iBasso DX50 vs DX90: The DAP Shootout

USB DAC

Both the DX’s offer you a coaxial out so you can hook up your DAP to an external DAC but that’s not all. On the latest firmware you can use the DX50 and DX90 as a USB DAC. In theory that is. A quick look at the Head-fi thread immediately shows you lots of owners are having issues with getting the DAPs to work as USB DAC. Unfortunately I am one of them. After a few attempts –even with the latest driver that was only just released- , reboots and a couple of BSOD experiences I abandoned my quest to use the DX90 as USB DAC.

Besides the screen quality, I have nothing to complain about so far at all,I love what they have done but why on earth is it so damn hard to make your DAP work as a USB DAC? It should be easy iBasso. I haven’t had a problem with any of the other Hi Res DAPs when connecting them as USB DAC and I do think they should get this sorted out ASAP.

User Interface

In general I’m quite pleased with the iBasso User Interface as it is very easy to use. It however can be a bit lagging when changing tracks, especially when using the touch screen to switch songs. Overall it’s not as good as the excellent reference UI from the Astel&Kerns but it do is a step up from the Fiio UI.

ibasso-audiogarden-690x90

The music menu offers you a choice between: Now Playing / Directory / Playlist / All music / Album / Artist and Genre. I’m a big fan of shuffle play and I find myself going to the “All Music” option most of the time. One issue I have with the interface is that when you have shuffle turned on, you will actually never go back to the previous song, you will always get a different song and that’s too bad as I sometimes like to listen to the same song over again. Or sometimes when you click next song and you change your mind? Well too bad, it’s gone. Another downside to me is that there is no “Line Out” setting like with the Fiio and AKs, and you manually have to turn up the volume to 255. Luckily volume goes up fast once you’ve passed 220 on the dial.

The Settings Menu offers a lot of options like EQ, Gapless playback, USB settings, L/R Balance, Digital Filter and many more. Gapless playback is always on in my case and it’s been working pretty well. Some users have reported issues with certain file types but I haven’t experienced any weird behavior yet. In the Digital Filter menu you can choose between a sharp or slow roll-off. Most of the time I have it set to sharp depending on the headphone used and the music I am listening to but the difference in sound to me is rather limited.

Like with all my sources I hardly ever touch the EQ settings. The DX’s offer you an 8 band EQ with 5 presets for pop, rock, classic, dance and bass. Personally I find them to sound best with the EQ turned off but to each his own of course.

In the end the UI is pretty good and it’s pocket friendly as well. Once you’ve chosen your album or shuffle play, it’s very easy to operate the DX without looking at it.

Sound

Firmware versions used were 1.5 on the DX50 and the latest 2.1.5 on the DX90. Too bad I couldn’t use the firmware from Lurker. These unit’s aren’t mine (going back to AudioGarden) and I didn’t want to mess around with the FW too much. If you have the DX90 I would certainly check it out as I have read nothing but good about it.

EDIT May 8 2015: Click here to read an update on Rockboxing your DX90

In 2013 I wasn’t too convinced with how the DX50 sounded and to be honest I still am not today. I keep hearing from a lot of people, Nathan included, that the DX50 is supposed to be very silent but my unit certainly is not. It’s even almost as noisy as the Fiio X1 on the headphone out. This noise is only audible on the headphone out though, and not the Line Out. I really hope the noise is my unit being faulty somehow because it’s just too much noise for a Hi Res DAP. The DX90 on the other hand is dead silent with even my most sensitive custom in ear monitors. The way it should be.

I have lots of love for both units for several reasons.

The volume control has 255 steps. It has a huge range and it allows you to set your perfect listening level with all types of headphones. The downside, like I mentioned, is that you can’t go to max volume with one click but I can live with that. Another superb feature of these iBasso’s is the gain stage. I’m not afraid to say that I have hardly ever seen a gain stage that was this well implemented. Depending on the ear- or headphone used you can easily switch to medium or high gain. Sure a lot of units do that but these stages actually make your headphone sound better and they don’t just give you more power. The Beyerdynamic DT770 AE in example doesn’t need medium gain at all but it actually sounds better using medium gain, especially at very low listening levels. That’s the case for a whole lot of headphones in my collection. Both units have a lot of power and of all the DAPs I have tested these are the ones I feel the less need with to use an external amplifier. That means a lot. With the TOTL Astel&Kern players you won’t see me using my Audeze’s straight out of the headphone plug. With the DX50 and DX90 that is no problem whatsoever. And the most important thing is the headphones actually sound great too. I’m listening to Moby as I type using the DX90 and my LCD-XC. That’s on medium gain and at volume level 190. I can assure you it sounds great.

The Detail

The difference in sound between the DX50 and DX90 isn’t little. Long story short is – it won’t come as a surprise – I’m not a big fan of the DX50 but I seriously love the DX90.

The DX50 has a more in your face kind of sound. Like the player is saying: here’s the sound, like it or not. But it’s just sound. It’s rather dry sounding where I mean it’s not as musical and I’m missing a lot of dynamics. Detail wise it is ok but it’s nothing special either. Same goes for its sound stage. Not the worst by far but not the best either. That doesn’t make the DX50 a bad player but to me it doesn’t sound smooth or musical at all and I find it a rather boring sound to be honest. To me it’s nothing more than OK when comparing it to the DX90. But looking at the price, it’s more than just OK.

The DX90, using the Sabre Chips, is the complete opposite: it has a lot more detail in the bass, mids and treble. It has a sound stage that is a lot wider and deeper and it sounds very musical and dynamic. One of the better DAPs I have listened to. It’s that simple.

Both units have a little bass emphasis and I can live happily with that. They have good body overall and especially the mids are great. Make that superb on the DX90. The 90’s mids are gorgeous and have the perfect amount of body, detail, air and smoothness making them very musical and dynamic sounding compared to the DX50. The strength of these players obviously is in the bass and mids but don’t underestimate the treble. While it’s not the most extended treble ever, it still is very good on the DX90 (less so with the DX50).

