The Disruptive Ibasso DX50

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Disclaimer: The Headfonia Store is an Ibasso, Fiio and Astell & Kern dealer. 

 

The Ibasso DX50 ($239.00 from Ibasso).

I had an instant good feeling about the DX50 the first time I laid my eyes on it. Its design and built is the first player that challenges the exterior supremacy of the Astell & Kern players. It’s a little bigger than the AKs but the shape sort of made the player feel and look smaller than it actually is (a bit thicker and wider than a standard iPod Classic). Though it follows the same exterior lines as the bigger DX100, the build quality is definitely much improved and the lines also are more modern than the DX100. As I started playing around with the touch screen, I noted that it’s almost as snappy and very close to the Astell & Kerns, and definitely more responsive than the DX100.

The Headfonia Store sells the DX50 for roughly $300, following the MSRP set by the local distributor. If you buy it direct from Ibasso’s website, you can get this player for merely, $239. If we’re just buying based on build, and considering that the AK100 sells for $650, I’d easily price the DX50 at $450 and I’d still think it’s a competitive price. This is the player that’s going to start messing up the portable player market, and in a good way. I’ve seen how the Astell & Kern seduces headphone enthusiasts with its sexy good looks. The DX50 in my opinion, not only looks better, but I also like the huge three button play/forward/back navigation as well as the bigger screen size. That’s a lot of pluses for me, except for the fact that the AK player is smaller and is more friendly on the pocket. Now I know that we don’t sell a huge lot of AK100s and 120s just because they look good, but I know that it’s a huge selling point as people expect their HiFi player to have the same build quality as their Macs, iPhones, and HTC Ones. And this DX50 has precisely that slick build quality that’s not only going to make life tough for the AK100 and AK120, but also the Fiio X3 which over at my store is merely $70 less than the Ibasso.

 

THE SOUND

Of course we need to talk about the sound, because that’s the sort of people we are. And I’m happy to report that the DX50 sounds good. The DX50 has a smooth and dark signature, and it sounds very refined. Clearly it’s an impressive sound signature to hear and people’s impression of it seem to confirm my thoughts. The biggest difference between it and the Fiio? I’d say smoothness and refinement is where the DX50 excels. Both are dark and laid back, and fairly linear. The Fiio is more grainy and more harsh, the Ibasso significantly smoother. The Fiio has the blacker background which I usually rank very highly, but it’s hard to ignore the DX50′s more refined sound. The DX50 does lack depth and layering, and also dynamics — these three areas I’d rank the Fiio X3 to be better.

From the first listening session using the Aedle X1, Fidelio L2, and Audez’e LCD-2, I keep on feeling that the top treble is tapered too excessively. I don’t think it’s a question that Ibasso can’t make a player with a decent treble extension. Rather, it’s a conscious decision to make the player sound good with average quality recordings and mainstream mastering tones. It’s a good call on Ibasso’s part if you’re playing average quality recordings as it helps tremendously to smooth out the top frequencies, similar to how the Aurisonics ASG-1 is able to tackle any recording without any treble issues. With high quality HDtracks stuff, however, I do feel that a lot of the air in the recording has been cut off, in a way similar to an over-dampened headphone (headphone nodders should be familiar with this).

What I can’t explain is that a similar tapering effect also happens on the sub-bass frequencies. While I’m not expecting for a sub-bass performance of some esoteric DAC, what I hear on the Ibasso does seem a bit extreme. The roll off even comes at an earlier point than the Fiio X3.

In all, while I don’t think that it’s going to be a very good sound for high quality recordings and classical pieces, the sound quality has enough wow factor to it that I think I’ve a lot of wows from people who’s stopped by for an audition, and only one comment so far about the points I addressed above from one of the most prominent modders in our community. However, I don’t think these sound quality complaints are going to break the deal for anyone considering to buy the Ibasso, especially at the market shaking price that Ibasso is selling these for.

 

DX50main

 

Obviously I wanted to compare the DX50 to the AK100 which I think is acting pretty nervous at the moment to see such a fine alternative player being priced less than half its selling price. I do know in my memory that the AK100 which is our standard demo DAP on the Store and I listen to on a daily basis, has a dryer sound than the DX50, and that’s no good. And checking the two side by side, I confirmed that the DX50 is smoother. In fact, comparing it to the DX100 which we also happen to have, again the DX50 is smoother (though the DX100 is superior in a lot of other technicalities). Back to the Astell & Kern, obviously the AK doesn’t have that top and bottom tapering that I’ve been saying earlier, and that’s very important for me. The deal breaker for the Ibasso for me, however, is the compressed dynamics (how explosive the sound can get) and likewise compressed dynamic range (perceived range of soft to high loudness levels). This translates to a more polite, but flat sound impression. When the dynamics are compressed, gone is the explosive effect of loud passages which is pretty important for either classical or rock listeners, which in turns reduces the PRaT and toe-tapping factor for me. Yes, with some poorly mastered Jpop stuff, the DX50′s tuning can save your ears from bleeding, but on the other hand, I want to hear the dynamics in my music! So, yeah, as much as the DX50 has impressed me from the first second, looks like it’s not going to be MY daily player.

