iBasso DX90 Digital Audio Player Review

Hot on the heels of their prior release the DX50, iBasso have released the DX90 – a much more coveted version of their popular digital audio players. With the added factor of convenience and an extremely high quality sound, these players should be part of any budding audiophile’s collection. The question is which one. Far from being a cheap giveaway, the iBasso DX90 stands tall – not literally, of course, with its High Resolution Dual Sabre credentials and “Bit Perfect Support” of up to 24 Bit/192kHz. Unlike many of its competitors, iBasso have opted to woo the crowd with their IPS panel touchscreen in an attempt to establish a more user-friendly approach to high-end audio. While commendable, the market is still a far reach from the optimal user interface that an iPod or even a second-gen smartphone may provide.

Still, iBasso have tried and users are not restricted to just the stock theme but actually have the choice to mod the theme to an even more intuitive one.

Design and accessories

The iBasso DX90 is a beautifully compact product which features a nice brushed aluminium finish. Next to an Astern & Kern Player, I have a very hard time telling which one is more premium than another such is the quality of the DX90. On the body of the device, the previous track, play/pause and skip buttons are indented below the screen with a great tactile touch.

On top of the device, there is the micro USB slot and the micro SD slot. It is worth noting that the DX90 comes with an on-board storage of 8GB with the option of expandable memory should one so desire it. This, in my opinion, is an excellent feature and something that Fiio should have adopted in their latest product – the X5 2nd Gen to allow buyers to use the device straight out of the box. Adjacent to the micro SD storage is of course the coaxial output port where users have the ability to play music stored in the DX90 on an external device with a coaxial input port.

On the right side of the device, there are the volume keys which are again tactile and responsive to the touch. On the left, there is a power button and an option to lock the device.

On the bottom, the DX90 hosts the phone jack, a line-out port and a gain switch. The line out allows users to play music stored on the DX90 on an external amp and the gain switch varies the sensitivity of the device to external sources.

Included within the packaging is the micro USB cable to charge the device, a burn-in cable, a coaxial cable, a screen protector and a pouch. Overall iBasso have done an excellent job with respect to the design of the product as well as the choice of accessories with which to accompany the DX90 itself.

Screen & User Interface

The 320 x 240 resolution screen of the DX90 is not the best I have come across but you would certainly want to question your own priorities if this is a deal breaker for you. What the DX90 focuses primarily on is a high fidelity sound in a portable device and thus the screen display becomes secondary to that.

Having said that, the capacitive screen is very responsive and screen loading times are relatively fast for a device of its nature. All of the settings are right there with the ‘now playing’, ‘directory’, ‘playlist’ and ‘all music’ categories. An impressive 8-band equalization is also available and is a perfect tool to EQ the sound of the device to your own preferences.

A minor drawback however, is that whilst screen loading times are very fast, there is some lag experienced when turning on the device on and off from standby. Compared to the Fiio X5 2nd Gen, the DX90’s screen displays less pixels and brightness but in my opinion is easier to use due to the implementation of a touchscreen.

Technology

The internal workings of the DX90 include a dual set of ESS Sabre32 ES90182KM DAC chips. The detail coming out of these things is astonishing and they truly deserve all the audiophile attention they get. They are also an upgrade over the DX50’s Wolfson DAC which although nice in itself, does not match the DX90’s levels of detail and separation.

The DX90 digital audio player not only come with its own set of DAC chips but also a dual set of OPAMP OPA1611 headphone amps and boy do these things work. The DX90 is able to drive the whole range from IEMS to high-impedance headphone sets. In fact, not even half of the volume is required to make these sound on the verge of inappropriately loud.

The battery of the DX90 comes in at only 2100 mAh compared to the gargantuan 3300 mAh battery capacity of the Fiio X5 2nd gen. This has meant that battery life extends to around 8 to 9 hours at best which is quite mediocre compared to other competitive offerings. iBasso should step up their game in future revisions to truly master all aspects of their digital players.

Sound quality

To test out the sonic characteristics of the DX90, I have used multiple IEMs including the Rock-it Sounds R-50, DUNU DN-2000 and Fidue A73. These IEMs were consequently compared with fellow Chinese company Fiio’s 2nd generation X5 (X5SG) DAP.

Immediately from the onset, the tonality of the DX90 was clear. Whereas with other sources, a bit of time is needed to decipher exactly what sound signature is going to be used, it was evident that the DX90 offers a slightly brighter than neutral sonic character. Notes are immaculately crisp and there is an emphasis on the mid and treble section of music.

The bass is snappy with no boosted emphasis but a very neutral tone. In ACDC’s “Thunderstruck”, both bass quality and sub-bass extension were spot-on with the player able to keep up with the rapid transients within the track. The Fiio X5SG, was also able to put up a great fight with the demanding track albeit with a slightly warmer tonal hue.   

When playing partially sibilant tracks such as Avicci’s “Addicted To You”, there is a leading edge to the upper mids which may come across as harsh and fatiguing. The Fiio X5SG on the other hand, is better able to resolve this with its warmer signature that makes vocals on the track sound smoother and easier on the ears. On Avicci’s “Hope There’s Someone”, however, the DX90 redeems itself with incredibly intelligible vocals that outshines the Fiio X5SG’s slightly less resolving midrange. All in all, the midrange frequencies of the DX90 are presented on a neutral plane with outstanding levels of clarity and detail.

Akin to the mids, the treble presents with a slightly lean note presentation which is characteristic of the iBasso house sound. As a result, cymbal crashes are pristine with a clear and rapid decay which are more prominent on tracks compared to the Fiio X5 2nd Gen. There is excellent extension and air to tracks which makes the iBasso experience even more of a worthy one.

When dealing with separation and imaging, the DX90 is a frontrunner and has improved on this aspect compared to its predecessor the DX50. The positioning of instruments, for example, can be easily located within the midst of a busy track. The spatial presentation is also fairly large with marginally more width compared to that of the Fiio X5SG.   

Conclusion

Overall, the iBasso DX90 is a supreme contender in the arena of mid-fi portable players. What’s more is that the DAP is relatively affordable compared to the likes of the Astern & Kern audio players. Thus, a high-fidelity sound can be achieved on the go without breaking the bank. The user interface and battery life, however, are aspects which could definitely be improved upon to give a more premium overall experience. Fluidity and consistency should be employed here to justify the iBasso’s $419 price tag and deliver a more modern approach to the OS. Despite this, navigation is still very intuitive due to the employment of a touchscreen which I personally feel is superior to the scroll wheel of the Fiio X5SG. Taking all things into consideration, the iBasso achieves what it set out to do and regardless of the minor shortcomings can be heralded as an excellent product in their already fantastic line-up.

iBasso DX90 Digital Audio Player

$419

Can buy over at:

http://www.ibasso.com/

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