It’s been a while since we had an iBasso review here at Ear Fidelity. This time seems even longer, because of the fact that iBasso is pretty much dominating the DAP market lately.
It’s not just about releasing new products frequently, but the quality of those products. The DX160 is to this day, one of the most popular choices among audiophiles on a budget. Their DAP portfolio looks quite impressive with the DX240, DX320, MAX variants, etc.
This entire lineup is well thought-out and polished, so after launching more DAPS in the higher end of the spectrum lately, the time has come for an affordable option in form of the new DX170.
What’s important about this product – instead of reinventing the wheel, iBasso decided to simply improve their DX160. Don’t expect something that feels totally different from the predecessor, as the DX170 feels quite similar in hand.
A few words on the DAP market – it’s still going strong, even though a lot of people in this hobby don’t actually see the point in owning a DAP. We live in an era of smartphones, mobile DAC/Amps, and dongles, so why would you need to buy a DAP, if it’s less functional than your phone?
The answer is quite simple – DAPs are just perfect for people that don’t like to feel overly attached to their smartphones. For example, I regularly use a DAP in my evening ritual, when I just lay down on my bed, turn off the lights and try to chill before sleeping.
I would go absolutely crazy if notifications were to try to steal my attention. I much prefer a separate device that just does one job, and one job only – plays music. No social media, no notifications, e-mail clients, etc.
I’ve been building a vast library of audio files for the past 10+ years, so having to upload them onto an SD card is not a problem for me. For everything else, I have Qobuz installed, which works pretty well on the DX170, so I basically have access to everything I’d want.
So, DAPs are alive, and they ain’t going anywhere. After that longish intro, let’s take a look at the iBasso DX170, which is likely to become the new bestseller in the entire DAP segment.
I haven’t had too much experience with iBasso products in general, so all of this is pretty new to me, to be honest.
The DX170 comes in a rather compact box, but it’s not the size that matters, or at least we’ve all been told so. The quality of the packaging is actually impressive, and I absolutely dig the color scheme, with a light blue outer sleeve, and a yellow box under it.
This color combination alone creates a feeling of you experiencing something cool and fresh. We’re living in the era of black and white boxes, and it’s nice to see a company that isn’t afraid to put out some colors. This is refreshing and just straight-out cool.
What’s under the hood? Well, you’re actually getting some goodies. First up is the case. It’s a transparent plastic case, that I definitely won’t be using, since the DX170 is a lovely-looking device, and this case would just ruin it. However, it’s very nice that iBasso is actually including the case for all of you who want to baby your new DAP. I’d recommend getting some aftermarket cases when they get available though.
Apart from the case, you’re getting some screen protectors, a really good-quality charging cable, a warranty card, and a quick start guide.
Basically, it’s a pretty modest and minimalist package, and definitely, one that you would expect for this price. You’re not getting a quality leather case or anything crazy, since it would have raised the price of the DX170 significantly, and this product is all about value. All and all, I really enjoyed unboxing this product and I’m definitely satisfied with what you’re getting in the form of accessories.
Build Quality and Design
I’m going to start with the best aspect in my opinion – the weight. The iBasso DX170 is lighter than you expect, and by quite a margin. I was expecting the DX170 to have some weight to it, especially since there’s quite a lot of tech inside.
Well, how surprised I was when I first took it out of the box. It’s very light, but it just feels light, and DEFINITELY not cheap. The weight being low makes it an ideal everyday-carry kind of a DAP, which you basically take with you everywhere you go. Just toss it into your backpack (use some kind of case for that please), and take it out when you need it, or just keep it in your pocket.
I can’t stress enough how important that is for me personally. This is one of the biggest reasons why I’m still using a Cayin N3 Pro to this day – it’s just small and light, which improves on the entire “portable” aspect.
Okay, now let’s get into the actual build quality and design. The DX170, even though looking very similar to the DX160 (which was launched a few years ago) still looks very modern, quite a lot more modern than most of the competition. While many DAPs are kinda rugged and bulky, the DX170 is just sleek, modern, and clean looking.
