iBasso DX220

Sound Analysis.

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.

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.

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Pair up.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Page 5 – Comparison, Wired/wireless connection, and Conclusion.

28 thoughts on “iBasso DX220

  1. Great review! I am loving my DX220. It is a large step up from my n5ii. Quick question: when using the line out, I am must to having the output fixed, and was surprised to see the volume control come into play. What gain and volume should it be set at for best performance?

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    1. It will all depend on the amp you have connected to LO. You don’t want it to clip. So, maybe keep the gain of the amp somewhere in the middle and raise the volume of dx220. If you reach the volume over 75-80%, then boost the gain of the amp.

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  2. Nice review! Regarding my earphones (Andromeda & Xelento), do you think dx220 is a solid upgrade (sound wise) over my current dap Hiby R6.

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    1. Definitely. R6Pro, still have to review it, is great as well and I like mseb dsp effects, plus it’s super fast, faster android performance than dx220. But dx220 stepped it up to a higher sound performance.

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  3. Nice review as always. Still undecided, whether to upgrade my R6 to R6pro or DX220 or now N6ii.. i read r6pro had hiss problem on some iem.. my earphones now tia trio, mh334 (problem pairing with R6) and moondrop A8..

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  4. A long awaited and greatly appreciated review.
    Many thanks and congrats on being able to wait out 150 hours of break-in before being able to sample this new piece of kit 🙂

    From memory h0w would you consider the sound signature and power of the DX220 to the Cayin N8?

    Did you find battery life to be on par with the DX200?

    I also have some off topic questions regarding audio equipment. Is there a general discussion board I can use or should I post them here?

    Very nice review

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  5. Great review. I wonder; when burning in a dap, should one also activate the EQ circuits to burn them in too? Or does it ‘not work like that’… I’ve never been a EQ guy, but i’m wondering if the circuitry just needs to be burned in.

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  6. Hi again, Twister. Can you sum up the difference between the dx220 and the A&K SE-100’s sound signatures? Is one ‘better’ than the other?

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  7. Hello, Alex!
    Very interestingly as dx220 in comparison with cayin n6 mk2? Loses on a sound, or devices of one level, just different giving? So to speak matter of taste:)

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    1. I already compared dx220 to many other daps in my review, on the last page. I didn’t have M11 until now, and M11 has a great design, build, functionality, but its sound is just mid-fi, not on the same level as other flagships like dx220 or N6ii or even fiio older flagship X7ii. For many consumers M11 will be great, but if you are a picky audiophile, you will find M11 to sound flatter, not as layered, and with more hissing when using sensitive iems. Just my opinion.

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    1. if you are streaming with constant display on, or high gain, or play hi-res files or switched from 720p to 1080p resolution, all will add up to extra battery consumption. Under normal circumstances of playing a mix of mp3/flac, with period display on, at 720p resolution, I get 8hrs of payback with IEMs in low gain in 2.5mm balanced. But the battery life will go down when you push it with other stuff I mentioned above.

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  8. Could you, please, help me with my problem. Thinking about buying a new DAC (currently, I have dx80, quite satisfied but want more at this point). Choosing between A&K sp1000 and dx220. I understand that sp1000 should be better than dx220, but on what scale? Because sp1000 is older and also cost much more (in my region though difference is not so huge, 600USD). Is the difference in sound worth the price? I’ll listen sp1000 by myself but will not be able to get hands-on dx220 unfortunately… Can only order it via Amazon. I’ll also look for new IEMs and listen to some of them, but I think I’ll choose solaris se

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      1. My budget…good question) in the beginning I thought to buy smth like dx220+dunu4001. But then I saw huge sale at the nearest shop on solaris se and sp1000. This is more than I wanted to spend but…I can afford them, more or less (it would cost 2800 usd for me). And no, I don’t care about streaming and bluetooth at all. I am open-minded to other suggestions though, both about daps and iem-s

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      2. well, since you are coming of DX80, many daps will be an upgrade in sound and performance (better resolution, more resolving, better separation of instruments, etc.). Also, it sounds like you are not a very picky audiophile. SPK is great dap, but big and bulky to carry around like your dx80. DX220 is great, but you can save money and go with DX160. Solaris is great, but are you sure you wll be happy with a fit? Some people find it too big. SE version is brighter, btw. I personally prefer original over since it sounds more natural. If you want more natural sound maybe RAI Penta is a good choice, I’m not familiar with 4001, though I thought people were saying 4001 and 3001 were bright, while 3001 Pro was more natural in tonality. Heck you can get DX160 and ibaso IT04 for under $900 and it’s a great combo. There are dozens of DAPs and hundreds of IEMs. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get something good. 3-4 year ago it was a different story. With iems, you need to figure out what sound you are looking for, and also read what people say about the fit. Dunu Luna is comfortable, I tried that one, but heard many older models were very uncomfortable to wear. Also, be aware, way too many amateur reviewers today, people without experience who use big words and promoting junk in exchange for free samples.

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  9. With iems – yeah, I am not so concerned about choosing them, as I will be able to listen to many of them and choose. Not ibasso unfortunately. My shop doesn’t have any ibasso or dunu products for some reason.
    I will consider ibasso dx160+it04 as you suggested. But since I cannot listen to them, could you tell me, is there like a significant difference in sound quality between them and sp1k+solaris se, for example? or it is more like “I have a lot of money to spend, so I will pay 3x times more for 10% better sound”. Because even if they are much better than mine dx80+d2000j, maybe difference with dx160+it04 is not so significant.
    And yeah, I am not such a person who believes that software (mango os on linux vs android os on A&K) or usb or power cables in your audio system affect sound. But I want to buy something I will be happy with for 5+ years. Because I have dx80+2000j for 4 or 5 years, and I have started to think that I want more.

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      1. i see. yes, geographic location plays a big role when you’re down under and won’t be able to return it back if you don’t like it. Tbh, in your situation stick to something you can test. Are there some stores in your area with audio gear on display? PAW6k is great, solid DAP and very compact. The thing, price no longer means everything. PAW6k not going to sound 3x better than Dx160, just like SPK will not sound 9x better than DX160. DX220 gives you flexibility of different amp modules, and ibasso usually focuses more on sound quality, not necessary the fastest processor…. So, my advice, don’t go for the most expensive thinking it will be the best. Figure out your priorities in terms of what features you do or don’t need. And maybe try to buy something which you can return if you don’t like it (i just google “audio store in australia” and see a few choices). Cayin makes nice daps, like N6ii w/A01 stock card. Hiby R6 Pro is nice, and even R5 is good. iBasso kicked arse with DX160 release, though bluetooth performance wasn’t as strong. Read different reviews, some more ideas. Good luck!

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  10. Actually, I have only one shop to go, but they are on quarantine right now) They have sp1k (and some others), but not ibasso. There are people on forums, who say that they sold their sp1k or even sp2k, and that dx220 is better. And I know that A&K is quite overpriced, while ibasso is not so hungry for money with some good sound. But still those people could not convince me as they were saying things, like Mango is much better in terms of sound quality than android. And in the context of a price difference for me is actually only 600USD (1400AUD of dx220 and 2200AUD for sp1k), which one would you choose? That’s why I am asking if you can give some advice about their comparison. If like sp1k is better for 20%, not several times, it will be enough for me. But if dx220 is more or less equal or even better…

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