iBasso DX120

Comparison.

In this section of the review I went through a number of DAPs, using U18t and IT04, volume matching them in every comparison.

DX120 vs DX150 w/amp6 – 120 has a wider soundstage, brighter/crisper and more reference tonality, and a little less sub-bass rumble in comparison; also the same low level of background hissing. Setting DX120 to slow roll off filter and traditional sound more brings it closer to DX150/amp6 tonality, but still not the same since 120 sounds a little more revealing/transparent in mids.  In terms of functionality, 120 has an extra uSD, better battery life, while 150 is bigger, with modular amp, full android with Play store, and Bluetooth wireless.

DX120 vs DX200 w/amp1 – a similar more revealing neutral-brighter tonality with a wide soundstage expansion. Gets even closer in tonality when switched to Reference sound mode.  I also hear a little stronger low-end impact in DX120.  But overall, due to its more advanced higher end DAC, DX200 has an upper hand when it comes to layering/separation of the sounds and dynamics expansion.  But in general, it’s not too far off.  There are a lot of similarities in sound when comparing DX200 w/amp1 to DX120 (fast roll off/reference mode).  DX200 is a more advanced Android DAP with BT and wifi/apps support, modular amp design, and also quieter noise floor when it comes to low impedance/sensitive iems.

DX120 vs DX80 – 120 has a wider soundstage and quieter noise floor.  120 tonality is more neutral and more transparent (less colored) and more revealing in comparison to 80. With bass, DX80 slams harder, mids are smoother, while treble is similar.  120 stands out with a more advanced technical performance, better layering and separation of sounds, as well as better dynamics expansion while 80 sounds a little more compressed and congested in comparison.  Both have a very similar audio playback-only spec with dual micro-SD, while 120 adds Balanced output with higher power.

DX120 vs Cayin N5ii – here, 120 has a brighter and more revealing tonality while N5ii has a fuller body sound with a smoother tonality and a little harder hitting bass.  120 soundstage is wider.  N5ii has a very quiet noise floor even with low impedance/sensitive iems.  Both have dual uSD cards, though N5ii also has internal storage and BT/wifi and streaming app support.  But 120 interface is a lot faster and more responsive.

DX120 vs Hiby R6 – using U18, I can only compare these with iEMatch due to a high output impedance of R6.  Under these conditions to my ears they sound nearly identical, maybe with 120 having a touch wider soundstage, but other than that, it’s hard to tell their sound apart, which shows that ES9028EQ DAC could sound the same as AK4495 dac if you tweak the amp section of the design.  Based on the features, R6 is a fully functioning Android DAP with Google play and Bluetooth, while 120 has extra micro-SD and better battery life.

DX120 vs FiiO X5iii – X5iii has a lot louder hissing, warmer smoother more colored sound, while 120 is more neutral revealing with a more transparent sound which has better retrieval of details, and not as congested or compressed as X5iii.  Other than that, X5iii also has dual micro SD and full android/wireless support, but the sound difference here is very noticeable, plus 120 optimized Mango interface is faster and more responsive.

DX120 vs theBit Opus #1S – 120 soundstage expansion is wider; #1S noise floor is quieter (makes sense since it’s a less powerful dap).  Tonality is not too far off, though 120 is a little smoother and more natural while #1S is brighter and a little thinner in mids.  Another difference I hear is with #1S bass being more neutral and having less impact in comparison to 120.  Otherwise, both come close in features of being audio playback only DAPs with dual micro-SD cards, though 120 is more compact and has better battery life.

ibasso_dx120-17

Pair up.

All pair up tests were done in High Gain, and I noted if I used either BAL or SE headphone outputs and the Volume level.  Plus, I mentioned a few unique stats of iems/headphones used in pair ups.

Zen ZOE (320 ohm, DD Zen with removable cable – BAL v45) – warm natural tonality with a little extra emphasis in low end and more clarity in mids/treble in comparison to some other sources pair ups.  Typically, an underpowered pair-up with Zen will result in a more congested mids and less controlled bass.  Here, seems that Zen has a good synergy with high voltage/power BAL output.

Audio-Technica R70x (470 ohm, open back full size – SE v68) – a nice balanced signature with an organic detailed tonality and a wide soundstage.  The sub-bass rumble is more noticeable here, and the same with some extra sparkle in treble when compared to other pair ups where I usually hear bass more neutral and treble a little smoother.  This was an enjoyable pair up which adds a more fun factor to usually more neutral R70x tuning.

Audeze EL8C (planar magnetic, full size – SE v60) – a more mid-forward signature with deep low-end extension, more solid and tighter bass than I’m used to with these, thinner lower mids, revealing micro-detailed upper mids, and nice crisp treble without a hint of metallic shimmer (which could be an issue with some other daps).  Seems to be driving EL8C to their full potential with a bit of low end enhancement and a wide soundstage expansion.

64 Audio U18t (18BA, 9 ohm – BAL v27) – a slightly v-shaped signature, with extra rumble and slight enhancement in mid-bass punch, very clear detailed mids, and nicely extended sparkly treble. Tonality is natural-revealing, and I do hear more texture with a slight enhancement in low-end. But there is also a little bit of hissing, noticeable when you hit Play with volume down to zero or in less busy instrumental passages of the song.  When music/instruments/vocals are playing, you can hardly hear it.

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MEE Audio Pinnacle P1 (DD, 50 ohm impedance / 93dB sensitivity – BAL v43) – haven’t listen to this pair of iems in a while.  This pair up has a nicely balanced signature with a punchy mid-bass and a deep sub-bass extension, mids are very lean and treble is bright with extra sparkle, but it’s surprisingly more controlled while in some other pair ups, upper mids/lower treble of Pinnacle can get harsh.  As expected due to high impedance and lower sensitivity, dead quiet background.  Nice wide soundstage.