The aspect I absolutely adore about the looks of the DX170 is definitely the back panel. iBasso went with a frosted glass that reminds me of flagship smartphones in 2022. It just looks wonderful, isn’t a fingerprint magnet and it adds some grip to the whole construction, making the DAP easier and more convenient to use. While most competitors go for a simple, tempered-glass black cover, I find the frosted one in the DX170 superior to almost everything on the market, regardless of the price.
Next up, is the screen. The DX170 uses a 5-inch, 1080 IPS panel. Yes, it seems like overkill for a DAP, and it kinda is, at least for me, but hey, we shouldn’t be mad about it, we’re getting a class-leading screen for that sweet price, what’s not to love? The screen is sharp, and the color accuracy is surprisingly good, with great white balance. Overall, it’s a joy to look at, and your album covers have probably never looked this good on a DAP…well, ever. The only slight problem I have with the screen is the brightness. I wish it would have been darker on the minimum setting. I’m often using my DAP in bed, just before sleeping, and even on minimum brightness, this thing is fairly bright. Not a true con, just nitpicking, but I wish it went 2x darker.
As far as the IO goes, there’s not a lot going on. On top, you’ve got a USB-C charging port, and two audio outputs at the bottom – 4.4mm balanced and 3.5mm, which also acts as a line out. On the right side, you’ve got a volume knob that also acts as a button to turn on/off the device or just block/unblock it. The volume knob works well, it has a step-action and it feels fairly accurate. Don’t know about the longevity, as those kinds of volume knobs have been famous for breaking in the past, but I can’t comment on this one. Lastly, there are three buttons on the right side, just next to the volume knob, and these are to control your playback – play, next and previous. Simple stuff, but very useful. The buttons are fine, nothing extraordinary, nothing to complain about as well.
Overall, the build quality and design of the DX170 are both exceptional for the price. It’s light but also rock solid, it feels great in your hand, looks great, operates flawlessly and it just isn’t a brick. This is what a DAP should feel/look like, especially in this price category.
There’s a lot to cover here, so I’ll try to keep it simple, as you will probably look into the official specifications anyway. Nonetheless, I’m going to highlight the most important stuff.
So, the DX170 uses a dual CS43131 DAC chip. These are flagship chips from Cirrus Logic, measuring 130dB of dynamic range with a THD-N at -115dB. If numbers are not your thing, these are just impressive, that’s all you need to know.
Next up, the FPGA-Master+ technology, together with Dual Femtosecond NDK Oscillators. Here’s iBasso’s take on these two:
“The DX1 70 utilizes the FPGA-Master technology developed by Basso. The FPGA-Master, as the audio system controller, directly requests audio data from the SoC, and plays a major role in signal reproduction and maintaining signal integrity. It synchronizes and generates all audio clocks at the same time utilizing two NDK femtosecond oscillators to achieve a fully
synchronized single clock source. The FPGA and NDK oscillators also reduce jitter to an
extremely low level, building a clean digital audio signal.”
iBasso has been using their FPGA technology for a while, so it’s nice to see it being used in the DX170 as well.
Let’s get into the amplification section. iBasso doesn’t share the official wattage of the 4.4mm and 3.5mm outputs, but we know that they output 6.4Vrms and 3.2Vrms respectively. This means, that the balanced output should be rated at about 800-1000mW – in a DAP this light and compact, this is very impressive. More on that in the Sound paragraph though.
The DX170 uses Android 11 as an operating system, and this should ensure unlimited compatibility when it comes to apps. I ditched different streaming services for Qobuz lately, and it works flawlessly. I’m not having any problems with it.
Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room – the OS performance. The DX160 was regularly reported to have rather slow performance, and the DX170 is not a speed demon as well. Most importantly – no, it’s not deal-breaking by any means. You shouldn’t expect a flagship smartphone type of performance, and you surely aren’t getting one.
I would be lying if I said that the DX170 is very snappy and responsive, and I won’t say that. It’s okay-ish, definitely usable. The Qobuz app is laggy a bit, but nothing to write a book about, it works just fine for a DAP. The Mango app (a native app for music playback preinstalled) does work pretty snappy though, and I spend most of my time in this app anyway.
