Sound Impressions

Tonality

The tonality of the D14 is real treat for a portable amp at this price range or perhaps even higher. I would class the D14 as having actually a neutral and speedy tonality which favors clarity over any overly lush or wet signature. Detail freaks will enjoy the D14. Having said that the tuning is just on the right side of smooth with a very spacious and open sounding, much more so than the DX90. There is also bit more presence, sparkle and detail up top and a slightly more controlled and realistic bass response than the DX90. My favorite aspect of the D14 though was its clean and clear midrange with an excellent vocal presence that remained sibilant free and very natural sounding indeed.

A Sabre Sound

This is an ESS Sabre DAC though and true to form on some of these implementations the treble on the D14 has a slight glare and sheen particularly with the lower treble response and percussion work. That slightly hard edge to the treble is a thing of taste for many. Whilst detail and articulation is clear, tight and easy to pick out, those looking for a slightly softer percussion work or cymbal work that doesn’t draw your attention too much might not find this to their taste. Thankfully the D14 has not overcooked the treble to the point where I would start being critical. It doesn’t have that harsh metallic aftertaste of the FiiO X gen 1 or the even more pronounced treble glare of the equally priced Creative E5. On balance the vocal and instrumental timbre remains accurate and well-paced rather than overly bright and peaky.

Versatility

Yet the D14 is actually quite a versatile amp tonally speaking. It’s a real pleasure with vocals, ambience and spartan arrangements that need space to breathe. At the same time the D14’s deep and wide soundstage combined with above average imaging and dynamics sounds convincing on the opposite end of the spectrum with genres such as fast paced melodic metal. Agnes Obel’s “Beast” from Philharmonics with its sparse musical background and delicate vocals sounded really natural and sibilant free. Battle Beasts’ “Iron Hand” sounded bombastic, tight and speedy with fantastic detail over a deliriously fast rhythm guitar section. Overlapping solo guitar shredding never once lost their ground or impact either. Being able to handle complexity may well be the D14’s calling card.

Matchability

The D14 on paper should handle both IEM and mid powered portable/planar headphones reasonable well give than 0.01 impedance, 116Db SNR and 400mW/32ohm load. The reality wasn’t too far from the theory either. Planers such as the HE400S and the PM-3 on high gain had plenty of play left on the volume pot.

Easy To Drive Planars

The HE400s ran more than adequately on high gain at 11am on the D14 pot though tonally it felt a bit thin and lacking in bass oomph that even the FiiO Q1 could tackle with the obligatory FiiO bass boost. Having said that the D14 had oodles more resolution than the FiiO Q1 and really did flow with the He400S’s expansive midrange and excellent headroom. Soundtracks such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sounded more convincing and engaging than top heavy synth rock outs from the likes of Brother Firetribe that came across as too bright on the HE400s/D14 combination.

The PM-3 was an altogether superior matchup than the HE400s. It was slightly easier to drive with more body and a superior midbass body and response. The top end never sounded too bright in comparison to the HE400s. Yes it had a touch of glare but it was far better controlled and more forgiving sounding with the PM-3 than the HE400s. I also found the slightly smaller closed soundstage of the PM-3 paired with the D14 to be a better choice for rock and pop with a slightly more forward vocal presence and a thicker sounding signature suitable for metal guitar and RnB bass work.

IEM’s

Pretty much most IEM’s produced a very nice black background with next to no noise or background hiss. BA setups such as the midrange Westone 4 sounded excellent, engaging and full sounding with only a slight peak in the lower treble range but nothing distracting. Flagship dynamic setups such as the IE800 paired with sources such as the Paw Gold sounded “big” with a capital B though slightly hot in the treble response but then that’s the IE800 for you. Tonally it’s not a pairing I am fond off to be fair. Once the treble gets pumping on say Dash Berlin’s Fool for Life, synth work is just a bit too thin and bright to really get me going using the D14 and the IE800.

