The DX90 by iBasso
Tonality9
Build8
Portability7.9
UI8
Matchability7.9
Value For Money8.5
8.2Our Score

The audiophile DAP race continues unabated with the release of the next step up from the DX50 by iBasso with the $419 DX90 DAP. It is almost as if iBasso and FiiO are in this budget busting DAP war bubble right now and matching each other blow for blow with the X5 and DX90. For those who don’t have the resources to blow on both it is a question of which is the devil and which is the angel on your shoulder pushing you to reach for the wallet. Which one will be the right one for you? Honestly, things are getting very complicated if you are a DAP lover right now. Vinyl junkies are having a bit of a giggle as we sink gleefully into digital iteration wars.

Mind you on the flip side the high-end DAP market is now awash with choice and choice is a great thing. From the Astell & Kern AK240 at over $2000 right down to the up and coming rumored $100 FiiO X1, compressed MP3 audio and walled garden software is fast becoming a thing of the past. The fact that iBasso already cut its teeth with the freshman DX50 to a guarded but mostly positive welcome bodes well for the DX90. The initially frustrating UI on the DX50 has gone through a number of rapid revisions that has seen it mature into a workable and satisfactory interface. Most importantly though the DX90, though similar on the outside to the DX50, is packing a lot more firepower on the inside. It has enough firepower for me to have it as my go to choice for regular IEM usage, even more so than the HM-901 from Hifiman.

Different inner, same outer

Compare and contrast the X3 and X5 from FiiO and both are physically unique DAPs. There might be some cross reference to the firmware UI but the physical units are incredibly different looking. Not so the DX90 and the original DX50 from iBasso. Both look almost identical to each other apart from the DX90 print on the back of the unit and the new custom made jacks which offer a superior grip on the older DX50 jacks and an increased lifespan of around 10000 uses.

For a while I had to keep my DX90 LCD sticker label on as I went to the meets just to make sure I didn’t head back with someone’s DX50 such is the popularity and prevalence of the lower tier version locally. Even the packaging is largely the same with only the silicon case and burn-in cable being different from the DX50 packaging which originally came with a suede-type clip pouch. Both retail boxes are also the same shape, form and factor but with a DX90 label on the front rather than DX50.

The form factor

For those new to the DX series the DX90 form factor is one of my favorite of the high end DAP manufacturers to date. It feels pretty solid in the hand and just the right size for ease of use and pocketability. It is slightly thicker than the X5 from FiiO but around 1cm shorter and a few millimeters narrower. In the hand though the X5 feels substantially larger than the DX90 but both are dwarfed by the leviathan like HM-901 from Hifiman. The AK100 and AK120 original designs are still smaller but the newer II versions, though slightly narrower, are much longer than the DX90 due to the redesigned larger LCD screens.

Slots and holes

The DX90 still sports the same physical I/O and button configurations as the DX50 with headphone, line out and gain at the bottom of the unit and the coaxial, memory card (8gn onboard) and usb slot at the top. To the side is still the same digital up and down volume controls on the right and the power/lcd power down and lock buttons on the left. The DX90 also has it’s predecessor’s USB On-The-Go feature to up to 2TB and is equally capable of going 256GB Microsd card and onwards should you need some heavy duty memory capacity and a bottomless pit of cash. I am pleased to say though that v2.0.5 for the DX90 exhibits much better volume control with less incremental slippage when moving up and down using the physical control buttons. And dang the big 3 “Noddy Town” back/forward/play/pause buttons on the front panel are as easy to use as ever. Three cheers for looking after the ‘fat finger’ crew iBasso!

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The DX90 LCD screen is also the exact same 2.4″ (320*240) IPS capacitive touch screen used on the DX50 which I found to be very snappy and excellent to the touch, almost too excellent with a super fast response and higher than average legibility. However with that come the same concerns about the menu of the UI being a tad unsuitable for the screen size with some screens feeling a little too cramped for the size of the screen even with the reported accuracy of the DX50 screen being present on the DX90.