So, yeah, while I surely won’t call the DX170 fast when it comes to the OS performance, it’s completely fine and usable. I already saw some people reporting the DX170 to have a deal-breaking slow performance, and I think these opinions are way exaggerated. It’s a DAP, not a smartphone, you’re not playing games or browsing Instagram on it…or if you do, get a life.
The DX170 supports DSD256 natively, so you won’t have problems with playing basically any audio file you’d imagine. It also supports MQA 8X, but here’s the deal: Both Apple Music and Qobuz are WAY superior to Tidal when it comes to audio quality, and MQA DEFINITELY doesn’t change it, even by a hair. Just get one of these two services and ditch Tidal for good, you can thank me later. If you won’t do it (don’t know why, but okay), then yes, you have MQA 8x.
Now onto a few small things that just make your life easier. First of all, the DX170 supports three Quick Charge Protocols: QC3.0, PD2.0, & MTK PE Plus Quick Charge. It gets fully charged in just 1.5h, which might not sound THAT impressive in the world of current smartphones, but it’s just really fast for a DAP. An hour and a half under the charger and you’ve got about 11 hours of playback, that’s definitely a good score. The battery life has been pretty similar for me to what iBasso officially states, ranging from about 10-11h. It all depends on what headphones you’re using, what files, and how often you turn on the screen. I’m on minimal brightness all the time, and it surely helps the battery life.
As far as connectivity goes, you’ve got Wifi6 and Bluetooth 5.0 with LDAC and aptX support, so you’re covered with everything. You can also use the DX170 as a USB-DAC.
The Internal shielding is a customized silicon steel alloy shielding cover, which does not only shield the electric field but also the magnetic field. Everything for clean audio.
Quite a list for a $449 DAP, isn’t it? Overall, this little thing has everything you need to make the DX170 a powerhouse. Great to see DAPs evolving into devices that have it all.
At the end of the day, iBasso is wildly popular mainly for its sound quality. The DX170 is an entry-level DAP for this brand, but it surely isn’t a low-fi device, quite the opposite actually. Let’s dive in.
I’ll start with the bass, which is probably the most impressive when it comes to sound. The DX170 is a very neutral DAP, and it shows in the bass department, but without cons that were present in neutral devices in the past.
Low frequencies have a lot of punch and depth, with very good timing and great dynamics. You’ll never have a feeling that the bass is lacking in quantity, nor that it fails to deliver a highly textured, rumbly note. It is making my Fir Xe6 and Kr5 sound incredibly in the bass region, which just shows how good it really is. It never fails to have a firm grip over these Kinetic Bass drivers, resulting in a sound that is huge, dynamic, and incredibly saturated. At the same time, the timing and pace are both extraordinary, with great resolution and intense attack.
It handles every kind of driver, and it does it all the way to the lowest regions of the subbass. It never lacks control, nor does it overpower anything. Just a very clean, powerful, and authoritative bass delivery that lets your IEMs/headphones show what they got. I’ll go deeper in the “Pairing” section, where you’ll see that I’m using the DX170 mainly with some wildly high-end IEMs and headphones, and it doesn’t seem to hold them back even so slightly. This is a DAP that can handle headphones even 10x its price. Crazy, isn’t it?
Now, the midrange. It is, again, highly neutral and very texturized, but at the same time, it has that natural warmth and thickness to vocals that I just cannot live without. I like my vocals fairly thick, and the DX170 delivers.
I’d even go as far as saying that the midrange delivery of this DAP is one of the most natural I’ve heard in a DAP, regardless of the price. The midrange definitely has a lot of bite to it, being very fast, and packed with the resolution, but it never sounds fake or forced. It’s just flowing naturally, providing an accurate and pleasant timbre throughout the entire frequency response.
Once again, I’ll give you the Fir Audio Kr5 as an example. If you’ve read my review, you know that I’m absolutely in love with these IEMs and that their vocal delivery is just godlike to my ears. The DX170 doesn’t alter the midrange delivery of the Kr5 at all, leaving everything for that magnificent IEM. It does provide all the resolution and detail they need, but it’s not forcing its character onto the IEM itself.
This is probably the best kind of midrange you can get, especially in this price range. Yes, some of us prefer R2R DACs and Tube amps for that unique timbre, but we’re talking about more specialist types of devices. A $449 DAP is meant to go well with a lot of different music genres and IEMs/headphones, and the DX170 is just that. It’s just neutral, natural, and highly technical, with basically no weak points.
