In this test, I was using Traillii, IT07, and T5p 2nd, volume matched in every comparison. Each of these DAPs, besides a difference in tonality and pair up synergy, has their own Pros/Cons when it comes to features, all of which should be taken into consideration depending on your priorities if you need streaming or not, which balanced termination you prefer, how much output power you need, battery life, etc.
3Max vs A&K SP2000 SS – these two are actually not too far off in sound quality. When it comes to soundstage, 3Max has just a little advantage of stretching a little bit wider. Bass and treble response is very similar between these two. The only noticeable difference is in mids, especially vocals, where I hear 3Max to extract a little more micro-details with a slight improvement in layering of the sounds, while SP2k is just a touch smoother in mids tonality. Of course, in terms of functionality, we are talking about super-fast open android system vs a closed Android OS.
3Max vs Hiby R8 – another close comparison, both in terms of system performance and sound performance. But no matter how close it gets, 3Max seems to have an upper hand. First of all, hard to find another dap to match or to beat 3Max soundstage expansion. R8 does have wide/deep soundstage, but 3Max still stretches a little wider. Bass performance is very similar, and so does treble. Mids are a little more revealing in 3Max, R8 is not too far behind it. From a technical perspective, 3Max has a blacker background with notes popping out a little bit faster and sharper from darkness. Also, noticed 3Max has improved vertical sound dynamics, most likely due to a blacker background.
3Max vs Lotoo LPGT – another close comparison when it comes to sound performance, though there are some differences. 3Max still has an edge in soundstage expansion, stretching a little bit wider. Bass response has similarities between 3Max and LPGT. And like in other comparisons, I hear a bigger difference in mids where 3Max is more revealing, more micro-detailed, and with a touch more air between the layers of the sound. Treble response is similar. Also, worth mentioning, 3Max has a blacker background with a tighter sound. LPGT is more neutral in comparison to more revealing 3Max.
3Max vs iBasso DX300 w/amp11 mk2 – here we have a perfect match in OS and system performance, but the sound variation is noticeable. To start off, 3Max soundstage is wider, stretching more left/right in comparison to DX300. Bass response is similar between these two, in both quality and quantity, but mids and treble do vary. DX300 mids are smoother, a little warmer, and treble is also smoother, with less sparkle and air in comparison to 3Max. In contrast, 3Max mids are more revealing, more resolving, brighter, and a touch more forward. Also, 3Max treble has a little brighter sparkle.
3Max vs 2Max – The difference between these two daps is not exactly night’n’day. Starting with a soundstage, 2Max has a wide/deep expansion, but 3Max expands just a touch more in both width and depth, giving the sound a more holographic feeling. When it comes to the actual tonality, bass is where I hear the most noticeable difference, with 2Max bass being more elevated with extra weight and deeper sub-bass rumble. 2Max mids are a touch smoother and slightly pushed back, while 3Max mids are more revealing, a little more forward, with more clarity, and overall higher resolution. Treble is the same. In general, I found 2Max to be a little more neutral and smoother in comparison to 3Max.
Tbh, both sound great, and it would have been hard to justify the upgrade if they would be running on the same OS and with the same system performance. But 3Max with its faster processor and later Android OS is a big step up, just like DX300.
Other Wired/Wireless connections.
In this section of the review, I will go over various wired and wireless connections I tested and verified with 3Max.
Tested with iFi micro iDSD BL. I used the provided iBasso cable and it worked well. I found the volume on 3Max to be fixed, output volume adjustable using micro iDSD. Micro iDSD had the correct led (rate) light color indicator. To my surprise, the sound wasn’t as warm as I’m used to with other DAPs and micro iDSD, the combo sounded very clean and tight.
Digital audio usb-c out
Tested with iBasso DC03. It works with 3Max without a problem but you do need to install iBasso UAC app to control the volume of DC03, otherwise it will blast your ears when connecting earphones/headphones at full volume. 3Max volume wheel doesn’t affect DC03 volume, need to use UAC app. DC03 is a great sounding usb DAC/amp with a transparent and slightly more revealing tonality and a very big soundstage.
Tested with L&P W2. I found this connection to be more straight forward because W2 has its own volume control so no other app was required to install. And likewise, the wheel on 3Max wasn’t adjusting the volume, but luckily, I was able to do that from W2. The sound was neutral and natural, maybe just a little more revealing connected to 3Max in comparison to my smartphone.
