This is a thread for discussing the new SR2 headphone from iBasso. You can post your impressions, reviews, and opinions about the SR2 under this thread
There are many wonderful people in this forum who can analyze, dissect and finally describe headphones almost perfectly .
I mean that very seriously, I admire such skills .
I’m not that kind of person !
Frequency curves are only of interest to me when I think that I have recognized a tonal error and that it is then confirmed .
Sound descriptions are incredibly individual, in my opinion, so what I like can absolutely strive to someone else and vice versa.
Otherwise I give both, people and headphones (in general almost everything and everyone ) one or two chances to “impress” me (GRADO) .
Music is emotion !
Headphones or the entire sound chain from the server to DAC / amp to speakers / headphones are like a restaurant for me.
Either the entire service is right, then I would be happy to come back, or some of the staff does not do their job properly, then it will be replaced, or the entire service is not right, then I will not come back.
This is exactly how I handle my HiFi system.
And the iBasso SR2 with the pre-installed ear pads, operated on various DAC / amp combinations, sounds to me like hot cocoa with extra cream and sugar on a cool pre-Christmas Eve, with candlelight and cookies.
Cozy, warming and comfortable!
If I change the ear pads, the “madam” suddenly comes into the room and the situation becomes more businesslike and less dreamy. (Just a description )
I wouldn’t want to give myself this sound image all the time, but definitely to enjoy it from time to time.
In my portfolio, this one gets 75 points out of 100.
I know---- it’s all very irrelevant, but soooo emotional, just like the music that I love so much.
And as long as I do not produce songs as my profession, therefore no perfection is necessary, I can live with one or the other flaw in the sound image, that makes the character and , just like with humans, the thing may even be lovable.
After two long years of waiting, iBasso is back with one of the best releases of 2020. The SR2 is finally here.
While iBasso is mainly known for their headphone amplifiers & digital audio players, in October 2018. iBasso released their first headphone model - the SR1. It was definitely not something anybody was expecting, not to mention that it was a fascinating introduction to the headphone market. SR1 was not only a great sounding headphone but one of the most well designed and built headphones on the market. The construction was more like that of a supercar than a headphone. It was a mechanical masterpiece. The SR1 was a limited edition headphone that was released in a batch of 500 units.
To some, the success of the SR1 may come off surprising. I don’t think many are aware that iBasso has been a company that has been in existence since 2006. With almost two decades of experience, it had the correct sources to engineer an outstanding first headphone model. This explains how it was able to both achieve the complexity of the SR1 and successful follow-up with the SR2.
I think that iBasso deserves more coverage and attention, and for that reason, let’s dig a little deeper into the roots of this company.
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.
BEFORE YOU READ
This review wasn’t written overnight. I took my time and spent over 3 months listening to the SR2 on a daily basis, during this period, I took notes and was writing the review - I then refined the written review and formatted it into what you are reading.
I am neither paid nor am I gaining any financial benefit from iBasso for writing this review. The review is based on my personal listening experience, it is completely free of any bias from an external force (whether that’s online hype, other people’s opinion, or the manufacturer itself). I also want to state that I completely based the review on what my ears heard, my experience wasn’t affected nor influenced by graphs/measurements.
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.
Please keep this in mind. Thank you, enjoy the review.
While to some completely new and unheard of, a great number of audio enthusiasts have been aware of iBasso for the longest time - mainly because the company has always been ahead of the industry. It’s safe to say that iBasso has made quite a few impressive products over the years.
Unboxing experience & presentation
The SR2 is packaged in a large box filled with text - it’s everything but plain. On the front, you will find the graphic of the headphones themselves and some subtle information about what drivers they are using. On the back, there are specifications and the manufacturer’s detailed explanation of what the SR2 has to offer, i.e. what it is marketing them as.
I consider the SR2 to be the perfect headphone package in terms of contents. You get everything that you should expect at this price point - a high-quality cable, a high-quality 6.3 mm adapter, a high-quality carrying case, and even an extra set of ear-pads. I was pleasantly surprised to see the extra set of pads in the package, it’s especially nice since they differ from the stock ones. The stock pads have smaller perforation, while the extra set has larger perforation. This may be helpful to those who prefer the ear-pads to be more breathable, but it’s also something nice to see at this price point. You are covered if you need to replace the stock ear-pads, no need to buy an extra set.
In a formal format, here is what you get in the box:
1x SR2 headphone
1x braided cable (3.5 mm termination)
1x custom machined screw-on 6.3 mm adapter
1x carrying case
1x pair of large[r] perforation ear-pads
1x cable tie
While the SR2 won’t blow you away with its packaging box, iBasso is otherwise known for its modern approach in presentation. iBasso’s history of thoughtful design behind packaging goes as far back as the DX80 which had the angled box with excellent presentation. Although the SR2 didn’t have anything of that sort (probably because a headphone box is so large, there is no need for it), they still maintained that tradition with the recently released DX200. Whatever product it was, there was always a great presentation, with top-notch accessories - something that iBasso deserves to be well respected for. Just from the company’s history, you can clearly see that it never spared its budget for high-quality accessories and packaging.
After the complex design of the SR1, iBasso opted for a more modern and sleek design for the SR2. To this day, I consider the SR1 to be one of the finest designed and machined headphones. Now, they were considerably bulkier than the SR2, but the complexity and number of parts used is what I loved about it - it reminded me of the complex craftsmanship present in watches and firearms.
I think iBasso reduced the complexity for a reason - was the complexity of SR1 necessary? Apparently not. They proved that with the SR2. Clearly, the “rifle-like” complexity of the headband mechanism wasn’t necessary. They were able to strip it to just a single free-sliding piece. The same goes for the ear cup construction: there are no complex grills, frames, rings, and a lot of screws. It has been reduced to the bare minimum.
The attention to detail is what fascinates me - and it’s not just the case with the SR2, but with iBasso products in general.
Whether it’s the subtle yet attractive branding, the minimal construction of the ear-cups, or the small details like the Torx screws on the sliders - iBasso doesn’t fail to impress with their attention to detail. I think this was more noticeable in the SR1 model.
