iBasso DX170 Review: Satisfying Hi-Res player

iBasso DX170 review
Tech Week Score
5.0
- Dimitri Sokolov

After the triumph of the mid-budget player iBasso DX160, which became a popular hit, we were all interested in imagining its future successor. Moreover, not only audiophiles, for whom the DX160 was a standard of adequate choice for a long time, were waiting for its appearance, but also skeptics who ironically criticized the sound potential and speed of operation of this beauty, recognizing only its advantages in terms of design and convenience.

And so, despite the difficult circumstances, I managed to get the new iBasso DX170 for testing . I am very satisfied. It’s always easier for me to write articles about the devices of those audiophile brands that treat the development of their products with the utmost scrupulousness than about mass novelties. Both older players of the iBasso company , released recently, DX240 and DX320 , evoked pleasant emotions in me. But rest assured, I intend to give an honest opinion about the more affordable and sought-after DX170. Is it worth its claimed $450? Let’s figure it out. To the point.

Complete set and design

We are greeted by a small box in a cardboard cover, on which, according to tradition, the key characteristics of the model are listed. By the way, the packaging is designed in our patriotic blue and yellow colors, such a bonus attraction for my audience.

The iBasso DX170 comes with a basic, but practical, no frills: thick USB-C/USB-A charging cable wrapped in fabric, 2 protective films for the screen and a case. I can thank the manufacturer separately for the availability of the latter. Nowadays, cases among the accessories of Hi-Fi players in stock are devilishly rare. Ordinary TPU, nothing special, but for the first time it will come in handy.

 

Regarding visual impressions. In terms of design, the DX170 seemed to me to be closer to the DX240 than to its predecessor, the DX160. In a certain sense, his appearance has become simpler, less sophisticated and refined. The body has a familiar shape, the choice of materials is also expected, the combination of an aluminum frame and glass panels is used by many. But in fact, the device has its own character and is very stylish. I really liked its glass back with an incredibly beautiful iridescence of shades, thanks to which the model is perceived as very expensive. CNC metal processing is also done with high quality, and I have managed to love the texture of frosted glass ever since the DX240. The assembly, of course, is impeccable. So I like the appearance. The company offers several color options: black, gray and blue. As you can see, the gamma is more restrained than that of the DX160. We are growing up.

There are no complaints about the ergonomics of the player, the weight of 165 g and parameters of 124.5x70x15 mm allow you to use it on trips without any problems. It fits comfortably in the hand and does not take up much space in the bag. It would be ridiculous if it weighed 170 g. Did you know that the iBasso DX240 weighs exactly 240 g? Okay, I’m not distracted, let’s continue.

The controls on the DX170 are standard: 3 mechanical track switches, a slim silver volume wheel combined with a start/lock button, and a 5-inch Full HD 1080×1920 Sharp IPS touchscreen display with 480 nit brightness and 16.7M color range , covered with Corning glass. Frankly, the screen of the new products has become an order of magnitude better, during interaction it is really pleasing. But the potentiometer was disappointing due to insufficient fixation, in my copy, even when pressed, it tried to scroll a little. When you need to quickly change the volume, this is a plus, but you can accidentally touch it and see stars. Fortunately, he has a small step.

For switching, in addition to the USB Type-C port and the MicroSD card slot , the model offers two headphone outputs: asymmetrical 3.5 and symmetrical 4.4 Pentaconn. They didn’t add a balanced 2.5 jack, but I think it’s unlikely that any audiophile will miss it very much in 2022. More importantly, the 3.5 output can also work as linear and coaxial.

Interface and functionality

We smoothly move on to the section on characteristics. The new iBasso DX170 received a double Cirrus Logic CS43131 DAC. Maximum signal resolution: PCM 32 bit/384 kHz and DSD256. Noteworthy is the top dynamic range of 130 dB, as well as the THD+N of 0.00022%. Well, my readers know that I still love Cirrus. Later we will find out how he will show himself here.

