The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
There has been a number of recent DAP releases with “pro” updates, such as R3 Pro and R6 Pro, M3 Pro and M11 Pro, M6 Pro, AP80 Pro, etc., catching many by surprise even so they were planned by manufacturers. Thus, when iBasso announced 2020 version of their popular DX160 DAP, many jumped to a wrong conclusion, assuming it will be another “pro” version. But in reality, this release was not planned. The Sharp 5” screen used in the original version was no longer available for purchase, and in order to continue the production without redesign, iBasso sourced a screen from a different manufacturer, switching to JDI which supposed to be a drop-in replacement.
When the new display was integrated into the DX160 design, iBasso realized that color quality of JDI was not 100% the same as Sharp screen. To “compensate” for the difference, they decided to update a few internal components while keeping the rest the same, including the price which has NOT changed. Since we are talking about two nearly identical DAPs, it makes no sense to have another full review because everything was already covered in my original DX160 write-up and also just covered in Animagus DX160 review on Tw6. Thus, I will focus this brief Snapshot review only on differences between the original and 2020 versions of DX160. So, let’s take a closer look at the “switch”.
3.5mm headphone jack.
Before you turn DX160 on, you will notice that the original and 2020 versions look identical. Being aware of that ahead of time, I asked for a different color so I can easier distinguish one from the other. I don’t have too many red DAPs, and this one actually looks great in red, especially with golden volume wheel.
While examining the exterior, I paid closer attention to 3.5mm headphone jack since iBasso changed it to CTIA version, to be compatible with cables that have in-line remote. The jack itself looked identical from outside. Also, you need to keep in mind, this is NOT to allow cables with in-line remote to control playback and volume. If you plug in any pair of earphones or headphones with such cable into the original DX160, you will hear a phasing effect until you push the play button. The ’20 DX160 version with CTIA compatible jack allows you to plug in cable with in-line mic/remote without any sound artifacts.
This update is more for convenience and compatibility, especially if you have non-detachable cable earphones or headphones with in-line remote and want to use it with DX160.
The screen switch is the main reason behind 2020 update, so let’s talk about it next.
While display resolution is the same and you still get a choice of 1080p or 720p in settings, the color depth has changed going from Sharp to JDI screen. The original DX160 colors are deeper and richer than ’20 DX160, while JDI display colors look a bit faded in comparison. This is something you will not notice just by looking at new DX160. You need to have both side-by-side at the same brightness level setting and in a well-lit room. Under those viewing conditions, yes, it is noticeable, but by itself not so much.
I tried to capture it in the pictures below, comparing the same song artwork between original and 2020 versions of DX160.
Also, op-amp headphone output buffers were changed as part of “compensation” for reduced color quality of the new screen. While I found the output level of these both DX160 DAPs to be nearly identical, I read that a new buffer supposed to have a higher current output and overall a better spec. But in terms of output volume, the loudness is nearly the same to my ears, tested with various IEMs (multi-BA, hybrid, EST) and headphones (planar magnetic, dynamic).
Original DX160 has a very wide soundstage to begin with. ’20 version makes it a touch wider, especially noticeable in mids/vocals, giving soundstage a more holographic perception. But like I said, original has a wide soundstage to begin with, so I don’t know if this change will be more or less noticeable to everybody, especially depending on your earphones/headphones and your hearing level.
With tonality, I don’t hear as much changes in bass or treble, but I do hear it in mids/vocals which now sound more transparent and with improvements in layering and separation of the sounds. Like there is more air between the layers, which also results in better vertical dynamics. Again, it’s one of those examples where I had no complaints with original DX160, but when you have these side by side and quickly switch between two DAPs, you can spot the difference even in blind test.
It’s not a huge night’n’day change, but rather a finetuning of the sound which to my ears and per my personal preference is an improvement over the original, but mostly in mids. For some, the improvement will be relative to earphones/headphones pair up synergy. For example, if your IEMs are bright or mid-forward to begin with and you don’t want to push vocals harder or to make them brighter, pair up with original DX160 will give you a more musical tonality. But if you want less coloring and more transparency and micro-details, the new one can do it better.
If you were already planning to get DX160, you will receive 2020 version and won’t be disappointed. But I think the big question here will be for those who already have DX160, and not sure if they should move to ’20 version or stay with a current one?
As alternative, iBasso is offering the option for original DX160 owners to upgrade to new output buffers. For $32 USD, which includes $22 expedite shipping, you can send to manufacturer your original DX160 and iBasso will upgrade it, buffers only. If you are in HK, it will cost you only $15 due to cheaper shipping. Definitely a tempting option for those original DX160 owners who are on the fence and would like to push DX160 performance toward more revealing transparent tonality. Otherwise, if you are enjoying your DX160, don’t lose your sleep over the upgrade.
Also, according to iBasso, warranty card needs to be included with shipment as it is stamped, indicating that the DX160 has new buffers.