With the release of the original DX200, iBasso took aim at players costing 2-3 times its price, striving for flagship level performance at $850. The DX220 and DX240 continued that tradition, providing excellent performance for the money, but DX260 looks to be the most impressive DAP in this series yet, with an 8x DAC matrix and an enhanced FPGA Master toolset. Can the technology packed DX260 deliver top tier sound for under $1000?
Build and Design
While the DX240 went for a more basic look that was essentially just a slightly larger take on it’s little brother – the DX160/DX170 – DX260 has an all new look with a bit more flair and style to it. The aluminum chassis has some striking lines, and a unique look that’s one of iBasso’s best. While most of the construction is excellent, with sturdy jacks and good tactile feedback on the buttons, the volume knob took a little breaking in to feel really smooth.
The package includes a clear plastic case, USB charge/data cable, a mini digital coax to standard digital coax interconnect, and a burn-in dongle. While I prefer leather case, the clear plastic case looks better than most and does a nice job showing off the DX260’s stylish looks. We also used the burn-in dongle to play music overnight every night during our review period to ensure that we had the best possible listening experience.
DX260 ditches the swappable amp cards of previous models and just leaves you with the default amp featuring 3.5mm and 4.4mm outputs. Both the outputs can be switched in the software between line out and headphone output. You can get files onto the device either using a USB-C cable to connect to the device which has your music on it, or via a microSD card. iBasso estimates that the device has 14 hours of battery life, and that seemed accurate from our testing. DX260 also supports USB or Bluetooth DAC functionality, along with output via USB or Digital Coax.
DX260 uses a customized Android 11 OS as the main OS, along with the option to switch to the player-only Mango OS. The device isn’t blazingly fast, but still feels responsive and snappy. Mango OS ditches the apps to provide a streamlined pure player experience with improved UI performance and a slight edge in sound quality. Whether you use Mango OS or Android you can use the Mango Player, which has a host of additional features and options for playback – some of which are also available through iBasso’s extension of Android’s settings. The connectivity was strong, as we didn’t experience any WiFi dropouts or Bluetooth connection issues during our testing.
There are two main changes you can make to the DAC settings, the standard DAC filters adjustment – “Fast, Slow, Slow Roll Off, etc. – and the oversampling options. The 2x and 4x oversampling enhance the sense of separation and some characteristics of the imaging, but with the oversampling the tonality of the DAP can shift to be somewhat clinical. Other than that, DX260 operates essentially like any other Android device.
While they’ve been available for quite some time, DX260 was the first iBasso player that I’ve set up Android widgets on. It’s a nice feature for managing your music playback and making your device feel more like a dedicated player than an Android phone with a nice DAC and the Qobuz app installed. I also appreciated the Dark Theme option, as I almost always immediately switch any device with dark/light themes to dark mode.
DX260 carries on the DX200 pedigree of highly detailed, resolving, reference tunings, while finding room to improve on the past. DX260 offers incredible imaging, with an intense holographic presentation that exceeds anything else I’ve heard in this price range. Paired with warmer headphones, DX260 can clean the sound up, wringing surprising levels of detail where you wouldn’t expect it. But on the other end, when paired with brighter headphones, DX260 can make things sound more analytical.
The bass is linear and accurate, with a nice deep extension and solid dynamics. Midrange is full, offering a natural timbre and a lot of detail in instruments, but remains well-balanced, without adding any notable emphasis. The treble is very well extended, and offers a nice sparkle at the top, without feeling harsh or grainy
DX260 presents a highly three-dimensional stereo image, with a wide stage and very well constructed placement of instruments and voices. Using the FIR option takes it a step further, providing an even stronger holographic sense of separation. There is some cost to the oversampling, as it could lend almost too much clarity to the presentation and shift it to a less natural feeling.
With over-ear headphones, like the Meze Empyrean II and ZMF Auteur Classic, DX260 provided more power and dynamics than I expected. There was a nice punch to the bass specifically with the Auteur Classic, and with Empyrean II the imaging was out-of-this-world. While the balanced power output is only 6Vrms, moderately hard to drive headphones felt well handled by DX260.
DX260 is perfectly at home with a wide range of IEMs. While we didn’t do any scientific tests, I didn’t perceive any background noise or hiss with any of our IEMs. Warmer, bassier IEMs, like the Campfire Audio Cascara, cleaned up nicely, while more balanced, neutral leaning IEMs, like the 64 Audio U6t combined with DX260 for an incredibly detailed, highly resolving experience.
Comparison: Astell&Kern KANN Ultra ($1599), Astell&Kern SR35 ($799)
One of the big DAP releases at the end of last year was the Astell&Kern KANN Ultra, which offers a similar reference tuning as DX260, along with an extra helping of power. In terms of pricing though, you’re more likely to be making the comparison between the DX260 and Astell&Kern SR35.
In the past, iBasso players have had a clear advantage in the user experience over Astell&Kern players – especially if you’re using streaming apps. Now the comparison feels a little bit more like a “give and take” than a clear runaway win. Power users will likely prefer the customization options afforded by DX260’s Android implementation, even when it comes down to the little things, like being able to choose your background and lock screen, but I think Astell&Kern has an easier, more streamlined experience these days. Being able to simply connect to WiFi and download important apps without having to confirm permissions for your app store – or end up installing a new app store as many iBasso users end up doing – provides a better experience for most users.
Now when it comes specifically to the experience with the SR35, the small screen and odd angle take a couple points away on the usability scorecard, especially for people with larger hands. SR35 also doesn’t have the same level of performance as KANN Ultra and the rest of Astell&Kern’s new lineup, so it ends up lagging behind DX260 a little bit there. KANN Ultra’s larger screen and stronger performance mean that it’s neck and neck with DX260 from a user experience standpoint. However, it is worth noting that KANN Ultra had the highest rate of connectivity issues (like unexplained WiFi dropouts) of the three, which makes DX260 a stronger recommendation for streaming service users.
In terms of performance with different headphones and IEMs, all three offer similar performance with IEMs. Whichever you go with, you won’t have to worry about background noise or impedance/sensitivity issues. For over-ear headphones, SR35 can only handle the most sensitive of over-ear headphones, while DX260 has a wider range, but not quite as much headroom as KANN Ultra. While I wouldn’t recommend pushing the upper echelons of hard to drive planar headphones with KANN Ultra, it has some of the best total range – from sensitive IEMs to hard to drive headphones – of any DAP on the market right now.
In terms of sound, KANN Ultra and DX260 have very similar sound signatures. The main differences are that DX260 has a little more sparkle up top, while KANN Ultra has a little more subbass presence. KANN Ultra has a little more weight to the sound as well, while DX260 is a little airier in its presentation. SR35 has a warmer tone than DX260 and KANN Ultra. If you want smooth highs and a more relaxed sound, SR35 will give it to you. If instead, you’d like a dynamic sound with a little extra grunt, check out the KANN Ultra. iBasso brings the most resolving, detail focused player of the three with DX260.
iBasso seems to have dialed in their basic DAP formula, and started pushing more innovations in their product line. While DX240 was a great “bang for your buck” player with solid sound quality and performance, DX260 steps up the sound quality and tech significantly – without raising the price. With the level of detail, resolution, and imaging that DX260 provides for $949, iBasso is offering nuclear level bang for under a thousand bucks.