Go Big or Go Home!
If you are unfamiliar with the name “iBasso”, here is an excerpt from my iBasso SR2 review (full review here) that vaguely goes into the company’s history:
“In 2006 the company stayed loyal to producing headphone amplifiers, portable amplifiers, and DACs. However, it was 2011 that would become the most important year for iBasso. DX100 would become the product that completely changed iBasso’s future. It was the company’s greatest success and was the greatest accomplishment — making it the world’s first digital audio player that could play DSD while utilizing Android OS. But this wasn’t enough for iBasso, as though the DX100 was also the first true high-resolution (24bit/192kHz) digital audio player. The DX100 was able to accomplish this by successfully bypassing the ASLA driver on Android and using two EX9018 DAC chips. This would go on to be an industry-changing achievement, but also the company’s biggest commercial success.
In the later years, iBasso would go on to release a number of digital audio players. Finally, in 2016 the company would enter the field of earphones. This can be considered the point when iBasso entered the field of Head-Fi. It would only be a year later that it would release their flagship digital audio player, the DX200 — a reference-grade DAP that would be the next big step for the company. The DX200 was released as a 10-year anniversary of the DX100.
Then the year 2018 came — the same year that the SR1 headphone came out. iBasso followed their tradition of being a step ahead of itself, they couldn’t help but utilize some innovative technology (silicone suspension drivers). They would finally follow up with two industry-leading digital audio players in 2019 and 2020 - the DX220 (2019) and DX220 Max (2020). Not only are these two product the flagships, but are also the long-awaited follow up to the previous DX220.”
We’ve finally seen iBasso release the much anticipated DX300 in late 2020. Before I get into the small details, I just want to tell you that this, in my opinion, is the most successful device iBasso ever released. To say that the DX300 is an improvement over the DX220 would be an understatement. This is a whole different league.
The brand-new 300 series feels like a start to something great. A beginning of a new chapter, a new era.
Design & Build Quality
While some have been surprised by the size of the DX300, to me it feels pretty natural. This is probably because I am used to smartphones and am looking at it as a smartphone-like device. From my understanding, this is the closest we have seen a DAP get to a smartphone… and that’s a huge step forward.
iBasso is known to keep the design of their DAPs fairly simple. Never too flashy, always minimalist and elegant. In this case, the body is made of anodized aluminum which both looks great and feels great. As a matter of fact, it matches the anodized aluminum that Apple uses (e.g. on their MacBook series). Though large, it’s quite a sleek DAP — 3mm thinner than the HiBy R8 and the Shanling M8, 1mm thinner than the Fiio M15 and the Lotoo PAW 6000, and 1.2mm thicker than the Astell & Kern SE200. Pretty neat, right?
With either of the colorways (obsidian-black, starry-blue), the color scheme is quite high-contrast. In my hands is the starry-blue version, and the blue on its own looks very unique. It can heavily change its appearance depending on the lighting. For example, it can look like a dark grey, but can also look like a midnight blue. The accent color is gold. The 4.4mm and 3.5mm outputs have gold textured rings around them that match the volume wheel. In my opinion, the contrast is a bit too out there, and perhaps it would’ve been nice to see a silver or a dark grey accent color on the obsidian black version. Color schemes are definitely a field that’s always open for experimentation.
On the top side of the device, you have the coaxial output and the USB-C port, both of which have laser-etched labels below them. The latter is used for charging (supports QC3.0 and PD2.0 quick charging), data transfer (USB 3.1) and can also be used as a USB sound card. On the bottom-side are located the SE (single-ended) 3.5mm and BAL (balanced) 4.4mm and 2.5mm outputs. While there are only three physical outputs, they double as PHONE Out (aka headphone out) and LINE Out. It should be noted that the mentioned outputs are the ones that come with the stock AMP11 card. iBasso’s DAP line-up stands out on the market for its replaceable and exchangeable amp card feature, which in my opinion is one of the most significant features that a DAP can have. Most people are okay with keeping the overall device the same, but they like to play with sound. What’s the only way to achieve that? To change the amplifier. In iBasso’s case, all you need to do is change the amp card. Since iBasso chose to change its amp card design with the DX300, we are yet to see what will be offered in the future.
