dx220-04.jpg ibasso_dx220-05.jpg ibasso_dx220-06.jpg

    A detailed DX220 quick start guide, S/N card, HDTracks 20% coupon, and even a card with acknowledgement of DAP supporting the hardware MQA decoding was included as well, but my focus went straight to a new leather case. The case is an upgrade from DX200/200Ti design. You no longer have a snap-on button in the corner, and instead it has a clean slip-on design with an open top providing full access to SPDIF port, USB-C port, and power button. Left side fully covers the chassis, including micro-SD card. Bottom has a large opening for stock amp LO, 3.5mm, and 2.5mm ports, except I had an issue with some of my larger diameter 2.5mm headphone plugs and ended up shaving off a few mm to widen the case opening.

    Right side now has hardware transport buttons fully covered with an imprinted shape that is very easy to feel by sliding your thumb. Volume wheel is open with an easy access to control it with your thumb on the front or the back. The back has a nice padding and imprinted iBasso logo. The color of the case is yellowish-mustard, perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, but for me personally it stands out in a drawer with other dark leather case DAPs. I have no doubt MITER will have a case for DX220 sooner or later if you prefer a different color. Also, not sure if mine came from a first pre-production batch, but it was a bit loose which I fixed by putting a few pieces of paper on the back, to prevent it from sliding out.

    ibasso_dx220-07.jpg ibasso_dx220-08.jpg ibasso_dx220-09.jpg ibasso_dx220-10.jpg ibasso_dx220-11.jpg

    Design.

    Starting with exterior dimensions, DX220 is 126mm x 70.5mm x 18.7mm, very close to DX200 128.5mm x 69mm x 19.5mm, plus both weight the same 240g. Up close you can’t miss the new big 5” 1080p Sharp full screen display with 1080x1920 resolution, while the original DX200 has 4.2” display with 768x1280 resolution. The new display is not just bigger and sharper, but the colors are richer and deeper. Its 2.5D Corning glass panel covers the whole front of the DAP, all you see is a thin bezel of beveled chassis edges.

    Since DX220 has a modular design like DX200 and amp cards are backward/forward compatible, the module is still at the bottom behind the glass with edges seamlessly integrated with main chassis. A screw on each side secures the amp module. The rest of the ports and controls around the DAP are similar to DX200. On the left you will find a spring loaded micro-SD card opening, on the top there is SPDIF port shared between COAX and Optical outputs. Next to SPDIF port, you will find USB-C charge/data port, and Power button (for screen on/off with a short press and power on/off with a long press) is in the upper right corner, flush with chassis.

    On the right side you no longer will see a guard bar over the volume wheel. Design is cleaner now with a solid one piece chassis and nothing else attached in the upper right corner. Volume wheel doesn’t stick out too far, has a diamond cut along the side for easy one-finger rolling, and has a precise tactile response with a soft click feedback. Below it, you have playback control buttons, all metal, the same size, flush with a chassis, with Play/Pause in the middle and Skip on the sides. It looks and feels nice in your hand, but I still prefer and recommend keeping DX220 in a leather case to enhance the grip.

    ibasso_dx220-13.jpg ibasso_dx220-14.jpg ibasso_dx220-15.jpg ibasso_dx220-16.jpg ibasso_dx220-17.jpg ibasso_dx220-18.jpg ibasso_dx220-19.jpg

    Under the hood.

    In this section I usually cover inner guts of the new design, but in case of DX220 not too much has changed, at least not when it comes to the main components. According to iBasso, they looked at all the available DACs, and still decided to use dual ES9028Pro configuration, the same as in DX200. Based on my discussions with iBasso, they put audio quality as their #1 priority, above any "next gen" marketing buzz. The selection of those desktop grade DACs for DX200 was a way for iBasso to futureproof their design, and they did it, even carrying it over into the next gen DX220 flagship.

    To my surprise hardware was updated with 4GB of DDR3 RAM, but the CPU remained the same, Octa-Core ARM Cortex-A53 as the one used in DX200. So, what does this mean? I can only judge by running new Mango v2 app and other apps I loaded on DX220, and I do feel apps running smoother, but overall Android experience is the same, and I even confirmed that by running a few benchmark tests. Do I need a faster Android OS on DX220? I already have a smartphone and half of the time use DX220 in Mango OS anyway, so it’s definitely not a show stopper for me. But, I would have loved to see it with either Qualcomm Snapdragon or Samsung Exynos processors because with its gorgeous 5” display and 4GB of RAM I would have probably used DX220 for more entertainment tasks than just music.

    Internal storage remained the same as DX200, only 64GB which I would have loved to see doubled, but it’s not a show stopper either with microSD cards going up in capacity, plus DX220 being able to stream. Battery remained the same, 4400mAh, but now you have a Fast Charging capability supporting all popular protocols, such as QC3.0, PD2.0, and MTK PE Plus. That is a big plus and a welcome change. In my DX220 battery testing, I was able to get a solid 8hr of playback time in low gain from 2.5mm balanced output playing mix of mp3/FLAC files.

    If you want to, DX220 can also be used as high end USB DAC, a.k.a. external "soundcard", supporting PCM up to 32bit/384kHz and native DSD up to 512, the same as in a standalone DAP operation. Also, some miscellaneous components were updated, using Panasonic polymer capacitors and custom inductors, as well as high accuracy femtosecond precision oscillators.

    Bluetooth has been upgraded to 5.0 and supports LDAC and aptX. BT operates in 2-way mode where you can either pair up with external Bluetooth devices or use DX220 paired up with your smartphone as Bluetooth wireless DAC/amp. And speaking of Bluetooth, the antenna now is outside the chassis in isolation cavity to cut down on interference with internal circuit. Dual band (2.4GHz/5GHz) WiFi is supported as well.

