(Last Updated On: January 8, 2020)

iBasso DX220 has successfully replaced DX200 as the top of the line (TOTL) product for the brand and poses a threat to other manufacturers with its outstanding resolution and uncoloured sound signature.

Thank you, Zeppelin and Co. for loaning me the iBasso DX220 digital audio player (DAP). It was loaned to me in exchange for my honest review and opinion.

Introduction

Founded in 2008, iBasso Audio is a digital audio product manufacturer from China. The company started with manufacturing digital audio players and amplifiers. With the hype for portable audio players increasing over the years, iBasso began embarking on their journey building in-ear monitors (IEMs), too. I have much experience with iBasso as an audiophile.

Previously, I reviewed their entry-level IEM, IT01s, and the well-received DC02. Both of them are great.

In 2017, iBasso released the DX200 – the replacement of the DX100, which had been the flagship for a long time. While most of us were expecting DX200 to sit in the top position as long as DX100, iBasso announced DX220 during CanJam Singapore 2019. What’s new in this flagship? We shall unveil it layer by layer in this review.

iBasso DX220

iBasso DX220

"The DX220 has a neutral and uncolored sound signature - no bias towards any frequency spectrum when delivering the musical notes to users. Every note has sufficient emphasis. There is no additional coloration added to the presentation. However, it could be too analytical for warmth and musical sound signature lovers."

Pros:

  • »Good resolution across the frequency spectrum
  • »Balanced and uncolored tonality
  • »Wide headroom
  • »Replaceable amplifier module design
  • »Bi-directional Bluetooth 5.0
  • »Snappy user interface

Cons:

  • »Included leather case is not properly designed

In The Box

The full packaging was not provided when the DX220 was loaned to me, so I can only include the list of accessories in this part of the review.
  • leather case
  • burn-in cable
  • USB-C cable
  • coaxial output adapter
  • screen protector set.

Technical Specification

  • Processor: 8-core ARM
  • DAC: 2 × ESS Sabre 9028
  • Frequency range: 15 Hz – 45 kHz (±0.1 dB)
  • Total harmonic distortion+noise: 0.00018% (32Ω @ 3Vrms, balanced), 0.00035% (32Ω @ 1.8Vrms, unbalanced)
  • Signal/noise ratio: 125 dB balanced, 123 dB unbalanced
  • Output voltage: 6.2Vrms balanced, 3.1Vrms unbalanced
  • RAM: 4 Gb LPDDR
  • ROM: 64 Gb
  • Wireless interfaces: WiFi 5GHz, Bluetooth 5.0 (two-way)
  • Bluetooth codecs: aptX, LDAC
  • Screen: 5″ IPS, 1920 × 1080
  • Battery: 4400 mAh, 3.8V Li-Polymer
  • Quick charge support: QC3.0, PD2.0, MTK PE Plus
  • Play time: 8 – 9 часов
  • Charging time: 70% in 1 hour
  • Memory card support: MicroSD
  • OS: Android 8.1 + MangoOS
  • Supported formats: MQA, APE, FLAC, WAV, WMA, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, OGG, MP3, DFF, DSF, DXD
  • Playlist support: M3U
  • Max resolution: up to 384 kHz/32 bit, DSD512
  • Dimensions: 126 mm × 71 mm × 19 mm
  • Weight: 240 g.

Physical Appearance

It’s obvious at first glance that iBasso spent more effort in designing the DX220 as opposed to the DX200. Both of them are totally different in terms of design. The DX200 has a more mature approach. Whereas the DX220 catches attention – it’s sleek, modern, and cool.

Screen

With TV and smartphone screens getting better and clearer, iBasso understands that a good screen can definitely catch consumers’ interest. Implementing a 5 inch 1080P Sharp Full Screen, the iBasso DX220 has a bezel-less design, similar to most current smartphones. The heavy bezel of DX200 was apparently dodged when designing DX220 – it is now cooler in term of physical appearance.

Almost bezel-less design
Almost bezel-less design
Users can choose between 720P and 1080P for screen resolution.
Users can choose between 720P and 1080P for screen resolution.