DSC00686

More budget orientated IEM users take note the RHA T10i and T20 performed excellently with the D14. Both have a slightly more muted and smoother top end than the more nimble but hotter IE800 and it suited the D14’s tonal traits very well indeed. Both came across as full sounding with the T10i benefitting in particular with the more expansive top end given I have always found the T10i to be slightly shelved down in that area. I absolutely loved the T20i with the D14 and the Paw Gold with EDM. Soundstage performance was excellent, arena like almost with fantastic atmospherics and more than adequate headroom.

DAPs

iBasso DX90/Cayin N6

The D14 is tailor made for pairing with the DX90 physically with the SPDIF of the D14 sitting just below the coaxial output of the DX90. Easy stacking right there. Sound wise though I thought the Cayin N6 just edged it slightly in terms of resolution, clarity and treble top end control. Lower treble percussion just sounded that bit more natural and smoother whereas the DX90 had a slightly harder edge in comparison. Both had excellent vocal presence and both made excellent use of the D14 spacious soundstage as sources with the N6 edging it slightly in terms of overall width and instrumental separation.

The drawback of the N6 though is that it simply swallows the D14 size wise making the physical stack awkward to the point where I really wouldn’t call it that portable at all. Transportable is how I would term that duo especially if you are using the stock coaxial cable which looks far tidier on the DX90.

FiiO X5ii

The FiiO X5ii is also an excellent stacking partner to the D14 though, like the N6, the I/O’s do not match up as well as the DX90 for cable connections. The pairing though very capable didn’t quite have that sweet vocal presence and excellent command of the sound stage of the N6 and felt a tiny bit flatter than the DX90. Tonally it is quite a flat presentation, so accurate but just lack a little oomph and dynamics compared to the other two. FiiO’s treble performance was excellent though even on bright as hell synth laden tracks from Brother Firetribe’s first couple of AOR albums In all it just lacked a little balls to really convince as a rock pairing.

Lotto Paw Gold

Perhaps the smoothest and creamiest (Thanks Mike!) pairing with the most impactful bass response, the tightest and most detailed vocals and neigh on perfect clear and clean treble performance was the Lotoo Paw Gold. That line out on the Paw Gold is a joy to behold. It combines a smooth warm to neutral sound signature from the Lotto with that expansive D14 soundstage and accurate timbre to sound utterly compelling. This combination works with just about any genre I threw at it from EDM, prog rock, metal and acoustics. The only slight concern is the lack of play on the pot making micro changes to the volume a bit harder to control. The Paw Gold/D14 combo on low gain topped out at 10-11am using most 16-30ohm IEMs and a little higher for harder to drive ones such as the Harmony

Comparisons

FiiO

There are a few amps at the $200 range that are vying for your money such as the FiiO E18 at around $180 and slightly higher up the HA-2 from Oppo which sports the same DAC chip and similar features but at a slightly higher premium. You also have dedicated IEM amps such as the RX and Picollo from ALO and Cypher Labs that we just loved in the office. Right away I can tell you that the E18 looks positively obsolete in terms of resolution capability compared to the D14. For DSD decoding at this price range you have to switch to the E17k or FiiO X3ii and even then the D14 amping is just on another level with superior power handling, less noise and higher levels of detail retrieval than either FiiO products.

Oppo HA-2

The HA-2 is perhaps the biggest barrier to the D14 given its modern and sleek profile which I think is more appealing to smartphone users, its fast charging system at 1.5 hours and DSD256 capabilities. Not to mention the HA-2 sports the exact same DAC chip, as the D14 with similar treble glare tendencies. However battery life on the HA-2 is considerably shorter at 7-13 hours and is roughly $70 more so that will be something to consider. Personally I would keep the HA-2 with smartphones and throw the D14 in with DAP’s – they just seem a better fit physically and can make better use of the SPDIF functionality.

DSC00685

iBasso D-Zero MK2

Those on the D-Zero Mk2 wondering if you want to upgrade well that is a more interesting question because tonally they are slightly further apart. The dual Wolfson DAC implementation is far more forgiving than the D14 but with a more intimate soundstage and more colored lower end in terms of slam. It also has a rolled off top end that doesn’t convey anywhere near the headroom and articulation that the D14 is capable off.