    As already mentioned, this is still a modular design, and amp modules are forward and backward compatible. This means you can share the same amp modules between DX150, DX200/Ti, and DX220, and have access to all the previously released and upcoming modules, like a promised AMP9 with Korg NuTube. DX220 comes with a new stock AMP1ii (2nd gen AMP1) amp with an impressive spec of 2.5mm: 6.2Vrms, SNR 125dB, 3.5mm: 3.1Vrms, SNR 123dB, and LO: 3Vrms.

    Last, but not least, though I'm not an expert on MQA subject and don't have any MQA encoded songs in my collection, according to iBasso, DX220 will support hardware decoding of MQA. Furthermore, I have seen a few people to comment about it on Head-fi with a positive feedback.

    ibasso_dx220-20.jpg

    GUI.

    DX220 continues its DX200 tradition 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. Just keep in mind that updates won't be installed automatically, and you can't bypass apps that require Google play authorization. The solution to this problem is very simple since you can always download and install Lurker's free ROM (https://github.com/Lurker00) which brings Google Play to DX220, along with a few other goodies.

    Mango OS is a strip down version of operating system built around Mango app interface where the focus is strictly on audio interface without a waste of OS resources on other tasks. Switching between these two OS is very simple, when you boot up into Android and press'n'hold Power button you have a choice of Power off, Restart, or switch to Mango. When you switch to Mango, DAP is rebooted and will continue to boot into Mango OS every time until you go to Settings->Advanced and select Android System. Once Android System is selected, it will only boot into Android OS until you switch back to Mango OS.

    If you look into Mango app (or Mango OS), you will quickly realize this is a new v2 version, and it doesn't just have the updated look and functionality, but also a lot smoother and faster to navigate. There are a few differences between Mango app and Mango OS interface, they are not identical, and I will cover it a little later. But first, let me go over the updated interface layout and its changes relative to the original Mango v1 in DX200.

    With a bigger display, now you also have a better view of the embedded song/album artwork, if one is available. If not, a default image is displayed. The biggest change here is that you no longer have to swipe left/right to get to the file/song management and settings. The main playback screen has a more logical interface where you swipe the artwork display left/right to skip between the songs, and access song search and file management from a shortcut in the upper left corner and settings from a shortcut in the upper right corner.

    Below the artwork, you have track info and a scroll bar to advance through the song where you can tap anywhere to skip. To me it’s a BIG deal since previously you had to tap and drag the current song position to a new one. Now, you can fast forward/back by simply tapping on a timeline like you would on your smartphone. Below it, you have a shortcut on the left to provide a more detailed info about the song, and another shortcut on the right to switch between playback modes (play in order, repeat list, shuffle, repeat current song). Play/Pause and Skip next/prev buttons are big enough and located at the bottom. Also, all the way at the top in the middle you can swipe down to access the list of your current songs playback or songs located in your current playback directory. From that list, you can swipe each song to the left which gives you an option to delete it.

    In Music search and track management, you can search through your songs (where it’s indexed) or by browsing the internal storage directory. Under indexed list, you can view All Music, or sort by Album, Artist, Genre, Now Playing, and Playlist. Any song you long press will give you an option to Play, Add to playlist, or Delete. You also have a setting (3 vertical bars all the way on the right) to specify exactly what you want to see in navigation bar or how you want music to be sorted and viewed. The level of customization details here is quite impressive. Plus, all the way at the bottom you have a small area to see the currently playing song and to control its playback with play/pause button. Tapping on it takes you back to the main Playback screen.

    In Settings Menu, you have access to Gapless (on/off), Gain (low, medium, high - 3 gain settings now!!!), Play mode (order, loop, shuffle, repeat, folder play), EQ (on/off, brings you to Graphic/Parametric EQ screen), L/R Balance, 7 Digital filters, and Advanced Setting. In Advanced you can select USB DAC, Sleep Timer, Scanning (songs on a card or internal), and System info.

    While I enjoyed the unique look of the original iBasso Mango interface and its navigation by-swiping to get to corresponding tiled pages, the new Mango v2 is a lot more "traditional" and consistent with other DAPs. So, when switching between different DAPs, I no longer have to think if swiping the artwork will skip to the next track or will bring up a file sorting menu.

    ibasso_dx220-27.jpg ibasso_dx220-28.jpg ibasso_dx220-29.jpg ibasso_dx220-30.jpg ibasso_dx220-31.jpg

    Mango app vs Mango OS.

    I'm sure many will be curious how does Mango app (in Android mode) compares to stripped down Mango OS. Here is a summary of some of the differences I found while testing under fw 1.09.092. There could be more, but these stood out for me.
    • Mango OS start up is faster, while Mango app/Android takes a little longer (a few extra seconds).
    • Mango app (in Android) navigation is faster, while Mango OS has a slight lag.
    • Mango app (in Android) has EQ and PEQ, while Mango OS has only EQ.
    • In Mango app you can randomly tap on timeline to advance to any part of the song, in Mango OS you have to drag the pointer to a new position like in original DX200.
    • In Mango app "Now playing" directory/list is accessible when you pull down the main screen, while in Mango OS you have to tap upper left corner to get to music sorting where you view "Now playing" list.
    There are also differences in sound between Mango app and Mango OS, and I will cover it in sound analysis section of the review.

    EQ.

    DX220 offers a traditional Graphic EQ (EQ) where frequency bands are fixed, and you only adjust the gain with a slider. In Mango app (Android mode) you also get Parametric EQ (PEQ) where you have a lot more control over which frequency is being adjusted, bandwidth of the frequency being adjusted, the type of the filter used to adjust the frequency, and of course the gain of the adjustment. Here are my observations while testing DX220 EQ and PEQ.

