iBasso DC03: the little key to the world of big sound

Hi Friends!

In the sound waves, in which we love to splash so much, there are both huge leviathans and tiny beautiful fish. And both of them are valuable for us, as researchers and connoisseurs of portable Hi-Fi in all its forms. Therefore, this time we will talk about a miniature and extremely remarkable DAC / AMP from iBasso.


Almost two years ago we told you about the founders of the line of "audio keys", the DC01 and DC02 models. They were replaced by DC04 and DC03, we will get acquainted with the last device today. Our hero follows in the footsteps of DC02, since it has a 3.5 mm stereo output on board, while DC04 is intended to replace the balanced DC01, only here the connector changes from 2.5 mm to 4.4 mm Pentacon.


The main circuitry difference between these generations is the change in the main component of the DAC chip - instead of the 4493EQ from Asahi Kasei Microdevices (used in DC01 and DC02), two CS43131 Cirrus Logic are now installed inside, working in pairs. It should be noted that iBasso has also successfully transferred their DAPs DX160 and DX300 to Cirrus Logic chips.


I must say right away that DC03 will be an excellent solution for those who do not want to carry DAP with them in addition to a smartphone, but would like to have a good sound always with them. It is, indeed, extremely convenient, to plug a tiny DAC into your phone, tablet or laptop, connect good headphones to it and in the very second be in the bottomless ocean of music!


So, we get our catch from the net and begin to study it.





Text: Alexey Kashirskey (aka Hans Barbarossa)





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Specifications

Dac chip: 2 x CS43131 

Max Sample Rate/Resolution 384 kHz / 32-Bit

Ultra-low noise floor: <0.9µV

Output voltage: 2Vrms(300 Ohms), 1.61Vrms(32 Ohms)

Output power: 80mW @ 32 Ohms

Impedance Outputs: < 0.12 Ohm

Signal to Noise ratio: 127dB

USB Type-C Interface

3.5mm Headphone Output






Appearance and kit


Our little key to the world of big sound is modestly packed in a small transparent box. DC03 itself peeps through the plastic, and all the necessary information is placed on the cardboard tab around it: brand logo, model name and "profession" - Hi-Res DAC Cable Adapter. Detailed specifications are listed on the back. Inside, in addition to DC03, we find a USB-adapter from type-C to type-A and an instruction, which is also a warranty card.




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The design of the device retains a charming retro motive, which we remember from DC01 and DC02. The appearance of these DACs is reminiscent of the remote control for a Walkman CD player from the 90s. However, there is also a nice addition, the new DC03 and DC04 models are available not only in silver, but also in black.




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The metal case of the DC03 is just over 10 cm (105 mm) long and weighs only 11 grams. The inscription on the outside again reminds of the outstanding skills of the device: 32bit / 384kHz DSD256x. Not without the obligatory yellow Hi-Res Audio sticker.

At one of the ends there is an output for connecting a 3.5 mm TRS connector. In the same place, just below, a tiny blue LED signals to us that the DC03 is working properly.

From the opposite side comes a four-core, silvery-white pigtail of cable, consisting of silver-plated copper. This short wire ends with a type-C connector, which is native to many phones and other mobile units. Well, with the help of the adapter already included in the kit, a connection is made to a laptop or stationary PC.


Connecting DC03 to something is not easy, but very simple, but let me give you a couple of tips. For correct volume control on Android, you should download the proprietary iBasso UAC application either from the Google Play Market or the apk file from the manufacturer's website. I recommend adding Hiby Music software to it as partners. Everything is clear and understandable there, and by default it is regulated without problems. 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 foobar2000 program settings.



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The device is powered by a smartphone / tablet battery, but it does not suffer from "gluttony", so you should not worry about the increased battery discharge on the device. Well, in the case of a PC and laptop, there is nothing to worry about at all.

What else I would like to note from the distinguishing features of the DC03 from its predecessors is that it heats up much less during operation.



Well, now it's time to look inside our guest, and then give him the opportunity to "speak" himself.



Sound


As I said, behind the external resemblance to the first generation, there is a serious internal upgrade. Instead of one microcircuit from Asahi Kasei Microdevices, the DC03 received two DAC Cirrus Logic CS43131 microcircuits. The acquired "hearts" had a positive effect on the audio signature of our hero and added power to him. The output voltage is now 1.6 V / 32 ohms and the output power is 80 mW / 32 ohms. Quite good for such a kid!