But why hesitate in saying upgrade right now if the difference in performance is clear? That amping life cycle on the D-Zero at 120 hours is pure killer, nothing can touch it. If you just want a quick and simple upgrade on your smartphone’s DAC capabilities with a very slim profile for pairing then the D-Zero Mk2 is a great choice for those wanting lossy on the go at half the price. You want something that sounds far more resolving, with better codec handling and with good bit more power then go for the D14. Personally the D14 gets my vote but that top end ESS sabre treble heat might not suit everyone and it does not stack as nicely as the D-Zero MK2 with smartphones nor has the same battery life.

Notable Mentions – The RX and the Picollo

Personally I found the D14 to be more of a competitor to the RX IEM analog amp from ALO Audio than the smoother and more intimate Picollo from Cypher Labs. I think people yearning for a richness in the mids and bass will consider the DAC/AMP on the Cypher Labs to be more to their taste tonally but you can’t help but wonder how a $300+ DAC/AMP is churning out 16/44k even with OTG when the D14 at $229 is DSD256 without breaking a sweat.

The D14 seems to target what the RX is all about with the focus on dynamics and soundstage but with a more powerful amp thrown in, excellent output figures and a competitive performance on IEM’s. I give the nod to the RX for micro control with a bit more play on the volume pot for sensitive IEM’s than the D14 and the treble on the RX is a touch more subtle but then again at $150 less the D14 is packing a DAC, DSD decoding and digital inputs so in terms of value for money the D14 is way ahead.

Tonally it is not a clear win for the D14. People have their tastes tonally that might differentiate on what to buy sound wise, but in terms of what it can do, decode and power the D14 pulls away from these admirable but more limited amps for less cash.

Final Thoughts

The D14 is what iBasso do best – feature packed portable amps at a more than competitive price. It always appeals to the nerd inside me and and serves as a timely reminder that well executed amps can always add a little something extra on top of a good DAP. With the launch of the DX80 just around the corner iBasso does have a challenge to retain interest in the D14’s more classic look and feel but audiophiles will appreciate that big soundstage, spacious arrangement and excellent resolving power and sensitivity for both IEM’s and headphones alike.

That being said the choice of DAC and implementation is quite similar to the likes of the Oppo HA-2 and in some ways that the Achilles heel. Those sensitive to treble glare or a slightly hard edged lower treble performance might not enjoy the D14 as much as something like the Cypher Labs Picollo even if its miles behind in the resolution stakes. Tonally it’s fast, clean and clear and something I quite enjoyed but the match can make a bit of a difference and in some respects even the DX90, physically the best match, was not the perfect match sound wise as that treble glare was more present. Genres with swathes of synth or percussion at times just came across as a little too hot with that paring. DAP’s such as the Cayin N6 and the Paw Gold from Lotoo had that slight edge even if never totally smoothing things over. It is as always a question of choice and personal taste with these things so as always try before you buy.

That being said at $229 I can’t think of a DAC/Amp that presents so many features and codec handling capabilities outside of the FiiO X3ii and E17k and even then the amping capabilities of the D14 outshine both with ease.

Price: $229 SRP

Links: http://www.ibasso.com/products-detail.php?id=288

Technical Specifications

  • Sabre32 ES9018K2M DAC chip
  • XMOS USB audio controller, takes up to 32bit/384kHz PCM signal, and up to 256x native DSD signal from Windows PC and Mac computers
  • Asynchronous USB transfer
  • OPAMP+BUF design, ensures high current and high power output
  • Flexible inputs, takes Windows PC and MAC computers USB digital signal (USB Soundcard), OTG audio signal from Android 4.1 or above device, digital signal from iPhone/iPad with camera kit cable, takes coaxial input and optical input
  • Works as a DAC+AMP Combo, a standalone AMP, or a standalone DAC (Line out function)
  • 2-Setting Gain Switch for impedance matching
  • Rechargeable Li-polymer Batter
  • Power Source: Built-in 4.2V Li-polymer Battery or external power supply.
  • Frequency Response: 17Hz~20 KHz +/-1dB (DAC)
  • 17Hz~100 KHz +/-0.2dB (AMP).
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 115dB (DAC), 116dB (Amp).
  • Crosstalk: 106dB (DAC).
  • Total Harmonic Distortion: [email protected]/-10dBF (DAC)
  • [email protected]/max volume (AMP).
  • Output power: Up to 400mW+400mW into 32ohm.
  • Gain: +3dB and +9dB (AMP).
  • Battery Life: 13 hours AMP+DAC or 25 hours if amp only.
  • Battery Charge Time: 5 hours.
  • External Power supply: 5V DC.
  • Recommended Headphone Impedance: 8~300.
  • Output impedance: 0.1ohm.
  • Case dimension: 2.4W x 4.1L x 0.8H (inch)
  • 60W x 104L x 20H (mm)
  • Weight: 149g or 5.26oz

