Matchability

The IT03 is not as efficient as you might think regardless of the 8-ohm rating. 107dB is not as sensitive as some of the ultra-efficient IEMs in the market today such as the Campfire Audio range but the good news is that it is much less prone to noise and hiss and it does scale quite well in terms of dynamics and top-end control. It does, however, need a bit of juice and weaker sources/amps tend to upset the delicate treble balance between being clean, clear and energetic to being a little hot and unnatural sounding.

ZTE Axon 7

Top of the line smartphone for audio ($400)

Efficiency

Showing its average sensitivity with weaker amps, the Axon 7 is a good mobile phone sporting an AK4990EQ chip inside though the amp is just ok. From the headphone jack (yes it has one!) I can get decent volume and excellent detail around 80% without the need to revert to their Dolby Atmos engine which makes things more vibrant and dynamic with the IT03 but also a little less natural sounding with weird staging.

Tonality

On a completely neutral un-EQ’ed setting the IT03 hits pretty hard with a dark to neutral tonality, elevated mid-bass slam that’s natural but medium-paced, clean set of mids and bright treble response. It is pretty good but not DAP good and the odd time I found the treble just stray a little and sound a bit harsh as well as vocals having a touch of sibilance. Not as harsh as the iTouch 6th gen but cymbals and synth work did seem a bit peaky. The IT03 for me just needs a little more juice than what the Axon 7 can provide. That being said it’s the most impressive smartphone DAC yet for detail, layering, and instrumental separation.

iTouch 6th Gen

$199

Efficiency

It also has a headphone jack so right there one of life’s small blessings. The amp on the iTouch is not bad either in comparison to the Axon 7 and can easily hit pretty loud levels as low as 60% with the IT03.

Tonality

Tonally it is a little softer and less detailed than what the Axon 7 can deliver with its superior DAC and also the IT03 staging feels a more intimate and less well separated on the iTouch 6th Gen. There is also a metallic edge and sharp attack to its lower to mid-treble that can give it a slightly harsh quality on percussion, synth and some sibilance on higher-pitched vocals. On the plus side bass is very meaty and hard-hitting. EDM lovers and bass heads will not die of want with an IT03 and the iTouch 6th gen.


Cayin i5

$499

Power

This is a far more convincing match than either of the smartphone or Apple products which, to be honest, is pretty logical. It is a dedicated DAP sporting the same AKM AK4990EQ chip as the ZTE AXON but with a far superior opamp, buffer chip stage, and circuit design. It also has far better isolation and noise suppression from everyday interferences such as you get on phones and igadgets.

Efficiency

Efficiency wise is in the same ballpark almost as the SE846 and the Campfire Audio Jupiter at 25-30 steps in low gain. Despite its 8-ohm impedance noise and hiss was impressively low when paired with the i5 in low gain. That low sensitivity rating of 107dB starts becoming an advantage with better-powered amps.

Tonality

Tonally it’s a huge step up on the ZTE and iTouch with a full-blooded and expansive soundstage, meaty but a natural-sounding bass response, clean and clear mids but it doesn’t mask that treble energy which is a characteristic more of the IT03 than the sources and amps in question.

Vocals on the IT03/i5 pairing are slightly more forward with far better detail and texture than either of the smartphones. Using the Cayin i5 you do get a strong sense that the IT03 can scale with better sources.

Shozy Alien Gold

$200

Efficiency

Impressively easy to drive on the Alien requiring -1 steps from the stock volume level on boot up. Background noise was also much lower than I expected but it is present. It becomes a distraction on crappy recordings and compressed files. In general, the background was not as black as the i5 or FiiO’s X7.

Tonality

Tonally the IT03/Alien pairing is a slightly laid back bass and treble response making a tiny bit more balanced sounding than the blood and guts approach of the Cayin N5 or the FiiO X7 with the AM5.

Vocals are organic and natural sounding which is one of the traits I quite like about the Alien so I am glad the IT03 pairing doesn’t chip away at that. This pairing also doesn’t quite have the depth of the i5 pairing but has excellent width and imaging.

