I had contact and constant positive experience with iBasso products since the start of the computer audio era. The DX90 was one of the best mobile audio players anno – liked it a lot, and also the DX50 was a likeable player. The DC01 2,5” balanced USB dac was one of the front-line fighters of the budget mobile usb dongle dac-s with extraordinary sound quality. I used it for more than a year, sold it just because I upgraded it to a pricier, higher level component.
iBasso has built up and renewed its audio player line in the last couple of years. In the lower segment of the midrange players they sent the DX120 into fight with the in-house Linux-based, audio optimised Mango OS operating system and Mango Player app, with AKM AK4495 DAC chip. On the top of the player range they released the DX200 and the upgraded DX220, the later with dual Sabre ES9028Pro chips, selectable Android 8.1 and MangoOS operating systems, two-way Bluetooth 5.0 support, and last but nut least changeable amplifier modules. In the midrange they released the DX150 also with interchangeable amplifier modules (compatible with DX220 modules), with midrange AKM AK4490EQ chip, Android 6 and Bluetooth 4.1 support. The number of amplifier choices has grown constantly, now including also the AMP9 module with Korg NuTube tubes.
The question may arise, how the DX160 fits into this palette of audio players? In the midrange such popular Android based players have been released as the Hiby R5 and Fiio M11, and at higher price level, the Fiio M11 Pro, Shanling M6, M6 pro. The iBasso wanted to provide an alternative to these players with the DX160.
Technical details – all in
Let’s start with the most important aspect – the DX160 with its aluminum frame can be bought in 4 colors: black, blue, red and silver 🙂 The tested player was red – the color can be described as very nice dark mauve. The tested, updated 2020 version of the DX160 contains an 5 inch, 445 ppi, 1080p screen produced by JDI. The screen fills the device side-to-side, just some small place is left below it. The screen looks gorgeous – colors and contrast are great, and has enough luminance to make the use also outdoors enjoyable.
Based on the announcement, the 2020 facelifted version contains also upgraded opamp and buffer beyond the new screen, and the headphone socket has beem replaced with a CTIA conform version.
Back to build characteristics – the DX160 has been designed to use in one hand. This is supported by the ideal, pre-phablet size, and the 178g weight that is betwwen the weight of Hiby R5 and Fiio M11. The track change and play/pause buttons are positioned on the right side of the device, and can be easily reached with the middle or the trigger finger. The volume wheel changes the volume digitally, works easily and precisely.
The USB-C socket has been placed on the top of the device. Beyond the charging it makes it possible to use the DX160 as a USB DAC, and the socket supports the connection of OTG compatible device, thus the DX160 can act as an USB Audio digital audio transport. The USB DAC operation can be activated in the Advanced settings of the Mango Player.
The SD card slot can be found on the left side of the device, while the 3,5″ single ended and 4,4″ simmetrical output has been placed on the lower end of the player. The 3,5″ jack socket is multifunctional – line out (LO), headphone (PO) signal level can be selected, and can act also as COAX SPDIF output. The design shouts for 90 degree headphone adapters…
We did not talk about the inner life of DX160 yet.Dual CS43198 DAC chips are working inside. The CS43198 is a very popular choice among mobile audio hardware manufacturers nowadays – for example the Hiby R5, Opus 1s and AK SR25 players employ this DA converter. The operation system is Android 8.1 – also the Mango Player can be accessed from the main screen of Android. In contrary to the DX220 the swith to MangoOS is not possible on the DX160 (using the official firmware). Some mods made it possible derived from the formware of the DX220. The two-way Bluetooth 5 connection is is imherited from the DX220. The operating system is driven by an 8 core Rockchip processor with 2 GB RAM and 32GB ROM. I did not face any UI speed problems. Sometimes the Mango player ‘was a bit thinking’ before playing the first song of the albums, but the subsequent songs started immediatelly, so I did not find it annoying, problematic. The official firmware does not contain the Google Play store. Instead the APKPure and CoolAPK management apps are installed. I could easily install the newest version of the official Tidal app using APKPure. The wifi connection is up to date – b/g/n/ac (2.4Ghz/5Ghz) standards are supported. I did not encounter any dropouts during using Tidal-t connected to a wifi router in another room. Also the MQA decoding worked without any issues.
