iBasso DX170

Sound Analysis.

Sound wise, I’m quite impressed with the DX170. It refines and furthers DX160’s excellent sound performance, with DX170 coming off more resolving, richer but most importantly – smoother. It has a blacker background and a more holographic and enriching soundstage that gives a better sense of the soundscape of the song in comparison to its predecessor. I tried it with several IEMs – Softears RS10 CIEM & Twilight, CustomArt FIBAE 7U & FIBAE 7, 64 Audio U12t, Lime Ears Anima & Pneuma, Moondrop S8 & A8 we well as budget IEMs like the Moondrop Kato, Aria Snow Edition and Dunu Talos. I find it pairing really well with all these IEMs and was particularly impressed with its pairing with the $80 Aria Snow Edition, which gave an illusion of a much more expensive combo than the actual sum of their prices.

Overall, DX170 is a more reference-neutral sounding DAP that is also very vibrant and musical – a combo I think is difficult to beat in its segment. The sound is very clean and well balanced, without any frequencies standing out or sounding emphasised. Bass goes deep and note weight is well defined. It extends well at both ends and has good amount of air and openness with a very nice wide soundstage and precise instrument imaging.

There are five digital filters that you can toggle between. They have an extremely subtle effect on sound, which may or may not make a difference for you and some might not even hear or care for the difference. But here is what I felt anyway –

  1. Fast Roll-off – Faster bass transients.
  2. Short delay slow roll-off – Deeper bass with natural bass transients.
  3. Short delay fast roll-off – Quicker bass transients than option 2.
  4. Slow roll-off – Just tiny bit slower bass transients.
  5. NOS – Very slight smoothening to give a slightly analog texture to sound.

Power & Noise Levels – The 4.4mm balanced as well as 3.5mm SE have a low output impedance of 0.4Ω and 0.3Ω and output levels of 6.4Vrms and 3.2Vrms respectively. This is fairly sufficient for most demanding IEMs and headphones. I hardly found any hissing with low impedance IEMs like CustomArt FIBAE 7U & FIBAE 7 in my background noise tests.

iBasso DX170 + Softears RS10 CIEM

Pair-up Impressions.

If you’re wanting a DAP to compensate a problem you have with your IEM/headphone, I think that it’s easier and simpler to just use EQ than shuffle between various DAPs for that specific problem. Of course, when it comes to synergy, warmer DAPs do help with brighter IEMs and brighter DAPs help pump some vibrant life into warmer IEMs but since DX170 is a more neutral DAP, most of your IEMs and headphones are mostly going to sound their true self than different.

Since DX160 is a musical, neutral reference-ish DAP, it was difficult to come across an IEM it didn’t pair well with, especially since it has low output impedance and good power to drive most IEMs/headphones. Because of the low output impedance DX170 doesn’t interfere with the original sound signature of sensitive multi-BA IEMs, which otherwise can be a problem with extremely sensitive low impedance IEMs.

Note – For absolute ease of understanding, my pair-up impressions are relative to the performance and pairing of the IEMs and headphones with the DX160.

Pairing with IEMs.

64 Audio U12t – Really good pairing. Very good soundstage, resolution and left to right separation for the asking price. U12t sounds more refined and has a blacker background compared to its pairing with DX160.

Softears RS10 CIEM – This pairing makes for a very clean and clear listen since both are reference style products. I hear a very clean signature with very good tonality and detail retrieval. RS10 has slightly wider soundstage boundaries and better, more linear upper-midrange to treble balance compared to DX160.

Softears Twilight – Really good pairing. Since Twilight has a fuller lower-midrange, DX170 helps present it in a very clean way and makes sure it doesn’t get muddy in that region. Good clean bass presentation, wide and deep soundstage and better, more mature treble performance than DX160.

Custom Art FIBAE 7U – Good wide soundstage with a black background. Treble sounds more refined and bass is better separated compared to the DX160. Good resolution where it is easier to notice the reverb trails disappear into the background than the DX160.

Lime Ears Anima – Better resolution and separation than DX160, especially in the midrange. Treble is richer and the soundstage seems a bit wider as well as deeper.

Lime Ears Pneuma – More refined 6k-8kHz than how it sounds with the DX160, which really works in Pneuma’s favour since it is a bit bright in lower-treble. It has better layering as well as resolution than its pairing with DX160. Soundstage background is blacker too.

Moondrop S8 – Very close performance to the pairing with RS10 since S8 and RS10 have very similar signatures. Very clean and clear sound presentation. Wider soundstage boundaries, blacker background and better upper-midrange to treble balance than DX160. I also perceive DX170 having slightly better resolution.

Moondrop Aria Snow Edition – This is an excellent budget pairing which sounds more expensive than the sum of their prices. Very clean signature with very good low end and upper-end extension. Good bass performance that has weight when needed but also quick transients, never gets sloppy. Good detail retrieval and resolution, considering Aria SE is just $80.

iBasso DX170 + Meze 109 Pro

Pairing with Headphones.

Audeze LCD-XC 2021 – I really like this pairing. LCD-XC has a very good neutral, reference-ish sound signature but with slightly airier than neutral treble tuning which can come off slightly bright at times but DX170 presents it very neutrally and cleanly. I quite like how it stages with very good imaging and left to right separation. Resolution and detail retrieval are the name of the game here as even instruments in the background, ambient instruments and subtle reverbs are quite noticeable with this combo.

