Last weekend I enjoyed the thrills and soul-numbing cacophony of my first Japanese funeral. I’ve started to think different. It wasn’t just watching a man in white taxi driver gloves and train conductor garb bashing my aunt’s skull and pelvis bones with cooking chopsticks that did it; it was just as much the trip back, when my iPhone’s battery went out. You never know when your time is up.
- Bit Perfect, Support up to 24Bit/192kHz
- WM8740 24Bit DAC Chip
- Built-in 9V Voltage Swing Headphone AMP
- 2.4" IPS Screen(320*240) with Capacitive Touch Screen, Bonded by OCA
- Up to 24Bit/192kHz Mini Coaxial Output
- 3.5mm Headphone Output, and Line Out
- Three Physical buttons (Rewind, Play/pauses, Forward) on The Top Panel.
- 256-Steps Digital Volume Control
- 8GB Onboard Flash
- Support SDXC and SDHC MicroSD card, up to 2TB
- 3-Setting Gain Switch
- Audio Formats Supported: APE, FLAC, WAV, WMA, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, OGG, MP3
- User Replaceable Battery(Compatible With S**sung S3), 14hours Play Time.
Line out: Frequency Response: 20Hz~20KHz +/-0.2dB
S/N: -109dB +/-3dB
Output Level: 1.5V rms (1kHz 0dB)
Frequency Response: 20Hz~20KHz +/-1dB
THD+N: 0.004% (32ohm load)
Output Level: 1.2V(Low gain), 1.7V(Mid gain), 3.1V(High Gain)
S/N: -103dB +/-3dB(Low gain), -106dB +/-3dB(Mid gain), -108dB +/-3dB(High Gain) (32ohm Load)
Output Impedance: <0.5ohm
Battery Life: 14hours
Battery Charge Time: 3hours with AC adapter, 5.5hours with PC USB port
Case dimension: 2.52W x 3.98L x 0.67H (inch)
64W x 100L x 17H (mm)
Weight: 146g or 5.15oz
iBasso DX50: 239$ USD
iBasso, you’re behind the times! Get with the programme! It’s 2014; we’re supposed to be locked into expensive and dangerous third-party kits and bulky battery-toting chargers, not this user-friendly battery-changing drivel! Pshaaaaw!
ohmage & porridge: haptics
More often than not, non-Apple touch interfaces are too fancy, or too snazzy for their own good. They are slow and they are shit. The DX100, as amazing an audio performer as it is, fails as an interactive touch screen device. It operates almost as if by proxy server. (If you care, check out my thoughts re: the DX100 over at my old haunt, TouchMyApps.)
Thank god the DX50 utilises hardware buttons for three key functions: play, track forward, and track back. Better yet, the DX50’s touchscreen interface is fast enough, and for the majority part, frustration-free. But those buttons are a saving grace. First, they are big, and easy to press. Because there are only three of them, and each have only one function, you will never be caught wondering which to press. Secondly, these buttons are arranged very sweetly and logically below the touchscreen. While reviewing the Fiio X3, on more than one occasion, I seriously wanted to stomp the bloody thing into the earth. It’s button layout was slum poor and nearly impossible to operate blind. For different reasons, the frustration I felt with the DX100 coaxed that scallywag, Mr. Hyde, out from the shadows of my soul. And nothing could assuage that thirst! While not perfect, the DX50 is the necessary, almost requisite, stupefacient elixir.
Volume is controlled via two hardware buttons perched at the upper right hand side of the player. When palming the DX50, they fall very nicely under the right thumb. But if you are left-handed, they fall rather uncomfortably under the purview of the less dextrous left index and middle fingers. Both the power and hold keys fall almost perfectly across from them on the upper left hand side. On paper, it is a great, symmetrical design. But in practice, it is a design bereft of logical haptics and forethought. It is too damn easy to accidentally engage the volume whilst putting the player in hold, or nudging the power button to dim the screen. Of course, the reverse is equally true.
Either the DX50 wasn't meant for one-handed prehensile use, or iBasso have an s version waiting for Buttongate. Despite these gripes, the DX50 is a far easier and more pleasurable player to use than either the X3 or the DX100.
ohmage & porridge: graphic interface
Surprise of surprises! the touchscreen isn’t that bad. Most of its software buttons are large enough to thumb, and in general, operational elements are well laid out. Getting into the nitty-gritty: stuff like play, track forward, track back, etc., reveals where iBasso are unpracticed in interface design. For some reason, the touch screen duplicates hardware button functionality. That means that you can accidentally track forward or back, or pause, while attempting to reach My Music or Settings, which sit below them. Or, when iBasso get around to yet again updating the GUI layout, we will have to relearn a completely new interface. It would have been most provident for the player to ship with a great interface.
iBasso: never should single touchscreen input controls duplicate the functionality of hardware keys. This is poor design. The touchscreen should be used for specific navigational purposes. Touch elements should be large and accurate.