By far, one of my favorite design elements of this headphone is the cable. Besides the cable itself, I love the 6.3 mm adapter. This is one of the few times that there is a metal housing (for the 3.5 mm plug) that is both lightweight and actually feels like a high-quality metal. Usually, it’s either made out of high-quality metal and is too heavy, or it’s made out of lightweight metal but feels cheap.
But that is not what caught my attention - it’s the click-in screw-on mechanism of the 6.3 mm adapter that I am in love with. The fact that the adapter looks like it’s a part of the 3.5 mm plug’s housing is very sleek and sexy. Mr. Paul had the whole release of the SR2 delayed because he wasn’t satisfied with this 6.3mm adapter, and I am so happy that it turned out well in the end. It was well worth it! That’s what I call dedication and attention to detail - others will call it insanity… because delaying a release of a headphone just because of an adaptor sounds nuts. It feels analog and manual, just like vinyl players. Yes, you can just open up your online streaming service and press play, it only takes a few seconds to do that - but it’s the mechanical and analog feel of vinyl that is addicting. I consider this little 6.3 mm adapter to give the same type of satisfaction.
Both of the stereo 3.5 mm connectors are color-labeled for the left and the right side - it follows the industry standard, blue is for left, red is for right. However, in iBasso’s picture renders, there were also letter labels - but they did not make it to the final release. I think it would’ve been nicer to see the initially planned “L” and “R” engraved labels. It would further contribute to the sexiness.
As mentioned before, the headband is using a sliding mechanism. You may ask “How does it work?”, and it’s a relatively simple mechanism. The headband is attached to two sliders that hold it on either side, and it can move within the space that is set by the two stoppers. The leather headband is held in place with two Torx screws, one major advantage of this system is that you have the option and flexibility to easily replace the headband if needed. This further adds to the longevity of the headphones, and it’s definitely something to appreciate at this price point.
I also like the fact that iBasso paid attention to the little details like screws… something that most people won’t even notice. They are in a silver finish to match the color scheme of the headphones, and they are actually the same Torx screws that Apple uses for the MacBook Pro (I have the early 2015 version).
The headphone frame is different than the one of its predecessor - instead of the flat frame, it uses two metal rods. They take up less space and reduce the overall weight.
On the inner side of the yokes, you will find “L” and “R” labels printed in a matching silver finish. The ear-cups are my second favorite design element, and here is why. Not only do I love the material and color choice, but also the laser-etched writing. It’s a subtle yet significant detail.
They have a little bit more than 180˚ of pivot - this allows the headphones to rest flat on the table (or on your neck). There is also more than enough tilt. Overall, you are ensured to get a good fit due to the freedom of movement.
If I were to describe the design of the SR2 in two words, they would be: clean and consistent. Everything follows a very elegant color scheme, but also a material choice. I consider both the SR1 and SR2 a major success in terms of design - though I wouldn’t directly compare the two. Mainly because the SR2 follows a completely new approach to design.
If there is something to write home about, it’s the build quality. The SR2’s construction is completely made out of metal, not a single plastic piece used. Now, if you take an average headphone as an example, most of the construction is made out of plastic. I personally don’t have anything against the use of plastic, as long as it’s high quality (like on the Sennheiser HD 598).
Starting from the headband construction itself, it’s clear that iBasso wanted to cut down on the bulk and weight that was present in the previous model. This time around, it consists of just two memory metal rods that hold the whole headband structure together. Due to the slider mechanism for the headband, there are two stoppers (one on either side). They are made out of cast metal and can be adjusted by unscrewing the Torx screws (which I strongly suggest you do if you own the SR2). The sliders that hold the headband in place (with Torx screws) are made out of high strength plastic. They are the only visible part of the headphone that is made out of plastic - and it’s the good type of plastic. I am particularly harsh when it comes to using plastic. My first headphone was the Sennheiser HD 598, and it set a very high standard in terms of plastic quality. If you ever held the HD 598 in person, you know it’s made out of high-quality plastic, that’s what I consider German quality. In the same way, the plastic used for the sliders is plastic of high quality. You know good plastic was used when it takes you some time to realize that it’s even made out of plastic…
The yoke construction (the part that holds the ear-cups) is made out of high-grade aluminum. You have the ability to adjust the rotation smoothness by tightening or loosening the hex screw underneath.
Moving onto the ear-cups themselves, they are made of aluminum. Aluminum is by far one of my favorite materials - it’s durable, doesn’t show fingerprints, isn’t easy to scratch, and looks good. Perfect combo.
The grill is a story of its own. On the outside, it looks like the average metal grill, but once you take a closer look, you realize that there is a smaller grill below it. I think this is one of the things that play a major role in SR2’s sound characteristics. I will further cover and speak upon this grill in the “Isolation” section.
This about covers it in terms of the build quality for the headphone construction. Unfortunately, full metal construction has become a status of luxury, we keep seeing more and more bad built headphones at a high asking price. This being said, I greatly appreciate that iBasso made a well-built headphone for a reasonable price.
The combination of a full metal construction and use of genuine leather is quite rare to come across at this price point, especially at the level that iBasso took it. While the SR2 is made with a minimalist approach, it is definitely utilizing high-quality materials. They didn’t cut any corners and made sure everything is well made.
“Damn, what a cable!” was my very first impression. Before I listened to the headphones themselves, it was the cable that had me impressed. I personally love braided cables, they are a standard in the IEM world but aren’t common in the headphone world. Of course, you can always find a 3rd party cable on the market, but my point is that braided cables are a rarity when it comes to stock cables. I prefer braided cables over the majority of other cable types, the flexibility and light-weight nature of them is what is so appealing about them. If you have a permanent setup where the headphone remains plugged in into the source for the majority of time, you don’t really have to worry too much about flexibility. However, if you are like me and tend to unplug your headphones and pack them up after each use, flexibility is quite an important factor.