The built-in battery supports QC3.0, PD2.0 charging standards, and the size is 3200mAh – they promise maximum 13 hours of playback time. In daily use it fluctuated between 10-12 hours, depending on the file types and ear/headphones used. To achieve higher energy-efficiency, the screen goes blank after some seconds of inactivity, and the screen resolution can be set to 720p. The included accessories are an USB-A to USB-C cable and a transparent silicone case.
Some additional performance measures, then we can finally move to the usage experience.
3,5 mm output
4,4 mm balanced output
0.0007% (32Ω, 2Vrms)
0.00022% (32Ω, 3Vrms)
0.00035% (without load)
The DX160 performed really well on independent tests – the measured performance was close to the iBasso published values. This is refreshing, since in case of some other audio manufacturers the measured performance is many times much worse then the values annaounced. If somebody is interested, the test can be accessed here:
It is worth to mention about Android used on the device, that additionally to the apps of streaming services any prefered audio player can be installed from APK file (for example USB Audio Player Pro), even if it is not available in APKPure.
The icon of iBasso’s own Mango Player appears in the lower left corner of the screen by default.
The usage of this player is very straightforward. You can search in the indexed media library ordered and filtered by Album, Performer, Genre, etc…, also album and performer views can be selected, and the music stored on the device can be browsed also by folders. The Mango Player does not support DLNA, but third party apps, like USB Audio Player can be installed also for this purpose.
The following options can be accessed in the Settings
Turn on/off Gapless playback
Play mode – Original order, Continuous playback, Random playback, Repeat
Graphic and parametric Equalizer
One of four digital filters (one of them must be selected)
and in the Advanced menu
the USB DAC mode
Sleep timer, media rescan and system information.
The graphic and parametric equalizer are of very high (sound) quality. The handling is very easy with on-screen touch controlled frequency correction curve setting. The Mango Player lowers the volume with some dB to avoid distorsion. In the graphic equalizer we get 5 standard and one user adjustable configurations.
In the filter manu we can choose from the four built-in filters of the Cirrus CS43198:
Short delay slow roll-off
Short delay fast roll-off
With my earphones I liked the 3. filter the most – the bass was tight and dynamic, with the right amount, the sound was very natural.
Sound – refined vitality
General impressions of tuning- balance to the force
The sound of DX160 is balanced, none of the frequency ranges are emphasised substantially. All the ranges are equally well presented. Even so I would not call it completely reference, neutral tuning – it sounds slightly warm. The focus is slightly on the midbass and midrange, with nice vocals. The following adjectives come first into my mind: fresh, dynamic, tight, rich, without the common problem of blooming midbass and oversaturated midrange. The DX160 cannot be accused of the politeness, occasional softness of the iFi iDSD BL Nano, nor the sterility of the Hidizs S8 / Tempotec Sonata HD Pro. It can be heard that iBasso did not aim for an absolute reference sounding player with the DX160 – if somebody is looking for such DAP, for them there are in house the DX200, DX220 and DX220 MAX using dual ESS Sabre 9028 chips. In later part of this article there is a datailed comparison with the DX220.
The great advantage of this tuning, that in case of all the earphones I tried with the DX160, the DX160 did not alter their own sound character (including their advantages and disadvantages), did not color their sound, but the freshness, dynamism and airiness could be felt in all these pairings. It must be emphasized, that the manufacturers have to make compromise in the midrange players to meet also the cost-optimisation goals. In most cases the price of the emphasised detail retreival is a more or less digital, unnatural sounding device. The makers of DX160 has balanced it really well – they could avoid this kind of ‘hardness’ of the sound. The instruments have realistic body / weight and natural lifelike timbre, but not at the expense of detail retreival.
The soundstage is significantly over average in size horizontally and also in depth, and the positioning of instruments is surprisingly convincing. If we do not expect reference level, we can be surprised by what we hear. Also in this aspect is the DX160 really close to the DX220 with AMP1 Mk2 – this is a great feat from a midrange player.
The balanced Pentaconn 4.4 output brings its usual benefits – the double power of SE output (6.4Vrms), thanks to that it has enough power for higher impedance, harder to drive headphones. The SE and balanced output sounded similarly, but the balanced output was more dynamic and the instrument separation was better through this output.
