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.
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.