iBasso DC03 Pro Review
iBasso DC03 Pro Review
Pros: + Balanced and musical tuning
+ Excellent transparency and clarity
+ Natural timbre with little digital glare
+ Very spacious and grand sized soundstage
+ Dead silent – No EMI noise
+ Powerful output for a single ended dongle
+ Low power consumption
+ Doesn’t get warm
+ Hardware buttons and 100-steps precise volume adjustment
+ Detachable cable
+ Premium appearance and excellent build quality
+ Customizable through the iBasso UAC application
+ Competitively priced
Cons: – Slightly larger sized than some of the competition
– No MQA decoding (if you care)
The review sample was kindly provided free of charge in exchange for an honest review.
I didn’t receive monetary or any other kind of compensation and I don’t use affiliate links.
The price of the DC03 Pro is $69 and you can buy it from here.
iBasso DC03 Pro
The iBasso DC03 Pro is the brand new and updated version of the old favorite DC03 that was discontinued because of the infamous chip shortage that affected Cirrus Logic chip production.
It was eventually replaced by the DC05 that uses an ESS DAC chip but now that production is back to normal, iBasso have reverted to Cirrus Logic chips and the DC03 has risen from the ashes to become the DC03 Pro.
The DAC chip configuration is the same with the original DC03, dual CS43131 chips are still used but this time a high-performance Japanese KDS femtosecond crystal oscillator has been added for clean and precise audio signal decoding with the lowest possible jitter and the best digital clock accuracy.
The DC03 Pro supports incoming sampling rates of up to 32-Bit/384kHz PCM and Native DSD256 while it has a 3.5mm single ended headphone jack with a maximum of 98mW@32Ω (2Vrms@300Ω, 1.77Vrms@32Ω) power output.
The DC03 Pro audio circuitry has been specifically designed for low power consumption albeit delivering a quite high output power for the size so it will not burden your connected smartphone or tablet with heavy power requirements.
The power consumption is as low as 380mW at maximum output.
Last but not least is the addition of two physical buttons for controlling the volume without the need to reach for your phone.
Design and build quality
Brand new and very different are the design and outer appearance of the DC03 Pro which furthermore features a detachable USB type-C cable.
It has a slim, rectangular body with straight cut lines instead of the curved design of its predecessor and the rest of the iBasso DC family.
The chassis is made from a solid piece of CNC machined aluminum alloy with tempered glass panels at the front and backside that add a premium and luxurious feeling.
Build quality is excellent and the DC03 Pro is available in three different finishes (blue, gray and silver).
A multicolor LED will visually indicate the working status of the DAC, red is at standby, green is PCM decoding and blue is DSD.
The DC03 Pro is compact, measuring just 49.4x21x8mm and lightweight, weighting 10.5g.
The standard version comes with a USB type-C to C cable and a USB-A adapter while lightning and upgrade cables are sold separately.
The new iBasso UAC application
The DC03 Pro supports the latest version of the iBasso UAC application which has been fully upgraded with advanced features.
It now has 5 optional digital filters (including a NOS one), three levels of gain (low, medium and high), 100-level precise volume adjustment, channel balance and a turbo mode that slightly increases the output voltage.
Associated gear and power output
The DC03 Pro was left playing music for about 100 hours in order to settle down.
I have used various earphones like the FiiO FDX, FH15, LETSHUOER S12 PRO and full sized headphones like the Sennheiser HD660S.
The DC03 Pro provided plenty of power for all earphones while it did a pretty good job driving the HD660S with the output mode set to turbo.
Noise floor is as low as inaudible at all gain settings while the DC03 Pro is well shielded and it doesn’t pick EMI noise from the host device.
The DC03 Pro doesn’t get warm even when stretched to its power output limits.
Following the steps of the DC03, the Pro version features the same musical, balanced and natural sound signature while it significantly raises the bar when it comes to technicalities.
The sound is now cleaner, more transparent and open with better layering and definition throughout the whole frequency range.
