I analyzed MAX sound with Odin and 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”, Ed Sheeran “Shape of you”, Alan Walker “Darkside”, Galantis “Hunter”, Iggy Azalea “Black widow”, Indila “Boite en argent”, Dua Lipa “Love again”, Counting Crows “Big yellow taxi”, David Elias “Vision of her”, and Michael Jackson “Dirty Diana”. As recommended by manufacturer, I let MAX burn in for 200hrs using the provided balanced burn-in cable.
I prefer to describe the DAP sound based on the comparison to other DAPs and pair ups with different IEMs/headphones since the DAP by itself doesn’t have a “sound”. What we hear is how it sounds through IEMs/headphones connected to it or the difference from other sources using the same pair of IEMs/headphones for monitoring the sound. As a result, this section of the review usually summarizes what I find in the follow up Comparison and Pair-up sections.
Tunings of many flagship DAPs is usually focused on neutral less colored tonality, with MAX being no exception, but in many pair ups and comparisons this DAP stood out as being more natural and detailed without coloring the sound with additional warmth. Perhaps due to my preference of using BAL output with its higher voltage, I found bass response in many pair ups to be stronger, more articulate, and with better control. Mids/vocals always sounded natural and micro-detailed at the same time, of course, depending on technical performance and limitations of IEMs/headphones under test. But the mids always sounded layered and very dynamic. Treble was extended, detailed, and natural in majority of pair ups.
Overall sound is very layered and dynamic, the background is black, with details popping out from the darkness creating a fast transient response of note on/off. With some very sensitive IEMs you can hear a faint background waterfall hissing, though lowering DAC volume and changing the gain helped to lower this effect. But the star of the sound performance here was the soundstage expansion – being nearly 3D holographic. That was the first thing I noticed in every listening session of MAX, with the sound surrounding you in 3D space, putting right in the middle of it. And again, if your pair of IEMs has a narrow soundstage turning to begin with, don’t expect miracles, but otherwise, MAX pushes the soundstage width, depth, and height to the limit.
4.4mm vs 3.5mm
In the comparison of Balanced vs Single Ended headphone outputs, volume matched and using the same pair of IEMs/headphones and playing the same track, I hear a noticeable difference of soundstage being wider/more holographic from 4.4mm and background being blacker with an even faster transient response of notes on/off. Of course, there will be a difference in output power, but for the sake of this testing I volume matched the output to compare the sound performance.
Sound difference: Mango app vs Mango OS
I went many times back and forth between Mango app under Android OS vs Mango OS, playing the same track at the same volume level and the same digital filter setting. And I hear a consistent difference where in Android OS playing Mango app the sound has a more holographic soundstage expansion and more transparent layered mids. In Mango OS under the same conditions, soundstage has a more intimate feeling, still wide but not on the same holographic level, and mids/vocals having more body and being smoother in tonality.
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 earphones and headphones pair up with DX220 MAX with DAC digital volume set at 150. Seems like DAC digital volume is very helpful with sensitive IEMs to adjust “pre-amp” volume to give wider dynamic range of volume adjustment, but with many demanding headphones the quality of sound was scaled down when DAC volume was below 135, so I preferred to keep it at 150. Also, I noted below if I was testing 4.4mm (BAL) or 3.5mm (SE) ports.
iBasso SR2 (SE) – This pair up works great in either high gain or med gain, the sound is very balanced, natural, detailed. Soundstage is wide, but I hear more depth/height than width and it could be partially due to me using SE instead of BAL outputs since SR2, unfortunately, only comes with SE cable. The bass is very textured, smooth, mids are natural, detailed, with a little bit of warmth, treble is crisp and natural.
Beyerdynamic T5p 2nd (BAL) – With these Beyer headphones pair up could be hit or miss when it comes to bass texture and retrieval of details. The overall sound is very balanced, also natural and detailed, but the bass is what shines here, going deeper with more textured rumble and having more control and articulation. Mids have a natural retrieval of details, not smooth or warm, also being layered, nicely separated, and focused. Treble is another indication of T5p2 being driven to its full potential since it doesn’t sound too bright or harsh, instead, having a natural non-fatigue sparkle. Soundstage is very wide and expanded, but the depth/height of the soundstage has more intimacy, bringing you closer to the stage.