Bass – solid ground
The DX160 does not spare on bass, and doesn’t raise it. As I mentioned earlier, within the bass range the emphasis is on the midbass, but not to that extent as in case of the iFi Hip-Dac. It does not provide reference level subbass, but can reach quite deep, and if a song requires, it can become enough physical – not any bass drop is lost 🙂 We cannot have any complaint regarding the detail level of bass – the DX160 can reproduce the diverse vibrations of a double bass, and the unique sound of diverse elacatric bass playing styles. The sound of bass instruments is natural, energic, weighty, but not overly, quick, tight, and can be hard hitting if the source material sound so. Changing the filters of the DAC chip affected the bass range the most – we can tailor the sound to our taste this way to an extent.
Mids – music to my ears
The mids are a bit in the foreground. Both the male and female vocals sound good, lifelike. I liked a lot that the DX160 can sound velvety, fresh/live and airy at the same time, that makes listening to it enjoyable and exciting for longer sessions. The detail retrival, and 3D presentation is outstanding within the midrange players, and very good on the whole.
Highs – fine details
The highs nicely fit into the mostly balanced tuning of the DX160. The detail level of the highs is ‘only’ close to the DX220, and the highest octaves are a bit rounded, but I did not feel I miss anything important. What is provided (and it is not scarce) from the high range, that is fantastic – they are sparkling, but do not become metallic, hard, or even harsh. The DX160 represent the sound character of instruments in this range really nice – they are fresh, airy, dynamic, but can become enough scratchy (for example intense trumpet solos). The DX160 does not want to become the champion of details, but serves up enough detail for those who are interested is small nuances of a performance or musical piece. As a result the DX160 is a good choice for any genre.
Soundstage, separation, positioning – the question is from where, instead of from what direction
One of the best features of the DX160 is the exceptional soundstage representation. With all the earphones/headphones used during the testing it produced an out of the head soundscape with convincing horizontal scale and depth. The positioning of instruments, and separation was very precise even in densely orchestrated, complex songs. I know that it starts to become boring, but I can say that compared to the DX220 there were no night and day differences. Compared to one of the best mobile USB DAC-s, the Lotoo S1 turbo charged with an iFi iPurifier3 noise eliminator +USB reclocker they provided similar level of sound, there were slight differences in favor of the DX160. The sounds were not just positioned correctly to the left or right side, but I could hear well where are they related to eachother, and what is the approximate distance between them. The DX220 could up this level with the ability to clearly separate also very close instruments from eachother, avoiding the blurring of these instruments, or rounding their sound. Beyond that the DX220 could also present complex room reverbeations more correctly. I can say confidently, that the DX160 reaches outstanding level of soundstage representation, positioning, separation in this price range.
Noise level, power – Sound of silence
The 4.4″ balanced and the 3,5″ SE outputs have0.4 Ohm and 0.3 Ohm output impedance, that ensures, that the DX160 does not influence the original sound character of the ear/headphones. The player is very silent – I did not hear any noise through my very sensitive Simphonio Dragon 3 earbud. I have read some tests stating that the DX160 is sensitive to WIFI signals, that can be heard used with very sensitive earphones – I did not encounter this issue. The power of 3.2Vrms (SE) amd 6.4Vrms is enough to drive most of the earphones/heaphones except for extremely hard to drive ones.
Pairing – sociable
The DX160 is not too sensitive to pairing, can be used effectively with a wide range of earphones / headphones.
My friend Csaba lended me the T5P together with the DX220 for the test – great thanks for it. The soundstage representation of the DX160-T5P pair was above average, but I felt the left-right separation a bit close. Within the bass range the focus has been moved to the subbass, that resulted in emphasising the mids. This was not my favourite pairing.
