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iBasso DX200 Review – Minutiae & Veritas

Pros – 

Immense driving power, Terrific resolution, Spacious soundstage, Solid build, Swappable AMP modules

Cons – 

Mediocre UI responsiveness, Sluggish from wake, Single micro-sd slot, Limited BT implementation

Verdict – 

The DX200 is an incredibly technical source with great hardware and versatility set to a fast user interface.


Introduction –

While companies like Fiio continue to drive huge audiences with their value orientated products, iBasso instead aim to deliver more premium performance at a more premium, but still logically justifiable price point. The DX200 exemplifies this as their current flagship DAP released to commemorate the company’s 10 year anniversary. Though not cheap, it was a device truly designed to compete with the top players on the market. It’s a spec behemoth with dual ESS Saber DACs, swappable AMP modules that all offer huge power output and an 8-core CPU powering a pixel-dense display. At $900 USD, the DX200 is clearly more expensive than flagships from Fiio and Hiby, however, it does offer both greater specification and real-world performance advantages over these models. I spent almost 6 months with the DX200 to provide a comprehensive long-term review. You can read more about the DX200 and AMP modules here and purchase one for yourself here.

 

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank iBasso very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the DX200 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the DAP free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

 

Accessories –

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iBasso provides quite an unboxing experience for the DX200, demonstrating its position as their flagship product. Sliding open the outer hard box reveals the DX200 itself, showcased on a textured plate.

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Underneath are labelled boxes containing the accessories, a leather case, papers, USB-C and burn-in cables in addition to a screwdriver to swap AMP modules. It’s a comprehensive yet practical unboxing experience that feels sophisticated rather than gratuitous.

 

Design –

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The DX200 is a substantial player with a distinctly utilitarian aesthetic. It isn’t elegantly sculpted like a modern smartphone rather employing strong angles, exposed hex screws and a bold two-tone black/gunmetal colour scheme to achieve a rugged aesthetic. This is reaffirmed by its weight and size, being similar in height and depth to Fiio’s X7, but noticeably wider making it better suited towards users with larger hands. Weighing in at 240g, it‘s also one of the heavier DAPs on the market though it isn’t unwieldy like Sony’s WM1Z that tips the scales just below half a kilogram.

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Regardless, it’s relatively comfortable during single-handed use, achieved through a combination of smooth edges, an offset back panel and fairly thin bezels. With a 4.2” screen size, the DX200 has clearly higher screen real estate than Fiio’s DAPs while remaining reachable corner to corner. It isn’t quite as compact as the Hiby R6, which sports the same screen size, though its additional chin height accommodates swappable amp module that vastly enhance its versatility. They clip into the back of the player and are secured with two flat-head grub screws. Once installed, I experienced reliable audio free of intermittency or cut-out.

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Well placed controls round off a solid ergonomic experience with the index finger falling naturally over the side-mounted media buttons when held. The buttons themselves are clicky and placed distinctly along the elevated side rail. The volume wheel is tactile with just slightly mushy volume intervals, it feels very solid as it’s partially enclosure within the sidebar. On the left side lies a single exposed spring loaded micro-sd card slot though the DAP has 64GB of internal storage. Interestingly, the USB-C charging/data port is located on the top of the DAP in-between the SPDIF output and top mounted power button. The DX200 has a high level of finish and a solid in-hand feel to match, its aggressive texture and reasonable dimensions make it an intuitive daily driver.

 

Software –

Running Android 6.0.1, the DX200 may be a few updates behind modern smartphones, but it’s still running a very capable operating system. It will be immediately familiar to most smartphone users and iBasso have built a very clean ROM free of bloatware and unnecessary applications to make the most of the hardware and battery capacity. Unfortunately, Google Play Services along with the Play Store itself are not present, meaning that user will have to sideload APK’s to install apps that aren’t included from factory (such as Spotify). iBasso promise this functionality in a future update though it is something to consider for current buyers. As of writing, my unit is running version 2.10.215.

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The DX200’s software isn’t as customized as that on the Fiio or Hiby DAPs and more in line with the Echobox Explorer. It has no dedicated audio menu in the settings app or other baked in system-wide audio features. Instead, all audio related functions are controlled through the included Mango music App that is functionally and visually similar to the custom UI that ran on iBasso’s previous DAPs such as the DX80. Of note, settings stick when leaving the app so settings remain in other music apps.

The Music player is fairly straightforward with the first screen offering basic categories and subsequent basic list style layout with small album art thumbnail. The app is swipe-based, allowing users to switch between the menu/song list, now playing screen and two settings screens. Here, the app irks a little as certain screens don’t swipe, instead requiring a button press in the top left corner which really breaks the flow of operation. In all fairness, Fiio’s music app has similar issues.

