iBasso DX120

REVIEW - iBasso DX120 - Pure Audio Quality





Website - iBasso Audio


Overview

DX120. The new addition to the iBasso portable player's line priced at $300. A new design featuring Type-C USB, coaxial and 2.5mm balanced connections, with DAC support as well. It may skip all the cool add-ons such as Bluetooth wireless playback or WiFi streaming, but brings a nice battery performance that reaches up to ~16 hours. Solid Mango OS interface and excellent touch screen response, and with just a simple goal, pure sound quality that surely delivers.






(Manual available in PDF format)

Technical specifications





Price: U$299 (msrp); street price may vary.

Available in two color options: "Sky Blue" and "Earth Brown".


The unboxing...










Accessories 



The included case is made of silicone (or so it seems). It is soft and easy to install (you need to start from the bottom part of the player) but only covers the lateral sides of the device.





USB cable, Type-C for the DX120 side and USB A on the other end. Both plugs are well made with a metal cover and the whole outer jacket is cloth braided.


The Coaxial cable.


And finally, the iBasso own "burn-in" cable. This time it arrives in the 2.5mm balanced plug version. iBasso suggest to burn-in the device for at least 100 hours to reach the best results.




There are also an extra set of protective film to install on the player if needed, and warranty card.

Design & Build Quality

The new iBasso DX120 not only looks nice but it is also very well built and finished. Opted for the Sky Blue color option which found to be sleek and more eye-catching, but there you also have the brown color option. The player arrives in a rectangular form factor but in comfortable finish with well rounded corners and smoother edges; a strong improvement over the most common players that usually look like a plain brick.


The whole lateral section is made of aluminum material, solid yet very smooth to the touch, while the front and back panels consist of glass; full black color on the back with the single iBasso logo, and at the front an already installed tempered glass cover for extra protection.

The dimensions are very decent for a portable player at this level, comfortable in both height and width, similar to older ~4" screen smartphones, and if anything maybe a bit thick, which is more than acceptable taking in mind the high audio components inside. Weight is nothing out of the standard either, and considering the more ergonomic and smooth finish, the DX120 makes a comfortable and fairly pocket friendly option as a daily audio player.

At the front, the LCD touch screen occupies almost the whole panel with its 3.2" display and 480x800 resolution. The numbers might sound low compared to the higher standard of common smartphones nowadays, but with no Android system or online connection there's really no need for anything else; pure sound quality is what the DX120 real aims for. In fact, the device doesn't even read image files alone unless it is an album cover. Nevertheless, the quality is actually very good with wide viewing angle, vivid colors and sharp resolution. The main fonts have good size and are comfortable to read, though smaller text parts may be too thin for some. However, the screen brightness doesn't get too high and even set at maximum level it will be hard to read directly under the sun; screen playback controls (play/pause, back and next) will be still easy to spot.



The Layout: Input, Output, Controls

The whole layout is well thought, with all the connections and playback buttons well grouped on each side.

At the bottom there are the three analog output connections, left for Lineout (LO) for full external amplification use, middle for Headphone output (PO - Phone Output) for a standard 3.5mm headphone plug (compatible with TRRS in-line remote termination too), and lastly the small Balanced output for 2.5mm balanced option at the right. As can be seen the two 3.5mm LO and PO have a much larger golden colored ring that stand out over the player borders while the 2.5 Balanced is much simpler with a thin plastic black ring. Of course, the balanced output can be used for extra balanced amplifier entry as well. Worth noting both 3.5mm options rate a 1.8VRms of max output power, while the 2.5mm balanced doubles this number to 3.6VRms.


At the top side there are sorted slots. At the left, the Coaxial output to use the DX120 as source for a dedicated DAC; no optical option though, but not really missing.



In the middle, there are two Micro SD slots, and from the DX120 specs it should read up to 2TB cards. Only tested up to 128GB here and the reading process is fast enough. The DX120 has no internal memory, so the dual micro SD feature makes up for that.

