The battle for audiophile players are truly ground breaking these days. It’s not just Astell & Kern, FiiO, and iBasso battling it out now. So many contenders are playing their parts in this audiophile battleground. Though Astell & Kern still is on top with their flagship, though being priced so steeply which many people would not be able to afford. iBasso though has been one of those who started inspiring companies to pull their guns out on the portable audiophile player scene. Starting out with their flagship DX100 before, and finding extreme success with the DX50 and DX90 which for me, have paved the path for this battleground of players. The DX50 having a really good price with decent performance, and of course, the stellar star of iBasso which is the iBasso DX90, priced really well for what it belts out. For me, the king for bang-for-the-buck audiophile player is easily owned by the iBasso DX90. Don’t get me wrong, it is not cheap and it does not perform just average. Point here is that, it is priced near those of the iPod Touch, yet performs like a true high-end audiophile player, hitting way above the price. Why? Let’s begin with the review.
The DX90 is a portable audiophile player that is a capable of playing lossless audio files from WAV, FLAC, ALAC, and even DSD. Though, DSD compatibility is not full and not native. You need to use DSD files with DSF extensions and it will decode it to PCM as high as 24/88 which is already very very good! Don’t worry about playing your high-quality 24bit WAV or FLAC files as it is an easy breeze for the DX90. Battery life is rated to be around 8-9 hours.
Packaging/Build: Packaging is pretty much similar to the DX50 for those who have owned or do own a DX50, it is a basic rectangular box housing the DX90 and accessories underneath. Very simplistic. Build is spot on good! Body is built with the similar design and footprint as the DX50, brushed metal design with a removable battery and Micro-SD Card slot. Yes, removable battery! 1 output for coaxial, 1 headphone out, and 1 true line-out. All the jacks are now gold plated and in high-quality unlike the standard jacks of the DX50. Though, the DX90 feels very slightly heavier, probably due to it having dual DAC chips and additional internals over the single DAC of the DX50. Build is fantastic, I’ve used my iBasso DX90 very ruggedly and it had not issue or anything at all. The included rubber case helps a lot too! Never did it heat up like other audiophile players or have any issues of reformatting or any big issue. The size is very ideal as a true portable audiophile player, and is also perfect for stacking with a portable amplifier. Redundancy is actually sometimes beautiful, I’m saying this as the DX90 uses the touchscreen as the main controls for the UI and music, but it also has a forward, play/pause, back physical buttons. Perfect for in-pocket operation.
User Interface: The iBasso DX90 also houses an Android base UI, it is very simple and straightforward. Fluid touchscreen and responsive. Though at times I would find some lag but very rarely. At the start I was actually using an older firmware which is the 2.1.5, and then I moved to using the Lurker’s 2.1.5 custom firmware in the Head-Fi forums. I upgraded to the official 2.1.8 which had some bugs, but quickly addressed by iBasso with the latest 2.2.0 firmware. The great thing about the iBasso products is the frequent firmware updates that keeps improving the product! The firmware updates do improve the UI and even the sound quality which is fantastic support for the product. Add this with the Lurker custom firmware in Head-Fi which iBasso also acknowledges in positive light, and we have a product that is much better than how it is out of the box and keeps developing month after month. When it launched, it was very buggy and had some quirks and issues with the UI, but with product support like this, the DX90 truly has went so far in having a good UI and improving the sound quality a lot. This is the only audiophile player I have seen and heard improve so much over from when it was launched. Props to iBasso for the great product support!
Sound Quality: The iBasso DX90 is very well known for the sound quality that it houses, from when it released and even more now that firmware updates keep improving its sound quality, it truly hits way above the price. The only direct competitor of the DX90 is FiiO’s X5 which is aimed at the similar price point, performance, and audience. Let’s see then how the DX90 performes. The DX90 houses a tonality which is neutral to warm, very transparent tonality to be honest. The detail and separation makes it very engaging. That expansive soundstage also also wonderful! No loss in detail or any region of the sound spectrum falling back or being too laidback even with the expansive soundstage. Dynamics is far superior to the DX50, and easily bests FiiO’s X5 no doubt. Even soundstage is a step above FiiO’s already good soundstage. Bass has good impact and detail that is fast and dynamic. Bass is very tight and hits hard without any bloat or bleed at all, very clean and satisfying. The mids of the DX90 has a slight warmth with good detail that is positioned just rightly at the middle, not to forward and not too laidback. The treble is a gem with the DX90, extension is good with great air. Detail is fantastic! Control is great, keeping everything stellar in treble sparkle without hitting sibilance. The X5 has more sibilance even though the DX90 is more forward and aggressive in the treble department. To be honest, I’d take the iBasso DX90 over the FiiO X5 any day of the week.
Overall: With a local price tag around Php 18,500.00 the DX90 certainly isn’t to be called “cheap”, but with audiophile players hitting the Php 60,000.00 – Php 100,000.00 ballpark, the iBasso DX90 truly puts a handful of them to shame with a price tag that is much more affordable and which is similar to a standard non-audiophile music player. The iBasso DX90 can even perform better than some of these audiophile players priced double or triple! Truly bang-for-the-buck for a high-end portable audiophile player.