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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.