Westone W80 (8BA, 5 ohm – SE v33) – surprisingly, here the soundstage has more depth then width.  Signature is balanced with a smooth natural lush tonality, nice punchy mid-bass, more revealing natural mids, and natural treble sparkle.  The only thing I wasn’t too crazy about was the width of soundstage which is narrower than I’m used to with W80.  Also, just a mild hissing during the playback with volume down to zero.

iBasso IT04 (DD/BA hybrid, 16 ohm – BAL v27) – a more balanced signature with a slightly mid-forward tilt, nice extended sub-bass rumble while both sub-bass and mid-bass have a more neutral quantity.  Clear detailed very transparent mids, well defined sparkly treble.  In this pair up, I hear a little more clarity and resolution in upper frequencies.  Connecting to SE output (v35), the signature is more balanced, and I actually enjoyed it a little more, very convenient that IT04 comes with 3.5mm pigtail adapter.  Regarding the hissing, yes, there is a little bit of background hissing, audible during playback when volume is down to zero or when going through quieter instrumental passages of the song.

ibasso_dx120-29

iBasso IT03 (hybrid, 8 ohm – SE v36) – more v-shaped signature with an elevated low-end that has a nicely textured deep sub-bass rumble and punchy mid-bass, more neutral transparent naturally-revealing mids, and well defined airy treble with a nice sparkle.  Bass really stands out in this pair up, well controlled, hits with authority, layered.  Wide soundstage expansion.  Regarding the hissing, just very faint.

Oriolus Mellianus (10BA, 36 ohm – BAL v35) – nicely balanced signature with a natural tonality where I’m hearing this IEM, usually more neutral tuned, to have a harder hitting and more textured low-end extension and a little extra sparkle in treble.  Soundstage is very wide, and there is zero hissing.  Certainly, a good pair up for this IEM.

Beyerdynamic T5p2 (Tesla drivers, full size – BAL v39) – a balanced signature with a natural-revealing tonality, deep sub-bass rumble with a moderate mid-bass punch, neutral lower mids, very natural detailed upper mids (vocals sound very natural), and well defined and controlled crisp treble.  These could sound brighter in some pair ups, here both upper mids and lower treble were revealing, crisp and still natural to my ears.  Wide open soundstage.  Also, driven to their full potential.

ibasso_dx120-31

External connections.

Line Out (w/FiiO E12A) – this is my key test to hear the signature of the DAC and the effect of the internal amplifier stage.  E12A is a very transparent portable amp, and connected to LO of DX120 while bypassing its internal amp, I hear a slightly fuller body sound with a little less sparkle in treble.  Going back to direct connection with DX120 from headphone output yields a more transparent sound with a little leaner body and additional sparkle in treble.  This suggests that AK4495 DAC is a little smoother in tonality and the headphone-amp output of DX120 adds a little more sparkle and transparency to the sound, making it more neutral and leaner.

ibasso_dx120-28

COAX Out (w/iFi Micro iDSD BL) – the sound has more body in lower mids, making it a little thicker, also, mid-bass has a stronger punch.  The sound characteristics changes based on the signature of Micro iDSD DAC/amp. It’s a good sound, but I personally prefer the original sig of DX120, a matter of a personal taste. This just demonstrates that you can use DX120 as a transport without a problem.

ibasso_dx120-32

USB DAC – I always have issues with digitally unsigned drivers with my version of Win7 and Win10, on both of my ThinkPad laptops.  As a result I can’t install Thesycon USB drivers on either laptops, but in theory the usb DAC should work OK, like with all iBasso DAPs where other people have no issues with.

Digital Out – I tried and was able to connect DX120 to Oppo HA2 and VE Odyssey USB DACs, but it didn’t work with Micro iDSD digital input.  iBasso does NOT advertise DX120 digital output as being supported, so nothing is guaranteed here, do it at your own “risk”.  Plus, even when I was able to connect it, the output from the DAP was not adjustable and at a very high level.

Conclusion.

Release of DX120 wasn’t exactly a surprise since rumors about this DAP were circulating since September of last (2017) year.  There was even a set of leaked pictures with nearly the same design, except it didn’t have usb-c, had a different shape power button, no visible balanced port, and less beveled edges.  It even had a proposed released date of December of last year.  Instead, the real surprise came out of nowhere when DX150 was teased early this year in February at CanJam NYC. I assume, DX150 announcement pushed DX120 release to a later date, giving iBasso the opportunity to refresh and to fine tune the design.  Looking back, DX150 release made more sense as a follow up to DX200.  With DX150 out of the way, now DX120 can get its own spotlight which it deserves.

DX120 is a well build compact aluminum chassis DAP, comfortable to handle and easy to operate with one hand.  It has a very responsive touch screen and newly optimized native Mango OS.  Great battery life, Quick Charge QC2.0, higher end AKM DAC, lots of sound fine-tuning options, thanks to digital filters and sound modes.  As an audio only playback device, there is no Bluetooth or Wifi, and DX120 focuses more on sound quality, on expandable dual micro SD card storage (with upcoming 512GB cards, that’s over 1TB of storage), and a powerful balanced high voltage output.  Per my pair up examples, there is some low-level hissing with a few sensitive and low impedance IEMs, but it’s no different than DX150 or a number of other DAPs.  So far, I’m very pleased with this DAP, only complain being its case (just my personal whining).  If you don’t care about BT and Wifi, for under $300 this DAP offers a great value with an excellent price/performance ratio.

 

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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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