Almost half the price granted but a device with much in common with the DX300 MAX. I suspect many current DX300 buyers will be wondering about the differences between the two DAPs.
The DX300 is a quad Cirrus Logic CS43198 implemented Android 9 DAP with 6GB of RAM, Snapdragon 660, and 128GB of internal storage. The DX300 MAX matches that in every respect except for the DAC implementation which is a flagship and very rare dual AKM4499EQ build.
Decoding is superior on the DX300 MAX with traditional codecs decoding at PCM 32BIT/768kHz and DSD512 compared to 32BIt/385kHz and DSD256 on the DX300. The DX300 MAX is also capable of a higher X16 MQA rate compared to just X8 on the DX300.
Both devices use separate power supplies for both digital and analog, however, the DX300 has more integration whereas the DX300 MAX splits the two into entirely separate ‘layers’ if you will. You also get a lot more batteries and larger sizes inside the DX300 MAX which accounts for a lot of that additional weight.
That does mean charging is a little more complex with the additional DC wall wart for the DX300 MAX as well as USB, but the battery life between the two is quite close actually with both rated at 15 to 16 hours on paper.
The DX300 MAX doubles the analog amplification from the 1.24W of the DX300/AMP11 MK1 to 2.48W, (balanced into a 32Ω load). This is pretty much a desktop amp power level. The DX300 MAX also has a dedicated balanced 4.4mm true line out with fixed voltage and gain control on the analog side.
Both have BT 5.0 and 2.4/5G WiFi Mu-MiMo antenna though the DX300 MAX implementation is slightly weaker by design compared to the more portable DX300.
Whilst neither is exactly what you could call as small, the DX300 MAX dwarfs the DX300 in every dimension apart from height.
Understandably, iBasso has balked at trying to create a MAX housing to accommodate that 6.5″ screen from the DX300. The size alone of a MAX with a 6.5″ screen would rob it of any portability whatsoever never mind the battery drain.
Also, given the transportable pitch, it is not really needed either. The MAX has more of a stationary pitch with its solid stainless-steel housing and 800g weight whereas the DX300 is more for the smartphone-friendly portability audiophile user.
The 5″ 1080p screen on the DX300 MAX is very legible anyhow though the pixel density is the same as the DX300 so stylistically they look similar with their 9 Pie Android OS implementation.
The other huge design difference is the amp card system in the DX300. This makes it a flexible DAP with 3 cards released to date with variable performances. However, the DX300 MAX high-end analog implementation negates the swapping requirement IMHO. Different amp choices though will appeal to different customers.
Both DAPs have ditched the optical output with coaxial now favored by iBasso moving forward. AMP11 MKI does retain a 2.5mm TRRS output which is missing on the MAX. However, the MAX does have that dedicated or true balanced 4.4mm lineout. You need to get AMP12 for a true 4.4mm lineout from the DX300 but then you will lose the 3.5mm PO option.
Performance with AMP11 MKI
A huge difference between these two both in terms of coloration and technical capability. Unless you are in love with that SET analog-type overtone the AMP11 MKI delivers, the DX300 MAX performance is a big upgrade with a superior dynamic range, a wider and grander soundstage, as well as a blacker background.
Of course, timbre counts for many owners of treble sensitive or clean sounding IEMs so that richer warmer DX300 AMP11 MKI delivery might well prove to be the more palatable and forgiving pairing. The DX300 MAX is definitely more neutral with a cleaner cooler tone so it is the less forgiving and also the more revealing of the two sources.
However, if you value detail and articulation the DX300 MAX offers up a lot more. Particularly on the low-end with bass guitar plucks, kick drums, and bass synth notes sounding punchier with better definition and vibrancy.
It’s that level of clarity and resolution that will also push people to upgrade to the DX300 MAX. With both the Odin and the U18s pairing, AMP11 MKI sounded a lot softer and relatively compressed through the frequency response. You can also detect a longer note decay with less precision in terms of imaging placement.
Performance with AMP12
The AMP12/DX300 and the DX300 MAX are closer bedfellows compared to AMP11 MKI. The AMP12 timbre is cooler and cleaner with more of a reference tonality and a neutral imaging placement compared to AMP11 MK1. It does bear some semblance to the core tonal signature of the DX300 MAX.
However, the longer you listen to both side by side the more you pick out the DX300 MAX’s differences and strengths. The first is that sub-bass reach. The MAX sounds the more planted of the two low-ends with more depth and sub-bass power. In turn, that stretches the MAX’s soundstage sounding deeper and more powerful compared to AMP12’s slightly flatter response.