The Battery

One thing to note though the battery performance of the DX90 is almost half of the DX50 coming with an underwhelming 8.5 hours instead of the excellent posted 14 hours playback time of the DX50. Now we can probably pin point the dual DAC implementation as the most likely culprit of the reduced playback time and compared to the HM-901 and the older DX100 some might see this as competitive. However it becomes a bit more disappointing when compared to the FiiO X5, the closest competitor which on paper can do 12 hours upwards. On closer inspection the X5 sports a pretty hefty 3700mah 3.7v battery compared to the more meager 3.8v 2100mah inside the DX90. Perhaps we can hope Ibasso will give us extended battery back plates to take large capacity batteries. After all it is a major feature of the DX series to have user swappable batteries.

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You can argue though that if it is not broken then why try to fix it. You can also point out that iBasso could have benefited from a reduced turnaround time and development costs by avoiding having to work from scratch on a entirely new physical design and package. That all this saved cash will have allowed iBasso to focus the majority of its budget on the internal performance of the DX90. Personally I am pretty happy with the original DX50 form factor but it would have been nice just to see one or two minor upgrades like a dual microsd card slot instead of one. Just a little something to make it look more premium in the eyes of those looking to buy it but have not yet heard it. After all it is nearly $175 more than the DX50. Oh and a perhaps a better battery.

Click on next page for UI and new features impressions…

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About The Author

Editor

Founder & Owner of headfonics.com. I first started reviewing in the late 80s (ouch!). Back then it was albums, rock concerts and interviews with a typewriter for the local rag. Now its desktop/portable and digital 2.1 audio on a rather nice laptop. How time flies.

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  • I may have missed it in the article, but if I have 2000 songs where both the filenames and internal tags are in the format ‘Artistname – Songname’, can I get directly to ‘Led Zeppelin – Heartbreaker’? I was not able to do that with the FiiO X3.

    • headfonics

      I have the same format, I have artist, album, title and it shows just fine in the internal directory transferring using winamp.

      Using the metatag option (My music – artist or genre) all my albums showed in perfect order under artist name and even my fav genre, artrist, album, song title.

      • You windows users you…

        • headfonics

          It really whips the Llama’s ass!

      • But you didn’t answer my question. How do I immediately select the song I named? On the iPhone, I press the ‘L’ button, then in one to 1.5 seconds I scroll to the song. How would that work with the DX90?

        • headfonics

          Well thank you Dale for being a bit more clear with your question.

          You dont have an L button on the iBasso because there is no keyboard so you operate it exactly in the same way an the ipod Clasic UI using the touchscreen. That is a drill down system.

          • I get it now – that’s cool – thanks.

          • headfonics

            Welcome!

  • headpspace

    Any comparison with the clarity and sound signature of the DX-50 should take into consideration what firmware is installed on it. Each firmware has a different sound signature and some of the custom firmwares by Doc2008 i.e ”Mega Sound Explosion’ take the DX-50 to another level.Any user can get a lot more mileage out of the DX-50 by experminenting with firmwares, the sound sginature is chosen with a databse system and even Ibasso play around with this for each release. Also, The very poor battery life of the DX-90 cannot be ignored, and it is an area that Ibasso seriously need to improve upon for the next device. The gap between the 2 players is also seriously reduced when using Line out to an amp.

    • headfonics

      There are differences tonally but it is reasonably safe to say the DX90 technically is a big leap up. Those who chose the custom firmware are going to be in the minority over those who choose to upgrade with the official firmware.

      I think we covered the battery and I did say a better battery is needed.

      I believe most of that is a consequence of opting to go with the same ergonomics of the DX50 but with increased processing power and same battery basically. Some have tried a bigger one but it just make the DX90 look pregnant with a proper backplate.

      Line out and DAC potential is going to be a review in itself with the X5 etc next month.

      By the way heck of an email address you have there 🙂

      • Ash

        Has the DAC potential review out? Link? Thank you.

        • headfonics

          Ah its still on the table for 2014, lots of new product reviews to get out of the way first but I will get there dont worry 🙂

          • Ash

            Good to hear, I look forward to it!

            It’s an aspect that is rarely expanded on, but IMO really adds to the value of these high-end DAPs.

          • headfonics

            You are dead right – its a value add that rarely gets discussed.

  • Li_An

    Hello,
    very interesting review. I hesitate between the DX50 and the DX90. I need one FLAC/MP3 player as musical groups tend to sell FLAC files and no more CD. So it’s to listen on my HiFi equipment not with headphones. Which one must I consider ?