The right side is where people have split opinions. What am I talking about? The knob. Oh, yes, the volume knob. While it is designed well, I am personally not the biggest fan of it. Though the whole design has a purpose – the ridged design for grip, the indented side for pressing in – the design doesn’t necessarily look attractive. I personally don’t think it fits with the elegant design of the whole DAP. I would’ve much preferred a redesign of the DX220’s robust and uniform wheel. Due to the shiny finish, I found myself leaving fingerprints on the inside of the indented part. Besides the wheel, there are also three media buttons: Play/Pause, and Next and Previous. They are slim in design and have tactile feedback. One thing I noticed is that when the DX300 is slipped into the case, all three buttons can lose the tactile feel, making it very difficult to distinguish whether you have pressed them. It is possible that my [leather] case is not tailored well and is causing this, but I had to push really hard and above the case imprints for the buttons, making it quite inconvenient. Again, in my opinion, I believe that a round design of the buttons (like on the DX220) would’ve been much more appropriate. Slim buttons come in handy for things such as the power button, but for media buttons, a larger surface that is easier to press is much more useful.
On the back, you will find what I consider the most gorgeous part of the DX300 — a curved satin-like glass panel, or as Mr. Paul describes it: “a special type of glass”. Upon taking a closer look, I noticed that beneath the glass panel there is what you call an “engraving texture”. I still don’t understand how every reviewer failed to mention this… perhaps they were too focused on the music? On the upper part of the panel there is a silver iBasso logo, while on the bottom portion of it, you have the model name (DX300) and some text. All of these are in a silver finish. However, here’s where things get interesting. The engraving texture fades to a matte black finish on the lower third of the panel. Without any exaggeration, this is by far the most stunning and gorgeous-looking surface I’ve seen on the back of any device. It is incredibly smooth, which is probably why we haven’t seen it on smartphones. This is why I strongly suggest that you do not use it without a case that will provide you the needed grip. I can say that this is my favorite design element of the DX300.
The DX300 takes the crown with its 6.5” LTPS IPS. If I am not mistaken, it is the largest DAP screen and also the one with the highest resolution (2340x1080) on the market. For example, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 has a resolution of 2400x1080. The DX300 has a display with 397ppi, while the Note 20 has 393ppi. To give you a better idea about the display size and device dimensions (in millimeters):
It’s safe to say that the Note20 is the closest to the DX300 in terms of vertical length. My phone is the Samsung Galaxy S8, and here is how the the DX300 compares in terms of the bezels:
Should you not forget, the S8 comes with the Edge display. This being said, iBasso went far more than the extra mile to ensure an industry-leading display in the DAP space.
Where do I even begin?
Holding it all together is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 SoC (system on a chip) with 128GB of internal storage, 6GB of LPDDR4X-3733 RAM that operates at a frequency of 1866 MHz, an octa-core processor (four Kryo 260 Silver cores operating at 1.84 GHz and four Kryo 260 Gold cores operating at 2.2 GHz), and an Adreno 512 integrated GPU. That’s a lot of technical details, right?
It has to be said that the DX300 currently has the industry-leading SoC and that no other digital-audio-player can match it. Yes, the HiBy R8 also has the Snapdragon 660, but it neither has 6GB of RAM nor 128GB of internal storage. The above-mentioned specifications are on par with Samsung’s 2018 Galaxy A9, which also has the Snapdragon 660, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of internal storage.
This is a breakthrough in the DAP space, as though all players — with the exception of the HiBy R8 — come with 4GB or less of LPDD3 RAM, and feature processors that operate at slower clock speeds. iBasso’s “no other SoC in the field of digital audio players can match it!” claim lives to be true. And yes, this means that even the most expensive DAP on the market can’t match the Snapdragon 660 that is in the DX300.
Featuring four flagship Cirrus Logic CS43198 DAC chips, the iBasso DX300 is the first and only DAP with a quad DAC — with the exclusion of some LG smartphones. Each CS43198 chip has 2 channel outs, hence why iBasso said there is a total of 8 DAC channels. Each of the 8 channels has a low pass filter. The DX300 features double-paralleled DAC chips which allow the DX300 to have a fully balanced output. What does “double-paralleled” mean? The visual below should give you a visual representation of the double-paralleled design. Usually, there is a DAC chip per channel, the DX300 has two chips per channel. In stereo audio, you have two channels: Left (L+, L-) and Right (R+, R-).
L1 = L-, L-
L2 = L+, L+
R1 = R-, R-
R2 = R+, R+
Helps a little? So, you can look at it as though there are 8 channels in total, or as though there are 4 that are in parallel.
Unsatisfied with how the average DAPs don’t prioritize audio playback and instead let the SoC and the OS process multiple tasks at the same time, iBasso implemented a FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) in Master mode. The FPGA works between the Soc and the DAC. It basically requests data from the SoC and then sends that data to the DAC. The FPGA works in Master mode using two Accusilicone Fentosecond oscillators as the clocks while synchronizing all audio clocks. This way any jitter is reduced and minimized in order to achieve the cleanest audio processing.