FiiO X7/AM3

$699

Efficiency

There are quite a lot of potential pairings with the X7 given its module system expanded to 5 modules on the market at present with a 6th on the way. Out of the 5, the AM3 is probably the best value and offers a smooth and evenly balanced tonal profile. With the IT03 volume on low gain sets around 50-55 steps unbalanced in low gain around 5 steps higher than the 110dB 28 ohms dual DDD/Quad BA UM Martian.

Tonality – Unbalanced

Of all of the mid-tier DAPs (and perhaps even the flagships), this combination was the best matchup with the IT03 for treble performance and control with lower treble sounding the most natural of the mid-tier DAPs, slightly softer than the Paw Gold and just behind the AK380. That’s a big tick in my box.

Bass performance with the AM3/IT03 pairing is pretty good but more on the tactile or neutral side meaning it doesn’t have the i5 aggression or thickness but can slam pretty good when needed. Vocals sound natural and slightly forward and have a tiny touch of sibilance but nothing distracting.

Tonality – Balanced

Huge jump in dynamics and far more vivid presentation and impressively none of that peaky treble performance in sight. The lower treble response on the X7/AM3 balanced combo was far more natural sounding, even more so than the Opus#1 balanced output which was quite good in its own right. It still does not have that huge slamming tonality of the i5 but it’s less laid back sounding than going unbalanced. Overall the X7/AM3 and IT03 pairing is the most versatile and smoothest matchups of the mid-tier DAPs and my favorite by far.

Opus#1

$599

Efficiency

Another DAP that sports both a balanced and unbalanced set of jack outs. In unbalanced mode, the IT03 pairing sits comfortable around 80- 85 digital steps so slightly harder to drive than more sensitive IEMs such as the Jupiter and Andromeda which are about 20 steps lower. Impedance ratings are not everything when it comes to sensitivity and efficiency. The Opus#1 was also a noise free experience in unbalanced mode.

Tonality – Unbalanced

Tonally, in unbalanced mode, the Opus#1 still had a relatively flatter and more neutral signature with the IT03 than the i5. Bass performance on this pairing was still full sounding but not as thick as the i5’s signature low end nor as weighted. Good pace though and decent musicality. The staging was excellent on this pairing, with really good layering and separation and accurate imaging.

What I also liked about the Opus#1 pairing is the improved control it has on sibilance and that energetic treble of the IT03 that crept into some other sources. It’s still there but it’s not as sharp, sounding a little smoother than the i5 and delivered with more detail than the Alien Gold could offer.

Tonality – Balanced

Using the balanced cable with the Opus#1 was not a night and day experience and there was not a huge need to change the volume settings but there were a few subtle but important tonal differences. Firstly, balanced mode brought a slightly more dynamic presentation with slightly better depth and weight from its dynamic driver. The second welcome subtle difference was the treble response. It’s lost even more of its edge so whilst you can still hear an emphasis in that region it sounds a lot more natural. The IT03 sounds a lot more optimal to me in balanced mode with the Opus#1.

DX80

$359

Efficiency

A single unbalanced output this time from the mid-fi DX80 and whilst I did not get as black a background as the top tier Paw Gold or AK380 it still felt fairly competitive, efficiency-wise, against the likes of the Opus#1 and Shozy Alien Gold. It is only really super-efficient IEMs such as the Andromeda and Se846 that show up the noise on the DX80. With the IT03 coming also from iBasso you can get you are fairly safe in that respect. Volume control is good, on low gain it is just a little higher than those aforementioned IEMs at around 10 steps higher but no requirement to hit the high gain whatsoever.

Tonality

Tonally you can file the DX80 in the Opus#1 and Alien category with a pleasant smoother tonality than the ZTE Axon 7 and iPhone but not quite as punchy or deep sounding as the i5. The DX80 though does keep the top end from sounding too peaky and unnatural and closer to how the X&/AM3 combination sounded though not quite as resolving. In keeping with the DX80’s more musical character, the vocal performance is a touch thicker and ricker sounding than the Opus#1 and has decent but not total control on sibilance, much like its peers.