The bass is neutrally tuned, deeply extended, tight, controlled, fast and pacey with a surprisingly full bodied, almost visceral, texture.
It can sound very contrasted and dynamic when the music calls for it with a satisfying level of impact for a USB DAC dongle.
The mid-range is transparent and open sounding with excellent definition, clear articulation, fine resolution and a full bodied texture.
There is plenty of harmonic variety and realism in the timbre, instruments and voices sound convincing and lifelike with the correct tonality, maybe a bit upfront in their projection.
The treble is lively and sparkling, transients are fast and detail retrieval is above average, the low noise floor helps a lot and allows the listener to concentrate and hear deep inside in the recording.
The sound is luminous and very clear but the masterful tuning will not allow for any brightens, harshness or other nasty stuff that could lead into listening fatigue.
Digital glare is under control, especially with the NOS filter, and while the DC03 Pro is not that analogue or organic sounding as the Cayin RU-6 or the iFi Go bar, it is still very musical and engaging.
One major upgrade over the DC03 is the openness of the soundstage which is now more extended in the horizontal axis with added layers of depth and a more holographic relief.
The imaging is sharp and precise while there is plenty of ambience information that comes through the recording, something well valued when listening to music productions recorded in cathedrals or large halls.
This might sound a little heretic but comparing the DC03 Pro to the iBasso DX170 you can’t fail to notice the sound signature similarities between the two, actually the DC03 Pro is a little more neutrally tuned and linear sounding.
Of course the DX170 is undeniably superior in every other single aspect but the comparison is done to further emphasize how really good sounding the DC03 Pro is at a fraction of the price.
Compared to the iBasso DC05 ($69)
The DC05 was the DC03 replacement back at the time when only ESS chips were available.
With dual ES9219C DAC chips it is as powerful as the DC03 Pro with 93mW/32Ω while it supports MQA decoding and it is more compact and lightweight but it has a fixed cable, it doesn’t have hardware buttons and is only compatible with the older version of the UAC application that doesn’t include the extra features.
When it comes to sound performance the DC03 Pro is the more transparent and clear sounding with better layering and definition.
The soundstage is considerably wider, spacious and deeper with better imaging.
The bass on the DC03 Pro is more tight and controlled, fuller and more impactful but the mids are presented with a touch of an upfront projection.
The DC05 is not as refined, it is smoother sounding and more linear on the mid-range but is lacking in overall energy, it is a tad slower and more dull while the texture has less of a weight.
Compared to the FiiO KA1 ($49.99)
The KA1 is the entry level DAC dongle from FiiO which is equipped with a single ESS ES9281AC PRO DAC chip that can do 45mW/32Ω so it is less powerful than the DC03 Pro but it supports MQA decoding and is $20 cheaper.
It is the most compact and lightweight of the three but it comes with a fixed cable, no hardware buttons and without a supporting application.
Sound-wise it is not as punchy and dynamic as the DC03 Pro, it is less clear and not that transparent but still neutrally tuned, balanced and quite musical sounding.
The KA1 has a quite weighty texture, good layering and precise definition but the DC03 Pro has the lead by adding a little more of everything.
The soundstage of the KA1 is surprisingly open and spacious but it can’t compete with the size and holography of the DC03 Pro which offers a more out-of-the head listening experience.
Additionally the DC03 Pro is by far the more effective in driving difficult loads and full sized headphones.
In the end
The DC03 Pro is not just the DC03 in another disguise, it might have the same DAC chip configuration but it is better sounding by a fair margin and not only when compared to its predecessor.
Actually it is one of the best sounding and most powerful single ended DAC dongles that also features a compact and lightweight chassis, premium design, detachable cable, hardware buttons and an accompanying application, all that at a very reasonable price.
A clear winner and this reviewer’s new reference at this price point, the iBasso DC03 Pro is honestly one of the best options in the market right now.
Copyright – Petros Laskis 2023.