In terms of supported audio formats, here is what the DX300’s DAC is capable of:
MQA (X8), APE, FLAC, WAV, WMA, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, OGG, MP3, DFF, DSF, DXD
PCM: 384 kHz / 32-Bit, DSD256: 11.2 MHz / 1-Bit
The decoding ability of DSD is lower (DSD256) than the supported DSD512 on the DX220. Also, most of the DAPs in the competing price range of the DX300 support decoding PCM 768kHz/32-Bit, but if I am not mistaken, that would be oversampling. Whether this is important to you or not entirely depends on your needs and average use. Do you listen to your music in these formats or not? If not, then it definitely shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. 384kHz/32-Bit is the highest PCM resolution, everything above is in the oversampling category. The whole format wars have become more and more controversial, especially with the recent MQA backlash, but that’s something that I will not get into. Just enjoy your music, don’t overthink it =)
The following are the specifications of the stock AMP11 module:
Software & Interface
iBasso’s dual-boot OS has been getting perfected ever since it was introduced in their DX200. On one end you have an optimized Android 9.0, while on the other end you have the 5th generation of the Linux-based Mango OS.
The Android OS is slightly different from the usual Android OS. There are some visual differences and some limitations, but the overall experience will feel homelike if you are coming from an Android smartphone. The only thing that bothered me a lot is that the settings aren’t displayed on the first swipe of the notification bar. This is easily fixable through a software update, and I really hope iBasso proceeds to add it in the right corner like in the usual Android OS. Also, due to the large physical size of the DX300, I find the notification buttons (located on the bottom of the screen) to be too low. I think that the buttons should be moved 0.5-1 cm higher up. This is another thing that can be easily fixed through a software update. Besides these two, the Android system is extremely smooth and fast. I couldn’t find a difference in speed and responsiveness in comparison to my S8. The DAPs are really catching up to the performance of smartphones, aren’t they?
There are quite a lot of Android features. One of the notable ones is the flexible homepage. Once you long press on the homepage, you can change whether you want all the apps displayed on the homepage or whether you want the Android standard app drawer. I cleaned up my homepage and am using the app drawer option. You can also change the icon shape (square, squircle, circle, teardrop). To make it feel more like home, there are also widgets that you can place on the homepage. I used the time widget and the Google search widget.
When you swipe left on the homepage, you access a kind of a shortcut desktop that has the Mango Player on the top and the audio settings on the bottom. This is more or less an audio-focused desktop. Besides in the Mango App, this is the only place in the Android OS where you will find the option to switch the DX300 to the DAC mode. This mode allows you to use the DX300 as a USB DAC.
There are three main audio settings: Digital Filter, Gain, Output. All three can be changed through either the notification bar, the settings menu or the swipe-left menu (accessed from the homepage).
With the new Cirrus Logic DAC, there are 5 digital filters:
D1: Fast Roll-Off
D2: Short Delay, Slow Roll-Off
D3: Short Delay, Fast Roll-Off
D4: Slow Roll-Off
D5: NOS (non-oversampling)
I had mine set to NOS, but you can play around and see if you notice any difference and find what suits you.
The gain options are quite standard. No surprises can be found here. There are three gain modes: Low, Medium, High.
And finally, the output setting. This is the setting that allows you to change how the three physical outputs behave as. You can only change the output through software! There are two options: LO (Line Out) and PO (Phone Out). Make sure not to accidentally set it to LO when you are using your headphones/IEMs on the DX300.
Secret tip: To enter the developer mode, go to Settings > System > About device > Press “Build Number” 7 times. Voile, now you have unlocked developer settings (which you should not mess around with if you do not know exactly what you are doing).
The interface of this app is quite simple and minimalist, making it easy to navigate through. On the top-left corner, you can go to a menu in which you can search through your music, or browse your internal/external storage for music. In the top-right corner are located all the audio settings: Gapless, Gain, Play mode, Equalizer (graphic with visual representation, parametric), L/R balance, Digital Filter, Media Scan, and Advanced. In Advanced you can choose: Unplug Pause, Indicator, USB DAC, Bluetooth DAC, Display settings, Sleep Timer, System Info.
In level with the above-mentioned settings, if playing an album, the track number will be displayed (e.g. “4/10”). Everything below looks exactly the same as in the Mango OS. There is a large track/album cover art, file format, track’s timeline, track info, playback options.