In this case, iBasso used a 4-core litz braided cable. It is a very soft and flexible cable. It never tangles, and I can easily fold it around my hand to store it away. There is nothing I hate more than cables that I cannot store away - this is often the case with fabric braided cables, once you wrap them around your hand and let go… they just explode and make a whole mess. A tangle-free cable is a must-have for me, I always take my headphones on and off, and I constantly move around.
Here is the catch: it’s not your average braided cable. This is a custom copper-silver alloy cable. iBasso spent their time to develop a custom mix of high purity OF (oxygen-free) copper and silver. When I asked Mr. Paul to confirm what purity the alloy is, he told me that he can confirm it is of 99.999% purity - he was not able to assure me it is any higher than that because it gets very expensive to assay above that. It should be noted that this is not a silver-plated cable, which is very common but is nowhere near a custom alloy. Silver-plated copper cables have less than 1% of pure silver… which is the reason why they are so common in lower-priced cables. Mr. Paul told me that it took hundreds of hours to get the right proportions of copper & silver, and the same amount of work went into the dielectric used for the isolation.
I love every part of this cable, and it is certainly my current favorite cable. It is flexible, doesn’t tangle, holds its form when it’s rolled, and it even looks great. It is a fully custom cable that iBasso designed, so you are pretty much getting a custom cable as a stock cable. I love the amount of work that was put into the cable!
Comfort & fit
Pillows. Leather. Zen.
Yes, you read that correctly. These are the words I would use to describe the SR2 in terms of comfort. I wish I could say something negative about the comfort (or any other aspect… because it seems like iBasso got almost everything right), but I simply cannot deny the fact that the wide leather headband & the soft ear-pads do a wonderful job. Comfort is one of the most important aspects to me, and I always rant about it if it doesn’t meet my standards. There are quite a few special things that SR2 features.
The headband is one of them. As you will read below, I was initially informed that the leather headband is the same as the one used on the previous model, the SR1. However, that is not the case. SR1 used the Minerva Box from Badalassi Carlo (confirmed by Pelle al Vegetale), but this one does not use their leather. I should note that it still uses real leather, but not as prestigious as the leather from Pelle Conciata al Vegetale in Toscana. Leather is a material of luxury, but it comes with a pretty price. I think it is greatly overlooked when a manufacturer makes the decision to use high-quality materials, yet not criticized enough when low-quality materials are used. You have to keep in mind that iBasso consciously chose to spend more money on the genuine leather for the headband. It could have used pleather and made a bigger profit, but it didn’t. It’s just something to appreciate.
While the pads are made of pleather, they actually do a surprisingly good job at being comfortable. I believe the thick nature of these pads is the main reason why they are so comfortable. After doing some measuring, I found that the thinnest point is right around 2 cm, while the thickest point is around 3 cm. The pads are tailored horizontally, meaning they are thicker towards the back and narrow down towards the front. This ensures that they lie flat on your ears, and also provide more support behind your ear.
The padding of both the headband and the ear-pads is quite efficient. Obviously, the ear-pads have more padding than the headband. The padding in the leather headband further contributes to the soft leather suede on the underside. On the other hand, the pads feature much thicker cushioning and padding. I believe that memory foam was used for the pads, this would explain why they are so comfy.
The SR2 is definitely one of those headphones that I can wear for hours without any fatigue or discomfort. While SR2 never truly “disappears”, it does not create hotspots or anything alike. The combination of a wide headband and good clamp force results in a secure fit that will ensure that the headphones stay put on your head. I didn’t find myself adjusting the headphones too much - keep in mind that I do not sit back when listening to music, but rather move around, and yes, this includes mild headbanging. I have to say that I was not let down. SR2 features one of the best headbands for the price, has thick and soft ear-pads and stays comfortable for long-listening sessions. What more can I say, it’s a pleasure listening to music without being bothered by the comfort & fit.
Pelle Conciata al Vegetale in Toscana
As mentioned before, I was initially informed that the leather is the same one that was used on the SR1 model. I am sure that the misunderstanding was a result of miscommunication within iBasso’s team. You can read my full review (un-edited) on Head-Fi. Even though the leather doesn’t come from Badalassi Carlo, the leather is of high quaity. I still stand behind everything that I said about the headband. It has a rich aroma and is soft. I was not able to confirm with iBasso whether or not it is vegetable-tanned and has a natural grain, but I can say it is of high quality. If there is one thing that I would strongly suggest for future models, it would be to use the Minerva Box leather, especially because it was used in the SR1 model. I understand the limited and expensive nature of this option, so it is completely understandable if it is not convenient. I also want to state that Pelle al Vegetale directly confirmed that the leather on the SR2 is not from their tannery.
The review on Head-Fi includes full sections that refer to Pelle al Vegetale and their leather - besides that, it is identical to this one. I will soon edit it, but will not remove these sections (they will be marked so nobody gets confused). If you do want to learn about Pelle al Vegetale, you can do so by reading the review on Head-Fi, that is the main reason why I am not going to remove them.
“Had Some Drinks” by Two Feet is a perfect example of deep rumbling bass. Although my musical preference isn’t usually within this space, I listen to sub-bass qualities in this track. Once the drop happens, the impact is hard and it delivers quite the slam. Besides the subtle rumble, the bass is quite full and has both full-body and weight, but it still remains balanced and doesn’t fatigue the ears. Fatigue is usually the result of excessive quantity of bass.
On the other hand, Hans Zimmer’s “Why So Serious?” is a much cleaner and formal track. Unlike Two Feet’s song, for the majority of this track there isn’t much going on - you don’t have instruments and sounds overlapping. Each tone is clean and differs enough from the rest of the mix. In particular, the 3:26 minute mark is where the climax hits the drop and transitions to sub-tones. From that point on, there are pure sub-frequencies. While there is some very subtle percussion in the background, it doesn’t interfere with the sub-bass. This being said, the SR2 performs very well on this track. The sub-bass pulsates rather than rumbles, while the bottom end is deep and has a good amount of weight.
