The P5 has a wonderfully natural sounding tonality with a very engaging and life like timbre. It has plenty of power on tap with excellent dynamics. There is also certain quickness about it that gives it a very appealing musical quality for quite a lot of genres but in particular heavy rock and metal.
What stands out most is the body that the P5 is able to produce, particularly in the bass and mids response. It is planted, assured and visceral at times, especially with the bass gain flicked on. That doesn’t mean it is a bass dominant amp, no chance. The speed in the bass response and its correctness in terms of linearity prevents this from becoming a low-end bloated mess. Decay balance is excellent, the extension is really good and the level of detail in the low-end body is very clear indeed.
I had wondered if perhaps what we had here was a very transparent but powerful presentation from the P5. To some extent what you put in you get back out in terms of subtleties. The DX80 sounded warmer and thicker, the X7 sounds cleaner, etc., but even on flat neutral IEM’s such as the Noble 4C that weighted body shines through and it is one of those rare moments this reference flat line IEM sounds positively musical so there is some definite coloration in the amp but it is subtle and not immediately noticeable unless you know your headphone or IEM very well.
The P5 is planted but the mids are pretty darn good in their own right with plenty of spaciousness and excellent separation. Ibasso has allowed that full-bodied flavor to continue into the lower mids giving rhythm guitars a very solid and convincing feel yet never overpowers the rest of the instrumental play and in particular the vocal range.
I love how the P5 produces vocals on just about every headphone and IEM I threw at it. Whilst it is not a hugely forward vocal stage, in fact reasonably neutral overall, yet the level of clarity and detail is excellent and at the same time sounding very textured and natural. Not a hint of sibilance anywhere with good recordings. The renowned staging and timbre properties of the TI’s OPA627’s really proved their worth here.
An Ibasso amp that does not have a strident or forward treble range, that is news indeed. I apologize to iBasso fanatics that really loved that bright and sparkling treble performance of yesteryear but alongside the D-Zero MK2 this is the least treble happy amp from Ibasso I heard in the last 4-5 years.
Having said that the D-Zero MK2 treble is nothing like the P5 which is much more resolving and articulate than the warmer attenuated D-Zero MK2 treble response. Ibasso has cleverly kept a minor check on the 7k range and emphasizes treble brilliance a bit more around the 10k area. You still hear the detail, the sparkle, and the clarity but it just pulled back a bit in the lower treble to prevent it sounding peaky and harsh.
What I like most about the P5 is the level of flexibility it has to play both IEM and headphone confidently. Much like higher end amps, such as the Sustain84, the background noise is dead low even for sensitive earphones. On the flip-side, it has enough juice in high gain mode with the PS on-board to get to grips with quite a few of the more demanding headphones out there on the market.
Using Campfire Audio’s Jupiter and Shure’s SE846 background hiss was absent and these are the most sensitive earphones in my range so the P5 is a capable portable amp for most IEMs but it’s not perfect. With the super-sensitive Jupiter, and perhaps it is just my unit, I did detect some hum and RF interference when the P5 was perfectly aligned to the top of the PS power unit using DC power and on medium gain or higher.
Taking the P5 off the top of the PS and placing it side by side did away with the hum but it’s definitely present though no hiss typical of less sensitive amps. Less sensitive earphones such as the Harmony 8 and the Lyra didn’t pick up on the RF type hum.
Channel imbalance is perceptible at low listening levels also on the medium gain with the left channel more dominant than the right and the noise floor is not dead silent with the Jupiter with the pot at zero.
On low gain, the hum is much lower but it is still present along with a slight amount of noise when the pot is zero so it’s not dead silent. Then again, the Jupiter is probably the most sensitive IEM I have ever tested even by SE846 standards so it seems only applicable to these types of IEMs.
‘Deboring’ the Noble 4C
IEM’s such as the flat and neutral Noble 4C has no such problems and actually sounded more musical than monitor like with that well-defined body and PRaT that the P5 brought to the table. Guitars were full-bodied menacing, rich but precise and the treble was never too bright like it can be with amps like the 02 and the desktop Tisbury CA-1. Often the Noble 4C is accused of sounding boring or too thin, in this case, it sounded anything but.
Strapped to the PS the P5 is significantly more powerful than equally priced standalone portable amps such as the Duet and RX Mk2 -DB. It is perfectly setup for medium demand planars such as the LCD-2 from Audeze. All the hum dies away even on high gain.