The settings menus are a far cry away from Hiby’s feature-packed app, that can be easily installed via APK, but will be easily sufficient for the vast majority of users. The first screen offers a basic 10-band EQ with 12dB of adjustment in either direction, a low/high gain toggle and an extensive 7 digital filters that offer fine tuning of the sound. Other functional features such as channel balance, gapless toggle, play mode and USB DAC function are available from this screen too. The last menu screen offers basic rescan function to index the user’s music library; the option to scan either the SD Card, internal storage or both. Users will be sure to appreciate iBasso giving the user the option to selectively rescan as it does take quite some time, about 15 minutes for my 64GB music library.

 

Usability –

The DX200 has beefier internals than the majority of DAPs and optimisations in recent firmware versions produce a clearly faster experience than RK3188 devices such as the X7 MKII and X5 MKIII. As benchmarked below, the DX200 also has very fast internal storage which aids app launch times. As iBasso have sped up animations, navigation speed is increased and its powerful CPU keeps pace well with its accelerated UI. I also didn’t encounter any freezing perhaps on behalf of its 2GB of RAM. I did notice that the DX200’s touchscreen isn’t quite as responsive as some competitors and though the UI runs quickly, it feels like there’s a hair more latency when using the DX200; slightly irksome but hardly experience breaking. Of course, it’s no flagship smartphone and the Hiby R6 feels a little slicker, however, the DX200 is still a consistent performer; fast and mostly reliable during daily use. iBasso also have a dual boot function similar to the Android Fiio DAPs which locks users into the music app and disables other Android functions. I didn’t find this to improve speed by a noticeable degree but it does add an extra hour or so of battery life and music library scan times are faster.

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The DX200 tops this off with respectable battery life. The DAP has an enormous 4400mah battery that promises 8-10hrs of use. With the more powerful AMP5 module that my unit shipped out with, I consistently achieved 9 hours of use with the screen mainly off and on medium brightness playing a mix of lossless, high-res and 320kbps MP3’s. Considering that the DX200 has one of the most powerful Amplifiers I’ve encountered on a DAP in this price range in addition to an 8-Core CPU and larger 4.2” screen, I would posit that the DX200 is generally well optimised and efficient. The DX200 also sports fast internal storage and an SD card slot that will bottleneck quicker cards but is fast enough to deliver a smooth scrolling experience.

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The DX200 has a solid WiFi implementation both in terms of range and speed. Users shouldn’t expect parity with modern smartphones though the DAP easily sufficed for streaming including lossless through Tidal. This is aided by 5GHz support that increases bandwidth and reduces interference at the cost of range (where the standard 2.4GHz band suffices). I also didn’t notice interference when WiFi was active nor EMI when my phone was near, even with sensitive IEMs, a big plus considering that many competing DAPs experience these issues. The DX200 supports Bluetooth 4.0 however it does not support Apt-X, LDAC or any other codecs higher than AAC and SBC. The latest firmware enables the DX200 to function as a BT receiver, though of course, connection will be limited to SBC.

The DX200 has a slightly larger 4.2” screen with a resolution of 1280×768. It’s a little sharper and noticeably more spacious than the panel on the Fiio X7 MKII, the higher resolution probably explains why the DAP is a little slower too. Still, album art and text are sharp and perfectly legible, the IPS panel is also glued directly onto the digitizer providing very wide viewing angles and lower reflectivity when outdoors. Contrast is higher than the Fiio DAPs and maximum brightness is similar, adequate for outdoor use, but not ideal. Though colours aren’t especially vibrant, the screen has a nice white point and it does a great job for its intended uses.

 

Sound –

DAC –

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.

 

AMP –

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.

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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.

 

Tonality –

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.

 

Bass –

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.

 

Mids –

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.

 

Highs –

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.

 

Soundstage –

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.

 

Pairings –

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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.

 

Comparisons –

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All comparisons below were using the Custom Art Fibae 2 to reduce the effects of output impedance. I used a mixture of in-line switcher and independent listening to form a conclusive impression.

Shozy Alien+ ($450): The Alien+ has a very simplistic UI but is almost TOTL in terms of audio hardware specification, implementing the AK4495SEQ in addition to a 24V amplifier that makes it immensely powerful. It’s a DAP that prioritises musicality with a clearly skewed timbre compared to my other sources but one that is ear-pleasing nonetheless. The Alien+ doesn’t have the same sub-bass impact as the DX200, but it has a little more mid-bass warmth. It’s very well controlled but due to a touch of bloat, isn’t quite as defined as the DX200 nor as fast.

