iBasso DX120

GUI.

DX120 is an audio only player running iBasso Mango OS.  Owners of DX80, DX200, and DX150 (if you installed Lurker’s ROM on 150) will be familiar with Mango, though DX120 introduces an updated version of this native OS.  One thing you will notice straight out of the box is how fast and responsive the interface is.  As I already mentioned in Design section of the review, this is due to hardware optimization to offload CPU cycles, to have more resources when running UI.  The interface is very fast, faster than my previous experience of using Mango OS and Mango app in DX150/200 and DX80 (Mango OS).

After pressing and holding the Power button, main Playback screen comes up in about 10-11 seconds and you are greeted with a familiar playback screen view with top half dedicated to song/album artwork (if one is embedded), and lower half for transport and other controls.  Tapping on Artwork area brings up a song/artist/album name and icons for Detailed song info, Add to playlist, or to Delete.  In the lower half (upper left corner of it) you have icon for settings shortcuts which brings up a screen with Gapless on/off, Gain low/high, Digital Filter (sharp roll off, slow roll off, short delay sharp roll off, short delay slow roll off, and super slow roll off), a new addition – Sound Mode (reference, traditional, original classical, natural), and USB mode selection (reader, DAC, charge only).

You will also find a more detailed info about the bit depth and sampling rate of the current song, Icon to change Play Mode (order, loop, shuffle, repeat).  Below that you have a playback scroll bar which I find to have a lot faster response.  Typically, in Mango OS you need to touch the current song position pointer and drag it across the bar which previously had a longer response delay.  Here, you still can’t randomly tap anywhere along the bar (like in a smartphone audio player), but the delay between tapping and dragging the pointer is minimized and the control is a lot more responsive.  At the bottom, you have Play/Skip buttons, and Skip buttons either skip to the next song or fast forward/back if you press/hold them.  These playback controls also duplicated with hardware buttons on the right side.

Swiping Main Playback screen to the left reveals Settings menu with Equalizer (10 Band EQ, 33, 63, 100, 330, 630, 1k, 3.3k, 6.3k, 10k, 18k, and 5 customizable Genre presets, and one Custom preset), L/R Balance, Gapless, Gain, Music Info, USB Setting, Play Mode, Digital Filter, Sound Mode, and Advanced setting.  Many of these settings are available in shortcut settings menu as I already mentioned.  In Advanced, you have selection of Language, Display with brightness and wallpaper, Power management (backlight, auto power, sleep timer), Rescan library (to index songs), System info, and Factory Reset.  Btw, if DAP is to crash and DX120 is not responsive, holding Power button for 10sec does a hard reset.

Swiping Main Playback screen to the right reveals My Music menu with Now Playing selection, All Music (lists all the songs across both micro SD cards), Directory (to access each card individually and browse through folders), Album (with two views, list with small artwork thumbs and name next to it or big picture thumbs in 2×3 array), Artist (alphabetical, combined list between two cards), Genre, and Playlist (can have multiple playlist, created, edited, deleted).  While browsing, long-pressing on any song brings up a menu with Play, Add to Playlist, Music Info, and Delete.

While the Main Playback screen looks very similar to previous Mango OS version, the My Music and Settings Menu have been updated, making it more clear and easier to navigate on a smaller display of DX120 (relative to DX150/200).  Plus, my favorite is Volume animation where you get a lower right corner “dial” with 100 numeric steps and two counter-rotating gears, on each side of the number dial.  The only thing I still wish for is being able to swipe the volume up/down using a touch screen.  When you are switching between IEMs (especially CIEMs) with different sensitivity and forget to reset the volume, sometimes you need to lower it quickly, and swiping down is the fastest way.

ibasso_dx120-11

Sound Analysis.

The sound of DX120 was analyzed using U18t and IT04, both balanced terminated, playing a variety of mp3, flac, and dsd test tracks, such as Agnes Obel “The curse”, Sandro Cavazza “So much better” (Avicii remix), C-Bool “Never go away”, Ed Sheeran “Shape of you”, Galantis “Hunter”, Iggy Azalea “Black widow”, Indila “Boite en argent”, Robin Schultz “Oh child”, David Elias “Vision of her”, and Michael Jackson “Dirty Diana”.  As recommended by manufacturer (mostly for the benefit of caps), DX120 went through about 100hrs of burn-in using the included 2.5mm cable while playing random tracks in a loop at high gain with volume set to the max.

