It seems to me that miniaturized DAC/headphone amplifiers are the fastest growing industry in portable audio. We will listen and appreciate another confirmation of this today, especially since the beloved brand from the Celestial Empire, iBasso Audio, is back in action.
We have to admit that audio dongles have become so popular for a number of good reasons: extremely compact size and weight allows you to take such a device anywhere and anytime, easy connection to any mobile gadget and PC, lack of its own battery (so there is no battery wear and no need to constantly monitor for the level of its charge), often a nice design, and most importantly - a very high-quality sound.
In my opinion, there are plenty of arguments for such a device to be, if not the main one, then at least the second one - an audio companion that steadfastly goes with you through life.
At one time, we reviewed one of the most popular DAC / AMP from iBasso - DC03, built on the CS43131 chip. And now the company has pleased its fans with the release of an updated version of DC03 with the prefix "PRO", improved from all sides. But let's analyze all the details in detail in our review.
Simultaneously, iBasso released a cute and clever digital OTG connection cable. It has USB type-C / USB type-C connectors and received the index CB18. We will also mention it below.
If you missed it, then just in case I will inform you that we have already told you about the first-born of the audio dongle line: DC01, DC02, DC03, as well as DC05 and "Batman" DC06. But here we have a new hero, a refined and refined professional, in an updated design, with a neutral, pure, like a mountain stream, genuine sound.
Text: Alexey Kashirskey
DAC: CS43131*2 Dual DACs.
THD+N: -111dB(32Ω load), -114dB(300Ω load).
Output Level: 2Vrms(300Ω), 1.77Vrms(32Ω).
Frequency response: 20Hz-40kHz.
Output Power: 98mW@32Ω.
Supported Decoding: 32-Bit/384kHz PCM and Native DSD256.
Appearance and kit
Our PRO-DAC/AMP is carefully packaged in a small transparent box. He looks at us affably through the plastic, and his resume is placed on a cardboard insert around him: model name, “profession” - 3.5 mm single-ended USB DAC & AMP, brand logo and golden squares indicating Hi-Res support, PCM 32/384, DSD 256x. MQA decoding, as I understand it, the device does not support. Detailed specifications are listed on the back.
Inside, in addition to the gadget, we find a USB type-C / USB type-C connecting cable, an adapter from type-C to type-A and instructions, which in combination is a warranty card.
From another similar box, we immediately remove the audiophile USB type-C / USB type-C OTG cable - iBasso CB18. This handsome man is not included in the DC03 PRO package and must be purchased separately.
The iBasso CB18 is specifically designed to interface with the DC03 PRO USB DAC/Amplifier. The high purity core material provides high quality digital signal transmission with low internal resistance. Eight-strand insulated conductors, woven from 6N silver-plated monocrystalline copper, in an elastic braid. The cable is made by hand.
Connector contacts with 24-carat 5 µm gold plating. Connector housings are made of stainless steel. OTG configuration on both sides. The cable is not used to charge devices. The price for the CB18 is $39.
Back to DC03 PRO. Its oblong body (49.4x21x8 mm, weight 10.5 grams) is made of aluminum alloy, and the back and front sides are covered with glossy black glass. Personally, the design of our today's guest reminds me of a beautiful keychain flashlight from some Swiss manufacturer, which is usually hung on a key ring. This cute DAC/Amplifier will easily fit in that little jeans pocket called the "watch pocket".
Above, on a black glass surface, the model of the device is displayed in silver and its outstanding abilities are indicated: iBasso DC03 PRO 32/384kHz, DSD 256x. Not without the mandatory status of the golden sticker "Hi-Res Audio". Slightly to the right is a strip of LED, which tells us that the device is working properly, and also signals the frequency of the audio files being played: red - playback is stopped, blue - DSD, green - PCM. On the opposite side are quality certificates and information about the manufacturer and the country of origin.
As far as I know, the newcomer comes in silver, black and blue. We have, as you can see, the last option.
On one of the ends there are two round volume buttons (+/-) with a pleasant click and smooth pressing. The top edge has taken over the connector for connecting a 3.5 mm TRS connector, the bottom one has a USB type-C digital input. The DC03 PRO has a detachable cable.
