iBasso DX320 + AMP13: dazzling truth and tube magic

Hi friends!


We haven’t seen you since spring, but we returned after a forced vacation with two cool new products at once. A little over a year ago, we met the flagship DX300 DAP from iBasso Audio, and now its successor with the DX320 index was born, which is just as beautiful in appearance, but two completely new “hearts” are beating in its chest: a pair of digital-analog chips from Japanese brand ROHM.

Yes, while some companies discontinue their products due to global shortages of audio components, iBasso is finding ways to keep improving their products no matter the difficulties. Naturally, microcircuits, no matter how wonderful and cool they are, do not “sing” by themselves, competent technical implementation of the components is required here. But looking ahead, I’ll say that iBasso engineers once again brilliantly coped with the task set for them, and the DX320 turned out to be, without exaggeration, a chic DAP. This also applies to the new amplifier modules: AMP 11 MK2s (included with DAP) and tube AMP13.


We have never hidden our love for iBasso developments and we are not going to do it now. The brand's slogan "In pursuit of perfection" accurately reflects the zeal and perseverance with which the company approaches the development of its products. And now, against the backdrop of wild competition in the market and the aforementioned problems in the industry, the consistently high level of iBasso devices is especially impressive! But let's move on to the acquaintance with our today's guests.




Text: Alexey Kashirskey (aka Hans Barbarossa)





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Specifications


DAC chips: 2 × ROHM MUS-IC BD34301EKV

CPU: Snapdragon 660 14nm 8-core soc

Operating memory & storage: 6GB LPDDR4x RAM with 128GB storage

Frequency response:

Balanced out: 10hz-60khz,

Single ended out: 10hz-40khz

Output power (AMP11 MK2S)

Balanced out: 1200mw@32Ω/168mw@300Ω

Single ended out: 380mw@32Ω/40mw@300Ω

Maximum output level balanced out: 7.1vrms, single-ended out: 3.5vrms

THD +N: -110db(300r load), -99db(32r load)

Dynamic range & signal-to-noise ratio 122dB

Size: 162mm x 77mm x 17mm

Weight: 310g

AMP13:

Tubes:  KORG Nutube 6P1

Outputs 2x Jack 3.5mm

Output buffer Toshiba 2SK209 field effect transistors

Single-ended out low noise output: 2.5V

Single-ended out maximized output: 4.1V

Max output @32ohm load: 234mW






Appearance and kit / DX320


DX320, as befits the status of a cool DAP, is packed to last. The first is a hard gray jacket, which, like a chameleon, shimmers with mother-of-pearl silver. The name of the model and its title are located on it: Reference DAP, and at the very bottom the manufacturer is modestly indicated. Next, we take out a large blue box with a black triangular iBasso logo in the center. Everything here is refined and concise, I like it.




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We open the lid of the box and begin to study the contents. In addition to the DX320, a whole dowry fit inside: a set of three cables (coaxial, USB type-C and another short cable for the burn-in device), screen protectors, a stylish dark green leather case and mandatory warranty documents and instructions. As always with iBasso, the equipment is the most complete.




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Let's take a closer look at the DX320. It looks solid (162 mm x 77 mm x 17 mm) and thoroughbred (body material - aluminum alloy). The exterior of the device largely repeats the design of its predecessor. It looks like a top-end smartphone, and a silver wheel on the side adds gloss and aristocracy to it. Such a gentleman gadget will be appreciated by aesthetes, of which I am sure there are many among audiophiles. The 320 is available in two colors: black and blue.




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Compared to its predecessor, the DX320 has become noticeably lighter (205 versus 300 grams), and its appearance has become more finished. This is noticeable in the details: a more elegant execution of the side faces, a smoother rotation of the volume wheel with longitudinal side notches and a hollow in the center of this regulator, which now clearly fits under the thumb. Yes, and as an on / off button, this wheel has a smoother ride when pressed. Thanks to all this, the 320 is more comfortable in the hand and causes a more pleasant tactile sensation. As you understand, the ergonomics of the device is beyond praise.





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The entire front panel is occupied by a touch screen that impresses with its characteristics (6.5 "IPS, 2340x1080 px), with good responsiveness and excellent color reproduction. Not every modern smartphone can boast of such a display! Above the screen there is an oblong LED indicator that changes color depending on of the audio format being played or lights up while the device is operating/charging.


