Audiophile DAP 2.0: Ibasso’s DX100

ibasso_dx_100_07

DAC Section

The sound of the Sabre powered DX100 is a a good all rounder. It’s fast and dynamic yet still works well for slower songs. The sound is relatively clean, the separation good. The treble is lively yet safe, the bass is good both in punch and control. The midrange is clear, and though not its strong points, it’s also something I really won’t complain about.

The ESS Sabre DAC is a phenomenon that has taken the headphone world like nothing else, it seems. One of the selling points of the DX100 was clearly the use of the Sabre D/A chip, and it seems that every other device in the market try to capitalize on the powerful brand name of ESS Sabre as well.

There is this thing with the ESS Sabre that have been holding me back ever since I listened to it on the highly regarded Buffalo 32 DAC, and it still is on the DX100. Soundstage performance factors like ambiance and depth is sub-par to the PCM1704UK which powers the HM-801, and I can’t help but feeling the timbre to sound a little plasticky. However, judging sound is more complex than 8 is lower than 9, and in this case, I give a strong thumbs up for the DX100′s mostly faster and more energetic sound. I know that modern pop and electronic music are played better on the DX100 due to its faster pace and better PRaT compared to the slower and more laid back HM-801. The Altmann Tera, being superior with its black background, also can’t match the much better PRaT of the DX100, and this would be a bigger deciding factor for the majority of people these days, rather than things like micro-detail retrieval or soundstage ambiance. For the usual audiophile tracks like Classical, Jazz, and Vocals, however I would still recommend the HM-801 or the Tera-player. For this reason I know that coupled with the huge touch screen and superior UI, the Ibasso should be the stronger option for the younger music listening crowd with their pop and electronica genres.

In all, I think the DAC section is good and fun sounding. It has the pace and dynamics to handle fast songs with powerful beats, but for ultimate resolution, timbre, soundstage and ambiance, I still prefer the Altmann Tera and Hifiman HM-801.

 

End Words

What else is there to say? Of course if you want to pick faults, no product is ever perfect. Likewise the fact that the device gets quite hot with use, and the less-than-Iphone-perfect touch screen sensitivity. None of that bothers me, though. I think Ibasso has succeeded in creating a well designed, good sounding DAP that raises the bar for the next generation of audiophile players, especially the upcoming new flagship from Hifiman.

 

http://www.headfonia.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/mike-signature.png

 

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Julius/1681425207 Michael Julius

    Great review, thanks Mike. I also thought it was a great combination with the LCD2 ( ugh…) and the HE500. Moderate square stage headphone types seem to go well with the Ibasso.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks, Michael

  • http://www.facebook.com/eric.thompson.5815 Eric Thompson

    You went in to detail on the sound stage differences but how specifically is the low level detail retrieval compared to the 801? Its is just a little less in one area like highs, mids or lows or is it just flat out less all around?

    How big of a card will it take 64gb or only 32? And did you ever try using one? I am wondering how it works, some of these players that use expandable cards the track names and info get all messed up when playing off the card.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Sorry if the review is missing some detail. Low level detail is better on the HM-801.

      I don’t understand your 2nd question though. Mind rephrasing?

      Card, the largest I tried was 16GB.

      • http://www.facebook.com/eric.thompson.5815 Eric Thompson

        Hmm I to will have to wait for the 901. The DX100 will probably be better for me with the PRaT but I really like detail as in hearing things that you just don’t hear with lesser setups.

        When you look at songs in your library on the devise it is as should be but when you look at a songs in your library that are stored on the card they will start or end with numbers or be tossed into a “various artists” or ” untitled” folder. I have noticed this with some older android phones and Sansa Players.

        Il have to look on iBassos site and see if I can find the card capacity with 128GB of storage I could possibly go to Loss-less (currently at 320kbs MP3 on my Ipod Touch) and still fit every thing.

        • http://www.facebook.com/eric.thompson.5815 Eric Thompson

          Oh and another question I couldn’t find on iBassos site. What is the screen resolution?

          • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

            Sorry Eric, I don’t know what the screen resolution is.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1389642984 Erwin Lee

            From Head-Fi its 320×480 3.75″ screen.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              Thanks, Erwin

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          In regards to detail, it ultimately depends on what you’re listening to. A lot of mainstream recordings actually don’t have that much detail in them and something like the DX100 is revealing enough for the majority of recordings out there.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=534521663 Osiris Walstra

      64GB µSDXC’s formatted to FAT32 work. I use a Class 10 SanDisk in mine.

