iBasso AMP12: ideal balance

Hi Friends!

Summer is coming to an end, and we have ripened a harvest of audio freshening for our joy. Today we will get acquainted with another interesting device from the beloved brand from the Middle Kingdom - iBasso Audio.


I think you remember how we rejoiced in the spring of the amazing Hi-Fi DAP iBasso DX300, which impressed with its stuffing (Snapdragon 660 processor, 6 GB LPDDR4 RAM, gorgeous screen, four flagship DAC chips from Cirrus Logic - CS43198 and FPGA-Master matrix) and opportunities. Not so long ago, iBasso released an AMP12 module for its flagship, built on a fully balanced circuit.

IBasso has been engaged in replaceable amplifiers since 2017. Then, with the release of the DX200 DAP model, the company became one of the first in the world to apply such an extraordinary approach to player construction. Soon the line of such amplifier modules grew to impressive sizes: AMP1, AMP2, AMP3, AMP4, AMP5, AMP6, AMP7, AMP8, AMP1 MK2 and AMP9. At the same time, they were compatible with several DAP iBasso at once: DX150, DX200 and DX220.


The release of the new flagship, the aforementioned "three hundred", required a rethinking of the concept and a technical upgrade of the amplifying modules for it, so I was looking forward to expanding the upgraded version of the AMP-series, and now I waited!

For true audiophiles, the value of such an accessory can hardly be overestimated, but let's talk about everything in order.





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Text: Alexey Kashirskey (aka Hans Barbarossa)



Specifications

Output Specifications (Headphone Output):

Output interface: 4.4mm Balanced

Maximum output level: 8.3Vrms

Frequency response: 10Hz-45kHz(+/-0.9dB)

THD+N: -113dB(No Load), -112dB(300 ohm load), -107dB(32 ohm load)

Dynamic range: 126dB

Signal to noise ratio: 126dB

Crosstalk: -115dB

Line-Out Specifications:

Maximum output level: 4.1Vrms

THD+N: -116dB(No load)

Dynamic range: 128dB

Signal to noise ratio: 128dB

Cross talk: -102dB






Appearance and kit


So the AMP12 is an amplifier stage in modular form, a board that you can replace allows you to upgrade your DX300 DAP yourself.


The amplifier comes in a stylish gray cardboard box with the iBasso Audio logo on the top. Under the cover of this dust jacket is a black box also with an embossed brand logo. Inside it is a whole scattering of useful accessories: a hard case with a zipper, similar to a small corrugated peli case, for the module, an additional black case for the DX300 DAP made of genuine leather, a screwdriver that will be useful to us soon, spare screws, as well as instructions and a warranty card. Inside the plastic case we find our amplifier AMP12.





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The iBasso AMP12 is made in nude style: the amplifier board is completely open, on one side it has a docking connector, on the other - an external panel with two balanced outputs: for headphones (HO) and line (LO). Before installing the module in the player, you can admire the black textolite and circuitry of the device: small parts, microcircuits and capacitors. In fact, the board is made at the highest level - beauty!




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The AMP12 is a fully discrete balanced circuit operating in class A. Both headphone and line outputs here have 4.4mm Pentacon connectors.




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Replacing modules is quick and easy. You need to turn off the player, unscrew the two screws located at the edges of the module, and pull the replaceable board towards you, prying it with something like a guitar pick or inserting the connector of your headphones into the jack, and just as gently pull towards you. After removing it, I recommend carefully folding the unused module into the same plastic box with a zipper, so as not to accidentally damage the board.

Then we carry out all the simple manipulations from the first part of the operation in reverse order. We take our AMP12 and join it, inserting it into the grooves and pushing it forward, in place of its predecessor. Now we tighten the two screws with a screwdriver. Voila, everything is ready, you can turn on the player and connect headphones / IEMs.




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Are you ready to move on to the audio experience? Agree, let's start listening to iBasso DX300 with AMP12.





Sound Impressions


For listening we used iBasso IT07 and FIR VxV IEMs (2.5 mm jack / 4.4 mm adapter).


The sound of iBasso AMP12 I will carry out in the context of comparison with the "classic" duo DX300 + AMP11.