The Line Out is good on both units but the DX90 sounds a whole lot better as it has the best DAC section of both players. You will find an external amp is not needed for IEMs at all. For your full sized harder to drive headphones you can use an external amp and your headphones will sound even better but like I said, these DAPs have positively surprised me with their ability to drive full sized headphones. I have tested the LO with Fiio’s E12 & E12A, JdsLabs C5, Cypherlabs Picollo & Duet and even with desktop size amps like the Violectric V281 and the Beyerdynamic A2&A20.

Comparisons, Headphones and Conclusion on Page 3


iBasso DX50 vs DX90: The DAP Shootout
4.3 (85.93%) 27 vote[s]

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

178 Comments

  • Reply November 11, 2014

    Marcellinus Adhi

    You should try it with 2.1 lurker/international or 2.1.5 L2.. Great stuff !!

    • Reply November 11, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      I will this week as I just bought the DX90 from Audiogarden

  • Reply November 11, 2014

    Vaibhav Pisal

    hi Levian,

    can you please compare dx 90 with herus, theorem and ifi idsd micro.

    which of them will sound best with low impedance cans (less than 100 ohm, mostly dynamic), except theorem as its out of budget.

    • Reply November 11, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      Herus had a better DAC but the amp inside isn’t that good. It’s a bit weird to compare as the Herus is no real data carrying source. Same goes for the Theorem and ifi. Theorem has a very good dac inside, just a little under the Herus but the amp is exptremely good. The ifi dac and amp are very analytical. I do miss the musicality in that setup, it’s a bit dry for my taste

      • Reply November 11, 2014

        Vaibhav Pisal

        ok. so I will use very easy to drive load like akg k550, any shure model, then herus will give better detail than theorem ? cause dac part is better, but not amp?

        also is beyer dx160 good? worth the money? can you compare it with hifiman re400?

        • Reply November 11, 2014

          Headfonia_L.

          I am only talking about the DAC part. To me you should use the Herus only as a DAC, not an amp. It’s to thin and lean sounding. Therefor the Theorem as DAC/AMP unit is a lot better, it actually is great.

          DX160 is nice, review soon. Worth the money. No I don’t have the RE400

          • Reply November 11, 2014

            Vaibhav Pisal

            thanks Levian. A general question.

            is it fair to compare dap like this to desktop setups like I did? or are they in another league?

            • Reply November 11, 2014

              Headfonia_L.

              It depends on your desktop setup, but in general I wouldn’t no.

              • Reply November 11, 2014

                Vaibhav Pisal

                ok. thanks.

  • Reply November 11, 2014

    Marc

    Great and very cohesive review Lieven!!

    There’s something different about the review, more enthusiasm perhaps? Do try the latest Lurker firmware, the 2.1.5 L2 if I’m not mistaken. It wasn’t the first time for me to change firmware but I always get a little shocked upon hearing differences between them. It’s too great to be placebo and my impressions on these parallel those on Head-Fi even prior to seeing them.

    One Head-Fier claims it to be a beast and to better even the AK120ii in technicalities with the latest modded firmware. I wouldn’t know though. If I had one qualm, it would definitely be battery life. Not only is it short as it is but imagine when the battery life starts going down.

    • Reply November 11, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      Thank you, Marc. Some people find me overenthusiast and so I try to hold back a little. In this review I didn’t and maybe that’s what you’re seeing. I really love the DX90 and I think it should show.

      With the 2.1.5 the AKs are still ahead technicall, believe me. I have just bought the DX90 and I’ll be trying the Lurker FW this week for sure. I’m curious

      The battery life like I said isn’t the best but the sound is to good…

  • Reply November 11, 2014

    Lofthanza Zia

    Ummm! It seems i am going for the DX90. I already own the dacmagic xs as a dac/amp that i hook up to my laptop. Its a very clean sounding dac, but might be lean-sounding as well. Coming from the dacmagic xs, do you think the DX90 will give me sound improvement as well?

    • Reply November 11, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      I think you described the Dacmagic correctly. How were you thinking of using the DX90? Just as a DAC or as DAC/AMP?

      You will get a completely different type of sound, that’s for sure. I personally prefer the DX type of sound

      • Reply November 11, 2014

        Lofthanza Zia

        I will be using it as DAC/AMP.
        Btw! What do you think an open headphones in the $300-$400 that will be a good match to the dacmagic xs? I was thinking of the fidelio x2 but i am still waiting for the headfonia review come out. Any recommendations? Or even guesses if you havent tried it with any open headphones?

  • Reply November 11, 2014

    lowbies

    Hai L, I assume you’ve tried hifiman HM801 (or maybe have it), pure on SQ only (please put aside about UI, portability, convinience, battery, etc) how does it compare against DX90?

    • Reply November 11, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      I’m afraid Mike has all the Hifiman DAPs, sorry!

  • Reply November 11, 2014

    Nanang H

    Well, the calyx m goes above ak120, a little ahead of 120- ii, and below ak240 IMHO

    • Reply November 11, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      Sound wise the Calyx M is superb and it doesn’t require an amp like the AKs do. But it is big and heavy and battery life is really bad. On the other hand it has a nice UI and great screen. It’s tough to place, so it is somewhere around the AKs

      • Reply November 11, 2014

        Nanang H

        I can’t agree more about bulky and battery life. But other than that, sound wise, it’s superb as you say 🙂

        • Reply November 11, 2014

          Headfonia_L.

          Maybe a second Calyx M revision will be better, an AK killer 🙂

    • Reply November 13, 2014

      ohm image

      Got one on hand now. Will review. Will show that a modded AK100 is just as good, if not better.

  • Reply November 11, 2014

    Eli Segal

    How is the AK100 ii compares with the DX90? is it worth double the price? thx

    • Reply November 11, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      I’m still waiting for AK to send me the 100ii, so I can’t comment on that yet, sorry

    • Reply November 13, 2014

      ohm image

      A Mezzo Hifi modded MZAK100 is leaps and bounds better for certain things, than is the DX90. But both are absolutely excellent.

      • Reply November 13, 2014

        Eli Segal

        What do you mean by certain things?

