Godbless you, Mr. Headwhacker, or Rockbox loves the DX90

Disclaimer: Pulling away from Louis C.K. to write about how installing Rockbox turns the DX90 into the mothership of modern DAPs wasn’t exactly a task I tried to skirt, but it did require a bit of a starter. That starter was a Glenfiddich 15, whose nomenclature reads like something I should be reviewing here. Fair enough: several starters in succession and I’ll be ready to pit a banana against the HD800.

God bless it.

But I’ve got to watch myself. Too much Glenfiddich is nearly as bad as too many headphones. Questions are asked. Questions like: “do you need help?”, like “how much did this cost?”, “was that from our savings?” and so on. Hard questions from a lovely creature I normally call hun-hun.

And Glenfiddich disappears considerably faster than does the realistic shelf-life of a good mid-fi DAP like the iBasso DX90. I said mid-fi. That’s the price tag talking. Piss on price tags. They don’t churn up more than what a manufacturer thinks of themselves.

The DX90 is a phenomenal DAP at its price point. It’s got: a great DAC, a good headphone output stage, a high-voltage line output, adjustable gain, a no-questions-asked SPDIF output, decent support for various audio formats, a legible, if awfully designed interface screen; and thanks to the hard work of a few awesome fans, it is now perfectly stable with Rockbox firmware. And can even make the screen of your DX90 look like an iPod (you must install themes designed for the Cowon D2), it costs nothing.

Head to this headfi thread to learn all about headwhacker and the other movers that jiggered Rockbox to play nice with the DX90.

Rockbox is the closest thing we portable audiophiles have to a standard operating system. It runs everything from the popular: 1st and 2nd-gen iPod nanos to the completely obscure: the Olympus M-Robe 500.

It’s got safety features, like fast-dimming volume fade at play/pause out the wazzoo; it supports almost every audiophile format out there*, compressed and not compressed; add to that themes, and restores functionality indispensable to real music lovers that the stock firmware can’t manage.

As this is Nathan speaking, that functionality is gapless playback. Fans and supports of the DX90 are divided: stock DX90 does gapless say one group; no it does not say another group. The truth is that it does not properly support gapless playback. If you think it does, you either jump through .cue sheet hoops to make it work, or you do not have real, gapless music in your library. The stock firmware hiccups for about half a second between files, which, as ridiculous as that is in 2015, is far better than the average non-Apple player.

And yes, installing Rockbox in order to get gapless files to work is a chore. And if the simple act of listening to an album as it was intended to be played back takes that much work, I question the utility of the modern ‘audiophile’ player to the discerning music lover.

And yes, if you call yourself a music lover and gaps don’t bother you, it’s time to quit this review. Because I’m all up in your face. Gaps are ruinous to everything from trance to classical to concert tapes to low-riding jeans. If all your hooting and hollering about SQ doesn’t for a moment take into account the gaps that unplug you from your music, you are probably more of a gearhead than you are a music lover. Enjoy your Top 40 singles.

Whatever floats you boat.

It goes on after the click

Godbless you, Mr. Headwhacker, or Rockbox loves the DX90
4.1 (82.86%) 28 votes

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

49 Comments

  • Reply May 8, 2015

    Brian

    Love some Glenfiddich myself! I would also own the DX90 as of last night, but a phone upgrade stole that money for the time being.

    • Reply May 9, 2015

      ohm image

      I wish you luck in getting that back. My wife had her wallet stolen here in Tokyo a half year ago. Was a pain to put to rights, but we managed to get away with no false credit card charges.

  • Reply May 8, 2015

    digitldlnkwnt

    I have been running this setup for about 4 months for the simple reason it lets me bump my bass, that’s it. I don’t need an eq- just a bit more bass.litteraly “1” bump.
    Nathan I think that Glen has you ready to brawl – but I agree gaps f@@kin suck. Period – especially with any continuous mix.
    Rockboxed DX90 has been great will all my phones, namely Cosmic Ears CE4p and maddog alpha primes and Senn Amperior

    • Reply May 9, 2015

      ohm image

      Thank you digit: I’m glad we are enjoying so many similar luxuries.

