It has been an amazing year or two now for the revival of the humble DAP or mp3 player as we used to call it. Hifiman, Colorfly, iRiver’s Astell & Kern, FiiO and now Ibasso all coming out with a vision of what a modern audiophile wants in their DAP and whilst they all look quite different, the core elements are much the same in terms of what they all want to pitch and that is a wider variety of musical formats that simply play better (and longer) than your average convergence or mobile device. We recently reviewed the FiiO X3 which is more in the budget range and whilst I felt it was a work in progress they had all the fundamentals right for tonality, battery length and a reasonably workable UI with frequent firmware updates. The DX50 from Ibasso comes hot on it’s heels at a slightly higher price range but the DX50 for me is a much more ambitious project and despite its UI growing pains, could seriously be considered the bargain DAP of the current crop out their in the market for top notch sound quality.
We had the DX50 from Ibasso for a while now, both 24bit and I, well 24Bit had it quite early and hence his review is very much a growing experience with the various firmware revisions of the DX50 where as mine came shipped with FW1.16 and relatively bug free. After getting the X3 review done and having tried most DAP’s out there including Cowon, Ipods and Zune’s I had a very open mind as to what to expect and frankly the pics released made the DX50 seem very sexy yet manly, more so than the diminutive AK100/120 from Astell & Kern.
The DX50 hardware (marcusd)
The DX50 itself in the flesh is almost perfect for my hands in terms of size, weight and dimensions. It is not too small nor too heavy and the ports are easily accessed with no flaps or extensions likely to fall off. It is very well thought out indeed. It is more modern looking than the X3 and more akin to a bulkier AK100 in that respect. In some respects, and this is more preference than criticism, I would have like to have seen the headphone, line out and gain bottom plate at the top and the usb, microsd and coaxial top plate at the bottom – essentially a reversal. I know for some this might mean less tension on the jack port but for me it just feels more natural the other way round when using it. Again this is just a preference issue.
The touch screen is capacitive, accurate and reasonably clear though not really HD but not necessary for a DAP. It is a pretty fast responding screen though at times the options are a little cramped in terms of going back and forward at the top and bottom but the overall good accuracy of the touchscreen means I rarely miss the button I am supposed to hit. What I do love is the big 3 physical buttons just below the touchscreen. Basically back, forward, pause and play – the basics but they are crafted so well and extremely useful for on the go stop and start which a touchscreen cannot replace speed wise.
To the left you have the power and the lock button which pretty much do what they are supposed to do and on the rigth you have digital up and down volume buttons which sometimes don’t do what they are supposed to do. In V1.16 the volume dial was a little inaccurate like a wheel trying to slow down in wet weather and even in v1.2 pressing the volume up and down can, on the screen, resulted in slightly inaccurate incremental decrease or increases. It is fairly manageable but do not expect AK100 type control but then again I am not sure why this should be hard to manage in the first place. A small issue right now but I would like that one to go away quick with a firmware revision.
Capacity wise the DX50 has a rather miserly 8GB onboard of which about 2.5GB is lost to the OS leaving around 5.5GB for storage. Thankfully you have a microsd slot that is very scalable taking 2/4/8/16/32/64/120GB microsd without any need to reformat to FAT32 like the AK100 but unlike the AK100 sadly only one slot and not a dual slot meaning you top out at about 133GB at current affordable capacities. To combat that, DIY and accessories guys take note, the DX50 micro USB is also OTG meaning it can handle up to 2TB in off-board powered external drives or in my case a handy little short OTG cable and 64GB flash pen. My 30php CDR King cable worked right off but oddly my Gadget King shorter one did not, both with same specs so lesson is try before you buy for OTG.
The DX50 can decode the usual audio standards including MP3, Wav, ALAC, Flac and for some buddies of mine, rather joyfully, OGG. The full list is at the bottom of the article under the specifications sheet but I do not think anything really has been missed. Tag reading is competent and accurate though only the album directory in 1.16 shows the artwork. I usually tag with MP3Tag so your experience may vary but so far everything has read correctly and I am loading 100% Flac in both internal storage and 64GB Microsd card.
Battery life came in around 12-14 hours and upwards depending on my playtime and what I was playing. I just upgraded to v1.2 so I cannot say for sure that if that will prolong things but given the upgrade log list I am not sure that was on the things to achieve with the latest firmware. Still that is a pretty respectable battery life for a DAP and compared favorably with the X3 from FiiO.
Upgrading the firmware
My experience of going from 1.16 to 1.2 was pretty smooth. I did get one img error in rebooting during the upgrade but I just tried it again and it went through pretty quickly with no errors. Firmware files are pretty big at 220+mb and I would advise to always make sure your external cards are out before flashing just in case. That is SOP for me on any firmware upgrades I have done before though it may not be necessary; old habits die hard. 1.2 adds some enhanced playlist functions, cue file recognition and some more language formats.
All in all a solid physical device with great battery life, accurate touch screen, plenty of storage capability with no FAT32 formatting thankfully. Some minor preference choices on the jack placement and a hope that the volume control buttons increase in accuracy with any new firmware.
Now then what did 24bit think of the DX50?…