        • Reply November 17, 2014

          ohm image

          Lower noise floor, better stereo separation, lower distortion in some areas; not to mention: balanced line output, faster interface, and a much better volume control.

          That said, the DX90 is the best _stock_ player I’ve used, ever. Modded, the AK100 is far and away the most impressive player I’ve used near and above its price.

  • Reply November 11, 2014

    Tronco

    Quite enthusiastic review Lieven, I like it.

    I got my DX50 earlier this year, before the DX90 was released. I agree with you, it is a big step up coming from an iPod or a mobile phone. But now you got me wondering about the DX90…

    • Reply November 11, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      Thank you. I actually feel a bit bad for the DX50 owners, the DX90 is really a lot better in terms of sound. That being said, the DX50 does holds its strong in their price segment. If you can listen to the DX90 however you really should but be warned, you won’t like going back to the DX50

      • Reply November 11, 2014

        Tronco

        Damn, you’re killing my budget again! 🙂

    • Reply November 16, 2014

      digitldlnkwnt

      FYI – I managed to sell my DX50 on Ebay for most of what i paid for it. It makes sense that those without budget for the DX90 will go for the 50, they are still far enough apart price wise that the DX90 will not cannibalize the DX50, and buying one used makes it that much more of a better deal. I think it bears repeating that even though it’s not as good as the 90, the 50 is great DAP in it’s own right and a great competitor in it’s price bracket.

  • Reply November 11, 2014

    nanotechnos

    Nice review Lieven, next time I’ll send you the new setup from ibasso 😀

    • Reply November 11, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      I’ll keep you to that. Thanks!

    • Reply November 13, 2014

      Pade

      what are you?

      • Reply November 13, 2014

        nanotechnos

        I’m not sure how to respond to that, a Human ? Male human 😀
        (just kidding)

        • Reply November 14, 2014

          Pade

          That came out wrong. I was wondering what’s your occupation to seem so sure of your capability of delivering iBasso’s future goods.

          Mr. Mod answered my question. Thanks Mr. Mod!

          • Reply November 14, 2014

            nanotechnos

            I’m the owner of Audiogarden, sorry it wasn’t a brillant joke but the question was asking for this pun :p

            • Reply November 14, 2014

              Headfonia_L.

              The French and jokes, it’ll never work. 😉

              • Reply November 14, 2014

                nanotechnos

                “C’est la vie !”

          • Reply November 14, 2014

            Headfonia_L.

            Mr. Mod is here to help. Mr. Mod is also the owner of Headfonia. We’re all owners here 😉

            • Reply January 19, 2015

              Vaibhav Pisal

              you are owner of headfonia Levien?

              you had in your profile in previous reviews as second to Mike, if I remember correctly. how does this work?

              • Reply January 19, 2015

                Headfonia_L.

                Mike has left Headfonia to concentrate on his stores. Yep, I’ve been in charge here now for the last year or so

      • Reply November 13, 2014

        Headfonia_L.

        He’s the owner of Audiogarden.fr 😉

  • Reply November 11, 2014

    jaka satria

    how the comparison with fiio x5 and dx90?

    • Reply November 11, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      “I’m missing the X5 for the moment but going from memory I would rank it just below the DX90”

  • Reply November 12, 2014

    Benoît Panel

    When do you go to try the new Hifiman HM-650 ? And compare it with the iBasso DX90 ?

    • Reply November 12, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      I’m not sure hifiman is sending me one

      • Reply November 13, 2014

        nanotechnos

        Maybe I can get you one, I’ll keep you update.

  • Reply November 13, 2014

    Eric Thompson

    SO DX90 IT IS! ha I wish you could of done a direct comparison to the X5 as that seems like the main competition, I really don’t care about the UI (however I find the iBasso shuffle issue really funny/dump oversite). I can’t afford an AK and really don’t want to carry/buy an extra amp with something that expensive. Then there are the Hi-fi man ones too.

    • Reply November 13, 2014

      Eric Thompson

      Would the DX90 go good with SE535’s and T51p’s?

      • Reply November 13, 2014

        Headfonia_L.

        T51P: Awesome
        SE535: Pretty sure they are as well

        • Reply November 13, 2014

          Eric Thompson

          Those are going be my main headphones, can’t afford the 846’s so I have 535’s (got them before the 846’s came out), D5000’s, Momentums then I’m planning on getting the T51p, and Grado 225i’s and mayyyybe the HD25 aluminum’s if they aren’t all god by the time I get around to it.

    • Reply November 13, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      You can’t go wrong with the DX90. To me it beats the X5

      • Reply November 13, 2014

        Eric Thompson

        OK! Thx, I’ve been really happy with my E17 and like the way the X5 looks better then the DX90, I also am not crazy about touch screens like everyone else seems to be but sound is more important, and it looks very well built. The reviews on the DX100 and DX50 didn’t make me to confident in getting one with the so so sound and roll of on each end but this seem like a lot better player.

    • Reply November 13, 2014

      Tronco

      I agree. Spending that much money for a DAP and then having to buy an extra amp doesn’t make any sense.

      • Reply November 13, 2014

        Headfonia_L.

        Unless you can and want to carry it around. Best SQ there is.

        • Reply November 13, 2014

          Tronco

          For sure better SQ. I might be too demanding, but if I was to spend 1000-2000$ for a DAP I would expect a pretty decent AMP built in. Not better than a desktop amp, but something competing with the top portable amps out there.

          • Reply November 13, 2014

            Eric Thompson

            Yeah, I’m always like oh what are the A&K players going for again? $500? $600? Then I look and the cheapest one is like $800 with the 120 jumping to $1200 and I’m like NOPE. I stick to desk top amps for that kind of dough, I’d drop it or have it stolen or something. $500 IEM’s along with a $500 player is max for me to walk around with. Plus like you said you think it would come with a good sounding amp for double the price.

        • Reply November 13, 2014

          Eric Thompson

          The DX90?

  • Reply November 13, 2014

    Calvin Xin Ci

    What case is that? The Pelican 1010 is just too small for it. Will get the DX90 if the local headphobe store is throwing it in for warehouse sale.

