Is this supposed to be mid-fi?
PROS: many similarities with a flagship DX200, modular amp design (shares modules with DX200), price/performance ratio.
CONS: need to install Lurker’s free ROM to get access to Google Play, otherwise apps are side-loaded.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
It’s not the first time I mentioned that before there used to be a clear line between entry level, mid-fi, and summit-fi DAPs, separated by sound performance, supported features, and the price. Today, these lines are blurred where some entry level models have more features than upper tier ones, the sound performance difference is not that drastic, and the price gap varies. You can’t stop the flood of new releases, which makes it harder for consumers to narrow down their choices, and doesn’t make it easy on reviewers when people ask for recommendations.
But one thing hasn’t changed, many audio enthusiasts are still looking for the gear with the best price/performance ratio, and iBasso’s latest DX150 certainly hits the target. Plus, this DAP keeps a lot of the original DX200 functionality and design cues, including a modular amp design, at a fraction of the price. Along with DX150 and its new stock AMP6, my review will also cover their newly released AMP7 and AMP8 (and comparison to AMP6, along with AMP3 and AMP5) since every amp module is fully compatible with DX150 and DX200. So, without further ado, let’s proceed!
Unboxing and Accessories.
In comparison to DX200 with a more dramatic diagonal-split box, here you will find a more traditional top-cover packaging box, still with a secure foam-fitting cutout, and exterior silver sleeve with a multi-language spec on the back. It’s understandable that you need to distinguish unboxing experience from a premium flagship model, though you still get quite a similar feeling when unboxing either one.
Accessories include a high-quality premium braided-sleeve USB-C charging/data cable, short Coax cable, and Balanced burn-in cable with a load (for a “quiet” burn-in so you don’t have to use your headphones). Also, included was a suede leather case, similar in design to DX200 case, but a little thicker in comparison.
As a replacement alternative, MITER offers a leather case for DX200/DX150, and to my pleasant surprise it comes without their signature kickstand, keeping it slim while still offering an enhanced grip, scratch protection, and covered imprinted playback control buttons.
Design and Under the hood.
From the first look it’s clear that DX150 design was based on their DX200 flagship. It has nearly identical dimensions of 128.5mm x 69mm x 19.5mm, and almost the same weight of 245g (DX200 is 240g). You’ll also find the same layout with a large 4.2” 768×1280 resolution display on the front with a removable amp module underneath on the back. SPDIF digital transport port is still on the top (supporting both coax and optical mini toslink), next to it is USB-C port and a power button in the corner inside of the guard bar that wraps around upper right corner where you have a volume wheel on the side and hw playback Play/Pause/Skip buttons going down. The only difference here is a volume wheel being open while DX200 has a guard bar over it, and the wheel itself having deeper notches for a better grip when turning it with a thumb. Another difference is a display being nearly flush with chassis vs DX200 having a raised display. You will still find a single uSD card on the left side, while ports on the bottom will correspond to a specific AMP module in use.
I know some might not find these “cosmetic” changes to be as significant, especially when DAP is inside the case, but I personally feel that it refines the original DX200 design and gives it a slicker look when out of the case. Also, it gives an easier access to the volume wheel. Of course, all is a matter of a personal preference, and as a matter of fact the limited edition DX200Ti version also implemented a design change where the display is flush with chassis.
Under the hood you will also find many similarities, and a few significant changes. You still have Android 6.0, and the stock sw still requires side-loading apps, though Lurker’s free ROM takes care of that by enabling Google Play and adding some other extra features and optimizations (more details in GUI section of the review). You’re still running on 64bit 8 cores A53 CPU, with 2G LPDDR3 RAM, single uSD, and USB DAC using XMOS XU208 chipset. Still have 802.11 (b/g/n/ac) WiFi, but according to iBasso now supporting both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. And still have Bluetooth 4.1, though without aptX support (at least for now). And as it was mentioned already, the same 4.2” Retina display with 768×1280 resolution.
Even 3.8V 4400mAh battery is the same, though battery life was improved due to a different DAC and other optimizations. For example, I can get solid 11hrs of mp3 playback using IT04, connected to BAL HO of AMP6 in Low Gain with volume set to 65/150. When I switch to AMP7, using another IEM with a lower sensitivity (Tin T2, 102dB) in Low Gain with a volume set to 92/150, I can get 10hrs of playback. I’m sure going to AMP8 with its balanced output and higher power will reduce it probably by another hour (per my experience with DX200).
So, what are the other changes? Internal storage is down to 32GB from 64GB in DX200, and there is a new system clock architecture, fully synchronized with TXCO and PLL which supposed to make switching between different clock rates more seamless. Also, a big plus, introduction of PD2.0 quick charger which is compatible with QC2.0 standard, meaning faster charging time when you are using QC2.0 compatible chargers. But the biggest change is stepping down from dual ES9028Pro DAC (DX200) to a dual AK4490EQ DAC (DX150). This change is the key behind a difference in sound signature and performance between these DAPs. AK4490EQ is still a very capable DAC, able to support PCM with sampling rate of 8kHz-384kHz (with 8-32bit depth) native, and DSD64/128/256. But it’s not on a flagship level like 9028Pro which can handle up to DSD512, among other differences.
There is no doubt that DX200 is iBasso’s flagship DAP, and DX150 is a scaled down version which can’t sound the same or better. But if you add up all the changes and analyze all the pros/cons, plus consider that it’s still based on a modular design with interchangeable amps, iBasso DX150 is not too far off, meaning they didn’t cut too many corners while actually did cut the price.