The mid-bass is more refined than the sub-bass, so let’s talk about the bass qualities (impact, punch, speed, definition, body, etc.).
I found SR2 to be really good performing in the mid-bass region, and this is most obvious with electronic music - a genre of music where punch, body, and speed play a major role. Besides listening to countless hours of Daft Punk, Hans Zimmer, Vangelis, and Deadmau5, I went back to my two standard testing tracks; “Hydrogen” by M.O.O.N, and “Smoking Mirrors” by Lee Curtiss. You may notice that the two tracks are relatively similar, they both share the club-like sound. From both of these tracks, I could conclude that the kick is fast and clean, has full-body, and has a strong punch. “Hydrogen” is the one that has more bottom-end to it, and thus it results to a similar “oomph” that you would hear from a subwoofer, or in this case, in a club. The kick is also tighter and harder hitting than in “Smoking Mirrors”. Speaking of the latter track, while it is relatively simple, the clap and the kick click-in place. What I noticed on some headphones that are struggling with having fast attack and release, is that they tend to let the kick go on for too long, and therefore make the beat to be out of sync. This is something that can be noticed without much thought, and this is mainly due to the fact that your ears recognize when something is not in place - it just doesn’t sound right. This being said, SR2 manages to have both fast attack and release, this means that the bass never sounds boomy or loose, it’s tight and quick.
The bass response of the SR2 was developed in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the mix. With the market being overcrowded with V-shaped headphones that have emphasized lower-frequencies, I am very happy to listen to a headphone that finally breaks away from this “norm”. The SR2 has a very balanced and controlled bass response. While V-shaped headphones usually suffer from boomy and muddy bass (and recessed mids), iBasso SR2 has a very clean and well defined lower-frequency response - the bass is fast/tight, is well defined, and has enough body and weight that it stays away from being bass light. However, I do want to say that the mid-bass has more depth and volume (quantity) than the sub-bass.
The more time I spend with the SR2, the more I realize how good the mid-range sounds. While I usually use specific testing tracks to listen for certain sound qualities, i.e. critical listening, I otherwise have a different listening preference. Not only that, but the headphones themselves can determine and affect the music I listen to (e.g. I would listen to more electronic music with a V-shaped headphone, and would avoid vocal and instrumental tracks). I won’t shine too much light on the testing tracks for this specific reason - I already went through all of my testing tracks within the first couple of days with the SR2, afterwards, I spent my time enjoying music that I personally enjoy.
In Jeff Buckley’s “Forget Her” at mark 3:16, you can hear the edge of “t” in “tears”, and this was also the case for the guitar and other sections of the track. Both “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor, and “Strange Fruit” by Nina Simone, share the same characteristics - the edge is there, the vocals have wide dynamics, and the tracks have life to them. Notably, the latter track is the one that has more noticeable peaks, and you can hear the beautiful texture and grittiness in Nina Simone’s voice. One of the most prominent peaks occurs at the 2:24 minute mark (in “Strange Fruit”). Nina Simone’s cover of “Strange Fruit” is more than a decade older than Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”, and that is something that can be heard because the peaks are more prominent and there is also audible noise in the recording itself. In terms of guitars, “Soldier of Fortune” by Deep Purple and “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin are my choice. Both tracks sounded absolutely gorgeous, the timbre is on point, you can feel the plucks, and they have both the low end and the crisp upper end. It’s safe to say that one of the most enjoyable things to listen to on the SR2 are stringed instruments, and that’s exactly what I have been enjoying the most.
The reason why I do not want to put so much focus on the critical listening tracks is because that is neither how I formed my opinion nor how I judged SR2’s sonic performance. The testing tracks don’t do any justice to the dozens of albums and who knows how many songs that I have listened to. This being said, for the most part, I listened to albums from start to finish, which is my preferred way of listening to music.
The mid-range benefits both from the low-end extension, and the high-end extension. Instruments like the piano, woodwind instruments, and acoustic guitar will benefit from the lower mid-range extension, while most of the stringed instruments, the piano, and synthesizers will benefit from the upper mid-range extension. SR2 is not a warm headphone, it is capable of reaching and producing sparkle, but for the majority of the time doesn’t cross the line of shine. For me, “shine” is an alternative way of saying that there are clarity and a good amount of detail retrieval, but it is a very specific sound characteristic too. In the same way, when I say “sparkle”, I am referring to the sound characteristic that is between shine and sibilance. Here is the simplest explanation that will better help you understand what I am talking about:
1. Shine is a sound characteristic of a good amount of clarity and detail retrieval. In this case, a headphone with no shine would be a warm headphone
2. Sparkle is a sound characteristic of a greater amount of clarity and detail retrieval than shine - it is a very hard characteristic to pull off because often times it’s easy to cross the line and go into sibilance. When done correctly, you experience a very satisfying “tingly” feeling in your ear.
3. Sibilance is a sound characteristic of “extreme” clarity and detail retrieval, i.e. the most revealing. This is a known characteristic of an analytical sound signature, and one of its drawbacks is that it easily becomes fatiguing, making it a not so ideal option for long listening sessions.
With all of this being said, the SR2 doesn’t hide the edge where it is meant to be heard - for example, vocals in older recordings tend to have harsh peaks, most often they have exaggerated “s”, “sh”, “p”, and “t” sounds. What a warm headphone can do is significantly roll-off the upper range, and although this does stay far away from sibilance, it can also make the headphone boring and lifeless. This is mainly because the detail is lost - the edge is supposed to be there, that’s the characteristic of some older recordings. Even though this headphone reveals the edge, at no point did I have the need to take them off because of it. I also noticed that I wasn’t the only one to conclude that there is a very slight hint of warmth in the upper range, and this further supports what I said earlier: “it is capable of reaching and producing sparkle, but for the majority of the time doesn’t cross the line of shine”. Even with this slight hint of warmth, I never found it lacking the edge or sparkle.
