This week we?re testing the iBasso DX200 portable digital audio player, the Chinese manufacturer?s flagship model featuring a Hi-Res Audio Dual DAC and Android OS. Very serious competition for DAPs such as the Onkyo DP-X1, Pioneer XDP-300R, FiiO X5 III and FiiO X7.
In 2017, the expectations for a high-end DAP remain relatively simple: dual DAC, powerful headphone amplifier with a dual balanced and unbalanced output, touchscreen and’ Android OS. Previously, iBasso had, like Fiio, designed its own OS for its DAPs and kept things rather basic, with the sole functionality centered around the playback of audio files stored on a memory card. Of course, different settings were available (tonality, playback order, etc?), but what was lacking in this OS was nonetheless essential: WiFi connectivity and its counterpart, Internet access. In 2017, a portable digital audio player should offer the same functions as a smartphone, that is to say, it should enable the user to connect to Spotify, Deezer, Qobuz, Netflix or Plex, for example. While listening to audio files is good, streaming music and watching movies with high-quality sound is much better.
The iBasso DX200 runs Android 6.0, and it has the particularity of integrating an audio app developed by iBasso and conceived to offer a wide range of settings. The DX200 can function exclusively in audio mode, and to this end all that is required is simply restarting it in Mango mode. Meanwhile, devices running Android don’t necessarily offer the full range of Google services. The current version of the iBasso DX200?s firmware, for example, does not offer Play Store, although the brand plans to offer Google Play Store with a future firmware update. Until then, it is possible to install Android apps via an alternative to the Store, such as Aptoide. This isn’t very complicated, as it simply involves downloading and installing the app from Aptoide?s website.
iBasso DX200: playback capacities
The iBasso DX200 DAP handles all audio file formats with PCM coding (FLAC, ALAC, WAV, etc.) as well as DSD (.DSF). For PCM stream, playback compatibility is ensured up to 32 bits / 384 kHz, an advantage on paper, but not terribly useful in practice as audio files with a resolution above 24 bits / 192 are hard to come by. The same goes for DSD, for which the maximum sample rate is 11.2 MHz. Once again, nearly all albums in DSD format (extracted from SACDs) are sampled at a rate of 2.8 MHz. In addition, playlists in M3U format are handled.
iBasso DX200: audiophile components
The DAC which iBasso has chosen for the DX200 is the ESS Tech Sabre ES9028Pro, a chip capable of decoding 8 channels simultaneously. The ES9028Pro Dual DAC integrates two chips, or one for each channel. The parallel processing (over 8 channels) of 2 stereo channels serves to bring down the noise level and offer an extended dynamic range. Distortion is practically non-existent with such a setup. Two internal clocks are used to manage the transfer of audio stream from the DAP?s internal memory, micro SD card or micro USB. One sets the timing for audio stream sampled at 44.1 kHz, the other takes care of stream sampled at 48 kHz. To leave nothing to chance, a choice of low-pass digital filters is offered to fine-tune the sound to correspond to the user?s preferences.
iBasso DX200: USB DAC mode
When the iBasso DX200 DAP?s DAC mode is enabled, the device may be used as a sound card and external headphone amplifier with a computer. For systems running Windows, a driver must first be installed, whereas for Mac OS X and Linux, the iBasso DX200 is immediately ready to use. The integrated USB controller is an XMOS model, known for ensuring steady data transmission from any computer.
iBasso DX200: presentation
The iBasso DX200 DAP is relatively bulky and rather heavy. A 4.2? IPS LCD screen is set into the front of the DAP?s aluminum chassis. The playback controls are found along the DAP?s right panel, along with a notched volume potentiometer (150 increments). The power/sleep button is found on the top panel, while balanced and unbalanced headphone outputs have been placed along the bottom panel. The micro USB port is type C. A microSD card reader (up to 512 Go) is made available on the left panel.
iBasso DX200: headphone output power
The back of the chassis may be removed in order to allow the user to replace the amplification card (AMP1 model) with another model (it has not yet been announced when this model will be made commercially available). The AMP1 card features a balanced output in 2.5 mm mini-jack format, with a maximum output power of 6 Vrms. In theory, this is the equivalent of 2 x 1.1 Watts of power for a pair of headphones with an impedance of 32 Ohms, or 2 x 123 mW into 300 Ohms. Meanwhile, the unbalanced 3.5 mm mini-jack output can provide 3 Vrms, or 2 x 280 mW into 32 Ohms and 30 mW into 300 Ohms.