The treble is where things start to get really interesting. I can somewhat feel a slight boost in the lower treble region, which usually I would not be a fan of. Not this time though, as again, the incredible resolution of the DX170 with that slight boost gives us a slight touch of excitement, especially for female vocalists and string instruments. It never gets harsh, and this is the most important thing. Because of that characteristic, I’d call the DX170 SLIGHTLY V-shaped, with slightly emphasized bass and treble. Slightly, because it’s really subtle, but done in a way that it just adds excitement and a tiny touch of life to your music, without really coloring the sound. It remains neutral, but really fun and engaging at the same time. The Hifiman Edition XS shows the full potential of the treble of the DX170, delivering a highly saturated, lightning-fast treble response without being too offensive. I’m really sensitive to boosted treble, and I would definitely brag if it was even so slightly sharp or shrill, but it isn’t. DAPs get better and better, and the iBasso DX170 is a perfect example of that statement. In 2017, this would have been a true flagship killer, probably taking the spot for the best DAP on the market, regardless of the price.
The soundstage is once again – impressive. I somewhat feel that because of that slight lower treble boost, it gains that sense of being very large, but it’s definitely not distant sounding. The imaging and separation are both spot-on, with a very natural and lifelike type of presentation. This is not pushing the boundaries further than a DAP should, nor it is sounding intimate. It sits in the middle of what I’d call perfect. The width is extreme, and the depth is pretty good, but definitely not incredible. But, thanks to that, it delivers vocals fairly close to your face, with everything else being huge and distant, if they are meant to sound this way in the mix. The separation between the instruments is great, you can very easily pinpoint the location of every instrument around you, and it sounds incredible with binaural recordings. Overall, a very natural and engaging staging DAP that just sounds right.
Fir Audio Xenon 6 + Cross Lambda Apollo GB
Yes, I’m pairing a $449 DAP with $4000 IEMs and a $6000 cable, and the sound I’m getting is just incredible. Once again, the DX170 handles the bass of these little monsters like a champ, leaving no room for any doubts if it’s worthy of pairing it with such expensive IEMs.
The neutral and natural tonality of the DX170 allows the Xenon 6 CIEMs to sound incredibly engaging and rich, for which they are known for. The detail retrieval and resolution of this pairing are insane, but it never sounds tacky or overly edgy.
I’m actually sporting this setup while. writing this review. It’s 1:29 AM, I’m up writing reviews as usual (some people start to realize that I’m probably an owl in a human body), and I’m blasting some Archive tracks to my ears. The song called “Remains Of Nothing” from their “25” anniversary album is a great example of why the XE6 is among the best IEMs on the planet right now. It has rhythm changes, various vocals, thick bass notes, and an intense soundstage. It’s not an easy track to reproduce though, as it needs a very high resolution and great control over the entire frequency response to just sound right. The DX170 does that without breaking a sweat. It dictates the pace, gives a lot of juice to that sublime driver configuration of the Xenon 6, and most importantly – it’s just packed with details and resolution. All of that makes for a really fun, engaging, and natural sound that has basically no weaknesses. Oh, what a great combo.
Unique Melody MEST + Erua TAWA
Yeah, I’m a big fan of Bone Conduction and Kinetic Bass in my IEMs. Even though our review of the MEST is almost 2 years old now, it is still one of the most used IEMs in my arsenal, so it was pretty natural for me to try it with the DX170.
Once again, these pair greatly with the DX170. Yet again the DAP proves to be able to control basically every bass driver in IEMs, and so it does with the MEST’s revolutionary Bone Conduction driver. The overall sound is very engaging and highly dramatic and the overall contrast is wicked. The original MEST is one of the most fun-sounding IEMs on the market, and it does work great with iBasso’s great sense of rhythm and highly powerful dynamics.
No Archive this time though, it’s time for something more…intense. A song called “Sober” by Tool is a great benchmark for thick, heavy-hitting guitars and the overall dynamics of the sound. This setup creates a highly emotional presentation of this track, with superb guitar edginess and that wild vocal of Meynard. These two have got all it takes to shine with this kind of music – power, dynamics, resolution, and cleanliness.