    Graphic EQ (EQ)
    • When enabled, drops the volume to create extra headroom for band adjustment (to avoid clipping).
    • Relatively clean 10-band EQ adjustment (33, 63, 100, 330, 630, 1k, 3.3k, 6.3k, 10k, 16k frequency bands).
    • Whenever you adjust a band, you can see it being shown graphically above the EQ sliders; great visual feedback.
    • 5 genre specific presets are included where each one could be adjusted further and reset to its original state.
    ibasso_dx220-32.jpg

    Parametric EQ (PEQ)
    • Includes 6 custom preset settings.
    • When enabled, volume doesn't drop.
    • While adjusting, I didn't hear any distortion.
    • Each preset setting has 6 assignable filters/frequencies to shape the sound where each one is represented by a different color on the screen.
    • Filter types: low pass filter, high pass filter, band pass filter, notch filter, all pass filter, peaking filter, low shelf filter, high shelf filter - peaking filter will be probably the most useful.
    • Each filter has: Fc (center frequency, from 33 to 16k), Gain (-20 to 20 dB), Q factor (0.3 to 20) where smaller Q makes the bandwidth wider and bigger Q makes the bandwidth narrower.
    • Fc and Gain could also be adjusted on the touch screen by dragging the pointer left/right and up/down.
    • The sound is adjusted/updated in real time as you move the filter peak and frequency.
    ibasso_dx220-33.jpg

    Sound Analysis.

    I analyzed DX220 sound with 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”, Ariana Grande "Break up with your gf", Ed Sheeran “Shape of you”, Galantis “Hunter”, Iggy Azalea “Black widow”, Indila “Boite en argent”, Robin Schultz “Oh child”, David Elias “Vision of her”, and Michael Jackson “Dirty Diana”. As recommended by manufacturer, I let DX220 burn in for 150hrs using the provided balanced burn-in cable.

    In other DAPs the sound is easier to describe because you are dealing with a specific DAC and fixed internal head-amp. When it comes to modular design such as in DX220, the head-amp characteristics becomes a variable since you have access to different amplifier modules that will color the sound. But regardless of that, DX220 still stands out with a solid technical performance where I hear a relatively black background, excellent layering and separation of the sounds, and a good vertical dynamics expansion.

    Thanks to a black background, especially when it comes to BAL out (amp1ii module), I hear a faster transient response of the sound with details popping out from the dark background. But black background doesn't mean that performance will be 100% hiss free with very sensitive IEMs like Solaris and Andromeda where you can hear a mild "waterfall" hissing when volume is dropped down to zero or when idling. At a normal listening playback volume, you can hardly even hear it. Still, relative to DX200 and even DX200Ti, DX220 feels quieter, with a blacker background and tighter sound control.

    Another noticeable characteristic which makes DX220 stand out is a wide soundstage expansion. Again, relative to a new stock amp1ii which I used in my testing, it's especially noticeable when comparing 2.5mm vs 3.5mm outputs where BAL out has a much wider soundstage expansion, blacker background, and improved layering of the sound. Personally, I enjoyed the new stock amp1ii more than the original amp1 since the new one (ii) has a more natural fuller body tonality, stepping further away from the reference tonality of amp1.

    Ever since I received DX220, amp module comparison with different DX2xx combinations has been the most common question asked by my readers. So, I put together a selective comparison of various combos. Please, pay close attention to which DAP/DAPs were used in the comparison, and the reference to amp suffixes (Ti - from DX200Ti, ii - new amp1ii, amp8 - their popular 4.4mm amp module).

    DX220, amp1Ti vs amp1ii - very similar performance, the same soundstage expansion width and vertical dynamics expansion, the same black background. Just a slight difference in tonality where Ti is a little brighter in mids while ii has a little more body with a more organic tonality.

    DX200Ti (amp1Ti) vs DX220 (amp1ii) - nearly identical sound performance with both having a blacker background, wide soundstage, and excellent dynamics expansion. The difference I do hear is DX220 having a little fuller body, giving the sound a slightly more natural tonality, and DX220 having a wider soundstage than DX200Ti, though I do hear DX200Ti bass hitting harder, especially in mid-bass. Keep in mind, when comparing these amp modules on DX220 above, soundstage expansion was nearly identical.

    DX200 (amp1) vs DX220 (amp1ii) - DX220 has a blacker background with a faster/tighter sound, a wider soundstage, and a slightly better dynamics expansion. Also, the sound has more body, sounds fuller, more organic, more natural.

    DX200 (amp8) vs DX220 (amp8) - DX220 has a blacker background, a little more body and a little wider soundstage.

    DX220 amp8 vs amp1ii - This was probably the most asked question due to popularity of 4.4mm amp8. In this comparison of amp modules on DX220, soundstage is a touch wider with amp8. When it comes to tonality, amp8 has a touch more sparkle in lower treble, while amp1ii is a little smoother. Also, in low end, amp8 has more impact with bass being a little elevated in comparison to amp1ii. For me personally, I actually preferred amp1ii pair up with DX220 because I didn't want extra bass boost. Another interesting observation was the same volume due to the same power output spec.

    Digital Filters.

    Digital filters always generate a mixed opinion since not everybody can hear their effect. We all have different hearing level, use different headphones, play different music. From my own personal experience, changes in sound when switching between filters are more subtle, but I still do hear some which I would like to describe below. Keep in mind I started with filter 1 as my baseline tuning. All the testing was done using U18t balanced with a DAP output in mid-gain.

    1 (fast roll-off, linear) - faster, tighter sound, deep low end extension and airier treble extension.
    2 (slow roll-off, linear) - deeper bass, more body in lower mids, overall a little thicker low end.
    3 (fast roll-off, minimum) - deeper bass with tighter control and faster speed.
    4 (slow roll-off, minimum) - deeper bass with tighter control but the speed is slower.
    5 (apodizing, linear) - similar to fast roll-off in tonality, but the attack of the sound is slower.
    6 (fast roll-off, hybrid) - similar to fast roll-off in tonality, but decay of the sound is longer.
    7 (brick wall, linear) - more sub-bass rumble which makes bass sound more powerful.