Simphonio Dragon 3
The DX160 is a perfect pairing with the balanced sounding Simphonio Dragon 3 – the very detailed mids and fresh highs of the earbud are a great match with the sound signature of the player, and the Dragon 3 can benefit from the tight, deep, quick bass of the DX160. In Kamaal Williams song called Street Dreams the sound of the harp and the saxophon are great beneath the strings, and the sound effects in the background can be heard, identified very well. Clair de Lune from Kamasi Washington is a fantastic, complex musical piece, that is mastered gorgeously – recommended listening. Using this pairing the timbre and weight of piano in the intro is great, even the noise of the pedals can be heard, if somebody is interested 🙂 The sound of wind isnstruments are very life-like, the electric organ in the background sounds realistic, the varied sound of saxophone reflects the changing style of play, and the base is tight. The sound of the chorus is very emotional and convincing. The soundstage is great, imaging is pinpoint – this is one of the – this is a great feature of the Dragon 3 – the DX160 lives up to it.
The tuning of the oBravo Cupid is very exciting, but calling it balanced would be hugely misleading. Between the tight, deep, detailed bass of the dynamic driver and the fresh highs of the planar driver, the midrange is a bit weak, slim. The DX160 helps a lot to compensate it, but it cannot eliminate this limit of the Cupid (without EQ). In Kamaal Williams – Street Dreams the harp is even more airy, the saxophone has more bite, but the strings sound a bit slim. Kamasi Washington – Clair de Lune: the base is a bit bulky, the brass intruments sound a bit too metallic. Beyond these everything sounds very dynamic, soundstage is great, the sound of the chorus is great. This pairing is better suited for pop and electronic genres.
This pairing has a lot in common with the Simphonio Dragon 3, thanks to the great tuning of the ER2XR, and the realistic timbre of the instruments.
In case of Kamaal Williams – Street Dreams the sound of the harp and saxophon is great next to the string instruments, with easily identifiable effects in the background. Kamasi Washington – Clair de Lune: the piano sounds a bit slimmer, but overall the timbre and weight is good in the intro. The sound of pedals can be heard, the sound of brass instruments is nice, but a bit less rich than in cas of the Dragon 3. The electric organ is convincing in the background, the sound of the saxophone is a bit dryer, but natural, the trumpet is very life-like. The base is tight and quick, maybe this pairing is the best in this apect. Using the two earphones with the DX160, the pairings represent the core signatures of the earphones: both earphones produce very realistic sounding instruments, but the Dragon 3 sounds richer, more inviting, airier with huge soundstage and pin-point imaging, while the ER2XR is a bit dryer, more monitoring sound, with a flatter soundstage, but goes deeper in the subbass range, and is tighter. Both pairings are great, just in a different way – but this preference is hugely subjective.
AIAIAI TMA-1 STUDIO YOUNG GURU EDITION
Color-wise this is the best pairing 🙂 The TMA-1 Studio Young Guru Edition is a very interesting headphone. This has been designed and tuned for mastering electronic and bass oriented genres like hip-hop. The frequency response is not balanced, some sort of W shaped, but the soundstage presentation is great, and it is very detailed – every nuance, change and movement of the instruments can be traced easily. I usually EQ down the midbass with about 4dB, and raise the subbass with 1-2 dB – this way I get a tight sounding, very detailed, enjoyable headphone. In Kamaal Williams – Street Dreams the sound of the harp and saxophone is even better, more lively than on the Dragon 3. Kamasi Washington – Clair de Lune: the higher octave piano sounds sound a bit slim, sizzle. The base is tight, the sound of brass instruments is realistic and have nice bite, the lower octaves of piano sound very natural with great weight. Good pairing with very detailed, sometimes bit bright sound.
My Sennheiser HD6XX arrived only following the completion of the review, thus could not take into consideration. In the upcoming tests it will be a standard device in the comparison section.
Comparison – can hold it’s ground
These comparisons were completed with the DX160 – Simphonio Dragon 3 pairing, as this is the Top Of The Line earbud now with very realistic tuning and detail retrievel, which trades blows with the HD650, and scales well with better sources. Beyond that I know very well all aspetcs of it’s sound 🙂
My impressions summarised below:
DX160 Low gain
Lotoo S1 – Filter High gain
DX220 AMP 1 MK2
James Blake – Limit to your love
The subbass can be felt, dynamic. The piano has enough weight, the vocal are in the foreground with good detail, can be followed, understood easily.
The subbass is similarly strong, but softer. The instruments are separated a bit less. The vocals are bit more natural, but the soundstage is a bit smaller.
