Today, we take a look at the iBasso DC01, the smallest DAC/Amplifier from the brand. They offer two different versions, an unbalanced version (DC02) and a balanced version (DC01), both available for $49.
This is part of our Picture Sunday series, where we take a quick look at some products in the review cycle. You can find all previous First look Sunday posts here.
iBasso is a Chinese brand known for its DAP and more recently their IEM. Berkhan recently reviewed their latest flagship, the iBasso IT04 and I personally reviewed the DX220 the biggest player they offer, yet.
But, a few months ago they also sent me one little box with a tiny amp inside: the iBasso DC01. And if I already included it in the 2019 awards… I never really took the time to talk about it! So now is the time to show you a few shots and explain, briefly, why it’s so cool.
iBasso DC01 – The design
The iBasso DC01 is small, even tiny. It shares the same USB Key design you’d find on the Audioquest Cobalt or the FiiO BTR5, but a tad more classy in my opinion.
The body is made of one full piece of aluminum. The interconnect coming from the USB port enjoys a copper/silver braided cable. Even the gold ring around the 2.5mm TRRS port adds to the momentum, giving you that sweet high-quality impression. Which is even more impressive if you account for the 49$ price tag!
In fact, this might be the most Chi-Fi stuff iBasso ever made since the D-Zero/D42 era (for those who can remember that): high-quality stuff for a low price.
The USB-C port makes the iBasso DC01 pretty simple to connect. You can just plug it on any source that offers the same port, and they are numerous now. iPad, Samsung Galaxy, FiiO M11, iBasso DX120, all of them can be paired quite simply thanks to this. And for those of you that wish to enjoy the sound of the DC01 on a computer with no USB-C port, there is a USB-A adapter. Lucky us!
Again, it’s a straightforward design. You plug the iBasso DC01 on your source, you plug your (balanced) headphone cable on the port… and that’s it! No toggle, no switch, no settings. Even the indication led is so tiny you might miss it the first time.
Last but not least, this is a plug&play device. No driver needed, even if you want to outsource DSD.
iBasso DC01 – A quick view
For less than fifty bucks, the iBasso DC01 seems quite impressive, technically speaking.
The DAC is an AKM AK4493EQ from Asahi Kasei, capable of decoding streams up to 32bit/384kHZ. This is the same DAC you’ll find in many top players, so that’s already good news, and for those who want/need it : you can decode DSD256 files.
The output voltage is rated at 1.9V fo an output power of 113mW, at 32Ohms. Frequency response range from 20Hz to 40kHz with only +/- 0.5dB of differences. Finally, THD is fairly low, rated at < 0.001%. So, the numbers even outmatch some USB DAC I recently listened to, but that’s just numbers.
If two versions of the DAC coexist, I think the DC01 will be the better choice. If you can find an adapter to go from balanced to unbalanced, and the reverse, the last one won’t give you the same good results.
There is no battery inside, so you’ll have to double-check if your source/smartphone can output enough power to use the iBasso DC01. That said, I never had any issue whatsoever.
If you’re really curious, you can even download the UAC Volume app from iBasso. What it does, is unlocking the ability of the DAC to us the 64 hardware steps, and not just software. This is pretty interesting if you hear small discrepancies while lowering or raising the volume.
I never had any issue so installing the app was a bit overkill, but I have to confess that the sound felt slightly more refined after I installed the app on my computer. No iOS version for now.
Let’s talk about the sound now.
iBasso DC01 – First impressions
Sound-wise, I think anyone would be quite surprised to hear how much small DAC has improved over time.
The iBasso DC01 gives you a good balance of definition and musicality. It sounds a lot like the old AK320 from Astell&Kern. It pairs well with my Onkyo IEM, but less with the iBasso IT01, strangely. That said, this is vastly better than what you’d expect.
I’ve been using it for quite sometimes now, around four or five months, give or take. It’s not the most powerful USB DAC of the market, and I’d not suggest feeding a Sennheiser HD-800S with it, but it gets the job done (very) well.
If you don’t want to get a DAP due to the size or simply because of the price, the iBasso DC01 is a very viable alternative. It never failed me and the robust design allowed me to put it in the bottom of my bag, with no afterthoughts.
A good all-rounder, one that’ll you definitely not regret in my opinion.