The most important characteristic of SR2’s mid-range is that it is slightly forward. This results in a richer and more present mid-range. I found this to be a factor that plays the key role in the pleasant listening nature of this headphone, it’s what makes it stand out. Of course, vocals benefit from this the most, and it is also the way vocals are in real life. But vocals aren’t the only element benefiting from this, instruments have a fuller body and are richer, which is one of the main reasons why I enjoyed listening to albums from start to finish. To me there’s no doubt that SR2 is a highly addictive headphone, I personally had a hard time taking them off.
iBasso managed to find a fine balance, SR2 stays far away from being warm but also keeps a safe distance from being too analytical. It successfully retains the edge and clarity of the top-end, which results in a very pleasant and satisfying treble response. However, do not mistake and associate the terms “pleasant” and “satisfying” with warmth (both of the terms are often used to “kindly” imply that a headphone has significant top-end roll-off), because this headphone is well capable of delivering high frequencies.
“Stop Trying to Be God” by Travis Scott is a track where you can listen for sibilance and fatigue. There is only a single element that I am focusing on in this track, and that is Stevie Wonder’s harmonica (from mark 4:43 - 5:43). In particular, at 5:19 there is a very clean high note that is being sustained for around 3 seconds. This is where you can hear the sparkle that SR2 is capable of producing. It makes your ears tingle but doesn’t irritate and make you want to throw the headphones off your head. The nice thing about this part of the track is that there isn’t much going on besides it, so you can entirely focus on that peak note without having other elements interfering with that particular frequency.
In Chris Jones’ “Long After You’re Gone” there is a similar quality of the clean high notes. Steve Baker’s harmonica hits a very high and clean peak at 4:01 and sustains it until the 4:05 minute mark. It is a rather pleasing frequency that makes you squint your eyes (in a good way!) and essentially makes you feel the tingly feeling I mentioned earlier. Both Stevie Wonder’s and Steve Baker’s harmonica performances share the same nature of holding a peak note for a short period of time (3-5 seconds), and neither of them sound like they are lacking nor missing the upper extension.
Now, both of the previously mentioned tracks are very specific because they have an almost isolated peak note, but how does the SR2 bear with “casual” percussion? Pretty well, it’s crisp and moderate. One of the things which I noticed about percussion is that it doesn’t cut through the mix like it would with a V-shaped headphone, it is rather well defined and distinct (without being too forward). We can take Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” as an example. It features beautiful snappy percussion, but I believe it’s the combination of the snare drum and hi-hats that sets the overall rhythm. The snare drum has a particularly bright and snappy (fast attack and slam) quality, but it also has an audible decay. If you listen closely, the snare drum first appears around the 1:50 minute mark and it keeps going until 3:38 (when it starts fading away).
Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” features some intense cymbals right around the 7:16 minute mark, and they are present until 7:23. There should be no debate that John Bonham did a phenomenal job at being the drummer for Led Zeppelin, but for me, it is the energy that makes his performance stand out in “Stairway to Heaven”. The qualities that the cymbals have are bright and forward (they are placed more forward in the mix), and SR2 does a great job at transferring the intensity from them!
“Let It Be” cover by Bill Withers is another track where you can hear the crisp tonality. The element that you should listen for are the claps - pay close attention to how snappy they sound and how they click in place.
Just like the other instrument and elements, guitars benefit from the well-refined top-end. One of the performances that I personally enjoyed the most is from the greatly underrated Jeff Healey, a Canadian guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter who was known for his unique style of playing the guitar on his lap. His cover of “Blue Jeans Blues”, specifically his live performance from 1989 (9:03 minutes long) is where there are some beautiful high notes, that is to say, if the upper end is refined well, they should sound beautiful instead of piercing. Right around the 4:13 minute mark, some higher notes start appearing, but the sparkle can be heard right around the 4:34 minute mark, and that note is being sustained until ~4:40 minute mark. On the Spotify version (11:39 minutes long), the 1989 live performance also shares some high notes, but this time very clean without anything in the background - from 8:33 - 8:38 the peak note is being sustained, and it has the edge without blowing your ears. Jeff Healey actually developed his unique way of holding a guitar at just 3 years old. He was blind before he was one year old, and it is said that he was gifted a guitar and just wasn’t told how to hold it - thus he developed his own technique naturally. The emotion of these two tracks is beyond words, you can just hear the pure emotion coming from a man and a guitar.
Judas Priest’s “Beyond the Realms of Death” shares a similar quality but without as much edge. At the 4:30 mark, a high note is being sustained until the 4:38 minute mark. It has a clean tonality while also sharing the shine quality.
In “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V), one of Pink Floyd’s masterpieces - which also happens to be a track where David Gilmour performs a gorgeous guitar solo - exactly at the 6:07 minute mark there is an audible peak, this peak should have sparkle and also have a very clean tone to it.
What do all of these song references exactly mean? Well, they mean that SR2 is not only a versatile headphone (it performs well across various different genres) but also a headphone with a well-refined treble extension. It is more than just capable of delivering sparkle, the treble response is clean and pleasant to listen to. I enjoyed hours of guitar solos and I wasn’t disappointed. Most importantly, the treble has the quality, it never sounds shouty, sibilant, piercing, or fatiguing, and even though it is both capable of reproducing sparkle and the edge, it never sounds edgy. Vocal tracks of essy nature don’t lose their “essy” quality, but they never sound unpleasant - the peaks are audible and bright, but they never cross to sibilance or cause fatigue. Jeff Buckley’s “Grace” album, Paul Simon’s “Something So Right”, Yao Is Ting’s “Speak Softly Love”, and Joan Baez’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” all share the essy nature of vocals and have noticeable peaks, but at no point are they shrill or piercing - they remain the edge but at moderate and listenable levels. The treble response from this headphone was a true match for my personal taste, and I cannot deny that it is one of the reasons why I spent so much time listening to it. A great refined treble response that is neither lacking nor extended to the point where you experience fatigue. What more can I say?
