Hardware

DAC

AKM AK4490EQ

This is possibly the most notable change from the DX200 and one of the major reasons why they can get the price tag just a shade under $500. Out go the dual ES9028PRO and in comes a dual 32-bit AKM AK4990EQ implementation.

The EQ variant is the 2-channel version of the pro level AK4490 so it is less power hungry than its 8-channel sibling which will help in terms of battery consumption during playback. It is also a fairly common DAC chipset used by competing manufacturers such as Cayin with their older i5 and FiiO’s current X5iii which uses the EN version.

The cost difference between a dual AK4490EQ and Es9028PRO is big though, even if bought in volume the price is well down on similar volume purchases. I believe on a single chipset its less than $10 for the AK4490EQ on the open market and still around $50 for the ES9028PRO.

Decoding

That being said it is traditionally a much easier programmable chipset than some ES variants for engineers. Even in today’s market, it is very competitive for a wide range of relevant codecs. The DX150’s decoding capability is pretty much where you need it to be for commercially available hi-res and lossy tracks. It will handle PCM from 8kHz to 384kHz in 8, 16, 24 and 32BIT as well as native DSD decoding up to DSD256. Just to note in comparison, the X5iii has a hard stop at DSD128 for native decoding using the AK4490EN version.

Where you lose out to the ES9028PRO is the dynamic range potential with the AK4490EQ (combined with the amp 6 card) up to 15dB lower in dynamic range at 118dB compared to 135dB of the DX200 with Amp 1.

iBasso DX150

Amp 6 Card

The Amp 6 card is an all-new amp card and can be used in either the DX150 and DX200. In fact, you can use any of the existing iBasso amp cards with the DX150 which should provide a range of interesting colorations to the DX150 sound.

Battery tweaks

On an engineering level iBasso have introduced a Texas Instruments buffer update and tweaked the power supply on the Amp 6 to match the 10-hour battery life target goal. It is designed for line-out, balanced and unbalanced output capability. It is not as powerful as the Amp 1 or Amp 5 cards (balanced) and that is also a contributing factor to the better battery life. Mind you if you swap over to another higher rated card chances are the numbers will drop.

Power Numbers

Amp 6 is rated at unbalanced at 2.4Vrms with a 32Ω load and balanced at 3.7Vrms. That’s about 180mW unbalanced and 430mW balanced which is not that bad actually. This is a little higher than the Cayin N5ii which is rated at 150mW into a 32Ω load unbalanced and balanced at 250mW into 32Ω. FiiO’s X5iii unbalanced output is higher at 250mW into 32Ω and 740mW in balanced turbo mode.

Compared to Amp 1 performance the Amp6 card is also a little weaker. Amp 1 is rated at 3Vrms (280mW) unbalanced and (1.1W) 6Vrms balanced. The Amp 1 is a heavy-duty card and one of my favorites for driving beefier headphones. Amp 6 is really focused more on IEMs and portable headphones of a moderate level of efficiency.

Performance Benchmarking

SOC

The SOC is the same as the DX200 which is a Rockchip RK3368. The RK3360 packs an ARMv8-A processor, the 64bit 8-core A53 version. Its miles ahead on paper in terms of capability compared to the older ARMv7 processor, the Rockchip RK3188. The RK3188 is being used in the Cayin N5ii and the FiiO X5iii, however, you do have to note that these two devices use Android 5.1, not Android 6.

In case you are wondering, yes, this is the same arm processor inside the Snapdragon 425 of the HiBy Music R6. It also uses a 64-bit CPU with Cortex A53. Now, most will say the 425 is faster for modern Android 6.0 upwards which is what both devices use. However, the main difference is the RAM. The R6 uses 3GB of RAM and the DX150 uses 2GB. In most usage scenarios, particularly with streaming buffers and multitasking, you will find the R6 to be the faster of the two, (see our benchmarking results below) as a result.

I would say 2GB has to be the bare minimum now moving forward for good performance. Especially if it is Android 6. However, even with Android 5.1, 2GB is desirable so it is no surprise that Cayin’s recently announced N5iiS comes with 2GB. Hi-Res streaming and DLNA solutions will run a lot smoother as a result.