LCD-2 Rev 2
The LCD-2 pairing was by far my favorite match-up out of the planars I had tried. In some ways it reminded me of the voltage mode output of the Bakoon HPA-01M. Paired with the P5 you get a visceral, excellent low end response, very natural timbre and an expressive mid-range with a clear vocal presence. No change on the shelved down treble with the LCD-2, that is just the way it is with this headphone. High gain half turn on the pot is enough using the DX80 as a reference source so power is adequate. There is really nothing skinny in this signature and its a great mid-fi match for rock and metal.
The Ether C and P5 pairing is a thinner presentation than the LCD-2 but with a more articulate and cleaner top end extension. It possesses a reasonably full low end but lacks the grunt, extension and sheer raw power of the LCD-2. Excellent speed and detail though especially in the mid-range. It’s becoming clear to me that the P5 is indeed transparent and neutral enough to allow each headphone to shine with its own qualities. As mentioned the coloration is subtle but it does allow a very natural sound, more so than the brighter D14 which tended to have a hotter top end. Power needs are adequately looked after also. Ether C sits comfortably on the same gain and volume level as the LCD-2 with the P5/PS
Though by no means an optimal match given the excellent scaling capability of the HD800 with a desktop amp, this was quite an enjoyable pairing for modern genres. Heavy duty dub-step bass merchants such as Major Lazer seriously impressed for extension and fullness using the P5/DX80.
I personally preferred the thick rich body of the P5 and LCD-2 pairing with rock and metal genres than classical scores using the HD800. I felt this pairing sounded a bit softer and less precise than say the Sustain84 or as lush and flowing as the Studio 6. It doesn’t let itself down, does better than most portable amps in filling that vast soundstage of the HD800 but the HD800 really needs something “bigger “for classical scores.
You have to remember that the $529 includes the PS and this for me is the difference maker in terms of power and flexibility compared to other amps in the market at similar prices. You can get more sensitive amps, ones that will play all IEM’s with aplomb, including the Jupiter, but once you kick on in terms of power they do fall short like the RX from ALO or the D14 from iBasso itself. Ranging a few amps against the P5 I did manage to get some tonal equivalents but only without the PS.
Vs Sony PHA-1
Throwing the Ether C onto the Sony PHA-1 there is an immediate decrease in clarity, dynamics and a loss of fullness and extension. It doesn’t sound tinny but rather a lot flatter and compressed. The P5 has a much better level of instrumental separation and space as well as a really enticing and natural sounding timbre and superior body. The LCD-2 performance was much better on the PHA-1 but again sounded a bit thinner with a leaner low end extension and low end grunt. Vocals were not as distinguished also on the PHA-1.
Vs Mass Kobo 395
The Mass Kobo 395 has a much more pleasing tonality than the Sony with a more fluid and natural mid-range and a decent and clear top end extension but it doesn’t have the body or power of the P5/PS using the LCD-2 v2 or the Ether C.
Don’t get me wrong, the 395 is a fabulous headphone amp with a glorious mid-range but more suitable for efficient portable setups than desktop performance where the P5/PS has an edge in terms of dynamics and a fuller more impactful low end. On IEM’s the Kobo edges ahead of the P5’s midrange for musicality and overall has a slightly more balanced and linear bass response.
Vs Cypher Labs Duet
The Duet matches the P5’s natural and free flowing tonality with an equally pleasing mid-range instrumental timbre. It also has the chops to match the P5 in terms of speed and detail. Vocal presence is a tiny bit more forward with excellent texture also and whilst the Duet has a greater emphasis on the low end and mid-range over the treble extension which is laid back, in comparison, the P5 just bests it in terms of impact and weight especially when you flick on the bass gain. The additional power from the PS unit does make a bit of a difference on power hungry planars both in terms of dynamics and once again better body.
The P5 is the best sounding iBasso out in the market today and the best they have produced to date. It has a very natural sounding tonality with very pleasing timbre that really matches well to rock and metal genres. It works a charm with headphones such as the LCD-2 and a touch of Nile.
The $529 might seem like much when you consider how good amps like the Duet are which include options such as balanced mode as well as the range of IEM tuned sensitive amps in the $300 class such as the RX and Piccolo. However, that PS module which kicks up the power to 1W, really makes a qualitative difference albeit sacrificing some efficiency at the super sensitive end of the range.
The P5 also has the looks and form factor. Though not the smallest it is really robust. With user changeable dual 9V batteries in portable mode you can set the budget and extend that battery life to some competitive levels. Strapped to the PS power supply though and you can run it on desktop mode, charge Ni-Mh as you play and bring into play any decent planar out there in the market. That’s flexibility, that’s two amps into one and that’s value for money.
If you have ever been tempted by the Triad Audio Lisa L3 but didn’t have the budget the P5 Falcon by Ibasso should be on your radar instead because it is that good.