iBasso AMP14

Sound Analysis.

I analyzed DX320 w/AMP14 using variety of IEMs, such as Jewel, XE6, Solaris ’20, and IT07 while playing a selection 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 AMP14 burn in for 100hrs using iBasso balanced burn-in cable before I started gathering my impressions.

ibasso-dx320-x-amp14-14

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 the sound characteristics of a source shapes the sound signature of connected IEMs/headphones or the difference in sound relative to other sources using the same pair of IEMs/headphones.  Since I already did a massive Pair-up and Comparison in my original DX320 review, it made no sense to repeat it.  Thus, the focus of this sound analysis section is on comparison between AMP14 and AMP13, describing how I hear it.  And because I had access to both DX320 and DX320-X and these DAPs have the same internal design, just different chassis, I had DX320-X with AMP14 and DX320 with AMP13 for a quick A/B comparison.

AMP13 vs AMP14

Both amp cards were tested at the same volume, in High Gain, and with D1 filter.  Despite of both having the same NuTube module in the heart of the design, their sound is not exactly the same.  The first thing you will notice is the difference in soundstage expansion and imaging.  With AMP13 the sound is more out of your head, in front of you, having more depth/height than width.  AMP14 soundstage width is noticeably wider which creates a more 3D holographic imaging.  The imaging and soundstage width here are corelated.  With a wider soundstage the imaging becomes more holographic (AMP14), and the other way around with AMP13 it is more center-focused.

When it comes to bass, in pair ups with many IEMs I hear a similar deep textured rumble between APM13 and AMP14, but the mid-bass sounds different.  AMP14 gives you a faster attack and shorter decay which makes the bass tighter.  AMP13 is the opposite, having a slower attack and a longer decay which relaxes the bass and makes it blend-in smoother with lower mids.  It’s not exactly night’n’day difference, but it is noticeable.  Due to mid-bass difference, mids have a perception of being more colored (w/AMP13) vs more transparent and neutral (w/AMP14).  Treble is where I also hear a difference, and it is more noticeable.  AMP14 has more sparkle, more air, more energy in comparison to AMP13 being smoother, especially with less airiness.  As a result, AMP14 has a better separation and layering between the sounds.

But overall, one is not better than the other.  Originally, I assumed that AMP14 will be a balanced version of AMP13, while in reality I found AMP14 to complement the tuning of AMP13.  People often associate a smoother tuning with having a more tubey like sound, and that’s how some will find AMP13.  AMP14 is a happy medium between AMP11mk2 and AMP13 performance, having a more natural tonality with deeper bass like in AMP13, and at the same time, a tighter bass and less coloring in mids and more air in treble like in AMP11mk2.  Stock AMP11mk2 is still brighter tuned and has more forward mids, though soundstage is very similar to AMP14.

Thanks to a modular design, you can fine-tune the sound of DX320 depending on which AMP module you choose.  If you want to rank these modules from the warmer, slower, and more center-focused to brighter, faster, and more expanded, it will be AMP13 -> AMP12 -> AMP14 -> AMP11mk2.

Also, very important to note, AMP14 doesn’t have any hissing even with sensitive IEMs like Campfire Audio Solaris ’20 and Andro ’20.

AMP14 LO vs AMP12 LO w/C9

I had DX320-X (w/AMP14) and DX320 (w/AMP12) switched to Med Gain and each volume set to the max, while Cayin C9 was set to Low Gain, Tube mode, and Class AB.  This comparison is going to be short because the sound is nearly the same with a very minor difference of AMP12 LO being just a touch brighter in treble.  Otherwise, their Line Outs are very close.

Conclusion.

Gotta be honest, I thought AMP14 will be just a balanced version of AMP13.  But instead, it surprised me as being a crossover between AMP11mk2, AMP12, and AMP13.  You get Korg NuTube 6P1 module to give you a smoother sound flavor like in AMP13.  But the sound is not exactly as smooth as AMP13 and has a higher resolution and improved bass articulation like in AMP11mk2.  And on top of that, you have a truly balanced and dedicated Line Out like in AMP12, suited for a connection with an external amplifier.  Is AMP14 going to replace other 3 amplifier cards?  Not really, because each one brings a different flavor of the tonality to the table depending on your sound preference.  But, AMP14 definitely complements the performance of other AMP cards, and for now I’m going to keep it with DX320 permanently since it pairs up really well with most of my IEMs and because most of my cables are 4.4mm terminated.

ibasso-dx320-x-amp14-11

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