For the purpose of this review, I used my Onkyo IE-C3 for IEM testing and the Sennheiser HD-800 for headphone comparison. All files were FLAC 16/44 or FLAC 96/24 from Qobuz, be it in USB DAC mode or pure player mode.
So, how does the iBasso DX120 compare the old DX80? Better, in many ways. First, it offers a whole lot more details in every situation and genre, be it classical or electronic music there is much more depths in the sound.
The apple never falls far from the tree, and it’s even more true here. The sound signature is pretty much the same on all iBasso players, even if the brand uses different DACs all the time : great dynamic, wide soundstage, noisy background and flat presentation. The DX120 shines on electronic music like dubstep or hardtek but can’t compete on live music, unless you really like this type of signature.
Its dryness can slide to harshness easily when you change the listening mode. The classical mode tends to reinforce highs and mids, where the original mode seems to augment the lows. I ended up with Reference + Super Slow Roll-Off, which suited my taste for 90% of my test playlist. The iBasso DX120 delivering a soothing experience with deeper bass, much more like I imagined the famous “velvet AK sound”.
If you get a DX120, stay on the balanced output. Even if the single-ended gets a nice golden ring, the sound always was better with the 2.5mm output. More power, better dynamics (again) and I could definitely hear more details on my CIEM. Unfortunately, the DX120 leans more in the DX200 direction than the DX150, it offers a lot of micro-details but it can become tiresome.
The iBasso DX120 was powerful enough to drive my good old Sennheiser HD800, in single-ended mode. It was clearly not the best DAP for this task with thin low-mids and a limited volume output. Once plugged to the Balanced output, the result were much more interesting. I got enough power to juice the can correctly and this time, the bass were back on track. Soundstage is excellent and on this point, I prefered the DX120 to the FiiO X5 Mark iii.
Highs : precision and cleanliness. Good news classical lover, if you want a simple DAP to listen to your latest Harmonia Mundi album, the iBasso DX120 could be the one. With good records it perfectly transcribes the emotion of violin and avoids the harsh presentation of the Sabre chip. It’s not as flat as higher-end players but it’s clearly ahead of the previous generation. A great choice for orchestra and electronics but beware, sometimes it’s harsh.
Mids : smooth. No surprise, the DX120 is forgiving like all iBasso players. It’s great on rock and poorly recorded albums but with Vocal Jazz like Stacey Kent you feel it lacking. The Balanced output extends the soundstage and offers more room for the mids, still I found the little FiiO M7 better in this case. Again, this player prefers acoustic over live music and you’ll be rewarded if you choose the right path.
Lows : great bass. I usually test the bass with the Sennheiser HD-800, its lack of lows outshines bad player when you play with the EQ. I was surprised by how well the DX120 manage the low end of the spectrum. The player is capable to reach pretty deep bass without distortion, even at high volumes. Again, balanced output is your way to go if you really want to get the best sound here. It gives you a thicker, more textured bass, all the time.
Noise : spoiler alert, the DX120 is noisy. For sensible headphones and IEM, you can use something like the iFi iEMatch, or a high impedance cable, to get that silky black background we all aim for. Switching from single-ended to balanced won’t make a difference, so beware of what you use.
If you own an iBasso DX80, do yourself a favor and listen the new DX120. It’s simply better in any possible way : better screen with updated OS, a great balanced output capable of driving big cans and “cerise-sur-le-gateau” a nice/neat blue/brown aluminum case. Soundwise, it has all the iBasso pros – excellent dynamic, precise sound, balanced output – and cons – noisy output, not so sexy OS – so there is no real surprise.
It’s a simple player, intended for those who need good sound, small form factor and don’t need streaming capabilities. The double micro-SD slot is great to store a lot of music, making it the perfect car player for those with a line-out only. Tested and approved.
If you have an iBasso DX80, ditch it for the DX120. If you want an everyday player with no fioritures, big storage and good sound, get an iBasso DX120. For the others, treat yourself and go for the DX150 with an Amp-6, streaming is the future so don’t miss the train.