The rear panel is bluish-gray with rounded edges, made of plastic, on it, in the center, the name of the model “DX320” is proudly placed, and below there is a small window through which, when the replaceable AMP13 amplifier module is connected, two green “eyes” are lit - amplifier tubes. Under the window you can find information about the brand, country of origin and quality standards badges.




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On the right, on a slightly beveled end, there is the already mentioned wheel for adjusting the volume and turning the device on/off. Three control keys lined up next to it: forward, start / pause, back. There was also a place for our favorite “Hi-Res Audio” sticker. On the left side there is a slot for microSD in case the internal (128 GB) memory of the device is not enough.


The top side got a digital coaxial S / PDIF output and a type-C 3.1 connector that serves to charge the device and connect to a PC. By the way, the device supports QC 3.0, PD 3.0, which allows you to quickly recharge it, in about 2.5-3 hours. Below is the very new AMP-11 MK2s replacement amplifying module with three headphone audio outputs (combined with the linear “LO”): 4.4 mm (Pentacon) balanced, 2.5 mm balanced and 3.5 mm (SE stereo).


For all kinds of wireless manipulations, Wi-Fi 802.11b /g/n/ac (2.4GHz / 5GHz) 2 × 2 MIMO 5G and Bluetooth 5.0 with support for LDAC and aptX are on board. And when connected via USB type-C to a desktop PC or laptop, the player can also act as an external DAC/sound card.





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Unlike the DX300 with a digital-to-analog part (Cirrus Logic CS43198), our reviewed one is built on two new DAC chips from ROHM - MUS-IC bd34352ekv (one for each channel), which expands the possibilities of implementing a fully balanced output. The analog part, as I mentioned earlier, is the new AMP11 MK2s amplifier module, based on the AMP8, using updated components, including premium electrolytes and exclusive film capacitors designed specifically for iBasso. This amplifier module boasts an output power of 1200 mW into 32 ohms.


iBasso's own FPGA-Master matrix is responsible for processing the digital part and jitter suppression.




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The device is equipped CPU 8-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 SoC, 6 GB of LPDDR 4x RAM, which, in conjunction with optimized Android 11, gives excellent results!

Two independent lithium-polymer batteries are responsible for powering the device: one (3.8V 4000mAh) is responsible for the digital part of the device, the second (3.8V 2000mAh) - for the analog one. The discharge is not synchronous, the indication of each section is displayed at the top of the display. One "joint" charge cycle, on average, is enough for about 10 hours of operation with the ability to quickly charge (Quick Charge). Well, as always, the type of connected headphones, the format of the files being listened to and the volume level will have a noticeable effect on the "survivability" of the player.


Yes, iBasso DX320 was a success! It is impeccably made, looks great, stuffed with modern hardware and has an outstanding technical implementation that even the most expensive ultradaps can envy.





Software and control


Android 11 and its own Mango OS are responsible for the "intellectual" abilities of the device.

Installing apps on the DX320 can be done with APKPure, so any Android app can be found and downloaded by yourself in minutes.


In "three hundred and twenty", as in its predecessor, there is a dual boot, which allows you to choose between Android and an independent virtual Mango player, which has acquired a new stylish interface and even more convenient control.

If you want, in addition to listening to music, access to the Internet, all kinds of programs and streaming services - load Android. If you want a clean audio player - choose Mango OS.

The software is updated both online (the DX320 itself finds and installs it when connected to Wi-Fi), and through the manufacturer's website, from where you can download proprietary software to a memory card and install it on the device from there. This is familiar to us from the DX200/220/300/MAX.


Even a child will cope with navigation: swipe across the screen, move the curtains, press with your finger on what you are looking for - everything is simple and familiar, just like in smartphones. Well, if you wish, you can start and switch tracks with the side buttons.


It is also worth mentioning that the DX320 is already quite well optimized out of the box, and the manufacturer promises to regularly improve its software. By the way, the device has just seen the light, and three updates have already been released on it.

Among other things, the player has graphic and parametric (PMEQ) equalizers and two digital filters: sharp roll-off and slow roll-off.


And in general, using the DX320 is a pleasure.





APM13 unboxing


Specs

DAP compatibility: iBasso DX320/DX300

Two 6th generation Korg tubes (KORG Nutube 6P1)

Headphone outputs: 3.5mm low noise (2.5Vrms) and 3.5mm high output (4.1Vrms)

Using Toshiba 2SK209 FETs as Nutube signal output buffer.