    • headfonics

      If you want better resolution then the DX90 is probably the right choice.

      • Li_An

        Thank you. I bought finally the DX 90 🙂

  • Rik P

    Hello, Great review!!!
    I currently own a Cowon Z2 which is paired with a Nuforce amp and Polk 8000 headphones. Would DX90 be a significant upgrade to the Z2? also does the DX90 have featutes like recently added playlists?

  • Kyle Caalim

    Does anybody have a clue to what happened to iBasso? I haven’t heard anything from them but their website is broken and nobody seems to know what’s going on with them. The only thing on their website is the downloads page for the firmware. This makes me want to not purchase the DX90 because I will not be able to contact iBasso for their customer support in case I am ever in need of anything.

    • headfonics

      Sent them a health check email as I noticed this also. I will update you if I have any further news. Thanks.

    • headfonics

      All is well, new web site under development with new product lines 🙂 Go buy that DX90 hehe.

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  • Does anyone know if there are any limitations on the database with this device? I know there is a limit with the Fiio X5, variously reported at 5200 or 7000 songs, but I need something that will take 10,000+.

  • awake

    great review for a great DAP

    Ibasso produced a winner here, imho.

    • headfonics

      Yup agreed and its one I have been using quite regularly to this day.

      • Fossil Bob

        Nup. Disagreed.

        • headfonics

          On what?

  • Grimy Strings

    Just bought this off amazon. Love the sound, but I’m confused by the variable line-level output. Battery life also seems to be lower when running at full volume.

    • headfonics

      Saw this reason in Head-fi that saved me a lot of writing 🙂

      It has got a true Line Out bypassing the amp section but it is variable instead of being fixed. iBasso did it on purpose, I remember there was a discussion about that many months ago.

      I guess it is variable because the DX90’s volume is being adjusted in the DAC, not the amp section, therefore they might just have taken the signal path from the DAC and lead it directly to the LO-jack (therefore a fixed LO wouldn’t even be possible if my theory was true).

      Just set the volume to the maximum ammount if you are using the LO, as it would be the same as if it would have been a fixed LO (though you shouldn’t forget to reduce the volume if you want to use headphones straight from the DX90).

  • Andy Liang

    Which is a better match for the Sennheiser IE80s? the Ibasso dx90s or the Fiio x5? I personally listen to hip pop, rap, electronic and most other genres.

    • headfonics

      Hmm have not done an IE80 listening session in a long time so from aural memory I would say the DX90 for superior dynamics.

  • Freckle

    Great review, I am considering this DAP and have also looked at the FIIO X5. The X5 has 256GB storage; the DX90 has 64gb of internal storage – I did not see how much internal storage the DX 90 has – can you provide that info?

    • headfonics

      The DX90 has 8GB onboard memory with a single microSD slot (SDXC and SDHC MicroSD Card) that can take up to 2TB in theory, tested with 64GB no issues and an OTG compliant microSD port that can handle externally powered HDD or flash sticks up to 2TB.

  • Fede

    Great review! I am getting a DX90, my only concern is that the treble would be a little harsh, I usually hear music on my IPOD, any thoughts on that comparison?
    Thank you.

    • headfonics

      Actually the DX90 treble extends well and clear though it is quite well controlled for me compared to the X5 which has a metallic edge to the uppers. The DX90 blows the ipod treble out of the water.

  • Li_An

    It depends how you use it: if you use line out with HiFi installation, you should put the volume at 255 (max) to have the best sound.
    If you use it with hearphones (IEM), it depends on how much power the headphones need to work correctly (Dx90 manages most of headphones but some of them need a lot of power). So you may have to put a high level for volume – 120 for me with my headphone a AKG. So, no surprising you do not hear anything at 70.

    • Anuradha Kharmate-Palve

      Is it Dx90’s natural behavior ? (Sound is just Quiet from 1 to 90. on low Gain)

  • Dorea

    how does this compare to Fiio x7?

    • headfonics

      Personally I think the stock IEM module of the X7 is more neutral and flatter than the more dynamic and slightly bass enhanced DX90 but that is only half the story. The UI is light years ahead on the X7, the apps make it more involving with streaming and of course they still make the X7. In defense of the DX90 is it smaller, possibly more robust and you can replace the battery once it dies.

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