Driver: 2 x Balanced Armature + 1 x Dynamic Driver
Impedance: 8 ohms
Frequency response: 10 – 30,000 Hz
Sensitivity: 105 dB
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to iBasso in any way and do not benefit monetarily or in any other form for writing this review. I purchased this in-ear monitor with my own resources and I am simply giving my honest review of the product!
Review by: “Charlie” from The Little Audiophile
iBasso IT03 Recommended Retail Price (at time of writing): S$379
Ease of Wearing: 7/10
Noise Isolation: 9/10
Value for Money: 8/10
Sound Stage: 9/10
Separation & Imaging: 8/10
Source Matchability: 6/10
iBasso is a brand name that needs no introduction in the audio enthusiast realm. The DX200 and DX80 DAPs are just some of the popular products under iBasso’s belt, to name a couple. With all these experience in this market, iBasso ventured out and developed their first IEM – the iBasso IT03. Subsequently, iBasso released the IT01 soon after and the IT04 is hitting the stores (in Singapore at least) really soon.
Coming back to the topic, I purchased the IT03 from Zeppelin & Co.located inside Sim Lim Square and I have been evaluating this IEM ever since. With the launch of the IT04, I think it would be great to touch base and talk about the IT03 for a bit. So, for my humble opinions on the IT03, do read on!
If there is one thing that iBasso really knows about the packaging is that first impressions count. I must say, for the price the IT03 is one of the most professionally packaged IEM I have encountered. It is minimalistic yet practical. The box on the iBasso is slightly on the larger size for an IEM. It has the typical picture of the IEM in the front, some specs and relevant information on the sides. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Slide away the white shroud thingy, it reveals the all-black box with houses all the goodies you paid for. Open the magnetic flip black box and you are greeted with a frequency response graph and the obsidian black IT03 on the top shelf. On the bottom shelf, you will find the genuine leather (GENUINE, MIND YOU!) carrying case, along with a ton of ear tips and a warranty card.
Personally, I think the inclusion of the frequency response graph is a good way of advising the listener on what sound signature to expect from the IEM. However, I would have preferred it if iBasso included the frequency response chart with the different tips attached while having the measurements available on their website instead (the IT03 measurements charts are not available on iBasso’s official website). I know this is sitting on the lines of nit-picking and it is what sounds best to the individual user that really matters, but having solid data and measurements is always good nonetheless.
One thing I need to address is that the provided IEM case is just so stupidly small, I can barely fit the IT03 into the leather case. I like the genuine leather case provided, but unfortunately, it just cannot fulfil its intended purpose.
BUILD AND DESIGN
Just like all of iBasso’s DAPs, they did not cheap out on their IEM line of products and the IT03 is built really well and the design is very robust. I trust this IEM would survive the abuse of being an everyday carry.
The shell is made of a high-quality plastic that is only available in the obsidian black colour, unlike the funky little brother, the IT01, which is available in all black, or red and blue (for the right and left housing respectively).
The MMCX female connector is secured well on the IT03 and I do not see them facing issues of the connector sinking into the shell over repeated plug-ins and outs. Also, the connector is of pretty good quality and would not dent or bend if the user takes decent care when cleaning or plugging or unplugging the cable.
The cable provided with the IT03 is a tightly braided 4-core Oxygen-Free Copper cable and is actually of pretty high quality in my opinion. It sports a very robust TRS 3.5mm jack and shroud, along with memory ear guides. Nothing fancy, but essential in the making of a good all rounder IEM. Do note that the provided cable does not come with an in-line microphone, though you will be able to switch third-party MMCX cables with an in-line mic.
I have found that the male MMCX connector on the provided cable has a slightly protruded shroud, in which you may not be able to use this cable with other IEMs.
The IT03 is shaped very much like how a Custom IEM would, less the nozzle region. There is a protrusion in the shell above the nozzle to fit into the concha of the ear. The bore of the nozzle is also substantial in size (like T400/T500 kind of size), though the shaft is not unnecessarily long.
