Fiio E7, Meet Your Rival: The Ibasso D-Zero
With gain level set at low, I was truly floored at how well the D-Zero pairs with my JH5Pro. Both the JH5 and the D-Zero excel at reproducing a black soundstage blackground and the combination is just phenomenal. An almost 180 degrees soundstage where each instruments are very clearly distinct.
I tried the D-Zero with a few of the full size headphones like the Beyerdynamic T1, the Sennheiser HD800, and the Hifiman HE-500. While the D-Zero can drive them to good loudness levels, I don’t think the music was happening with the big full size headphones. The amplifier sound like it’s constricted and running out of breath. Definitely not recommended. With portable headphones like the Sennheiser HD25-1, the Sony MDR-7506, the Beyerdynamic DT1350, and the Superlux HD661, things are sounding very good. A lot of these portable headphones can use a little boost in soundstage width and a blacker background, and the D-Zero gives precisely that, and with a good low bass kick as well, though I am not particularly fond of the DT1350 and D-Zero combination. Upper mids seem to dominate the whole presentation, and I just can’t enjoy it. The D-Zero and HD25-1 combination was particularly noteworthy as the two just pair very well.
The D-Zero comes in with a very handy Aux In/Out feature meaning you can send line out signals into the D-Zero (hence it’ll function as a portable amp) or send line out signal out from it (hence the D-Zero is used as a pure DAC).
I was actually surprised to find how good the D-Zero sound when driven directly to the Ipod. Background is not as black as if I were using the internal D-Zero DAC, but boy that midrange body I long for is finally here. Bass remains as impactful and even fuller sounding, though losing a little articulation points. Pretty amazing indeed. I wonder if Ibasso can tune the WM8740 based DAC to sound a little fuller in the mids like what I’m hearing through my Ipod Classic’s internal DAC.
Sending the signal out from the D-Zero out to say a Fiio E11 portable amp merely changes the tonal balance while muddying the signal and adding noise into the equation. Again, I like the fuller mids from the E11, and bassheads would also appreciate the two level bass-boost on the E11, but overall you lose quite a bit of that black background and the “well-organized” sound I was talking about earlier.
I am pretty amazed at how much portable hi-fi has progressed. Likewise, the quality of entry level USB DACs. It used to be that the Audinst HUD-MX1 was THE ONE portable USB DAC I would recommend to people. And although the Audinst is still ahead in terms of overall DAC performance, the point is that you now have more choice with either the D-Zero and the E10, both offering solid performance at cheaper price points. The D-Zero even add two added points over the E10: a thinner enclosure that work better when you’re pairing it with an Ipod (using the D-Zero as an amplifier), and battery powered operation (as a portable amplifier). On the other hand the E10 would give you 24/96 USB capabilities while the D-Zero is stuck at 16/48.1. How important is a 24/96 capability for an entry level gear? Suprisingly I can clearly pick up the difference that 24/96 gives me even with relatively low mid-fi gear like the E10 and say a Sennheiser HD25-1 and so for me, being stuck in 16/48.1 is sort of a “if only it does 24/96″ kind of thing. But certainly doesn’t get in the way of me recommending it, if the product is good.
If you’ve read my previous articles, you may have read before that I wasn’t too impressed at the previous USB DAC/portable amp efforts by Ibasso (i.e D3, D4, D10). I know that the D-Zero is a lower end product compared to those, but frankly as an overall product, I think the D-Zero is far more mature than the D3, D4, and D10 was. Perhaps it’s the experience Ibasso has gained over the time. I was constantly annoyed at how dry and brittle things sound on the earlier D3/D10 (the D4 was smoother and much better), but the D-Zero just gives me a one-package that combines a solid designed product and with an enjoyable sound too. Indeed the midrange is not as full as what I would’ve liked, but the black-background performance is really enjoyable on its own and that’s something that I don’t get from the Fiio E11.
One last thing before I finish the article. The D-Zero sounded congested, muddy, and unrefined fresh out of the box. I really couldn’t enjoy it when I first gotten it. But roughly 3 hours later and most of that nasty sound is gone, and by the 6 hours mark, I’m already getting all of the smooth and clean black-background sound I’m raving about in this article. And the way the D-Zero sounds now, I wouldn’t hesitate a bit to recommend it to Headfonia readers.
Isn’t it a great time to be a headphone user these days? Thanks to Munkong Gadget for the Ibasso D-Zero loaner.