iBasso DX300 Review

iBasso DX300 Review

The DX300 is the latest digital audio player from iBasso, and it represents not just an upgrade from the DX220, but a whole new generation of DAPs. With a new form factor, a new internal design, and a new processor, the DX300 has all the panache of the latest and greatest hardware. But is it just big, fast, and flashy, or is it truly one of the best players available?

The Build and Design

The first thing you’re going to notice about the DX300 is that it’s really big – huge even.  The 6.5” screen is about the size of an iPhone 12 Pro Max, but the player itself is twice the thickness of an iPhone. The weight is reasonable, at 300g, but operating the device with one hand can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you have smaller hands. And with 128GB of storage built in and support for high-capacity microSD cards, you should be able to accommodate a large collection of high resolution files.

The included accessories are generally just the main functional things you need for the device, with a couple extras. You get the USB-C charge cable, a digital coax adapter for the line out, a burn-in cable, a case, and a few screen protectors. The case should provide general protection from bumps and scratches, but the fit is slightly loose, and the player will easily slide out if held at odd angles.

iBasso DX300

The fit and finish has some ups and downs. Overall the device has a feel comparable to a Samsung or LG phone, but there are a couple places where it doesn’t quite live up to the high-end smartphone aesthetic. The shape of the device itself is also a little odd. There’s a slight asymmetrical slope on the right side of the device that leaves the whole thing feeling slightly uneven – literally. It’s not very noticeable with the case on, but it detracts from the overall feel and ergonomics of the device.  The physical control buttons are nice, but the volume wheel honestly feels a little cheap for a $1k+ device. It’s only slightly better designed than the one on the $399 DX160, and the tactile click is nice, but the material integrity seems lacking.

The dual battery setup is also worth noting: the DX300 has separate batteries for the analog (primarily the amp) and digital (most of the primary functions of the player) operations. The goal is to reduce interference, and increase sound quality by preventing the basic operations of the player from interfering with the music playback. The batteries both charge via USB-C, but the DX300 has some sort of hidden metric by which it judges which side needs to be charged currently. This can result in some odd occurrences, like having 100% charge in the analog section, but only 10% left for the digital section, which is not ideal. Based on my experience, you’ll get the best results by charging the battery with the supplied USB-C cable using a high powered USB charger.

The Interface 

While some aspects of the build are a bit of a mixed bag, the interface and function is top notch. The Android interface is more responsive than ever. Navigating the device to install apps or play music is smooth, fast, and responsive. The screen is probably the best I’ve experienced on a DAP both in terms of the picture quality and touch responsiveness.

There were some minor “papercuts” when getting started with the device. Initially my laptop didn’t recognize the USB connection to transfer files, but after fiddling around for a minute (with no clear reason) it worked, and I was able to copy music over. The pre-bundled APKpure store is fine, though it is ad supported, so you’ll occasionally have to wait a moment for an ad while installing apps. Of course, with the DX300’s implementation of Android, you’re free to replace the store with another option or download apps manually.

iBasso DX300

iBasso’s Android enhancements to help the basic operation of the DAP are generally well integrated, and doing things like changing DAC filters, or gain modes is faster and more intuitive than on previous iBasso devices. Most of the management of EQs, filters, etc. is done through the Mango App, but you can also change the gain and DAC filter through the pulldown menu at the top. The EQ settings offer quite a bit of customization, with 5 graphical EQ presets, and a 10-band custom option, as well as a 6-band parametric EQ.

The digital filters offer a small amount of tuning to the overall sound of the DAP, though I didn’t notice a huge difference switching between them. The only notably different filter was the NOS filter (Non-Oversampling), which added a bit more edge to the smooth, refined sound of the DX300.

If you prefer to ignore all the streaming apps and other functionality, and simply listen to music files that you already have downloaded, the DX300 provides the option to boot into MangoOS. MangoOS is simple and functional, with a variety of ways to organize and browse your music. I didn’t notice any changes in the quality or character of the sound signature while using MangoOS vs the standard Mango player, but some users have, so your mileage may vary.

The Sound

The sound is crystal clear, and relaxed. It’s definitely a different sound than the more forward sounding DX220 – and particularly the DX220 Max. There’s a smooth, relaxed nature to the DX300, which sets it apart from iBasso’s previous players. It presents an excellent 3D image with a good soundstage, imaging, and separation. I would consider the soundstage in particular to be an improvement on the DX220, with the DX300 providing a more expansive feel.

