Utilising two of ESS Saber’s highly resolving 9028 Pro DAC chips, the DX200 provides exceptional resolution and detail in addition to a very wide soundstage. This can also be attributed to iBasso’s excellent AMP sections, however, their DAC tuning is not to be discounted. In general, I find the 9028 to be a fairly neutral chip with a noticeably more refined high-end than the 9018. The Pro moniker also denotes iBasso’s use of the desktop variant of the chip that has higher power draw but also yields higher sound quality. This is important to note as I’ve received many requests for comparison to the Hiby R6, a DAP that also utilises a dual 9028 DAC setup but at almost half the price of the DX200.
In addition to the R6 assuming the lower powered Q2M variant as opposed to the PRO chip in the DX200, this comparison really drives home how specifications don’t tell the full story and how specific implementation can have a profound impact on sound quality; and the DX200 represents a noticeable step up in quality from the R6. That’s not to discount the R6’s value, but it does reaffirm the engineering and expertise that went into the DX200, justifying its more premium price point. The ESS 9028 Pro decodes just about any file type you can throw at it, for the full list, please see iBasso’s website here.
My review unit shipped with the AMP5 module installed, not the AMP1 module that comes standard. By comparison, it only has a single TRS output in addition to line-out but no balanced output. On paper, it also represents a noticeable step up from the default AMP1 in driving power, frequency range and distortion while maintaining parity in other specifications. In listening, the AMP5 is immensely powerful, one of the most potent amplifier sections I’ve experienced on a DAP. The Advanced Alpha provided a pleasing test platform as a planar magnetic headphone that thrives with power. From the DX200, it sounded more dynamic and its bass was noticeably more controlled than from the Fiio X7 MKII w/AM3A in addition to the TPA6120 sporting Echobox Explorer and Hiby R6.
This is even noticeable with certain IEMs, the Campfire Audio Atlas exemplifying this. Again, I noticed greater control and tighter impact through the DX200 compared to competing players. What’s especially impressive is that iBasso have retained a low noise floor and output impedance, making the DX200 very versatile. Even with my most sensitive IEMs such as the CA Jupiter and EE Phantom, hiss is just audible and silent with essentially everything else. Of course, even a modest desktop AMP such as the Schiit Magni 3 will provide more driving power yet, however, the audible differences are surprisingly small considering the form factor making the DX200 a top choice for audiophiles searching for an all-in-one package.
As with all of my source reviews, I must preface that a great source should be absolutely transparent, enabling the headphone, earphone or earbud to shine to potential. The DX200 excels in this regard, with a balanced, tonally correct sound with incredible technical ability. To my ear, the AMP5 module imbues the DX200 with a slightly denser midrange and a touch of treble aggression that brings details to the fore. This pairing isn’t explicitly bright as some have labelled the DX200 with AMP1 due to that added midrange density, however, it still carries its own character that I subjectively feel enhances the listening experience. The DX200 measures flat using RMAA and the AMP5 module has a sub 1-ohm output impedance. I put the DAP through 200hrs of burn-in as per iBasso’s recommendation to ensure optimal performance during final evaluation.
With its terrific amplifier section, the DX200 delivers a very controlled low-end with excellent dynamics. Bass is impressively linear throughout, with a neutral tone and excellent definition. The DX200’s low-end extends very well, delivering tight slam at the very bottom in addition to concise mid-bass punch. Notes are nicely separated due to their neutral size and each is very focused and well resolved, aiding the retrieval of fine texture and detail. Despite the absence of emphasis, the DX200 remains highly engaging through its speed and control that enable a very dynamic presentation. Though not especially musical and more aggressive in texture, the DX200’s bass presentation is tonally accurate, clean and controlled. Considering iBasso explicitly market the DX200 as a reference DAP, I couldn’t ask for much more.
The DX200’s midrange is defined by its transparency, clear layering and refinement, impressing with its smooth vocal reconstruction and accurately bodied notes. Where some DAPs favour engagement over timbre, the DX200 has realistic, wholly resolved instruments and vocals that may not jump out at the listener, but do enthral over longer listening. It’s subtle yet nuanced in its voicing, not impressing with its ability to draw attention but rather its ability to disappear and reflect the qualities of the attached gear.
In particular, the DX200 has a very well-positioned upper midrange that isn’t forward nor recessed but a hair pulled back, producing smooth, natural vocals and the impression of slightly greater body. The DX200’s ear-pleasing midrange can also be attributed to the surrounding frequencies, its very neutral bass presentation avoiding colouration or spill and its treble avoiding over-articulation or exacerbation of sibilance. The smooth transition from upper-midrange to treble paves a foundation for a well-bodied high-end, part of the reason why the DX200 is so superbly detailed.
The higher-frequencies will likely be the first aspect of the DX200’s high-end that form an impression on the listener, it is an incredibly detailed DAP. In addition to feeding smoothly and linearly from the midrange, the DX200 has a touch of emphasis within its lower-treble. As such, it really brings details to the fore and instruments are presented in a crisp manner. The DAP has a lot of attack, contributing to a precise and slightly more analytical presentation. Micro-detail retrieval is also terrific, some of the best I’ve heard and despite its crisp foreground, the DX200’s extracts information from the background like few others. It can’t be characterised as a neutral of smooth DAP as a result, however, the DX200 isn’t harsh or over-done either.
