I analyzed DX220 sound with U18t IEMs while playing a variety of my favorite test tracks, such as Agnes Obel “The curse”, Sandro Cavazza “So much better” (Avicii remix), C-Bool “Never go away”, Ariana Grande “Break up with your gf”, 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, I let DX220 burn in for 150hrs using the provided balanced burn-in cable.
In other DAPs the sound is easier to describe because you are dealing with a specific DAC and fixed internal head-amp. When it comes to modular design such as in DX220, the head-amp characteristics becomes a variable since you have access to different amplifier modules that will color the sound. But regardless of that, DX220 still stands out with a solid technical performance where I hear a relatively black background, excellent layering and separation of the sounds, and a good vertical dynamics expansion.
Thanks to a black background, especially when it comes to BAL out (amp1ii module), I hear a faster transient response of the sound with details popping out from the dark background. But black background doesn’t mean that performance will be 100% hiss free with very sensitive IEMs like Solaris and Andromeda where you can hear a mild “waterfall” hissing when volume is dropped down to zero or when idling. At a normal listening playback volume, you can hardly even hear it. Still, relative to DX200 and even DX200Ti, DX220 feels quieter, with a blacker background and tighter sound control.
Another noticeable characteristic which makes DX220 stand out is a wide soundstage expansion. Again, relative to a new stock amp1ii which I used in my testing, it’s especially noticeable when comparing 2.5mm vs 3.5mm outputs where BAL out has a much wider soundstage expansion, blacker background, and improved layering of the sound. Personally, I enjoyed the new stock amp1ii more than the original amp1 since the new one (ii) has a more natural fuller body tonality, stepping further away from the reference tonality of amp1.
Ever since I received DX220, amp module comparison with different DX2xx combinations has been the most common question asked by my readers. So, I put together a selective comparison of various combos. Please, pay close attention to which DAP/DAPs were used in the comparison, and the reference to amp suffixes (Ti – from DX200Ti, ii – new amp1ii, amp8 – their popular 4.4mm amp module).
DX220, amp1Ti vs amp1ii – very similar performance, the same soundstage expansion width and vertical dynamics expansion, the same black background. Just a slight difference in tonality where Ti is a little brighter in mids while ii has a little more body with a more organic tonality.
DX200Ti (amp1Ti) vs DX220 (amp1ii) – nearly identical sound performance with both having a blacker background, wide soundstage, and excellent dynamics expansion. The difference I do hear is DX220 having a little fuller body, giving the sound a slightly more natural tonality, and DX220 having a wider soundstage than DX200Ti, though I do hear DX200Ti bass hitting harder, especially in mid-bass. Keep in mind, when comparing these amp modules on DX220 above, soundstage expansion was nearly identical.
DX200 (amp1) vs DX220 (amp1ii) – DX220 has a blacker background with a faster/tighter sound, a wider soundstage, and a slightly better dynamics expansion. Also, the sound has more body, sounds fuller, more organic, more natural.
DX200 (amp8) vs DX220 (amp8) – DX220 has a blacker background, a little more body and a little wider soundstage.
DX220 amp8 vs amp1ii – This was probably the most asked question due to popularity of 4.4mm amp8. In this comparison of amp modules on DX220, soundstage is a touch wider with amp8. When it comes to tonality, amp8 has a touch more sparkle in lower treble, while amp1ii is a little smoother. Also, in low end, amp8 has more impact with bass being a little elevated in comparison to amp1ii. For me personally, I actually preferred amp1ii pair up with DX220 because I didn’t want extra bass boost. Another interesting observation was the same volume due to the same power output spec.
Digital filters always generate a mixed opinion since not everybody can hear their effect. We all have different hearing level, use different headphones, play different music. From my own personal experience, changes in sound when switching between filters are more subtle, but I still do hear some which I would like to describe below. Keep in mind I started with filter 1 as my baseline tuning. All the testing was done using U18t balanced with a DAP output in mid-gain.
- Filter 1 (fast roll-off, linear) – faster, tighter sound, deep low end extension and airier treble extension.