And to the right, the USB Type-C port with multiple purpose usage. Not only it supports faster charging and reading if available, but more also it adds the option for DAC use as well. As can be seen, the USB Settings allows setting the Type-C port for the different options. Choosing the DAC option allows the DX120 to be used as external DAC to replace a source sound card; and depending on the system it may be needed to install a driver for it (available at iBasso website). Moreover, an extra DAC can be plugged to the USB port too. However, the volume is fixed to maximum level from the DX120 side and cannot be adjusted, something I found as a disadvantage for gears like the AudioQuest Dragonfly Red; hopefully it should be improved on future firmware releases.


While there's nothing on the left side, the right side holds six different physical buttons for power and full playback control, all of them nicely arranged over the wavy line in very slightly different heights and sizes, made of black colored plastic. All these buttons do not stand much out of the player lateral bounds so won't be unnecessarily pressed. With the silicone case installed the buttons stick out just a bit more, though will need some extra more strength to press them. Either way, the responsiveness is very good; the different sizes also make it easier to recognize them without taking the player out.



At the higher part there is the small power button that turns and shut down the device when held for a few seconds, and also turns the screen on and off at a single press. Below are the two larger buttons for volume control.



And then, three small buttons for playback; middle one is for play/pause, while the other two are for next or previous track (or back to beginning of the current track), for a single press. These two buttons can be set up for either next or previous. Also, if long pressed it is possible to forward and rewind the song played. Moreover, the play/pause button works to lock the player if held for a couple of seconds, and to unlock it again it can be only done by the touch screen. It is worth mentioning that all the buttons work also on screen off (as long as the player is not locked).




User Interface & Software

The iBasso DX120 runs on the new Linux based Mango OS software. A very nice option over the Android based players for those that search for a dedicated sound portable player and have no need for extra features such as WiFi streaming, Bluetooth or other wireless options. This new Mango system along with the strong hardware components provides a high level of system responsiveness and great stability. The device is not only fast but also the touch screen is very accurate. The unit here arrived with the firmware 2.1.20 version, and while there's also a newer 2.2.42 version, the additional changes didn't mean major changes to the already so comfortable interface. The navigation through folders and menus is very smooth with no lag to be noticed so far.

Describing the whole menus and options in just words will take some time, so instead here below are actual photos of every section. (The PDF manual also covers all of them)

First of all, there are three main screens on the DX120. The first one is the music playback screen, and where the player will always boot up. A slide to the left brings the 'My music' screen, and to the right the 'Settings' screen.

The main playback screen shows the album cover at the upper half (if available), volume and battery levels (both in number and image indicator). At the lower half there is some track info and two options, one for playback order to the right and quick settings menu to the left. Also the playing time bar, and play/pause, back and next touch buttons.

Main screen



Single touch on the center of the screen opens a short menu for music info, add to playlist and delete the file (from left to right).



Quick settings menu on main playback screen


'My music' brings all the music library options, including access to each card and playlists management. All the options here are more than self explanatory and doubt that anyone may need to check the manual for further help.


'Now playing' returns to the music playback screen.


Icon on the left to arrange all the music files by different options.



Two album views 






Long press on a playlist open a new menu window.



The more complex section lies in the right screen of 'Settings', holding different system and playback setup options.



Equalizer 'off'.


Equalizer 'on'.














Display settings for screen brightness and three wallpaper options.











Battery

Packed with a 3.8V 3700mAh Li-polymer rated battery, iBasso state a continuous playback time of about 16 hours. Surely, in practice the numbers may vary depending on the earphones or headphones, gain level, output and of course the frequent use of the screen. However, on low gain with easy to drive IEMs or on-ear headphones, and a volume of 30~50 (out of 100), the DX120 held around 14~15hrs without any issue. More importantly, the battery percentage indicator is quite accurate and doesn't show a sudden drop without notice.