    • Reply November 14, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      That case is from some unknown company and it can normally be bought via Cosmic Ears. It can actually hold the dx50 and dx90 at the same time

      • Reply November 16, 2014

        Calvin Xin Ci

        I’ll try to ask them..Thanks.

    • Reply November 15, 2014

      digitldlnkwnt

      I have a Pelican 1040, you can order the foam black from Amazon that fits in the Pelican 1040 and cut it to size. I use #M double-sided adhesive squares to hold a small chunk of foam in place that i found lay around. It’s worked well for me. I have also noticed a lot of photography store’s sell the smaller MicroCase line as well so you maybe able to pop by one and check the sizes before you buy. They are relatively inexpensive $10-30US spending on size and oh-so worth it.

      • Reply November 16, 2014

        Calvin Xin Ci

        Oh there is Pelican store around here, I’ll check it out. Thanks.

        • Reply November 16, 2014

          digitldlnkwnt

          BTW I should tell you that the DX50 DOES fit in the 1010, but it’s SNUG. The Pelican cases have this kind of protective padding for lack of a better term, that holds the DX50, and by extension the DX90 in place but you have to dig your finger in a bit to get it out.
          I didn’t see this as an issue but some people may not like it. I managed to tuck away my UE TF10’s with an Effect after-market cable right on top of the DX50 – with careful placement. I don’t think you’ll get away with CIEM but a lot of UIEMs might work.

  • Reply November 15, 2014

    digitldlnkwnt

    L – I couldn’t agree more about the X3 providing detail but just really lacking in musicality. It actually makes me reach for my Sansa Clip to use with my Cosmic Ears BA4 most of the time, in which case i trade detail for that smooth musical signature and low-end growl.
    I sold my DX50, and just ordered a DX90.

    • Reply November 15, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      DX90 + BA4 is awesome! You’ll love it. Let us know what you think

      • Reply November 17, 2014

        digitldlnkwnt

        WOW I like the DX90+BA4 combo very much. I listen to a lot of older Jungle/Drum and Bass/House – music that wasn’t really recorded all that well to begin with. You know, no compression, bass running into the mids and highs, stuff like that. The X3 made that older stuff really painful to listen to and the DX50 did an OK job with it – the DX90 makes it sound as if i am listening to these tracks right off the original vinyl, using Ortofon club needles through a Mackie power amp.

        The transitions between all the drum sequences – spanning mids – bass, all the while with a growling sub base in the background are flawless and detailed. This is very difficult to do without making the music sound over analyzed and fatiguing. The highs are the best part they are present if a bit subdued, but richer than anything i have ever heard before, but without sacrificing micro-detail. That same richness continues when listening to newer, more accurate, modern recordings where the imaging and spaciousness of the ESS chips really get to shine. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be addicted to this setup for awhile. Hell, i may even go into the office more, just to ride the bus in rush hour traffic just to have an excuse to listen.

        My Sansa Clip has a DX90 poster on the wall so he can grow up to be just like him. I know thats sounds silly but everything I love about that sound is in the DX90/BA4 pairing just more of it. Expect to see an X3 on Ebay soon.

        • Reply November 17, 2014

          Headfonia_L.

          Thanks for sharing. funny.
          The DX90 really is a step up from the DX50, isn’t it. It’s mostly because of the DAC chips I’m sure. The X3 is good, but the musicality is still missing, too bad. Well we do have the DX90 that makes it all work 🙂

  • Reply November 18, 2014

    Eli Segal

    Would the sound quality be much better than my current iPod+SR71A?

    • Reply November 20, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      to me yes, but add in a cypherlabs CLAS solo and you’ll have much better sound

  • Reply November 20, 2014

    Eli Segal

    Does the DX90 support lyrics display?

  • Reply November 20, 2014

    Tibor

    Hi L.! So have you tried that Lurker firmware? I am waiting to hear your thoughts! Thanks

  • Reply November 23, 2014

    ey4svs

    Hi! Would the DX90 go good with Grado GR10’s, UE TripleFi 10’s and NAD VISO HP50’s?

  • Reply November 24, 2014

    ey4svs

    Would the DX90 go good with NAD VISO HP50’s, UE TripleFi 10’s and Grado GR10’s?

  • Reply December 5, 2014

    CoiL

    Despite the fact that I haven`t heard DX90 myself, I think this “shootout” is somewhat unfair.
    It`s really pity that there was no custom firmwares involved. Stock 1.5.0 FW is quite ok sounding but DX50 has some VERY great sounding modified firmwares by Dmitry (Sound Unlocked 1.3.3) and DOC2008 (NDFFFinal). Those FW`s really take DX50 to another level. Recommend to try those out before pulling trigger on DX90.

  • Reply December 6, 2014

    Haryanto Suryonoto

    Today I decide to get one DX90 from Headfonia. Thanks Mike! This DAP sounds amazing with my B&W P3. I will try it with my LCD-3 soon. But for the moment I’m hooked up with P3 first 🙂

  • Reply December 15, 2014

    Venci

    Hi, i want to buy dac/amp for home and dap for the on the go.

    Should i go for Audisnt HUD-MX1 and DX50 or for DX90 as dap and dac/amp?

    I am using hd598 and Vsonic vsd3s.

    • Reply December 31, 2014

      Haryanto Suryonoto

      I found out that DX90 was not so good as desktop dac/amp. You may want to try NAD D1050 or Audiolab M-DAC for desktop amp. Or the newest Marantz HD-DAC1. I listened to them. Highly recommended.

  • Reply December 31, 2014

    Guest

    @disqus_vboO88CyS0:disqus I found out that DX90 was not so good as desktop dac/amp. You may want to try NAD D1050 or Audiolab M-DAC for desktop amp.

  • Reply January 1, 2015

    Venci

    Thanks, i have convinced myself to not use dx90 as home dac/amp, but the the option you stated are a bit pricy for me. At some later point i will save to buy a used one.

  • Reply January 10, 2015

    Eli Segal

    Is the Amp/DAC section of the DX90 is better or worse than the JDSLabs C5D? Thanks.