I’d like to mention that both the parametric equalizer and the graphic equalizer are quite refined. With the graphic equalizer, you can adjust 10 frequency bands — 33Hz, 63Hz, 100Hz, 330Hz, 630Hz, 1kHz, 3.3kHz, 6.3kHz, 10kHz, 16kHz — with 24 stops (+12, -12) of which each stop alters +/- 0.5dB. On the other hand, the parametric equalizer is much more capable and allows you to adjust make incredibly precise adjustments. Besides being able to play around with the visual graphic, you can put number values to pinpoint the adjustments. There are a total of 6 filters, each can be turned on/off individually, or all can be turned on at the same time. Each filter comes with 4 options:
Filter Type (8 total): low pass, high pass, band pass, notch, all pass, peaking, low shelf, high shelf
Fc: any value (no decimals) between 33Hz - 16kHz
Gain: +/- 20dB (no decimals)
Q Factor: any value between 0.3 - 20 (infinite amount of decimals supported)
I know that there are a lot of technical terms mentioned here, but they are not rocket science. Visit this link to gain a basic level of understanding of common types of equalizers and filter types: https://iconcollective.edu/types-of-eq/
Or read iBasso’s own DX300 manual where its explained how each filter affects the frequency spectrum: https://ibasso.com/uploadfiles/download/DX300userguide.pdf
Mango OS (5th gen, V 1.02.204)
This is iBasso’s pure audio-focused OS. Unlike the Android operating system, here there are no animation or transition effects, which means everything is snappy and instant when it comes to interaction. This even affects the power on/off animation — there is no animation. You enter the Mango OS by holding the volume knob and selecting “Switch to Mango”.
You will notice that the whole OS is visually quite similar to the Mango App, hence why they share the same name. The OS is quite simple. On the very top (where the notification bar would usually be), the volume and two battery percentages are displayed on the right side. Right below, on the left side, there is a “My Music” menu, in which you can browse, well…. your music. You can see what’s currently playing, all your music files, you can browse the DX300’s directory, browse by albums, artists, genre, or playlists. On the right side, you have the settings menu, in which you will find all the audio settings: Gapless, Gain, Output, Play mode, L/R balance, Equalizer (graphic without visual representation), Digital Filter, Advanced, and also the option to switch back to Android. Once you go into Advanced, there are the following options: DAC, Media Scan, Languages, Display, Power Management, System Info, MTP (media transfer protocol). Then you have the large song/album cover art, and below it, you have the file format information. Finally, right below there is the track’s timeline and underneath it you have the track name, artist, and album. In level, on the left side, there is an icon of sound waves. Once you press it, all the track info (artist, album, duration, path, delete) is shown, and you also have the option to add that track to a playlist. Last but not least, on the right side, you can change the playback options.
Note: “Not for Sale” is only displayed on my sample DX300 unit. This area is otherwise plain, unless iBasso personalizes it specifically for you.
Bluetooth & WiFi
The DX220 was the first DAP to support two-way Bluetooth 5.0, which provides native support for LDAC and aptx. The DX300 inherited this feature. When it comes to WiFi, the DX300 is equipped with two antennas (2x2 MIMO), which allows it to support up to two streams of data. It also has the dual-band 2.4Ghz/5Ghz ability. The WiFi standard that is implemented is the 802.11b/g/n/ac. On the other side of things, the fairly up-to-date Bluetooth 5.0 is used.
Besides being a transmitter, the DX300 also acts as a Bluetooth receiver. This allows it to have the Bluetooth DAC function, which basically means that the DAP receives digital data from a source and converts it into analogue electrical signal. However, when using it as a Bluetooth DAC, you are limited to AAC and SBC codecs.
Something’s got to be powering all this craziness, right? Yup, a patented dual power supply structure. iBasso pursued this innovation in the DAP space because they believe that the usual single battery powering the whole system causes distortion that negatively affects audio quality. To be more specific, the DC from the analog section interferes with the DC from the digital section. This is why the battery design is separated into two sections, one 4000mAh battery for the digital section, and one 2000mAh battery for the analog (AMP) section.
The DX300 has THE SoC, THE DAC, THE amp, THE display, so the battery life must be short, right? Nope. I’m sorry to say, but iBasso simply took care of everything. A lot of thought and hard work was put into this device, and the battery definitely wasn’t something that disappointed. It is marketed that the battery can last up to 15 hours and people have found it to be performing pretty close to this number. However, this is just an average, the battery life will be affected by factors such as screen brightness, volume, which format you are listening to, how power demanding your IEMs/headphones are, etc. Not only do the batteries last long, but they also do not take long to charge — only 2.5 hours. iBasso went the right path (imo) with the dual battery structure and it is something that they should perfect and stick to in future models.
Note: The tables below are highly subjective and had no controlled variables. The volume values (%) are purely based on feel and what volume felt “right”. I tried to get each headphone/IEM on what I perceived to be the correct listening level. I did try to get them to a similar level, but without direct comparison between them, the values represent nothing more but a vague numerical representation of how much power is needed to get each headphone/IEM on what I would consider a comfortable listening level.