- Filter 2 (slow roll-off, linear) – deeper bass, more body in lower mids, overall a little thicker low end.
- Filter 3 (fast roll-off, minimum) – deeper bass with tighter control and faster speed.
- Filter 4 (slow roll-off, minimum) – deeper bass with tighter control but the speed is slower.
- Filter 5 (apodizing, linear) – similar to fast roll-off in tonality, but the attack of the sound is slower.
- Filter 6 (fast roll-off, hybrid) – similar to fast roll-off in tonality, but decay of the sound is longer.
- Filter 7 (brick wall, linear) – more sub-bass rumble which makes bass sound more powerful.
Last, but not least, some asked if there is a Sound Difference between Mango app (Android mode) vs Mango OS. Based on fw 1.09.092, medium gain, and filter 1, while listening with U18t I found Mango app (Android) to sound a little smoother, warmer, more organic, and with a touch less sparkle in treble, while Mango OS sound is crisper, more resolving, a little brighter and with more sparkle in treble.
The sound of a DAP is based on pair up synergy with different headphones. Afterall, you are hearing the sound of headphones connected to the Source. In this section of my review I will go over how various headphones pair up with DX220, using amp1ii, high gain (with full size cans). I noted volume “v” in every pair up, as well as either balanced “bal” or single ended “SE”.
SendyAudio Aiva (v82, bal) – wider/deeper soundstage, J-shaped signature with more emphasis on natural soulful mids and crisp airy treble, while bass quantity is closer to neutral. Bass does extend nicely down to a sub-bass rumble and mid-bass has a decent punch, no issues with quality here, just the quantity being more neutral. AMP8 pair up is better in this case, giving more body to the sound.
iBasso SR1 w/PT1 pads (v71, bal) – with PT1 pads the soundstage is more holographic, sound signature is more balanced with bass that extends down to a nice textured rumble and average speed mid-bass punch, very linear across sub-bas/mid-bass and going into more neutral lower mids. Clear detailed upper mids/vocals, very natural tonality, and clear well controlled treble with a moderate extension. Either amp1ii or amp8 pair up was good, actually liked amp1ii a little better here, giving vocals a better definition.
Audio Technica ATH-R70x (v113, SE) – needs to push volume a little harder here to drive these 470 ohms open back cans, but the sound is wide and open, very natural with a laid back tonality, with a little more emphasis on vocals which is a little rare with these headphones. Bass goes deep, and has a nice mid-bass punch, not elevated, but still north of neutral. Lower mids are neutral, with a good body, upper mids/vocals are clear detailed natural, and a little brighter than in other typical pair ups which improves retrieval of details and makes the sound less laidback when used with amp1ii. With amp8 you get a little more body, and more natural tonality. Treble is natural and extended.
Beyerdynamic T5p 2nd (v71, bal) – the soundstage is wide, not super expanded but has a nice out of your head depth. Signature is balanced with an extended analog quality low end that has a deep rumble and rounded laid back mid-bass. Lower mids are neutral, giving more room for natural detailed revealing upper mids and crisp well defined treble. I actually preferred amp1ii pair up better which gives vocals more power and clarity, while amp8 making them a little smoother.
Meze Empyrean (v84, bal) – wide open soundstage, not super expanded, with more depth than width, balanced signature with a natural tonality. Bass goes deep, has a great analog quality, but closer to neutral quantity. Lower mids have a fuller body, upper mids are a little more forward, very clear and detailed, more natural in tonality. Treble is well defined, has a nice controlled sparkle, and moderate airiness. Amp8 helps to lift the bass, gives it a better definition, and overall a little more body to the sound. But if you want more focus on mids/vocals, amp1ii is better.
In the following IEMs testing, I was only focusing on amp1ii module and switched to medium gain.
64 Audio U18t (v69, bal) – wide expanded soundstage, balanced signature, natural resolving tonality. Bass goes deep with a smoother textured sub-bass rumble, mid-bass has a fast punch, mids are more natural, detailed, layered, treble is well defined, crisp yet closer to natural. Very dynamic sound with a black background. U18t used with Leo II Octa cable.