Antutu Results

Test Conditions

Tested with firmware June 2018 V2.10.275 on DX150 and latest firmware V.2.10.215 on the DX200. All other units also had their latest firmware. WiFi, BT, and other non-essential services were turned off, screen brightness at 50% and one other app (screenshot) running on all units.

A minimum of 5 mins between each run was completed to prevent CPU temperature from thermal throttling the result. Each unit tested had 3 runs completed with the best score shown below out of those 3 runs.

Results

Going purely on the overall score the DX150 Antutu benchmark result was surprisingly lower compared to competing models with lower level CPUs and smaller RAM allocations.

iBasso DX150

DX150

iBasso DX200

DX200

DX200

It was also a little lower than the DX200 which should, on paper, perform in the exact same manner considering they have the same processor and 2GB of RAM. The difference between the DX150 and DX200 are fairly marginal though at 1000 points or less with only the UX score noticeably lower. The score was being pulled down in areas not that relevant to the day and daily use of the DX200 and DX150 alike, namely strategy game performance. Otherwise, the margin is not enough to say there is a definite difference in performance.

iBasso DX150

DX150

Cayin N5ii

N5ii

X5iii

X5iii

N5ii & X5iii

The DX150 hammered the weaker RK3188 CPU of the Cayin N5ii and FiiO X5iii in terms of graphical optimization with the 3D modeling scores much higher. However, the rest of the results did not fare as well to the supposedly older tier models. Much of that can be attributed to the use of Android 6 and I would throw in the much more demanding LCD screen with its higher pixel count putting more stress on the I/O performance. I would say the DX150 would perform even better if it was loaded with Android 5.1 and a smaller screen.

That being said the difference in some areas was quite slim with some having a gap of only 1000 points. The glass can be half full here and you could argue that even with a much bigger screen and Android 6 the 2GB/Rockchip RK3368 performance is technically the better given the load.

iBasso DX150

DX150

HiBy Music R6

R6

R6

The R6 is the clear winner though on all 4 key areas tested. The 3GB combined with the Snapdragon 425 processor is way ahead of the pack including the DX Series. Unless DAP manufacturers pack in the Rockchip SOC and move to Snapdragon or load their units with 4GB or more I can’t see that balance changing for a while.

Software

No Mango OS

The core OS on the DX150 is still Android 6.0.01 (64-bit) which is the same OS version as used on the DX200. What has changed though is the omission of the Mango Dual boot framework meaning you can no longer boot into a pure Mango mode for bit-perfect playback.

With the DX150 setup, you can only use Mango via the standalone Mango app within Android 6.0.01. As of now, I can confirm that the Mango app has bit-perfect output. I am also informed by iBasso that the Neutron app will give you bit-perfect output if you want a different media player option.

Stock Apps

As with the DX200, the DX150 has a very nice “vanilla” version of Android with no bloatware to speak off. You do get the Mango player, a small video app as well as a clock, calculator, and browser for going online. You also get an explorer app from which you can check your files or install other APK packages if needed.

No Google Play

What you do not get is Google Play integration and services. DX200 users should not be surprised at that omission. If you live in China you will never likely see a commercial Android release with Google Play integrated, usually something local like the Cool APK marketplace app. If you have Google Play dependent apps you want to install you are out of luck as they will not work. I have tried installing Google Play on the DX150 and whilst it will install and allow you to log in it will not function correctly with a lot of downloads simply in perpetual pending status.

Sideloading

However, you can sideload and install apps which is very easy. Again, if you are a DX200 user, this is nothing new on the stock OS. A good store for this is Aptoide which offers most of the latest builds. Since it is Android 6.0 there is a good chance most of the apps you need will be compatible also with the DX150. Apps such as BubblePnP, Hifi Cast, Spotify and Deezer work just fine so streaming and DLNA management will pose no issues.

UI & Settings

The DX150 UI and Settings in both Android and the Mango App operate in the same manner as the DX200. For more information on the how the UI works and the various core features, you can read our DX200 review which covers it in detail here.

UI Performance

In term of UI performance with an internal storage load of around 21GB, I did not find any noticeable lag in swiping in and out of apps both stock and 3rd party. Using the latest firmware (June 2018) swiping on the Dx200 and Dx150 at the same time produced a very similar level of responsiveness within the Mango App.