    • Reply January 10, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      I prefer the DAC section of the DX90. Amp wise the C5D is more powerful. personally I wouldnt pair my DX90 with my C5D, the DX90s amp (or sound) is more open, while the C5D amp’s sound is fairly closed.

  • Reply January 16, 2015

    Dhia Oshaish

    Hi
    I bought the DX90, and I am perfectly happy with it. I then bought the Fidelio X2, absolutely great headphones. I liked everything about this combination. However, I found the sound signature to be a tad too warm for my personal liking. I wish the X2s were a bit brighter. Are there open headphones that pair well with DX90 and sound as good as (if not better than) the X2, but are a tad brighter? My budget is $500.
    Thank you!

    • Reply January 17, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Hp200 maybe? I would say sennheiser but the dx90 can’t cut that

      • Reply January 17, 2015

        Dhia Oshaish

        Yes, I think the sennheisers would be an overload to the DX90.
        How about the new hifiman he-400i? Would it fit the bill?

        • Reply January 17, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          Hifiman’s are just as bad to drive, maybe the old HE-400

          • Reply January 17, 2015

            Dhia Oshaish

            Oops! I thought I read in your review of the HE-400i that it pairs well with the DX90. Maybe you meant with an external amp, or maybe I got that wrong. I thought the new he-400i was easier to drive than the old one.

          • Reply January 19, 2015

            Dhia Oshaish

            Here is where I got confused.
            Quoting ur review on the DX90:

            Hifiman HE-400i: A really wonderful combo. No external amp is needed and even on low gain it sounds superb. It’s a great match and that results in gorgeous sounding mids and close to perfect bass. HE-400i review soon!
            …………..

            And now quoting ur review on the 400i:

            and while I’m a big fan of the DX90, I’m not really liking this combo. The DX90 has more than enough power to drive the HE-400i even on low gain but as I have mentioned in other reviews, I prefer the middle gain setting on the DX90. The iBasso makes the HE-400i more dry sounding in a way and the clarity just isn’t there for me. I feel I am not getting the most out of it, which is a shame because I really dig the DX90 DAP.

            • Reply January 19, 2015

              Headfonia_L.

              At the time of the DX90 review that’s exactly how I felt it sounded. The thing is that I in the mean time have listened to the HE400i alot more and it even sounds better on other devices, hence why I in the end found it dryer sounding on the DX90 (compared to the others). I can see how that’s confusing and i’ll adapt it later on. thanks for alerting me it isn’t clear

              • Reply January 19, 2015

                Dhia Oshaish

                Thank you indeed, Lieven!

      • Reply January 17, 2015

        dalethorn

        HP200 is good.

      • Reply January 18, 2015

        Dhia Oshaish

        can i ask one last question?
        If I opted for the $600 HD700, would I be upgrading from the X2?
        And will the DX90 drive them well?
        And lastly, are they a little brighter than the X2s?

        Thanks Lieven!

        • Reply January 18, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          I just said the DX90 can’t drive Sennheisers. Yes the HD700 is better and brighter thanthe X2 but the DX90 would be no good as amp. You will need a really good portable amp or a desktop amp

          • Reply January 23, 2015

            Dhia Oshaish

            Will the Fiio e12 be good with the HD700? Will it be noticeably better than the built-in amp of the DX90?

            • Reply January 23, 2015

              Headfonia_L.

              Here’s a strange answer. The quality of the DX90 amp is better but the E12 has more power to drive it. then again the E12 won’t make your HD700 sound that great. You would need the DX90 amp with the power of the E12 😉

    • Reply January 17, 2015

      dalethorn

      The Shure 940 is closed, but has a sound that’s bright and very open-sounding. A better alternative in my opinion would be the Grado 325. There are very few good open headphones below the Sennheiser 600 or 650 today.

      • Reply January 17, 2015

        Guest

        Thank you dale! I have thought about the Grado 325e. They seem to be very good but might miss out on the bass. What do you think of the Shure 1840 instead of the 940?

        • Reply January 17, 2015

          Dhia Oshaish

          A hiccup posting that!
          Yup
          That question..
          Thanx!

        • Reply January 17, 2015

          dalethorn

          The 1840 will have less bass than the 325 I think, but fairly close. The treble on the 1840 is ideal – not bright like the 940 and 1440. If you have the money get the 1840 – I love it. CAVEAT: Before you commit permanently to the 1840, get a copy of Jennifer Warnes’ song Rock You Gently, and listen to the introduction bass tones on the 1840. It’s …. well, I can’t describe it. Above that frequency the bass seems quite good, although a bit lean for me nowdays. So if you’re not a fan of extra warm bass or very deep bass, the 1840 is great.

          • Reply January 17, 2015

            Dhia Oshaish

            It seems the Grado 325e is a little of a better option since it has slightly more bass. Now coming from the X2, what do u think I am sacrificing the most when opting for the 325e? Soundstage? Bass?

            • Reply January 17, 2015

              dalethorn

              Yes to the bass, but also the excitement of the Philips tuning. I don’t have the 325 now, but when I had it it was similar to the HD600, but slightly more forward. If I were using the headphone for portable use I’d need closed back, but at home it depends on whether you prefer the more subtle sound for classical etc. or the richer sound for rock, pop etc.

  • Reply January 17, 2015

    Nickjan Glas

    I have a question concerning your ranking of the various DAP’s. If I m not mistaken, the ranking of quality is correpsondent to the ranking in price. As the fiio X1 has the positive aspect of the line out + amp, would the X1 + Amp (say an E12(a) be better than the DX50 without amp, or do the DAC parts of both have too much influence on that?

    • Reply January 17, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      I had no clue they were corresponding in price. The DX50’s dac would maybe be a little better than the X1’s. But yes X1 + E12A would be better than the DX50 solo

      • Reply January 17, 2015

        Nickjan Glas

        Thanks, then I interpreted your reviews correctly. I looked them up, the X3 is slightly cheaper than the dx50 actually, but only by a margin. All the others correspond in ranking vs price. The Fiio X1 + amp (discounted E12) would still be cheaper than the DX50 and X3.
        Now I can still feel good over choosing the X1 as my first DAP (budget considerations) to match with external amps. 😀
        And like you said in the other review, if I become more experienced listener I can later enter the higher end DAP world.

