Disclaimer: The DX100 unit for this review was generously loaned by Indonesia’s Ibasso importer, Don’t Blame Your Ears.
The era of high end audiophile DAP’s first introduced by Hifiman’s HM-801 has been taken to the next step by the release of Ibasso’s DX100. The huge touch screen interface to the Android-powered device is a huge selling point in a market where all the other players seem to be limited to archaic display screens or even the lack of screen on Altmann’s Tera-Player. As much as I love the Tera-Player, it can’t be denied that the majority of people out there would rather have the large touch screen of the DX100 (while Hifiman’s HM-801 screen stands somewhere in the middle).
Having been used to the Tera-Player’s more pocketable size, I sort of looked down on the DX100’s much larger size. It was not until I started comparing the DX100 to the Hifiman HM-801 that I started to appreciate the dimensions of the DX100. Both obviously falls into the large category, but the slightly narrower width of the DX100 fit very perfectly on my hand, while the Hifiman HM-801, though roughly the same size, is just slightly too wide to be held comfortably with one hand. That may seem like a minor point to some, but from that small detail, something tells me that Ibasso has put some really serious design process into the DX100.
First Class Design and UI
The more I examined the build of the DX100, the more I appreciate what Ibasso has done with the product. The conviniently placed volume button on the side, the three position gain setting switch, the power button, all these small details are done so well. No longer do we have to put up with sub-standard user interface on our audiophile players in this age of touch screen cell phones. The availability of both 1/4″ and 1/8″ headphone out is a brilliant thing since a lot of people these days use full-size headphones with their DAPs (the DX100 itself is a brilliant pairing with the Audez’e LCD-2). Not only that but you also get a good old analog line out for pairing to an external amp), and both Toslink and Coaxial S/PDIF out, as well as Micro USB slot for extra storage.
What else can you ask for in terms of interface, from a portable music player? On the back side of the player I noted the printed “Ibasso Reference DAP” writing and the 64GB mark indicating the size of its internal memory which is the biggest I’ve seen so far on audiophile DAPs — though still expendable through a Micro SD slot. Most of all, what really caught my eye is the small print stating “Created in China”. We’ve seen a lot of “Made in China” these days, but the Ibasso DX100 really put a lot of quality and that makes me respect that statement more than ever before. Good job, Ibasso.
Ibasso’s pedigree in building headphone amps haven’t been left behind with the DX100. While it may not be the most refined portable amplifiers around, clearly it’s number one in terms of power output, at least among all other Digital Audio Players. This player is able to drive the hardest headphone to drive today, the Hifiman HE-6, and though not as authoratively as monster amps like the RSA Dark Star or the Burson Soloist, it’s strong enough to put even a lot of desktop amplifiers to shame. I had to use the high gain setting and max out the volume level, and while I won’t make the DX100 a permanent solution for the HE-6, it was a pretty amazing feat for an audio player to be able to drive the HE-6 straight out of its headphone out. A more realistic day to day use for the DX100’s monster internal amp is for driving the two relatively easy modern orthos: the Audez’e LCD-2 and the Hifiman HE-400.
The Ibasso pairs very well with the LCD-2 and the HE-400, making the two a combination that I can enjoy for day to day use. Dynamics are good, there are plenty of headroom, and tonally they seem to be a good match. With the Hifiman HE-500 I was less satisfied as the dynamics got compressed even though the Ibasso managed to push a good loudness level. I was really surprised in hearing the HE-400 and Ibasso combo though. So good was the combination of the two, I don’t remember the last time I heard an amplifier that matches so well with the HE-400. So, for those of you orthodynamic owners: the LCD-2 and the HE-400 on the Ibasso DX100.
Dynamics are far easier to drive, and I’m driving the 300Ω HD650 Sennheiser using only low gain! However the texture of the Sabre DAC (more on this later), was more evident on the dynamic Senns, and though tonally the DX100 pairs well with the HD650, I really didn’t enjoy it as much as say out of the Hifiman HM-801.
The extremely powerful amp would be a double edged sword had it not be for the superb digitally controlled volume level that gives precise 255-steps volume level control over each gain settings. While other devices like the Fiio E17 have implemented this sort of a control as well, I must say that the DX100’s control is so far best in terms of tactile feel of the button, positioning of the button, and the up/down speed of the volume level. Here it is, another strong point of the DX100 and while volume control may not sound like a big deal in a review, in day to day use it is one of the things I love most about the DX100.
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