To start working DC03 PRO with your Android gadget, you just need to connect it using the supplied wire or CB18 cable - everything happens in Plug & Play mode. Now we connect the headphones, adjust the volume for comfortable listening and - voila - we are already enjoying our favorite music. Well, owners of Apple devices will have to buy a USB-C / Lightning cord. To connect the device to a PC or laptop, the kit includes a USB type-C / type-A adapter.
To correctly adjust the volume, change the digital filter, control the channel balance, gain (Gain) and output power, you should download the proprietary updated iBasso UAC application either from the Google Play Market / App Store (I believe that the program has been added to the "apple" store), or apk -file from the manufacturer's website (for Android devices). Also on the iBasso website, you can take a special USB driver "DC-series" for ASIO output on Windows devices and activate it in the settings of the foobar2000 program.
The device is powered by a smartphone / tablet battery, but it does not suffer from “gluttony”, so you should not worry about increased battery discharge on your phone. Well, in the case of a PC and a laptop, there is nothing to worry about at all.
Of the distinguishing features of the DC03 PRO from its predecessors, I would like to note that during operation it practically does not heat up. In my use case, it was a little warm, about the temperature of my palm, or a little more.
Well, the design, the exceptional build quality and the technical potential of the device hint to us that the next part of the review will be even more interesting, so we immediately move on to the sound impressions.
iBasso DC03 PRO is built on two CS43131 DAC chips from Cirrus Logic using a miniature NDK femtosecond oscillator.
This description looked extremely promising, so for listening I prepared an extremely serious selection from my collection of IEM/Headphones: 64 AUDIO A12t, Vision Ears VE8, VE7, InEar PP8, FIR Audio M5 and XE6, Softears RSV, Phonon 4400 & Beyerdynamic dt 250 (250 ohm ).
Digital signal sources: Huawei P20 Pro smartphone (+UAPP), xDuoo X10t II portable digital transport and Dell XPS 15 laptop.
With all IEM & Headphones, the device played perfectly, no genre deviations were noticed.
Background noise and distortion, even when using the DC03 PRO with low-resistance, high-sensitivity in-channel IEM/CIEM, is not a given. Absolute silence, black background and smooth sound reproduction.
Let me emphasize right away that I evaluated the sound of the iBasso DC03 PRO taking into account its size and price. Of course, such a device cannot compete with high-end HiFi players and DACs, but it can easily compete with entry-level and mid-level audio devices.
DC03 PRO has a delicate, slightly warm, well-balanced, comfortable sound, with a well-defined tonal balance, no noise and no distortion.
I would describe the sound of the device as well balanced, smooth, with accurate, collected low-frequency processing, neutral and very melodic mids, as well as an accurate, clean and slightly shy high-frequency range. Because of these masterfully placed accents, the sound is not perceived as boring, despite its craving for "monitor sound". On the contrary, there is an extremely natural display of the emotional part.
This device delivers the material in a solid, melodic and balanced manner, masterfully, with a slight hint of warmth, good detail and high-quality low-frequency processing.
The DC03 PRO simply bribed me with its smooth and unobtrusive manner without any distortions in one or another frequency response area. How easy, clean, precise and melodic at the same time!
The virtual sound stage is quite spacious, it harmoniously and proportionately builds both in width and in depth. Sound sources are accurately placed in space.
The device is remarkably good at conveying the sensual component of the composition, beautifully, with a share of academicism, conveying vocals, piano and string instruments.
Bass parts are played quite dynamically, with decent pressure and good control. They are practiced cleanly and tactfully, collected and quickly, without interrupting the rest of the frequency range. The mid-bass area is presented correctly, in a neutral-warm form, which allows us to talk about a comfortable, plastic and very musical manner. There is an accurate clear blow, and a relief, and decent speed characteristics, and a good texture transfer, taking into account the class of the device. For such sizes of dac/amp - this is more than a good result.
The midrange is delivered cleanly, distinctly and smoothly, with good detail and decent resolution. Sincerity and naturalness are at the forefront here, and this gives an impressive result in the form of incredible melody. How natural stringed instruments sound, where each pluck and touch of the string is clearly defined. And the vocal parts sound lively, smooth and expressive.
