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iBasso DAPs - DX220, DX160 & DX150 Comparisons

Review written by Anthony Nguyen (@antdroid)

This article will take a look at three digital audio players (DAP) from the brand iBasso: The flagship DX220, mid-tier DX150, and the newly released DX160. These three DAPs were generously loaned out to me by Headphones.com for some impressions and a trial run through. Part of the reason was because I have had general interest in how iBasso players worked and behaved and also because the store has recently added the brand to their store lineup.

For me personally, a digital audio player is a nice gadget to have because I love music and I want to carry a lot of it with me without the hassle of loading them on my phone and wasting my phone’s storage and battery life on music. And with the fast extinction of the 3.5mm headphone jack from most modern flagship mobile phones now, an alternative source for music makes the portable audio player more useful and relevant again.

My basic ground rules for making a purchase that favors my personal biases are: 

  1. Portability – I want a player that is easily transportable, whether that be in my bag I carry to work, or in my pocket when I’m on the go.
  2. Streaming – Streaming apps have become the norm these days, and while I typically do listen off my library of offline music, having the ability to have online streaming music and apps is not just a nice to have for me, but a basic requirement.
  3. User Interface & Experience – A player without a good interface is useless. It needs to be laid out well and have very few hiccups along the way
  4. Sound Quality – While being an audiophile-type, sound quality does matter a lot. That said, I would rather sacrifice any small incremental sound quality gains for the first three bullets.

 Here’s some of the basic specifications for the iBasso Players:

 

DX220

DX150

DX160

Price

$979

$499

$399

OS

Android / Mango

Android

Android

Size

126 x 70.5 x 18.7mm

128.5 x 69 x 19.5mm

113 x 68 x 15mm

Weight

240g

245g

178g

Amp

3.5mm / 2.5mm

3.5mm / 2.5mm

3.5mm / 4.4mm

DAC

ES9028PRO

AK4490EQ

CS43198

Processing

8-Core 4GB RAM

8-Core 2GB RAM

8-Core 2GB RAM

Screen

5.0 in

4.2 in

5.0 in

Storage

64GB | microSD

32GB | microSD

32GB | microSD

Upgradability

Yes

Yes

No

 

Portability

I received the DX220 and DX150 first. The DX220 and the DX150, both, are much larger than what I am used to. Their large frame, with full metal body, makes them very hefty to carry around. It’s more of a desktop-use gear than something I’d comfortably put into my pocket.  They feel like tanks though, and I wouldn’t feel very worried when carrying them around.

The DX160, which came a little later, is a very nice size. It’s got a slightly smaller screen, but also has minimal bezel space and is much thinner than either the DX220 or DX150. The DX150, surprisingly, was the largest of the three since it doesn’t have a minimal bezel.

The DX160 feels wonderful in the hand, with the placement of the wheel very easily accessible and the thin design makes it easy to hold and carry. The small, thin wheel though, is tough to use when paired with the included clear case.

Winner: DX160

DX160 shown in photo

Streaming

All three feature wifi capabilities and use android-based systems. Each one had been upgraded to Android 8.1 and had no issues with using streaming players like Spotify, Youtube, and others. The players do not include Google Play Store, so all apps had to be either sideloaded or installed via the included ApkPure app store. This isn’t the best solution, but it does work.

Winner: Tie

User Interface and General Usage Experience

This is where things get more interesting. I will just start off by saying that while I love stock Android experience, and for the most part, iBasso’s OS is android of some form, it’s just not done very well across all three devices, or at least, not what I would have expected, coming from the Hiby R5, which is a $399 portable DAP.

Let’s start with the worst experience first.

The DX150 has extremely poor lag and memory issues. It’s the oldest of the iBasso players, so this isn’t a big surprise in terms of where it falls in the shoot-out, but it’s still rather slow and frustrating to use. The use of the Rockchip CPU and limited RAM may be limiting this device. There was significant touch-responsive lag when using both Mango player, iBasso’s default player, or using the normal Android interface or any third-party app.

This didn’t occur all the time, but it does rear its ugly head enough to leave a bad impression in my mind. When I start a download routine in Spotify to download off-line files, the player grinds to a halt. This was similar to the experience I had on the Astell & Kern SR15 as well. I haven’t seen this type of experience with my current player, the Hiby R5, or the one prior, the Pioneer XDP-300R.

The DX160 was a step up in performance. It’s also the newest player of the bunch, however it also only features 2GB RAM. That said, the system must have seen some significant optimizations or the CPU was upgraded, since the player runs quite smoothly most of the time. It does start to choke a little bit when downloading offline files, or doing multi-tasking. In normal usage, it seemed to run fine most of the time.