The Mango app also seems to have some sort of ‘lazy load’ when it comes to album art. For those that do not know what lazy load is, this is basically a process where icons or images load only when the screen is in focus for faster performance. So for a split second, you will not see any album art until the screen stops scrolling. The update is instant though and should not be confused with any possible lag.

New Features

The title is really a misnomer because what is new on the DX150 is also new on the DX200. However, since they are not in the original DX200 review I thought it would be worth going over two of the stand-out features on the latest firmware.

Bi-Directional Bluetooth

The first new feature is a Bi-directional BT option called “Bluetooth DAC+Amp” mode. This basically allows you to stream an audio signal from any compatible smartphone or alternative BT source right to the DX150 without the need to use an audio software. You control everything from your original source and the DX150 acts as both DAC and amp for the signal.

The Qualcomm chip being used I presume is the CSR8645 and for now, there is no aptX. I am informed that iBasso is working on a new firmware that will include aptX and LDAC. It would also mean apt-X HD is impossible since you need the hardware upgrade to a Qualcomm CSR8675.

Performance

Either way, there is world of difference between standard BT 4.1 ACC /SBC codecs and aptX, nevermind aptX HD and it shows on the new bi-directional mode performance.

With my LG G6, I got a very spotty AD2P connection with plenty of drop-outs at less than 30cm away with little or no movement using the DX150. It also caused the DX150 to suddenly reboot about 30 minutes into the test. I got a slightly better connection using the HiBy Music R6 BT setup but still with some minor drop-outs.

A streaming BT audio signal to the DX150 seemed to be impossible from my Onkyo Granbeat. I can only presume you need Android 6 or higher to get it working because I was able to stream using the HiBy Music R6 which is also Android 6.

Overall, this is a feature iBasso needs to work on because I see the potential. However, the weaker BT 4.1 non-aptX signal is prone to a lot of drop-out and stutter so it is not as smooth yet as the HiBy bi-directional BT service.

Sound Style

The second new feature is tucked away in the main Android settings menu under the ‘Sound and Notification’ section. This is much more nuanced than the bi-directional option. Basically, it is a little sound tweak, I believe done on the DAC side, perhaps a touch of DSP but iBasso is not revealing exactly what has been done.

You have two options, “Standard” and “Full sound” and you can alternate between the two without interrupting playback. Switching between the two of them the difference is quite subtle at times and other times it feels a bit more “dramatic”. From what I am hearing, ‘Full Sound’ has a little more dynamic range, slightly better instrumental separation, and more staging headroom. The “standard sound” seems more neutral to me and less 3-dimensional.

Streaming

External

If you are intending on streaming or using DLNA it will ultimately depend on how dependent the apps you use are on Google Play services. Setting up TIDAL and Spotify were very easy via sideloading and they will allow you to download and play files whilst offline. You can also elect to store on the DX150 or an external memory card.

DX150
DX150
DX150

Just note which version you are sideloading because you will not be able to automatically update the app via Google Play. If you want to update you have to sideload a new version from one of the 3rd party APK sites.

DLNA

If you plan on using DLNA services then the road is not so clear unless you know which app relies on Google Play services and which ones do not. I can tell you BubbleUPnP will not work on the Dx150 stock OS, even with a Google Play attempted installation. It still requests you to update it before becoming functional which I have not managed to solve.

DX150
DX150
DX150

My other favorite DLNA service, HiFi Cast does work and works quite well on the DX150. The buffering was decent but not mind-blowingly fast with a 1-2 second lag until a 24BIT 44.1k was loaded from my LG G6 BubbleUPnP media server. However, after the initial lag, it streamed just fine without any dropout. Depending on how well you have your files organized the display hierarchy of your media server should be easy to navigate using Hifi Cast on the DX150. The audio quality was excellent by the way and far superior to the BT alternative on the DX150.

Internal vs External Memory Performance

Scanning

Scanning was reasonably fast for roughly 23Gb of music at around 30 seconds. That was a combination of 60 24/192 Flac tracks on a 64GB card at around 25MB a track and around 1800 tracks on internal memory (FLAC 44.1 up to DSD256).