    Last, but not least, many asked me if I hear a Sound Difference between Mango app (Android mode) vs Mango OS. Based on fw 1.09.092, medium gain, and filter 1, while listening with U18t I found Mango app (Android) to sound a little smoother, warmer, more organic, and with a touch less sparkle in treble, while Mango OS sound is crisper, more resolving, a little brighter and with more sparkle in treble.

    ibasso_dx220-23.jpg

    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 headphones pair up with DX220, using amp1ii, high gain (with full size cans). I noted volume "v" in every pair up, as well as either balanced "bal" or single ended "SE".

    SendyAudio Aiva (v82, bal) - wider/deeper soundstage, J-shaped signature with more emphasis on natural soulful mids and crisp airy treble, while bass quantity is closer to neutral. Bass does extend nicely down to a sub-bass rumble and mid-bass has a decent punch, no issues with quality here, just the quantity being more neutral. AMP8 pair up is better in this case, giving more body to the sound.

    iBasso SR1 w/PT1 pads (v71, bal) - with PT1 pads the soundstage is more holographic, sound signature is more balanced with bass that extends down to a nice textured rumble and average speed mid-bass punch, very linear across sub-bas/mid-bass and going into more neutral lower mids. Clear detailed upper mids/vocals, very natural tonality, and clear well controlled treble with a moderate extension. Either amp1ii or amp8 pair up was good, actually liked amp1ii a little better here, giving vocals a better definition.

    ibasso_dx220-24.jpg

    Audio Technica ATH-R70x (v113, SE) - needs to push volume a little harder here to drive these 470 ohms open back cans, but the sound is wide and open, very natural with a laid back tonality, with a little more emphasis on vocals which is a little rare with these headphones. Bass goes deep, and has a nice mid-bass punch, not elevated, but still north of neutral. Lower mids are neutral, with a good body, upper mids/vocals are clear detailed natural, and a little brighter than in other typical pair ups which improves retrieval of details and makes the sound less laidback when used with amp1ii. With amp8 you get a little more body, and more natural tonality. Treble is natural and extended.

    Beyerdynamic T5p 2nd (v71, bal) - the soundstage is wide, not super expanded but has a nice out of your head depth. Signature is balanced with an extended analog quality low end that has a deep rumble and rounded laid back mid-bass. Lower mids are neutral, giving more room for natural detailed revealing upper mids and crisp well defined treble. I actually preferred amp1ii pair up better which gives vocals more power and clarity, while amp8 making them a little smoother.

    Meze Empyrean (v84, bal) - wide open soundstage, not super expanded, with more depth than width, balanced signature with a natural tonality. Bass goes deep, has a great analog quality, but closer to neutral quantity. Lower mids have a fuller body, upper mids are a little more forward, very clear and detailed, more natural in tonality. Treble is well defined, has a nice controlled sparkle, and moderate airiness. Amp8 helps to lift the bass, gives it a better definition, and overall a little more body to the sound. But if you want more focus on mids/vocals, amp1ii is better.

    ibasso_dx220-25.jpg

    In the following IEMs testing, I was only focusing on amp1ii module and switched to medium gain.

    64 Audio U18t (v69, bal) - wide expanded soundstage, balanced signature, natural resolving tonality. Bass goes deep with a smoother textured sub-bass rumble, mid-bass has a fast punch, mids are more natural, detailed, layered, treble is well defined, crisp yet closer to natural. Very dynamic sound with a black background. U18t used with Leo II Octa cable.

    64 Audio Fourte (v69, bal) - holographic expanded soundstage, more v-shaped sound sig with a harder hitting bass where I heard a deep elevated sub-bass rumble and stronger punch mid-bass, lean lower mids, brighter revealing upper mids/vocals, crisp airy treble which is still non-fatigue. It is more on a brighter more revealing less natural side, which is a sound of Fourte, but with some other pair ups lower treble here can get harsh and fatigue, while it wasn't the case with DX220/amp1ii. Fourte was used with HSA Redcore cable.

    Campfire Audio Solaris (v49, bal) - very expanded soundstage, balanced sound sig, natural resolving tonality. Deep bass extension with a little elevated sub-bass rumble (very tasteful lift), and strong mid-bass punch, very articulate controlled bass. Lower mids are neutral, with nice body, upper mids are very resolving, detailed, layered, natural; treble is crisp, airy, well defined, and well controlled. One of the best pair ups with Solaris I heard due to a perfect balance of upper mids/lower treble. Mild background hissing when DAP is idling or playing with volume down to zero.

    Campfire Audio Andromeda (v50 med gain; v33 high gain, bal) - In this pair up I had to switch from Med to High gain since it improved a little bit the resolution of mids. The soundstage has above average width, it's wide but not very expanded, while the depth out of your head is more noticeable. Bass is strong, goes deep, hits hard, not super articulate or fast, very analog quality. Mids are more organic, smoother, a bit pulled back, making the signature mildly v-shaped. Treble is well controlled, smoother, very good definition without being crisp. Mild background hissing when DAP is idling or playing with volume down to zero.

    Empire Ears Legend X (v78, bal) - holographic soundstage expansion, definitely L-shaped sig with a more natural resolving tonality, despite elevated low end. Bass here hits hard with a full power and a deep elevated rumble along with a strong punchy mid-bass. But the bass is very well controlled, never spills into a more neutral lower mids, and well separated from natural detailed upper mids making it very easy to shift your hearing focus from low end to vocals. Treble is also well defined, not too crisp or airy, but just enough to give the sound a clean and detailed definition.

