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iBasso DX200: Mega-Review des portablen Streaming-Player Flaggschiffes - [Review] 🇬🇧

Prolog:

Wie bereits in meinem Preview angekündigt, fällt meine Rezension des iBasso DX200 gänzlich auf Englisch aus. Dementsprechend habe ich mir auch mehr Zeit für die Bewertung und zum Schreiben genommen – wie es scheint, womöglich etwas zu viel Zeit, Notizen und Gedanken, da die Länge meiner Rezension doch etwas länger ausgefallen ist, als ich dachte und vorhatte. So kommt es, dass mein Review des DX200 mit über 20 Seiten Text meine längste bisher geschriebene Produktbewertung darstellt.
Meine nächste(n) Rezension(en) wird(/werden) jedoch etwas kürzer – versprochen.




Hier folgt nun also mein langes, ausführliches und englischsprachiges Review zu iBasso Audios aktuellem portablen Flaggschiff-Streaming-Player, dem DX200, inklusive Vergleichen, Messungen und Fotos.


Mittlerweile ist der Player übrigens auch bei Amazon erhältlich: http://amzn.to/2stg4xJ



Introduction:


Flashback: Let us move back in time by just a few years: In 2011, one audio company released a digital audio player that was probably ahead of its time. With its brick-like appearance, large touchscreen for the navigation next to the physical track and volume control buttons, integrated WiFi and a price that was definitely in the higher region at its time, it was sort of like the iPod Touch’s badass audiophile cousin. While this would have probably already been enough to set it apart from its competitors, its designers had also decided to not implement small and power-saving DAC and amp components but went for something quite different when they chose to use ESS Technology’s desktop version of the 9018 SABRE DAC chip instead. In addition to this and its great measured performance, the audio player also featured a full-sized headphone socket next to the standard 3.5 mm output, had a mechanical gain selector switch and was charged through a DC plug while the Micro USB socket remained free for data transfer.
When I finally had decided to put my money on it, production had unfortunately ended, so I never got my hands on one. But one thing is for sure, this audio player that I am talking about, the iBasso DX100, still has a quite legendary touch to it and was definitely a milestone in the modern audio world and probably opened the gates for audiophile players with touchscreens, streaming, WiFi, Bluetooth and Android as operating system.

While I never experienced the DX100, I have owned iBasso’s DX50, still own their DX90 (that I think is one of the overall most perfect products with its really fine-grained gradual volume control, very low output impedance and great SNR that is the wet dream of every owner of super sensitive in-ears who likes to listen to music at low levels without being distracted by any hiss at all) and reviewed their DX80 that I also learned to like despite its somewhat high noise floor for really sensitive in-ears in quiet environment.



Now time has passed and the DX100 got a successor that was released to the market by the end of 2016. Logically called DX200, the modern day interpretation of the company’s flagship audio player boasts a slimmer design compared to the brick-like DX100, which has also to do with the decision to drop the additional, large 6.3 mm headphone jack, but the rest really is an homage to the DX100, since the DX200 also relies on Android as operation system, however the way more recent version 6, has also got a dual-DAC chip implementation that you would usually rather expect in a desktop audio system (ES9028 Pro), along with integrated WiFi and Bluetooth. Inside, we can also find an 8-core 1.2 GHz CPU, 2 GB of RAM and an internal memory of 64 GB.
While the prototype shown one year prior to the release featured two micro SD slots, iBasso decided to go for just one with the production version since two slots would require an additional bridging chip as the SoC board didn’t have any free slots anymore, which would lead to a lesser battery life. While some customers and potential customers got upset by this, the initial “shock” of this decision (that I admittedly also had at first) faded away quite quickly, and since manufacturers such as SanDisk are eventually releasing higher capacity Micro SD cards, having one instead of two slots doesn’t seem like a too big deal anymore.
Another feature that the DX200 has is the ability to switch between various amplification modules. While this idea is not new and was already used by HiFiMan and later by FiiO, it can give the user the ability to tailor the amplification stage according to their needs and used headphones. And instead of bundling the DX200 with an entry-level amplification chip for the start, iBasso decided to give the user a very powerful module with a (single-ended TRS) 3.5 mm headphone output with up to 3 V RMS into a 64 Ohm load, and a (balanced TRRS) 2.5 mm headphone socket that can output up to 6 V RMS.


After this rather lengthy introduction, all I have left to say is that I invite you to reading my detailed review of iBasso’s DX200 flagship audio player that I wrote.


Full disclosure:
I was contacted by iBasso regarding the opportunity to receive a free sample of the DX200 for the purpose of honest testing and a review. I first took the chance and replied with “sure thing” but later turned it down, just to shortly realise that it was a mistake and that I still wanted to review it, wherefore I asked if a review was still possible. Thanks to Paul and iBasso who still sent me a test and review sample even though I turned the offer down at first.


Specifications:

Price: $869

2.5mm Balanced Output:
Output Voltage: 6 V RMS
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz -0.16 dB
Signal to Noise Ratio: 125 dB
Crosstalk: -122 dB
THD+N: < 0.0002%, -114 dB (64 Ω @ 3 V RMS)

3.5mm Single-ended Output:
Output Voltage: 3 V RMS
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz -0.16 dB
Signal to Noise Ratio: 122 dB
Crosstalk: -118 dB
THD+N: < 0.00032%,-110 dB (32 Ω @ 1.8 V RMS)

Line Out:
Output Voltage: 3 V RMS
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz -0.16 dB
Signal to Noise Ratio: 122 dB
THD+N: < 0.00025%, -112 dB

Dimensions: 128.5 mm * 69 mm * 19.5 mm
Weight: 240 g
2x ES9028 Pro
RK3368 CPU
2GB LPDDR
64 GB Internal Memory
WiFi, Bluetooth
Android 6 & iBasso Mango Firmware
Interchangeable Amplifier Modules


Unboxing & Delivery Content:

If you expect a high-end, premium audio player to deliver a premium experience right from the start,
it is suffice to say that the DX200 will be a delight for you.
Themed in black, the cardboard box it arrives in is covered with a soft, smooth and somewhat leather-like material that feels really nice and also fits really well to a premium product. The way the package is opened up is refreshingly new, too, and matches iBasso’s current logo that was introduced around the time the DX80 was released.
Inside, one will find labels and descriptions next to the DX200’s buttons and ports.