Other components of the player are of high quality, it could not be otherwise. To combat jitter, 2 femtosecond NDK crystal oscillators and an FPGA matrix are used. Individual silicon steel alloy internal shielding protects against interference and crosstalk. The amplifier circuit allows the device to give 6.4 Vrms on the balance and 3.2 Vrms on the normal output. The power is not a record, but it is not bad for a compact device, it is similar to the DX160 level. Through Pentaconn, you can connect most full-size headphones , except tight planars. At the same time, background noise with sensitive IEMs is absent.

The firmware is Android 11 “without SRC”. Wi-Fi 2.4 GHz/5 GHz allows the installation of third-party applications via APK, including for listening to music on streaming services with MQA 8X decoding. If you don’t need streaming, there is a modest 32 GB of built-in memory and a slot for a MicroSD card up to 2 TB. There is Bluetooth 5.0 for receiving and sending with aptx and LDAC codecs. You can also use the player in external DAC (PCM 32 bit/384 kHz and DSD128) or digital source mode.

Now it’s the turn of the item that alarmed me. Engineers installed a fresh RockChip RK3566 processor in the iBasso DX170, plus 2 GB of RAM. And I have only one question – where is Snapdragon? Where is Qualcomm, gentlemen? Yes, well, let us be promised that in AnTuTu tests, this new generation RockChip outperforms the Snapdragon 420/430 processors, which, it is claimed, Hi-Fi brands usually use for players of this price class. And the fact of the presence of such a processor, by the way, can really be seen on the example of the same Shanling M3X . But you don’t need to be a guru to distinguish between indicators in sterile stationary tests and real results when using the device in everyday conditions.

You know that the iBasso DX160 has been in my personal player collection for a long time, and as an owner I remember that it was very lacking in performance in heavy applications. That was his problem, he even took forever to start up. And the DX170 did not depart from it too far, although it took a step towards progress. It copes with ordinary tasks faster, but under load it still works quite slowly, so I do not advise you to plan to play games, watch videos or otherwise actively roam the network on it. This is a music player. I don’t think that it was worth saving here, taking into account modern realities, but as it is.

The autonomy of the model is up to 11 hours on a single charge. A lot depends on the volume and the impedance of the headphones, but the indicator is quite acceptable. Quick charging QC3.0, PD2.0, MTK PE Plus Quick Charge is supported, you can fully charge the DX170 in just one and a half hours.

Also read: Top 8 best Hi-Fi players early 2022

Sound

 

The main testing was carried out on headphones Focal Utopia , 64 Audio tia Fourte, Noble Audio Khan, Shanling MG600 and Dunu DK-3001 Pro .

I’ll start by saying that the iBasso DX170 plays about as well as you and I expected. This is a slightly improved DX160, the previous concept of combining analytical and musicality is preserved. The player offers an airy and detailed handwriting with a bit of gambling drive, it builds a colorful, refined and informative picture, which consists of many clear strokes, like a mosaic. The perfect delineation of instruments, good resolution and control allow it to correctly work out any genres, it is really interesting to listen to it.

But we will not forget about the reverse side of such a setting. I can call the DX170 a little thin-voiced and sonorous, it is similar to its predecessor. If you are looking for a device with a soft, thick delivery that stealthily fills the space and turns into a whole universe for the viewer, the new iBasso may seem dry and bright to you. I also have questions about the naturalness of timbres. However, I personally am not a fan of tube sound, so for myself, on a limited budget, I would choose the DX170. Its smoothness, technicality and attention to small nuances are what you need so that listening to music in any mood is not tiring. But for you, my tastes are not a criterion, it is more important to focus on individual preferences.

Figuratively speaking, some players turn a melody into a velvet stream of singing notes, while others weave it from light threads, and the DX170 belongs to the latter. I noticed that in their older models, even iBasso themselves began to add physicality and plasticity to the instruments more often, making their reflection more natural, while preserving the signature detailing. And even the DX170 moves in this direction, its delivery seems a little tighter and more articulate than the DX160, but it can still, unlike, say, the DX320, noticeably cut into the ears of HF-phobes. At least on the firmware on which testing was carried out.

