iBasso DX170 Review
Less is more
Pros: + Stellar sound performance
+ Very powerful for the size
+ Crystal clean and transparent
+ Open sounding with precise imaging
+ Dead silent background
+ Compact and lightweight, perfect for one handed use on the go
+ 5″ screen with vibrant colors
+ Android 11 OS
+ 3.5mm line output
+ Fast charging and good battery duration
+ Excellent build quality and great price
Cons: – Runs just a little slower than some of the competition
– Volume control wheel is a little small for larger fingers
The review sample was kindly provided by iBasso free of charge in exchange for an honest review.
I haven’t received monetary or any other kind of compensation and I don’t use affiliate links.
The price of the iBasso DX170 is $449 and if you are located within the EU then you can buy it from here.
The DX170 is a brand new DAP from iBasso with a friendly price, targeting the budget audiophile group.
It is the successor to the much acclaimed DX160, a well known player with a performance that punched well above its modest price but was discontinued due to the great chip shortage.
For the DX170, iBasso decided to use two CS43131 DAC Chips in a fully balanced configuration.
The CS43131 is a well known entry level DAC chip which suffered from a temporary shortage but it is now back to production.
The DX170 utilizes the FPGA-Master technology developed by iBasso. The FPGA-Master, as the audio system controller, directly requests audio data from the SoC, and plays a major role in signal reproduction and maintaining signal integrity. It synchronizes and generates all audio clocks at the same time utilizing two NDK femtosecond oscillators to achieve a fully synchronized single clock source. The FPGA and NDK oscillators also reduce jitter to an extremely low level, building a clean digital audio signal.
The DX170 supports bit-perfect playback up to 32bit/384kHz, native DSD up to 256x and full 8x MQA decoding.
The main processor used is a mid-range 4-core RK3566 SoC from Rockchip that is aided by 2GB of LPDDR4 memory to run a mostly stock Android 11 OS.
The unit has 32GB of Internal Memory and also supports SDXC and SDHC micro SD cards for expanded storage up to 2TB.
5G WiFi and BT 5.0 with LDAC support are embedded for wireless connectivity while the DX170 can also be used in a USB DAC mode.
The unit is powered by a 3200mAh 3.8V Li-Polymer Battery that supports quick charge and is able to keep the DX170 running for about 9-10 hours from the balanced output streaming high resolution files.
Design and build quality
The DX170 is one of the most compact sized and lightweight WiFi DAPs in the market, measuring 124x70x15mm and weighing just 165g, it fits at the palm of your hand and is easy to carry around in your pocket.
Comparatively it is not smaller than the iBasso DX240 but it is slightly thinner and a whole 40g lighter.
It might be compact but it sports a 1080p 5″ screen with narrow bezels that make it appear bigger than it is.
The screen is bright with vivid colors and excellent visibility, it is fast, responsive and can easily be used one handed.
The full aluminium chassis has rounded edges, a smooth finish, excellent build quality and a contemporary appearance.
DX240 vs DX170
At the right side of the unit there is a small volume wheel that also doubles as a power button.
With the protection case attached it is a little tricky to use it if you have larger fingers.
Underneath the volume wheel there are three small rounded buttons that are used for playback actions and can be further customized through the menu.
The bottom of the chassis houses two headphone outputs, one 3.5mm that also doubles as a variable line out / S/PDIF and one 4.4mm – headphone only – balanced output.
At the left side you will find the micro SD card slot and the USB type C port is located at the top of the unit.
What’s in the box
The DX170 comes together with a transparent TPU case, a USB type C to A cable, two screen protectors that you have to apply by yourself, a quick start manual and a warranty card.
The DX170 is loaded with an almost stock Android 11 OS but you can also switch to the in-house developed Mango player.
Google play store is not installed, instead you get the APK pure third party application but you can easily install the Google play store or download your favorite applications from other sources.
The latest firmware was installed immediately after it was released.
The user experience out of the box is not that snappy because the SoC is not very powerful and the 2GB memory doesn’t help either so the unit runs just a little slow.
What you have to do in order to greatly improve the performance is to immediately uninstall the APK pure application that consumes resources and then get into Settings > Accessibility to activate the “Remove Animations” option.
Then the performance improves and you can easily use your favorite streaming services like Qobuz and Spotify or do some light web browsing.
Still it is not that suitable for multitasking, the DX170 is made for music playback and not to substitute for your Android phone. And this task gets accomplished without any serious issues.
The USB DAC performance is stellar, I haven’t encountered any problems at least when listening to music since I haven’t tested lag performance with movies or games.
Switching to the iBasso own Mango player and you get a considerably faster user experience with good library build up speeds and smooth browsing into the music catalogue.
Sound is also a touch better than the third party music players and I would strongly suggest using the Mango player for playing your local files.
The CS43131 chip has an embedded headphone amplifier but this didn’t stop iBasso from adding an extra, op-amp based, buffer stage to boost the power output from the stock 2V/4V to 3.2V/6.4V from the single-ended and balanced headphone outputs respectively.
