####Intro: So the following is a guest post by the infamous Tux889 (William). I’ve invited him to write a review of the two DAPs I recently acquired. He tested them both for me with all of his equipment and bit of mine. I’m not responsible for anything he writes, #JustSaying.
Let’s just start this out by saying that I’m no expert, take these opinions as observations of a lunatic that happens to love high-end audio. I’m not responsible for anything that you may or may not do after reading this post. I have lawyers on standby, honest.
Well, with that out of the way, let’s begin!
####The Fiio X3
The Fiio X3 is a nice and compact little DAP. Feels great in the hand and is well built. The UI is nice but not great. The menus are all navigated using buttons as it does not have a touch-screen. It has plenty of options to configure through the menus - including gain adjustment and a rudimentary equalizer. It also supports gapless playback (big deal for some albums). Overall it gives the impression of being worth the money.
That being said, there are a few annoyances. The micro-SD card sticks out of the side a little rather than being flush with the case. You also cannot remove the SD card when the silicone case is on the device (bit of an oversight on Fiio’s part). Another potential issue is that the X3 displays the entire file name when you are playing files. This can be an issue if you catalog your music the way we do (Artist - Album - Track# - Track Name).
Now on to how it sounds (what you’re here for I presume).
The X3 is a mellow sounding player. The soundstage is narrow and feels a bit congested. It seems to retrieve everything from the music but does not present it in a way that feels compelling to listen to. It can surprisingly drive my Sennheiser HD650’s rather well for a device of it size. The brightness of the V-Moda M80’s sounded pretty good with the X3, it livened up the music experience. It has a low enough noise floor to drive high sensitivity IEMS such as my UE900’s or Westone 1’s well. It also worked rather well with my highly modified Grado SR225’s. Basically it’s good, but not good enough (more on this later).
####The iBasso DX50
Let me just start by saying that this device has pleasantly surprised me for the price. It is very well built, has a user replaceable battery (a Samsung phone battery), and a really nice touch-screen interface. (See what I did there? I used the Oxford comma, #TeamOxfordComma). The headphone jacks are also custom made for iBasso so that they really grip the plug and make a great connection (no, it doesn’t stare longingly into your eyes while it holds your jack). It has coaxial, line, and headphone amp outputs. Another nice touch is that it has physical buttons for play/pause, previous, and next. It also has a hold switch to disable the buttons and touchscreen while it’s in your pocket.
The UI is a custom made interface based on Android (yeah, yeah, I know). It works surprisingly well, scans the SD card quickly and allows you to find what you’re looking for in a hurry. It shows you everything you need to know, album art included and also the file info such as bitrate and file size. It has a full EQ with both pre-made presets and also custom ones you can configure on your own. It’s a 10-band EQ, so nothing special, but better than just Bass and Treble adjustments. The iBasso supports gapless playback and has a whole host of features in the menus. The silicone case is also very nice and well thought out (you can remove the SD card while the case is on!). It also comes with a mini-plug to coax cable for digital out to an amp.
The iBasso has a terrific sound. It’s rich and full and accurate. It has a moderately wide soundstage and its detail retrieval is spectacular. It drives hard to drive headphones (600 ohms) with aplomb, and after a quick switch of the physical gain switch, drives IEMs without any issues. It has a bright, lively, musical sound. It really has a sound that pulls you right into the music, be it classical, jazz, rock/pop, or indie (hipster music central). I honestly wonder how much better a portable DAP could sound. I did not find myself wanting to go back to my desktop DAC and amp - which is really saying something.
I tested both players with an identical set of music. I used everything from 16bit 44khz to 24bit 192khz flac files. Both players played everything without issue. They are both capable of up to 24bit 192khz file playback which is nice and future friendly.
Here are some of the albums I used to test:
- Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than The Driver of the Screw…
- Dave Brubeck Quartet - Time Out
- Thelonious Monk - Straight, No Chaser
- Miles Davis - Bitches Brew
- Death Cab for Cutie - Plans
- The Mountain Goats - All Eternals Deck
- Conor Oberst - Upside Down Mountain
- Bastille - All This Bad Blood
- The Bad Plus - Made Possible
- Norah Jones - The Fall
- Peter Gabriel - Half Blood + New Blood
- Mahler - Symphony #2
(I have great taste in music, I know!)
For Fiona Apple’s album the music sounded spacious and lively on the iBasso whereas it sounded congested and small on the Fiio. Instrument placement was good on both players with detailed recordings like Time Out, Straight, No Chaser, and Bitches Brew. There was a more believable expansiveness with the iBasso vs the Fiio, however. DC for C’s album Plans was very musical on the iBasso, it really was a fun listen. Bastille’s album All This Bad Blood sounded surprisingly great on both players, lots of bass impact and strong musicality.
The iBasso’s forte is a wide, open, and vibrant sound with nice bass extension that avoid sibilance. It lends it an air of musicality not found on the Fiio. It really makes you want to tap your feet and clap your hands to the music. This combined with such a great UI makes for a terrific player overall. Now that being said, the Fiio is possibly a more accurate player. It has a flat, neutral sound that is neither fun nor boring - but more of a general presentation of what’s on the recording.
The Fiio has plenty of detail while it plays back the recordings. The built in amplifier could be improved to give it a more natural and open sound. I’m sure with the line out and a separate portable amp it would be a terrific player for someone who is looking for an analytical sound. Having to carry both a DAP and separate amp somewhat defeats the purpose though.
To finish off, if you are looking for a small, portable player that is very analytical and you will mostly be using low impedance IEMs go for the Fiio X3. If you are however looking for something to drive bigger earphones and want a nice lively sound - go for the iBasso, you won’t be disappointed.
If you have any questions or concerns with the material you have read here today I urge you to seek out professional help immediately. Don’t let the ramblings of an audiophile ruin your day.
Happy music listening, William
I’ve returned the Fiio X3 and am now very happy with my iBasso DX50.