I wanted to approach the sound analysis differently with DX120.  As I mentioned so many times in my other DAP reviews, the sound you hear is a combination of the source signature, the cable (material and impedance), and IEMs tuning.  Here, I’m describing the sound as I hear it listening with 64 Audio U18t and iBasso IT04 IEMs, where I first went through different Sound Modes while keeping digital filter on “sharp roll-off”, and followed it with keeping Sound Mode on “original” while switching between Digital Filters and writing my sound impressions under each setting.  Please, keep in mind, the changes are not as drastic, but certainly noticeable to my ears.

Digital Filter: Sharp Roll off, Sound Mode:

Original – close to neutral tuning with a tilt toward a little brighter revealing tonality in upper mids/lower treble and a little more emphasis in low-end impact with a nicely textured extended rumble.

Classical – takes a little edge off the treble, taming down the sparkle a bit, and gives you a feeling like the attack of the notes envelope is a little slower (overall pace of the rhythm is a bit slower).

Natural – in this mode I hear low-end and treble like in the Original, but mids have a slightly different, more “natural” smoother warmer tonality, especially a slightly fuller body in lower mids.

Reference – just like the name says, this mode has a more reference crisper sound, with a faster speed and a little colder tonality.

Traditional – in this mode I hear mids being a little smoother, fuller, and more forward, while treble is slightly smoother too.

ibasso_dx120-15

Sound Mode: Original, Digital Filters:

Sharp Roll off – as described in Original/Sharp-roll-off sound description.

Slow Roll off – I hear the effect in mids, especially lower mids having a little fuller body which creates a perception of the sound being a little smoother and with a slower attack, and also treble being a bit tamer.  This reminds me a little bit of Classical Sound Mode, just more subtle.

Short delay sharp roll off – I went back’n’forth multiple times, comparing this to a regular Sharp Roll off filter, and to my ears I only hear just slightly more rumble in the sub-bass.

Short delay slow roll off – in comparison to Slow Roll off, I still hear mids with a little fuller body, but the bass is a little bit faster now.

Super slow roll off – I hear smoother fuller body of the mids and deeper sub-bass, making the sound a little more lush.

I don’t want people to have an impression that Sound Modes and Digital Filters have a drastic effect on the sound.  The effect is more subtle.  I had to spend a long time, going back and forth, with U18t and IT04 which I’m intimately familiar with, trying to capture these differences.  Also, I found Sound Mode changes to be a little more noticeable in comparison to Digital Filter changes.  Furthermore, keep in mind that we all hear things differently, so I don’t expect everybody to note the same changes.

Also, I find the bass to be a little enhanced, but not in terms of boosted quantity, but rather in terms of a presence with more analog texture, deeper extension, and tighter and more layered sound quality.

ibasso_dx120-14

Page 3: Comparison, Pair Up, External Connections, and Conclusion.

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43 thoughts on “iBasso DX120

  1. Too bad you could not compare to DX90. I’m very interested in the DX120 vs DX90 because of the balanced output.. I own IT03 and I am curious to know if you have tested balanced output with iT03.

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    1. Sorry, don’t have dx90. I will swap the cable on IT03 to test balanced when I get a chance, but we are talking about higher power/voltage output and I suspect some improvement in bass response. Otherwise, it’s the same signature.

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  2. Great review, many thanks. How about comprasion DX120 to Fiio X5-II, which still is on sale through Fiio’s aliexpress store for these same 300 bucks? Would be profit in SQ or not? Without considering usability. Thanks in advance!

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    1. i haven’t listened to X5ii in a long time, but I can tell you with 100% certainty that dx120 will be higher in sound quality. No comparison here, especially since they cost the same, go for dx120.

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      1. Thanks a lot Alex, I think it’s time to sell my X5II and other stuff to take the Ibasso Dx120. Thanks for the review and comparisons.

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    1. Directly connected, DX120 + Andro = hissing, R6 + Andro = change of sound due to high out impedance. So, need iematch either way 😉 For Andro, chose the DAP based on the features you need.

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    1. it supports usb DAC from computer, but I can’t try usb OTG connection from a smartphone since I don’t have usb-c to usb-c otg cable, and iBasso is not mentioning it either. So, let’s assume it doesn’t.