Tested with iFi micro iDSD BL. While using USB-C OTG cable, it worked like a charm, also very clean sound, but a little bit warmer. micro iDSD was displaying correct rate based on the led color. 3Max volume is fixed, can’t change it, so have to use micro iDSD volume here.
3Max has a dedicated clean LO with a max output voltage of 4.4Vrms when set to High Gain.
In my first LO test I was using Romi Audio BX2 amplifier because it has a very transparent tonality. With 3Max+BX2 vs 2Max+BX2, we are comparing the performance of ES9038Pro (2Max) vs AK4499 (3Max) and I found 2Max to have a little stronger mid-bass punch and a bit smoother mids, while 3Max has a more neutral reference bass and a little more forward and revealing mids. This was a similar observation as I found between PO ports of 3Max and 2Max which suggests that internal amplifier stage of MAX DAPs is quite similar.
Another LO test was done using Cayin C9 dual tube amp and 3Max+C9 (4.4Vrms) vs SP2k+C9 w/AKA adapter (6Vrms). This was a very interesting LO test because both are using AK4499 DAC and in theory should have the same sound. The tonality was close enough, perhaps with 3Max being a touch smoother, but to my surprise, 3Max soundstage was a little bit wider and the background was a little bit blacker. But overall, C9 added more texture and impact to the bass, and more natural body to the mids/vocals.
USB DAC mode needs to be activated in Advanced setting of Mango app player. When activated, you have option to change the gain and digital filters. Win10 recognized it right away, no drivers were necessary. When playing the same song from my laptop & 3Max vs directly from 3Max, I found the sound to be nearly identical, being super clean and transparent.
Wireless Bluetooth (Rx) DAC
This mode gets activated from Mango app in Advanced setting, and the pair up connection was fast and effortless. Also, I was able to confirm a close to 30ft open range operation until it started to stutter just a bit. I was only able to control volume from 3Max, not from the source. But to my surprise, this connection was only using AAC which I checked under Developer Option on my smartphone.
Tested with iBasso CF01/IT00 tws adapter + iem. I found the pair up with these TWS adapters to be fast and effortless, and it worked 30ft across the open area before the connection got choppy. Very clear sound (aptX option for HD Audio was available in BT setting), full remote playback control from CF01, including play/pause and skip forward/back. Pair up with TWS could be finicky, here it was a solid and effortless connection.
Tested with Hiby WH2 tws. Paired up within seconds and gave me the option to enable LDAC for HD Audio. BT volume control was tide up to digital volume, and the sound quality wasn’t any different than paired up to my Android Galaxy phone. I was able to skip forward/back and play/pause from these TWS iems. Worked 30ft away, not as far as with my smartphone, but still, that was pretty good for TWS. Connection was solid.
In the Intro I raised a question: why even bother writing a review if you can’t buy this DAP anymore? For sure, this write-up would have made more sense ahead of 3Max SS/Ti release, but review sample arrived around the same time as iBasso started to ship these DAPs to customers. And considering the required burn-in and the time I spent in 3Max thread on Head-fi early on sharing my sound and performance impressions, review was only finalized to be published now. But I think many people can still benefit from it, because every week I get pinged by 3Max owners asking about pair up suggestions, comparisons, or DAP settings (digital/analog volume vs gain question always comes up). Plus, it is inevitable for the crowd with upgraditis “syndrome” to fuel 2nd hand market, making used 3Max units available for sale in classified.
Every new iBasso release gives us a glimpse of what to expect in their future releases. DX300 took dual battery design of 2Max with an improvement of single charger and modular amp design of DX220. And as I’m writing this review, iBasso already announced DX240 with a Snapdragon 660 and Android 9 and the reference to original AMP1-8 backward compatibility. Seems like they take best elements of previous designs, and incorporate them with improvements in future releases. 3Max is still one of the top DAPs in the market with a dual battery design and full partitioning of analog and digital sections, dual Android/Unix OS, dual AK4499 flagship DAC, fast Snapdragon 660 and optimized open Android 9, high power output, super clean dedicated Line Out, and many other bells and whistles, all at a very reasonable price in comparison to other flagships that cost more and offer less.
Not sure how long it will take before we are going to see the next DX400 and 4Max. Or, maybe due to high demand, iBasso will revisit 3Max with a different DAC design. But one thing for sure, every new iBasso release is full of surprises to look forward to!