      The content of the card gets added to the music library already present on the DX100, and the information shows up in same way.

  • Trent_D

    Isn’t that SABRE chip the same one they used in the ODAC? The soundstage and ambiance weren’t too impressive on that, so it wouldn’t surprise me.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I actually don’t know what chip the ODAC uses, Trent.

      • http://twitter.com/AnakChan AnakChan

        DX100 – ESS 9018
        ODAC – ESS 9023

        Difference: http://www.esstech.com/index.php?p=products_DAC

        In short, the ESS 9018 is a reference DAC & the better one. This is the same DAC used in really high end SACD players (but they use many of them whereas DX100 uses only one). See the new Hifiman HM-901 which supposedly uses 2xESS 9018.

        Note it’s not just the DAC chip but the circuitry around it that matters just as important.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Thanks for looking that up for us AnakChan.

          The 9018 is the same one used in the Buffalo DAC
          http://www.twistedpearaudio.com/digital/buffalo.aspx

          • ryan

            hey mike, how would you compare ESS9018 to the Dacport Lx? which is better?

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              I’m not a big fan of the ES9018 to be honest…

        • Trent_D

          Thanks for that. I was just saying that the ODAC had the sound that Mike was describing.

  • http://twitter.com/SpencerMChan Spencer Chan

    How was the battery life; that’s the one aspect that keeps me away from these PMPs. I’m to addicted to the iPod’s 30+hour battery life.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I managed to get 9 hours mostly with an IEM.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1389642984 Erwin Lee

    You’ve commented on the Sennheiser HD650′s on low gain, would it be reasonable to say, Ibasso DX100 can comfortably drive the HD800′s on high gain?

    • http://www.facebook.com/eric.thompson.5815 Eric Thompson

      They can drive the HE6 lol

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Erwin, the HD800 is easy for the DX100.

      • Danny Utoyo

        Sorry for my silly question Mike…what about the “synergy” factor when driving HD800 directly via HO between HM801 vs DX100?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          I would go for the HM-801 by quite a margin.

  • http://twitter.com/garysohn Gary Friderichsohn

    $900 and a one year warranty. That seems wrong.

  • Jordan Ingram

    “with their pop and electronica genres” – This made me chuckle :)

  • Kelvin King

    what firmware did you used? Owners vouched that 1.1.7 is better that 1.2.3 in terms of SQ.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.yeung3 Jonathan Yeung

    mike should i go ipod classic+fostex hpp1 or ibasso dx100? or wait for hifiman hm901? and whats the memory for hm901? smaller than 64gb internal memory and im probably not very interested… also i hear something about iriver has some new dap coming out? any info on that? unlike headphones im probably only going to have 1 good portable setup and thats it so i wont be switching around and have multiple portable setups… the dap will also be the core of my home setup so it should also allow lineout to external amps and i need to make a very wise decision. price can be somewhat no object since im only having 1 portable setup. no i dont mean like a 2k dap though (if that ever exists)… but im currently using ipod classic+fiio e17, and im ready to upgrade!!!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Jonathan,
      I’m just going to try to help you decide here.

      The DX100, you get a very good UI in a one box set up (unlike Ipod + Fostex).
      The Ipod + Fostex, I still think gives you the best UI in the business.
      The HM-901, will have to wait until I get it.
      The iRiver Astell & Kern, again will have to wait until I get one for a review.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.yeung3 Jonathan Yeung

        Mike how about the sound though? Do you have preference of what you prefer over the other for the dx100 and hpp1+ipod? When will the hm901 and iriver come out? Thanks and appreciate your help.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          I really am not a big fan of the DX100′s sound. It’s a good player and the sound is clean with good instrument separation, lively and exciting as I’ve written on the review, but I really can’t enjoy it for too long. I’ll take the HP-P1, CLAS, Altmann Tera, or HM-801 over the DX100.

          HM-901 they say is november. iRiver should be out already in Japan and perhaps Korea. Not sure about other countries.

          Cheers.

          • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.yeung3 Jonathan Yeung

            Thank you very much :)

          • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.yeung3 Jonathan Yeung

            Hey Mike, I just talked to a headfier that claimed that the latest firmware for dx100 is very much superior to the earlier ones. Did you get to hear the dx100 with the latest firmware?