Still, I need to stress things once again, that the complaints I have are less likely to affect the buying decision of the people who are considering of getting one. Especially after seeing the player in person, it’s a very hard piece of electronics to resist buying. (Hint: if you’ve outspent your headphone shopping budget — I know you have — don’t come over to have a look at the DX50. It’s very hard to resist in person).

The deal breaker, at least at this moment, is the UI. I don’t really read HeadFi, but a friend told me that they’re talking about the UI flaws there big time. Flaws which most of them are probably also similar to what I’m experiencing at the moment. Four hard-crashes in a day. Settings (such as loop or shuffle) not being saved. Scrolling gesture often accidentally results in the playing of a song I meant to scroll through. Slow media scanning on the external SD card that happens every time you turn on the player. With the default auto-off set at 5 minutes, I had about 10 media scanning in one day yesterday. I was talking about this to a friend, and a familiar response is, “Yes, they’re making the early adopters paying beta testers”. The DX50 should still be in a beta stage at the moment, or even an alpha stage. I do think that the glitches would be fixed eventually, though I’m not sure if Ibasso has the software expertise to create an entirely glitch free UI. Of course nothing is 100% glitch free, so when I said “entirely glitch free”, I said it in that context.

End words, based on the assumption that Ibasso will eventually make the UI smooth enough for daily use, my verdict is “WOW”. They’ve really impressed me with the DX50. Size: good enough. Build quality: is there anything better at the moment? Sound: less technically competent than the 100, but still extremely very good. Price: Why do they sell this at $239 when they can easily sell it at $439? I hope the Fiio X3 and the AK100 will survive this.

 

-update-

About two weeks after the “first” batch of the DX50 I received (this was probably Ibasso’s 4th batch), I received a second batch of DX50s (all these are for the store, for sale to our customers). I don’t want to ruin the day of the people who bought our first batch, but there definitely are some serious differences in technicalities between the store’s first and second batch (Ibasso’s 5th batch?). Our second batch has a significantly more spacious, open sound. With manufacturing consistencies seemingly always a challenge that’s not necessarily addressed in the design stage, would’ve known what happened between the two batches. I definitely was surprised to hear the difference. Though some of the comments I made about the sound still apply, the huge improvement is that the DX50 is now extremely spacious, and easily “outspace” the AK100 player, while still retaining its smooth sound. Now, if only it could improve the dynamics and range…

Some people who refused to get the DX50 based on their impression based on the store’s demo unit (first batch) changed their mind after listening to a second batch unit whom one customer purchased and shared in front of all of us. Since we have sold out our second batch units, I’m in the process of ordering a third batch and so I’m curious to see if there are any further differences. Keep in mind that between the two batches I compared earlier, both units have been equipped with the latest firmware from Ibasso 1.20.

Another improvement that we get with the latest firmware is that I now very rarely encounter any crashes. Definitely a big plus over the original firmware and I believe the firmware will continue to be improved by Ibasso.

 

 

 

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  • George Lai

    Another interesting DAP to hit the market, but, Mike, you know I’ll stick with my iPod Classic because “it just works”. Hopefully this might make Apple release an iPod Pro on October 22nd!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I think its more than just interesting. It really has the potential to shake up the market, and in that sense the dx50 is a lot more than the dx100 was.

      • Patrick

        Hi Mike, thanks for the review. How would you compare the DX-50 to the Imod in terms of sound?

      • Patrick

        Hi Mike, thanks for the review. How would you compare the DX-50 to the Imod in terms of sound?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Patrick,
          I like the Imod sound sig as I think it’s more dynamic and lively. Technicalities, however, basically what you get with the Imod is the same Ipod DAC section but with less resistance on the output. The Ipod DAC is still a big bottleneck especially in todays’ age of WM8740 based DACs, or even PCM1704, PCM1794, TDA1543 based players — all these the same chips found on proper desktop DACs.

    • SallyMaeSusan

      I agree, George. Just imagine an audiophile quality, dual-dac, 500Gb ‘Uber-iPod’! That would really be something!