The second is the MAX’s dynamic range and resolution which leaps out at you when directly compared to the AMP12.
The 12 staging has a bit more compression and sounds a lot smaller, with less staging width and depth. Imaging cues are clear but the placement and left-right panning are more in your head and central compared to the airy, 3D scape of the MAX’s expansive staging quality.
iBasso DX220 MAX
Former hi-fidelity brick meets current hi-fidelity brick. Should a current DX220 MAX user go hunting for a limited edition DX300 MAX and upgrade? Let’s see what last year’s Top Gear Awards DAP winner brings to the table.
Internally the split digital and analog circuitry design principle is the same but the DX300 MAX implementation is an upgrade in every way.
You are talking Snapdragon 660 versus the older ARM Cortex CPU, 6GB of RAM as opposed to 4GB, Android 9 over Android 8, and a dual AK4499EQ instead of a dual Sabre ES9028PRO. AnTuTu numbers are 3 times higher for the DX300 MAX compared to the DX220 MAX.
The digital battery has also been upgraded from 4400mAh to 6000mAH with a slight edge on battery life and on the wireless side, the DX300 MAX also offers a 2.4G/5G WiFi Mu-MiMo antenna as opposed to 2.4G only on the DX220 MAX.
Amplification raw power has improved also on the DX300 MAX at 2.48W into a 32Ω load compared to 1758mW on the same balanced 4.4mm PO output of the DX220 MAX.
Where do they match? Both offer similar 128GB internal storage with a single microSD slot and OTG expansion on the Android side. You will find 4.4mm balanced true line outs, and a 5″ IPS 1080p rated screen shared also.
Decoding is similar for DSD up to DSD512, however, the DX220 MAX PCM is only 32BIT/384kHz and MQA decoding is lower at X4 as opposed to X16. You also get to unlock the full 8 channel power of the dual DAC implementation with the ultimate mode in the DX300 MAX, something that is not available on the older MAX.
The design flow is very similar between the two devices aside from the introduction of physical controls on the side panel of the DX300 MAX which makes a big usability difference. Other changes include moving the MicroSD slot to the rear from the side which is a lot easier to work with IMHO and the switch from optical to coaxial output.
Nuanced changes include the finishing and knurling on the potentiometer which is now a bit more refined on the DX300 MAX, 120g more weight, and a very slight increase in height compared to the DX220 MX, presumably due to the enhanced battery size on the digital side.
I do prefer the cadet grey finish on the rear of the DX300 MAX. The black glossy tempered glass finish of the DX220 MAX feels a little more delicate. The final difference is the leather cases. Both hold their respective MAX’s very nice indeed, but I prefer the softer, lower-profile blue case on the DX 300 MAX. It simply feels more refined.
Both deliver closer to a neutral performance with an expansive soundstage and excellent levels of detail. However, the DX300 MAX does sound the more vivid of the two and the more urgent and energetic performer.
There is a slight timbral difference though not huge with the DX220 MAX offering a hint more warmth and a slightly softer leading edge to instrumental notes. Perhaps that warmth is what will give you the perception of a comparatively more casual pace in its delivery when compared to the DX300 MAX.
The DX300 MAX timbre is just a shade cleaner, but more than that, probably the most important aspect for me was more the technical side and how that translated into the Odin pairing used to test both.
The control over the notes in terms of dynamic range and the level of clarity and separation was more convincing for me. That ranged from the bass response which sounded quicker, better-defined, and with improved layering to an airier more energetic treble.
In simple terms, it was like the difference between bouncing a ping pong ball on a concrete tile and a hard rubber mat. Both came back, but the thud was crisp clean, and well defined on the concrete compared to the slightly duller diffused sound from the DX220 MAX rubber mat.
That improved clarity does help expand the perceived space and complexity of the DX300 MAX soundstage over the older Max. The mids are cleaner, with more width and better separation and the highs seem a little more extended also. The DX300 MAX isn’t as voluminous on the low-end but it’s much tighter and more exciting sounding.
Our Top Gear Awards 2020 Co-Awardee and still HiBy’s flagship DAP coming to the end of 2021. It is priced a little cheaper compared to the DX300 MAX but like the DX300 it has more of a portability pitch and a very different engineering approach.
Both do use a Snapdragon 660 Soc, however, iBasso has thrown in 6GB of RAM as opposed to 4GB inside the R8 which should allow a bit more in terms of buffering and multi-tasking performance.