The DX220 was clearly the fastest device of the three. It’s the flagship and also has the best specs of the trio, and it showed. There were minimal lag issues with multi-tasking, downloading, or general app usage.

One thing to note though, was when all three players worked their best, the DX160 loaded apps the fastest, with the DX150 in a close second and the DX220 in third place. I am going to chock this down to the screen size and DPI of each player. Since the DX220 has the highest resolution and largest screen, it has to download and load more things to appear on screen vs the smaller DX160.

Winner: DX220

DX150 shown in photo

 

Sound Quality

Sound quality is highly subjective and differences are very subtle, so let’s get that out of the way. I have been listening to the various DAPs with a variety of IEMs: The qdc Anole VX, the BGVP Art Magic V12, the BLON BL-03, and the Shozy Form 1.1. I also used the Sennheiser HD600 and Fostex TR-X00 Ebony for some of time.

Between the three, I will quickly just rank them in terms of my subjective tastes – the DX220 was the cleanest, most resolving, and dynamic of the bunch. The DX160 was a close second, and the DX150 was a distant third. That was rather surprising to be honest.

The DX150 and DX220 both have the ability to upgrade their internal amp with add-on kits, and so it’s possible the DX150 would improve with a different amp installed, however I only had the stock ones at the time of this review. The DX150 just sounds rather flat, dull, and boring. It’s missing any zest, zing, or any emotion, and the other miscues before make it rather hard to recommend right now.

The DX160, the newest of the bunch, sounds surprisingly great. I have been wanting to try the DX160 since the day it was announced, but had already pre-ordered the Hiby R5 and had been patiently awaiting both to come out and to try them. While I love how the R5 sounds, the DX160 does sound just a little bit more airy, detailed, and exciting. This could partially be due to the R5 having a tame treble and more mid-range focused sound, and makes it great for a warm laid-back listen. The DX160 is much more neutral in comparison, with good detail resolution, and more treble. I even considered it bright sounding when I first heard it, but the more I listen to the R5 versus other sources, I just tend to think that it’s a warmer DAP, and a signature I’ve become accustomed to after listening to the Astell & Kern SR15 A&Norma for so long.

iBasso DX220, A&K SR15, Hiby R5, iBasso DX150

The DX220, which is also double the price of the other iBasso siblings, has the most resolving sound. It does share a lot of similarities in sound signature to the DX160, but just takes it a step beyond. The bass is tighter and more elevated, and the airy sound is tamed just a bit, without losing any soundstage.

Winner: DX220

DX220 in photo

Overall 

Now that the main categories have been decided, who is the winner?

For me, it is the iBasso DX160. It wins for its solid combination of portability and sound quality, with great hardware feel and design. It’s not the best sounding or fastest of the bunch though. That goes to the flagship iBasso DX220, as one would expect. It’s larger RAM, bigger size, and swappable amps makes it a beast of a DAP to use and it’s also got the best quality sound of the trio.

Anthony Nguyen (@antdroid)

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Join the discussion about iBasso's DAPs on "The HEADPHONE Community".


2 comments


  • Anthony

    Hi Seth – Thanks for the feedback. I actually did notice that in the article after I submitted it. You are correct that the size is the same though I think the size of the DX220 gives me the illusion that it is bigger. I apologize for the mistake!

    On that note, yes the DX160 firmware was just recently updated. I did not check if it got passed down to the DX220 yet as I have already boxed it up to ship back, but at the time I wrote the review, I did update all the players to the latest versions available. The DX160’s latest firmware does improve the speed quite a bit though.


  • Seth Weissbord

    “Since the DX220 has the highest resolution and largest screen, it has to download and load more things to appear on screen vs the smaller DX160.”

    I thought the DX220 and DX160 shared the same screen size and resolution and all three have the exact same Rockchip CPU. At least on spec list they do, so it doesn’t add up that the DX220 would be slower to load since it has 2GB more RAM then the DX160. Screen size and resolution should have been a non-factor between the two as well as the processor. Clearly ibasso has made significant optimizations in the firmware of the DX160 to improve the responsiveness of the DX160 or most reviewers are simply not stating the truth and it suffers the same problems that the DX150/200 and 220 had regarding responsiveness of the UI.

    I believe they have simply optimized the firmware better recently and therefore should be able to pass off the optimizations to their older DAPS also, unless they clearly do not support the older devices in order to sell the new versions. I believe its called “planned obsolescence”.


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