      • George Lai

        Unfortunately they didn’t do anything at their Oct 22nd event so the Classic soldiers on. Hence my getting the Astell & Kern AK10 (not AK100).

        • SallyMaeSusan

          How’s the AK10? That bypasses the internal DAC of the iDevice, does it not?

          • George Lai

            Yes it’s supposed to bypass the iDevice’s DAC. However it’s not yet launched here in Singapore. Latest news is mid November.

            • SallyMaeSusan

              Thanks.

            • SallyMaeSusan

              George, I contacted iRiver and they informed me that they are working on a 30 pin connecter so making the iPhone 4/4s AND iPod Classic compatible with AK10…

              • George Lai

                That’s interesting news indeed. Thanks.

  • Johanes a.f

    Hy Mike, I notice any sq change when I updated mine from 1.1.6 to 1.2.0.
    Its sound smoother and more refine than before

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks.

  • Siemens Yee

    How does this fair against the Hifiman HM-601? :)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I still think that the HM-60X series has one of the most resolving DAC section out there only rivaled by a few of the top end sources including Hifiman’s own HM-801. However things like UI and build quality is not as good as the newer players like the AK and the DX50.

  • donunus

    Is the sound quality difference due to the different firmware? Have you guys confirmed this by comparing the old player updated to the latest firmware against the newer ones you got?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Well the two players I compared had the same updated firmware.

      And the difference is quite startling, though in terms of technicalities differnces, meaning the sound signature is still the same.

  • Vicente Tomas

    I recently lost my Sansa clip with amp, so I find it great to see this priced at the lower range. Found my new rig :D

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      It’s a great entry level player, Vicente.

  • Dave Ulrich

    Is it the built-in amp that is squeezing the dynamic range, or do you feel it to be the DAC?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I think it’s the DAC

  • Twinster

    Well I was happy to see the Dx50 review on the Headfonia site I have to say that after reading it I’m a bit confused. This is the first time I read the Dx50 having the top an low being restricted. Also most other reviews or impression describe the Dx50 having a neutral signature and not warm.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I guess that’s why people read different reviews.

      • Twinster

        After reading many of your reviews and appreciate all of them I came to understand that you favor a darker signature and the fact that you call the DX50 having a dark signature concern my intention on buying it. But like I said many other reviewers said it was neutral to north of neutral.

        Still I just place the order for the next batch so I’ll be my own judge. Again thank you!

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Yeah I think thats the right way of understanding a review. You come to know the reviewer and his style and preference.

  • Ken Stuart

    While sound is the most important part of a review, it would have been nice to get a sentence or two about output connections, chips used, etc.

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  • D.r. Hilerio

    How about portable headphone pairings? Does the DX50′s tonality go well with the Momentum or the V-Moda M100? Or should I go with the AK100, higher price notwithstanding.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I haven’t used it with the Momentum but its good with the Vmoda.

    • SallyMaeSusan

      “But up against lossless 16-bit/44.1KHz tracks coming out of an iPhone 5 with the same headphones, the AK100 sounds just a *little* better.”
      Comment by Jamie Lendino. PC Mag.

  • Golli

    Hi Mike. I’m undecided between the DX50 or the Fiio X3. I’d love to get the DX50 for the build quality, but sound is the key factor. Since I listen to mostly techno and experimental music, I like dark sounding with great bass, and not too much trebble which can be exhausting. What would you recommend me?

    • Yuanyi Akiduki Xue

      Looks like on the same boat, although I plan to bypass the amp in either player and bundle it with ALO international. I listen mostly to classical, newage and jpop(anison). Which one, DX50 or X3 do you think it’s a better choice? Thanks!

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        I think either players are good.. Quite a wide range of music there.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I would go with the X3 for you

  • SallyMaeSusan

    Mmm; I wouldn’t be considering ANY of these players until Sony has brought out it’s High-Res Walkman.
    You can bet that there will be few if any glitches with the Sony when it is released and why should there be with that R&D budget?
    The Sony is slated for 2014 and I’m more than happy to live with my iPod Classic till then. Remember folks, it’s about the MUSIC.

  • HEHE
  • Barbar

    I have this player and Vsonic gr07 mkii as iem. Do you recommend any amps for this combination? :)

    • Barbar

      any answer?

    • http://ohm-image.net/ ohm image

      Hello Barbar: the DX50 is a fantastic performer. For your earphones, no, an amp will only really get in the way. The DX50 is capable of driving basically anything at all, providing you don’t listen to ear-bleeding levels.

  • SallyMaeSusan

    “But up against lossless 16-bit/44.1KHz tracks coming out of an iPhone 5 with the same headphones, the AK100 sounds just a *little* better.”
    Jamie Lendino. PC Mag.

