Scale it up!
PROS: balanced tuning with a natural resolving tonality, great soundstage expansion, compact design with ergonomic fit, high quality cable, lots of eartips.
CONS: nozzle screen can loosen up during tip rolling.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
After IT03, IT01, and IT04, I’m no longer surprised to see new IEMs and even headphones (SR1) from iBasso. It seems that with every new release they are stepping up in design and sound quality, sending a clear message these products should be taken seriously, and that iBasso is not just one trick pony specializing in DAPs. Also, I noticed the pricing is still at a reasonable level, like in their latest release of IT01s which came as a surprise since I didn’t expect them to release an update to the original IT01 model.
But it turned out to be a pleasant surprise once I started testing it. Perhaps, I have been spoiled by many flagship releases which do raise the bar in sound quality (and pricing), and I haven’t tested too many “budget” IEMs, relatively speaking since different people have a different budget threshold. But I’m glad I had a chance to hear this new sub $200 release and was able to appreciate not just its sound tuning, but also the technical performance and the ability to scale it up with different sources.
IT01 was their entry level $99 budget release, IT01s steps it up to $199. So, let’s take a closer look at what has been changed and improved in this latest iBasso release and how it stacks up against the rest of iBasso line-up and other IEMs.
Unboxing and Accessories.
IT01s arrived in a smaller size compact secure packaging box, like IT01. While there is nothing fancy about the box, I do appreciate the detailed description and the spec of the product on the back of it.
Inside you will find a very comprehensive selection of accessories, including a high quality replacement 2.5mm MMCX terminated balanced cable, 2.5mm to 3.5mm pigtail cable adaptor, round “puck” storage case, 3 sets of S/M/L silicone eartip pairs with slightly different bore opening, 2 pairs of M/L foam eartips which I personally find less irritating then Comply tips, 2 pieces of spare replacement screens with extra o-rings, and a quick start guide and warranty card.
I will talk more about the cable and the adaptor in the next section. The case is lightweight, cover stays on secure while protecting the content, but some might find its size not exactly pocket friendly. Eartips provide a great selection to find the perfect fit with the best seal. While I have accumulated quite a collection of eartips in the last few years, I use all iBasso IEMs with their stock eartips since they fit me very well. The removable/replaceable screen is part of a new design, and I think it was a good idea to include spares, along with extra rubber o-rings – those are small and easy to lose. Plus, during frequent tip rolling (eartips replacement) they can get a bit loose.
IT01 surprised everyone by including a high quality pure copper cable. IT01s stepped it up with a brand new 5N purity Mono Crystal copper cable with a silver-plated shielding. Pretty much it’s a higher purity silver-plated copper cable manufactured using a more advanced mono-crystal tech. The cable is soft, pliable, non-microphonic, has only a pair of Left/Right twisted wires terminated by 2.5mm TRRS gold plated balanced plug, and splitting into a single wire on each side going to earphone’s MMCX connector. One noticeable improvement, IT01s cable is a lot easier to remove from the shell in comparison to IT01 where I’ve struggled a bit with its copper cable.
The housing of headphone plug, y-splitter, chin slider, and housing of earphone connectors are all have a matching aluminum design, the same one used in their premium CB12s series cables. Each side has a pre-shaped flexible transparent earhook going to earphone connector, and each connector, besides R/L printed marking, also has a Red/Blue ring for a clear visual id of the sides. I think it’s a great idea to use color rings since printed marking sometimes is not easy to see.
In addition to the cable, you also get a matching 2.5mm TRRS (balanced female socket) to 3.5mm TRS (single ended male plug) pigtail adaptor which extends the cable, without adding extra bulk to the connector, and gives you an option to drive IT01s from either single ended or balanced sources. Today with so many DAPs using 3.5mm, 2.5mm, and 4.4mm connections, the only way to ensure full compatibility is to have 2.5mm balanced terminated cable with either 3.5mm or 4.4mm adaptor.
And speaking for 4.4mm adaptor, iBasso just introduced CA04, using their 2.5mm balanced female socket and new 4.4mm right angled balanced male plug. It’s the same 4.4mm connector as in new CB12s-44 cable. The wires of this pigtail CA04 adaptor are the same as the one used in IT01s cable, a perfect match including the same aluminum finish connector housing.
My usual disclaimer: I’m a cable believer because I hear the difference, either a subtle or a more pronounced, and I have mentioned in many of my other reviews that intent of my testing with different cables is not to stir up the controversy, but rather to share my experience of what I hear. Feel free to skip this section if the talk about cables offends you or you think it’s a “snake oil”.
In this test I used DX200Ti w/AMP8 and LPGT as my sources, playing the same track, volume-matched between cables to make sure the setup is consistent and with only one variable. Considering I don’t have too many mmcx terminated cables and IT01s is a budget IEM, it made no sense to test it with cables that cost multiple times more than monitors itself. Thus, I only focused on stock SPC cable, IT01 stock pure Copper cable, and iBasso’s CB12s hybrid cable.
Stock SPC vs iBasso CB12s-44 – with CB12s the sound is extended a little further out of my head, giving soundstage more depth. At the same time, I hear mids quantity being slightly attenuated, giving a lift to the bass. Because of this lift in the bass and while treble is still crisp and sparkly, now the signature becomes slightly v-shaped, giving the sound tonality a little more warmth and naturalness. With stock cable, mids are more forward and the overall sound is brighter, while with CB12s the mids are pulled slightly back and the sound is a little warmer and more organic. In this comparison I was using CA04 to match CB12s-44 termination.
Stock SPC vs IT01 pure Copper – a very similar sound in terms of soundstage expansion and mids and treble tonality. The only difference I hear is the change in bass quantity where pure Copper cable from IT01 lifts sub-bass rumble and elevates mid-bass punch. Change in sub-bass is more noticeable. Don’t expect this pure copper cable to elevate IT01s bass to the level of IT01, but it will certainly bring back some of its flavor. To match single ended termination of IT01 copper cable, I used stock SPC with its included adaptor.
Personally, I preferred CB12s-44 cable in pair up with IT01s, but all the sound impressions, comparisons, and pair-ups in the follow up sections were done using a stock SPC cable.