AK380

$3500

Efficiency

The IT03/AK380 pairing was perfectly noise and hiss free in unbalanced mode with an average of 80-90 digital steps (depending on the quality of the recording) on the low gain setting. In fact, it probably had the blackest background outside of the Paw Gold in this line up with the IT03.

Tonality – Unbalanced

Tonally the IT03 and AK380 pairing are more similar to the OPUS#1 and i5 flavor and considering it is using an AK4990 DAC it is no surprise the AK380 offers a musical pairing with excellent separation, a weighted low end, and absolutely spot-on detail. That treble sizzle on some of the mid-tier DAPs has largely gone with a far more natural-sounding response and just edging the X7/AM3. This pairing is particularly good with acapella with its superb black background and imaging.

Tonality – Balanced

Balanced on the AK380 is ‘meh’ to be honest. That’s not a nod to anything wrong with the IT03 but there is just not a huge difference between going balanced and unbalanced on the AK380. If anything the unbalanced mode was the more dynamic, the more vivid and engaging than the more subdued and quieter balanced output when paired with the IT03. Balanced just seems a bit lifeless in comparison.

Lotoo Paw Gold

$2000

Efficiency

This pairing was as noise-free as it gets with the Paw Gold having no driving issues sitting around 40-45 steps on low gain using its unbalanced output (no balanced on the Paw Gold).

Tonality

The Paw Gold/IT03 edged the AK380 pairing for clarity and smoothness with a slightly more balanced offering but no less rich in texture and detail.

Bass performance was tactile rather than omnipotent with a slightly more linear performance than the AK380 but still full sounding and impactful when called upon. The vocal performance was excellent and more controlled than the likes of the X7 and the i5 with an accurate timbre and above-average instrumental separation. Lower treble was slightly brighter and hotter than the AK380 but more accurate sounding than some of the budget DAPs.

iBasso IT03

Select Comparisons

Campfire Orion

$399

Efficiency

The Orion is a different proposition to the IT03 though price-wise just a little higher at $399 but personally, I put it in the same segment, that of mid-fi. The Orion has but a single BA to cover the entire frequency range and is more sensitive than the IT03 also at almost 10 digital steps lower on the X7/Am3 setup on low gain. The IT03 is will exhibit less noise and hiss on inefficient amps compared to the Orion.

Tonality

Tonally the IT03 has the more powerful and fuller sounding bass response compared to the Orion. The Orion is tight, coherent but lacks slam compared to the IT03 which goes deep with plenty of rumble and sub bass menace. That single BA of the Orion can only cover so much and will always come second to the more planted and natural-sounding dynamic driver of the IT03.

The midranges on both are closer with both sounding clear and detailed with a forward vocal presence providing a more intimate feel. The IT03 though sounds the cleaner but edgier of the two with the Orion sounding slightly softer in comparison but slightly more forgiving in nature.

The IT03 has way better treble extension and space than the Orion but this should not come as a surprise since it has a single BA dedicated to treble reproduction whereas the Orion has a single BA for everything. Those who prefer something a little softer and rolled off will find the Orion treble to their taste. Those who like a more forward treble will likely opt for the IT03.

Fidue A73

$149

Efficiency

The A73 from Fidue is a single 10mm dynamic driver and a single BA design for the mids and highs. It is rated at 107dB and 20 ohms so about 2dB more sensitive than the IT03 and slightly more resistive set of drivers.

It is cheap in comparison, almost half the price but the design materials are quite plasticky and that much cheaper looking than the more premium contoured design of the IT03. The IT03 is also a much superior fit over the Fidue A73, as in miles apart with the A73 passive isolation leaking in a lot more background noise.