After the player has been taken out, the included accessories can be found neatly organised in two cardboard boxes that contain the genuine leather case, a warranty card, a coaxial output cable, a USB to USB-C charging/data transfer cable, and last but not least a balanced 2.5 mm burn-in cable.





Design, Feels & Build Quality:

Out of the box, the DX200 already arrives with an applied screen protector, which is quite nice.



The player’s design is rather simple but elegant and doesn’t have any visual extravagancies that some people might not like wherefore I would say that its design is universally likeable.
There is not too much to describe about the DX200’s design – the front is mostly covered by the
large, high resolution touchscreen that is slightly raised. The whole chassis frame is made of metallic grey aluminium. There is a recessed Micro SD slot on the player’s left side (note that the card needs to be inserted facing down) and a digital output socket on the player’s upper side that can output an electrical COAX as well as optical TOSLINK signal, depending on what you plug in. Next to it is a USB-C socket that however, like a couple of other audio-related and non-audio-related devices with USB-C, is not using the USB 3.0 standard but is just there as a theoretically more reliable and future-proof socket (yeah, while I was quite sceptical about the USB-C standard a couple of months back, I really learned to like it for portable devices when I got my first powerbank with shared USB-C in- and output).
The far upper right part and about 65% of the player’s right side have a bumper-type element installed that is made of black aluminium. It doesn’t only house the on-/off-button on the upper side and the three playback control buttons on the right, but also acts as a protection for the rotary volume potentiometer that is made of aluminium as well.
The replaceable amplifier module can be found at the bottom of the player.
The back of the player, except for the very upper section of it that is made of plastic for better WiFi and Bluetooth signal strength, is made of black aluminium with etched iBasso logos and gives a nice visual contrast to the silver aluminium frame.




Unless you have got rather small hands, the player should be still easy to use and operate with just one hand. I would not really mind if the on-/off-button was mounted on the left side though, but it is still good to reach for me where it is placed.
With around 240 g, the player is also on the heavier side but doesn’t feel like a heavy brick at all. It actually lies quite well in my hand.



Build quality is great and everything feels very solid.


Something I usually wouldn’t mention here is the included USB cable – it isn’t only long enough to properly use it for charging, but it is also very soft and flexible. And therefore, even though it is coated with woven fabric or nylon, which I usually don’t like, I find it really nice.


The Screen:

The IPS screen is the main element of the player’s front side and measures 4.2 inches with a resolution of 768 x 1280 pixels. This is a very good resolution and guarantees for a very crisp image. Brightness is adjustable but not automatically. The colour reproduction, contrast and viewing angle are very good, too. Colours are displayed naturally and are only slightly on the warmer side.
Since it is a multi-touch touchscreen, it also recognises multi-touch gestures if supported by the app. The responsiveness of touch inputs is very good.


The Leather Case:

The case the DX200 is bundled with is made of genuine leather that has got a very dark, somewhat
tobacco-like shade of brown. Its back side is reinforced, has got the iBasso logo embossed in and is sewed to the side parts of the case, while the front side is reinforced as well but (flawlessly) glued to the side part. A snap fastener can be found in the case’s upper right corner and can be opened up to slide the player into the case and out of it. It also adds some additional protection to the volume pot. The player itself sits well inside the case that has got a nicely tight fit. The amplifier module and Micro SD slot are covered and protected, too.

All ports and buttons remain easily accessible and there is still enough room even for larger headphone connectors.




While the case is flawlessly built, has got a tight fit and is protective, I have got somewhat mixed feelings about it. One reason is that I wouldn’t mind if a softer type of leather was used. The DX200 definitely doesn’t look bad at all with the case put on, however I think that it looks even better without it (I would say that it somewhat feels like a premium case but not necessarily like a flagship case).
What bothers me though is that the case limits the usability of the player: since its front cover is not flat, not super thin either and also sticks somewhat out, the far sides of the screen are less easily accessible. The rotary volume potentiometer that is very easily accessible and usable with one hand and one finger with the bare DX200 is also less easily accessible when the case is put on – attenuating the volume with one hand and one finger is still possible but the precision when using it is lowered and the grip isn’t as good anymore either, unless you are holding the player in your left hand.




Replaceable Amplifier Modules:

One of the things that is different to the DX100 is that the DX200 has got interchangeable amplifier modules. At launch, there was one module available, which is the one the player arrived with. It is called “Amp 1” and features a line out, 3.5 mm TRS single-ended and 2.5 mm TRRS balanced socket. With 3 V RMS into a 64 Ohm load through the single-ended output and up to 6 V RMS through the balanced socket, it is definitely not shy on power at all.
The sockets are made of plastic and stick out a little instead of being plain, which was done in order to avoid shorts. This doesn’t bother me at all (both visually and in terms of usability) and there is no gap between the socket and the headphone plug as soon as the headphone is plugged in.



The amplifier module is securely attached to the lower section of the player’s back and can be taken off by removing the two screws that hold it in place and then sliding it out a little and lifting it off.



The only thing that I would like to see is the addition of a small screwdriver and replacement screws to either the delivery content of newer batches of the DX200 or bundled with future amp module releases.


The Rotary Volume Potentiometer:

For the first time for an iBasso audio player, the DX200 got a rotary volume potentiometer instead of the traditional buttons. While I think it is quite clear, I better mention it anyway: the potentiometer does not control the volume in analogue form but digitally, so you get the benefit of perfect channel matching even at very low volume settings with the DX200 compared to the very few audio players on the market that are using a purely analogue volume control that is suffering from some channel balance issues at low listening levels.
Since it is stepped and also a little on the stiffer side but still easy to turn with one finger, chances to accidentally change the volume are minimised and one can also feel each adjustment step.



There are 150 total (system-wide) attenuation steps in Android mode, with a scaling of 0.5 dB per step in the medium and higher ranges and larger steps in the very low range (getting the personally desired listening level even with very sensitive in-ears is still possible though and the DX200 can also be used for very quiet listening).

Mango OS offers more than 200 attenuation steps with a scaling of 0.5 dB over the whole range (so the advantage one gets over Android OS is a more precise volume control in the very low adjustment range), which is a great thing for finding the exactly desired listening level when listening quietly.