  • breizh

    Hi Mike,
    how does the DX50 compare with a sansa clip+ (rockboxed) ?
    would it be a real uprade in SQ and in power department also ?
    I’m very tented but should i wait for the Fiio X5…?

    Thanks a lot !

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      breizh,
      The clip+ is the best DAP according to some guys in the internet.
      We sell the clip+ and zip and even by the people who owns them, they never really take the clips as more than a good budget DAP. We have the clip zip demo unit available in the store and we let people compare it alongside all the other DAPs we sell including the Fiio, Cowon, Ibasso, AK, Altmann, etc. At the end it’s just a nice warm sounding player but with not much technicalities factor.

      • breizh

        ok thank you Mike !

  • Allen Gabriel M. Iñigo

    Given that there were several updates for the dx50, how does it compare now to Fiio’s X3? I’m still a little torn between these two.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I haven’t been keeping track of the firmwares but people seem to be going more towards the DX50 these days.

      • Allen Gabriel M. Iñigo

        Thanks for your input mike.. I’m still not actually sure between these two. In your opinion though, which would you go for? X3 or DX50? I went to your store just earlier :) Was a great shop..hopefully i’ll be able to personally see you there before I get to go back home in the Philippines :P

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          I like the Fiio sound. The Ibasso build is a bit hard to ignore though.
          But with both, I still cant get used to the compressed dynamics. For similar money Id prefer the AK10 DAC+smartphone.

          Or the C5D+smartphone. Now this one I am absolutely positively recommending it.

  • amuryo_rei

    How will this compare to teclast T51 via line out? which one will you choose? thx

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      This is better than the T51.

      • amuryo_rei

        can you elaborate more? Like the deep, the staging, not the feature, cause I understand that t51 can only handle 16 bit songs

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Far blacker background, cleaner sound, superior soundstage.

          Also the UI on the T51 is slow, the DX51 is much improved.

  • SallyMaeSusan

    People should seriously question the need for so-called ‘high resolution’ capability.

    ’24-192 Music Downloads Are Very Silly Indeed’ on xiph.org should be compulsory reading for all prospective purchasers.

    Here’s a snippet of what Monty had to say;

    “Why push back against 24/192? Because it’s a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, a business model based on willful ignorance and scamming people. The more that pseudoscience goes unchecked in the world at large, the harder it is for truth to overcome truthiness… even if this is a small and relatively insignificant example”

    Having read the entire article, I will stick with 16 Bit 44.1 KHz recordings though I will seek out the best devices to process the signal; AK10, I’m looking at you…

    • George Lai

      I totally concur hence my AK10 is my on-the-road DAC/amp. Its bigger brothers (DACs and amps and headphones) are stay-at-homes.

      • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

        Beyer just launched the A200 amp, a AK10 tuned amp.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          OEMed by AK?

          • George Lai

            Yup

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              Good move by AK!

        • SallyMaeSusan

          How ‘tuned’?

      • SallyMaeSusan

        How are you finding the AK10, George?
        I am awaiting compatibility with 30 pin (it’s apparently in the pipeline) before I purchase…

        • George Lai

          Hi. I find it very convenient and sound quality it’s good enough because on the road I don’t use my serious cans. If you want to have a small portable DAC and amp to go with an iPhone there isn’t anything comparable especially in size. You can always use an Apple lightning adapter for a line out and pair with any number of amps but that is cumbersome. I wonder about AK having 30 pin compatibility though. If that’s a line out, then you wouldn’t be using the AK10′s DAC. If it is a true 30 pin to the unique micro USB that the AK10 has, then I wonder how they get the two volume wheels to work in tandem. It’d be interesting to see nevertheless.

          • SallyMaeSusan

            Hi George, thanks for your speedy response. Re compatibility with 30 pin and the iPod Classic, I contacted iRiver direct and the got the following reply:
            “Currently, it is compatible with the iPod 5th gen. due to the limited lightning cable.
            We are preparing 30pin lightning cable for iPod classic and 4th gen now, so please wait a bit more until the cable is available in the market.”
            Fingers crossd…

    • dalethorn

      We know that higher resolution is real – we only disagree on how much of it can be heard. My suggestion is this: I think we know that the ear-brain combination is a fantastic device that can resolve far more than we are consciously aware of, and in cases where we aren’t consciously aware of a particular sound or property of that sound, we may become consciously aware of that sound or property with additional learning. Or we may not.

      But in either case, to deny that something is audible because the majority of testers, analysts, scientists, etc. can’t hear it consciously is illogical. Absence of evidence, even for a large population sample, is not evidence of absence.