Tonality

It’s pretty cheap in comparison to the IT03 but in terms of tonal signature both are a bit different in their presentations with the primary difference centering on the bass response. The A73 has a more elevated midbass signature with a bit more roll-off compared to the IT03 which has an elevated sub-bass performance and more controlled mid-bass. The IT03 simply sounds more powerful than the A73’s bass with a bit more kick in it and with more body. If you want a better rumble then the IT03 provides it.

Both have slightly more neutral-sounding midranges that are detailed and quick but not necessarily that meaty sounding. Vocals on the IT03 are more forward in their presentation and natural sounding than the A73 which are a bit grainier sounding.

Both have energetic and clean treble responses that come across as a little uneven and peaky producing a slight ‘zing’ and a brittle sound around 7k. More so with the A73 which sounds a little brighter overall than the IT03. Staging wise the IT03 has better depth and width than the A73.

Oriveti Primacy

$299

Efficiency

The Primacy is also a single 8mm dynamic driver for bass performance and a dual BA for mids and highs and is priced around $40 higher than the IT03. Ratings are quite similar also at 107dB and 11 ohms for the Primacy so both have similar volume and driving needs over the majority of the sources I matched them with.

The only key differences came with the likes of the Shozy Alien which was a hissy match with the Primacy and less so with the IT03. Both have excellent fit and seals though the IT03 for me is still a class above with a custom level seal whereas the Oriveti was Westone Surefit level.  If you are in the market with $300 to buy a hybrid IEM its really going to come down to the IT03 or the Primacy.

Tonality

Tonally there are just enough differences between them to appeal to slightly different markets. The Primacy bass performance, like the Fidue A73, is more mid-bass focused with an elevated response and a roll-off towards the sub-bass.

The IT03 has a more powerful and elevated sub-bass making it the more powerful sounding IEM compared to the more controlled Primacy. The Primacy micro driver though is a touch faster than the IT03 and both avoid any bleed into the midrange.

The Primacy midrange performance has just a little bit more elevation and energy in the low to 1k range than the IT03 which opts instead to place more energy and presence in the upper midrange. By contrast, the Primacy has a fairly large dip from 2-5k taking a little energy out of vocal and percussion work compared to the IT03 which is more upfront and aggressive.

Both have a peaky 7k but the Primacy peak is more of a false peak generated by the 2-5k dip just ahead of it and never gets above the midrange elevation meaning it avoids sounding as bright as the IT03’s peak which is way ahead of its mids and a few dB enhanced over the bass performance.

In turn, the IT03 has a bit more extension and sparkle and doesn’t roll off as quick as the Primacy giving it an airier and more spacious feel.

iBasso IT03

Our Verdict

Despite my reservations on the treble performance in unbalanced mode, I actually think the iBasso IT03 is an excellent performer for those who like energetic IEMs with plenty of top-end sparkle and low-end rumble. Just do not walk away thinking this is some sort of v-shaped experience because it is not. The balanced cable does make a positive difference. The vocal staging on the IT03 is elevated and more to the intimate side and really excels with male and lower-pitched female vocals. Sparse acoustics, ambient passages, and solo vocals sound cracking on this IEM just as EDM that needs sparkle to sound accurate excel also.

Outside of the sound, the IT03 is the best sealing IEM under $300 that I have ever tested. No universal IEM has come as close as the IT03 to a custom level of seal and fit with stock tips. If I am commuting this and a set of warm-sounding customs might be the weapons of choice. I am dying to try them out whilst flying just to see how background noise gets shut out under testing conditions.

I think iBasso has priced the IT03 competitively. You can elect to go half the price with the hybrid A73 from Fidue but as good value as the A73 is the IT03 outperforms it. The Primacy from Oriveti is the closest competitor with some similar traits but if you want energy over smooth then the IT03 will be more satisfying.

