It seems like only a few weeks ago that I was reviewing an iBasso product.
Wait, it actually really was only a few weeks ago!
But for those who have a pathological aversion to senseless repetition, fear not!
Today, Layman1 is venturing intrepidly into previously heretofore-unknown territory!
“Have you finally decided to start writing decent reviews?!” I hear you cry
I shall treat such sentiments with the… avoidance they deserve
No, today, my dear readers, you witness an historic event!
To whit, and namely, Layman1’s first ever headphone review!
Hold the front page!
I know, right?
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, today I will be reviewing iBasso’s sophomore headphone offering, the SR2.
They are priced at $499.
There is a dedicated thread here on Head-Fi for discussion of/questions about this product:
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.
Without further ado, let us proceed forthwith to that Mason-esque box of delights enigmatically known only as ‘That Section What Has Photos In And Stuff’ (see below for details):
That Section What Has Photos In And Stuff:
Unboxing, packaging and accessories:
The packaging and accessories are nicely done, as is pretty normal for iBasso.
There’s a big case that has a nice quality feeling, and securely holds the precious headphones. There’s a handy 3.5mm – 6.3mm adaptor too, conveniently included for when I feel the need to rock out.
The cable here is Litz copper/silver hybrid 4-core, supple and beautiful with its silvery finish. It’s unusually long for me (as an IEM user) but feels fine in daily use. It’s terminated in 3.5mm SE; perhaps there’s a tendency for headphone amps to use single ended outputs rather than balanced ones?
I would have preferred 4.4mm of course, or 2.5mm (with iBasso’s usual choice of adaptors for 3.5mm and 4.4mm) but such is life
Again, I’m new to headphones, so I’m not sure what people would be looking for or wanting to know (am happy to answer any questions in the comments below!) but all I can say is I put them on and never even stopped to consider the fact that they fit beautifully, like a glove. Many sessions of listening later, and they’re still effortlessly comfortable for long listening binges, even walking around the house. They’re light and ergonomic, despite their all-metal construction (excluding earpads, because that would just be really uncomfortable, you know?)
I did my listening with the Sony WM1A DAP (hardware modded and using MrWalkman’s DMP style FW).
Tracks were lossless, many of which were hi-res.
For your convenience, I shall jump right in with a summary of my findings, and those who would like to know more details can read the highlights of my track-by-track analysis, included as an addendum at the end.
Very well done. It’s got a good balance between speed and decay; it’s tactile and has a very satisfying depth, extension, rumble and impact. It’s never bloated and never muddies the mids. Speaking of which..
These are perhaps the standout here. Liquid, smooth and so balanced.
There’s a well-judged lush richness and musicality, but this is balanced out by the treble and the great technical performance, that stops the mids from ever becoming syrupy or congested.
The timbre is wonderfully tactile and the detail and separation make listening to music such a pleasure, as you can focus on any aspect of the song you like, or just sit back and wallow blissfully in the song as a whole.
It is smooth and non-fatiguing, with a really nice shimmer and a touch of sparkle too. There’s lots of air and extension. Highs are captured with precision but never at the expense of musicality.
I think it can’t be faulted, certainly at this price point.
The soundstage and separation are at a high level, and the imaging and layering are performed exceptionally well. Both macro and micro details are effortlessly present and transient speed seems to be spot on.
Overall, I can thoroughly recommend the iBasso SR2.
It’s really quite an accomplishment for a non-headphone-specialist audio manufacturer to deliver such a polished and pretty much flawless product at such a reasonable price point (all such matters are comparative of course).
As with all iBasso’s best products, they’ve achieved the wizardry of combining elegance in tone with engaging musicality and a high level of technical performance.
This has been my first headphone review, but based on my enjoyment of this one, I very much suspect it will not be the last!
And on that promising note, it is time for me to wish you a fond farewell.
Thank you for reading and best wishes to you all
Bonus addendum: highlights of the track by track analysis:
I started with Bollywood track ‘Thodi Der’, which features musical and lush instrumentation and sublime female and male vocals from Shreya Ghoshal and Farhan Saeed respectively.
This happened to be the track that was open on my music player when I switched it on; no special reason for choosing this one first, although it’s certainly a great choice!
Wow. First of all, I’m highly impressed by the holographic spaciousness here.
The soundstage seems to extend out beyond my head in all directions, and the sense of spaciousness and separation, imaging and layering are all superb.
The vocals are presented in a very transparent, crystalline way and feature a beautiful shimmer, something I’ve found iBasso does really well.
The gently plucked guitar also maintains that shimmer, every note bathed in it, along with a gentle sparkle. The sustain on display here with every note is enchanting.
This has what for me is one of the hallmarks of a TOTL sound: in a complex song with multiple vocals and lots of instrumentation, it’s presented like a banquet; everything is assembled into a beautifully cohesive whole, but there’s a veritable smorgasbord of details. Every instrument, vocal or effect can be picked out, and is clearly separated into its own place. This allows me full freedom to mentally zoom in at any time onto a specific instrument, and macro and micro details are just constantly bubbling to the surface to delight my ears.