The Alien+ has a more vivid midrange, with a more forward upper-midrange partially counteracted by its greater bass warmth. Still, notes aren’t as wholly resolved as the more linear DX200, lacking some intermediate information. Still, for those not prioritising timbre and transparency, the Alien+ is just as inviting and resolution is almost as high. Highs are also more vibrant on the Alien+ though the DX200 is more detailed and extended while the Alien+ has a little more middle treble aiding air and clarity. The DX200 has a larger soundstage and it’s stage is considerably more organised.

Hiby R6 ($650): The R6 is a prime comparison, assuming a dual 9028 DAC setup (though Q2M vs Pro). It is quite a powerful source, but also has a higher output impedance of 10-ohms meaning that it can skew the sound signature of low-impedance, multi-driver IEMs. The R6 is distinctly darker than the DX200. It has a little more sub-bass but a similarly neutral mid and upper bass. Control is good but it isn’t quite as tight as the DX200. Mids are similarly toned, the R6 sounding darker with its more laid-back upper-midrange as opposed to the slightly more revealing DX200.

The DX200 has greater detail presence and retrieval where the R6 sounds a little more disjoint due to its less even upper-midrange/treble transition. The R6 has a darker background which makes it sound more composed but also less airy. Both extend well, the DX200 has greater resolution. Both also deliver nice soundstage expansion, the R6 is actually slightly more spacious, but it doesn’t image nearly as well as the DX200 and its layers aren’t as clear-cut.

Echobox Explorer ($500): The Explorer utilises the Burr-Brown 1792 and TPA6120 amplifier, the same as the Hiby R6. As such, both sources have a higher 10ohm output impedance that will affect the signature of low-impedance multi-driver IEMs. The Explorer also has a fairly high-gain and noise floor, all factors that make it best suited for headphones over in-ears. Sonically, the Explorer has a little more sub-bass while maintaining a similarly neutral tone and level of definition.

The Explorer has a more forward vocal presentation, it’s slightly more upper-midrange forward and therefore has greater clarity. That said, it doesn’t sound quite as natural and refined as a result. The Explorer has a slightly more aggressive lower-treble presentation than the DX200, it’s slightly crisper but no more detailed. The DX200 extends further, it has higher resolution and is more linear. The DX200 has a larger soundstage with more accurate imaging.

Fiio X7 MKII w/AM3A ($650): The X7 MKII is Fiio’s current flagship DAP that sports the same ESS Saber 9028 Pro DAC, but employs just one instead of two on the DX200. It has noticeably less output power and is slightly more engaging as a result of its warmer, more musical signature. The X7 MKII has a noticeably warmer bass presentation though this comes at the cost of detail where the DX200 has a noticeable advantage. The DX200 is also tighter, delivering more concise impact. The X7 MKII has slightly more articulated midrange in addition to a warmer tone.

That said, it notes aren’t as wholly resolved as the more linear DX200 nor is it as transparent. The DX200 sounds more refined overall, it has a noticeable advantage in terms of high-end detail, especially with regards to micro-detail. It has higher resolution where the X7 MKII is actually slightly brighter but also less resolving. The most immediately apparent difference between the two sources is with regards to soundstage where the DX200 really pulls ahead. The X7 MKII is nicely separated, but the DX200 is significantly more spacious.

 

Verdict –

The DX200 is a TOTL product at a premium, but not necessarily TOTL price. It is not the best source I’ve heard, but easily among the top handful and, in order to find an objective upgrade, buyers will be heading firmly into the territory of diminishing returns. Some aspects, don’t inspire the same confidence. The DX200’s UI, in particular, is fast but also a hair less responsive than some competitors in addition to lacking the Google Play store. Its wider design may also make it a little harder to hold for some users and there are some small software niggles here and there that still require ironing out. On a more positive note, its build quality is great and the DX200’s battery does last surprisingly long considering the features and driving power on offer.

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Most importantly, the DX200 is an auditory delight. It has terrific driving power while maintaining a low noise floor and output impedance; in addition to a linear signature and neutral tone that effectively realises iBasso’s aspirations to create a truly reference DAP. Its slightly more aggressive high-end prevents universal synergy though it’s not nearly as noticeable as the “glare” produced by prior 9018 devices, still achieving wide synergy with a range of sounds. It’s not a device without its caveats, but I did find myself reaching for the DX200 over the past months more frequently than my other sources, a testament to its quality. The DX200 is an incredibly technical source with great hardware and versatility set to a fast user interface.

The DX200 is available from Amazon (International) for $899 USD at the time of writing. Please see my affiliate link for the most updated pricing, availability and configurations.

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