Volume Knob

I can always appreciate a music player with a physical volume control knob. As usual, the DX220 comes with a fairly sturdy silver volume knob on the right. There is a “tick” response sound when the volume is adjusted.

Sturdy silver volume knob.
Sturdy silver volume knob.

Control Buttons

Here is another important factor for me when I am buying a DAP – physical control. I always listen to music in the office. So, I need a convenient button for me to pause the track immediately when I am called. It makes me happy that iBasso retains this feature in their latest flagship.

There are three buttons on the right, just right below the volume control knob. These three buttons from top to bottom are forward, play/pause, and backward. Users have the freedom to toggle which button to be forward and backward in the setting. On top of the DAP, there is an on/off button. This button is also used to wake up the screen. No rocket science here!

Users have the freedom to toggle the usage of each button
Users have the freedom to toggle the usage of each button

Inputs and Outputs

On top of the DX220, there is a USB Type-C port and a Sony/Philips Digital Interface (SPDIF) output. Besides charging, users can use the DX220 as a USB, DAC, and Amplifier with it connected to the computer through the USB-Type C. The DX220 can work as a transport, too, by connecting the external DAC and amplifier to it through USB Type C port or the SPDIF.

Analogue outputs are grouped at the bottom of the DAP. The analogue outputs can be adjusted by changing the amplifier module. This will be covered more in the latter part of this review. With the stock amplifier module on, there are three outputs at the bottom – line out, phone out, and balanced out. These are the most basic outputs that you can find for any DAP.

USB Type-C and SPDIF Outputs
USB Type-C and SPDIF Outputs

Expandable memory

Moving to the left side of the DAP, there is a micro SD card slot for expandable memory. I am glad that iBasso doesn’t use the pin tray design which is found in Astell & Kern SP1000 or FiiO M11. Users can simply push and eject the micro SD card anytime, anywhere without the need of a pin to eject the tray.

The DX220 can read SDXC and SDHC cards. According to its official website, the new 1TB micro SD card can be read flawlessly by the DX220.

Expandable memory with single micro SD slot
Expandable memory with single micro SD slot
Built-in and expandable memory
Built-in and expandable memory

Case

There is a soft, leather case provided with the packaging of the DX220. I believe this to be a good accessory to be included in any TOTL DAP for sure. I wish this was a standard all other brands would follow.

However, there are some flaws in the design of the case which makes it less user friendly. First of all, the edge of the case is too close to the balanced output. I can’t fully insert my 2.5mm balanced jack without first removing the case. Secondly, near the volume knob, the case is too tight. This creates some resistance when turning the knob.

Leather case for DX220
Leather case for DX220
Leather case for DX220
Leather case for DX220
Leather case gives slight resistance to volume adjustment because it is too close to the knob.
Leather case gives slight resistance to volume adjustment because it is too close to the knob.
The balanced output is blocked by the case.
The balanced output is blocked by the case.
The rear view of DX220 with the case
The rear view of DX220 with the case

In the Machine

Chipsets

Dual ESS Sabre ES9028Pro digital to analogue converter (DAC) chipsets are coupled in the DX220. This is the same as the DAC chipsets embedded in the DX200. I believe this could be the best ESS chipsets that you can find in current DAPs.

The ESS Sabre DAC chipsets’ ability to reproduce every musical note in uncoloured and transparent manners is undefeatable.

Digital filter for ESS Sabre DAC
Digital filter for ESS Sabre DAC

Replaceable Amplifier Module

The DX220 comes with Amp 1 MK II – a refresh version of Amp 1 which was coupled with predecessor DX200. With the implementation of 3-stage gain in this new module, iBasso aims to produce a lower noise floor and a wider soundstage than the DX200. This further extends the target crowd to those who are using more sensitive IEMs such as Campfire Audio Andromeda.

AMP 1 Mk II provides a darker background, even with high sensitivity IEMs.
AMP 1 Mk II provides a darker background, even with high sensitivity IEMs.
Three gain modes available for new AMP 1 Mk II
Three gain modes available for new AMP 1 Mk II

Connectivity

The DX220 works as both a transmitter and a receiver using the latest version of Bluetooth, 5.0. This version can be paired with your favorite wireless headphones without any problem, and its connectivity has the reputation of being stable and steady. The DX220 is one of the pioneers in adapting Bluetooth 5.0.