The DX170 is very powerful given the size and it didn’t have any problem driving full sized headphones like the Sennheiser HD660S, Focal Clear Mg and even the more demanding HiFiMan Sundara.
At the same time it has a pitch black background that allows for noise – free experience with sensitive IEMs and helps a lot with detail retrieval.
Sound performance is stellar, the DX170 is very transparent, yet musical and entertaining with a mostly balanced sound signature except for some upper-mids/lower-treble forwardness.
It is not like a frequency emphasis, I bet that the frequency response is ruler flat, but it is more like a purposeful decision on timbre shaping in order to make for a more lively, luminous and upper-mids focused presentation but not harsh, fatiguing or piercing.
Thus said, the DX170 is not as forgiving as other CS43131 implementations I have tested and is going to push bright headphones into their limits.
The mids section is rich and well balanced with plenty of colorful overtones, euphonic articulation and natural sounding timbre, especially when the NOS low pass filter is selected.
Bass delivery is impactful with deep low extension and great dynamic contrast that provides a lifelike listening experience even with the most demanding symphonic music like Bruckner’s eighth symphony.
Bass quality is also excellent, full bodied, well defined, firm and controlled with a strict timing.
Another striking aspect is the uniquely open sounding character of the DX170, soundstage is wide and grand sized with a solid stereo image but it is not too holographic.
The DX170 proved a potent performer with all kinds of music and a suitable partner with most of the headphones but maybe not that well suited for the brighter ones.
Compared to the ASTELL & KERN SR25 MKII ($749)
It’s not been too long since I had the chance to review the SR25 MKII for “hxosplus” printed edition.
(Unfortunately it was during my summer vacation and I forgot to shoot a couple of photos)
The SR25 MKII is even more compact than the DX170, measuring just 63.5×108.3×16.1mm but it is slightly heavier and comes with a smaller 3.6″ 720p display which has too faint colors.
It is much more difficult to read the display and use the touch interface but if size is what matters the most, then the SR25 MKII should be your primary choice.
The SR25 MKII runs a heavily customized OS which is locked, so you cannot install your favorite applications minus some popular streaming services that come pre-installed and are available to download.
Overall performance and user experience are considerably more slow than the iBasso DX170 which also has the benefit of personalization.
The iBasso DX170 is also much more powerful compared to the SR25 MKII whose power output is limited to 2V from the 3.5mm output and 4V from the balanced one.
Both devices have Cirrus Logic DAC chips but the SR25 MKII is using the newer CS43198 variant.
Sound-wise both DAPs offer great sound with some differences here and there.
The SR25 MKII is slightly warmer and not as transparent as the DX170, treble is smoother and avoids the upper-mids focus of the DX170.
Sound is more full bodied and thick but the DX170 offers a cleaner and more detailed presentation with a wider soundstage where the SR25 MKII is more solid and not that diffuse.
The SR25 MKII is way more expensive than the DX170 but if you prefer a smaller sized DAP with the unique A & K aesthetics and the smoother house sound then you might do better with it.
Compared to the FiiO M11S ($499)
The M11S is a new mid-priced DAP from FiiO with dual ES9038Q2M DAC chips.
It is $50 more expensive than the DX170 but in exchange you get a more powerful Snapdragon 660 SoC and 3GB of ROM that make a difference regarding the working speed.
The M11S is more responsive and faster than the DX170 offering smoother user experience that comes close to a flagship smartphone despite having installed the older Android 10 OS.
Thus said the 1080p DX170 display is of higher quality with more vivid colors and better visibility.
The DX170 is also more compact and lightweight than the M11S giving it the lead when it comes to portability and ease of use but the M11S has better battery duration by a couple of hours.
As is to be expected there are some noticeable differences when it comes to sound performance.
Bass on the M11S is a touch more controlled, it sounds firmer with some extra layers of depth but leaner than the DX170 which is looser but more weighty and impactful.
M11S overall presentation is cleaner, crispier and more transparent than the DX170.
Texture is also of finer quality for the M11S which is more refined sounding when compared to the rougher and more raw DX170.
Timbre is more or less of the same quality, both devices sound quite natural and convincing, the M11S has drier mids compared to the DX170 which is more suave and seductive.
The M11S avoids the upper-mids emphasis of the DX170, vocals sound more balanced but it is pretty sharper on the treble with a brighter sound signature that highlights bells and other high – pitched percussion instruments.
Finally the DX170 is more open sounding with wider soundstage and surplus of air around the performers whereas the M11S offers a more solid and less diffused image.
Both players offer great price to performance ratio and they mark the resurrection of the mid range category that got abandoned in the past few years.
In the end
The iBasso DX170 is great step up from the older DX160. A modern mid-range DAP that successfully bridges the gap between the high quality portable USB DAC dongles and the higher-tier DAPs.
Very compact and lightweight enough to fit virtually everywhere, it supports streaming services and offers great sound performance for a very reasonable asking price, making it a real winner.
All audiophiles with a tight budget now have a reason to rejoice as good quality DAPs were never so affordable.
Copyright – Petros Laskis 2022