The vocals appear on the perfect spot before me. The subbass is tight like in case of the DX160, slightly weaker. The sound of piano and drums is the most realistic here. The decay of instruments is the best here by far.
Musica Nuda – Roxane
The sound of the double bass is more dense than in case of DX220, less small nuances can be heard, it sounds more euphoric. The vocals are less airy.
The sound is very similar to the DX160, maybe a bit even more warm.
The sound of the singerin is nice, airy. The double bass is tight but natural/rounded at the same time – all small vibrations of this instrument can be heard.
GoGo Penguin – Raven
The sound of the piano is a bit leaner, than on the DX220, the attack is softer, but with great 3D decay. The drums sound great, the lows are bit more weighty than needed, but very detailed and tight.
Quick and tight bass, a bit too dense, the vibrations of the instrument are bit rounded. The sound of the piano is slimmer than on the DX220, with suprisingly good decay.
Soundstage presentation is the best here. Very controlled presentation of the double bass, with all the small nuances. The piano seems to be plazeing before us with great decay.
Marcus Miller – Setembro (Brazilian Wedding Song)
The electric bass is tight, strong, sounds life-like. The female vocals appear correctly on the right back – the sound is nice, soft and airy.
The base guitar sounds very similar to DX160. The positioning of the female vocal is not so precise.
The sound of the electric bass is the best here – with all the metal string effects can be heard – but the difference compared to the DX160 is minimal. Soundstage is the best here.
Fleetwood Mac – The chain
Sounds very similar to the S1.
Compared to the DX220 the soundstage is smaller in width, and the vocals are closer to the listener. The sound of guitars are less metallic, softer, bit rounded. Base is also a bit rounded.
Guitars appear on the sides, vocal correctly in the middle. All the small nuances of the guitar strings ringing can be heard and traced.
The Holy Men – World Saxophone Quartet
The sound and exact place of all the brass and percussive instruments in diverse places of the room can be identified well around the pulsating bass in the middle. Maybe the sound is a bit metallic, hard sometimes.
The instruments sound a bit softer than on the DX160, and their place is a bit losser defined. The soundsatge is smaller, but the sound is very natural.
The sound and exact place of all the brass and percussive instruments in diverse places of the room can be identified well around the pulsating bass in the middle.
Nina Simone – I put a spell on you
The stage of the recording is presented well, can be heard – the saxophone and the strings in the background on the left, the vocals in fornt of us, piano on the right back, and the bass on the right front side. The very characteristic sound of Nina Simone is presented very realistically.
The depth of the stage is smaller, the sound of Nina Simone is less ‘scratched’ (but this is a Tidal Master recording, and the S1 does not support MQA yet – listening to a 24-bit 192Hz flac file there was no riveting difference)
As we would be there, and Nina Simone would sing before us.
Yo-Yo Ma – Cockeye’s Song from Once Upon a Time in America
Sounds similar to the S1, maybe a bit more airy. The soundsatge representation is between the S1 and DX220, closer to the DX220.
The sound of the chello has more body, the ringing of the strings, and even the breathing can be heard.
More tight and dynamic than the S1. The soundstage is huge.
Ólafur Arnalds & Alice Sara Ott – Reminiscence
The violin and the higher octaves of piano sound a bit slimmer than on the S1, but the soundstage is greater.
The sound of the violin is fantastic, full of vitality.
The violin is the airiest on the DX220. The dynamics are great.The highest piano notes are kicking, soft and airy at the same time with very realistic decay.
“The National Anthem” – Radiohead
The base is softer, the soundsatge is smaller, effects are positioned a bit looser compared to the DX220. The effects on the vocals are softer with smaller movement. The timbre of the brass instruments is very similar, but the decay is a bit blurrier. All the noted differences are just nuances compared to the reference level!
Tight, dynamic bass. Soundstage and other aspects are very similar to DX160.
Tight, dynamic bass, vocals with effects moving in 3D. The drums in the middle, hihats and effect appear and disappear very realistically. Timbre of brass instruments is very natural.
Radiohead – 15 step
Super, tight and easily traceable guitar and base beneath the drums.
Very similar to the DX160.
