I analyzed DC01 sound performance across pair ups with different smartphones, laptops, other DAPs, and with different headphones 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 girlfriend”, 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”.
The sound analysis was based on comparison between headphones beings connected directly to various source vs being connected to DC01 paired up with those sources, or just A/B comparison between other USB DACs and/or portable DAPs.
In the following sections of my reviews I will go into more details for each comparison, but overall, I found DC01 to stand out with a very wide soundstage expansion (the first thing that captures your attention), a neutral natural tonality with a fuller body, great sound dynamics (vertical expansion, the sound never felt compressed), and a decent layering and separation of the sounds (keeping everything uncongested).
I do have to admit there was some slight “waterfall” hissing with lower impedance sensitive IEMs where you can hear it either when idling or in quiet passages of the songs. But it wasn’t too distracting, and not noticeable with full size headphones, dynamic driver IEMs, or higher impedance IEMs.
In a few more specific examples (S9 refers to my Samsung Galaxy S9 phone):
S9 vs S9+DC01 w/iBasso IT04 – with DC01 soundstage is wider, the sound is more transparent, noticeably less coloring in comparison to warmer direct output of S9, improved layering and separation of sounds, and improved dynamics.
S9 vs S9+DC01 w/iBasso SR1 – with DC01 I hear a wider soundstage, a better pair up synergy with a more natural tonality vs when connected directly to the phone the volume is still loud but the sound is brighter, rougher, and not as coherent as with DC01.
S9 vs S9+DC01 w/Meze Empyrean – directly from a phone the soundstage is narrower, tonality is brighter, not as natural, and the overall tuning doesn’t sound as coherent. With DC01 the soundstage is wider, the sound is smoother, more natural, with more expanded dynamics, and improved layering and separation.
With both of the full-size headphones above, you can drive them directly from my phone, but the tonality was off, being brighter, brittle, and not as coherent. With DC01, the soundstage expands wider, the tuning is more coherent, and the sound is smoother and more natural. I’m not saying DC01 will drive them to their full potential, you have to be more realistic since both cans would benefit from a more powerful source, but DC01 can definitely improve the sound of my smartphone even when driving more demanding full-size headphones.
ThinkPad T480s laptop vs T480s+DC01 w/iBasso IT01s – connected directly, T480s has a more compressed sound with a narrower soundstage, while T480s+DC01 yield a much wider soundstage expansion and better sound dynamics (vertical expansion) with improved layering and separation.
Unfortunately, most of my usb-OTG DAC devices are from 4 years ago, and many are probably not as relevant. In this comparison I will go down a memory lane with two Cozoy devices. But before I do that, let me take a quick look at a comparison to Shanling M0 and VE Odyssey. I know M0 is just a portable micro-DAP, but a few people already asked me about this comparison. And Odyssey is the only new usb-OTG DAC dongle I have.
Shanling M0 vs S9+DC01 – DC01 has a wider soundstage expansion, but the tonality is nearly identical, maybe with DC01 being just a touch more transparent, but it’s hard to notice. I was actually surprised about how close was the tonality and technical sound performance considering DC01 has AK4493 and M0 has ES9218 DACs.
iBasso DC01 vs VE Odyssey (each one with S9) – Both devices are under $50, with Odyssey actually priced at $30 (per 2.5mm balanced config). They both connect to smartphone (usb-c) and PC (with included USB adaptor). But when it comes to performance, DC01 has a truly balanced design while Odyssey is single ended with a built-in converter. Also, DC01 has a wider soundstage expansion, fuller body more natural sound (Odyssey is brighter in tonality), and better dynamics expansion. Furthermore, I find Odyssey to have a bit more hissing with sensitive IEMs.
With Cozoy usb-OTG DACs (connected to Galaxy S9):
S9+DC01 vs S9+Aegis ($299) – Aegis has a lot higher current drain (drains phone battery faster), has higher output power, stronger hissing, thinner sound (especially mids are brighter and leaner). In comparison, DC01 soundstage is wider (though Aegis has a decent width as well) and tonality is more natural (especially in mids, having fuller body).
S9+DC01 vs S9+Astrapi ($129) – Astrapi has a thinner more congested sound, while DC01 has a wider soundstage, more natural tonality, better dynamics expansion, better sound layering, and noticeably better sound resolution.