iBasso totally nailed screen black out behaviour. Volume input does not wake the display/touchscreen to wake as it did on the DX100. The DX50's interface forces fewer user input errors. Again, much of this is due to the DX50 being far more responsive than the DX100. Powering it on takes half a minute, not five. Accessing touch menu items is as nearly immediate as it is on non-audiophile devices. The interface is simple. There are only a handful of menus to wade through, and none of them are that deep. If only the redundant and fiddly elements could be done away with.
iBasso seems to have tried to emulate the Apple-esque rubber band effect. Why? I don't know. It is a pointless distraction in a device whose menu has only five options. iBasso: effects for the sake of effects are kitchy and cheap. When added willy nilly, they never, ever, look or function with any semblance of class.
With the exception of the above-mentioned rubber band effect, the DX50 is devoid of kitsch. Generally, functions are laid out with gracious space and blessed few superfluities.
porridge: build quality and finish
The DX50’s brushed metal lines and simple interface work wonders in presenting a high quality piece of audiophilia. Ins and outs are insulated to provide a feedback-free audio experience. All audio and interface ports are chamfered, all labelling is reverse-melted into the player's plastic belt.
Unfortunately, the battery lid slides off much too easily. And, wouldn't the analogue line output serve a better ergonomic menu if it were planted next to the coaxial output, rather than the 3,5mm headphone jack? In the dark may easily plug into the line output instead of the headphone jack. Worse, you may trip a hardware stall by mis-plugging. Is there good news? Sort of. The line output runs under a software governor, much like a software pre-amp. Bottom line: un-amped outputs are better arranged next to each other, not next to amped signals.
The screen has enough resolution to clearly render all UI elements. Colours are contrasty and much more accurate than they need to be for an audiophile player. Viewing angles are also very good. iBasso sprang for a part that embarrasses both Fiio's washed out LCD and the large one packed into the DX100.
When used in the same pocket or hand as a mobile phone, the DX50 may pick up snap-crackle-pop interference. Open the distance between the two to about ten centimetres and all should be good.
In sum: the software interface itself is simple enough not to attract derision. But seemingly random freezing and the duplication of UI elements keeps it from being excellent. That said, it simply trumps the DX100's UI. It could do with a lot of tweaks, but it serves its component functionality well.
The DX50 is a player much harder to fault than many other audiophile players. Its interface is quite good, its button layout, excellent, its user-accessible battery a definite plus in the field. And, it’s an iBasso. As a rule, iBasso devices boast excellent amplifier circuits. Though I would give the nod to the DX100's output, the DX50 holds its ground so well that I could almost recommend it as a last-stop audio player for nearly any portable audiophile out there.
NOTE: this section coming soon
Line out: ohmage
Not that you will need an outboard amp, but if you hook the DX50 up to anything, know that your DX50 will be the strong link in the chain. Detail upon detail and amazing space and clarity are what the line output is all about. It is governed by a software pre-amp, making it great for all variety of outboard amplifiers. The digital output, too, is splendid, easily busting out all the detail your digital recordings pack. My recording device was the bottle neck in benchmarking the DX50's coax, not the other way around. Excellent.
The DX50 is well-balanced from left to right and from top to bottom. At first blush it might sound ‘gritty’. It isn’t. It renders nearly a ruler-flat, full-figured signal with no sudden trips or falls. Low/high balance at the frequency and stereo levels is exemplary. Distortion levels are very low, but bested by the DX100.
This conclusion goes for both 16 and 24 bit files.
Regarding stereo crosstalk: The DX50 has no faults. It outperforms a number of high-end after-market amplifiers, especially when driving über-difficult-to-dirve earphones like the Earsonics SM2. Again, it is bested by the DX100, and at times, the Fiio X3 can, at times, best out its stereo imaging. Incredibly wide stereo images can be at times, hard for the ear, which is used to hearing things in an organic
(what is it called?)
The DX50’s digital volume is perfectly accurate, left to right, at both low and high volume levels. This is great news for sensitive IEM users who will likely keep volumes low. Gain stages of low, medium, and high are accessed easily from the bottom of the player.
Users of sensitive IEMs may notice a faint whisper in the background. The DX50's noise levels are middle of the pack- not bad, but not great, either. They ring in slightly lower than the background noise of a 2005-era iPod 5G/nano. With the Sleek Audio CT7 in my ears, noise levels draw my attention more than is necessary. The DX100, by comparison, is nearly noiseless.
NOTE: at Head-Fi I’ve earned the name ‘hiss king’. I am irked by hiss levels that others are not. Those afflicted with the same ear are few, but vocal. The above paragraph is written for them.