There’s an extremely well-judged level of richness and note weight here with the SR2. It’s enough to give a hint of decadent lushness to the sound, but is exquisitely balanced by the air, extension and crystallinity that permeate the whole sound signature.
There’s not even a hint of bloatedness, no veil, and a seamless transition from lows to mids to highs.
As my regular readers – hi MS Word spellchecker! – will know, Layman1 is a huge fan of this song and it’s a go-to track in my critical listening list.
With all that said, the fact that I’ve now listened to this complete song 8 times in a row and found myself unable to drag myself onto a new song speaks volumes to the qualities of the SR2. This is simply one of the finest presentations of this song I’ve heard, on any gear.
Onwards and upwards! Next is a change of tone, with The Ataris.
‘Fast Times at Dropout High’ (specifically the alternative version on the ‘Silver Turns to Rust’ album on Bandcamp) is rapidly becoming one of my go-to critical listening tracks.
Singer-songwriter Kris Roe proudly states that he records everything on vintage instruments and to analogue tape (“Recorded on a 1978 Neve 8078 console, using only vintage amps, guitars and microphones”), so that in itself offers something a bit different in terms of sound signature. On top of that, it’s got a tonne of dynamic changes, plenty of textured electric guitar, powerful and raspy male vocals and sometimes complex layering.
Plus, like pretty much everything from The Ataris, it rocks and has epic melody
Starting out with the solo electric guitar riff and the chiming overtones of an undistorted electric guitar that comes in shortly after, there’s a good degree of texture on the guitar and the musicality is captured very nicely on both the first and (especially) the second guitar.
The bass is warm, full, musical and engaging with a slightly slower decay.
The vocals are presented very slightly forward, with the raspiness of his voice and all his vocal inflections captured really well.
Moving on, next up is Italian hip-hop act Poison with my go-to bass test track “Dove Sei?”
This track features a frankly bowel-moving synthetic bassline and beat and is a good test of an IEM’s low end extension, as well as its impact, rumble and all-round bass power.
I find the SR2 to have a fair degree of bass impact, slam and rumble.
Remember this is my first time reviewing a pair of headphones; I’m pretty much an IEM-only person. I’ve listened to TOTL headphones at CanJam previously, and my impression was that the going from IEMs to headphones felt for me like looking at an Ultra High Definition TV, but from a seat quite far away; I can perceive that it’s really high-res, but it lacks the feeling of full immersion and engagement that I get from sitting closer (i.e. with an IEM).
Bass is one of the areas specifically that seems to bring up that feeling for me, in headphones generally.
It extends deep and there’s definitely a satisfying amount of impact and rumble.
However, switching over to iBasso’s IT04 – which is by no means a basshead’s IEM – I immediately get a significant increase in that kind of head-shaking bass impact and rumble. The feeling is just more intense and visceral.
But, for headphones, I’d guess the bass here is pretty strong and very well executed, comparatively speaking. Again, I want to reiterate that it’s definitely not lacking.
It’s strong, fast, detailed and engaging.
And now for something completely different! From the soundtrack to the excellent film ‘O Brother Where Art Thou?’, it’s “I am a man of constant sorrow” (Radio Station version) in glorious 24-96 HDTracks surrounda-rama!
There’s a really pleasing tactility about the guitar plucking and picking; just how a well-implemented dynamic driver does things. Everything is presented with precision and accuracy, along with a subtle rich musicality. The bass strings of the guitar really have impact and resonance and a full body to them here.
The male lead vocal here is smooth and detailed, again all the nuances are captured well.
Switching up those genres again, it’s Hong Kong opera singer Alison Lau, with her rendition of Handel’s ‘Lascia la spina”, again in 24-96 HDTracks.
The collective intakes of breath at the beginning of the song as the musicians are about to start playing is captured fairly well. The strings exhibit that richness and full bodied lushness in the mids, balanced out with airiness, shimmer and sparkle.
The vocals have a pleasing amount of body and an engaging timbre. Fortunately for me, they are smooth as well as detailed, never becoming sharp or piercing, which can happen with this track with some gear.
Going back to some rock-type-stuff, it’s a blast from the past with a recently purchased 24-192 HDTracks version of Green Day’s ‘Dookie’ album.
‘Pulling Teeth’ sounds good here; the clattering drums have a great timbre, and the vocal harmonies are presented well enough for me to be able to distinguish the individual voices within them. Guitars are crunchy, unctuous and rich, like a well-made crème brûlée
Time to kick back and relax (even more so than I was doing already!) with Miles Davis and his seminal track ‘Blue in Green’ (24-192 HDTracks).
A warm, analogue sound. Immersive. Great decay on the bass and piano. Passes my ‘trumpet test’ by not triggering my sensitivity here. The brushed drumming is incredibly tactile here and every instrument is given space to shine, and shine they certainly do
Ok, time to bring this motorcade of impressions to a graceful halt.
That’s all for now, and if you’ve made it this far, I salute you sincerely and invite you cordially to follow me for further reviews, which will be coming in the very near future