iBasso AMP8 MK2: push to the limit

Hi friends!


In spite of everything, we continue to sow the reasonable, kind and eternal, namely, to talk about the beautiful sound. And in this we will be helped today by another creation from a brand beloved by many from the Celestial Empire, iBasso Audio.


Towards the very end of last year, we got acquainted with the wonderful DX240 DAP, released for the 15th anniversary of the company. And now iBasso has prepared a new gift for its fans, presenting an updated version of its, perhaps, the most popular replacement amplifier AMP8, designed for the DX240.

And if for some reason you are not yet familiar with the AMP series from iBasso, then let me introduce it: this is a line of interchangeable amp modules that allow you to upgrade your audio player yourself.


In short, the AMP8 MK2 is a brilliantly executed attempt to take even more out of a very good DAP!

I will talk about the sound of the AMP8 MK2 for a long time and admiringly in the review itself, and now I will note that the engineers were able to implement two audio outputs in the module at once, which allows us to put an end to the almost Shakespearean question “Balance or not balance”.


And now the screwdrivers for battle, we proceed directly to the acquaintance with the AMP8 MK2.





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Text: Alexey Kashirskey (aka Hans Barbarossa)




Specifications

Audio player compatibility: iBasso DX240

Headphone outputs: 4.4 mm, balanced (Pentaconn); 3.5mm stereo.


Output 4.4mm (balance):

Max output level: 6.2Vrms

Output power: 980mW @ 32Ω

128mW @ 300Ω

Frequency response: 10Hz - 45kHz (±0.3dB)

SNR: 125dB

Dynamic range: 125dB

THD+N: -114dB @ no load

-113dB @ 300Ω

-101dB @ 32Ω

Crosstalk: -122dB

Output impedance: 0.55Ω


3.5mm stereo headphone output:

Max output level: 3.1Vrms

Output power: 281mW @ 32Ω

32mW @ 300Ω

Frequency response: 10Hz - 45kHz (±0.3dB)

SNR: 122dB

Dynamic range: 122dB

THD+N: -110dB @ no load

-109dB @ 300Ω

-98dB @ 32Ω

Crosstalk: -117dB

Output impedance: 0.32Ω





Appearance and kit


The AMP8 MK2 comes in a minimalist black cardboard box, wrapped in white ribbon with the brand's logo printed on it. Such aristocratic restraint looks extremely impressive!


Inside, in addition to the amplifier itself, there is a screwdriver that will come in handy soon, a couple of spare screws, installation instructions and a warranty card.




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The amp module was made in nude-style:  the board is completely open to our eager eyes. On the one hand, we see a docking connector, on the other, there is an external panel with two headphone outputs: a balanced (4.4 mm Pentaconn) and a classic mini-jack (3.5 mm).


Before installing it in the player, it is impossible not to admire the black textolite and the circuitry of the device: small parts, microcircuits and capacitors. You don't have to be a radio amateur to see at what highest level the board is made.




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The AMP8 MK2 is a fully discrete circuit using low VCE transistors and ERO film capacitors. Among other things, the new amplifier impresses with its power ratings: output voltage of 3.1 V (3.5 mm) and 6.2 V (4.4 mm), at +/- 8 V and an output current of 2000 mA.


For the new module, you need to update the player software to firmware V1.02. You can download it yourself from the manufacturer's website, unpack the archive, upload it to the player (on a memory card or internal memory), and then enter the player's settings and select "local update". The second method is much easier: just connect to the iBasso Audio server and update via Wi-Fi.




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Amplifier replacement is quick and easy. You need to turn off the DAP, unscrew the two screws located at the edges of the module, and pull the plug-in board towards you by prying it with something like a guitar pick, or inserting your headphone connector into the jack, and also gently pull towards you. After removing, I recommend that the unused amp module be carefully folded into a box so as not to inadvertently damage the board.



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Then we carry out all the simple manipulations from the first part of the operation in reverse order. We take our AMP8 MK2 and join it, inserting it into the grooves and sliding it forward into place of its predecessor. Now we twist the two screws back with a screwdriver. Voila, you're done, you can turn on the DX240 and plug in your headphones. I suggest that you do so immediately.




Sound Impressions


I think, before starting to analyze the sound of the new module, we need to dwell on the slightly changed “handwriting” of the DX240 after updating the firmware to version V1.02. This slight change mainly affected the high-frequency range (a small area in the region, approximately 1k). For example, the sound of the standard AMP1 MK3 amplifier has become a little more neutral. Otherwise, the “voice” of the device has not changed. And in general, perhaps this is only my subjective assessment, and others will not hear anything like that. But in any case, without the latest firmware, the correct operation of the new AMP8 MK2 is impossible.


For testing we used: Beyerdynamic DT 250 / 250 ohm, Vision Ears VE8, VE7, FIR Audio Xenon6, 64 Audio A12t, iBasso IT07 & FIR VxV (2.5mm jack/4.4mm adapter).


As always, I strongly recommend that you do not neglect the recommendations to "burn-in" a new amplifier module, since this simple procedure significantly affects the final sound picture. In my case, before writing a review, the device worked for about 90-100 hours.