    HiFiMAN RE2k Gold (v101, SE) - wide soundstage with more out of your head spacing, signature is slightly v-shaped due to a stronger hitting bass and crisp elevated treble. Bass extends deep with a nice rumble and elevated mid-bass, but I hear a little more rumble in this pair up. Lower mids are on a leaner side, sound of neutral, upper mids/vocals are more revealing, a little brighter and colder, more analytical. Lower treble is a bit hot here, being crisp and brighter. I do hear a little bit of accentuation on "s" but it's not sibilant. Treble could get a bit fatigue after the extended listening.

    VE ZEN/ZOE (v104, bal) - very wide soundstage, something I'm not used to with these 320 ohm earbuds. The sound is very laidback, warm, organic. Bass is rounded, warm, analog; lower mids are on a thicker fuller body side, upper mids/vocals are smoother and relaxed; treble is a little rolled off, more natural.

    iBasso IT01s (v63, bal) - holographic soundstage expansion, slightly more v-shaped sound sig with a more revealing tonality. Bass here is a little elevated, with a nice deep rumble and a punchy mid-bass, an articulate well controlled bass. Lower mids are more neutral, maybe even slightly south of it, upper mids/vocals are positioned slightly out of your head which gives bass and treble a little more emphasis. Upper mids are revealing, more micro-detailed in this pair up. Treble is crisp and airy, not harsh or fatigue.

    iBasso IT04 (v69, bal) - holographic soundstage expansion, balanced sound sig with a more neutral-resolving tonality. Bass not exactly neutral flat, it's above neutral, but shines more with quality rather than quantity. I do hear a deep velvety sub-bass rumble, and a fast punchy mid-bass, both are linear and balanced and not too aggressive. Lower mids are more neutral, while upper mids are resolving, detailed, layered, a little brighter yet still natural. Treble is crisp and airy, well extended.

    ibasso_dx220-26.jpg

    Comparison.

    In this test, I was using U18t, set at medium gain, using filter 1 on DX220. This comparison is based on tonality only, not the features. Each of these DAPs 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. And of course, there is a noticeable price gap when comparing DX220 to other flagships.

    DX220 vs Cowon Plenue L - very similar soundstage expansion, dynamics, and layering. The only noticeable difference is in tonality with DX220/amp8 being a little warmer, smoother, and having a fuller body in mids, while PL is a little brighter and crisper. With DX220/amp1ii the tonality gap narrows down, where PL is just a touch brighter in lower mids and a bit brighter/airier in treble while DX220 sounds a little more organic.

    DX220 vs Lotoo PAW Gold Touch LPGT - similar soundstage expansion, dynamics. and layering. Again, tonality is the main difference in sound here with LPGT being a little brighter, more reference, while DX220 is smoother and more natural. Also, DX220 adds a little more weight in the sub-bass. DX220 w/amp8 will add more body to the sound.

    DX220 vs Sony WM1Z - another comparison with a very similar performance in soundstage expansion, dynamics, layering, and even tonality. 1Z is just a touch brighter in upper mids with a crisper treble when compared to DX220 w/amp8, but with a stock amp1ii they sound closer, though 1Z still has a deeper low end impact.

    DX220 vs A&K SP1000 SS - the performance in this comparison is similar when it comes to dynamics and layering of the sounds, but I do hear DX220 soundstage to be a little bit wider. With a tonality, amp1ii sounds very similar to SS, maybe just a touch smoother in treble, and I hear a little more impact in DX bass. With amp8, DX tonality is a little warmer/smoother and bass punches stronger when compared to SS.

    DX220 vs Hiby R6 Pro - I hear more difference here with DX220 having a wider soundstage, slightly more expanded vertical dynamics, and improved layering between the sounds, not by a big margin, but noticeable enough. Tonality is similar when compared to amp8, but amp1ii makes it a little brighter and more revealing. Also, R6Pro bass hits a little harder.

    ibasso_dx220-36.jpg

    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. All the listening was done using U18t IEMs.

    Optical out
    • By default, it’s turned off, thus needs to be enabled in DX220.
    • In my testing I had optical out going to Micro iDSD BL, volume on DX220 seems to be fixed.
    • I found the sound to be very transparent, with a black background and even a touch wider soundstage. Really enjoyed this pair up.
    Coax out
    • By default, it gets activated automatically.
    • Also used it connected to micro iDSD BL and found volume to be fixed on DX220.
    • Similarly, the sound is very transparent, with a black background and even a touch wider soundstage.
    ibasso_dx220-21.jpg ibasso_dx220-22.jpg

    Surprisingly, from either SPDIF optical or coax, I hear the sound to be nearly identical when DX220 is being used as transport.

    Line Out
    • I was using FiiO E12A portable amp in this testing.
    • w/E12A vs amp1ii directly: connected directly you get a blacker background and a slightly smoother sound. In comparison with E12A connected, the sound is a bit raw and the background is not as black. Don’t think it’s a “function” of the DAC since I have tested it with different amp modules, perhaps not the best pair up with E12A in this case.
    ibasso_dx220-34.jpg

    BT w/headphones
    • To test Bluetooth, I paired DX220 up with Hiby W5 (LDAC) wireless receiver connected to other wired headphones. I don’t have any other headphones supporting LDAC protocol and was curious only about the highest wireless audio quality. It paired up as HD LDAC without a problem. The sound was clear and transparent, nearly like wired.
    ibasso_dx220-37.jpg ibasso_dx220-38.jpg

    BT DAC/amp (receiver)
    • In this test I wanted to use DX220 as a wireless Bluetooth DAC/amp. You have to make sure to pair up with your phone first, then when you enable DAC/amp option, you can use DX220 as a wireless DAC/amp. Paired up with my Galaxy S9, which supports LDAC, I was comparing a track played from DX220 directly and the same track playing on my phone connected to DX220, and it was nearly identical in sound to my ears.
    ibasso_dx220-39.jpg ibasso_dx220-40.jpg

    Conclusion.