Full charging time will depend on the charger used. With the USB Type-C connection the DX120 supports the quick charge option up to 2 hours which is a good rate, and even with standard charging it takes around 3 hours. The device can be used while charging too.


Sound Quality

At the core of the DX120, the DAC AK4495 used this time is not new stuff compared to more advanced options on the company higher models; however, it doesn't matter too much considering the excellent implementation and more affordable cost of the DX120 DAP.


Power & Volume

Boosting two gain sets and two headphones options, the DX120 packs more than enough power to drive any portable set. For very sensitive IEMs to standard 32~64 Ohm headphones, the low gain option doesn't even reaches the 50/100 steps to sound loud enough with zero distortion. Even with more demanding earphones like the VE Zen at 300+ ohm impedance, there was no need to pass the 60 steps (at low gain). With more hungry full-size sets the High gain may be needed before asking for extra amplification.

As usual, the Balanced 2.5mm output will also bring more power, and for instance with the own IT04 IEM the volume difference was of ~10 steps next to the normal 3.5mm output.



So far the DX120 proves to be a strong device, and more importantly the sound performance is nothing short of impressive. Regardless the whole hardware and different sound modes or selected filters, this last iBasso addition brings excellent sound quality.


Among the main gears used for the sound test, the list includes some good sounding IEMs like the CustomArt Fibae 3, Periodic Audio Be, FLC 8N, the own iBasso IT01 and current flagship IEM IT04. For earbuds, the VE Zen on the 2.5mm balanced output and also the Meze 99 Classics, u-Jays, SoundMagic Vento v3 and Sennheiser Momentum and HD for larger headphones.


Overall, the presentation is very nicely balanced without adding certain coloration to the sound. It can be described as neutral but not flat in a reference kind of tuning as there is a very slight hint of warmth and delicate touch of fullness, giving a more natural timbre with a faint sense of musicality and that's still very engaging.

Fullness of the sound already starts from the low end, not in simple terms of bass quantities as that will depend on the gears used, but there is excellent quality with slightly more weight and richness on the notes. There's more effortless extension too and very good layering, great control and resolution, especially when reaching the lower mids. Not aggressive in impact but improves the speed and with more natural depth, attack and decay.

The midrange gains more clarity and detail. Neutral overall, but not thin in texture or cold in tonality as the fullness continues through the whole midrange, with just a hint of added sweetness that works nice for voices. It remains fairly uncolored with greater separation and coherent instruments positioning that improve the imaging. A wonderful match with the hybrid IT04 in terms of drivers' coherence, and with the so high detail oriented Fibae 3 (triple BA) the sounds is fuller through the midrange and still keeps all the micro detail in tad smoother presentation when it reaches the upper midrange.

The highs have excellent quality. Precision and extension on the DX120 are very natural, with almost no added emphasis to what the headphones allow, so neither too smooth nor extra bright. Still, where the DX120 really stands out is in treble control; truly remarkable and hard to beat among the $300 tag portable sources. It does scale higher with better quality lossless tracks (mainly from the 2.5mm output), and yet not too unforgiving on lower recordings.

The presentation is very spacious, and while it may not give that wider stage as the Aune M1s, it actually sounds more coherent with better imaging. Dynamics on the DX120 are great as well and the transition from bass to lower midrange or at the upper mids and treble is very smooth, offering a better rounded sound presentation.


The switch to the 2.5mm balanced mode not only raises the volume level, but also offers a better audio performance. As expected, improvements are in soundstage width, separation, higher micro detail, extension and more effortless sound overall. Changes are not too drastic but definitely worth if you already have the gears for it.



Conclusion

The iBasso DX120 is an excellent portable player in many ways. It has very good build quality in a new friendly design with great screen quality and touch responsiveness. The battery runs enough for the daily portable use and supports quick charging too. The no Bluetooth support may be a disadvantage for some buyers, but the balanced and dedicated lineout outputs and the option for DAC function is well done. And of course, the more important part lies in the great sound quality with its fuller presentation and high detail.

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