Soundstage and Imaging
At this point, I want to put my two cents regarding the open-back debate. I firmly believe that SR2 is not an open-back headphone, and I will explain why. As mentioned before (in the “build quality” section), SR2 features two grills: the thicker grill on the outside, and a smaller & more dense grill right below it. Not only this, but there also appears to be some type of damping material around the driver. Why am I mentioning this? Well, simply because due to these extra layers, the soundstage will not be as large or as airy as it would be on an open-back pair of headphones. These layers are physical obstacles for the sound to escape, and thus I consider the SR2 a semi-open headphone.
This being said, SR2 does not have the holographic soundstage that you would find on a pair of open-back headphones, and I don’t think it is trying to have it. With the mid-range being slightly forward, the sound presentation is more present, thus narrowing the soundstage in size. I am particularly happy that SR2 does not suffer from a boxy sound presentation, a common drawback that is often resulted from elevating the mid-range. I personally enjoyed the more intimate experience, and I did not find myself considering the soundstage to be narrow. Even though the soundstage isn’t large, SR2’s ability to portray a sense of space is very good.
The above said was mostly referring to the width, however, I do have a funny story where I noticed SR2’s great ability to present depth, if you were to picture an XYZ coordinate axis, depth would be the “x-axis”. So, here is the story:
I thought I’d take a break from enjoying music by watching a Youtube video from my smartphone, and I plugged the SR2 into the phone, played the video, but something didn’t seem right. I noticed that there was no sound coming from the headphones and my phone was playing from its loudspeakers… or so I thought. So, I plug and unplug the headphone several times, wondering why I cannot hear anything. Well, turns out the SR2 was playing the whole time, but it has such a good ability to present depth that my brain interpreted what it was hearing as though it was coming from the phone (which was placed in front of me), and it was at this moment where I knew that its soundstage extended beyond the usual left & right, i.e. width. This so-called experience was particularly interesting because SR2 was able to convince my brain that the sound was certainly coming from my phone’s speakers. It made me facepalm… that’s for sure.
Another thing I heard with SR2 is height, which would be the “z-axis”, i.e. interpretation and sense of vertical space. While from my experience the height doesn’t appear to be any higher than somewhere around the eyebrow level, but it is certainly there.
Isolation & sound leakage
Thanks to the mentioned semi-open design, these headphones provide great isolation. In fact, one of my first impressions was being fascinated by the isolation & seal. This is my only headphone of semi-open back nature that provides a vacuum-like seal. What exactly do I mean by “vacuum-like seal”? Have you ever put Active Noise Cancelling headphones on and had that weird feeling when you turn the ANC feature on? That silence? Well, that is the closest feeling I could compare SR2’s seal to. Of course, I am not implying that it blocks anywhere near the noise that ANC headphones do, it’s just that I found them to share that similarity. I strongly believe this is due to the extra layers (grills and acoustic felt/damping layer), but I think it’s the combination of the tight sealing ear-pads and those layers that put it all together. Not only do they do a great job at blocking out noise, but also at keeping noise in, i.e. not leaking a lot of sound.
This brings me onto my next point. I would officially label SR2 as a semi-open headphone purely due to its isolation and minimal sound leakage qualities. Just like some already have noticed, there is surprisingly little sound leakage for an “open-back” headphone (around the time of the release, many people judged SR2 as an open-back headphone due to the fact that the majority of dealers sold it as an open-back).
But wait, how much do they actually leak? Let’s put it like this: when I turned up the volume to around 50% - 65% (on EarMen Sparrow) there was audible leakage, but still very minimal compared to how loud the headphones were playing. I should also note that 50% - 65% are very loud levels on the Sparrow, remember that SR2 is a higher sensitivity headphone, hopefully, this gives you a clearer idea of what I am trying to say. If your concern is waking somebody up at night, I wouldn’t think about it… unless you are in the same room as this person. If you are in your own room, door closed, enjoying music, I highly doubt anybody outside of your room will be able to hear anything. I think you could even pull off listening to them in public transportation or in the office, but only if you listen at quieter volumes. I personally believe that SR2 is quieter than one of those teens’ EarPods in the bus… but that was some time ago, now the majority have switched to AirPods. Regardless, you get the point, for a non-closed-back headphone, they are quite impressive.
It is a similar situation with isolation. As I brought up earlier, the seal is good enough on its own, so even without any music it considerably reduces the outside noise. With music playing, I didn’t hear people talking around me. One thing you should not expect is for SR2 to quite literally act as a closed-back headphone.
So, is SR2 a good headphone?
During the past 3 months, I have done nothing but enjoyed the SR2. Most importantly, I enjoyed music, and because of that, it’s much more than just a good headphone.
It is not so often that you come across a headphone that you personally enjoy, a headphone that you forget about and put your focus on the music. This was an exception for me. Let me tell you something, there have been no other headphones that I have been listening to as much as the SR2. I found myself listening to music for three to five hours every day, something which I have never done before. To put this in perspective, I usually listen to maybe an hour of music, two hours max, and that is not every day… I am not the person who can sit in one place for long, but this headphone was is so addictive to listen to, I couldn’t help but enjoy my time with it. This being said, I am not basing my opinion on a short period of time (like many do), but rather on my experience over the course of time that I have used it daily.
In the first week of ownership, I knew that it was a match for me. I played all my testing tracks and that was it, from that point on I just started enjoying listening to music instead of trying to listen to the headphones.
From the way I see it, these headphones meet up all the standards that are present at this price range:
1. Build quality. Check
2. Comfort. Check
3. Carrying case. Check
4. Cable. Check
5. Sound performance. Check
There are a lot of things this headphone deserves to be respected for:
Not only do you have a well-built headphone with full metal construction, but also a high-quality metal construction. The wide leather headband that I would argue is the best headband at this price range. The braided cable made of a custom silver/copper mix (not silver-plated copper!) - which I would also argue is among the best stock cables in general. High-quality pleather ear-pads that stay comfortable for hours. The convenience. By “convenience” I mean the flexible cable that is easy to store away, the easily replaceable nature of the whole headphone, and the flexibility of height thanks to the unscrewable stoppers… it just doesn’t stop. You get high-quality accessories (carrying case, extra pair of ear-pads, custom-made 6.3 mm adaptor), and fast customer service as a bonus. This is the fewest words I could use to state all the points that this headphone got right.