Operation, User Interface:


The DX200 is a player that actually comes with two operating systems – Android 6 and iBasso’s
Mango firmware. Mango is like a stripped-down version of the Android player with just the player
software that is almost identical to the DX80’s interface and cannot use any wireless or streaming services or apps.
One can get to the Mango OS when powering off the player which gives the user the Option to boot into Mango OS from now on. Once that was done, the player will now always boot into Mango until the user goes to “Settings” -> “Advanced” -> “Android System” -> “YES” which gets them back to Android OS from now on.

Android OS, Player Firmware Version 2.1(.94):

The DX200 is running on Android 6 OS, so you don’t get an old looking and outdated system but a modern one that is also up-to-date for recent apps.
Instead of the bare-bone Android system (that Google’s Nexus devices are using for example), iBasso is using a slightly customised interface – just like pretty much most smartphone makers are doing it as well. Apart from the missing menu for apps (that I think is called “launcher”) and widgets that you would for example find on a Nexus device (on the DX200, all apps that you install will appear directly on the home screen(s)), everything feels “normal” and things like the settings and the drop-down notifications/quick settings menu are even untouched wherefore you won’t feel lost in a software jungle you are not familiar with.



Keep in mind that the DX200 is no smartphone or tablet though, and is missing what most smartphones have – Google’s Play Services and the Play Store. This will probably also not be implemented in the future either due to licensing, the requirement of the installation of some services and some other things, so I was told.
This will then also mean that if you want a certain app to be installed, no matter whether it is an app you paid for or a free one, you have to do it manually using a PC. Since the Play Store can be accessed using a web browser and since there are websites where you can insert the Play Store URL that leads to the app and then download it, you still get access to most apps, but of course need to manually transfer them to the DX200’s storage and install them. Because of this, there are unfortunately of course no automatic updates of the user-installed apps.
Due to the missing Play Store, some apps will also not work if they require the certification in order to be usable, so you get an error message when trying to start the app. YouTube or Gmail are two of likely more apps that will show an error message and don’t work, but surprisingly Google’s Chrome web browser (that is admittedly quite a bit better than the stock browser) works without any problems even though you cannot log in to sync the data, passwords, bookmarks and history with your Google account.
Music-related apps that definitely work (which I can verify since I have installed them and am using them) are TIDAL, Spotify and SoundCloud (the latter will show that it requires Google’s Play Services, but you can just click that away after the start and use the app normally). Using the apps in offline mode works as well.



Firmware updates of the player can be installed using a Micro SD card or alternatively the internal memory, following the instructions in the update folder, but the settings also show “Auto Update” and “Online Update”, so it is quite safe to assume that in the future, iBasso will add the ability of firmware updates “over the air” when the player is connected to a WiFi router.
As it seems, a manual factory reset after a firmware update wipes the internal storage, so it is best to install everything on the Micro SD card or to make a backup before every firmware update/resetting the player, since the internal memory is mainly meant for offline music content from streaming apps anyway (nonetheless it can of course be used for pretty much anything else that you could store on any other Android device).

So now that you know that the DX200 has got a quite normal Android OS but lacks Google’s Play Services, I can continue to iBasso’s own music player app called “Mango”, just like iBasso’s “Mango OS”, that is integrated to iBasso’s lightly customised Android interface.

The interface appears very modern and, in many ways, shows some similarities with the Mango OS found on the DX80 and the DX200 itself.
The playing screen shows a large album cover that probably takes up half of the screen. Tapping its lower section unveils the track, interpret and album information, while tapping the far right section opens a popup to add the track to a playlist, view its detailed information or gives you the option to delete it.
The status bar shows symbols if WiFi or Bluetooth are activated, along with showing the volume
level and battery percentage.
Below the album cover are three symbols – the left one accesses the quick settings, the one on the right hand side changes the playback mode, and the centre one is a track counter.
Below, there is a progress bar that shows the total track length as well as elapsed time. Conveniently, you can also drag your finger across it to get to the track position you want to which also opens a temporary overlay that shows the track’s temporal position.
Below is some information about the bit rate and file format and three virtual playback control buttons in case you don’t want to use the hardware buttons that are located on the DX200’s right hand side.




Just like in Mango OS, you can slide your finger from the left to the right to access the music library or swipe your finger the other direction to open the settings.

- - -

The music library is neatly organised in 7 tiles for the artists, albums, genres, all music tracks,
playlists, folder browser and list of what songs are currently playing from an album/list/folder/artist etc.
Album view is quite nice and shows all albums from the database sorted in a list with a preview of the album cover and a track counter for each album.
The artist browser shows all artists as well as the number of tracks for each one along with an album cover photo (and perhaps a photo of the artist if there is one embedded to the file, but I haven’t tested that). Unfortunately the artists are just sorted by the regular “Artist” tag instead of the “Album Artist” tag, which is however true for most audio players, wherefore I went over to using a really good folder structure quite some time ago, which also works very well since the DX200, just like any previous iBasso audio player, has got a great folder view support.





What will probably be nice for some is that playlists can be created, renamed and fitted with descriptions right in the player software.
It is also possible to add folders, albums, artists etc. to the “Now Playing” queue by holding the element that is to be added for a little more than one second and tapping the “+” icon. This is sometimes quite convenient and a nice feature.
Attention: the songs/albums/folders are not in the correct order right now with this firmware release when tapping the “+” icon – instead of being moved to the end of the “Now Playing” queue, the individual tracks are sorted in by the track number tag. It would make so much more sense if they were added to the end of the queue, so that the added albums, folders or tracks would be played one after another in the order they were added to the “Now Playing” queue instead of being sorted illogically. So this is a bug iBasso should look into for the next update(s).

The only thing I am really missing sometimes though is a search feature that most other audio players in the DX200’s price range and even below already have.

- - -

The settings are organised in this nice tile-like pattern as well. What you find are an EQ with 10 bands, two gain stages, 7 different digital filters, an L/R balance control, a gapless playback toggle, four playback modes and an icon that brings the DX200 into DAC mode.
Swiping from the right to the left again, you can find a sleep timer, rescan the music library, or view the system information.



