iBasso SR2 Review

Best known for their various digital audio players, iBasso more recently moved into the world of over-ears headphones with the SR1. The SR2 is the next step in the evolution of their headphone line which takes the build quality and technology of the SR1 and bumps everything up to the next level.

The Build and Design

The SR2 delivers a generally premium presentation at a mid-tier price. It has a metal frame with multiple points of adjustment, and a comfortable leather headband. The earpads are ridiculously soft and feel a bit like memory foam. The headphones themselves are lightweight and comfortable. While they’re large by most standards, they’re on the smaller side for audiophile over-ear headphones.

The packaging impresses as well. Aside from the headphones and cable, you get a travel case, and a second set of earpads with larger perforation for increased airflow. The cable has a premium feel with a soft coating, very little memory, and solid feeling terminations on both ends. Initially, I was unsure where the 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapter was, but it’s actually already attached to the cable in the box. The 6.3mm tip unscrews to reveal a 3.5mm tip underneath. The case is fairly nondescript with a rounded rectangular shape and a soft matte feel.

iBasso SR2 Unboxing

There’s a ton of technology inside of the SR2, and I’m not entirely sure what to make of all of it. Either way, things like “Silicone Suspension” and “Tesla Magnetic Flux Technology” certainly sound cool, but do they make the headphones sound good?

The Sound

The SR2 sounds clean and transparent. It has a natural timbre with acoustic instruments, and lifelike vocals. surprising resolution and detail retrieval. The tuning is generally neutral with a slight emphasis in the low mids. There’s very little in the way of noticeable cuts or rolloffs with excellent subbass extension. It doesn’t present with a particularly large sense of space, and the imaging seems situational: the imaging feels nearly holographic in songs which were mixed with a high degree of positioning detail, but it struggles to provide a concrete sense of positioning with most recordings.

The SR2 provides tons of energy and grit for heavily overdriven or distorted guitars. In “Groove Machine” by King’s X there’s an incendiary energy to the main guitar riff, and the drum and bass groove on the verse hit with a good amount of physical impact. You’re also getting enough detail from the SR2 to decode the three part harmony on the verse. When the drum solo hits towards the end the drums sound incredibly lifelike and hit with a visceral impact.

iBasso SR2

On Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce” the SR2 puts you in the room, with a vibrant, lifelike sound to the horns and piano. The bass and drums hold down the groove, and the SR2’s subbass extension provides a depth and a bit of texture to the upright bass. When the drummer decides to provide a stronger accent on the bass drum or floor tom, there’s a nice physical thump.

Sigur Ros’s “Hoppipola” challenges the SR2 with dense layers of sound ranging from strings and tripped out guitars to the driving drums and multiple vocal counterpoints. Each layer remains well separated and coherent – even if “coherent” isn’t the first word that comes to mind when I hear multiple layers of falsetto singing in Icelandic. If the SR2 falls short at all, it’s where, at the biggest crescendos, the soundstage feels like it doesn’t quite have the depth to make this massive soundscape sound as big as it’s intended to sound.

K-Pop sensation BTS’s “Dynamite” hits just right on the SR2. What struck me most immediately was how fast and tight the attack and decay were on the percussion and bass. There’s an eminently fun feeling to the pulsing bass drum, with the funky bassline and guitar riff bouncing from ear to ear. Every aspect of the song, from the vocals and vocal accents to the rhythm section and synth sounds feels perfectly balanced, with all the SR2 highlighting all the right parts at just the right time.

iBasso SR2 DX160

I did most of my listening with the iFi Micro iDSD Black Label, and it proved to be an excellent pairing with the SR2. The Micro iDSD provides plenty of detail with a generally neutral sound signature, and it comes with various  bits of iFi technology, like IEMatch and an iPurifier, built in. The XBass+ and 3D+ were particularly beneficial to the SR2. If I wanted a touch more bass, XBass+ provided just the right amount to really fill out the sound and add a little more impact. With songs like “Hoppipola” where the soundstage felt a bit cramped,  3D+ added a touch more space, making the soundstage feel simultaneously deeper and wider.

I also listened quite a bit with the iBasso DX160 which paired quite well. With the DX160, I did a bit of testing with different EQ settings and found that the SR2 handles being EQ quite well. I also tested with the SR2 a variety of low power sources, like my laptop and phone. It proved to be very easy to drive, and I didn’t have any trouble getting a good signal and plenty of volume.

Comparison: HIFIMAN Sundara

While we generally compare products to their similarly priced – or similarly designed – counterparts, we’re going to compare the dynamic driver SR2 to the less expensive, planar magnetic HIFIMAN Sundara. Why? Because as a new product – from a company with less clout in the headphone market – one of the biggest things the SR2 needs to do is convince people that it’s worth $200 more than something like the well-regarded Sundara.

On “Groove Machine” the Sundara demonstrates thicker mids, but has a little less on the top and bottom of the mix. There were certain elements which Sundara seems to more strongly highlight. The cymbals, for example, aren’t recessed on the SR2, but my ears felt more drawn to them with the Sundara. There seems to be a slight trade-off where the SR2 opens up the full range of the music in a way that the Sundara doesn’t, but the Sundara provides a little more fullness and presence to specific key elements. In “BIllie’s Bounce,” it’s the saxophone which has a bit more body and presence on the Sundara, while some of the low bass texture is missing.

iBasso SR2 HIFIMAN Sundara

The two headphones performed similarly on “Hoppipola” where the crescendos came across a little bit crowded and didn’t quite have the dynamic oomph they should, but otherwise both performed well. With the Sundara on “Dynamite” the vocals and instruments are well organized, and there’s a nice sense of impact – perhaps even a little more mid-bass impact than the SR2 – but the bass and subbass capabilities of the SR2 reveal a whole other aspect of the song that just isn’t there on the Sundara.

In case it wasn’t clear yet, the big difference between the SR2 and Sundara is that while the Sundara has excellent, focused mids, the SR2’s excellent performance across the full frequency spectrum will give it the edge for many listeners. I found the soundstage and imaging to be similar on both. The SR2 is significantly easier to drive, with the Sundara requiring about 30% more volume on most sources to match the output levels. I’d also give the edge to the SR2 for comfort. While both are lightweight and comfortable, the SR2 has a softer fit overall.

The Bottom Line

Simply put? With their second set of over-ear headphones, iBasso has hit a home run. The iBasso SR2 has an exciting, balanced, natural sound. Add in the build quality, the comfort, and the accessories and it’s undeniable: the SR2 is the total package.