      I know from my own experience that I can hear things I wasn’t aware of 2 years ago, and there’s probably more I will learn down the road. But on the other hand, I’d say that a good 44 khz WAV rip is 99 percent of everything you’d need for great musical enjoyment. After all, the quality of the recording usually makes a far greater difference to the experience than the difference between 44 khz and 192 khz.

      • SallyMaeSusan

        Good comment, Dale.

      • Eric Thompson

        I agree, what gets me is how even on a crappy PA or a telephone we can tell peoples voices apart and stuff like that, are ears are way more sensitive to slight changes in the mid range than most people think.

    • Eric Thompson

      Yeah I’m still in 320mp3, I would like a 640mp3 or something but 114X whatever is just so huge and not much of an improvement I can’t imagine more. Althought I will agree that a higher sample rate is better considering “old” records and tapes are basically continuous.

  • Michael

    Hello,

    May I ask if DX50 will work fine with ATH-ES7? Would you advice DX50 or X3 with my headphones?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi,
      I can’t comment on the ES7 pairing sorry but I generally prefer the sound of the X3. Though considering the overall build and UI, I’d recommend the DX50 as the better DAP.

      • Michael

        Thanks! It (DX50) turned out to be a great combo for jazz with ATH-ESW9 which I’ve managed to find at a good price. It’s a significant improvement from ES7.

        May I ask for some recommended IEMs for jazz to use with DX50?

  • Luca

    Hi Mike,

    I just got a DX50. I’m a bit disappointed by the sound quality.

    I use e nice pair of etymotic ER4. I use high res lossless files mostly ripped from remastered vinyls. Some of them are amazing recordings.

    I kind of like the player build, but the sound is two steps below what I’d like. As a comparison listening to the same files using a macbook air and Audirvana makes already a great step up.

    I own a nice hi-fi with Chord pre + power amplifier and good old of powell incredibly transparent monitors. Using a those files with Audirvana and a very cheap DAC makes an incredibly transparent sound experience… Even the transparency of the etymotic is excessively warmed up by the sound of the DX50.

    All of this to say… I need 2 steps up from a DX50. What’s the best cheapest way to achieve it?

    Thanks in advance.

    Luca

    • SallyMaeSusan

      Interesting feedback, Luca.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Luca,
      The AK100 is a better player than the DX50. Try that one out.

      • Jeff

        AK100 seemed to have a blacker background but I value the DX50′s transparency more.

        • SallyMaeSusan

          “But up against lossless 16-bit/44.1KHz tracks coming out of an iPhone 5 with the same headphones, the AK100 sounds just a *little* better.”
          Jamie Lendino. PC Mag.
          This is worth bearing in mind when considering ANY so-called hi-res music player.

      • Jeff

        I’m actually looking at the Fiio X5 vs AK100

      • Luca

        I’m trying the DX50 with an external DAC through coaxial. The DAC is a pretty basic Fiio Taishan-D03.. a 30 bucks DAC, and it plays much better. What’s wrong with the DX50 DAC I don’t know but music is so constrained…

      • MrPlooph

        @Mike Fair enough, but it’s clearly not the same price range! So the comparison doesn’t make much sense..

  • MrPlooph

    Hello, just wanted to share my experience. I got a dx50 from the latest batch (they seem to be making them by batches of 500 and the latest batch is the 14th I think), with the latest firmware, and I haven’t had ANY crashes or freezes so far and the sdcard scan hasn’t failed once.
    I paired it with some RHA MA350 earphones and a sandisk 64GB microsd and all is well. I’m well impressed with the build quality and the software/navigation is straightforward. It does exactly what I need: just music. I was a bit scared when I ordered it because of the reviews saying it crashes and the software is buggy, but it seems ibasso have ironed the issues out with the latest batch, or latest firmware, not sure! My previous player was a Cowon J3, that got stolen after 3 years of intensive use and I’m well happy with the dx50 so far.

  • eypsi

    Just got a DX50 and only had my work computer running so I loaded the stock Windows 7 sample songs in C:UsersPublicMusicSample Music just to see if it worked. The Bob Acri song, “Sleep Away” was very distorted and the sample rate on the DX50 showed 32khz initially, but then changed to 44.1 if I restarted the song – but the distortion remained. The songs sounds fine when played directly from the laptop. Anybody else seen this behavior? Thanks.

  • Benedict Yappy

    I just purchased the DX 90 player also from iBasso. Well, coming back to your blog looking for your review, I didn’t find any.

    Would you do the review of the player? I’m basically very happy with my DX90, but I’m interested to hear what you think.

    • Dave Ulrich

      There is a review in the works.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      In a week or 2 to 3