I was so impressed where the DX50 took me after some patches took the version of firmware past 1.19. The player started to behave like a player should and my preferred way of listening – album by album – worked perfect from both player, the micro SD card or from USB storage. Happy? Well, if you ask a guy that who really have a shitty time, a way to excel in getting worked up about new gear – the simple – and also complex answer is simply – HELL NO!
The DX90 was released. It boasted some great specs and the first inclinations were favourable. So I jumped the gun and bought one.
Getting the DX50 sold was a bit problematic – but I had them both side by side and while I would be hard pressed to say where and exactly how the DX90 is better – comparing them revealed a subtle change here and there. All over the place so to speak. Everything was just subtly better. Had I known that – I’m not sure I would have bought it ’cause honestly – the iBasso DX50 was good enough. Should I go back now or even look at replacement I would have to go with either a PONO or an AK1XX something. PONO most likely since the AK 100 and above would make my wallet or rather my VISA cry out in despair.
Anyways, I do have a DX90 and I like it. From start only the difficulty in displaying some nasty none international letters were the problem. Most lessons learned since the DX50 it seemed. The only thing not out of the box was the DX90 feature as DAC. One feature that still seems a bit so-so with beta drivers and not so convincing driver certificates makes me less than enthusiastic to give this feature my full or even divided attention. The fact that I have a NAD 1050 and a iFi nano DSD on the way as well as my portable ADL Stride is also a reason. I simply don’t think it will do a better job than them.
The player works pretty much like the DX50. It has three buttons beneath the touch screen: next, play/stop and previous. On the right side you have the volume up and down. The left side has the on/off button, the lock button when you don’t want to hit anything by mistake fumbling in your pockets or – whatever. On the top you have the coaxial out, the micro SD card slot and the micro USB port. Takes charging as well as OTG supported flash drives and external drives. External drives need to have their own power supply though. The bottom sports the 3.5 out and line out as well as the 3 step power gain. In the box you get the 3.5 mm coaxial cable, a burn in dongle (I can’t say I have used it) and a silicon casing for protection.
Functionality has the same old interface really as the DX50. You can make playlists, play everything, play everything by folders, genres, albums continuously etc. You get more or less everything that any Android/Smartphone player can do. Not always as graphically pleasing and easy – but if you wanted all that mish mash functionality – you probably are looking at the wrong text and player. The iBasso DX90 can handle most of your preferences to play music. It can however play it that much better sounding than your smart phone. I have compared it to my new SONY Z2 and it just falls flat, the DX90 is simply better sounding in all aspects. As a HRA (High resolution Audio) player it fails to disappoint you. It has a nice depth of base, takes you high enough and has both a nice stage and claity. It is somewhat leveled and not as engaging as I would like for some music. It is a bit to clear-sounding for that nitty-gritty rock, but most likely you can attune another pair of headphones and realize that it plays better with them. So far I have noticed that my GRADO SR125i and ONKYO IE-FC300 plays really well with the DX90. My Philips Fidelio S1 didn’t. Sounded flat and really detached and losing the “oomph” in the bass. The DX90 can drive headphones like the Q701 and my new Hifiman HE400i – but I would suggest that you add a headphone amp. I noticed that the ADL stride and ifi iCan Nano both made the overall experience listening that much nicer than without. Neither bloated the sound in my opinion. Another headphone that really makes that nitty-gritty rock experience are the V-Moda M100. Some headphones simply come alive and others just won’t be a nice mix with the iBasso DX90. It won’t sound bad – but it can get to a point where you find it a bit detached. You won’t stomp your feet. This can of course be desired when listening to some music genres, but for metal, rock and likewise – you really want that feet to stomp.
Playing CD rips as FLAC’s will reveal some bad recordings. The player isn’t that forgiving so if the CD sound is a victim of the loudness war – it will show. I played the latest “The pretty reckless” album and the bass was overly distorted on some tracks and drowning out the rest of the music and also did crack up at places. On the other hand – good music and HRA FLAC’s like NEKO CASE really do take place and sounds great. The source will make a difference on this level, which is what you should expect.
It is also a bit more picky with headphones and IEM’s than the iBasso DX50. subtly, but noticeable. The DX50 played nice with most things you connected to it, the iBasso DX90 will quite frankly just show the shortcomings of any headphone with any particular music that the headphone won’t excel with. Same with different albums. An album edited for the loudness war and simply ear buds of your favourite Samsung or i-device will simply sound crap, artificial and bloated. If any sound has a strong U curve in the edit version – it will come out right at ya with this player. So some records will simply sound worse than on your less than stellar equipment. But – the things that have been made to sound well, most music from the 80’s and early 90’s that were made for home stereo use and “true” CD players will sound great. When the pairing works – you will simply get really good levels of enjoyment, but if you are just in for a grab and go and no looking back – you might just want to check once or twice that this is the device for you. Also, you may want something slightly “warmer” sounding since that usually is a bit more forgiving than the accurate sounding devices. iBasso DX90 is more accurate than warm and that make some music tend towards the harsh sounding spectra. Music that is however not bloated comes out great and HD music that is just not refurbished files do sounds really nice on a new level of nice.
The DX50 took it’s fair amount of firmware updates to become stable. The iBasso DX90 became fairly stable after the first update and now to this date, it works pretty flawless. There is still one bug that I have: when I sometimes startup the player and listens to music, it suddenly has a glitch of silence in the music which is occurring every 30-45 seconds. Really annoying. Simply rebooting the device fixes this though, so it is nothing major. I think it might be something in the startup that just won’t really work sometimes. So there are still things to improve. The DAC feature I haven’t tried out yet. The drivers for the PC simply looks suspect at best and not having read that much from others makes me hesitant to check this feature. Having the setups that I already use also makes this less of a feature that I’m in need of. I would suggest searching headfi.org for further input on using the DX90 as a DAC.
So to the bottom lines – would I recommend the iBasso DX90? Yes – if you don’t have a good player, or want something other than the Fiio (which I’m told having a different sound to it) the DX90 is a very good and competent player that is well worthy of its price. The cost is low compared to what you have. However – if you have invested in PONO, have an Astell & Kern device or even the DX50 – you might want to read up on the testimonials at places like headfi.org etc to make sure you get something worthwhile. The step up from the DX50 is noticeable, I’m just not sure it is worth it or not. It is simply more of the same and sometimes the less forgiving That said, I’m liking my player. It has never given me any problems that I had with the DX50 or new ones at that. From the first Firmware update – I have experienced few problems.