The AMP13 is an amplifier stage in modular form, a board of unique design using 6th generation KORG Nutube 6P1 vacuum tubes (two pieces) designed by Korg together with another Japanese company, Noritake Itron. Replacing such a board allows you to upgrade your DAP yourself.




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We met a similar scheme in the AMP9 module designed for the DX220 / DX200, and now iBasso's developers have been able to translate it into a new design compatible with third-series audio players.




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The AMP13 comes in a pearl 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 things: a hard zippered case, similar to a small corrugated peli case, for the module, an additional transparent silicone case for the DX320 player, a screwdriver that will come in handy soon, spare screws, as well as instructions and a warranty card. Inside the plastic case, in a plastic bag, we find our AMP13 amplifier.




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Made by iBasso AMP13 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 3.5 mm TRS headphone outputs: low noise (2.5 Vrms) and maximum output power (4.1 Vrms). Before installing the module in the DAP, you can slowly examine it: square "eyes" of KORG Nutube 6P1 electronic tubes, black textolite and device circuitry. The board was made at the highest level - engineering beauty!




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Replacing amplifying modules 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 carefully folding the unused module into the same plastic box with a zipper, so as not to inadvertently damage the board.

Then we carry out all the simple manipulations from the first part of the operation in reverse order. We take our AMP13 and join it, inserting it into the grooves and pushing it forward to the vacant seat. Now we twist the two screws back with a screwdriver. Voila, everything is ready, you can turn on the player and connect the headphones.


So, we are all set to move on to the most important thing - listening and testing!





Sound Impressions


For our guest, I prepared a damn dozen IEMs/headphones: 64 AUDIO A12t, FIR XE6, Vision Ears VE8, Vision Ears VE7, VE EVE20, InEar PP8, iBasso IT07, Softears RS10, Softears Cerberus, Beyerdynamic DT250/250 ohm, Phonon SMB -02, Phonon 4400 and HEDD HEDDphone ONE.


Before analyzing the sound, the DX320 burn-in was about 50-70 hours, which, in my opinion, had a beneficial effect on the final formation of its "voice".


Also, at the time of writing the review, the latest software was installed on the device - firmware 2.02.834.


A few recommendations from the editors of Audio-PH. If you have installed the latest update (at the time of writing this review, it is fw. 2.02.834), then:

1) Do a factory reset.

2) Reboot the device 5-7 times (one by one, reboot device).

3) It is advisable to let the device burn-in for about 50 hours.


Let me emphasize right away that DAP did an excellent job with both low-resistance sensitive IEM / CIEM and high-resistance full-size headphone models - no noise or any other artifacts were noticed.


The iBasso DX320 with AMP11 MK2s delivers a clean, smooth, comfortable and highly refined sound with excellent tonal balance and no distortion. The new amplifier module handled both low-impedance sensitive multi-driver BA/Hybrid IEMs and high-impedance full-size dynamic driver headphone models. I was a little surprised how the device worked well with the rather "tight", very demanding HEDD HEDDphone ONE. Of course, it could not reveal the full potential of HEDDphone ONE, this requires powerful stationary equipment, but, nevertheless, even at medium volume, it allowed you to enjoy music quite comfortably. An excellent result for a portable device!




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This DAP linearly and flawlessly builds all sound sources in the virtual space, delicately outlining each instrument. This is a completely neutral manner of sound production, in which the DX320 + AMP11 MK2s duo, without imposing any taste colors, allows your headphones to sound, revealing their potential, showing their sound character, and also paying more attention to the quality of the mastering of the audio material you listen to. This, in my opinion, is the highest reference reproduction, since it allows you to both adequately evaluate the sound character of the IEM / headphones you are testing, and fully enjoy listening to your favorite music.


Therefore, when analyzing the sound of the DX320, we mostly describe the nature of the sound used with it in a pair of headphones, not forgetting, of course, the contribution of the amplifier module connected to it.





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For example, in tandem with Vision Ears VE8, InEar ProPhile 8 or Softears RS10, the player produces a reference reference sound: extraordinarily smooth, which tactfully lays out the palette of sounds in a "monitor" form, accurately and correctly, without any frequency amplitude distortions.

Connecting the FIR XE6 CIEM adds depth and dimension to the sound, warmth and studio-analogue charm, with a slight accent in the lower register.