Bass vs. Mids: ohmage
Mids are the DX50’s best foot. They are expansive, clear of distortion, detailed, and perfectly balanced. There are very few hot spots between 200Hz and 3kHz. Vocals, percussion, strings, and the rest are very clear even in incredibly complex passages. There is no splash, even in the midst of midrange hotspots. The sense of space is immense. When using very low Ω multi-driver earphones, there is a very small amount of fall off in the lower bass, rendering a minimal loss of contrast between the two frequencies. Still, bass has enough detail and push, that such loss is hardly worthy of mention. The somewhat ‘gritty’ presentation I mentioned above is most obvious in the range from 1K to 3K. It is a good companion to indie rock and live performances. Fans of industrial trance may also really love this presentation.
Bass vs. Highs: ohmage
Mids are most detailed from 1k to 3k, and push somewhat at the high frequencies, which by comparison, are slightly laid back. High frequencies are perfectly balanced against lows; both extend well beyond audible levels. Both retain excellent imaging and low levels of distortion. Contrast between the two is excellent. The DX50’s somewhat gritty sound demonstrates the dynamic range and contrast expected from an audiophile player.
Vs. Low impedance: ohmage
While not quite able to match DX100 levels of perforance, the DX50 is hard to best. Even when driving the Earsonics SM2, its stereo image boasts separation of over 80dB along most of its range. It is most comfortable with earphones that average >8Ω under load, but is more than capable even below that. The only fly in the ointment is background noise, which is higher than the DX100, and a number of high-end after-market headphone amplifiers.
Because the digital volume is 100% balanced from the first step, the DX50 is easy to recommend for any sort of earphone. Its slightly bright sound is the only thing to keep in mind. If you dig earphones like Audio Technica's CK10 or its analogues from other manufacturers, you may prefer a less revealing player.
Vs. High impedance: ohmage
The DX50 has no problem delivering the right amount of voltage to sustain both safe and stable volumes to low-current voltage-hungry headphones like the Beyerdynamic T1 and DT880 600Ω. With the latter, I am most comfortable listening to mid-90’s albums at medium gain and the volume set to around 50-60%. With newer albums, I am happy with less. But I tend to listen with the future in mind, at median levels between 72-85dB. If you push median listening levels of over 90dB, the DX50 may sizzle on the odd track. But I wouldn't count on it.
The Dx50 isn't able to kick out huge voltage levels to current-hungry headphones quite like the DX100. Hifiman HE-6 fans should find that when driving older albums, a bit more power may be welcome. However, the vast majority of headphones will fit perfectly with the DX50.
24 bit files run without a hitch
iTunes purchased AAC files run flawlessly
high quality sound reproduction
excellent line outputs
responsiveness: The DX50 is worlds faster than the DX100 is, but needs more work.
gapless: I’ve found this to be full of misses. If you want your tracks to be fully gapless, rip albums into FLAC and use cue sheets.
ID3 handling: Again, hit and miss. If you want your albums to play in perfect order, or even show up at all, first create folders, then drag and drop into them from Finder/Explorer, or your favourite syncing app. Blind dropping from iTunes or other players will create some anomalies. At worst, albums/artists won’t even show up.
Every iterative audiophile players improves upon its precursors. My first audiophile go was with the then-dismal HiSound AMP3 Pro V2. What an awful POS. When iBasso released the DX100, I did a sotter's handstand, drink in hand, prepared for anything. Maybe this is it: and audiophile player made by a manufacturer that gets the audiophile market, thought I. Was I going to fall? Was the DX100 going to suck? Not while I had Glenfiddich on the brain. Nothing could.
After picking myself up off the floor and getting down to an afternoon of audiophile debauchery, I realised just how far the market had come. Sure, there still were too many interface boners in the closet, and build quality left much to be desired. But things were on the rise. While being the lesser player than the DX100, I heartily recommend the DX50 over its older sibling. It is faster, easier to use, and performs admirably close to its older, pricier sibling.
Had I designed it, I would away the redundancies, the fiddly GUI elements, and the parallel placement of vital hardware interfaces. That would make the DX50 a perfect device for most critical portable audiophiles.
To capture the rest, I would open up the hardware to the Rockbox community and not release the hardware until the software was stable. But I'm a photographer and designer. I've got no market to protect, no secret sauce to stir. And that means that we users will have to put up with sub-par interfaces and psychotic hardware/software interaction till the end of our days.
I’ve been using the DX50 back to back with a bunch of players. Sound-wise it stands head and Adam’s apple above the venerable iPod 5G (2005). It should be a dream come true. And it is- at least while a song is running. Repeating, adding playlists, pausing, booting up, and everything else, is a chore. There is no reason it should be. But a tough lot we portable audiophiles are. We take the job of the guinea pigs so that you don’t have to. And eventually we’ll get there. For now, we’ll pig out on great sound while cursing our constantly crashing machines.
But when its your delicate bones collected for the urn, know this: that it’s SQ and myriad errors, not amazing interfaces, that get your blood to boil. And that is what keeps us ticking.