  • Reply January 27, 2015

    Cotnijoe

    Did you ever get the USB DAC working? And thoughts on it?

    • Reply January 27, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      I have not, no. should be pretty good though

      • Reply January 27, 2015

        Cotnijoe

        I wanted to ask because I said you felt that the AK120II and AK240’s USB DAC felt a bit underwhelming. I was considering an upgrade from DX90 to the AK100II and would be using it extensively as a USB DAC as well as an on the go solution so I was hoping to get some thoughts on that!

  • Reply January 28, 2015

    MennatAllah Humaid

    Hi, if I had to choose between these three headphones to pair with the DX90: Shure SRH1540, Focal spirit professional and Fedilio X2. Which ones would give me the best sounding experience especially regarding soundstage and instruments speration?

    • Reply January 28, 2015

      dalethorn

      The Shure 1540 is quite dark, while the Focal is very neutral. Does that matter?

      • Reply January 28, 2015

        MennatAllah Humaid

        Amm, I’m not a big fan of dark sound. I thought that these two headphones are the best closed headphones within $500 to go for. I’m seeking something neutral, good soundstage, and comfy at the same time. So does being dark remove the Shure from the options?

        • Reply January 28, 2015

          dalethorn

          It’s hard to judge a headphone unheard, but it always helps when someone has compared them side by side as I have in these cases (actually I had the Philips L1, and I expect the X2 to be even better). Now to make things even harder to choose, the Focal is like a tank, and uncomfortable. The 1540 is much better, but if you check other reviews some users have commented on the fit problems. Probably the X2 would be the best bet.

          • Reply January 28, 2015

            MennatAllah Humaid

            The X2 are open headphones, and I was keeping them as a last resort if I didn’t find any good closed headphones. So, could you recommend me any good closed headphones other than the two above?
            Thanks!!

            • Reply January 28, 2015

              Headfonia_L.

              H6, P7, HP50, HP100, LCD-XC, DT770, COP

              Want me to go on?

              • Reply January 31, 2015

                Haryanto Suryonoto

                How about P5 Series 2? Quite good and improved compared to the old P5. I’m in the middle of breaking it in.

                • Reply January 31, 2015

                  dalethorn

                  I just got the P5 series 2, and among other things, it has a huge, huge suckout at 8 khz. Not a good headphone.

                  • Reply January 31, 2015

                    Haryanto Suryonoto

                    After doing frequency testing, I think you’re right 🙁
                    Well I think I have to live and bear with it for a moment 🙂

                    • January 31, 2015

                      dalethorn

                      I just got started with it – about 8 hours so far. If it changes with more burn-in I’ll keep you posted.

                    • February 1, 2015

                      Haryanto Suryonoto

                      @dalethorn:disqus Many thanks. I think they made it that way on purpose for a reason. Mine have change a little bit after few days breaking in, especially lower bass is now less “bloated”. Haven’t notice change in the 8khz though.

                    • February 1, 2015

                      dalethorn

                      Here’s what I arrived at for EQ, after 3 sessions with different headphones (Beyer T90, T51p, COP, DT1350, AKG K812, K712, B&O H2, Bose QC25, ….others). I EQ a little darker than classic neutral.

                      http://dalethorn.com/Photos/Audioforge/B_W_P5.jpg

                    • February 14, 2015

                      Haryanto Suryonoto

                      @Dalethorn After 2 weeks, mine now has really tamed bass. Clamp is loosen too which bring more comfortable feeling for longer listening. I think I’ll keep this 🙂

                      Haven’t got any clue how to EQ this with portable player (iPod/iBasso) though :-/

                    • February 14, 2015

                      dalethorn

                      Funny thing – I usually don’t expect any big change with burn-in, but my P5 did change a lot, and the problems are mostly gone. The bass is quite good. If you don’t like the sound eventually, you could try experimenting with the iPod’s default preset EQ’s. I’ve used several of them with different headphones.

          • Reply January 28, 2015

            MennatAllah Humaid

            One last question, if you could add one closed headphone to the options, what would it be?
            Thanks!

            • Reply January 28, 2015

              dalethorn

              If you don’t mind a little dark, the Thinksound ON1. On the opposite end with the equivalent brightness of certain flagship headphones, the Shure 940. In between those two examples are L’s suggestions, which BTW are what I use mostly. The H6 and DT770-32 would be my #1 and #2, but hey – if you can afford to go up a little, one of the planars.

              • Reply January 29, 2015

                MennatAllah Humaid

                Thank you..
                I can go up as far as $600. I really appreciate the detailed clear sound in a headphone, and most of the headphones you suggest don’t perform as good as the three main options I asked about first. So I’m lost here trying to find almost flawless sounding headphones that can be paired with the DX90…

                • Reply January 29, 2015

                  dalethorn

                  You have to be realistic about certain things, for one, that a closed headphone that’s nearly flawless and also closed is going to 1) Cost a lot, and 2) Require significant power. I think you might be happy with anything from the latest Mad Dog or ZMF, on up to the HE560 etc. But exactly how much power depends on 1) How much power is in the player, 2) How efficient the headphone is, 3) How loud the actual music tracks are**, and 4) How loud you play.

                  **As a rule, the best hires music tracks are very dynamic, but not “loud”, and require much more power than the average 320k MP3 ripped from the average CD.

                  • Reply January 29, 2015

                    MennatAllah Humaid

                    Thank you! I understand now how hard it is to choose headphones.
                    I guess am going for the X2 then as it’s the best choice amount the available options.

                • Reply January 29, 2015

                  Headfonia_L.

                  Dale is right; H6 and DT770. And like I said the HP100

                  • Reply January 29, 2015

                    MennatAllah Humaid

                    Thank you guys!