Mango OS, Player Firmware Version 1.6.6:

Mango OS’s interface and features are mostly identical to the DX80’s Mango UI, so instead of describing everything again, I would recommend you to check outmy review of the DX80 and view these photos below:






Performance:

Turning the player on (booting into Android OS) takes around 23 seconds. Booting into the stripped-down and more basic Mango OS takes around 8 seconds.

WiFi signal strength is really good – I can be two rooms away from my internet router and still get the same signal strength and speed as my tablet computer (Asus Google Nexus 7 II) and laptop. The only downside is that when using 2.4 GHz WiFi, some interference noise can be heard every now and then through the left audio channel when WiFi is activated and sensitive headphones and in-ears are used while everything is fine when using the 5 GHz WiFi band.

Animations in the menus and Mango player App are very fluent and without any lag. Opening folders, apps and menus doesn’t produce any lag either. The same goes for auto-rotation in the web browser or the Android settings.

- - -

What I wanted to test, just for fun, from the first day, was whether the DX200 could handle a more complex game such as GTA: San Andreas. So I went ahead and copied the files from my Nexus 7 tablet computer to the DX200 and installed the game.
A little to my surprise, the game started indeed and I was even able to play it – even more surprisingly without any lag or graininess. Yes, even playing with advanced/high graphic settings doesn’t produce any lag at all, and the game is even well playable with all the sliders set to maximum graphics and resolution with just a moderate lag (the game surprisingly starts to lag earlier on my Nexus 7 II (which might of course just be kind of an illusion due to the Nexus’s larger screen)).

So if you’ve always wondered if it is possible to play GTA: San Andreas or any other more advanced video game on the DX200 – yes, it really is, and even with the graphic settings set to a higher level.



While this was more like a fun little excursion, it also showed the DX200’s processing power. This player really should be able to handle about any supported app when it comes to a fluent navigation and quick loading times.

- - -

To test this further, I ran two CPU benchmark tests (CPU Prime Benchmark and Geekbench) on it and compared them to my Nexus 7, a tablet that is still more than plenty quick, fluent and doesn’t really struggle with anything.
I think the photos speak for themselves and demonstrate that hardware-wise, the DX200 is a really capable device that should not struggle with running any supported music app.






- - -

Besides having a responsive user interface with fluent animations, reading Micro SD cards and building the music database is no problem for the player either. It has no problems with different card formats and reads 200 GB cards without any issues (maximum supported card size is 2 TB which is the upper limit for the SDXC standard anyway). Scanning the card and building the database works very fast, too (not as fast as on the Cowon Plenue M2 but so much faster than on the DX80 and DX90). While the card is scanned, one can use the player normally because the process is done in the background.
File transfer speed via USB is good, too.


Battery Life:

Ultimately, the battery life will of course depend on how one is using the DX200 (headphones, volume setting, file type, WiFi, Bluetooth, …). Since it has so many features, the battery life you can get might be shorter or longer than what I got in my non-representative test that I did to see how much battery life I could get when mainly playing FLAC files from a Micro SD card and streaming some music for around 90 minutes while occasionally unlocking the screen and navigating through the menus.
Using the Superlux HD668B as a load (single-ended output) at volume 75 out of 150 in Android mode, I was able to get quite exactly 8 hours and 4 minutes from the DX200 under these test environment conditions.


Sound:

Please be aware that all of the following sound impressions, comparisons, measurements and evaluations have been done using the “Amp 1” called amplifier module the DX200 came with.

Some people are wondering whether both DACs or just one is active in single-ended mode. Unlike some audio players, both DACs also remain active in single-ended mode (as it was also the case with the DX90 and DX80 that also feature a fully balanced internal audio path but just don’t have a balanced output), so you get the benefit of a theoretically better measured performance compared to if just one chip was active and used.

Frequency Response, Output Impedance:

One of the most basic and fundamental things an audio player should have is a flat unloaded frequency response in the important range of 20 to 20000 Hz. While it is anything but sorcery to achieve this in modern days, some (however mainly inexpensive and rather no-name) audio players still fail to achieve this basic thing.

Let’s see how the DX200 performs in this regard (measured with Digital Filter #4 through the single-ended output):





As it could be expected, the raw and unloaded frequency response is perfectly flat and therefore just the way it should be.

- - -

Even when having a flat frequency response without load or with a simple load (such as a headphone that has got the same impedance over its entire frequency response), things are getting much more difficult with most multi-driver in-ears that have got more than just one driver and a crossover circuit that causes the in-ears’ resistance to vary along with their frequency response.
If the audio player’s headphone output doesn’t have a low output impedance, the in-ears’ frequency response and therefore heard tonality will be skewed and they will (depending on the player’s output impedance and the in-ears’ specific impedance response) sound more or less different than when driven by an audio player that has got a low output impedance. To maintain an unaltered sound even with low impedance multi-driver in-ears, it is therefore best to have an audio player that has got an output impedance of less than 1 Ohm.

This is what the DX200 puts out when connecting a critical, low impedance, multi-driver in-ear to its single-ended output:





The connected load was my Ultimate Ears Triple.Fi 10, an in-ear that is among the most source-picky species of its kind and changes its sound rapidly as the player’s output impedance climbs.
The measured deviation in combination with the DX200 is just very small and can be calculated to be below 0.5 Ohms (the official value is < 0.3 Ohms, so my measurements and calculations seems to be correct), which is a really good value and proves that the player can drive any multi-driver in-ear without altering its sound unlike players that have a rather high/higher output impedance.

So if you were wondering whether or not the DX200 has got a very low and multi-driver-friendly output impedance, I can confidently tell you that it does (at least over the single-ended output, but it is also safe to assume that the balanced output’s output impedance is very low as well, since iBasso also states it to be < 0.3 Ohms).

The 7 Digital Filters:

The DX200’s ES9028 Pro DACs have 7 digital filters incorporated that the user can choose from.
What digital filters mainly do is shaping the upper end of the frequency response as well as the impulse response, which could be perceived in a subtle difference in the treble and soundstage reproduction but is inaudible in most cases as long as the filter does not affect the upper frequency range by too much.