64 Audio Fourte (v69, bal) – holographic expanded soundstage, more v-shaped sound sig with a harder hitting bass where I heard a deep elevated sub-bass rumble and stronger punch mid-bass, lean lower mids, brighter revealing upper mids/vocals, crisp airy treble which is still non-fatigue. It is more on a brighter more revealing less natural side, which is a sound of Fourte, but with some other pair ups lower treble here can get harsh and fatigue, while it wasn’t the case with DX220/amp1ii. Fourte was used with HSA Redcore cable.
Campfire Audio Solaris (v49, bal) – very expanded soundstage, balanced sound sig, natural resolving tonality. Deep bass extension with a little elevated sub-bass rumble (very tasteful lift), and strong mid-bass punch, very articulate controlled bass. Lower mids are neutral, with nice body, upper mids are very resolving, detailed, layered, natural; treble is crisp, airy, well defined, and well controlled. One of the best pair ups with Solaris I heard due to a perfect balance of upper mids/lower treble. Mild background hissing when DAP is idling or playing with volume down to zero.
Campfire Audio Andromeda (v50 med gain; v33 high gain, bal) – In this pair up I had to switch from Med to High gain since it improved a little bit the resolution of mids. The soundstage has above average width, it’s wide but not very expanded, while the depth out of your head is more noticeable. Bass is strong, goes deep, hits hard, not super articulate or fast, very analog quality. Mids are more organic, smoother, a bit pulled back, making the signature mildly v-shaped. Treble is well controlled, smoother, very good definition without being crisp. Mild background hissing when DAP is idling or playing with volume down to zero.
Empire Ears Legend X (v78, bal) – holographic soundstage expansion, definitely L-shaped sig with a more natural resolving tonality, despite elevated low end. Bass here hits hard with a full power and a deep elevated rumble along with a strong punchy mid-bass. But the bass is very well controlled, never spills into a more neutral lower mids, and well separated from natural detailed upper mids making it very easy to shift your hearing focus from low end to vocals. Treble is also well defined, not too crisp or airy, but just enough to give the sound a clean and detailed definition.
HiFiMAN RE2k Gold (v101, SE) – wide soundstage with more out of your head spacing, signature is slightly v-shaped due to a stronger hitting bass and crisp elevated treble. Bass extends deep with a nice rumble and elevated mid-bass, but I hear a little more rumble in this pair up. Lower mids are on a leaner side, sound of neutral, upper mids/vocals are more revealing, a little brighter and colder, more analytical. Lower treble is a bit hot here, being crisp and brighter. I do hear a little bit of accentuation on “s” but it’s not sibilant. Treble could get a bit fatigue after the extended listening.
VE ZEN/ZOE (v104, bal) – very wide soundstage, something I’m not used to with these 320 ohm earbuds. The sound is very laidback, warm, organic. Bass is rounded, warm, analog; lower mids are on a thicker fuller body side, upper mids/vocals are smoother and relaxed; treble is a little rolled off, more natural.
iBasso IT01s (v63, bal) – holographic soundstage expansion, slightly more v-shaped sound sig with a more revealing tonality. Bass here is a little elevated, with a nice deep rumble and a punchy mid-bass, an articulate well controlled bass. Lower mids are more neutral, maybe even slightly south of it, upper mids/vocals are positioned slightly out of your head which gives bass and treble a little more emphasis. Upper mids are revealing, more micro-detailed in this pair up. Treble is crisp and airy, not harsh or fatigue.
iBasso IT04 (v69, bal) – holographic soundstage expansion, balanced sound sig with a more neutral-resolving tonality. Bass not exactly neutral flat, it’s above neutral, but shines more with quality rather than quantity. I do hear a deep velvety sub-bass rumble, and a fast punchy mid-bass, both are linear and balanced and not too aggressive. Lower mids are more neutral, while upper mids are resolving, detailed, layered, a little brighter yet still natural. Treble is crisp and airy, well extended.