In this sense, it’s also considerably more balanced than musicality focused players such as those from Shozy. Extension is similarly impressive, greatly contributing to the DAP’s immense resolving power and it delivers great air without resorting to any higher emphasis, thereby reducing fatigue and maintaining a clean, composed background. The DX200’s instrument timbre is a touch skewed due to its aggression, though cymbals decay appropriately and strings avoid thinness, high-hats shimmer in an elegant fashion without piercing the ear. The high-frequency presentation of the DX200 is well done, some may find it a little bright on account of its aggression though listeners are granted a superbly detailed listen in return.
Another strength of the DX200 is its soundstage expansion in all axis. Width stood out to me first, but after listening to a wider range of music, I found depth to extend exceptionally as well. Accordingly, the DX200 extracts a lot more dimension from vocals in tracks of different mastering style, impressing with its ability to place elements within its stage. To clarify, where some sources provide the impression of space through a lean, bright presentation that exacerbates separation and air, the DX200 doesn’t cut corners, achieving a holographic presentation through excellent extension and resolution. This enables it to retain accurate note size and its high resolution of those notes in addition to its linear tuning translates to accurate placement. Separation is also high on account of the DX200’s neutral tone, excellent control and large dimension in which to place each element. This is especially noticeable within the midrange where the DX200 is very layered without sounding sparse.
iBasso IT01 ($100): Great pairing, the IT01’s bass is nicely controlled through the DX200 and its tone is lightly warm but not congested. Mids are slightly over-articulated but smooth, clear and not overly thin. Highs are aggressive but also very well-detailed and the background isn’t too bright. Soundstage expansion is pleasing.
TFZ King Pro ($170): Decent pairing errs on the brighter side. Tight sub-bass while maintaining transparent tone. Midrange is bright but the DX200’s refinement contributes to a more natural vocal reconstruction. Highs are bright, the DX200 doesn’t resolve this, but it does draw more attention to lower-treble. Soundstage space is great as is separation.
Dunu Falcon-C ($200): Nice low-end, tight sub-bass with fairly neutral mid-bass and tone. Midrange is a touch thin and over-articulated but also very clear with pleasing background detail. Highs are bright and crisp, perhaps overly so, well-detailed but also thin. Nice soundstage expansion and placement, especially with regards to depth.
Oppo PM3 ($400): The PM3 is a planar headphone that, despite being fairly efficient, requires more power than other portable headphones to shine. The DX200 delivers in spades; this pairing yields great dynamics and heightened engagement. Bass is deep and controlled, mids are more transparent and well-resolved. Highs are detailed and the brighter DX200 brings out a little extra clarity from the darker PM3. Soundstage expansion is pleasing, but cohesion impresses more than space.
Beyerdynamic Xelento ($1000): The Xelento’s warm low-end has nice control when driven from the DX200. Its tone is slightly more neutral and its midrange more revealing. Highs are well detailed, especially as the Xelento is also quite organic up top. Great resolution and a wide soundstage, separation is enhanced.
Sennheiser ie800S ($1000): Nice pairing, the ie800S doesn’t require as much power as some IEMs, but it does scale nicely with a resolving source. With the DX200, its bass sounds tight and defined, mids are pleasantly toned, lightly warm while maintaining excellent clarity. Highs are very detailed and crisp, perhaps a hair too thin in the lower treble. Very nice soundstage expansion and separation.
Campfire Audio Cascade ($800): The Cascade scales very well with power making the DX200 one of the best portable DAPs to pair with it. Bass control is excellent, almost as good as from my entry-level desktop amplifiers. Mids gain some body, with more complete notes. Highs are very detailed and resolution is high. Great soundstage space and separation, slightly sparse but this can be attributed to the nature of the Cascade’s tuning over the DX200.
Campfire Audio Atlas ($1300): Excellent pairing, the DX200’s high output power reels in the Atlas’ huge bass, improving control and greatly aiding definition. Dynamics standout and the midrange sounds nicely resolving and not too thin. Highs are bright and very aggressively detailed, some may find it too much of a good thing. Huge soundstage with great separation.
Noble Audio Katana ($1850): Many will probably think this pairing is too bright, however, the DX200’s controlled middle treble means that this pairing is sound. In addition, it’s an immensely detailed and airy pairing. Bass is very neutral, perhaps too much so for my tastes. Mids are refined yet clear. The soundstage is expansive and layered with great separation.
Empire Ears Phantom ($1850): The DX200 is a great pairing with the darker Phantom, enhancing its detail presentation and really taking advantage of its finely tuned midrange. The Phantom’s warmer low-end is tamed by the DX200’s surgical control and its midrange timbre is nothing but terrific. Highs are detailed and extended with great resolution. The soundstage is very spacious and layered.
Next Page: Comparisons & Verdict