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  3. Dear Mr. Twister,
    Thanks for the review. May I trouble you with a query. I have quite a bit of gear – Chord Mojo, Ifi BL, Fostex HPV1, etc – I also have a couple of XDP-100r DAPs, which I always found rather lacking in sound. I’d like to either transfer the 4 sd cards to another DAP or DAC/AMP the existing DAPs up. Here’s my question, between the following which has the better SQ:
    1. Fiio Q5 w/AM5 module.
    2. Fiio X7 II
    3. Opus 3
    4. Hiby R6
    5. Ifi xDSD
    User interface is not terribly important to me, what’s important is a full-bodied rich and “natural” sound with good detail and resolution, ability to achieve good sub-bass, and extend sound-stage.
    The Chord Mojo/Fostex HPV1 combo to me is superb, but I’d like something more portable/stackable either through adding to the XDP-100r units or going with a new DAP. I tend to use Audioquest Nightowl, Aurisonic Rockets, or DT770 250ohm when on the go.
    Thanks kindly.

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    1. xdp-100r lacking in sound… lol. Its single end is better in sq than x7 and R6. The fact that it has little bit brighter and lighter sound signature doesnt make it lacking in sound. Separation, lot of air and great soundstage are something that defines this player. And I dont have it. Just had an oportunity to test it. Great sound.

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    1. I’m glad you added dx150 to the list, cause that is it! 😉 I’m not familiar with Q5 but that should be on par with X7ii which has a thinner more reference sound. And iDSD micro BL is not portable. Dx150 will be the best solution for you not only because its default sound sig with included Amp6 module covers your sound preference, but also because you can scale up and upgrade the sound with other amp modules and can add more power if you need to. See, instead of stacking up another amp, you just use another replaceable module. And ibasso is working on more modules. So, definitely look into that one.

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  4. Thanks for your enlightening review.
    I am particularly interested in keeping a large library on a mobile set. Does the DX120 handle files on 2 different sd cards in the two cardslots as one library?
    Can i listen to shuffle mode to all files from both cardslots or am i restricted to one card at a time?

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  5. Personally i was very disappointed with the sound. I can why superficially, on the surface it sounds good but when I dug deeper I found it to be quite poorly tuned and unbalanced at best. The highs are too clean and pure & sparkly so it seems like they are really ‘good’ The soundstage certainly separated out instruments quite cleanly but I often found the places the player put them in was just weird. Un-natural. Certainly they created a sound stage like no other player. The mids are then recessed / over shadowed. The mids themselves I found dry with no warm life to them. Also male and female vocals just didnt have that much difference in tonality. The low end was very ‘lazy’ hearing Joe Walsh’s drummer playing through his drum kit each drum sounded pretty much the same. On the DX80 each drum sound is clearly distinct and recognizable. Im glad people seem to like it but it worries me a bit that not much is said about the sound itself :/

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    1. I read your comments on head-fi ;), though wasn’t sure which headphone you were using when listening to this DAP. As you probably realize, while DAPs have their own signature (dictated by DAC and amp section), in your comment you’re describing the sound of your headphones and how they pair up with DX120. And it’s perfectly OK if you didn’t like the sound, and prefer DX80 which is warmer, more colored, and noisier. You preference is more toward the natural organic sound, while DX120 offers a more revealing analytical sound. That’s all.

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  6. Good day sir. Thanks for this very detailed review. I am really interested in getting the dx120. I previously owned a sony a45 but the sound is to warm for me. The pairing with my Pioneer Ch9t doesn’t suit my taste. The bass is so much elevated and i feel fatigued listening for a short time. I am not a basshead, i prefer clarity over bass. So i was looking around for a dap with a neutral-bright sound and i stumbled upon this. I’m not much of a streamer or a bt headphones user, i just use dap for playbacks and usd dac. Do you the dx120 sound signature will fit my preference? Thanks again for this review and hope you could give me some advice.

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    1. That’s funny cause I just replied above to another comment where the person preferred dx80 over dx120 because he didn’t want this extra clarity 🙂 Yes, DX120 will be great for what you are looking for. Plus, you can fine tune the sound by going though different digital filters and sound modes. So, you have some flexibility.

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      1. I read about that but i haven’t tried dx80 yet. Sony a45 was my first dap. Thanks again for this, it helps a lot. Keep up the good reviews. Cheers!