“But wait, Voja, what are the cons?”. My answer to that would be ‘none’. Being a person who doesn’t support hype, nor someone who starts hype, it took a great amount of courage to put out this statement. When I looked at every part of the SR2, I couldn’t find a single flaw. It simply lives up to every present standard. It does not have a build quality flaw, it does not have a low-quality cable, it does not have comfort issues, it does not have headband discomfort, it does not have adjustability issues, it does not have sound performance issues, and it does not have low-quality accessories. I couldn’t find a single element to complain about.
While I am guilty of personally liking the sound performance of the SR2, I think you cannot say that the above said things are a thing of preference. What makes this headphone such a good product goes beyond its sound performance, it’s the little things that it gets right & doesn’t get wrong. How many times did you come across an amazing sounding headphone but it’s one element that it didn’t get right, or there is something that bothers you? I faced this experience numerous times myself, that’s why I think this headphone deserves respect where it’s due.
Speaking of sound preference and sound quality, these are a perfect match for my ears. I think that it’s pretty obvious that I enjoyed listening to them… I am not hiding that. The way we interpret sound is subjective, but I want to state my standards that this headphone met in terms of sound quality:
Deep bass? Check. Tight punch? Check. Rumble? Check. The performance of the low-end was lacking in neither quality nor quantity.
Full-body mids? Check! Lower & upper extension of mid-range? Check. Timbre? Check. Mids are by far my favorite part of this headphone.
Treble extension? Check. Non-fatiguing treble response? Check. Sparkle (one of the most important ones for me)? Check. Upper-end isn’t warm and rolled off? Check. Just like the other two, it isn’t lacking and is easy on the ears.
Doesn’t sound boxy? Check.
Other factors are subjective to the headphone, as though each headphone has its own characteristics. I certainly do enjoy an airy headphone, but I also enjoy a more present sound representation that isn’t as airy. In a way, SR2 has a unique sound signature. At first glance, you might think they are open-backs, but you put them on your head and realize that is not the case. Imagine if all the headphones sounded the same, that would be pretty boring… that’s why I think it is so refreshing to hear something that steps out of the box and does a great job at it. Besides, it is a very versatile sounding headphone that sounded great with all the genres that I threw at it. This includes rock, heavy rock, progressive rock, electronic & techno, pop, soul, jazz, hip-hop, r&b, and folk. The genre that I usually don’t listen to (personal preference) is punk, although I do occasionally play a song or two. I also rarely listen to classical music, but I do greatly enjoy it.
It’s not as though I threw a couple of songs from each genre and made this conclusion. Again, my whole experience is based on the 3 months that I have used this headphone daily. From this listening period, I didn’t find it lacking in any frequency range (low-range, mid-range, upper-range).
With this being said, I will firmly say that this is my current favorite music listening headphone. I can also consider it to be among the best headphones released in 2020. It is a successor to its predecessor, iBasso did an amazing job at following up with this model, and I am excited to see what it will release in the future.
I also want to take a moment to speak about a very important subject. I did explain the history of iBasso and everything, but I want to put special focus on how much the company values customer feedback. Some people already know that the iBasso team closely follows all the forum threads, they take notes and fix what they can fix. When Zeos (ZReviews) reviewed the SR1 model, he brought up some problems:
1. The connectors on the headphone end weren’t really good (MMCX)
2. The ear-pads’ seam wasn’t matching, this was because only one model of the ear-pads was made (instead of making an individual one for either side)
Now we have the SR2, and Zeos’ feedback was taken into account and both of these problems were fixed. I cannot stress how important it is for the manufacturer to listen to its most valuable people - the customers themselves. Who else do you need to make happy except the people who actually use your product?
SR2 is a considerable step forward in my audiophile journey, it is a headphone that proved itself to be an excellent product and a personal favorite. Value-wise these are a no-brainer, worth every penny. I would consider it among the best headphones under 500 euros/dollars. This is a case of a manufacturer who didn’t spare its budget, but also an example of a correctly priced product.
In fact, most of the time I found myself sitting back and enjoying music alongside a glass of wine. That pretty much sums up my experience in one sentence.
I would highly recommend the SR2 to anybody who is looking for a pleasant music listening experience, a headphone that has a more present and intimate presentation, and for somebody who wants a great all-in-one package without any drawbacks. I think that this headphone is much more than a personal match for me, it is a great product that is an example of a product that lives up to its value. I also think that it’s a headphone that is well worth adding to your collection, I think it offers a different listening experience than what is currently present on the market… and, besides, you are getting a luxurious package with the most premium materials.
SR2 lets you fully enjoy music, it doesn’t get any simpler than that. If there is one headphone that I think deserves more attention, it’s this one.
Since I did spend a lot of time listening to music, I thought I’d share some albums and tracks that I absolutely adored with the SR2. These have been carefully picked for a reason, I am not just listing random music that I listened to. One of the main reasons that I found myself enjoying this headphone is because of how often I would experience an eargasm. My personal favorite music elements are great vocals, great guitar solos, and gorgeous violin pieces. If a headphone lacks in a specific field (e.g. has recessed mid-range, doesn’t have sparkle, has too much lower end), these will not sound right. If there was one word that I would use to describe SR2’s sound performance, it would definitely be “eargasmic”. A good headphone will be able to evoke emotions from music. I personally chase after the eargasmic feeling, that is the emotion that I look for in music - and a headphone should only act as a tool to achieve it, it should never be the barrier.
My preferred way of listening to music is listening to albums from start to finish, this is the reason there are so many albums in the list below.