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To test such bold specifications declared by the manufacturer, I selected an extremely serious test team from my arsenal: 64 AUDIO A12t, Vision Ears VE8, VE7, VE4.2 and EVE20, InEar PP8, SD-2 and InEar PMX, FIR Audio M5 and M4, Softears RSV, Phonon 4400 and Phonon SMB-02.

With all the headphones/IEM, the DC03 played more than decently, without experiencing any difficulties with the power and the variety of musical genres offered to it.


The sound of the DAC is harmonious, noble and melodic. This is a smooth manner with a bodily filling of audio images, a slightly darkened background and a subtle transfer of the emotional part. The device, like its counterparts, has a good tonal balance, but has a slightly warmer sound, which gives the played songs a special charm and musicality. There is detail and comfort here, picturesque and charming charm.


If we compare DC02 vs DC03, then "agent 02", in my opinion, shows a slightly more linear and analytical manner, with more punchy bass, but less volumetric rendering of virtual space and worse rendering of textures. DC03, in turn, outperforms its predecessor with better volume transfer, more timbre-rich working of the lower register, moderately emotional and naturalistic middle and light color in the form of an unobtrusive "spark" in the upper range. Overall, the DC03 sounds sleeker and more beautiful. But I would not identify a clear winner, because, in my opinion, the difference is more tasteful, both devices sound good enough and are interesting in their own way.




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The DC03 presentation will probably seem neutral to some, but in fact, if you listen closely, everything is much more interesting. The sound of the DAC is not only well balanced, it perfectly conveys the emotional part, but due to the skillfully placed accents, musicality is achieved, in which charm and melody are intertwined.

The main focus of attention fell on the mid-frequency range, while there is a moderate, filling the whole picture with warmth, afterburner in the lower register and a slight, unobtrusive shine in the high frequency region. This audio signature is similar to the iBasso DX160, but naturally the DC03 sounds more compact and less deep. And this is to be expected, a tiny DAC amplifier without its own power supply cannot compete in any way with a cool player from a rather serious segment. But, nevertheless, there are similarities in their audio cues, and this is a big plus for the DC03.



The bass is tight, energetic and well controlled. Here there is an accurate strike, and relief, and good speed characteristics. The subbass area is served linearly, clearly complementing the low-frequency register, and the midbass, in turn, is neatly boosted. In general, the low frequencies and lower mids in DC03 are charming, they perfectly work out their due, darkening the general background and beautifully filling the middle with an organic substance, giving it velvety, physicality and naturalness.


Mids pleases with good detail, localization of sound sources in space and a smooth, melodic manner. Vocal parts and strings - everything sounds rich, lively and naturalistic. The mids are sweet-voiced, comfortable and smooth as silk, enchant you and take you into the realm of musical harmony.


High frequencies are reproduced cleanly and harmoniously. They are energetic, moderately reserved and charming. This is a raised, precise and comfortable manner with a light, unobtrusive "spark" that slightly tints the overall sound. Yes, there is some simplification here, but at the same time the device transmits this register clearly enough, without excessive aggression and artifacts.




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In fact, the sound of DC03 does not want to be divided into separate frequency ranges at all, so it is presented as a whole, euphonious and noble, as a single and harmonious audio array.


In terms of genre preferences, iBasso DC03 did not have any serious problems. The device copes well with everything: classical music, instrumental, jazz, electronics, rock and all kinds of brutal genres. Everything plays out engaging and extremely interesting.





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Conclusion


With the hi-res trend in mind, microportables certainly have a great future ahead of them. The development of streaming services (Tidal, Spotify, Deezer, etc.) makes these tsapousi the perfect addition to your smartphone or laptop.


It is important to emphasize that the iBasso DC03 is not just a "whistle" that improves the sound of your gadget, it is a full-fledged device with serious skills. As in the case of its predecessors DC01 and DC02, there is nothing to complain about here, by and large. The device captivates with an interesting and rather adult sound, stylish design, and its tiny size allows you to take it with you wherever you go: even to the beach, even for a run, or even on a trip. This device does not take up much space and will be your faithful companion anytime, anywhere.


In addition, DC03 is extremely "democratic" in price. As of this writing, the DC03 has a suggested retail price of $ 52.90. Perhaps this is one of the most affordable options for getting an entrance ticket to the world of high-quality sound.




Pros

Sound, design, size, price.

Cons

No (not for this money)


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