The IT03 fit me well, though for some your mileage may vary. The protrusion for the concha and wide nozzle may not fit users with smaller ears. Anyways, in my experience, there was just a tad bit of heat build up over extended listening sessions (2+ hours) and the large nozzle was not fatiguing for my large ears for I am a good listener (hehe)! I will talk about tip selection regarding comfort in the later segments of the review.
Honestly, the IT03 did not impress me during my initial auditions at Zeppelin & Co. (on a side note, the staff at Zeppelin & Co. had been really awesome as I auditioned the IT03 many times over my visits to their shop because I was frankly undecided if I wanted to pick a pair up. Thank you for being so patient with me XD).
After trying the IT03 out for a little longer, I started to fall in love with them. Here’s why…
Pre – Burn In
Burn-in – do you believe in it?
Out of the box, the first thing you’d probably notice when you play your first track is “Damn… these IEMs are peaky and sharp as heck! In the Trebs! Damn… NID inducing” Well, I won’t lie, they really are. I was going through my albums and I came across the track “Do Something Good” by Zayn, which was a sibilance fest. The “S” consonants and cymbals we so pronounced that it literally just ruined the whole song.
Sub-bass was seismic and a tad bit loose. Though I do not really mind this as much as the peaky trebles, the raw sub-bass can get a little bit overbearing on bassy tracks.
Sound Stage and Imaging
Nonetheless, the soundstage is VERY wide. I’d say there is a greater sense of width than depth and height, however. There is this very cool almost “surround sound” effect where on one track (can’t remember which one though ), the soundstage was from my 7 o’clock to my 5 o’clock, and this isn’t even supposed to be a binaural track. With me being able to perceive the exact point where the sound is, it shows how accurate the imaging is on the IT03. In short, the wide soundstage coupled with excellent imaging makes a very immersive listening experience..
Post – Burn In
After about 100 hours of run-time, I can safely say that the peaky-ness has mostly resolved itself and the bass has tightened up a little bit. I revisited the song “Do Something Good” and found that the “essy” sibilance has lessened (not disappeared though).
I found that the IT03 has a rather U-shaped, aggressive sound signature and has a higher treble presence than bass presence. The excellent, detailed treble response means that the IT03 is quite a resolving pair of IEM.
Soundstage and Imaging
Soundstage remains unchanged or that the changes are too minute for me to pick up, even after the 100-hour burn-in, so I shall not mention about it again.
The bass on the IT03 is fantastic. It has enough impact and has a fantastic extension to come off as energetic and full. There is slightly more audible sub-bass than mid-bass and does not muddy the mids in any way. I’d say bass-head should stay away from this IEM though as although the bass is energetic, it might be a little too quick and decays a little too fast for bass-philes.
The mids are no slouch either. I love how the vocals sound clean and uncongested, especially on live-recordings. For male vocals, I especially liked listening to Ed Sheeran’s “So” with this IEM as I could almost feel that he meant every word he sang.
Female vocals were again fantastic. “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman was a complete joy to listen to as could really “feel” the song and that I too really wanted to cross the border and (go) into the city to… I dunno… something.
However, with all these good things said about the vocals, I should say that the vocals are not (and nowhere near thick). They are slightly lean and therefore does not have the “chesty” kind of sound which occurs when there is a hump in the lower-mids.
String instruments were fast and engaging to listen to. Guitar plucks were very crispy and the fast decay does not smear the following note. The boost in the upper-mid range meant that guitars and especially acoustic tracks are something to ride home about.
Smooth, analytical, revealing, sparkly. These are the words I’d use to describe the trebles. Trebles are forward so they do add details to the vocals and also expand the soundstage.
Do note that the IT03 will reveal nuances in poorly recorded tracks and can be fatiguing to listen to on such tracks. Other than that, trebles are lovely and extremely well detailed for the price.