I can confidently say that there was no headphone or IEM that made me push the DX300 to the limits. When it comes to sources and amplifiers, I like them to be transparent and I don’t like when they significantly alter the sound. If I prefer any alteration to the sound, it is a slight extension on the bottom and upper frequencies.
It is worthy of noting that you usually want to use the lowest gain setting possible. As the gain is increased, so is the noise. I’d say that you should only increase the gain if you are 75%-90% on your current gain setting. For example, when I was using the Jade Audio EA3 through the balanced output on high gain — which I know is insane since I can listen to them on low gain at 35% — I could absolutely hear the noise floor. This is completely normal, as though the high gain setting is there for power hungry IEMs and headphones, so make sure to use the lowest gain setting!
Priced at $1249, the more you look into this DAP, the more it fascinates you. It has features that match DAPs that are priced north of $2000. Besides that, it has industry-leading features that even the most expensive DAPs don’t have. After doing some thinking, I think that iBasso introduced a new category of DAPs with the DX300, a category that is more smartphone-like than what we have seen up until now. This includes the large display, slimmer but taller form-factor, an almost edge-to-edge display, fast CPU & RAM, and other specifications that you would seek in a smartphone. Maybe we can call it a “smart digital audio player”? I know that there are people who would like to completely replace their phone with a DAP, but we have yet to see that… it probably requires strict licenses and a lot of legal work, so we might have to wait for quite a while to see that.
When it comes to the sub-$2000 market, I might as well go on to say that the DX300 is the best DAP under 2000 bucks. At least for the value it offers. It has the largest screen with the highest resolution, a flagship quad DAC array, the best CPU in the market, the most RAM in a DAP, the interchangeable AMP module, latest Android software. What else could you ask for at $1200? However, I don’t want you to walk away from this review and thinking that all the competing DAPs are bad. If there is one thing I learned about this hobby, it’s that it is not about technicalities and specifications, though those don’t lie. Once you reach the $1k market, everything from this price point on must have a feature that sets it apart from the rest. Now, depending on what you are looking for, this feature may be more or less important to you. Perhaps you don’t care about the CPU, the RAM, the display, and similar specifications. Maybe you care more about extraordinary design or are looking for a smaller form factor. What I’m trying to say is that you must have a clear vision of which features you are looking for and how important they are to you. How much are you willing to pay for those features? These are the things you want to have a straight answer to.
I don’t know, I’ve never been a brand loyal individual, I always look for the best in the specific area that I am looking at. For example, I might have a MacBook laptop, but I have an Android smartphone and a custom desktop PC. I couldn’t care less about a brand name. After my positive experience with the SR2, some may think that I am fanboying the company, but that’s not the case. I did my research, and iBasso always proved to be working on industry-leading products. The company on its own can be seen as rebellious in a way — it’s almost as though they are flipping off the industry and the competition and saying “Level up!”. Pushing boundaries is one thing, but to push boundaries and not overprice your products is something completely different. When it comes to the mentioned specifications, there is no other DAP in this price range that comes close to the DX300. There is no DAP that packs all of these flagship features all-in-one.
I tend to get emotional because I know that there is a team of people behind all this success, behind these industry-leading features, yet so many forget this. There are humans behind all of this. And it’s not as though this is the first time iBasso did something of this nature, it has been doing so since 2011 when the DX100 was launched. I would like to dedicate this segment to thank the engineers, the R&D team, and all others who were involved in the development of this DAP. A lot of dedication and hard work has been put into making this a reality. We are, slowly but surely, catching up with the smartphone world, and it’s because of people like the ones over at iBasso. The DX300 is a huge move forward, a truly significant and important move forward!
Don’t think that your effort is being overlooked, because I know that I am not the only person who appreciates your efforts for the substantial progress of DAPs. Keep working hard and stay being on the edge of the industry.
Thank you for your hard work all these years.
I am neither paid nor am I gaining any financial benefit from iBasso for writing this review. The unit has been provided to me by iBasso free of charge. The review is based on my personal experience, it is completely free of any bias from an external force (whether that’s online influence, other people’s opinion, or the manufacturer itself). Like all of my previous reviews, unless stated, there is no positive nor negative influence coming from the manufacturer. Also, like my other reviews, this review wasn’t written overnight and took many hours of research, photographing, editing and listening experience to result in the article that you have read above.
I would also like to mention that the majority of the information in this review was either directly confirmed with Mr. Paul or was based on my research. All the photography and the graphs were made by me.