Amy Winehouse - Frank
The Alan Parsons Project - I Robot
Pink Floyd - The Wall (Disc 2)
Peter Green - The End of the Game
Giorgio Moroder - From Here to Eternity
David Bowie - Blackstar
David Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Simon Viklund - Payday 2 Remastered (official soundtrack), vol.1
Daft Punk - Tron: Legacy
FKA Twigs - LP1
Steely Dan - Aja
Deep Purple - Stormbringer
Deep Purple - Perfect Strangers
Vangelis - Blade Runner
Darkside - Psychic
Justice - Cross (on digital platforms it’s called “Justice”)
Fleetwood Mac - Rumours
Bill Withers - Just As I Am
Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms
Chris Jones, Steve Baker - Smoke and Noise
Joan Baez - Come from the Shadows
Joe Satriani - Tears in The Rain
Led Zeppelin - Stairway to Heaven
Led Zeppelin - Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
Joan Baez - Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
Joan Baez - Song Of Bangladesh
Deep Purple - Soldier of Fortune
Deep Purple - When A Blind Man Cries
Pink Floyd - The Dogs of War
Pink Floyd - Dogs
Nina Simone - Strange Fruit
Gary Moore - Still Got The Blues
Michael Jackson - Smooth Criminal
Additional pictures and information
Diagram with headphone labels
When you first get the SR2, the first thing you should do is to unscrew the stoppers and adjust them to your preferred height. You have to do this, otherwise the headphone will slide down. This is why you can unscrew the stoppers.
Some reviewers spread the misinformation that the diaphragm is made of carbon fiber, which is not the case. It actually uses a bio-cellulose dome diaphragm. It also uses Tesla magnetic flux design for the magnets. iBasso was the first in the world to implement silicone suspension on a headphone driver, SR2 continued to use this technology, and it certainly proved to be very good in performance.
With a sensitivity of 108 dB/mW, iBasso SR2 falls under the category of more sensitive headphones. You need to make sure that the headphones do not pick up hiss from your source. For example, I heard audible hiss when I paired the headphones up to the EarMen TR-Amp, while I didn’t hear any noise on the EarMen Sparrow (which is more directed to be paired up with IEMs, and therefore handles better high sensitivity). The whole review is based on my experience of SR2 + EarMen Sparrow. The Sparrow has more than enough power for this headphone.
Highly entertaining. I like your style. Still haven’t figured out if our ears judge similarly, but given your taste in GRADO, and mine (RS1e, but liked the old GW1000) I suspect they are at least similar.
Wow! What a great review @voja. There is surprisingly little info on this headphone out there. I’m looking for something in this price range to round out my 6xx. I thought the Elex would be it, but that’s another story. I’ll do a bit of digging to see where it’s sold and may give it a try.
What amps did you try this with?
Found an open-box for $449. Extra pads, a really good cable, a great reviewed hp from all the info I could find (mostly head-fi). I’ll leave some feed back when I get it. This set was also mentioned on my fun headphones thread too!
These are very easy to drive, so I didn’t find them to be source picky. I tried the EarMen TR-Amp, on which there was audible noise. I switched to EarMen Sparrow which had more than enough power, and also handled SR2’s sensitivity better (no audible noise because Sparrow is meant to be used with high sensitivity IEMs).
I personally like stuff from EarMen because it has a more transparent sound signature. I also like the fact that it is not warm, it is more analytical in the top end, and that’s something I am looking for in a source.
I have to agree here. In my opinion, this headphone should at least be getting much more interest… I am not entirely sure how exactly it completely went over everybody’s eyes, it’s a worthy release (imo).
I don’t know that I’ve developed a taste yet, but I’m inclined to say I like warm signatures and easy listening most of the time. This will get most time on a Lyr3/BF2 combo. Compared to the Heresy/Modi stack, those are a bit, just a wee bit warmer. Let’s see (hear?) how it goes.
Just noticed that some pictures are missing from my review… Will have to fix that tomorrow. For an almost 10,000 words long review, I have to make sure there are pictures
We should open a “tag” in which everyone presents their top 5 headphones and explains why they especially think these are so outstanding.
I tend to go with Tyler @DarthPool (exception: I don’t find the Focal Utopia in the least boring & GRADO )
and Chrono @Chrono (& GRADO )
AND I’m not a big fan of planar magnetic headphones .
W O W !!
Judging by the length, attention to detail and passion you expressed in this review, you really have to love these headphones !
A lot of people do not even put such an intensive effort into their partnership with a wife / husband !
Seen in this way, I’m almost sorry that I don’t judge these cans as euphorically as you do .
Very comprehensive review @voja. Great read.
Yup, I do love them.
Ears are ears. Yours are different than mine. Your preferences are different than mine. There is no headphone that satisfies everyone. Just look and keep what sounds good to your ears. I just wrote the review to express my experience with the SR2.
Photography is fixed. Should be a more enjoyable read now
I should clarify… I think the Utopia is an amazing headphone… fantastic even… I just personally like to have a little more character with my headphones… hence “boring” not boring in technical performance or ability… just boring for me… also, this has become somewhat of an inside joke that might be going too far? nah! ha! I will continue to praise yet call the Utopia boring for me personally
I meant that with a wink ,
referring to your videos, when the topic utopia comes up, you can always hear a slight whisper in the background;
But you always mentioned that you think technically outstanding .
So I just picked up the gag .
Perfect! I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t offending anyone with the comment ha! It is easier to clarify than to be misunderstood… even if the joke will fall flat
Received my pair today and I’ve spent the better part of the day burning it in. After running it through my favorite tracks with both sets of pads, I can say the following for initial impressions:
I prefer the second pads to the stock ones. The stock pads were not bad, but emphasized low-end (which I thought I wanted ).
Comfort and build quality really are wow. I specifically want to call out Hifiman on their BS here. If ibasso can do, why on earth can’t you do it on the Sundara, let alone the Ananda/Arya?
Sound feels incredibly balanced to me (on second pads with larger perforations).not cold or clinical, but full and lush without being warm and losing detail. I’m A/B testing now with the LCD-GX and the 6XX on a BF2/Lyr 3 stack. I’ll leave my comments until the honeymoon phase is over, but the 6XX should be worried. The GX is great in a different way that I can’t articulate yet.
@voja left a review that really can’t be followed up on lol, but I may try my hand at it just to provide the me more point of reference.