How can these power ratings be interpreted’ For the traditional unbalanced output, they are slightly above average and most headphones with high sensitivity and average impedance (> 100 dB and < 100 Ohms) will be powered easily, resulting in a high volume output.
The balanced output is, for its part, very powerful and should be able to drive hi-fi headphones with an impedance of 300 Ohms or more (at least those which may be used with a balanced cable).
The iBasso DX200 DAP is thus very powerful and its 4400mAH battery comes as no surprise.
iBasso DX200: software interface
The iBasso DX200 proposes two software interfaces. The first adopts the standard Android layout and allows the user to launch apps, notably the playback app. The second may be chosen when rebooting the DAP, which then starts in audio player mode exclusively. This mode, called Mango, offers the same functions as the Android Mango app, with the difference being that the audio mixer may not be accessed by any other processor (notification sound, third-party app, etc.). In addition, the Android audio mixer is bypassed and Mango communicates directly with the ESS Sabre 9028Pro dual DAC. The sampling rate is not altered and playback is bitperfect.
iBasso DX200: test conditions and listening impressions
An important point to be aware of, the DAP generates a significant amount of heat (about 40°), which leads us to draw two conclusions: the headphone amplifier benefits from a generous power supply and the DAP?s battery life will probably not be extraordinary. When used in DAC mode with our computer, the iBasso?s battery lost its charge even with the amplifier bypassed. In DAP mode, the battery held for approximately 8 hours during our test.
The iBasso DX200?s functionality is adequate, even if the FiiO X5 III, Pioneer XDP-300 and Onkyo DP-X1 DAPs are more convincing, especially as they are more responsive. The placement of the volume potentiometer and the control buttons on the device?s right panel will surely please left-handed users more than right-handed users, who will perhaps find holding the iBasso DX200 and changing the volume at the same time a bit awkward. What?s more, the volume wheel, while hefty, isn’t easy to turn. Another peculiarity from an ergonomic viewpoint, the micro USB C port has been placed on the device?s top panel, while the headphone outputs are found on the opposite end. If one cable is connected at the top, another at the bottom?when listening while charging the battery or in DAC mode, handling the DAP is sure to be less than practical.
Punchy, lively and brazenly deep. Very good in the upper bass register, tight and hard-hitting. Percussion is a delight.
With the Slow Roll Off digital filter, a sense of softness emanates at frequencies from 200-2000 Hz, giving the listening experience an enormous amount of warmth. The resulting sound signature is not a far cry from that of the FiiO X7. No harshness to regret.
Always perfectly integrated, the highs testify to the sophistication at work in the DX200?s sound signature. Our most challenging tracks were played with energy and control. Here again, using a low-pass digital filter will have a significant impact on the restitution. Adjusting the filter to apply a steep slope will make the listening experience more impactful, while a more gradual slope will flatter headphones which offer generous highs.
Without a doubt, the combination of a powerful headphone amplifier with a multichannel dual DAC delivers very high-quality sound, and this is certainly the most important aspect to consider. However, the iBasso DX200 DAP?s firmware could use some improvement, which the brand promises will be quick to arrive. Some parasitic noise when playing DSD files and an interface which is slow to respond are among the problems that are being addressed. The absence (temporary?) of Play Store means users must manually install selected apps (via Aptoide), which comes as a bit of a drawback. In sum: the iBasso DX200 is like a very good wine which we?re guessing will only improve with age.