Alternative Ear tips
Final Audio Type-E
I found that the Final Audio tips helped make the vocals more articulate while introducing some sibilance. It provides a great seal, though the insertion is not very deep.
These tips helped make the IT03 sound a little fuller in the mids, while not introducing any sibilance into the tracks. I do not notice any difference in the bass response with these tips. Insertion, like the Final Audio tips, is not particularly deep.
With the KZ Starline tips, you are as close to making the IT03 fit like a custom as you can get. The insertion is deeper than the Sony Hybrid or the Final Audio Type-E tips, but it does not feel abrasive or uncomfortable in the ear. These tips do, however, elevate the bass response a tad bit, especially in the mid-bass.
3rd Party Cable
I threw on an Infinity Audio Copper Litz Cable just to mute the trebles a little while forwarding the mids and bass a tad bit. I personally prefer this pairing as although the IT03 is no longer as analytical as with the stock cable, tracks just feel richer and more weighty.
I found that a warm sounding source compliments the U-shaped sounding IT03 the best. As such, the Astell & Kern AK Jr with Fiio Q1MKii slung as AMP was my choice of pairing over the Fiio Q1MKii as a DAC as the pairing, to simply put, lost all its charm. Really.
Also, do note that the IT03 shares the similar characteristic as most other multi-driver hybrids, which is that it needs a competently powerful source to be able to get the full performance out of this IEM. For example, I tried this IEM with my Sony Xperia XA1, which does not have a very powerful amplifier. The experience was just… Yuck. The sound presentation and dynamics just sounded off.
Note: All prices stated were at the time of writing.
IT03 Vs Shure SE535 LTD [S$729]
The Shure SE535 LTD is a fairly popular IEM and is relatively neutral. As such, I will use this as a baseline comparison with the IT03
The SE535 LTD is intended to be a stage monitor, thus the tuning is pretty flat. The sound signature is neutral to a slightly dark, with a rolled-off treble. The mids are flat and the bass is nowhere accentuated.
In comparison, the IT03 is more U-shaped. Bass on the IT03 has better impact and weight while mids sound a little leaner. Treble wise, the IT03 is brighter and more detailed, though definitely the more fatiguing of the two. Between the two, the IT03 is the one with the wider soundstage.
IT03 Vs IT01 [S$149]
Now, this has gotta be interesting. It’s sibling rivalry time. But unfortunately, not really. Despite sharing the IT0x name, they are vastly different in sound signature.
The IT01 has a balanced sound signature with lower-mid warmth. Bass is emphasized and is pleasantly weighty. Though the bass does not decay very quickly, it does not sound bloated or overbearing. As such, it is a very natural sounding bass. Mids are pretty smooth with warmth in the lower-mids, in which male vocals sound especially erm… “luscious”. Trebles are not accentuated and are very unintrusive. There is sufficient detail, though I would have preferred a slightly more forward treble. The soundstage on the IT01 is also decent with more width than height.
The IT03 has the more “audiophile” tuning of the two. The overall bass region is less thick and more agile. Mids are leaner than that of the IT01 but do seem more articulate. The IT03 is also very much brighter, more detailed and more prone to sibilance, with it’s BA driver working the trebles. Soundstage is much wider on the IT03 than on the IT01.
The iBasso IT03 is a fantastic IEM for the price. Not many other IEM manufacturers are able to deliver such performance at under S$400 and I truly believe that this IEM strikes well above its price range, especially when you have found the right pairing. If you do wish to pick one up, do audition it first as the fit might not be for you.
With a fantastic build quality and a ton of accessories, you do not need to worry about these breaking if you take adequate care of them. Also, I wanna say EXPERIMENT. Try the IT03 with different cables and different tips. See what you like and it will grow on you, as it has for me. That is all for now I guess… Thanks for reading and see you in the next one!
Do check out our WordPress site at https://thelittleaudiophile.wordpress.com/ for more reviews!