          • Michael Amouyal

            Hello Mike, I usually really appreciate your reviews, but here I am wondering what you really think about the DX100. In the comments you say you DO NOT LIKE THE DX100′s sound, whereas you mostly praise it in your review. Given the fact that many people will buy material partly based on such reviews, I think you should say in the review that although you think it performs well technically, you do not like the iBasso DX100′s sound, and that in fact you prefer ALL OTHER HIGH END PLAYERS over it. Thank you in advance for reading me. And thanks again for your efforts.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              I don’t know why you look at that way. I didn’t want to go at lengths as to why I don’t like the player, I just wanted to focus on describing the DX100 sound and not let my personal preference get in the way. If I did write a long bit on why I don’t like it, then someone else would say that the review is contradictory.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.yeung3 Jonathan Yeung

    mike how do you line out from the dx100? what cable do you use? rca to 3.5mm cable?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I didn’t use the line out, Jonathan.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.yeung3 Jonathan Yeung

        ok thanks, its just that i would like to know because i would likely use it to experiment with different amps if i purchase amps in the future

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.yeung3 Jonathan Yeung

    Hey Mike I heard there’s a loud pop when you turn the player on, is there any way to fix this? Also I have also heard 1 member from headfi mentioned that if there’s no music playing and the screen turned off, there would be a cracking or popping sound every minute or so. Did you experience this as well?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Jonathan, I don’t remember hearing any popping sound on turning on the player.
      As for the cracking sound when there is no music playing, I don’t know I don’t normally wear the headphones when there is no music playing.

      How to fix the pop sound, if there is one? Usually you just have to live with it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.yeung3 Jonathan Yeung

        Thanks for the information mike

  • ertai

    Dear Mike,

    Could you shed more light on the word ‘timbre’ because I heard the DX100 sounds more natural than HM801 however you have felt differently. And also when you said better ‘soundstage ambiance’, what did you really mean? The reason I ask is because I could not understand that part. Did you mean soundstage width or depth? My audio description is limited. But thanks in advance!

  • ryan

    Got the astell and kern this morning…haven’t got the time now for serious listening…first listen using shure 535 and wasn’t impress at all

    Mike should have the astell and kern, are you going to review it? Some comparison with dx100

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      It’s not looking very good Ryan. Got my sample last week and I talked about it briefly on facebook. (https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.496328543745181.122380.145341288843910&type=1)

      Left it at the store for people to listen to.
      Jaben also have a unit on the local hifi expo last week.

      I haven’t met one person who’s listened to the AK100 on those two instances said a good thing about the sound.

      A pity, since everything else about it is the best we’ve seen in a DAP so far.

      Yes a review is coming.

      • ryan

        I was figuring what I could do with the optical output…

        What about by passing the internal dac and amp….just using the ak100 as a transport….feeding the optical out to the matrix mini portable…if you have both of those, you could probably test them out….I would like to know how it sounds

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  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.yeung3 Jonathan Yeung

    mike, thanks for the review, i just ordered it :)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      You’re welcome!

      • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.yeung3 Jonathan Yeung

        mike, i will be using it with my sony z1000 which i like very much. do you think they go well together?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          I think so yes the Z1000 is among my favorite and even though the DX100 is not particularly my favorite, the Z1000 is among the better pairing I’ve heard.

          • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.yeung3 Jonathan Yeung

            listening to sony z1000, driven by the ibasso dx100, i dont know why but it doesnt seem to wow me. z1000 used to wow me when i was driving it with my ipod classic with fiio e17 amp. i guess maybe i set my expectation too high or i need to let the dx100 burn in like 1 headfier said. also did some listening with my beyer dt990 with the dx100, the combo was fatiguing

  • weekian

    Thanks for the great review Mike!
    If you have to choose only one ultimate portable player to use for day in and day out which would you choose?
    The tera player, hifiman 801, or the ibasso dx100?

  • http://www.facebook.com/luke.ma.9 Luke Ma

    hey mike,
    what sounds better, a portaphile 627 and an imod or a dx100 alone? or is thats hard to say, what are the differences?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Source quality, the Imod can’t match the DX100 and its a pretty big gap.
      Amp quality, the DX100 can’t match the 627.

  • Ed Leinheiser

    I own a X3, I’m going to upgrade I hope and get a DX100, DX90, X5 or AK100. I started thinking DX90 then saw some “for sale” ads for used DX100…….Now we’re talking as I’ve heard Sabre equipped stuff but never could afford my own. Then a few ads popped up for an AK100 with these 1st three all being less than $40 apart, I love Fiio stuff and the X5 needs to be considered.
    Question is simple pick which one you’d choose???? I’m not playing the synergy game so please don’t either….which one do you suggest, just one not 1,2,3 just ONE….LOL….Love your stuff folks keep on keepin on!!!!!
    Going looney trying to decide…….aaahhhhhh
    Ed