  • Reply February 5, 2015

    Dreamriser Kit

    Hello Lieven. I just upgrade my DX50 to DX90 and it is amazing! Anyway I have a question: adding Fiio E12A to DX90 is an improvement or should I stick with an internal amp? I use Yuin PK1 earbuds and already have E12A but if E12A isn’t add something good I may sell it. Thank for an answer.

    • Reply February 5, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      It’s certainly not bad but I wouldn’t really keep using it with the DX90. Why don’t you try for yourself for a week and then use the E12A again, you’ll know right away if you missed it. I don’t tend to use any amps with my DX90 when I’m using IEMs

      • Reply February 5, 2015

        Dreamriser Kit

        Really nice idea. I’m not yet spending many hours try an internal amp so I will try it in long session from tomorrow. Thank for your useful suggestion!

  • Reply February 20, 2015

    Dave

    Thanks for the review! I’ve been looking at the X5 vs the DX90, and was leaning towards the iBasso, but a coworker is offering to sell me his barely used X5 for $200, so that’s going to be hard to turn down. You think the DX90 is worth the extra cash? If it matters, I listen on a set of momentums, through a jds O2 amp (previously needed because I was using an old iPod video).

    • Reply March 15, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      If you’ll just be using the LO anyway I’d go for the X5 at that price

  • Reply March 14, 2015

    Terry Cheeseman

    I think something must be wrong with my ears because I have a DX50 and last week i upgraded to the DX90. I tested both with my Shure SE846 earphones and can’t tell any difference in sound quality between the two players. But they do sound better then the Fiio X5 to me.

    • Reply March 15, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      That’s very surprising, I agreen on the X5 though

      • Reply March 15, 2015

        Terry Cheeseman

        Thanks for replying to my message. I’m thinking something could be wrong with my DX90 or maybe the latest Firmware on DX50 has made such a big difference improving the sound quality of the DX50. They sound as good as each other with no difference. Could it be anything to do with the usb cable i’m using, i’m using the usb cable that come with my old Fiio X5. Or could it have anything to do with the micro sd cards i’m using.

        I tested them using my Beyerdynamic earphones today for a change over two hours and they still sound the some to me lol. Thanks Terry 🙂

        • Reply March 16, 2015

          Văn Nguyễn

          Ibasso claims that the player needs 400 hours burn in and i do notice the difference in sound quality after using the burn in cable. I think you should stop using the dx90 and burn it in for 1 month, then come back and check the sound.

          • Reply March 16, 2015

            Terry Cheeseman

            Ok thank you Văn, I will try it and let you know how it sounds next
            month.

            • Reply March 16, 2015

              Headfonia_L.

              Keep us posted after some burn in

              • Reply March 21, 2015

                Dreamriser Kit

                After 2 months of daily use (300 hours+ burn in) I can confirm that what Ibasso claim is true.

          • Reply March 16, 2015

            Headfonia_L.

            That’s maybe a bit extreme but there should definately be a difference in sound, yes

        • Reply April 6, 2015

          atoniolin

          I share your opinion. I felt minimal difference with both on HI @ 255 into a Beyer phone, and from line out into the O2’s into a T1 after listening to the same segment over and over from Sad but True by Metallica and a few other songs.
          There was a very slight difference in the separation but I felt not worth the upgrade. I am using 2.1.8 on the dx90 and 1.8.0 on the dx 50.
          I also feel that the FW upgrade on these beasts have made them so similar!

          What do you think?
          Best, atoniolin

  • Reply April 3, 2015

    vick_85

    Will the SE846 pair well with the DX90??

    • Reply April 6, 2015

      Terry Cheeseman

      The SE846 sound excellent with the DX90.

  • Reply April 6, 2015

    Terry Cheeseman

    After 432 hours burn in plus two hours every day for over a week listening to music, i can’t tell any noticeable difference in sound. The DX90 may have a subtle change but i can’t notice it. I’ve gone back to using Firmware V1.6.0 on the DX50 because i think that sounds a bit better to me than the new V1.8.0 Firmware and i’m using Firmware modified by Lurker V2.1.8-L1 on the DX90. The only way i can make any difference in sound quality to the DX50 and the DX90 is by using a different Firmware and even when using a different battery makes a small difference to the sound of both players. It seems to me using the above Firmwares make both players sound exactly the same. I’m going to keep the DX50 and sell my DX90 because as we know the battery don’t last as long as the DX50 and i will get a better price for the DX90 because its still in new condition.

  • Reply April 12, 2015

    socks mk2

    Any thoughts on pairing a DX90 with a Shure SRH940 for a portable solution? I can grab both for about $525 total.

    • Reply May 1, 2015

      nullified

      no matter what the hell, get that DX90, love for a device is trained, not born

  • Reply April 23, 2015

    Marc

    Lieven!! Try the new V2.2.0 firmware. The sound is quite similar to the V2.1.5L2 but slightly smoother and more spacious.

    • Reply May 10, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      I’m thinking of switching back to the 2.2.0

      • Reply August 5, 2015

        Anuradha Kharmate-Palve

        Hi !!
        Is there any problem with Dx90 on low Gain low frequency sound…what you think .i having problem on low frequency sound below 1 to 90its not audible for me…is it audible for you on that sound? Currently i using Fx850.with it.
        impedance 16.
        Frequently respond 6~45.000
        Because 1 to 90 volume is not audible for me….i am not understanding it is Dx90’s natural behavior completely ?on low gain below 1 to 90 volume or my dx90 having some issue.

        I dont have any friend who have Dx90.

  • Reply May 10, 2015

    Matthias Stuer

    A shame that the new 100II didn’t get any love. It’s easily as good as the DX90 and has a better sound, superior interface, better screen and most important to me full wifi streaming via MQS-streaming that can easily stream DSD to the A&K. My entire 3.1TB library is read in an instant. That is true power of mobility but it comes at a premium ofcourse.