    I mentioned in the intro of my review that perhaps due to model naming, going from DX200 to DX220, this upgrade not going to be as drastic. That's how I approached this review, under assumption that we are dealing with a similar modular design and the same DAC and CPU. But as I continued my testing and taking notes, I started to realize that some of the changes here are more drastic.

    I'm a fan of DX200Ti with its Ti amp module and design tweaks to scale up the audio performance. But it was a limited run at double the price due to material and manufacturing expenses associated with Ti chassis. DX220 picks up Ti sound improvements with blacker background and wider soundstage, refines them, and re-packages into a slicker design with a new amp1ii, bigger screen, fast charging, latest Bluetooth, etc. As a cherry on top, you get new Mango v2 app with a more streamlined interface. And the best part, its price is only $30 more than original DX200 model.

    This is definitely a no-brainer when choosing between new DX200 and DX220, but the current DX200 owners will probably be faced with a more difficult decision if they should keep or upgrade to DX220. It's a tough call because I know of many DX200 owners with amp8 who are very happy with its performance. But once you try DX220 and realize the level of overall sound and design refinement, it will be hard to ignore the upgraditis bug.

    ibasso_dx220-12.jpg
      fokta, Revoldises, Copland62 and 4 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. gazzington
      Great review. I think the dx220 is a flawed dap. Amazing screen and it sounds great. It needs a better CPU, it's very slow and gets very hot quickly. It's battery life is pretty awful too. I think it's well beaten by the n6ii in the mid tier dap battle. It's a shame as it sounds great
      gazzington, Aug 14, 2019 at 1:36 PM
    3. PureViewer4t1
      Thanks for the review. Just out of curiosity, how do you compare ifi micro bl with dx220 overally for iems? Especially in terms of details and separation?
      PureViewer4t1, Aug 14, 2019 at 5:00 PM
    4. fokta
      Great and comprehensive review.... Keep up the good work... Thank you
      fokta, Aug 15, 2019 at 10:35 PM
  2. Layman1
    Play on, Player - a review of the iBasso DX220 DAP
    Written by Layman1
    Published Jul 19, 2019
    5.0/5,
    Pros - TOTL performance at a mid-tier price, flexibility of the AMP unit ecosystem, THE SOUND, and did I mention THE SOUND?
    Cons - UI not as flawless as I would like, battery life good but not outstanding.
    A Layman’s review of the DX220 Digital Audio Player (DAP) by iBasso.



    Introduction:


    I would like to begin by thanking Paul and the team at iBasso for their hard work and for providing me with a DX220 in return for an unbiased review.

    DX220 details from the iBasso website:

    http://www.ibasso.com/cp_xq_dy.php?id=8401


    Official Head-Fi thread for all details and discussion regarding the DX220:

    https://www.head-fi.org/threads/dx2...-user-guide-1st-page-amp9-almost-here.898388/



    The DX220 is the current flagship DAP by iBasso.

    All the specifications and details can be found on the product page and the Head-Fi thread listed, as well as various comparisons, troubleshooting and even modding discussions.


    Pricing at the time of writing was $899 which I would say places it – financially speaking only - somewhere around the upper part of the mid-range of DAP prices.



    Photos:

    20190429_123309.jpg 20190429_123450.jpg 20190429_123815.jpg 20190429_123953.jpg 20190429_124002.jpg 20190429_124040.jpg 20190429_124136.jpg 20190429_124146.jpg 20190429_124229.jpg 20190429_124515.jpg
    20190521_123558.jpg


    Appearance and build:


    The previous flagship DX200 had a more polarising industrial aesthetic which proved mildly divisive among fans of the DAP.

    I wasn’t a big fan personally (with respect accorded to those who disagree with me!) but I much prefer the styling of the new DX220.

    It’s got a black ceramic classy glassy-looking back panel with the logo in silver. It’s worth noting that the AMP 1 Mk II has a back faceplate which matches this finish.

    I believe other key AMP modules will have both the metal finish on the reverse and optional backplates with the new updated glass finish; check the official Head-Fi thread for details or to post questions.


    The volume wheel feels excellent in use; highly responsive and with tactile clicks as you go up or down (matched an with expanding/shrinking circular on-screen graphic in Pure Mango mode). I did find that when putting the DX220 (with no case) into a tight jeans front pocket, the volume would creep up as I walked around. However, putting it in a looser pocket (e.g. the one in my jacket inside pocket) solved this issue completely.


    The DX220 also comes with a very attractive mustard yellow leather sleeve.

    It’s perfectly fitted; indeed, some people on the DX220 thread here have said that it makes the volume wheel difficult to turn. However, given that the case is for on the go use (and bearing in mind the issues I found when putting it the DX220 directly into a tight jeans pocket) I feel this is actually a good and well-considered part of the design :)


    The play/pause and navigation buttons along the side are easy to distinguish from one another by touch and the ‘Power’ switch is located on the top of the DAP.


    I sometimes found that I thought I was pressing the power on button, but nothing happened. In each instance, I realised I was pressing it only by a shallow amount.

    So remember to ensure you push the button in fully when powering on and you should be fine. The DX220 is not a rewarder of shallowness :)


    At this point, I need to give 'mad props' (I'm down with the kids, don't you know) to the accessories and the package as a whole.

    The attention to these small details, which are actually quite important in daily use, are a testament to their attention to detail.


    The inclusion of a burn-in cable which allows you to do burn-in with no audible noise was extremely useful, and indeed all the cables were surprisingly well finished, rugged and of high quality appearance.


    The touchscreen covers almost the entire front face of the DAP with only a thin bezel around the edge. It is bright, detailed, an outstanding feature of this DAP, and I found it to be fast and responsive in daily use.