 

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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.

Related Posts

  • M.Daniyal

    Can you please try pairing Ibasso D14’s dac with Cayin c5 amp ? is it worth pairing,any sound improvements and such ?

    • headfonics

      The C5 is more musical and colored than the more neutral D14 and has the edge in pure power.

      Both have excellent soundstages but the D14 has more treble extension and also sounds more articulate up top whereas the C5 has a stronger bass response.

      Both have excellent imaging but the timbre on the D14 is more accurate.

      So you are pairing the C5 with the D14? thats a triple stack right there – I would say the resolution of the D14 on DSD is a nice match for the amp of the C5 if you plan to use planars and aiming for power and a warmer tilt. The clarity stakes lie with the D14 amp.

  • Miko Belardo

    Another solid review, marcusd!

    I purchased the iBasso D14 mainly based on your positive review as there don’t seem to be many reviews of this item out there. A leap of faith, but it paid off big time so thanks very much! This is my first DAC based on a Sabre chip and I find the clarity and detail it delivers very much to my taste.

    I currently pair the D14 with my Dunu DN-2000J and enjoy this combination very much. Would you consider this an unorthodox pairing? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

    • headfonics

      Hay Mike thanks for the big vote of confidence and glad you liked the D14. Sadly I never tested the DUNU gear, sort of just passed me by to other reviewers here so I am not sure if it is weird or not.

  • Rodrigo Lourenço

    Hi,

    I’m looking to improve the sound of my Ibasso DX50. In Fact i don’t want another amp, unless something in the the market can make a revolution on my ears, as i love my alo continental. I’ve tried mojo, which everybody loves, but didn’t like! The definition i’m looking for is there, but i could use it for more then 30 min, even with Alo.

    Do you think i can get that transparency with D14? Or other portable suggestion….

    Thank you

    • headfonics

      I think the Mojo is far better than the D14 to be honest but the D14 gives you a very layered and spacious sound.

      What are your cans?

      • Rodrigo Vieira dos Santos (MAs

        I use two types, the k702 a the bw p5, mas depends where i am. I use the bw more, because i work in openspace, and they close the sound in and out

        • headfonics

          It might be too thin for the K702 which is a power hungry headphone even though it isnt rated as such. The P5 is warmish so it might mesh better with that but then again I dont have either anymore so its a bit of a guess from aural memory.

          • Rodrigo Vieira dos Santos (MAs

            Thank you! If you have New ideas, no matter the price, please tell me.

          • headfonics

            Change the DAP or buy a new headphone and keep the continental 🙂

          • Rodrigo Vieira dos Santos (MAs

            Which dap do you advise me? The big deal with this headphones are not the sound, is the size and the confort…i can take them everywhere, without feeling ridículous and with a stone on my head. and ideas for this size, and closed?! Thank you again

          • headfonics

            The DX90 is great option if you can find one or the FiiO X5ii, that in combination with the NAD HP50 will lift your game considerably without making your head a bit strange.

          • Rodrigo Vieira dos Santos (MAs

            Thank you! Do you think nad is better than the k 271mkii? The d14 is better that the dx90 a a dac, isn’t it? And cheaper

          • headfonics

            I have not tried the K271 mk2 but I have the K240 and the K500/501/553/812 and in each instance I found the amp of the D14 to be more spacious than the D90’s internal amp.

            However the D14 has a classic shiny treble which might not gel as well with any AKG headphone know to have a bright treble.

