Starting with exterior dimensions, 3Max SS (stainless steel version I received for review) is supersized similar to 2Max, and measures approximately 145mm x 85mm x 28mm with a weight of about 820g with a case, a touch bigger in width/thickness and 120g heavier than 2Max. The Ti version should be lighter. And, that is the reason why iBasso calls 3Max and 2Max transportable instead of portable. You have to keep in mind that extra room is required for a total 5 battery cells (for separate analog and digital circuits), all dedicated ports, big/tall audio-grade capacitors, custom volume pot, stainless-steel heat-dissipation chassis, and a big 5” 1080p display with 1080×1920 resolution.
The right side of the DAP now features hw playback controls with play/pause surrounded by skip next/back, grouped separately from Power button further up. Buttons have a nice tactile response, all metal, solid, round, no rattling, and also no labeling. Instead, Power and Play/Pause buttons have label imprint on the leather case. Skip buttons are not labeled because you can flip them in Audio Control Button menu under Android Settings. The left side has no controls.
The visual eye-candy of the MAX design stands out when you look at the front and the back of the chassis. In there, every individual port has a golden surrounding faceplate, and the contrast with stainless-steel chassis makes it look more premium. On the front, left to right, you have 4.4mm dedicate Line Out, 4.4mm balanced headphone output, 3.5mm single ended headphone output, and a large golden knob controlling a custom 4-wiper potentiometer to adjust the headphone output volume. The design cut of 3Max knob grip was updated from 2Max.
On the back, you have DC-in for 12V AC/DC brick input to charge the analog section batteries. Next to it is USB-C port for charging of digital section battery and other digital in/out functionality, and btw, this port also had a cutout with a gold faceplate. Then, you have 3.5mm digital SPDIF output, no optical out this time. And last, but not least, 3Max moved spring loaded microSD card slot from the left side to the back. Especially for desktop use, the location of ports is very convenient with power supply cables on the back, and headphone ports and volume control on the front, while playback controls are conveniently on the right side.
Under the hood.
In the heart of the 3Max design, iBasso decided to use two separate AKM AK4499 DACs, where all 8 DAC channels of each chip were fully utilized as part of Ultimate Mode (enabled in Audio Setting). To save battery life, Ultimate Mode could be turned off to utilized only 2 DAC channels. On top of that, and similar to DX300, iBasso implemented Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 SoC 8-core processor. Along with 128GB ROM and 6GB LPDDR4x RAM and with optimized Android 9.0, 3Max benchmark results are on par with DX300 and other DAPs that use 660/Android 9.0. 3Max still carries the legacy of dual OS boot, and in addition to Android 9.0 it also supports 5th Gen Linux-based Mango OS. When it comes to playback, thanks to AK4499, it supports most of the lossy and lossless formats up to 32bit/768kHz and DSD512, including APE, FLAC, WAV, WMA, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, OGG, MP3, DFF, DSF, DXD, and MQA 16x (decoding in hardware), and even M3U playlist.
Another addition to the design, just like in DX300, is in-house developed FPGA-Master. Obviously, iBasso is not manufacturing their own FPGAs, but they did implement FPGA and developed FPGA-Master code to make it function as audio system controller to offload SoC processing by directly requesting audio data, as well as syncing and generating all audio clocks to reduce the jitter. 3Max is a multimedia powerhouse and managing resources between System and Audio Processing is important task in order to maximize sound performance. Furthermore, 3Max USB-C port supports USB 3.1, and Wireless is covered by Bluetooth 5.0 with all the popular codecs and WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac. Wifi uses a dual band 2.4GHz and 5GHz, and while I didn’t see it mentioned in the spec, I know DX300 was using two antennas (2x2MIMO) to establish up to two streams of data with the receiving device. In my testing, WiFi signal was strong and download/upload speed was on par and even better than on my Smartphone, and faster than DX300.
Similar to 2Max design, 3Max features iBasso own patented dual battery power supply architecture. You will find one battery (6200mAh) for Digital application and another one (4x 900mAh cells) for Analog application, each one with independent charging system and separate chargers. Analog battery uses 12V/1.5A AC/DC supply while USB-C can use either QC3.0 or PD2.0 quick chargers, or any other charger, though it will charge slower. In my testing using 4.4mm BAL output w/IEMs, low gain, wifi/BT off, and digital volume set to max 100, with Ultimate off I was getting 12hrs of playback, while with Ultimate on, it was down to 8hrs. When I dropped digital volume to 80, to give my sensitive IEMs more headroom, I was able to gain another 1hrs of battery time, where with Ultimate off I was getting 13hrs and Ultimate on gave me 9hrs.
According to iBasso, the internal amp circuit features optimized super class A discrete amp design based on AMP8 module which eliminates the switching distortion of transistors while providing the sound signature of class A amplifier with a reduced heat generation. Also, close attention was paid to selection caps, using electrolytic capacitors such as SIEMENS axial caps and Philips BC caps. The amplifier section of the design is powered by a true +/- 8.4V battery without any voltage step up boosters. The output of 4.4mm BAL PO is 8.8Vrms @300ohm and 6.5Vrms @32ohm load (w/SNR 125dB). For 3.5mm SE PO is 4.4Vrms @300ohm and 4.0Vrms @32ohm (w/SNR 122dB). Line Out is 4.4mm BAL with max 4.4Vrms, assuming at high gain. When you lower the gain to medium and low, the LO output voltage will decrease.