All my impressions written here were with the AM6 module, unless another module was specified. I used a pair of Unique Melody Maestro, a HD820S and a HD598 for headphones/IEM. Sources are some FLAC 24bits, Spotify Premium and some MP3 320kbps.
Within the first minutes of listening, you can clearly state two things : the DX150 sounds a lot like the DX200 but the AKM chips can’t compete with the Sabre dynamic range. The soundstage is narrower and the bass sounds a bit more shallow. It’s not bad in anyway, I could never say that, it just feels like you’re missing a little something.
However, if I intended to have long listening session, I shall pick the DX150 for its mellow signature. Don’t get me wrong, I love my DX200, it’s one of the best players I own, but it can get really tiresome after a few hours. It’s a perfect player if you work in the music industry, giving you the opportunity to focus your attention on micro-details or how the music is layered.
The DX150 sounds much more relaxed, mellow, and I think, pleasant over time. For example : 80% of my recent playlist is made of electronic music with hard, mechanic, repetitive patterns. If the DX200 excels in this domain, after an hour of this, pleasure can turn to pain and bass can really hammer my brain. With the DX150, you always stop a few cm before the pain occurs.
You may be troubled by my previous statement, let me be more explicit to avoid any misconceptions : the iBasso DX150 signature is flat but the DX200 is even more neutral.
That being said, we can do the classic High/Mid/Low sections check
Highs : precise and not harmful, the player is above the FiiO Q5 but is in a tie if you compare it to the Cayin N5ii. On “Customer is King – Salomun” I can still hear the bells in the background over the imposing bass, not an easy task but the DX150 delivers.
If it sounds a bit to flat for you, use the equalizer to improve readability by pushing the 8kHz by a tad +2dB.
Mids : smooth. The DX150 can be really forgiving in the midrange section, crappy recordings won’t be an issue with this player. I tried some MP3 of poor recordings AKA Red Hot Chili Peppers and never did I grow tired of what I listened to. I could hear a little noise floor on single-ended output, but it disappeared on the balanced output.
Lows : clean, authentic bass. Nothing to complain about, the bass is tight and you’ll mainly be limited by your headphone/IEM. The DX150 can deliver deep bass, even with the HD820S, you just have to choose the right amp. My best pairing for this headphone was the AMP7, a brilliant association with a punchy low, unfortunately this setup only offered 4.5h hours of listening.
Noise : iBasso players has never been labelled as “clean”, the DX80 for the record was pretty noisy. If you use the Line-out there is absolutely no background noise, nada, but that’s to be expected. If you use the headphone out, that’s another story. Balanced output get you a clean, silent output, where single-ended can be a little more noisy, especially with the AMP1.
Neither you want it or not, amp swap is becoming a real trend. So, I tried the few I’ve been given to check if the struggle is real, or not.
AMP1 : the basic amp bundled with the iBasso DX200. It’s a noisy one, trading more power in exchange of this little hiss. Usual headphones won’t transmit the hiss, however sensible IEM could become a problem. A good all-rounder but less refined than the AMP6.
AMP6 : the basic amp bundled with the iBasso DX150. A good upgrade from the AMP1, less noise, better dynamic range, spacier soundstage. Basically it’s better in every way, so if you need an amp with 3.5mm output and 2.5mm output, you know what to choose.
AMP7 : a discrete single ended amp, my favorite one. Sound is what you would expect from a discrete system : powerful with a clear left/right separation, lot of micro-details but a some headphone won’t match at all. With the Sennheiser HD820S it’s a win, but with my Audeze LCD-X it sounds feeble and weak.
I’ve got to confess that I don’t own any 4.4mm headphone/iem, so I had to buy a 4.4mm to 2.5mm for the sake of this review. I know large double contact area is supposed to be one of the key factor of the Pentaconn, but I couldn’t so please bear with me.
AMP8 : a discrete balanced amp, supposed to be the ultimate one. Compared to the AMP7, the AMP8 sounds more refined, more elegant. It works great with my IEM, adding layers of details without additional noise, like a bigger amp would do. To be fair, if you should pick only one amp from the whole range, you should pick this one. It’s less versatile than the AMP6, on the other hand it just sounds better, period.
All in all, my recommandation would be :
– AMP6 for those who have various needs and headphones, paired with the DX150 you should be able to withstand nearly everyt obstacle.
– AMP8 for thos who own a high-end headphone or earphone and don’t want to plug anything else one the DX150.
With the DX150 and DX200, iBasso does a superb comeback on the DAP market, a sheer revival of the DX50 and DX90 combo. The iBasso DX150 sounds great and the wide range of amplifier modules should cover every need for every audiophiles. The best choice being the AMP8, a balanced discrete amplifier module, yup.
Design wise, I have mixed feelings. The screen is superb and handling is good, better than the previous generation, despite its mid-fi position. Yet, it’s 19.5mm thick, even more with the case which makes the DX150 a pain to carry on. Imagine piling up 3 iPhone and you have an idea of what you’ll have to bear.
In term of functionality, the iBasso DX150 is a good all-rounder. Android allows audio streaming and third party installation (remember to install the Google play store though), bi-directionnal Bluetooth transform the DAP into a portable DAC and the coax/optical/usb output is perfect for those who just need a source.
Without regard to the price, the DX150 is a sure choice, an alternative to the excellent Cayin N5ii for those who prefer stock android experience and a comprehensive range of amplifiers. If you take the price in count, it’s a superb DAP which goes directly in our buyer’s guide. If you own a DX90, you can finally switch to a new iBasso DAP, it’s just that good.