iBasso’s DAPs tend to have a common theme: they’re easy to use, include a surprisingly wide array of features, and have excellent sound quality for the price. While iBasso’s previous release, the DX300 took those tenets and went for a more premium feel with a larger screen and a design that pushed it further into the “luxury gadget” bracket, DX240 is back to basics. With its simpler overall package, can the DX240 take the lessons learned from the DX300 and deliver a next level digital audio player experience?
Build and Design
In terms of the physical design language, the iBasso DX240’s closest relation is most definitely the venerable DX160. The overall dimensions are about the same, with the DX240 being slightly thicker. The general form factor of the outputs and physical controls are similar and the DX240 generally feels like a more premium version of the DX160.
For outputs, DX240 (with its default Amp1 MK3 card installed) has 3.5mm and 2.5mm headphone jacks as well as a dedicated 3.5mm line out on the bottom of the unit and an SPDIF output on the top next to the USB port. The outputs on the bottom are part of the interchangeable amp system with iBasso’s existing DX2xx series amp cards (with the exception of the Amp9 due to size constraints), providing some different output options.
Internally, DX240 uses an ES9038Pro DAC chip in conjunction with an FPGA Master to provide the core of its sound. The CPU is a quite capable Snapdragon 660, and it has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of built in memory with a microSD card slot that supports up to 2TB of added storage. The screen is a 5 inch 1080p display that provides a crisp picture, and matches the DX300 as the tightest, snappiest touchscreen on a high end DAP.
DX240 is an Android based player, which uses an essentially stock version of Android with some small modifications to properly support the hardware and high-res playback. Out of the box the APKPure and CoolAPK stores are installed, but you can choose to remove those and manage your apps manually or even use the Google Play store.
Of course, you can also bypass all of that and switch out of Android and into iBasso’s Mango OS which turns the device into a 100% pure player. Mango OS provides all the features of the Mango player app with a simple, clean, lightning fast software experience for those who are looking to manage a collection of existing downloaded music, and don’t need any additional apps.
Most of the audio specific settings of the device can be managed through iBasso’s integration with Android or through the Mango Player app. DX240 has Low, Medium, and High Gain mode as well as a selection of seven digital filters. The digital filters are extensions of the ES9038Pro DAC chip and you can learn more about them in the official documentation. In addition, you have access to graphic and parametric EQs with some built-in presets and the ability to save your own presets. The EQ settings are applied to playback through the Mango Player app and to some other apps, but not applied across all apps. Some apps, like TIDAL, will require exclusive control of the output to deliver the highest possible resolution streams, and will bypass the Mango app’s EQ. The digital filters and gain settings will not be bypassed though.
What this all comes down to is that the DX240 gives you a good bit of room to tinker, and different ways for different types of listeners to enjoy their music. As a dedicated player, using Mango OS, DX240 is incredibly fast and snappy, and has a UI that should be familiar for most users. If you use streaming apps, DX240 allows you to download and install whichever apps you need and provides a variety of options to manage them. On top of that, you’re free to manage your software and collection however you want.
The DX240 provides an output that is lively and energetic, with a signature that is largely transparent. It does this while providing good support and depth in the lows and a touch of smoothness in the highs that keeps fatigue at bay. In this way, it feels like a clear successor to the iBasso DX220 which had more energy and dynamics than the more relaxed – but incredibly detailed – DX300. While DX240 doesn’t quite hit the same level of detail as the DX300, it’s delivery is sure to win over fans of previous iBasso DAPs.
The presentation of the 3D image is also very strong, and coupled with flagship headphones like the Focal Utopia, DX240 can present a wide and deep space with holographic imaging, and pinpoint positioning. Even bringing it back down to earth with a closed-back headphone like the Audio-Technica WP900, DX240 supports and enhances the imaging performance of whatever you want to plug into it.
In terms of power, the DX240 comes in just a bit shy of the DX300’s performance. That means that generally speaking, you’ll be able to adequately drive most dynamic headphones with the unbalanced output as well as some higher efficiency planars like the Meze Empyrean. The balanced output provides clearly superior performance with over-ear headphones, and gets you into the territory where you’re providing a good amount of power for headphones in the LCD-X or HiFiMAN Arya territory.
With IEMs, DX240 is dead quiet, giving you a pitch black background in both balanced and unbalanced with any number of highly sensitive IEMs. The shielding on the unit has also been improved over some previous models, as even in unbalanced, working in an environment with a large number of overlapping wifi networks and electronic equipment, I did not experience any static or inference with my Campfire Solstice, which has become my “canary in the coal mine” test for an array of sensitivity related issues.
Comparison: Astell&Kern KANN Alpha
Since its release, the KANN Alpha has been one of the office’s go-to reference devices. DX240 shares a number of characteristics with KANN Alpha that make it a great reference as well. So, we’ll use the KANN Alpha as a reference to see if the DX240 makes a good reference device – be sure to bookmark this page to have the comparison handy for future reference.
In terms of the interface and design, DX240 will get a clear win for most users, as its familiar Android interface, and remarkably responsive touch response make it much more convenient if you want the full streaming device functionality. Another factor here is that KANN Alpha missed out on the recent Astell&Kern update that allows the SP2000T, SE180, and SR25 MKII to directly download streaming apps, meaning that you still need to go through the sideloading process. For those looking for a pure player, it’s more of a toss up. While Astell&Kern’s player is a bit nicer than Mango OS, the speed and smoothness of DX240 in Mango mode balances things out.
The build will be a matter of preference. KANN Alpha is significantly thicker than DX240 – without the same pocketable form factor – but it also has a clearly superior build and more premium design. From a strictly ergonomic perspective, DX240 gets a win, but from an artistic perspective, KANN Alpha maintains the Astell&Kern pedigree of superb build quality and visual design.
Then of course there’s the actual sound of the devices. Both provide a generally neutral, transparent output, with strong dynamics. In the tuning, KANN Alpha presents with a little more slam in the bass, while both have similar depth and extension. While the level of detail presented is similar between the two, there’s just a touch more weight overall in the KANN Alpha’s mids. In the highs, DX240 surpasses the KANN Alpha with more sparkle and extension into the top-end of the treble, while retaining a somewhat smooth character. The presentation of the 3D image is similar, but the DX240 feels more spacious – possibly due to the treble extension.
In terms of power and performance with different headphones, both provide an excellent noise floor with IEMs, and drive high to moderate sensitivity over-ear headphones well. As you get into more demanding headphones, KANN Alpha has the clear edge, driving headphones as well with its unbalanced output as the DX240 does with the balanced output. Overall, KANN Alpha remains the king of power in a DAP, but DX240 provides excellent performance that rivals or exceeds KANN Alpha in a number of ways, and has an edge in the UI and touchscreen performance that will be the deciding factor for many users.
The iBasso DX240 takes many of the best aspects of the DX300’s design – like the fast processor and strong device performance – and combines them with an engaging dynamic sound that improves upon previous entries like the DX220. Put it all together and DX240 is a superb new entry in iBasso’s product line.