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  7. I enjoyed your review. I notice a few reviewers get their hands on a DAP and do quick impressions and make a conclusion off the bat. Im glad you took time to test this extensively. I have a question though. At the price point, if going off of pure sound quality, Hiby R3 or the Ibasso DX120

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    1. Thank you for your kind words! I only heard R3 briefly, not enough to form a solid opinion. But I wasn’t too impressed with its balanced output. These do differ in sound sig, with dx120 being more revealing, more reference so it pairs up better with neutral and warmer tuned iems. R3 was a little smoother, more organic in tonality. But bal out of dx120 is a lot more powerful, better to drive more demanding headphones. Of course, sound quality comparison is subjective, and often depends on how you are enjoying the pair up with you specific headphones.

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      1. Thanks for your excellent review! Could you give any more details on how the sound signature compares to the Cayin N5ii/S? I’m really torn between the two. I’m a little uncertain of the buttons on the DX120 because they are so close together and you mentioned in your review that you had trouble with them. I like the button layout and volume knob of the N5ii/S better. I realize that the two players have different feature sets (what with the N5ii/S having wifi and bluetooth) but they both strike my fancy.

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      2. don’t think there is much to add in addition to what I already covered in dx120 review comparing it to N5ii (and I have a detailed comparison of N5ii to N5iiS in my S review). It’s a tough choice man. Too many daps are out there, and you can now add Shanling M5s to the list (just received it). If you need streaming, that’s an easy to choice to pick N5ii/S, otherwise, they all starting to get closer in sound quality, so maybe choose based on what you like from the pictures 😉

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  8. Hello sir, have you tried adding your own wallpapers? I tried creating a folder called “Wallpapers” and put in 480*800 images in both JPEG and PNG format but It wont detect.

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    1. Sorry, I haven’t. You need to contact Lurker on Head-fi, he is the one who does all the custom FW for iBasso DAPs. I’m sure, if there is a way, he will be able to help you.

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    1. I don’t know if it’s going to be an improvement for you or not. I noted in Comparison section of my review all the changes in sound performance I hear between these two (go to the 3rd page of my DX120 review). Also, keep in mind the difference in features offered by these two DAPs. As a reviewer I can only point out the difference, while you have to make a decision if those will matter to you 😉

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  9. Hi Alex, enjoyed all of your reviews and settled by getting dx120. I have andro-s and looking to upgrade a cable. My preferrence is more of clarity and separation which is very noticable on stock andro litz. But wanted to maximize by using balanced output. Do you have any recommendations that suits well as mentioned? Thanks in advance!

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    1. Most of my cables are 2pin, so I can’t use it with Andro (though I finally got a connector adaptor for testing). In the past I tried a few other copper and silver plated cables with Andro, and didn’t like the pair up, always going back to stock Litz. ALO’s Ref8 hybrid will improve the clarity/separation and will tighten the bass, but to my ears it made lower treble a little harsher… As I was typing you my reply, I just tried Ares II with Rhapsodio 2pin to mmcx adaptor, and bingo! Tighter sound, better imaging, clarity is similar.

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      1. Hey Alex, audied Ares ii earlier and I’m not sure if you already tried Andro-S which has forwarded mids compared to OGs. I find the mids too much forwarded with Ares ii.
        I also tried Eros which has similar material with cb13 (copper & silver), I kinda liked them but I think the sparkle somehow lost. So I’m really betting on cb13 which has 8 cores – Eros ii I think has only 4 cores. Do you think you can make a push on cb13-Andro combo? I’m asking this bec there is no demo unit available on cb13. And the only option is to pay them in advance before they can order it for me.

        Always appreciate your work. Thanks in advance!

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      2. what do you mean “make a push”? as in can they connect ok? You can, but starting with CB12s (the cable they used in IT04 and standalone), they implemented new mmcx connectors (also, the same connectors used now with IT01s). Those have a better connection to work with Andro and other mmcx based iems… Btw, was testing Solaris last night, comparing it to original Andro, and noted that Solaris mids are more forward; sounds like Andro SS fixes that, pushing mids forward, similar to Solaris.

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  10. Make a push, I mean to give your impression on cb13-andro. But since you mentioned Solaris, which have similar mids to Andro SS (which actually what I have). Could you make impressions on both? (Andro-cb13 and Solaris-cb13). better if you can do Andro SS-cb13 would be perfect! 🙂

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