Audeze LCD-X 2021 – I really dig this pairing too. Even wider soundstage than XC 2021, with very good imaging. Very good left to right separation and depth layering too. Like the XC 2021, resolution and detail retrieval is quite impressive in this combo too. Good bass punch and rumble and upper-end airiness.

Meze 109 Pro – 109 Pro is a neutral-bright headphone and DX170 presents it exactly as that. Very clean presentation with a very good soundstage and left and right separation but a bit bright because of 109 Pro’s inherent slightly brighter and airier than neutral treble. I’d recommend pairing the 109 Pro with a warmer DAP.

Focal Elex – This combo is again a very good pairing. Very natural and clean presentation with good bass reach, slam, rumble as well as upper end extension. Really good tonality and timbre with a holographic soundstage that has fairly good width and depth.

iBasso DX170 + Audeze LCD-XC 2021

Comparisons.

iBasso DX160.

I’ve already written a lot about how DX170 performs against the DX160, so I’m just going to copy paste a bit of that and add on to it further.

Against the DX160, DX170 comes off more resolving, richer but mostly importantly – smoother, with a more refined upper-midrange to treble balance. It has a blacker background with a slightly more engulfing soundstage that gives a better sense of the soundscape in the song. DX160 comes off very slightly brighter as it has a bit more emphasis in the 4k-7.5kHz region, which is why DX170 sounds a bit smoother in comparison but in no way smooth or warm in general. I’d consider it a very neutral, reference-ish presentation of sound.

HiBy R5 Gen 2.

Hardware wise, R5 Gen 2 has a Snapdragon 425 SoC, same 2GB RAM, ES9219C x2 DACs and older Android 8.1 OS. It does offer 2 things that aren’t so common in DAPs in this price segment – A separate Class A amp mode and a 35 hour battery life in Normal mode. That is the USP that sets it apart from other DAP in its price segment. Specs wise, DX170 a different SoC and DAC but has newer Android 11 (vs R5 Gen 2’s 8.1), more ROM (32GB vs 16GB) and a more attractive, better, almost bezel-less 1080p screen.

UI wise, even though DX170 performs better in an AnTuTu benchmark test, it’s the R5 Gen 2 that feels smoother to me, which I think can be credited to HiBy’s custom OS expertise. R5 Gen 2 feels smoother with streaming apps like Apple Music and even the volume clicks are more responsive than DX170’s volume wheel.

Sound wise, DX170 has slightly better resolution and detail retrieval, with a more forward presentation and slightly airier upper-end extension. R5 Gen 2 is slightly warmer in comparison, with its bass punch and slam being stronger – even more upfront in Class A mode. DX170 has wider soundstage boundaries but since DX170’s upper end of the spectrum comes across a bit richer and more forward, R5 Gen 2’s stage sounds slightly further away in comparison. R5 Gen 2 with its Class A mode focuses more on a punchy sound presentation whereas DX170 on a cleaner, more dynamic and resolving presentation.

Softears Twilight + iBasso DX170

Conclusion.

I was highly impressed with DX160’s capabilities when I reviewed it two years back, except for its laggy and sluggish UI. Now the DX170 takes everything that the DX160 did well and does it better – with a more refined and even more impressive sound performance that I feel hits above its asking price, but sadly the laggy UI still exists! It does get a faster Rockchip SoC and Android 11 but with the same 2GB of RAM, I don’t feel it performing as well as the HiBy R5 Gen 2 when it comes to a smooth UI experience. If only iBasso had gotten rid of the Rockchip and adopted a new age Snapdragon processor, I think they would’ve hit it out of the park. But it’s the tonal and technical performance of the DX170 that makes it one of the best DAPs in its segment, with excellent power output figures to easily drive demanding IEMs and headphones as well as a very low noise floor. All of that along with its highly attractive 1080p Sharp screen and wonderful ergonomic design make it very easy for me to recommend it under the $500 price mark. Definitely give it a shot if you’re in the market for a DAP!


Gear used for testing and review.

  • IEMs – Softears RS10 & RSV, CustomArt FIBAE 7U & FIBAE 7, 64 Audio U12t, Lime Ears Anima & Pneuma, Moondrop S8, Kato & Aria Snow Edition and Dunu Talos.
  • Headphones – Audeze LCD-XC 2021 & LCD-X 2021, Meze 109 Pro and Focal Elex.

Artists I like.

  • Rock – Foo Fighters, Linkin Park, Switchfoot, Imagine Dragons, Daughtry, Green Day, MuteMath, X Ambassadors, Dave Matthews Band, Vertical Horizon, Our Lady Peace, Lifehouse, Fall Out Boy, Breaking Benjamin, Muse, ACDC, Audioslave, Rage Against the Machine, Biffy Clyro, I Am Giant, Normandie, Paramore, Slash & Guns N Roses, 3 Doors Down.
  • Pop Rock – John Mayer, Coldplay, Paul McCartney, James Bay, Hunter Hayes, Niall Horan, Keith Urban, The Bros Landreth, Bryan Adams.
  • Progressive Rock/Metal – Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson, Karnivool, Tool, Dead Letter Circus, Periphery, Lamb of God.
  • Pop/Soft Rock – Ed Sheeran, Adele, Taylor Swift, OneRepublic, The Script, Gavin James, Magic Man, Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, Charlie Puth, Dua Lipa, The Weeknd, Oasis, Panic! At the Disco, TwentyOne Pilots.
  • EDM – Chainsmokers, Zedd.

2 thoughts on “iBasso DX170

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