            The D14 though is more powerful than the DX90. Remember the DX90 is a DAP so thats where the strengths are.

          • Rodrigo Lourenço

            Once again thanks for your help. What i mean is keep the dx50 as source, the d14 only as dac, and the continental as amp. On the other i really have to change my headphones, it’s True! Maybe my True gain is that point.

          • headfonics

            Always the headphone change will give you the biggest return for the least money.

  • Ph0n6

    Hi,
    I just hear it at the store and I really like it. Just wondering how it compares to the JDS C5?

    • headfonics

      This is from aural memory and someone with the C5 may hear differently but I believe the JDS C5 might be a bit more neutral and flatter than the D14 amp.

      • Ph0n6

        Thanks for the reply. What about the Dragonfly 1.2 then? Also what is the “next upgrade” from this D14 in your opinion?

        • headfonics

          I have not tried the Dragon 1.2 but from the D14 you are looking at the Oppo HA-2 at the most likely upgrade.

          • Ph0n6

            The feature does seems attractive (though it doesn’t have coaxial out, I want to use it with my speaker) but what about the sound? And are there any portable DAC/amp in the range of 400$? I seems to only find either under 300 (fiio, ibasso, oppo) or over 500 (M8, Mojo)

  • Illia

    I mostly listen to Pink Floyd, Dire Straits kind of music from my laptop and i want to know whether or not this device is a good upgrade? I eventually choosing beetween this and “Nuprime Udsd”. Please help to understand the difference and decide. Thank you in advance.

  • Anthony Lim

    Can you give me comparison which have the blackest background/dead silent between D14, Alo RX Iem Analog Amp, and Picollo Ampli? For example from most silent to noisier

    • headfonics

      Using what source and IEM/headphone?

      • Anthony Lim

        Sorry for replying late. My DAP FiiO X5 1st gen & IEM Zero Audio Carbo Doppio, & ATH E40, both iems are sensitive IEMs. Now I’m using Picollo but now I want to trade X5 1st gen & Picollo with celsus sound companion one (for my smartphone) so I can use spotify for streaming. Could you give me somes thought about it? About SQ, black background, power, etc. I wiill appreciate some of your recommendation too. I’m an IEM guy who seeks technicalities more than fun factor. Thanks Marcus.

        • headfonics

          The Celsus Companion one is a big step up from the Picollo for me. It’s a Sabre DAC but implemented very well with a clean natural tone and good extension in either direction. Your only problem it likely size and complexity as I do think the Companion One onboard labels for what does what is not well explained. But if you can cope and learn how to configure it you will enjoy it a lot more.

          • Anthony Lim

            Thank you for your opinion, really aprecciate it. Now I am waiting for my package to arrive at my office 🙂

  • Millo Muniz

    How does this (IBasso/D14), in DAC mode, handle DSD files? I listen to my music directly thru a streaming service?(Tidal)

    • headfonics

      Just set you primary audio device to the D14 on your PC or MAC. If I have not tested Tidal before but on Spotify it will just look for the default device and decode using that.

  • Arthur Rimbaud

    fantastic review,you’ve just saved me $225 as i feel that while the D-Zero MKII may not be as revealing up in the higher frequencies,my preferred headphones (Grado SR80i,Grado PS500e and Philips Fidelio X2) are a perfect match for the MKII in that they all have proper sparkling highs enough on their own and paired with any of my Sony Walkman DAPs are the very definition of synergetic perfection (to my ears at least).the only thing i’d like a bit more of in a DAC/Amp from the D-Zero MKII is a tad more volume for more demanding cans (i.e. any requiring 300 or more ohms) ,but honestly the MKII is not shy nor lacking amplitude so much as i’m deaf in the right ear and can’t hear out of the left one (Wonka who?) anyway for a $120 amp/dac the MKII is hard (nigh impossible) to beat.

    • headfonics

      Oh yes, a Grado is a feisty headphone indeed 🙂

  • Qualified Expert

    Hi,
    Can I use this with iPhone 7 (which uses Lightning adapter cable) ?

    • headfonics

      I believe via a camera kit cable.