I will definitely not go into detail about what the filters do exactly and how this affects the frequency response as well as pre- and post-ringing of a signal since this would just exceed the frame of the review (that is probably overly long anyway) by a bit too much and because there are a couple of informative websites and contributions about this topic on the internet, but instead I will show you how they affect the frequency response from 20 to ~ 18.5 kHz (because this is the range where my soundcard’s input response measures flat) as well as impulse response (that is practically shown for each filter in the digital filter settings of the DX200’s player software). After that, I will briefly say what differences I can hear, what I cannot hear and how distinct I find the effect.

So here are the 7 filters:

#1:






#2:





#3:





#4:




#5:





#6:




#7:






Filter #1 is the one that is the most commonly used in audio applications. Filter #4 is the one that is labelled as “default”. Both have essentially got the same frequency response in the range my soundcard can measure it while #1 should theoretically reach higher (not that it would matter anyway since the frequency the difference takes place is theoretically and practically above what our ears can sense and what is relevant for the music signal). Where they mainly differ is the impulse response where #4 should have no pre-ringing before the impulse signal but a longer post-ringing after the impulse signal, just as the picture in the settings also correctly shows.



The question is – do these filters really have a greater audible effect that is not caused by psychoacoustics? The answer is clearly no – the effect of the filters, while measurable, is in fact at best very very subtle for our ears.
Mainly using my UERM and SE846, switching back and forth, I thought I was able to hear a very subtle difference between filter #1, #4 and #5. What I basically heard was a very small difference in terms of spatial reproduction, more precisely the space around single instruments and notes. What I am hearing is a subtle difference when it comes to that space around single instruments. Exaggerating a little, it is like there is very subtly more “smearing” at the borders of instruments and tonal elements with filter #1 compared to filter #4, with #5 having the least amount of “smearing” around instruments. As I said though, this difference is super subtle and I would definitely not be able distinguish the different filters in a real blind test.

Personally, I am mainly using filter #4.

Hiss:

I consider myself as someone who is rather sensitive to hearing hiss and have also got some very sensitive in-ears (for example the Shure SE846 and Ostry KC06A that are among the most hiss-revealing models on the market). So with the right in-ear, I hear hiss to a varying degree with about any digital audio player (in fact out of the players I have and have heard, only the iBasso DX90, Luxury & Precision L3 and Luxury & Precision L3 Pro are basically hiss-free, however the latter two do not have the most ideal output impedance for multi-driver in-ears and those with a varying impedance response).

Using the DX200’s single-ended headphone output with my Shure SE846, Pai AudioMR3 and the Ostry KC06A, I am happy to say that the amount of hiss that I am hearing with an empty audio file and in quiet passages of the music is very little and quite close to being not present/inaudible wherefore it is little enough to be actually irrelevant.
Regarding hiss, the DX200 is therefore among the better and best players and puts out fewer hisses than for example the popular Chord Electronics Mojo and even very slightly less than the Cowon Plenue M2 that is also very good and among the best players in this regard. When music is playing, even at really low volume, the hiss is covered and inaudible. So yeah, the DX200 definitely gets a “thumbs up” from me in this regard.

The balanced headphone output is likely going to output somewhat more hiss due to its higher power output, but since I am not convinced about the often claimed “superiority” of balanced connections in general except for the higher possible power output, and share the view that the implementation is more important wherefore a well-made single-ended output can perform and measure just as well as a balanced connection, I don’t use my in-ears with a balanced termination.
Only my Audeze LCD-X (that came with an additional balanced cable right from the factory as an included accessory next to the regular cable) and the Fidue SIRIUS A91 have got a balanced termination, but the Audeze is, just as expected, too insensitive to reveal any hiss, and the SIRIUS makes a little more hiss audible over the balanced output than the single-ended port which would back up my theory that it will show a bit more noise than through the single-ended output due to the greater power output. Through the balanced output the amount of hiss is about comparable to the Mojo’s, so in fact still relatively small while the background will be a little less “black” with very sensitive in-ears than through the single-ended output that only hisses very slightly when listening to music in a quiet environment at low volume levels with very sensitive in-ears.

Subjective Perception of Transparency, Precision & Soundstage:

Now to the rather subjective part of my review. My opinion and experience regarding the perceived “character” and “transparency” of source devices and amplifiers is this one: there can be an existing audible difference between various devices, but it shouldn’t be overrated – simply because the basic character of a headphone won’t be completely changed (if the circuit follows a clean design philosophy and the output is load-stable), but sometimes rather slightly “shaped” and is usually very subtle in many cases and is (in most cases) just slightly present (if even) and not huge or like totally different classes or night and day.
I am not a fan of exaggerations and hyperboles here because as long as the objectifyable parameters of an audio player are neutral and not too shabby (loaded frequency response, distortion, crosstalk, dynamic range, noise, …), the audible difference, if there is any, will be quite small at best if two devices are compared with proper volume matching that cannot be done by ear, since even small differences in loudness can be perceived as a technical advantage by our ear and brain.



So let’s continue with my subjective impressions and observations (for this critical listening, I mainly used my UERM, Pai Audio MR3, Shure SE846, AudioTechnica ATH-IM03, Audeze LCD-X, Sennheiser HD 800 as well as the EtymōticER•4SR, Noble Audio SAVANNA, Custom Art Ei.3 and Fidue SIRIUS in single-ended mode while the A91 SIRIUS and LCD-X were also used in balanced mode. I also used more headphones and in-ears from different price and performance ranges for listening but more for personal enjoyment than for the sake of critical listening and comparisons):

It is often said that SABRE DACs tend to have a glare and aggressiveness. While it ultimately comes down to the entire implementation of the audio-related components, I would also back this up for some devices – to my ears, besides the audible hiss the HiFiMe 9018d has, it sounds just like my iBasso DX90 to me, which could be characterised as sounding and measuring neutral but somehow having some kind of “aggressiveness” and “speed” when it comes to treble attack. This is even more present to me with the Zorloo ZuperDAC that, while measuring neutral and flat, gives me the impression of a somewhat “aggressive”, “speedy” and “accelerated” treble attack using in-ears (with a flat impedance response due to the ZuperDAC’s rather high output impedance).
Then there is the Chord Electronics Mojo that seems to render cymbals “unaggressively” and appears to “take away an edge”, somewhat just like the iBasso DX80 that surprisingly also keeps this slight character over its line out unlike most other audio players that sound entirely identical to me when having their line out connected to an external headphone amplifier.