    • Reply May 14, 2015

      vick_85

      @digitldlnkwnt
      Is there a bass boost option in then rockbox firmware that is separate from the eq, like sony’s clear bass.

      Lurker or rockbox which provides better sound quality??

      I’m new to this so if you could provide some details that would be great.

      • Reply May 15, 2015

        digitldlnkwnt

        Vick, no nothing that does sound “enhancement” but it does have multi band EQ, and what i like, basic Bass and Treble +/- 10 step increments. I am using a build different than some of the other folks on here, but most of the features should be the same.

        • Reply May 18, 2015

          vick_85

          Thanks for the reply.

          So it has stepped bass and treble controls besides the eq??
          10 band or 5 band eq??

          • Reply May 18, 2015

            digitldlnkwnt

            Yes, you can either use the parametric eq which I think is 10 band, or do basic bass treble. Just download and give it a spin. Costs nothing but time.

  • Reply May 9, 2015

    Venci

    damn “the best DAP out there at any price” nice

    • Reply May 9, 2015

      ohm image

      I feel very strongly about its sound engine, even though you can ay be able to get more voltage from another player, or native DSD from another. Great-sounding, but ugly player. Rockbox makes it better.

  • Reply May 9, 2015

    Eli Segal

    Installed rock box last night
    What I miss from mango: album art in album list, usb charge only option, file info
    What I miss from iPod: flow like view( albums sorted by artist/year), lyrics.
    At this point I’m thinking about the ak120 just for the UI

    • Reply May 9, 2015

      ohm image

      The AK120 is a LOT slower than rockbox on the DX90. But yes, some things may be missing.

    • Reply May 9, 2015

      Dreamriser Kit

      I think rockbox has usb charge only option. Try General Setting > System > USB Mode

      • Reply May 9, 2015

        Eli Segal

        Thanks, but there isn’t an option like this on the DX90

        • Reply May 9, 2015

          Dreamriser Kit

          It has. I have DX90 and use Napka Rockbox build

  • Reply May 9, 2015

    Eli Segal

    Also, how do I change line selector width? I see only 2 entries at a time

    • Reply May 9, 2015

      ohm image

      What do you mean by ‘line selector width’?

      • Reply May 9, 2015

        Eli Segal

        I meant line hight, but I managed to find that setting under touchscreen settings

  • Reply May 9, 2015

    Tronco

    Nice review. I had Rockbox on my iPod Video and loved it. Never tried it on the iBasso DX50 though. I think I’ll give it a try next thursday (public holiday).

    – For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.

    • Reply May 12, 2015

      ohm image

      Here’s a copyeditor if I’ve seen one.

  • Reply May 10, 2015

    Hanswurst

    Main credits for this port go to xzcc. For the official port it was ArgelErx who did most of the work, cholero too and napka also started to work on the DX90 specific things.

  • Reply May 10, 2015

    Matthias Stuer

    Amazing value for money and if on a budget I would go for this. But the streaming option in my A&K 100II has me hooked and the promise of Tidal integration and impeccable sound with in-ears pushed me in that direction. I’m just curious if anyone has properly tested the two against each other since the 100II is the last arrival.

  • Reply May 13, 2015

    Eli Segal

    How does the sound of Rockbox compared with the original firmware? thanks!

    • Reply May 18, 2015

      ohm image

      I can’t honestly say I detect a noticeable difference. The problem is that you can’t go back to back. The best I could do is supply measurements, but my system is currently off line. I don’t trust impressions that hinge on bootup times, etc.

  • Reply May 14, 2015

    Kevin Setiadi

    “the Rockbox DX90 is very possibly the best DAP out there at any price.”

    that’s a very strong statement. How does it hold up against the likes of AK240?

    • Reply May 18, 2015

      ohm image

      I’ve published a small article about them back to back and linked it into this article. I think you’ll find, that if you compare their sound, the DX90 is more than an equal. It isn’t nearly as polished, nor probably as interesting a company to invest in (for stock), but for audio (as long as you don’t need balanced), DX90 is phenomenal.

      • Reply May 18, 2015

        Kevin Setiadi

        Hmm interesting. I’m in the market for DAP+CIEM so if the DX90 can match up against AK240 it will bring down my expenses significantly. Thanks!