Frequencies

 

The bass is precise, linear and fast. The variety of textures is clearly and legibly presented here, the woofers are tactilely firm, confident, without rubbery homogeneity. The depth of the saba is not extreme, but it is not bad, the rhythmic pattern is worked out very carefully. You shouldn’t expect an increase in mass, as well as an increased roll, but the aggression of the punch did not cause me any comments, and a moderate forcing of impact adds drive. The model is not for bassheads, of course, there are such audiophile, normally readable low frequencies, but you cannot call them boring, and they build the foundation correctly.

The middle is mobile, lively, refined. Well, literally. There is a slight bias in microcontrast, the resolution of the player is decent for its price class, so you will be able to hear a lot of details. But, as I already wrote, there is a little lack of weight on the midrange, because of this, the upper mids sometimes sound more synthetic than they could. But the delineation of the tools is beautiful, their location in space is free, and they are quite holographic, with a relief texture. The timbres are recognizable for the iBasso technique – warm and illuminated. Vocal temperament is conveyed cleanly and realistically, but the player is rather stingy in terms of winding up emotions for the sake of effectiveness. And I would say that it is good. On the negative side, the scale of the scene was not particularly impressive.

High frequencies are also lightweight, whippy and small. In this part of the range, we notice that we have an inexpensive player in front of us. For all the grace and flexible obedience of the HF, they are a bit simplified, I wanted to get a more serious level in processing the upper layers and overtones. The notes somewhat lack delicacy, a noble iridescent fullness, the length of the decays is also not exemplary. However, the DX170 surpasses the younger DX160 in terms of the quality of upper frequencies, so I heard enough brilliance on acoustic genres. But there is a criticality to the material, take that into account.

Competitors

I have to admit, recently I rarely get my hands on Hi-Res players of the initial segment. They are increasingly being replaced by compact DACs for smartphones , including flagships such as Cayin RU6, Questyle M15, iFi Go Bar , etc. Examples do not matter, other favorites will soon appear, the assortment of “whistles” is growing rapidly. The bottom line is that audiophiles often now prefer good dongles over stand-alone players when it comes to the budget price range. Of course, there are no such changes in the premium category.

But if we’re talking about the affordable DX170, fair comparisons must be made. I have not yet tested the updated FiiO M11S and Shanling M3 Ultra models, so I will have to limit myself to the iBasso DX160 and Shanling M3X examples.

So, what are the main changes in the sound of the successor, if you compare it directly with the DX160? In fact, there are not many of them, this is not the case when you need to run and update without thinking. They added a little resolution to the upper frequencies, increased the density and elasticity in the middle ones, slightly emphasized the impact of the bass for fun liveliness, slightly expanded the imaginary scene. What I definitely liked was the more colorful timbral palette of the new midrange. And if you like iBasso’s trademark way of highlighting details in batches, you have a pure breed representative in front of you. The DX170, like the DX160, has an equal mix of melodiousness and linearity, all in a thin, light handwriting. Well, if you experienced the slow operation of the firmware in the DX160 or DX220, the new model will test your nerves less in the future.

And fans of smooth, integral sound with a warm color can choose Shanling M3X. It is less focused on technicality, its delivery is organic, soft and rich, rounded rather than sharp, with a chamber stage, velvety lows, singing mids and iridescent, less extended but more comfortable highs. The level of part separation, scale and micro-detailing here, compared to the DX170, is simpler, the Shanling player is made harmonious, cheerful and unobtrusive. Regarding the characteristics – the speed of operation of the firmware is also compromised, without revelations. The M3X is several times inferior to the iBasso model in terms of power, but naturally surpasses it in terms of autonomy. This is a compact IEM-only device for on-the-go listening. So, these two rivals have different audiences.

Conclusion

iBasso DX170 is a completely high-quality update for its famous predecessor. Like any technique, it has both disadvantages and advantages. Personally, I expected more changes in the sound and in the electronic filling from the hero of the review, but it seems that the time has not yet come to bring the company’s youngest player to a higher level. Nevertheless, to the audiophiles I know, who will once again ask me for advice in search of an inexpensive device with high detail and an honest presentation without excessive dryness, I will now be able to recommend not only the iFi Gold Bar, but also the current iBasso DX170. If you take this player for listening to music, and not for surfing the Internet, this is an excellent option for your money. Hi-Res to all, society.

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