To my ears, the DX200 falls into neither category and has got no subjectively perceived “sharpness”, “aggressiveness” or “digital glare” in its treble and cymbal attack to my ears – it just sounds subjectively neutral (and measures objectively neutral anyway). It just sounds spot-on neutral and like the desired “wire with gain” to me.
The signal it outputs is just super clean with no additional colouration or shaping caused by an elevated noise floor, the shaping of that noise or increased second-order harmonic distortion. Due to the really good signal-to-noise ratio and the other things I just mentioned, it also sounds very transparent when used with resolving in-ears like my UERM.
Sometimes audio players seem to have a slightly soft bass with very sensitive in-ears that perhaps might be caused by some hissing in the lower frequencies. This is also nothing I can hear when using sensitive multi-BA in-ears together with the DX200 – just a tight and controlled attack in the lows, the way it should be, is what I can hear.

While I cannot hear a reproducible difference in terms of soundstage reproduction among various audio sources when using full-sized headphones, there can be a slight difference to my ears when using sensitive in-ears with a three-dimensional soundstage on various sources (that have an output impedance that is low enough so it doesn’t change the in-ears’ frequency response).
To my ears, just like the DX80, iBasso’s DX200 recreates a spatial presentation that has got a base that is wider than about average (e.g. iPhone 4, FiiO X3 Gen 1, iPod Nano 6G & 7G, iBasso DX50, Cowon Plenue M2, Chord Mojo), with more sense of spatial depth than about average as well (unlike the DX90 that I perceive to have a wider-than-average basis but just about average spatial depth, wherefore it somewhat reminds me of the HiFime 9018d or Shanling M2 when it comes to spatial cues).

Keep in mind though that these differences mentioned above are actually quite small in quantity when comparing two or more audio devices with proper volume-matching.


So sound-wise, the DX200 delivers just what I expect from a great audio player (measured and perceived neutrality with not too much subjectively perceived smoothness, good noise performance with sensitive in-ears, low output impedance, good volume scaling, flawless transparency and tightness, impeccable spatial reproduction with sensitive in-ears, …) and iBasso has got every right to call it a flagship device, because this is what it really is.

Digital Audio Outputs & Line Out:

On top of the player is a 3.5 mm socket that is labelled “SPDIF”. Quite nicely, just like already known from the DX80, it is a shared socket that can output an electrical COAX as well as an optical TOSLINK signal depending on what cable you plug into it.
Using the included COAX cable or a TOSLINK cable I bought on Amazon, connecting the DX200 to an external portable DAC such as my Chord Mojo or Leckerton UHA-6S.MKII works flawlessly and the plug snaps nicely into the player’s output socket.



The line out is built into the amplifier module and just like with the line outputs of every well-made audio product, you get nothing but a clean and neutral sound through it when connecting it to an external amplifier.
Using my Leckerton UHA-6S.MKII as amplifier, the perceived timbre of the DX200’s line out signal is just as neutral as from my DX90’s, FiiO X3’s (gen 1), iPhone 4’s or iPod Classic 7G’s line out in contrast to the DX80 or my Chord Mojo (that is basically a pure DAC with a variable line output and low output impedance) that still transport a bit of their unaggressive and smooth treble through the line out.

USB DAC:

While the USB DAC feature supposedly works natively with Linux and Mac computers, drivers need to be manually downloaded and installed from the iBasso website to make the DX200 work as a USB DAC when connected to Windows computers. The installation is simple though and only needs to be performed once.
Once the drivers are installed, the DX200 can be set to DAC mode in the Mango Player app or the Mango OS and then play a bit-perfect kernel streaming music stream. The player’s volume control also remains active, the screen can be turned off, there is no additional hiss, noise or interference coming through the USB DAC input, and the sound you can hear is not much surprisingly identical to the one you get when playing files from the player’s internal storage or a Micro SD card.

Bluetooth:

This is a feature I just briefly used in combination with the MEElectronics Air-Fi Matrix² headphone and the Mass Fidelity Relay stationary Bluetooth DAC (that I by the way find excellent but admittedly don’t use as often as I could or as it deserves).
The quality of the used Bluetooth chip seems to be pretty good since the difference to a source with aptX or AAC streaming is just fairly small and only audible in a slightly less well separated and grainier treble. The quality of the Bluetooth stream really is much better than from my laptop’s built-in Bluetooth chip (I don’t know what codecs and profiles it uses but it is definitely a very compressed stream) and is just slightly behind the aptX stream of a modern BlackBerry (OS10 as well as Android) smartphone and the Hidizs AP60 or an iPhone with AAC streaming.

Bluetooth can of course also be used for various purposes such as file transfer, adding an external keyboard or remote.

Balanced Output:

When I realised that the DX200 would get replaceable amplifier modules, it seemed quite clear to me that the one it would be bundled with would be a basic one with just a 3.5 mm TRS output and a line out, since I thought that other modules like one with a balanced headphone output would be sold as additional accessories.
I was obviously wrong and it was a quite positive surprise when iBasso announced that the included amplifier module would also frature a balanced 2.5 mm TRRS output next to the unbalanced output (even though I personally think that balanced headphone outputs aren’t necessary except for the potentially greater power output as long as the single-ended pendant has been implemented well).

What you mainly get with the balanced output is a greater power output – a whopping 6 V RMS versus 3 V RMS to be exactly. What you may also notice when using very sensitive in-ears is a little increase in hiss presence which was however to be expected due to the much higher power output.



Properly volume-matched, I began the comparison of the single-ended and balanced output with as little expectations and personal bias as possible, using the Fidue SIRIUS and my Audeze LCD-X.
Starting with the Audeze, I was and am not able to discern the two outputs from each other. My LCD-X just sounded identical from both – same perception of soundstage, transparency and bass tightness.
Moving on to the Fidue, I actually expected the same result but was a little surprised when I thought I could hear a slightly cleaner, larger sense of space through the balanced output along with a slightly more “aggressive”, “SABRE-like” treble and cymbal attack even though both outputs were volume-matched between the process of switching them. The perception of transparency and bass quality however remained the same.
Take this observation with a grain of salt though, since switching outputs, adapters and adjusting the volume between switching between the two outputs takes a few seconds and the difference I thought I could hear was anything but “major”, “night and day” or “significant” but rather subtle. Another reason could also be that the SIRIUS’ balanced to single-ended adapter has an effect by slightly changing the impedance.