    One thing I found though is that when trying to select tracks of folders in Pure Mango Mode, I would click on the ‘bar’ to select that track. Sometimes, if I clicked on the blank space next to the track name, nothing happened; however if I click on the writing directly, it would work seamlessly.

    Such things don’t overly concern me, as iBasso have consistently proven to be extremely responsive when such issues are raised on their threads and frequently release updates, even going so far as to provide updates for DAPs that are 2 or 3 generations old or more.

    So you can buy this one in confidence that you’re not going to be left in limbo when the next new shinier upgrade comes along :)


    Battery life is decent without being outstanding; I get from 6-8 hours I think, but it’s hard to say as I never get the chance to listen that long. Check on the Head-Fi threads for more accurate info.



    Usability and UI:


    Now, I am something of a Luddite when it comes to DAPs.

    I simply want to put files onto a micro-SD card and play them.

    No streaming, no Bluetooth, no apps, no EQ.

    I would advise people craving such things to follow the link I posted at the beginning to the main discussion thread for this DAP on Head-Fi.

    My understanding is that there may be occasional glitches but, on the whole, it can do all these things well, and is getting better and better as new firmware updates are released.


    I’m no expert on these things, so this is more a guess, but from the impressions I’ve read around Head-Fi and elsewhere, I would guess that Sony and A&K DAPs may provide a more seamless and bug-free UI (User Interface) experience.

    However, I don’t believe their updates are anywhere near as frequent or comprehensive as iBasso’s, so perhaps it all comes down to patience :)


    Certainly, if the DX220 can compete with them in sound quality and offer at least a decent standard of usability, then it’s doing so at a fraction of the cost of other DAP flagships.

    In such cases, people may be happy to overlook any possible UI bugs or app issues.


    In my case, since I am just looking for the best sound quality possible, allied with an attractive appearance and quality build, I have no complaints.

    I use Pure Mango Mode only and I have no issue with occasionally having to press twice (or more carefully the first time) to get the desired result.

    I’m generally too busy enjoying the music :)







    The Sound:


    For the purposes of this review, I used the iBasso DX220 with a variety of different IEMs, along with comparisons to a couple more DAPs. I also used a selection of AMP units; the AMP1 Mk II (that comes as standard with the DX220), the AMP9 (featuring a Korg Nu-Tube), and my AMP8W, which is an AMP8, modified to the specifications suggested by illustrious Head-Fi member Whitigir. It basically takes everything that’s good about the AMP8 and, well, amplifies it :p


    I started listening with AMP1 Mark II (first few weeks) and have now been using AMP9 for the last few weeks. All components have had over 300 hours of burn-in by now, for those to whom such things are A Big Deal.


    I have been reviewing the Stealthsonics U9 IEM (a TOTL performer costing $1100) recently as well, so I’m including it in my notes here, since it represents a rather different sound than I’m used to, with a more analytical and neutral signature, and less warmth, note thickness and weight as a result. The other IEM’s I’ve been using are the iBasso IT01 and the IT04.


    For various reasons, my IT04 is on a 4.4mm balanced cable, so I have only used that with my modified AMP8W. But in the process of this review, I shall stick that into my DX220 and do some comparisons between this AMP with DX220 and DX200.


    I’ll also be comparing the DX220 & AMP 1 Mk II with DX200 & AMP1 Mk I.


    Ok, so is that all clear?

    Then please feel free to put your feet up, relax and let the good times roll :)



    DX220 with AMP1 Mk II vs DX200 with AMP1 and others (and IT01 IEMs):


    Well, I should start with the predecessor to the DX220, by saying that I was a fan of the earlier DX200.
    The interface wasn’t as quick as I might have liked, and I wasn’t a great fan of its styling, but I welcomed the excellent sound quality, even more so when I could use a big variety of AMP units and the price was a steal in comparison to other high level DAPs.

    I felt that, especially with AMP8, it was able to compete with other TOTL DAPs.

    Opinions varied as to whether it could really compete, or whether it was actually superior, or was just a DAP that got close enough to the TOTL ones (at a fraction of the cost) to make it a worthwhile consideration.

    Prior to AMP8, I would have put it into the latter category. With AMP8, and even more so my AMP8W, I feel it could genuinely compete in sound quality with most other DAPs.


    Meanwhile (back at the ranch), I got the chance yesterday to meet up, share equipment and do some listening with a Head-Fi buddy.

    So, hopping in our metaphysical DeLorean and going back to the future, let’s see how iBasso’s latest and greatest DAP, the DX220 fares.


    Prior to this meetup, I’d listened to the DX220 extensively with its default AMP1 Mk II and then with AMP9.

    As I said, I had a lot of respect for the original DX200, but the step up in quality with the DX220 with AMP1 Mk II vs the DX200 with its default original AMP 1 is profound.


    What really astonished me was plugging in my relatively ‘budget’ $89 IT01 IEMs into the DX220 and hearing them sound like they cost 5 times the price.

    The bass gained in refinement without sacrificing power, the whole soundstage opened up with much-improved separation and imaging, and the ability to present fine detail really shone.

    Again, this is a set of IEMs I’ve been listening to on a daily basis for ages, mainly on my DX120 and occasionally on my DX200.

    But suddenly, it was a whole new ball-game.


    AMP1 Mk II:


    The AMP1 Mk II that comes as standard with the DX220 is terrific.

    It does everything well. The mids are especially noteworthy.

    It’s just such a balanced and delightful sound signature with no weaknesses and, I believe, a massive step up from the original AMP 1 unit.


    DX220 vs Sony WM1Z:


    So, back at the meeting to which I earlier referred, I brought along DX220 with AMP 1 Mk II, AMP9 and the modded AMP8W.

    Also the $1100 Stealthsonics U9 IEM that I reviewed recently and the iBasso IT04 IEMs.


    My friend had the Sony WM1Z (and ZX300). Other things too of course, but not especially relevant to this review.