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I really liked the connection of the DX320 with the VE EVE20 and VE7, where the manner of sounding becomes unusually plastic, incredibly harmonious and melodious, served in a comfortable neutral form.

In such a sound, you want to completely dissolve and enjoy your favorite music for hours on end. Just you and the melody, one on one.




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The union of DX320 with 64 audio A12t, in turn, adds dynamism, slightly focuses attention on the edges of the frequency range, giving the overall sound drive, emotions and the width of an imaginary space.


Connecting the AMP12 module to the DX320, without changing the overall nature of the “voice” of the device, adds to the overall sound of impressiveness, speed and clarity in working out micro and macro nuances. The musical canvas is drawn widely, vividly, in relief, saturated and more contrasting. This amp has quite a lot of power, more than the AMP11 MK2s, and when switching to it, if you are using IEMs, I would recommend setting the Gain to “Low” to begin with, for comfortable volume control.


The AMP13, when compared to its modular cousins, shows a solid, embossed and warm character. The sound becomes extremely melodious, colorful, plastic and saturated, acquiring a slightly darkened background and a special unforgettable charm that is difficult to express with any definitions. The lower register is filled with a smooth, thick and velvety substance, the beat is dense and rolling. The bass, in turn, is not as fast and biting as in the case of the AMP11 MK2s and AMP12, but it is rich in timbre, plastic, embossed and harmonious. The AMP13 is excellent at conveying timbres and reverbs, as well as displaying the depth of an imaginary space. There is also commendable dynamics, excellent texture transfer and charming mannerism, served in a warm-tube, beautiful "analogue" form. In my opinion, it is perfect for playing classical music, instrumental, jazz and old school rock. For modern brutal music styles, in my opinion, AMP13 is a little less suitable. Although, here, as always, a matter of taste ..


It is worth noting that when connecting high-sensitivity, low-impedance IEMs to an output with maximum output power, some background noise may occur. This is especially noticeable in the pauses between songs. Therefore, I would recommend connecting in-ear monitors to a low noise output (2.5 Vrms). But high-impedance headphones, on the contrary, should be connected to the output with the maximum output power (4.1 Vrms). The developers from iBasso have carefully considered this important point, for which special thanks to them.




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Let's sum up the sound results based on a bunch of DX320 + AMP11 MK2s (perhaps the most versatile of all amplifier modules)


Lows - accurate, tangible, with a clearly distinguishable force of impact, with a relief, collected and well-articulated energetic bass. Impressive dynamics, and the transfer of contrast, and the depth of space. An excellent combination of quantity and quality, as well as an impeccable balance.


Mids are smooth, harmonious, natural, with accurate textures and good resolution. Here, each sound has its own mass, body and relief. The mid-range register is presented in detail and harmoniously, with a wide dynamic range, neutral and at the same time very melodic. There is nothing to complain about here, everything is impeccable, as is the case with the lower case.


Highs - clean and crisp. There are no complaints about the quantity and quality of this register. They are moderately restrained and charming, without the slightest hint of dirt or distortion. It is a neutral, smooth, precise and informative manner, well-drawn, presented in a graceful and comfortable manner.



Weaknesses in terms of genre preferences were not found in the DX320. The device perfectly copes with all the musical styles offered to it: classical music, instrumental, jazz, electronics, rock and all kinds of more brutal genres. And for enthusiasts who want to customize the sound of the DX320 to their taste, add personality and make it more unique, there are replaceable AMP modules.




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Conclusion


The DX320 is a fully finished and balanced throughout DAP with a reference sound that allows you to open up 100% to almost any IEM and headphones. This is an amazing portable device, in which everything is perfect: appearance, innards and musical "character". In my opinion, the new creation from iBasso Audio should be a hit in 2022, because it has everything to conquer even the most demanding audiophile.

In addition to these advantages, the DX320 is ready to work with streaming services and can act as a sound card connected to a PC. Well, the new AMP13, with its unusually harmonious and plastic manner of sound production, is just a chic gift for fans of iBasso developments.


It remains only to inform about the prices. The suggested retail price for the DX320 at the time of writing is $1599, while the AMP13 will cost around $269. Personally, I believe that every dollar of this amount is more than fulfilled by the above devices, and I recommend the DX320 and APM13 for purchase without the slightest hesitation.



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Pros - Sound, kit, design, functionality


Cons - No (leaving the price in brackets).









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