This is an interesting one, as the new flagship of Dita Audio, the Perpetua is definitely not an extreme and powerful sounding IEM. It’s meant to chill with, grab a glass of fine Single Malt Whisky and just relax.
How does it pair with a powerful and tactile-sounding DX170? It pairs far better than I expected. Once again, the DX170 proves that it’s not getting in the way, and it left the Perpetua with a clean and powerful signal to play with.
The overall presentation of this setup is smooth and relaxed, with a touch of refinement on the top end. The Perpetua is a mellow-sounding IEM and it does not change at all when paired with the DX170. Detail-wise, while the Perpetua is not packed with details like the Fir Xe6 or Kr5, it’s still highly detailed and resolving, just not intensively.
Take my favorite “A Thousand Shards of Heaven” by Lunatic Soul. Mariusz’s voice sounds incredibly sweet and romantic, being a highlight of the entire track. This setup provides a rich and melodic sound that pairs incredibly with this kind of music, being a blast to just lay down on your couch and forget about the world.
Campfire Audio Supermoon + Nostalgia Olorin
Okay, we’ve tested the mellow and calm-sounding Perpetua, now it’s time to make a 180-degree twist and go for the insanely technical-sounding Supermoon by Campfire Audio.
First of all, this is a planar-magnetic CIEM that requires a lot of juice to sound its best, and the DX170 delivers (you need to plug them into the balanced output though, keep that in mind).
So, how does it sound? The detail retrieval and resolution are both immaculate, providing all of the slightest details in the mix without problems. The dynamic character of the DX170 further improves on that highly tactile and insanely textured sound of the Supermoon, giving you a sound that is just impossible to chill to.
This is a soul-grabber, a setup that will take you by storm and steal all of your attention. Incredibly fast transients, huge instruments, and textures that are just insane. This pairing once again proves that the DX170 is a no-joke when it comes to technical capabilities, and it can (and should) definitely be paired with more expensive stuff.
An example? A track called “Bubbles” by Yosi Horikawa. The fantastic resolution of this combo gives us full control over every single bubble, creating a very insightful and snappy sound that almost feels weirdly accurate. Superb detail retrieval.
Let’s now get into headphones. I shortly tried the DX170 with my Hifiman Susvara, but unsurprisingly, it couldn’t drive it properly (well, it’s actually one of the hardest headphones to drive in the world).
So, I grabbed my HE1000se, which is very easy to drive. Once again, the DX170 has uncompromised control over that huge planar-magnetic driver, making the 1000se sound lightning-fast and accurate.
The detail retrieval and resolution are both exceptional, just like you would expect from that headphone (it’s very, very detailed).
The one slight problem is the slight lower-treble emphasis of the DX170, which further extends on the “treble-cannon” aspect of the 1000se. This headphone has A LOT of treble information, and I personally like to pair it with softer-sounding DACs/Amps, to restrain that treble just a tiny bit. The DX170 is definitely not one of those devices, and this combo just offers an immaculate level of detail retrieval. If you’re okay with a forward-sounding treble presentation, this pairing is just wicked when it comes to technical capabilities.
Another planar-magnetic headphone is the Meze Elite. It is a totally different story than the 1000se. This headphone is rather thick and melodic sounding, but with great bass dynamics and slam that is great for rock and metal tracks.
The DX170, once again, handles it like a champ. Absolutely no problems with power, a very dynamic and saturated sound that is meant to bring excitement.
The Elite is definitely not the most detailed or technical-sounding headphone on the market, it has its strengths elsewhere. The DX170 provides all the details and cleanliness of the signal that the Elite needs to sound very lifelike, but at the same time, it doesn’t get in the way of the Elite’s beautiful tuning.
So, the overall sound is rich, thick, and moist, with beautiful vocal reproduction and great weight to instruments. Definitely my go-to headphone pairing with the DX170, for when I just don’t want IEMs.
My review of the new MM-500 is not out yet (it’s coming very soon), so I don’t want to spoil too much, but I can say something.
The MM-500 is a very technical and neutral-sounding planar-magnetic headphone, that has its heritage in studio engineering actually. Together with the DX170, it provides a very neutral, powerful, and detailed sound that does every music genre right.