Mids achieves the balance I value so much between refined emotionality and neutral manner. Any musical genre will sound as comfortable, detailed, natural and very melodic as possible.
High frequencies do not irritate the ear with excessive harshness, they are transmitted smoothly, very accurately, cleanly and legibly, in a neutral manner. Not too many, not too few, just as many as you need. There is no roughness in them, everything is served smoothly and very comfortable.
In general, the Highs have a good resolution, they are served tactfully, adding contrast and light airiness to the overall picture. For such a capricious register, here, surprisingly, everything is very good.
It is worth highlighting another remarkable quality of iBasso DC03 PRO: it does not add anything superfluous to the sound and allows the headphones to show their voice. Only really high-quality audio sources can boast of such a skill. It should be noted the complete absence of dirt, noise and any distortion in the sound.
Another significant point worth mentioning is genre versatility. DC03 PRO effortlessly copes with all styles: classical music, various instrumental genres, new wave, synth-pop, punk, art rock, hmr - there is no allergy to any of them. A very valuable quality, especially for such a miniature device.
The DC03 PRO reminds me a bit of the sound of my favorite iFI Go Bar Gold. The difference is that the Englishman has a little more physicality in his manner of sounding, higher resolution, more high-frequency range, unstoppable power and three-dimensional visualization of sounds in space. But this is not surprising, given the size, weight and cost of the "ingot". However, DC03 PRO, when working with very sensitive IEMs, even wins in some respects. It is absolutely silent, which gives it some advantage over the "gold bar" from iFI. And in the case of the Go Bar, you have to turn to iEMatch switching, which slightly reduces the dynamic range.
Lotoo PAW S1 also produces a fairly smooth and neutral sound, but in my opinion, DC03 PRO beats it by a small margin in terms of intelligibility, better bass control, and in general, sounds more academic and correct.
Of the design advantages on the side of the PAW S1, in addition to TRS, there is a balanced TRRS output and a small monochrome (128x32) screen.
If we push the foreheads of DC06 vs DC03 PRO, then we will see two completely different concepts of sound. "Batman" (DC06) has a thicker, more massive delivery, with a slight emphasis on the edges of the frequency range, with a slight V-shaped manner. But the newcomer is neutral and delicate in his manner, he reproduces the audio material more smoothly, cleanly and accurately. Yes, DC06 sounds more grown-up, but in terms of tonal balance, for me personally, DC03 PRO is closer, which, however, is already a matter of taste. Of the design differences on the DC06 side, there is a balanced output, but at the same time, more weight and a higher price. DC03 PRO, in turn, has volume control buttons, heats up less, has a more compact body and a more affordable price tag.
Well, when compared with its progenitor DC03, the newcomer definitely wins in everything. There's more power, a cleaner, smoother and more neutral sound delivery, a detachable cable and the ability to control the volume with buttons, and at the same time, a nice price.
Yes, it is also worth remembering the updated iBasso UAC program, specially tailored for DC03 PRO, with the ability to control gain, switch digital filters and adjust channel balance.
iBasso DC03 PRO has every chance to achieve wide recognition and even more - people's love! He will not empty anyone's wallet and at the same time is ready at any moment and in any situation to give the listener beautiful music in crystal clear performance, without falsehood, with inspiration and soul.
Such a capable tiny device simply cannot but be liked. It is cute, comfortable, compact and, most importantly, for its size has a "mature", neutral, balanced and clean sound.
The DC03 PRO is sized to fit in your trouser or shirt pocket and go for a walk, as well as take it with you for a run or a trip - yes, anywhere. And the development of modern streaming services (Tidal, Spotify, Deezer, etc.) makes these audiodongles an ideal addition to a smartphone, tablet or laptop.
Well, the price makes the DC03 PRO virtually invulnerable to competitors. This dongle can be purchased for only $69. I responsibly declare that it is almost impossible to find a more favorable rate for converting money into high-quality sound.
Sound, convenience, design, size, price.
No (not at this price)