For this review, I chose to pair the iBasso DC04PRO with the HiFiman Svanar, the FiiO FA7S, and the lovely Beyerdynamic’s DT 900 Pro X – the same in-ear/ headphones I used for my DC03PRO review. If the Hifiman is a bit too higher-end for this DAC, the FiiO is more than adequate and paired quite nicely with the DC04PRO (more on that later), and regarding the Beyerdynamic, I’ve got not much to say: it’s amazing for the price.
As for the source, I kept my MacBook and iPhone, combined with the ddHiFi TC28i and iBasso CB18, to use the USB-C cable solely. For the files, I mainly used Apple Music and Spotify, as I ended up using the DC04PRO almost exclusively on the train, or at the office.
So, how does iBasso’s new USB dongle compare to its smaller brother, the DC03PRO, and its big brother, the DC06? Does it offer the same performance as the latter in a smaller form factor? Somehow, yes and no!
Power-wise, it’s still not on par with the DC06, which remains the most powerful dongle the brand has to offer to this day. But, apart from the insensitive Hifiman Svanar – which needs a LOT of current to be correctly driven – almost all of the IEMs I paired with the DC04Pro scaled quite nicely. In fact, even if you were to stick with the single-ended port, you’d be surprised by how much juice the iBasso was able to extract from the USB source.
If not deafening, the small DAC was able to drive my Beyerdynamic DT900 Pro X more than comfortably, giving me more headroom than before, through the 3.5mm headphone output. Once again, paired with this headphone, the result was simply stunning with deep lows, crisp highs, and a wide(r) soundstage, definitely outperforming the FiiO KA2 and KA3 this time.
And, if not undoubtedly less powerful than the DC06, I found the DC04PRO keener to my ears. Better dynamic range, blacker background, with the same level of clarity and accuracy, which makes it a far better choice for IEMs users. This has been proven true on many occasions, but the Shanling MG600 benefited the most from this change. Compared to the DC06, the DC04PRO places voices in the forefront, resulting in a more natural presentation while still retaining discrete micro-details at low volume.
Head to head with the FiiO KA3, the iBasso appeared more natural , whereas the FiiO seemed to put too much emphasis on the voice. It’s a matter of taste, and if I usually favor FiiO on this aspect, the DC04PRO keeps the upper hand here, thanks to its sharp, acute rendering of female and males vocal range. Cause yes, in case you haven’t listened to any of iBasso’s latest products, you’d be surprised to find out how linear and analytical they all sound. The iBasso DC06 was mostly neutral, with a wide soundstage and a surprisingly good layering – and the DC04Pro follows the exact same way, with some additional refinements.
The iBasso DC04Pro offers a very high level of resolution and scales up easily with Hi-Res files. The highs are clean, sharp and detailed, with a good level of air outlined by low distortion and a linear signature. Despite being sharp and clinical, the trebles are not hissy and still sound softer compared to the ESS Sabre found in other devices. The lows are deep and fast, attaining the lowest notes and sub-rumble fitted so you can reach that good old toe-tapping Oomph. Truth be told, that might also be thanks to the DT900 Pro-X. Once more, I found the combination of iBasso and Beyerdynamic systems almost mesmerizing and even paired with more expensive gear, I kept on going back to this newfound synergy.
The mids are open, linear and natural. The soundstage is wide, especially with the balanced output, and I was surprised to spot some small details, unheard of on the DC05 and DC03Pro, especially when paired with IEMs like the FiiO FA7S or the Shanling ME800. Vocals and acoustic tracks are an easy job for the DC04Pro, even more so once paired with a good set like the FiiO. Paired with the right headphones/earphones you can spot each instrument and each singer with ease and there is no channel imbalance to ruin the experience. It’s usually impressive, and sometimes magnificent. This was especially true with well-mixed tracks like Nara from Alt-J, where the voice completely took me off, as I slowly dove into the music.
And if the previous model already surprised me with its output power, the iBasso DC04Pro raises the bar even higher, driving my headphones almost effortlessly with such a light body. Add to that the 100 volume step, and for my use, this one is simply perfect for my use: I could switch between each of my three reviews IEM/Headphone, and find the right volume each and every time. I’d have been really curious to try the other gain mode, but as for now, the app seems to be available on Android devices solely. For smartphone listeners, compared to Apple’s own dongle, this is a significant improvement, even when compared to small dongles like HiFi’s TC35i or the FiiO KA3: better dynamic range, deeper bass, cleaner high-mids, and a leaner sound signature.
Finally, as promised, even with the Shanling ME800 or my old but faithful Onkyo IE-C3 I couldn’t spot any floor noise, and the old saying about “noisy-hissy” iBasso, is now completely irrelevant. Hurray!
Highs: clean and sharp. The iBasso DC04Pro offers a very high level of resolution and, fed with Qobuz/Apple Music Hi-Res files, delivers one of the sharpest high you could get in this price range. There is a good level of air, no distortion and those trebles never get hissy, even when you crank up the volume. Android users will be able to fine-tune those highs with five different roll-off filters, but with my iOS phone, I couldn’t grab the chance.
Good test track : Through and through – Leaving Laurel
Mids: open and linear. Vocals and acoustic tracks are an easy job for the DC03Pro, even more so once paired with a good set like the DT900 Pro X. The soundstage is wide, especially with the balanced output, and I was surprised to spot some small details, unheard of on the DC05, especially when paired with the Shanling ME800.
Good test track: Between a smile and a tear
Lows: deep and fast. iBasso did an excellent job here with lots and lots of power, so you can reach that deep low, on the go. Going balanced makes a world difference here, and I strongly advise you to pick the 4.4mm pentaconn whenever you can, if you like your bass tight and steady. I love it!
If it was not clear already, iBasso is back in the game! If I liked the DC03Pro, I LOVED the DC04PRO, and this new model is simply better on every level!
So, let’s make it short: for the price, the iBasso DC04Pro is my new champion, in the sub-$150 category: build quality is exquisite, power is impressive, sound is superb – but linear – and the dual output is more than welcome. For the price, this is a no-brainer – unless you’re really, really, tight on budget. Add to that, the fact that it draws less power than before, plus the physical volume control, and this DAC/Amp ticks all the right boxes.
So yes, this DAC/AMP goes directly in my recommendation list, and if you’re out for a dongle DAC , you should definitely try this one first, or at least add it to your list.
- sleek design and lightweight casing
- low power consumption and excellent power reserve
- superb sound with sharp rendering all along!
- Clever volume control…
- … for android users only
- a bit too linear
Do you think the DC04Pro is worthy upgrade over the DC03Pro for sensitive IEM’s on 3,5 mm TRS connections?
How’s the soundstage compare to the Topping G5?
How does dc04 pro compare to ddhifi t44c and colorfly cda m1?