Extra dynamics compared to the other two players. Evan more natural voice, better instrument separation, all instrument can be followed 100%, reentering bass riff is simply perfect.
Michael Jackson – Beat it
All attack is a bit softer, than on the DX220, but the differences are slight.
Similar to DX160.
The duo of synth pad szinti pad and guitar riff has nice bite, and the drums have nice dynamics.
Steely Dan – “Do It Again”
A bit less natural sounding than the S1 – more details are presented, more dynamic, but maybe a bit too ‘fresh’ sounding compared to DX220.
Beneath the conga, percussions, and electric organ all the used instruments can be heard and identified. The positioning of the instruments is great, sounds ‘analog’, the size of the soundstage is average.
More dynamic than the S1, but keeps the naturalness. It presents the best soundstage.
Brandt Brauer Frick – Decades
Fantastic soundtage and dynamics. The initial percussions and strings appear on the sides far away. The harp can be heard on the left front, brass instruments are presented correctly on both sides.
The positioning of the instruments is similar to the DX160. A bit less vital, dynamic, maybe bit closer to the sound of the original recording.
The percussions are airier and strings. The positioning is even better.
Pink Floyd – Time
The sound of the clocks is bit too metallic. The soundstage depth is bigger then on the S1. The instruments, for example synthetisers are maybe a bit exagerrated. The dynamics is great – between the S1 and DX220.
The width is great, the depth is a bit small. The separation of guitars, base guitar, chorus and vocals is good. The sound of clocks is realistic, but a bit soft.
The sound of clocks is perfect, sound from further back. Every detail can be traced, heard – guitars on the sides, guitar solo in the middle from a distance.
Blade Runner 2049 OST – 2049
The sound is bit softer, but just slight difference compared to the DX220. The sound of higher effects is a bit less airy.
Bit slimmer, less physical sound, but the effect of vibrating air is present also here. The sound of higher effects is between the DX160 and DX220.
Perfect control of the detonation like sounds, and low octave murmurs. Very convincing portrayal of appearance and disappearing of effects is 3D.
What can be achieved with a midrange audio player nowadays? Based on the experience with the DX160, quite a lot. Playing back music that is stored on an SD card, from bluetooth source or from from streaming providers (Tidal also with MQA, Spotify, etc…) or using third party DLNA player apps are all supported on the ANdrois 8.1 based UI.
The DX160 is not total reference tuned, but quite balanced – the following adjectives come first into my mind: fresh, dynamic, tight, rich, without the common problem of blooming midbass and oversaturated midrange.The makers of DX160 has balanced it really well – they could avoid this kind of ‘hardness’ of the sound. The instruments have realistic body / weight and natural lifelike timbre, but not at the expense of detail retreival.
Soundstage presentation, positioning is great, not far from the reference level players. Thanks to the very low noise level, and quite high power output, the DX160 can be paired with a wide range of ear/headphones, from sensitive IEM-s to harder to drive headphones (except for the extreme hard to drive ones), and it is not sensitive to tuning of ear/headphones in pairing.
The great suprise of the test was for me, how close is the performance of the DX160 is to the reference level DX220. If somebody is looking for a player with absolute neutral, flat tuning, for them it is recommended with provisions, but I think it is worth for everybody to try it. You will be surprised how natural, refined, dynamic sound full of vitality can it produce, inviting to continuous music listening joy. Based on these findings I was not surprised that the DX160 is one of the standard sources used by Crinicle in his IEM and headphone tests: https://crinacle.com/
The iBasso DX160 has been presented for the review by Muzix Group Kft. the official hungarian distributor of iBasso .
5% coupon code in case of buying an iBasso DX160: Futureware-5%, that can be used on the https://muzix.hu page
If somebody is looking for a natural and lively sounding really mobile DAP, that easily fits in a pocket and the palm of a hand, than the DX160 is a great choice. It is surprisingly close in many aspects to the DX220, that is a high praise!
In many aspects it's slightly warm, but balanced, dynamic, exciting, lively sound is close to the DX220
Size of soundstage in width and depth, exceptional positioning
Sharp screen with great contast and colors, eventually all music sources can be accessed through the Android UI, including Tidal MQA
Cannot change to native, Linux based Mango Player (with official firmware)