However, the clock rates are both maxed out at 2208Mhz and AnTuTu numbers for them both are in the same area with both between 180k and 190k. That means you will not see much of a difference in terms of everyday use with both operating a fast-executing Android 9 Pie with smooth scrolling and little in the way of perceived lag.
DAC implementation is a different proposition though with the R8 using a dual implementation of AKM’s lower-grade AK4497EQ compared to the dual AK4499EQ inside the DX300 MAX. HiBy does not allow the full 8 channel release either which you can find in the DX300 MAX’s Ultimate mode.
Decoding is very similar at up to PCM 32BIt/768kHz and DSD512 and both can deliver X16 unfolding for MQA. The two devices are both bitperfect system-wide also.
The R8 simply cannot compete with that analog circuitry and discreet amplifier inside the DX300 MAX. At least in terms of raw grunt at 1W into 32Ω balanced compared to 2.48W into the same load. Dynamic range is also a good 10dB lower when using the 4.4mm PO on the R8 and 0.3V lower for balanced line-out voltage levels.
You do also have to consider that the R8 is an integrated digital and analog design and not separated in the same way as the DX300 MAX. Instead, it has one huge 10000mAh internal battery that gives you about 10-12 hours of life which is not too dissimilar to the real-world figures I was getting from the DX300 MAX non-ultimate mode.
The payoff for the R8 is size and portability with a ‘sexier’ borderless 5.5″ IPS 1080p screen compared to the smaller 5″ IPS 1080p on the DX300 MAX. That is enhanced by the attractive dark Android 9 theme on the R8 which helps melt any minimal border that is left into nothingness.
The R8 is not a small DAP, but compared to the DX300 MAX, the R8 is nearly 400g lighter and far more compact. Basically, the R8 is the portable DAP and the DX300 MAX is the transportable media player. Aesthetically, the R8 is more urban or industrial minimalist compared to the retro SS chic of the DX300 MAX.
Both offer single-sided playback control and power buttons and both have single slot microSD expandability. HiBy places less emphasis on internal memory capacity with just 64GB inside the R8 compared to 128GB inside the DX300 MAX.
Both devices have dedicated LO though the R8 also offers a dedicated 3.5mm LO as well as a balanced 4.4mm LO. Neither requires software switching to operate LO as they are dedicated ports.
HiBy pretty much manages everything through the USB port so you will not find anything like the DX300 MAX’s coaxial output, just LO, PO, and USB-C.
Both are excellent performing DAPs but there are two factors that set these devices apart, the different DAC/amp tuning and the dynamic range performance.
The R8 AK4497EQ/amp slightly emphasizes the low-end with more warmth and bloom and then very subtly fades away to the treble which has a slight kick in the tail. Vocals tend to just sit back a little bit and lose some weight in the process and logically the treble, though with sparkle, also has a little less weight.
I generally consider the AK449EQ to deliver a more neutral cleaner sound with less warmth but also better snap in the low-end and stronger mids and treble presence. And that is pretty much the case here with the DX300 MAX when compared to the R8. It simply sounds more linear to my ear from top to bottom and benefits also from that second factor, the improved dynamic range.
There is something like a 10dB gap in balanced mode between these two DAPs and for me personally, I felt I was hearing a more vivid sound with the DX300 MAX. Not only are you getting a bit more neutral weight on the bass but you are also getting better definition, a faster response, with improved layering from the Odin pairing used for testing.
Midrange instruments and vocals have more presence and clarity on the DX300 MAX and also a bit more solidity. The R8 vocals are not dull rather they are just a little more distant sounding to my ear.
The final difference is a very nuanced shimmer on the R8 treble which tends to emphasize the odd harmonic overtone on some high-pitched spatial cues. It creates a little dissonance or sharpness on percussion crashes and female vocals that the DX300 MAX avoids.
The DX300 MAX is an utterly brilliant-sounding DAP and handily knocks the DX220 MAX off its award-winning 2020 perch. It is faster, more powerful, cleaner, and more resolving than the older version. Android 9 is a joy to use with the improved Snapdragon CPU and additional RAM offering a slick stutter-free environment.
My only sadness is that this was such a limited run with only 500 units in the wild and some of those are invested into the higher-end Ti edition. This is a veritable DAP golden ticket item but it’s also a keeper so I would keep one eye on the audio sales websites if this ever pops up for sale.
Yeah, it’s not really a DAP, more like a mini battery-powered media station with that size and weight pushing it right on the extreme edge of portable/transportable. However, unless you are a tube or R2R fan, or own a very inefficient set of headphones, it’s likely the DX300 is all you really need on your desktop or in the bag for a superb audio performance.