The DX300 also provides a clear, black background as a starting point. There is no hiss or other noise in the background or interference. This remained true with a variety of headphone and IEM options. Testing with the 64 Audio U12t and the notoriously sensitive Campfire Andromeda, the DX300 provided a silent, hiss-free background.

iBasso DX300

On the flipside, DX300 has a good amount of output power that exceeds that of the average DAP. A max of 1.2W/7.1Vrms balanced and 350mW/3.5Vrms unbalanced puts the DX300 in the upper tier of DAPs in terms of power output. It capably handled most of the planar magnetic headphones we had in the office, including the HIFIMAN HE1000se. With the over-ear headphones, there was a good sense of headroom, and while I didn’t get to test it out with anything exceedingly power hungry, it managed everything we had handy without having to push the volume past around the two-thirds mark.

Part of the DX300’s more refined sound no doubt relates to the new FPGA-Master and quad-DAC setup with 8 total DAC channels. After the DX220 Max, which had a touch of vintage class-A sound, the DX300 is a step towards the future with a more cutting-edge oversampled tonality. While the tuning still feels more like the more neutral, reference tuning of the DX220, the overall sense of refinement and smooth but detailed highs add a touch of an almost Chord Electronics-like sound. As I noted earlier while the filters weren’t a major source of change, the NOS filter does add just a bit of edge to the sound, bringing it closer to the sound of the last generation of iBasso DAPs.

Of course, with all this discussion of sound, we’re talking about the AMP11 which comes bundled with the DX300. iBasso plans on releasing new amp cards in the near future which will provide some level of customization to the sound. With the general quality and usability of the DX300, I’m excited to hear what other options iBasso has up their sleeves for tuning and customizing your sound.

Comparison: Astell&Kern: KANN Alpha, Astell&Kern SE200

If you’re looking for a high end DAP, Astell&Kern are known for providing high quality players with top notch materials and design. The KANN Alpha and SE200 make an interesting comparison to the DX300, as while the DX300 can’t match their physical design, there are other ways that it matches up really strongly.

In terms of the build quality, there’s no competition. The Astell&Kern players have a more solid, luxurious feel, with a more consistent aesthetic. But when it comes to the actual use of the players, the DX300 has a lot going for it. For one, the screen is the largest of the three, and by far the most responsive. And while Astell&Kern’s core player interface is easier to use that iBasso’s Mango Player or MangoOS, if you need to install any external apps, the DX300 uses a fast, simple, familiar process, rather than the multi-step process of the Astell&Kern players.

iBasso DX300 Astell&Kern KANN Alpha Astell&Kern SE200

There were a lot of similarities between the DX300 and the KANN Alpha. The general sound signature and performance were similar across a number of headphones and IEMs, though there were a few notable differences. In terms of sound signature, the DX300 had a touch more sparkle in the treble, but the larger difference was in the bass. The KANN Alpha provided a deeper subbass extension, while the DX300 sounded more natural in the low-to-mid bass. The Alpha’s bass felt more immersive on modern pop tracks like The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” while the DX300 has a more natural textured reproduction of the bass for classic rock, or jazz.

Compared to the SE200, there were clearer differences in the sound signature. The SE200 provided a better soundstage with either DAC. The mids on the AKM channel were thinner and less full than the DX300, and the ESS channel is a bit brighter than the DX300. The AKM channel also feels more forward and energetic than the DX300, while there was a similar relaxed quality between the DX300 and ESS channel.

In terms of power output, the KANN Alpha is, of course, the winner, but not by much. Particularly using the unbalanced output, I didn’t perceive a strong difference between the dynamics and response on the Meze Empyrean or HIFIMAN HE1000se. With the balanced output, the Alpha got a chance to flex its muscles a bit harder, demonstrating better headroom, dynamics, and impact. The SE200 has a decent amount of power itself, but falls a bit behind either of the other options.

The Bottom Line

While not without a few foibles in the design, the iBasso DX300 genuinely provides next level DAP performance by having both the level of sound quality you would expect from a $1249 player, and a best in class interface and user experience. At the nexus of design, sound quality, and usability, the DX300 clearly sets itself apart from the rest of the pack.