Lag?

There is a slight lag of 1-2 seconds when moving from PCM to DSD due to switch to XMOS which is required for DSD playback. There is not much lag to speak off when loading hi-res large files from microSD cards. An Alex Cole 24BIT/192k 25MB Flac recording on a Samsung 64GB card took maybe like a half a second or less to load before playing. Overall, a very impressive response time from the latest firmware.

Click on Page 3 for Sound Impressions & Comparisons

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38 Responses

  1. jaker782

    I did not hear about the R6 Pro! I’m wondering what the price point will be. I may just pull the trigger on one of the other two since I’m not sure I want to wait until the end of the month! Thanks again for your help!

    Reply
  2. Headfonics

    The VIPER system is very good actually but you have to pay for the best plugins so thats more costs hidden in there. The amp cards will affect the brightness with the Am3a being one of the smoother ones. Have you heard that HiBy will release an R6 Pro with low output impedance in the coming weeks? This has the fastest performance, google play and a stellar DSP system. Sorry just made your choice harder lol

    Reply
  3. jaker782

    I appreciate the input. I think I’ve narrowed it down to the DX150 or the X7ii. Based on sound alone, I’d likely opt for the Ibasso but like X7ii for the dual card slots and Google Play services. Decisions, decisions! If the X7ii is only a touch brighter than the DX150, I would likely be happy with it. Have you tried the Viper effects with the Fiio? I’ve heard decent things about it and am thinking it may work well to give the Andros some better low end.

    Reply
  4. Headfonics

    For pure sound quality I would opt for the DX150 with the Andromeda. You might detect a small amount of noise but nothing to worry about. The Cayin N5iis is quieter but the tonal balance might not match the Andromeda as nicely as the DX150. The Opus#3 lacks punch for me though its very quiet. The X7ii will be fine with the amp 1 card and the Am3a card but its going to be a touch brighter than the DX150. Other cards on the X7ii will show more noise and hiss.

    In terms of apps functionality the X7ii is the most complete with Google Play services. The DX150 does not have the Google Play store so app compatibility through side loading is not consistent. You can load some apps on the Cayin N5iis but the UI layout places these to the background a bit more in favor of the music player.

    Reply
  5. Headfonics

    I don’t have the DPX-1 but I do have the granbeat and definitely the granbeat is more neutral and brighter sounding from the mids up but still plenty of “crunch” on the low-end. DX80 – battery and screen issues if memory serves me correctly.

    Reply
  6. Headfonics

    At the time yes, but after 12 months no. Quite a few issues cropped up on the DX80 that made me change my mind.

    Reply
  7. fidelio

    Quote from your test: “I have always been a keen advocate of the DX90 DAP as the mid-fi king of DAP’s given its OS flexibility and the overall sound is just that bit more to my liking than the equivalent FiiO and Hidizs range. The DX80 could end up replacing the DX90 because there are 1 to 2 notable tuning differences that for me make the DX80 an even better DAP to listen to despite the DX90 being supposedly the ‘higher’ DAP.” ?

    Reply
  8. Headfonics

    OK so why not use Neutron or another app like HiBy which you prefer? I think that’s the beauty of Android. Anyway sounds like your happy with the X5iii which is a good dap anyhow.

    Reply
  9. Headfonics

    The X5III is a good DAP but the noise floor is way higher for a lot of IEMs. It is more suited to IEMs higher than 30 ohms and up to medium powered headphones. Have you tried the Amp1 card with the DX150?

    Reply
  10. Headfonics

    I don’t see why not, there are over 8 different amp cards you select to get your tuning just right. With a 32 ohm impedance on the HEM8 there should be no noise or hiss.

    Reply
  11. moleculaaa

    Hi. Congratulations for your article.
    I would like to buy that dx 150.
    Would you use it with iem NUFORCE HEM8 ? Could be right in terms of impedance and power?
    Thanks for your help

    Reply
  12. Ryan Eagon

    Thanks for the reply. I think the 846’s end up sounding brighter, with a lack of mid and low bass (sub bass) and about 5db, not good if you ask me. I may hold out for the R6 Pro. I like the design and UI a bit better, and i’m sure both sound fantastic.

