Review: iBasso DX120

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The iBasso DX120 digital audio player is a mono DAC model, with a double microSD reader, a USB DAC mode and a dual unbalanced and balanced headphone output. It’s now the entry level model of the manufacturer’s range, which is composed of the iBasso DX150 (runs Android and has a twin DAC) and the iBasso DX200 (with an 8 channel ESS DAC and an interchangeable amplification module).

Test iBasso DX120
The iBasso DX120 DAP is only 11 cm high and 6 cm wide.

iBasso DX120: back to simplicity

The iBasso DX120 DAP isn’t Bluetooth or WiFi compatible. Therefore, it isn’t possible to listen to music via streaming or to use Bluetooth headphones. The DX120 DAP is a bit old-school, made solely to index and play audio files (MP3 to DSD) stored on one or two microSD cards, however it can also be used as an external USB DAC with any computer. To be able to do this, the DX120 doesn’t run Android (the case for the DX150 and DX200), but Mango OS, a Linux-based operating system developed specifically for portable listening devices. Because both of the DX120’s microSD readers can support a card of up to 2 To, the Mango OS with the DAP’s quad core processor can handle 4 TB of audio files. Note that the DX120 doesn’t include any internal storage and that a microSD card is necessary to store audio files. It can be used in USB DAC mode without a card, however.

Test iBasso DX120
The iBasso DX120 DAP features a glass back.

iBasso DX120: connections

In addition to its two microSD readers, the iBasso DX120 features a USB-C port for charging the battery (3700 mAh, up to 16h of autonomy, Quick Charge 2.0) and an S/PDIF coaxial output for an external DAC or amplifier with DAC, with an included adapter. There are three analog audio outputs: a 3.5 mm mini-jack line output (to use the DX120 as a source with any amp or powered speaker), an unbalanced 3.5 mm headphone output (classic), and a balanced 2.5 mm headphone output (for headphones with a balanced cable).

Test iBasso DX120
The iBasso DX120’s line, unbalanced headphone and balanced headphone outputs.

iBasso DX120: settings

The iBasso DX120’s different menus are accessible via the IPS touchscreen. We can find an equalizer (10 bands, 33/63/100/330/630/1100/3300/6300/10000/16000 Hz), gain settings, a gapless playback mode (uninterrupted playback between two consecutive tracks), three USB modes (file transmission, charging, DAC mode), five electronic filters (the Super Slow Roll Off mode is set by default and is the most musical). Audio files are automatically indexed as soon as they’re copied from a computer, and it’s possible to force a total indexation of all of the installed microSD cards.

Test iBasso DX120
The iBasso DX120’s S/PDIF coaxial output, two microSD readers and USB-C port.

iBasso DX120: Asahi Kasei AK4495

iBasso chose the DX120’s DAC from Asahi Kasei Microdevices’ range. For a few years now, the Japanese brand has been very popular with A/V receiver, network audio player and DAP manufacturers. The AKM4495EQ DAC is a premium model, rarely found at this price point, as the AK4490 chip is predominantly used, and often implemented as a pair (a chip/DAC per channel).

iBasso DX120: no dual DAC

When we received our test model, we were surprised that iBasso had only included one AK4495 and not two DACs. Dual DACs have clearly been the trend over the past year or two, even in mid-range products. They result in better channel separation, less jitter and a better signal-to-noise-ratio (before amplification). And a dual DAC is also (mostly) an excellent marketing strategy.

Test iBasso DX120
Even though it has a touchscreen, the iBasso DX120 boasts multiple control buttons.

iBasso DX120: the importance of execution

But here’s the thing, integrating two or four DACs doesn’t automatically multiply the sound quality by two or by four. Flawless communication between the DAC and the USB controller (to transfer data from the SD card or the USB-A port on a computer), as well as perfect pairing (voltage, impedance) with the DAP’s integrated headphone amplifier are essential to deliver high-quality sound. In other words, you can install two DACs and unfortunately disappoint the listener. It isn’t a rare occurrence.

With its mono AK4495 DAC, iBasso inevitably disappoints the buyer a little, and must therefore have impeccable delivery at all costs.

iBasso DX120: powerful headphone amp

The iBasso DX120 has a headphone amp capable of delivering up to 2×400 mW at 32 Ohms, which ensures a very powerful sound with high-sensitivity headphones, and even more so with in-ear headphones. With such powerful components, this DAP can definitely get the best out of headphones with an impedance of 300 Ohms.

Test iBasso DX120
The iBasso DX120 comes with a burn-in cable, a mini-jack to RCA coaxial (S/PDIF) cable, a USB-A to USB-C cable and a protective case in silicone.

iBasso DX120: test conditions and listening impressions

We listened to the iBasso DX120 with different audio files (MP3, FLAC, DSD). The device is compatible with PCM files up to 384 kHz and DSD files up to 5.6 MHz (DSF, APE, FLAC, WAV, WMA, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, OGG, MP3). We also used it as a USB DAC with a computer running Linux (Elementary OS). We connected the following headphones to the unbalanced output (Super Slow Roll Off electronic filter): Sony MDR-1AM2, Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7 and Meze 99 Classics. Judging from our impressions, the iBasso DX120 should be a quality source for more prestigious headphones such as the Sennheiser HD 600S or Focal Elear. Planar magnetic headphones (Fostex, Kennerton, Audeze) may also be considered.

If we insisted earlier on the importance of finding the right balance when matching the USB controller, the DAC and the headphone amp, it’s because iBasso has clearly succeeded in doing so. For less than 400€, the DX120 shares the characteristics of more expensive DAPs.

More specifically, the DAP benefits from the macrodynamic accuracy found in high-end electronics, balanced energy, an emphasis on the low-mids (which results in a generous restitution of instruments and vocals) and the ability to make notes last, in particular before they fade out.

Listening to the iBasso DX120, it’s obvious to us that the engineers who designed this device know a thing or two about sound and headphones.

Test iBasso DX120
The iBasso DX120 has a clear and simple interface thanks to Mango OS.

iBasso DX120: compared to…

iBasso DX150: the DX150 runs Android and includes WiFi and Bluetooth transmission. It’s more functional, but not as easy to use. It doesn’t sound any better than the DX120, despite its two AK4490 DACs. We prefered the DX120’s more harmonious restitution.

FiiO X5 III: the DX120’s main rival. Twin AK4490 DACs, Android, Bluetooth aptX, WiFi, ViPER Effects, a powerful headphone amplifier… the FiiO X5 III is more functional. But also more difficult to use. iBasso has the upper hand when it comes to harmony and musicality.

Sony NW-ZX300: a frontrunner when it comes to battery life and Bluetooth (aptX, LDAC), the Sony NW-Z300 is a DAP that offers delicate and precise sound. It is somewhat lacking, however, in verve and warmth compared to the iBasso DX120, which encourages the listener to extend their listening experience.

iBasso DX120: conclusion

When a single DAC is implemented by true audio experts, real quality can be achieved. With the DX120, iBasso has set a benchmark for mid-range DAPs. If you’re not interested in WiFi and Bluetooth, the iBasso DX120 is sure to delight you with any headphones or in-ear headphones.

What we liked:

  • The outstanding level of musicality for this price.
  • That full use was made of the AK4495 DAC.
  • The powerful and harmonious headphone amplifier.
  • The clear and practical interface.
  • The gapless playback mode.
  • The 10 band equalizer.
  • The choice of 5 electronic filters.
  • The numerous analog and digital outputs.

What we would have liked:

  • Bluetooth aptX?

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