Gapless Playback:

With the DX90, it took many firmware updates until gapless playback was finally working perfectly with FLAC files. When the DX80 came out, gapless playback was working perfectly right from the start and the very first firmware it came with.
Once it is enabled in the DX200’s settings, gapless playback does also work perfectly with FLAC files in the Android system’s Mango player application as well as in iBasso’s Mango OS. There is no glitch between transitions, no ever so short gap and also nothing of either track is cut off during songs that have been recorded/mastered with a gapless transition in mind.

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Comparisons with other Audio Devices:
Needless to say, the compared devices were properly metrologically volume-matched as close as possible, else the comparisons wouldn’t make any sense due to slight volume differences that could be interpreted as a higher amount of details etc.
Here, I mainly used the Audeze LCD-X, UERM, Shure SE846, Etymōtic ER•4SR, Fidue SIRIUS, Audio Technica ATH-IM03 and Noble SAVANNA through the single-ended output with digital filter #4 for direct comparisons. All of the statements below refer to the DX200’s single-ended headphone output.


iBasso DX90:

The DX200 has got the more premium appearance and seems better built due to its aluminium body.
The DX200 has got the higher possible total memory capacity due to its greater built-in memory (64 against 8 GB; both have got one Micro SD card slot). In terms of features and outputs, the DX200 has got an additional optical TOSLINK output, 2.5 mm TRRS output as well as Bluetooth and WiFi capability while the DX90 has got a three-stage mechanical gain switch and the easier to replace battery.
The DX200 has got the much better resolving screen and the more modern user interface along with the much faster card scanning speed. Both interfaces are about equally responsive but scrolling is slightly more fluent and faster on the DX200’s side (it really is no big difference though).
Both players have got a really fine-grained volume control – the DX90 adjusts the volume in 0.5 dB per attenuation step and the DX200 also in 0.5 dB per attenuation step over the whole attenuation range in Mango OS and somewhat larger steps in Android mode at the very bottom of the scale, but also 0.5 dB per step attenuation in the medium and higher ranges. Both allow for very quiet listening levels with extremely sensitive in-ears if needed.

While the DX200 is really good in terms of hiss performance with very sensitive in-ears and definitely among the better players, the DX90 is even quieter and among the quietest audio players ever made with basically no audible hiss with extremely sensitive in-ears.
Both players have got a very low output impedance that is ideal for all multi-driver in-ears.
Comparing the two players, the DX90 appears slightly more “aggressive”/”rawer” sounding in terms of treble and cymbal attacks, but besides that the subjectively perceived timbre is identical to my ears (both players measure flat anyway). Transparency with well-resolving in-ears is a little higher on the DX200’s side (but please don’t expect any dramatic night-and-day difference when properly volume-matching both devices, since there just isn’t anything like this nowadays as long as the audio devices that are to be compared measure well).
Soundstage width appears to be quite comparable to my ears while the DX200 seems to have more spatial depth (which is not that much of a surprise to me since I always heard the DX90 as having more width than depth when using it with sensitive in-ears). Spatial precision/separation is equally precise to my ears with both devices.

Cowon Plenue M2:

Both players appear comparably well built and premium to me. The Cowon is a bit thinner and has
got a unibody design, whereas the DX200 consists of more chassis parts but is easier to maintain (battery, volume pot).
Both have got one Micro SD card slot, however with 128 GB, the Cowon’s internal memory is two times larger than the DX200’s. With a coaxial output, line out, balanced output, Bluetooth and WiFi, the iBasso has got more features and outputs. It also features the more powerful output even though the Cowon’s is more than sufficient for me in about any case.
When it comes to user interface, both are really good, but ultimately, I think the Plenue M2 is a little ahead in terms of having a clear layout that seems more mature, complete and intuitive (it is simpler than the DX200’s and visually not as “impressive”, but somehow appears more complete and offers more features). Especially the search function in Cowon’s interface that most DAPs in the DX200’s price range and below have nowadays is an advantage, and I also think that the “cover flow”-like album view when turning the device can be practical in some scenarios since it is easy to access.
Both players have got a really fine-grained volume control – the Cowon’s is adjusted in 0.5 dB per attenuation step and the iBasso also in 0.5 dB per attenuation step over the whole attenuation range in Mango OS and somewhat larger steps in Android mode at the very bottom of the scale, but also 0.5 dB per step attenuation in the higher and medium ranges while the iBasso allows for even quieter listening with extremely sensitive in-ears if needed.

Both players are almost completely quiet when it comes to audible hiss with very sensitive in-ears such as the Shure SE846. While both showcase a very slight amount hiss compared to the pretty much completely quiet DX90 and Leckerton UHA-6S.MKII, both are among the best audio players when it comes to being hiss-free – the DX200 even slightly more so than the Cowon.
Both have got an output impedance that is ideal for pretty much all in-ears (around 1 Ohm on the Cowon’s side and just about 0.3 Ohms from the iBasso).
When it comes to subjectively perceived timbre, both sound identically neutral and uncoloured to me while both of course also measure flat.
When it comes to transparency using well-resolving in-ears such as the ATH-IM03, UERM, SIRIUS or SE846, I hear the DX200 as being a little above the Cowon, however it is definitely not a night-and-day difference when compared with correctly matched volume levels.
The DX200’s soundstage appears to be a little wider and also somewhat deeper while “separation” is comparably good.

Chord Electronics Mojo (“standalone” use):

The Mojo is a DAC-Amp and needs to be fed by a digital source device (PC, CD player, audio player
or anything that outputs a digital signal). I am normally using my Mojo as a pure DAC with an additional amplifier for various reasons, but for this comparison I used my Mojo with the in-ears being directly plugged into it.
The Mojo’s visual design is for sure more extravagant and probably polarising compared to the simpler and more elegant DX200.
The iBasso’s volume control’s adjustment steps are smaller and it also allows for a lower lowest possible volume level.
In Balanced mode, the DX200’s maximum power output is comparable to the Mojo’s but even through its single-ended output, the iBasso can drive even more power-demanding headphones without any problems.