    Reply
  13. Headfonics

    Oops our comment system automatically cleans links sorry about that. Can you wait to October? HiBy are coming out with an R6 Pro which maybe the same form and OS but with a newer low impedance amp inside! Hoorah lol

    Reply
  14. Headfonics

    I think yes the SE846 with the R6 was reported as having low-impedance skew though I cannot remember if going darker or brighter. The DX150 will not have that issue. 20’s should sound great with the DX150, my isine 10’s do.

    Reply
  15. Ryan Eagon

    I assume the R6 paired with the Shure 846’s (9ohm) would need an IEmatch? Anyone compared the DX150 and R6 with the 846’s? those along with iSine 20’s and Focal Elears will be what I’m using. Thanks!

    Reply
  16. Headfonics

    Sadly I cant tell you as we no longer have an E12a to compare it to.

    Reply
  17. Indrajit

    So how do they compare? The two amps? I ask because I have the option to either sell X5iii and buy dx150 or simply buy e12a hoping it at least sounds as good as dx150 if not better

    Reply
  18. Headfonics

    Well certainly the E12a has a nice tone to it but given that both have dual AK4490 I think you are really talking more about the E12a amplification compared to the amp 6 card.

    Reply
  19. Indrajit

    How does X5iii+Fiio E12A as a set up compare sonically with the DX 150. Does the E12A take X5III to match the performance of the DX 150 and N5II?

    Reply
  20. Headfonics

    Not as Good. I always though the DX90 was better than the DX80 at this price point but the DX150 puts paid to any lingering ghosts of the DX90.

    Reply
  21. Jeff

    Is the dx90 equal to, better than or not as good as the Dx150. My problem with the dx90 is that both 3.5 jacks require that one has to press different ways to get right and left channel sound.

    Reply
  22. Headfonics

    Hi Matt, thanks for the feedback, much appreciated. For the AEON Closed I find its akin to how long is a piece of string. It will do ok on the amp6 card, much better on the higher powered cards and even better on a desktop amp. It will rise even further if is a good desktop and hence you start to go down into the abyss of audiophilia spending and never come back again.

    Reply
    • Alex

      Nice review Marcus. How it is compared to luxury & precision l5 pro on tonality? I have used l5 pro for a few years and plan to switch on android based dap. What dap should i buy, is it worthy to upgrade? Thank you.

      Reply
  23. Matt W

    Hi Marcus. I’ve been waiting for this one! Nice job on the review. Many thanks for sharing your impressions and insights.

    Forgive me if I overlooked it in the review, but what are your impressions with the Aeon Closed and the DX150? It seems it may be a bit underpowered.

    Cheers!

    Reply
  24. Headfonics

    SQ totally depends on the amp cards you use to be honest. If you like a generally cleaner sound and more treble sparkle get the x7ii. If you want it smoother with a little more body then the DX150. The Amp1 card of the DX series is still one of the most powerful and neutral sounding of the two card systems available.
    aptX and LDAC I am told is in the works for future firmware updates which is so much better. No aptX HD though sadly.

    Reply
  25. Headfonics

    SQ totally depends on the amp cards you use to be honest. If you like a generally cleaner sound and more treble sparkle get the x7ii. If you want it smoother with a little more body then the DX150.

    Reply
  26. Headfonics

    Still the X7ii for connectivity. I had issues with the OTG in that it would lock up with the Mojo for no reason and had to wait for the battery to drain. I am waiting a reply from iBasso if OTG is really fully enabled or just a quirk with the Mojo. Now the X7ii until recently had poor OTG also but given it has Play services enabled and now OTG capable its more flexible for connectivity and streaming apps. Things could change though!

    Reply
  27. Sam

    Which one would you recommend between dx150 and fiio x7ii for SQ and connectivity?

    Thanks

    Reply
  28. Bhavin Lakdawala

    Nice review @Marcus. U hv covered every aspects related to dx150!

    It is certainly a nice deal under 500$, but guess no aptX & aptx HD support is kind of bummer.

    How do u rate dx 150 s compared to X7mkii of fiio? Does it hv same natural sound stage like x7mkii?

    Reply

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