This is probably the most neutral-tuned Audeze model to date, and it pairs well with the DX170. While it might lack excitement a little bit, this headphone was never meant to be a “fun provider”, but rather a technical and accurate sounding tool.
My daily driver for the past 2 years, now heading to a retirement home. Oh how much fun I’ve had with this one, still one of the best products I ever had and reviewed.
However, my arsenal of IEMs and headphones grew insanely, and it just doesn’t cut it anymore. I very rarely use its tube 3.5mm output, as it lacks power for a lot of stuff I test and listen to, and its 4.4mm balanced output is just not the way to experience this DAP.
Here comes the DX170, which (4.4mm vs 4.4mm) balanced output just blows the N3Pro out of the water. The DX170 is more detailed, has better dynamics, a better grip, it’s more neutral, and offers a wider and more accurate soundstage. It’s basically better in every aspect, sounding like a vast technical improvement over the Cayin.
At the same time, it’s also very portable, just like the N3Pro, which I really like for its small footprint and easy one-hand operation. The screen is just not a competition, with the DX170 looking like it came from a different planet when compared to that tiny thing on the N3Pro.
The aspect of Android is not THAT big of a deal for me, but I know it is for many. I still mainly listen to local files, so I can live without Android, but the DX170’s functionality is so much ahead of the N3Pro, that I have to give credit where it’s due.
The N3Pro is definitely warmer and thicker sounding in the midrange, so if that’s your cup of tea, it’s still a wonderful option. However, the DX170 is just much more technically capable, more neutral, functional, and overall a much better sounding DAP costing basically the same as the N3Pro.
Fiio M11 Plus ESS
First of all, let’s cover the price difference. The DX170 comes at $449, while the M11 Plus ESS is priced at $799, so nearly twice as much.
Functionality, these trade blows and it’s really hard to tell which one is better. I’d rate the DX170 a bit higher though, as it’s smaller and lighter, making for more comfortable and convenient use on the go, which DAPs are meant for.
The screen is better on the iBasso, just as the overall shape and size. I really like the design of the back panel of the M11 Plus ESS, but DX170’s frosted glass back panel is just more comfortable to handle and it’s way more convenient, so another point for iBasso. While you could probably kill somebody with the M11 Plus ESS, it shouldn’t be really treated as a weapon, and its similarity to a brick in your jeans pocket isn’t desirable in a real-life scenario.
Lastly, the sound quality. This might be very controversial, but I just find the DX170 edging out the more expensive M11. The latter has a slightly dark tonality with excellent soundstage and imaging, but the DX170 is a bit more detailed and it definitely packs more punch. It just sounds more alive, both because of its slightly boosted lower treble, as well as having that bass delivery that is just tactile and very prominent. The M11 Plus ESS is a great DAP, but the DX170 is just more neutral, has better clarity and it packs more punch. Oh, and it costs a touch more than half of the price of the M11 Plus ESS.
I had high expectations of the iBasso DX170, but I wasn’t really prepared for this one. This is an exceptional device that will be really hard to rival in its price range.
Well-built, gorgeous looking, light, and comfortable to make your use of it just convenient and pleasant. Functional with Android 11, fantastic screen, fast charging, and powerful 4.4mm output to let you use it in any way you want. And most importantly, it’s neutral, big, dynamic, and very detailed sounding, feeling even too good for its asking price ($449).
I’ve heard a lot of people claiming that iBasso is currently dominating the DAP market, and now I see why. I hope that I’ll be able to test their other models soon, but for now, I’m going to recommend the DX170 to everyone looking for a DAP under $1000. It’s that good.
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- Headphones – Fir Audio Xenon 6, Fir Audio Kryton 5, Unique Melody MEST, Unique Melody MEXT, Final A8000, Campfire Audio Supermoon, Campfire Audio Solaris 2020, Dita Perpetua, Hifiman Edition XS, Hifiman HE1000se, Meze Elite, Hifiman Susvara, Audeze MM-500, Audeze LCD-X 2021, Final D8000 Pro,
Disclaimer : This unit hasn’t been provided by anybody, all of the above is just my subjective take on the DX170.