The Mojo that many people perceive as being hiss-free still has got some audible hiss with very sensitive in-ears, and its audible hiss is a bit higher than the iBasso’s over the single-ended output. Connecting in-ears to the iBasso’s balanced output, there is still slightly less hiss audible than from the Mojo.
Both have got a low output impedance, however the Mojo’s output impedance response is not 100% linear due to its simple output stage (the Mojo’s output impedance is higher in the treble), so the DX200 will measure more linear with very low-impedance multi-driver in-ears like divas such as the Shure SE846. By the way, the Mojo’s frequency response shows the characteristic of a slow roll-off filter in the highs when low impedance headphones are connected but turns into a sharp roll-off-like response when a high impedance load is connected.
Regarding subjectively perceived timbre, volume-matched of course, the Mojo appears a little smoother and a bit different. Compared to the iBasso and most other devices I compared it with, it is mainly the treble where the Mojo seems to render treble and cymbal attacks less “aggressively” but “smoother” and makes them appear less edgy. I would describe it like as if it would take the edges off high notes and makes them decay “quicker”, which leads to a more “rounded” perception in the highs (personally I wouldn’t mind a little more aggressiveness in the Mojo’s treble and (unfortunately) could also replicate that treble behaviour in a volume-matched and blinded test). In this regard I personally prefer the DX200’s presentation but individual preferences may of course differ.

When directly comparing the two, while the DX200 is a very transparent sounding audio player with resolving in-ears, I hear the Mojo as still being ever so slightly more transparent. It is a really slight difference though and might also have to do with the Mojo’s different treble presentation and filtering. Using filter #5 on the iBasso that is very very subtly less “smeary” around the borders of instruments, both are pretty much identically transparent sounding to my ears.
The Mojo’s soundstage appears a bit more compact than the DX200’s while separation is (not that much surprisingly) equally good through both devices.

iBasso DX80:

Both players have got a good build quality but the DX200 appears more premium since its sides are
also made of metal and as the labels next to its ports are more subtle compared to the DX80. Due to its light grey and black colour scheme, it is also visually more interesting and less monotone.
While the DX200’s touchscreen is a bit larger, the device itself isn’t that much larger.
The DX80 has got two Micro SD slots whereas the DX200 has got only one but 64 GB of internal memory. The reason for that is that the DX200 didn’t have any more free SoC ports due to its additional features such as WiFi and Bluetooth, wherefore iBasso would have had to use a bridging chip in order to to implement two card slots, which would result in a lesser battery life (that is anyway limited due to the two power-hungry desktop DACs) though. What the DX200 has got as an advantage over the DX80 in terms of features are an additional balanced headphone output, Bluetooth and WiFi for online music streaming.
In Android mode, the DX200 has got the more modern player interface with nice animations while the functionality and features are essentially the same. In Mango OS mode however, the interfaces are even pretty much identical.
Both players have got a really fine-grained volume control – the DX80 adjusts the volume in 0.5 dB per attenuation step and the DX200 also in 0.5 dB per attenuation step over the whole attenuation range in Mango OS and somewhat larger steps in Android mode at the very bottom of the scale, but also 0.5 dB per step attenuation in the higher and medium ranges. Both allow for very quiet listening levels with extremely sensitive in-ears if needed.

Using sensitive in-ears, the DX200 has got a much better hiss performance than the DX80. While there is still a noticeable amount of hiss with the DX80 when using averagely sensitive in-ears (provided that you are sensitive to hearing hiss as well of course), there is no hiss coming from the DX200. Using very sensitive in-ears, there is a strong hiss coming from the DX80, whereas just a faint amount of audible hiss that is close to being inaudible with the DX200 using the single-ended output.
Both players have got a very low output impedance that is ideal for all multi-driver in-ears.
When it comes to subjectively perceived timbre, the DX80 does definitely sound “warmer” despite measuring flat, which I think can partially be addressed to its noise floor.
The DX200, when comparing the two with metrologically properly matched volume-levels, appears a bit more transparent using well-resolving in-ears, and especially clearer and a bit better separated in the highs due to the much lesser amount of hiss.
When it comes to soundstage, I hear both as being pretty much identical in terms of dimensions and separation while the DX200 has got the “emptier”/cleaner appearing space around and between instruments, which is also partially because of its very good hiss performance, while there is not so much of a difference (to even no difference at all) when using less sensitive in-ears or full-sized headphones.


Résumé:

The iBasso DX200 is a premium flagship audio player without the hefty >$1000 price tag other companies are nowadays often charging for their top-of-the-line models.
It features a nice design and very good build quality. Measured and subjective sonic performance are very good and the DX200 also performs very well when it comes to processor and user interface speed – there are no delays, everything runs smoothly, applications and menus start quickly and if you want to, you can even play more complex video games on it fluently, which definitely speaks for its performance even though it is not the main purpose.
Really nice is also that instead of bundling a basic amplifier module with the player to trick the user into buying a better one, iBasso included a well-engineered module with the player that has got an amplification section with extremely powerful 6 V RMS output through the balanced headphone socket, along with still more than plenty powerful 3 V RMS (into 64 Ohms) through the single-ended 3.5 mm headphone output. The rest about the sound is great as well and the amp module doesn’t only feature a nicely low output impedance of less than 0.5 Ohms, which is ideal for all multi-driver in-ears on the market, but is also almost entirely hiss-free through the 3.5 mm output using very sensitive in-ears such as the Shure SE846 and still performs well in terms of hiss over the more powerful 2.5 mm balanced output.



So what you get is a premium flagship audio player that can also be used for streaming music from popular services such as Tidal or Spotify. The sound is great as well, with a very powerful amplifier if you need it, and a fast, powerful processor and user interface.
The UI is modern, reacts without any delay and is stable, but still has some bugs to be sorted out such as the incorrect sorting in the “Now Playing” queue when adding new folders/files to exactly this queue, and a search feature hasn’t been implemented yet even though it is pretty much a standard in this price range.

Nonetheless the DX200 is a premium player that does everything remarkably well and only needs some minor adjustments on the software side to be completely excellent.