I must say right away that no background noise and pickups were noticed. But noticeable increased power, dynamics and increased resolution, with better channel separation.

The DX240 + AMP8 MK2 handled both low-impedance sensitive IEM/CIEMs and high-impedance full-size headphones perfectly.




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From the very first minutes of listening, the DX240+AMP8 MK2 fascinates with increased dynamics, elaboration of plans, tonal balance and amazing musicality. This is a dynamic and massive layer of sound, in which a well-balanced manner, drive and sophisticated melody, embodied in a lively and organic form, harmoniously coexist.


Here you can guess the similarities with his older brother in the face of the DX220 MAX, although, of course, the “Mad Max” sounds even more mature and richer, drawing a more spreading stereo panorama with an extremely accurate display of sounds in space. But here it is important to clarify that I consider the DX220 MAX one of the best, and perhaps even the best DAP. And when by no means a flagship DAP, by replacing the amplifying module, approaches quite close to such a height - it's very cool! It is also appropriate to recall here that MAX with its separate power supply (analogue and digital parts) and two batteries can hardly be called a portable device, but here a DX240 device that fits in a pocket produces a about similar sound.




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With the new amplifier, the DX240 even more accurately builds sound sources in virtual space, delicately describing each instrument, naturally displaying every shade of the sound palette, whether it be voice vibration, pizzicato or sliding along the strings - everything is heard as clearly and reliably as possible.


I would characterize the sound of the DX240+AMP8 MK2 as well balanced, vigorous and extremely dynamic, with excellent processing of micro and macro nuances, good detail and extraordinary musicality.

Excellent speed characteristics, impressive impact density, fast attack and amazing dynamics, scrupulous display of string parts and vocals - this combination naturally makes you go crazy!


AMP8 MK2 lays out the sound palette more contrast, thicker, layer by layer, building a multi-level sound structure. Greater drive paired with light expression is achieved here due to small accents added at the edges of the frequency range and better dynamics. It is this small color, coupled with the increased resolution, that gives the overall sound a “masculine” character.


This is a cheerful, precise and at the same time beautiful manner of sound presentation. At the same time, the general style of the DX240 remains recognizable, becoming only more mature and energetic.




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Low frequencies are processed expressively, accurately, with a powerful, tight and perceptible impact and fast bass that does not encroach on the rest of the frequency range. The bass is agile, well structured and punchy. Lows have excellent texture transfer and energy, drawing the depth of the musical canvas and charging the listener with their incredible drive. Bass parts sound precise and honed, delicately outlining every sound nuance. Working out loud and quiet sounds, rise and fall, speed, attack, strike accuracy - everything is on top here.



Mids are even, smooth, natural, with a little bit of expression. Any sound here is endowed with its bodily shell. The presentation of the midrange register is both thick and detailed. Any vocal tremolo or instrumental passage is transmitted naturally and deeply, with drive and excellent transmission of the emotional part. Male and female vocal parts are displayed in relief, accurately and naturally. It is also worth noting the good detail and careful visualization of sound images in space.



Highs are reproduced clearly and harmoniously, in some places they go on a par with the entire frequency response, in some places they beautifully and unobtrusively seek to draw attention to themselves, giving the sound airiness and positive. This is a high-quality, comfortable and sweet-voiced manner of sounding. The register is transmitted cleanly, technically, accurately and in detail, without excessive sharpness and distortion. And the existing delicate accent in this part of the range gives the sound a contrast and a bit of expression, and, in any case, it never turns into a problem, but sounds like a chased and clean “spark” against the overall well-balanced background of the picture. I would call it a "taste" moment, which, with a probability of 99%, will be liked by everyone without exception.




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The DX240+AMP8 MK2 delivers a three-dimensional stereo panorama, harmoniously and proportionately arranging the virtual space both in width and depth. The overall musical canvas emerges as a whole, in contrast, with an accurate and natural transmission of sound timbres and a slight emotional coloring.


In terms of music genre preferences, the new amplifier module is ready for anything: it interestingly plays both classical music, instrumental, jazz, electronic, rock, and brutal genres. Like any good device, the DX240 + AMP8 MK2 can handle everything.



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Conclusion


The new AMP8 MK2 amplifier module turned out to be more than good (the main thing is not to forget its good “burn-in”), and the already stylish and modern DX240 DAP has become even more attractive with its main “asset” - sound!


iBasso Audio once again brilliantly proved that the audiophile "budget" sector is not at all a Procrustean bed where you have to give up something valuable for an affordable price tag, but a place to embody your skills and demonstrate them to a large audience.

In this case, just by replacing the AMP8 MK2 amplifier module, we got a significant boost in the sound of the DX240 audio player.


The suggested retail price for the AMP8 MK2 is $219 at the time of writing. If you already have a DX240 or are planning to buy one, then I strongly advise you to purchase this amp module, it will definitely impress you.



Pros

Sound, the possibility of prompt replacement for another amplifying module, the price.

Cons

No


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