    Now, due to my review schedule and limitations around cables, connectors, AMP units and so forth, I've been listening exclusively to DX220 with AMP9, paired with (mostly) the Stealthsonics U9 (3.5mm) and otherwise with the IT01 (original single-ended copper cable).


    My IT04 for various reasons is now on a 4.4mm balanced iBasso cable.


    I tried the single ended output on the AMP9 and the two Sony DAPs, combined with my IT01 and I think I preferred the AMP9 with that combo.

    I then tried the same DAP and socket combos, but with the Stealthsonics U9 this time.

    Here's where things started to diverge. I mentioned their rather ‘high-centric’ driver configuration; with the WM1Z something in the upper end of the sound signature of the U9 become quite brittle and sharp-sounding.

    This is no disparagement to the WM1Z; it just seems that the synergy was not so good in this pairing, or at least not suitable to my personal tastes (I'm rather treble-sensitive).


    On the other hand, they sound very good with the DX220+AMP9. The AMP9 adds a welcome bit of weight and tinge of warmth to the U9, whilst still letting those magical highs shine, and complementing its subtle musicality.


    Finally, I tried the IT04 with the 4.4mm balanced socket on the WM1Z, along with DX220 with AMP8W.

    I didn't have the time for a super extensive session, but I got a pretty good impression of each.

    The IT04 sounded fantastic with the WM1Z. Big soundstage, terrific micro-detail and timbre, weight and body, and an insanely addictive organic musicality.


    Next, I put my AMP8W on the DX220 for the first time ever.

    Well, it was pretty mind-blowing to me.

    I mean, I like the AMP9 a *lot*, but with the AMP8W, it's like all the dials have been turned up to 11 :D

    Everything is good. As in, EVERYTHING. The bass had more impact and slam and depth, but with greater tightness and speed.

    The mids were crisp and the timbre was outstanding. The highs were clear and extended. The soundstage and separation were very large. Micro detailing was astonishing. It was dynamic and engaging.


    I wouldn’t like to say which I preferred out of the DX220 with AMP8W and the Sony WM1Z.

    Both were absolutely top of the line, world-class performances. Both were addictively musical and engaging. Both had power and precision. I think the WM1Z was slightly more organic and musical. Possibly it had the edge in dynamics, but I really can’t be sure on that last point. Would need to listen much more (and hope to do so!).

    The DX220 I think had an even better bass attack, soundstage and separation.

    Mids, treble and micro-detail were equally superb on both.


    The WM1Z will undoubtedly win in terms of build quality. The DX220 wins for portability.

    If one was just using the original, unmodified AMP8, I suspect that this could give the edge to the WM1Z and even if so, only by a very slim margin.


    Ultimately, as is usually the case in the high-end of this hobby, it will come down to personal preference regarding the sound signatures, along with synergies between those DAPs and whatever IEMs and things you normally use.


    Critically though, I cannot fail to mention two significant factors; firstly, that of cost.

    I’m comparing two DAPs on equal terms.

    One of them retails at $899 (add an extra $280 for an AMP8 plus the ‘W’ mod); the other at $3200 (just checked on Amazon.com).

    That we can even be having this discussion is a testament to the quality and value that iBasso are bringing to the table.


    Secondly, that of flexibility. With TOTL DAPs such as the WM1Z, the AK SP1000 and others, you get an undoubtedly excellent product, albeit at eye-watering prices.

    However, synergies with other products are rather fixed. Conversely, with the DX200, you can use a variety of different AMP units which run the gamut from neutral-reference to warm, organic and musical; from laid back to high-voltage, high-current powerhouses that could drive a bus, never mind a fussy pair of headphones.

    There’s something for every IEM or headphone (or DAC, AMP, etc) there. For some, I think that degree of flexibility and future-proofing is going to prove a very attractive factor.


    Conclusion:


    For those wholly new to iBasso (or who have only heard their lower-tier offerings), I think this is going to be a surprise. For those who own the DX200, I think this may be an even bigger surprise :)


    In this audiophile game, there is always another International Bright Young Thing around the next corner, making eyes at your wallet and tormenting your dreams.

    So I have no wish to jump on that hype bandwagon and stoke such treacherous fires.

    We all have this love-hate relationship with the never-ending hamster wheel:
    New and Improved.gif


    Having said that, occasionally a game-changing product comes along.

    I think iBasso were close with the DX200, but I believe they have achieved it with the DX220. They now have a DAP that I believe can compete in sound quality with any others out there, and yet costs less than a third of most of the other TOTL ones.

    Furthermore, it’s UI is now on a level with most and it offers the flexibility of the AMP system which, for me at least, is incredibly useful.

    Certain companies have gleefully pushed the price points of TOTL gear up and up; here’s hoping that iBasso can help to achieve the opposite :)


    Summary:


    A TOTL performer at mid-range price. Christmas is long gone, but this is nothing short of miraculous. You get unmatched flexibility at a TOTL level with the wide choice of AMP units, a gorgeous screen and great versatility and performance. I cannot recommend this enough.
    1. icefalkon
      Great review!
      icefalkon, Jul 20, 2019
    2. iBo0m
      The UI is the same version as DX200 and performs about the same as DX200 or is there an improvement in the "responsiveness" over DX200? Very nice review and comparisons to other DAPs!
      iBo0m, Jul 23, 2019
    3. Layman1
      I would ask the first part of this question on the DX220 thread, as I never updated my DX200 after a certain point. I know there are separate firmware downloads for DX200 and DX220, but not sure if/how they're different.

      What I *can* say is that I have found DX220 to be quite a big improvement over the DX200 in UI speed and responsiveness. However, as I mentioned above, I haven't updated the FW for my DX200 in ages, so I can't be sure if that's the reason.
      Hope this helps :)
      Layman1, Jul 23, 2019