Audio-Technica ATH-R70x (SE) – These demanding 470 ohm open back headphones are usually hard to “satisfy” since they are very source picky. You have to push them hard, while here I didn’t even have to turn analog volume dial more than half way. The sound is very open and spacious, natural, detailed, but with a noticeable improvement in bass response, going deeper, punching faster, being more articulate. Mids/vocals are natural and very detailed, again, being nicely layered with an excellent separation of instruments which I don’t get in many pair ups with these cans. Treble is crisp, but in a natural way, not splashy or dull.
Meze Audio Empyrean (BAL) – With Empyrean the best pair up synergy is when MAX is in high gain and digital volume is at 150. There is plenty of power to drive these planar magnetic cans, and either way the sound is balanced and very detailed, you get a textured analog bass, natural detailed mids, and natural sparkly treble. But at higher gain with max DAC/digital volume the mids open up more, becoming less colored, even more detailed, being driven to their full potential.
Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 (BAL) – First of all, the hissing is down to a minimum. Yes, there is some background waterfall level of noise when idling or at a very low volume, but nothing is audible when playing at a regular listening level. The soundstage is wide/deep, a very spacious sound. The signature is W-shaped, with a balanced emphasis on lows, mids, and treble, maybe with just a little more emphasis on mids, bringing them forward with extra focus. Bass is deep with a strong punch, mids are natural, detailed, revealing, treble has a little extra sparkle, especially lower treble which is a little brighter, but I didn’t find it splashy or harsh. Due to high sensitivity of these IEMs, I had to lower DAC volume to 135 so I have a wider range of volume tuning.
Vision Ears Elysium (BAL) – To start off, this pair up has very wide soundstage expansion, plenty of depth/height as well, but more width. The tonality is natural, revealing with a deeper sub-bass rumble and faster mid-bass, natural organic layered mids with a more textured analog tonality, and crisp natural treble. Different pair ups can push Ely’s treble to be a little harsher, but here it was very natural and still crisp and detailed. Great pair up. No hissing.
DUNU Luna (BAL) – This was a surprise because MAX really made Luna shine in this pair up. As expected, the soundstage is wide/deep on a holographic 3D level here. But the usual smoother warmer tonality in this pair up took a different turn, being more revealing, more micro-detailed, and overall sound being faster and more layered. Bass is fast and articulate, I do hear sub-bass rumble but it is a bit distant, instead mid-bass is the low-end star here. Mids are more revealing, layered, and micro-detailed, and treble is crisp and extended, but not harsh.
Empire Ears Odin (BAL) – The soundstage here is holographic, literally 3D. The sound is very spacious, transparent, balanced signature with a more reference brighter tonality. Very powerful deep bass impact with a textured rumble, mids are more revealing, layered, super micro-detailed, treble is crisp and natural, definitely no harsh peaks. Also, no hissing.
iBasso IT04 (BAL) – I was actually surprised how holographic IT04 soundstage sounds in this pair up, it is usually wide, but here is was more 3D holographic. The signature is still quite balanced, but the tonality went from the usual neutral to more energetic with deeper sub-bass rumble, more forward detailed mids/vocals, and crisp airy and still non-harsh treble. No hissing at all.
Empire Ears Legend X (BAL) – Another example of holographic soundstage expansion, nearly on 3D level. The signature in this pair up is L-shaped with a very deep and textured elevated sub-bass and fast lifted mid-bass punch. The bass is still well controlled, but its quantity does push mids/vocals into the background. Those are still clear and detailed, and treble is crisp and airy. But the analog bass slam of LX DD cannons is clearly a spotlight here due to their overwhelming quantity.
64 Audio U18t (BAL) – A holographic 3D soundstage is the first thing you notice in this pair up, expanding wide and deep without sounding artificial. The sound signature here is more balanced since the bass quantity comes up, with a deeper sub-bass textured rumble and punchy fast mid-bass. Mids are forward, layered, very detailed, not analytical, but approaching micro-detailed level. Treble is crisp and airy, maybe even a bit too crisp, non-fatigue but a little brighter than usual. No hissing.
Venture Electronics Sun DICE (BAL) – These 180ohm earbuds are always a good indicator if I’m dealing with a powerful enough source to drive them to their full potential. VE Sun in this pair up sounds very natural and open, with a wide soundstage, though I find more depth/height than width in this pair up. Bass has a soft analog texture, more laidback and less aggressive, but still with a noticeable presence. Mids/vocals are natural, detailed, very organic and with plenty of clarity. Treble also has plenty of clarity and still very natural.