I must say right away that background noise and interference were not noticed. On the other hand, a slightly increased power and increased resolution are immediately noticeable, with more emphasis on micro contrast and better channel separation.



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The sound of the DX300 + AMP12 I would describe as well balanced, clean, with an excellent transfer of the emotional component, clear working out of micro and macro nuances, excellent speed characteristics and meticulous rendering of small details of the composition. The musical canvas is drawn in an unusually wide, lively, relief, rich and contrasting manner.


The AMP11, on the other hand, delivers a smoother, warmer, "analog" tone, with a greater emphasis on macro contrast, better depth reproduction, a slightly more imposing low-register style and charming musicality.

The AMP12 does all the work in a more technical way, with a touch of analyticity, with precise and biting elaboration of bass lines and a longer high-frequency range.


In general, the character of the DX300 sound remains recognizable, since the digital part of the player, of course, does not change, but at the same time the transition from one modular board to another is similar to switching between different stationary amplifiers connected to the same DAC. This is a change from an unusually comfortable, charming, enveloping manner (AMP11), to a more open, technical, detailed and emotional sound (AMP12).




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Low frequencies are processed tightly, quickly, with good articulation, elaboration of textures and excellent control. There is a crisp, precise pop, a tight, biting punch, and textured nimble bass. There is not even a hint of hum and booming, only a harmonious combination of quantity and quality, plus an excellent balance. The area of the sabbass is presented linearly, while the midbass is neatly forced, it vivifyingly complements the middle, filling it with “body” and a clear rhythmic basis. AMP11, on the other hand, digs deeper into the lowest register, emphasizing the subbass area and linearly serving the lower mids.




The mids are neutral, clear and smooth, with excellent texture reproduction and excellent resolution. Not a single detail here escapes the listener.

The emotional component of the composition is conveyed in an extremely naturalistic way. Strings, saxophone, keyboards and especially vocals sound chiseled and clean. This is an unusually realistic, smooth, spacious and very melodic manner, with "savoring" all the smallest details of the composition. The positioning of the instruments in space is flawlessly calibrated and realistic.

The DX300 paired with the AMP12 demonstrates excellent detail and striking visualization of sound images in space, and the AMP11 wins in the mid-range with a richer reproduction of the timbre palette.



High frequencies sound long, sophisticated, intelligible, with good articulation, transmission of overtones and enviable correctness. It is an unfolded, spacious, smooth and comfortable feed at the same time. There is an elegant and light color in this register, adding width and air to the listening compositions, but it is presented extremely competently and accurately. There is no excessive brightness, but there is an excellent working out of this range and a natural, extremely musical sound without harshness and distortion.

If we again compare the manner of the two brothers-amps, the AMP11 conveys the upper register more weighty, smoother, more balanced and a little shy, in a charming manner.




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I would also like to note the genre versatility of the new amplifier. He plays very interestingly both classical music, instrumental, jazz, electronica, rock, and heavy brutal genres. Although the predecessor also perfectly coped with all musical styles, but presented them in a slightly different way and, in my opinion, the AMP12 is still more versatile due to its better technicality.


In fact, in this comparison, it is difficult to choose a clear winner, since the choice in this case concerns more individual sound preferences. In my opinion, both amplifiers do an excellent job with the tasks assigned to them. Personally, since the owners of iBasso DX300 already have AMP11 / AMP11 MK2 in the kit, I highly recommend AMP12 for purchase - rest assured, it will definitely not disappoint you.



Conclusion


The AMP12 module will be a perfect match for the AMP11 / AMP11 MK2, and its chic sounding does not give a chance for nagging and criticism.

If you want to add more variety to the sound of your DX300, add even more power, technicality, precision and analytical sound to your sound, and of course, if you want a fully balanced amplifier with a separate balanced line output - the AMP12 is the right choice for you!


Well, about the price. At the time of writing, the iBasso AMP12 has a suggested retail price of $ 229. For this fully justified, in my opinion, the amount the buyer will receive not only the most technically capable amplifier module, but also a good set, and an excellent mood that goes along with it. Listen to your favorite music and enjoy it!



Pros

Sound, set, the ability to quickly replace with another amplifier module, price.

Cons

No


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