  • Reply May 15, 2015

    Gatot Richard Widjaja

    Hi Lieven, thanks for the review. I got a couple of question, i hope u can help me with this. I’m using an old stack of iPod+CLAS+ALO rx MK2+ HD650 ( recable with an ALO green line), I’m loving how they sound each day. but that stack is not very portable and i’m looking for a portable solution, for on the go i’m using just the iPod+ IE800 sennheiser, i’m looking for a way to improve the portable sound. after purchasing the IE 800 i can say i’m bit broke LOL, so if i were to get the DX90 i would have to sell my stack. so my question is, do you think the SQ of the DX90 is better than the stack i am currently using?, would u recommend me to use an external amp with the DX90 to drive the HD650/IE800?, thank you so much in advance

    • Reply May 15, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Your cypherlabs stack to me is better than the DX90 solo unless you use a really good amp like the Duet or Vorrzuge. You could hook the DX90 up via coax to the HUGO though. Fully recommended by yours truly

      • Reply May 16, 2015

        Gatot Richard Widjaja

        thanks for the advice liven, i own an ifi ICAN Nano too, from my experience when i swap the I can nano into my stack replacing the ALO rx mk 2, i get a clearer sound ( the ALO rx MK2 is more warm sounding though), and a bit bigger soundstage.
        do you think the ICAN nano is a good amp to pair with the DX90. What do you think about the ICAN nano itself?. I know HUGO is a beast but its out of my budget man.

        • Reply May 16, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          Haven’t listened to the Nano, but did have the iDSD. Very detail sound, bit too analytical for me. I missed the musicality but overal a quite good amp/dac combo. Wouldn’t use it with the HD series though, they would take the warmth away too much for my taste

          • Reply May 17, 2015

            Gatot Richard Widjaja

            Yeah i think u’r right, the ifi is not a warn sounding amp, its not a match for the HD 650. how bout a pairing of the ifi with e800, i think it fits each other quite nicely, cause IE800 is also a bit analytical IEM. what do you think Lieven?.

  • Reply June 19, 2015

    fiasco1

    Hello Lieven, I was wondering if I were looking for strictly a transport for an external dac, would there be any difference in the coax out between the DX50 and DX90? Thanks!

    • Reply June 19, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Of course as the DAC chips are different. That’s the most important reason the DX90 is so great. Check the top overview

      http://www.ibasso.com/uploadfiles/20141008/201410080340246544.png

      • Reply June 22, 2015

        Haryanto Suryonoto

        Is it? I thought that digital data shouldn’t use any conversion from DAC chip that much. For example in home theater I prefer to do ‘bitstreaming’ to bypass my player DAC into separate surround processor DAC.

        • Reply June 22, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          You’re right, for some reason I was talking about the LO. There was a good discussion on the topic in the X5SG thread on Headfi: why do coaxial out sounds different when it’s just a digital signal.

  • Reply July 10, 2015

    Francisco Urteaga

    Hey Liven, I liked your review a lot, thank you.

    I´ve looking for a player between the $250 to $500 mark, so this iBasso DX90 becomes a real contender. But I´ve seen the A&K Jr and looks really good too. Which one is better SOUNDING?

    What are your toughts on this? are there any others out there I should be looking at?

    I don´t wan´t to buy an amp and want to use it with my headphones “Grado 325e”

    Thank you!

    • Reply July 10, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      I haven’t heard the Jr yet but the DX90 is really nice. Do note that the DX90 is discontinued, or at least, that’s the rumor. Have you checked out the Fiio X5SG?

  • Reply July 23, 2015

    David Solver

    Hello,
    can you recommended any in-ear headphones with DX90? Thinking about Etymoticons HF5… ? What´s your suggestions? Thanks.

    David

    • Reply July 23, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      What music? budget? source?

      • Reply July 24, 2015

        David Solver

        Source = DX90 (lossless + hi.res), budget low (mid maybe, I will pay for it myself not my parents :), music all (mostly rock), now using combination of DX90 + Beyr DT990 Pro and music is (IMHO) very “juicy” and sound nice for me. Some in-ear with similar sound (a bit “juicy” no overbassed or cold). Thanks.

        • Reply August 4, 2015

          Anuradha Kharmate-Palve

          Is there any problem with Dx90 on low Gain low frequency sound…what you think .i having problem on low frequency sound below 1 to 90its not audible for me…is it audible for you on that sound? Currently i using Fx850.with it.
          impedance 16.
          Frequently respond 6~45.000

          • Reply August 5, 2015

            David Solver

            Hi, I am using big headphones Beyerdynamic DT990 PRO, 250 ohms, 5 – 35.000 Hz. @DX 90 using mid gain and volume +/- 220 and its sounds very well.

            • Reply August 5, 2015

              Anuradha Kharmate-Palve

              Oke.
              Have you tried IEMs with Dx90 before ?what you feel. What Is low gain low volume (1 to 90) for you? is it little audible or completely not audible for you.?

              • Reply August 5, 2015

                David Solver

                Have no IEMs. Only Beyer´s.

            • Reply August 5, 2015

              Anuradha Kharmate-Palve

              Because 1 to 90 volume is not audible for me….i am not understanding it is Dx90’s natural behavior completely ?on low gain below 1 to 90 volume or my dx90 having some issue.

            • Reply August 21, 2015

              Anuradha Kharmate-Palve

              Oke. Have you know which overear headphone is good goes woth dx90 below 50 to 60 im looking at takstar hi2050.

  • Reply September 14, 2015

    Phil Temmer

    Is there any problem with time lag for the title when i click on a tune?

    I want the title to appear on the screen the instant I click on it regardless of whether I am choosing a tune from an album or playlist. I may want to go through the selections before actually picking a particular track,
    Then, if I want to listen to the track, I press play.

    If the music takes a second to start, I don’t mind,
    But I want to see the information before the music plays.

    My Fiio X3 has an annoying lag for the track title.
    I don’t want to have this problem if I buy a DX90.

    • Reply September 14, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      I’m afraid the DX shows the same, it is better with the Lurker mod though

  • Reply January 7, 2016

    canali

    this and next yr is when hopefully we’ll see more daps/m3p players with wifi, given the growing popularity of streaming.

    just wish apple had made an audiophile grade ipod:
    it would have the competition quaking in their boots given how user friendly their current line is with so many features.

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