Unleash the Beast!
PROS: sound and performance improvement, cost of replacement components.
CONS: voids warranty, need soldering skills.
Today I would like to introduce to my readers another guest reviewer, Vince, who is well known on Head-fi as Whitigir. Vince is an audio fanatic, or as he describes himself on Head-fi in his signature to have an “insane audio addiction”. He is very passionate about different audio gear and high res DSD512 audio format, and he also a big fan of iBasso DX200 DAP and its amp modules. Vince shared many useful DIY tips in DX200 thread, and today he will be sharing with us his exclusive DIY mod of iBasso’s latest AMP8 4.4mm balanced amp module. Also, included multiple DIY component links where you can order mod caps online. Furthermore, DX200 and AMP8 were purchased by Vince from iBasso.
As a Warning, you have to be aware that DIY mods void the product warranty, and they will require soldering skills, in this case. If not done correctly, you can short the pins and permanently damage the amp module and the DAP, and this blog doesn’t take responsibility for these damages. If you’re unsure what you are doing, just enjoy the read and a few up-close pictures of AMP8 circuit. Also, if you want more details about taking DX200 apart to access the battery or to replace the screen, you can also refer to my own DIY guide here.
I love Dx200, especially the Titanium version. So, I would love to extract every last bit out of the player as I could. I have been modifying Amp4/S all along to improve its signature and to take it further. However, I never wrote an article how to do so. That is because these amps are limited releases. What I did was to upgrade the capacitors inside the 4/4s to Fine-gold with the same value as the stock unit. So, if anyone wanted to further take advantage of their Amp4/s, you can follow suit.
Now, onto the Amp8. It is powerful, discrete, and it can be significantly influenced by the capacitors used around it.
The solder being used here is SS-47 Oyaide. Please, buy from Japan reputable sourcess, and use a pump to clean up older solder.
There are 3 things that I did:
1) To control down the sub-bass while improving the punches and dynamic: this can be done by swapping out the Siemens 220uF to a Nichicon 470uF. You can use other brands, but I chose Nichicon because it always has a very addictive energy for the inner-resolutions (more organic). I also picked 470uF, because this value was the main thing for Amp4/S to get that lush mid and good vocal.
Doing this, it surpassed my expectations as it does all 3 things: control down the sub bass and make it more balanced and coherent to the rest of the bass lines, vocals is with better resolutions, and mid spectrum is improved with better layering and separations, details are crazily retrieved.
DIY component link.
Due to the greater detail retrieval, the bad records will be very harsh and unforgiving. In order to tame it down without affecting too much other spectrum, I used this 1uF MLCC. You don’t have to, if you like what you hear.
DIY component link.
2) This modifications were inspired by Chaiyuta, a member on head-fi who loves to read and learn further about different things that can improve sounds. The concept is to contain the radiations and the electrical noises that is generated from within an IC itself. I have known about this concept for a long time but was unable to find a good solution for it. I previously tried the copper tape to deflect these noises away, but the improvements were almost not observable, and with the works, I deemed it not worthy. Anyways, Chaiyuta has showed me a TK-Sheet Noise Absorbers here, and I put it on all the IC and Inductors. It turned out very good. Darker background, better details extensions can be observed in the background.
DIY component link.
3) It was so good, but I wanted organic timbres and that addictive inner resolutions. To my experiences, Panasonic are excellent for the soundstage, but its inner resolutions are not as lush or as addictive to my preferences as Nippon or Nichicon. So, right here, I put in Nippon to hopefully get this. I previously think that organic timbre is not a thing for dx200. But having this in, it yet again surpassed my expectations. But it also significantly changed the sound performances as well.
Do take notes: if you love the sub-bass and bass lines, the soundstage of the previous 2 steps. Don’t take this step.
DIY component link.
** Tips: de-solder these 4 caps from left to right, and solder on from right to left. Take your time, put it on to make sure the legs fit, and make sure it stays down onto the pad and cramped into the terminals of the Tantalum. The marking on the Tantalum is Positive and not negative **
The sound signatures changed to a more dynamic bass, greatly articulated, with sub-bass controlled and no longer booming or blooming but very tight and rumble. It is now what I deemed “true-fidelity bass”. Mid spectrum and string, brass, wind instrument become very organic, vocal will be a little more forward compare to other modules. Separations and layering is further improved due to the bites and extensions now carry greater energy and at good speed. Together with the darker background. The soundstage is now no longer an illusion of the vocal being recessed back as other modules used to be. It is now genuine soundstage with intimidating vocal, and even in the most complex genres like rock or EDM, you will be able to hear every word, level of control, vibratos, air from the singer and vocalists clearly. The different string instruments can be observed even in the most complex passages.
Another notice to take, these 4 capacitors take a long time to burn-in. When you first put it on, it will sound degraded, bass will disappear, drier mid, and it will s-s-s-s-s-slowly improve. Not until its 24 hours burn-in for you to start observing the lush and emotional vocals, mid spectrum, and bass slowly surface.