For those who like to stream music from their phone but are unsatisfied with the sound quality, you can pair your smartphone to the DX220. It acts as a receiver – receiving tons of information, decoding and amplifying them to meet your needs. Freedom and quality – neither factors are sacrificed.

DX220 can work as a Bluetooth DAC + Amp.
DX220 can work as a Bluetooth DAC + Amp.

Operating System

The DX220 is equipped with the Android 8.1 operating system. This is not the latest Android version, but it’s sufficient for a DAP. Besides Android, users have the freedom to toggle their DX220 to the Mango Operating System – a pure music mode developed by iBasso.

The user interface, be it in Android or Mango, is snappy and fast. Android mode can be used for streaming music. So, for those who don’t stream and mainly use their personal music library, you can toggle to Mango mode and enjoy a longer battery life.

Mango Player on Android mode
Mango Player on Android mode
Various settings are available in the Mango Player
Various settings are available in the Mango Player

Sound Analysis

Timbre

The DX220 has a neutral and uncolored sound signature – no bias towards any frequency spectrum when delivering the musical notes to users. Every note has sufficient emphasis. There is no additional coloration added to the presentation. However, it could be too analytical for warmth and musical sound signature lovers.

DX220 can handle MQA on Tidal well too.
DX220 can handle MQA on Tidal well too.

Staging

With the implementation of AMP 1 Mk II, the background is dead silent – even with sensitive IEMs. The overall presentation is expansive and spacious. Comparing the DX220 with Astell & Kern SP1000M, the instrumental separation of the DX220 is surprisingly the most accurate.

The DX220 sounds more spacious, creating a wider headroom, especially in the mids.

Lows

The DX220 hits the bottom well; it’s punchy and dynamic. I love how the power is delivered when using my ItsFitLab Fusion. The 10mm dynamic driver obtains sufficient energy from the DX220. It presents the low frequency in full and accurate notes – no bleeding towards any other frequency spectrum. With a 2.5mm balanced output engaged, the mentioned strengths are doubled.

The DX220 uses its strength to trigger all its chipsets when the 2.5mm balanced jack is inserted, delivering the full potential without reservation.

DX220 unleashes ItsFitLab Fusion full potential
DX220 unleashes ItsFitLab Fusion full potential

Mids

The DX220 performs its best here, presenting vocals and instruments in a huge headroom – no congestion, no coloration. Vocals are delivered with slightly thickened notes. The DX220 is tuned to the sweet spot between being too cold or too warm. I am in love with this tuning.

Based on my experience with ESS Sabre DAC chipsets, the pre-listening impression towards the iBasso DX220 is rather skeptical. Previously, DAPs with the mentioned DAC chipsets always sound cold and dark to me. This is a no-no for vocals because the emotion cannot be produced. However, The DX220 changed my perspective towards Sabre DAC completely. With proper tuning, DAP with Sabre DAC can sound lively, too!

Comparison between iBasso DX220 and my beloved Opus #3
Comparison between iBasso DX220 and my beloved Opus #3

Highs

The DX220 delivers the highs in a polite manner – no harsh or piercing highs. The highs are well extended and controlled. It decays well and there is no distortion. Distortion in the highs could be the deal breaker for not only IEMs, but DAPs as well. The presentation can be messy and inaccurate when the highs are distorted. The DX220 did a good job here – the highs are delivered in a stream of smoothly flowing water.

With spacious headroom, the highs are flowing freely and smoothly, improvising the overall fidelity; this is to be expected from a TOTL DAP.

QoA Pink Lady plays well with iBasso DX220
QoA Pink Lady plays well with iBasso DX220

Verdict

The DX220 retails for USD$979. It can be ordered on Zeppelin & Co.’s official website. Zeppelin & Co. is one of the official distributors of iBasso products.

With the launch of the DX220, iBasso proves to the world, once again, that there is no need to burn a hole in your wallet to get a TOTL DAP. The DX220’s balanced and uncolored sound signature makes it my new reference DAP for review purposes.