In this review, we take a look at the new iBasso AMP12, an amplification module for the (amazing) iBasso DX300 available for $229.
Disclaimer: the iBasso AMP12 was sent to us, free of charge, by the brand in exchange for our honest opinion.
Founded in Shenzhen, China, iBasso has been producing DAP, DACs, and IEMs for more than ten years now. And over time, they’ve become one of the most acclaimed brands for those seeking budget-friendly, but high-performance gear.
And if the DX160 stole the show, with great sound performances and snappy UI, all for a (relatively) low price, they’ve also released great IEMs like the iBasso IT04, and an excellent set of USB-key-sized DAC with the DC01 and DC02.
But, a few months ago, iBasso released their new flagship: the DX300. And boy, it instantaneously became my go-to player for anyone seeking a high-end DAP, with all the bell and whistles, without breaking the bank. Sure, $1199 isn’t cheap money, but I paid $600 more for my A&K SE180, and the DX300 just pin it down when I’m going for streaming apps…
And so, when I found the iBasso AMP12 in my mailbox, it came as a good surprise as exchangeable amp modules for the DX200 / DX150 / DX220 came as a quirky, but clever feature. In my opinion.
So let’s see what iBasso has to offer!
Swap that base?
Swappable amp modules aren’t new, even if rare. HiFiman was one of the first brands to try it with their second line-up of DAP (HM-901), and FiiO also did the same with the X7 and X7Mkii. They even allowed you to completely ditch the amp section with the AMP0, so you could just enjoy the player digital section and feed your own pre-amplifier.
Astell&Kern went even further with the A&Futura SE180, giving you the opportunity to replace not just the amp, but the whole DAC+AMP module on your player. You should check Berkhan review in this regard, contrary to me, he happens to have both the SEM1 AND SEM2 modules. Lucky guy!
That said, if iBasso only offers amplifiers modules, they were also the ones to offer the widest range of options for their players. When I reviewed the iBasso DX150 a while ago, it went from the AMP1 to… the AMP8. That’s basically eight different sound signatures for the same player, that if you liked the DX150 or DX200 sound EQ of course.
It kinda disappeared with the iBasso DX120 and DX160, so I was a bit sad, but it came back for the DX300, so I’m not sad anymore.
Design & Build Quality
The ideal amp module is the one that blends with your player. In this regard, the iBasso AMP12 looks very good, even if not perfect. The outer plate is perfectly rigid, thanks to the thick tinted blue aluminum, and once you’ve tightened the screw that union the amp, to the DX300, it’s almost seamless. Almost because on each side of the plate, iBasso left a small gap
Surprisingly, the AMP12 only offers Pentaconn outputs, and yes they come as a pair. One is your “classic” balanced 5-pins 4.4mm wide port where you can connect your headphone/IEM. The other is a… balanced line-out! Not something that I saw frequently, but I know that some amplifier like SMSL’s ones now covers this type of balanced input.
Honestly, there is not much to say regarding build quality here: everything is hidden inside the player. But, I can still talk to you about the PCB, since iBasso left it all bare, for your pleasure.
On the upper side, you can spot big caps from Nichicon and Siemens, paired with myriads of smaller parts, lined up in two rows – balanced way baby. Everything looks absolutely flawless and compared to older products, like the infamous DX80, build quality has evolved by bounds and leaps.
Last but not least, iBasso ditched the previous mSATA port for the connector, to the modern M.2 one, like most SSD. Not sure if it makes a difference for an audio product, but maybe this will allow third-party to produce alternative amps, who know.
All in all, it’s a very solid piece of work, and it really gives a good impression.
Comfort and Specifications
How to install
The iBasso AMP12 is extremely simple to use.
You take the screwdriver bundled with the AMP12 (Torx T3) and unscrew the previous module from the DX300. Make it slide slowly as you could still damage some sensitive parts in the process. Also, please, do this with the player turned off. Risk is minimal, but low risk doesn’t make it any.
Once connected, just put back the two screws, turn on the player, and the DX300 will automatically recognize the new module.You’re done.
The biggest difference between iBasso’s AMP11 and AMP12, is the full discrete circuitry. Like Burson’s Conductor and Soloist, this means that no IC chips are used, and the brand solely used transistors for the board.
The circuit enjoys ultra-high cut-off frequency response which should improve highs, with better and fuller details. Add to that a symmetrical topology, current mirror collector, a crossed auto-zero emitter that parallels the current to the load, and on paper, the AMP12 is a real Class-A amp, fitted in a super Digital Audio Player.
If you read my iBasso DX300 review, you know the digital and analog sides are completely separated, down to the battery: each side gets its own power supply, to ensure the utmost fidelity. The voltage feedback relies on double-negative feedback (AC and DC), reducing transient response distortion for pitch-black background.
Balanced Phone out
- Output Voltage: 8.3VRMS
- Frequency Reponse: 10Hz – 45kHz
- THD : -112dB (@300ohms) / -107dB (@32ohms)
- Dynamic Range: 126dB
- Signal to Noise Ratio: 126dB
- Crosstalk: -115dB
Balanced Line out
- Output Voltage: 4.1VRMS
- Frequency Reponse: 10Hz – 45kHz
- THD : -116dB
- Dynamic Range: 128dB
- Signal to Noise Ratio: 128dB
- Crosstalk: -102dB
- Italian Leather Case (a very nice touch from the brand)
- Tinplated Steel Storage Case
- Torx T3 Screwdriver
- the iBasso AMP12
- Type: AMP module
- Size: 50 x 70 x 9mm
- Weight: 22g
- Price: $229
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