While iBasso is still best known for their digital audio players and portable DAC/amps, they’ve demonstrated the ability to create excellent IEMs and headphones as well. The iBasso SR2 was very well regarded for its well-balanced sound signature, strong performance, and high-level of comfort. Now the SR3 looks to build on the SR2’s foundation, with the same look, but lots of changes under the hood.
Build and Design
If there are any differences between the frame, earcups, and pads of SR2 and SR3, my eye is not keen enough to find them, but there are some changes to the drivers and the cables. Internally, the SR3 uses a new 150ohm bio-cellulose driver, making SR3 a bit harder to drive. There’s also somewhat of a hidden change as SR3 is significantly more open than SR2 was. While SR2 was marketed as an open-back headphone, the two layers of mesh grill that covered the outside of the driver made it more semi-open than truly open. SR3 removes a layer of mesh to make for a more truly open sound.
For the package, SR3’s cable now features a 4.4mm cable (with 3.5mm connections to the headphones) and an adapter to 6.3mm. The increased impedance means that a 4.4mm balanced cable is a welcome addition that will help improve the compatibility without needing to purchase an aftermarket cable for mobile devices. The adapter is about six inches long with a short run of cable, and the cable itself is silver plated copper and feels premium. An additional set of pads is provided, and while they’re just listed as replacement pads, they actually have larger holes than the preinstalled pads, which had some impact on the sound in our testing.
SR3 doesn’t wow right out of the gate with any particularly strong characteristics, but instead wins you over with time, as you start to appreciate how its smooth balanced sound gives way to excellent detail and surprisingly clarity. Along with the detail and balanced sound, the spatial characteristics are also some of the best at the price range.
SR3’s bass is generally linear in character with good extension, and just a small emphasis in the mid bass. The physicality is solid, and you can get some rumble from EDM and hip-hop, along with a solid sense of texture in the bass and a detailed presentation of low-end instruments.
Moving from the bass to the mids, you get a really natural feeling lush midrange, and a signature that really shines with music like jazz, rock, and anything that uses more acoustic instruments in general. There is some recession in the upper mids, leaving female vocals and some tenor male vocals slightly pulled back in the mix. The treble has a touch of extra sizzle and snap, but then rolls off in the upper ranges. In spite of the roll-off, SR3 has highs that feel crisp and resolving.
The soundstage is wide and the stereo image feels three dimensional and immersive. SR3 provides good positioning and strong separation between instruments and voices. The sense of small nuances and microdynamics is exceptional for the price, offering an incredible experience and insight into things like the right hand dynamics of a virtuoso piano player.
Our impressions here are based on the stock pads, but you can swap them out for a slightly different listening experience. Swapping the pads out yields a slightly brighter sound that flattens out the midbass, while extending the treble and adding a little more midrange presence. The increased openness enhances the soundstage a little as well, giving the headphone a lighter, airier signature altogether.
Deadmau5’s “My Pet Coelacanth,” is less of a bass workout, and more a demonstration of treble performance, separation, and layering. The lead synths have an incredible tactile feeling, but the smoothness to SR3’s treble lets those notes go high and sharp without becoming harsh and fatiguing. While the first part of the song is all about the layering, and the intricate details of each synth, at about three minutes the low-end really starts to build up, and SR3 provides equal levels of texture in the lower ranges as it does with the top end.
Beck’s “Colors” is more straightforward, with a tight rhythm section groove from the start. SR3 nicely blends the bass and kick that define the groove without losing the individual character of either. Beck’s vocals sit slightly further back in the mix, surrounded by a blend of unique instruments – like pan flute – and huge waves of synth. The overall sense is one of an expansive space filled with colors and textures, but the mix and subsequent imaging can feel somewhat cacophonous. The drums and percussion hold down more solid positioning, with hi-hats and accent percussion to the left and right, and the and the vocals right down the middle, while other sounds flit around a bit more and can be hard to pin down to a precise home in the stereo image.
“Someone Else’s Guy” opens with Jocelyn Brown’s soulful vocals, and some bluesy piano licks. SR3 delivers plenty of soul and emotion before the band kicks with a blend of funk and R&B. Here we can see SR3 really setting up the room and placing the instruments in their place around the stage – with the listener front and center. Instruments like the piano and bass guitar, have a natural, smooth feel, while the synth lead has a nice edge to it, the guitars have a clean, crisp snap to the rhythmic lines. This is one of those recordings where the right headphones can put you right in the studio with the band, and SR3 are the right headphones.
Comparison: Meze 109 Pro ($799)
The Meze 109 Pro was one of the biggest headphone releases of 2022, and with SR3 getting things rolling in 2023, we couldn’t help but notice some similarities between the two headphones, particularly in the way that both have a sound that hits just on the warm/relaxed side of neutral.
Both headphones score high marks in terms of build and comfort. 109 Pro stands out a little more with its wood cups and more ornate trim. 109 Pro is also slightly lighter and easier to get a comfortable fit. This is partly due to SR3’s head size adjustment which requires a little more effort, and may require you to use a star wrench to tighten it so it stays in place for your head. The weight is very close between the two, and with proper adjustment, both feel very light on your head.
In terms of sound, Meze 109 Pro has more low-end presence overall, but sometimes SR3 hits a little harder with a focused bass drum punch. 109 Pro’s midrange feels a little more cohesive and has a little bit more vocal presence. The headphones have similar treble characteristics with fairly smooth treble that has a little to add some snap and a little bit of upper end emphasis, but 109 Pro has just a little more splash and sizzle at the top, while SR3 remains more pulled back. The two headphones have similar soundstages, with SR3 edging out 109 Pro in sheer width, but the Mezes have a more holographic sense to the imaging, with a stronger weight to instruments.
The two headphones are definitely close in sound, with the key differences being 109 Pro’s slightly warmer timbre and stronger bass, along with its more forward vocals, compared to SR3’s just generally more laid back, relaxed, but neutral sound signature.
The Bottom Line
While aspects of it are somewhat understated, SR3 delivers great technical performance with a well-balanced, nonfatiguing sound. Like SR2, it’s not just the sound that exceeds expectations for the price, but the build and included accessories as well. In the end, iBasso SR3 builds on the foundation of the SR2 to create an excellent, detailed, and spacious sounding headphone.