Technical Specifications

  • Type: Dynamic driver (9.2mm) x 1
  • Balanced Armature x 2
  • Freq. Response: 10Hz-30kHz
  • Sensitivity: 105+/-2dB
  • Impedance: 8 ohm
  • Noise Attenuation: -30dB
  • Rated Power: 5mW
  • T.H.D: <1% (at 1kHz /1mW)
  • Plug Size: 3.5mm gold-plated
  • Cord Length: 1.2m
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30 Responses

  1. Davide

    Hi Marcus, what do you think is better between the fiio fh5 and ibasso it03 to use as daily user with a lg g6 quad dac?
    ps great review, headfonics is a great site

    Reply
  2. Headfonics

    The FH5 is a 4 driver, the IT03 is a 3 driver, both hybrid. FH5 has a larger dynamic driver, hits a bit harder and maybe a little warmer. The mid-range driver does a better job for vocal presence and instrument presence and the treble Knowles drivers are a step up on the IT03 and sound more refined.

    Reply
  3. Headfonics

    Tough choice and depending on the day and mood I would say either would be just fine. On recent deliberations I would opt for the IT03 but I would encourage you also to consider the FH5 from FiiO. Oops, just made it harder lol

    Reply
  4. Pavol

    Thnx…already readed…and enjoy it….:) Btw, some info i found, but some not yet, not definitely. I know, it´s very difficulte imagine sound, by words about him. Only, if i have listening experience with some other earphones /or DAP/, which is compared with them.

    Reply
  5. Pavol

    Hi Marcus… I know, it´s veeeeeery long time from this review, your experience with these IEM. But hopefully, you will can remember them, or help me with right choice. I have idea buy them, but because no have possibilty to hear them, it´s little bit a risk for me. I have DAP-s Colorfly C4PRO and QLS-360MOD. Colorfly is little bit warmer and sweeter, QLS is more audiophile, silky. I realy don´t like strong, big bass, which demage all details and musicality. My sound is close to Audiotechnika sound. Before i have Shure 215 /i think/, and i had to waste them. I listen more ambient, neo classic, jazz and jazz lounge. What do you think about these iBasso04? Their bass is realy to strong? I like clarity and realy wide soundstage, but don´t want miss musicality, feeling of real instruments, singers, etc… Sorry for my asking and disturbing you. Any way, thanks a lot for any your answer. Best regards….

    Reply
  6. IrroZan

    Not sure if you’ve covered the Noble Trident Universal, but I’m currently looking at the IT03 as a replacement since I can’t find a good fit nor is the sound signature a particular favorite (favoring a little too much brightness and upper mid slam). If you have tried the Noble Trident Universal, how would you compare them to these overall performance wise? Is the sound presentation more forgiving and natural than the Trident?

    Reply
    • headfonics

      Sadly I have not tried the Trident though we will be publishing a review of the Sage in the coming weeks.

      Reply
    • headfonics

      No issues, nice healthy low end and decent highs though do not expect the balanced output to significantly improve the performance as its not as powerful as the single ended.

      Reply
      • Adam Peters

        Thanks you for the reply. I’m currently tossing up between the ie80 and the it03. Do you think the it03 is the better purchase? Im currently only using my phone s7edge. My dap will depends on what iem i get. Thanks again

      • headfonics

        If you get the IT03 make sure your new DAP has a balanced output. If it does then the CB12 or Cb13 iBasso cable in balanced fitting will sound better than the ie80.

      • Adam Peters

        Thank you. I have purchased the it03 on your recommendation. Im currently looking for a dap with good balanced out. Currently looking at the onkyo dpx1a or fiio x7. Im enjoying the it03 so far.

    • headfonics

      Depends on your tonal preference as there is quite a wide range. One that has caught my eye, a single BA driver from Vietnam that I will be reviewing soon is the Aya Audio Nightingale Yk1. More mid-centric but lovely tonality.

      Reply
  7. mymail0808

    I want fun sound as RHA T20 but also replacement cable. would IT03 be an option?

    Reply
  8. canali

    Great review, thank you. Have you tried the flc 8s earphones ?I know they have different filters combinations you can use as I have those …I’m just trying to look at for another earphone Step Up in more detail without going Vegas or totl$$$

    Reply
    • headfonics

      I have not actually but quite a lot of people recommend them so maybe that is something we should look into.

      Reply

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