        • Reply May 29, 2015

          France Is Bacon

          All them savings you’d get from settling with the DX90 can go towards some really really nice CIEMs now 😀

    • Reply October 5, 2015

      Anuradha Kharmate-Palve

      where i get rockbox update for dx90 still i am using v2.3.0 is there any noticeable SQ change wthout any hardware damage risk ??

  • Reply May 15, 2015

    Haryanto Suryonoto

    This post save my life. Despite of unusual GUI, I am now a happy rockboxed DX90 user. Good theme is a bonus.

    • Reply May 18, 2015

      ohm image

      Which theme did you go with? I didn’t like using the DX90 despite loving its sound. Rockbox really turned it into a usable DAP.

      • Reply May 20, 2015

        Haryanto Suryonoto

        I use iPod style theme as shown in the post. Simple yet beautiful. Puzzled face from several people is a bonus also. 😀

  • Reply May 18, 2015

    Deskolim Cheong

    So, how if dx90’s dac compare with a desktop dac. What dac(desktop) should be similar/level with?

    • Reply May 18, 2015

      ohm image

      Some DACs will supply higher voltage levels, and some of course, are voiced to sound drier, or smoother. DX90 is neutral, detailed, clear; it is tip-top without the fuss. You’d have to hunt down something around 2vrms that is voiced similarly to get similar sound. I’m fully satisfied with the DX90.

      • Reply May 19, 2015

        Deskolim Cheong

        Sorry, i’m not got it. Which dac(desktop) exactly has almost the same sound character/level with this? PS: My town haven’t high-end audio store, so all my stuff are bought from read reviews.

  • Reply May 18, 2015

    Daryl Fortney

    Does it have a crossfeed option built in? That is the only DSP option I usually appreciate. I currently use an ipod touch and CanOpener for just that purpose but would prefer a dedicated music player with enough memory for my entire 20k track collection. (AAC 256kbps)

    • Reply May 19, 2015

      ohm image

      If you install Rockbox, you have access to at least a half dozen digital filters, including crossfeed. If you get a micro SD card large enough, the DX90 surely will welcome your entire library.

  • Reply June 11, 2015

    Tronco

    Finally I got around to install Rockbox on by DX50. Dualboot Installation to micro sd card just took about 10 Minutes. Looks great with the iBox Theme.

    Great stuff.

  • Reply August 4, 2015

    Steven

    In the previous DX90 review, it was mentioned that seeking back to the previous song meant playing a different song than the original play/sort order. For the rockbox’d DX90, is shuffle still the same or can you backtrack to previous songs?

  • Reply October 10, 2015

    JadeMonkee

    Thanks so much for this post – I was tossing up between a DX90 and a Fiio X5ii. Knowing that Rockbox works so well on the DX90 has made it a clear winner.
    I just wish it had the X5ii’s dual MicroSD card slots, though…

  • Reply April 4, 2016

    Sam Walker

    A few months late. But the DX90 handles a dual boot Rockbox and Mango(stock) very well. It is not hard to install. I had my dog do it it was so simple.

    • Reply April 4, 2016

      Headfonia_L.

      I’m gonna need to see the video of that

      • Reply April 6, 2016

        Sam Walker

        Really, I’m wondering if everyone used the same installer I used. There is a manual install and an auto install out there. The manual was a bit of a pain. The auto is a simple matter of copying the rockbox file and the stock mango file to the internal memory and rebooting. Once installed it is just a matter of rebooting with the hold button in the “on” position whenever a dual boot is needed. Otherwise the DX90 will boot into the last used Rockbox or Mango. Since everyone here is usually so proficient, I wonder if the auto installer was available when this thread was started. For me I prefer Rockbox for headphone use, the stock Mango DX90 for external DAC or DAP/amp/speaker use.

        • Reply June 2, 2016

          digitldlnkwnt

          +1 for the auto installer. However i kept getting this bug where every time i started up a new track, for about the first 20-30 second, the player would cut out. This would happen 3-4 times in a row and sometimes not reappear for the rest of the day. very random.

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