As more people are going out and about again as the pandemic is steadily blowing over, portable music setups are once again relevant. With smartphone manufacturers now omitting the 3.5mm headphone jack, TWS earphones and dongle-type mobile DAC/AMPs have begun to soar in popularity.
We previously reviewed the iBasso DX170, a mid-range digital player with solid, high quality playback for its price. The company has since released a new portable DAC/AMP and a USB OTG Type-C to Type-C connector cable to go along with it: the iBasso DC03Pro and iBasso CB18 respectively.
iBasso was kind enough to send us these two products for review, so if you’re in the market for a mobile DAC/AMP and OTG cable, keep on reading!
What It Is
The new DC03PRO DAC/AMP is the successor to the standard DC03 released about two years ago. The DC03Pro uses dual CS43131 DAC chips from Cirrus Logics, the same set of DACs found in the DX170 player. The 32-bit CS43131 is a flagship chip that has support for 32-bit high-res signal decoding, so it’s still a capable DAC despite not being an AKM or ESS chip.
The DC03Pro also features a Japanese KDS femtosecond crystal oscillator, which iBasso says will reduce phase jitter as well as improve digital clock accuracy.
The DC03Pro comes in three colour options: silver, black, and blue. The unit in this review is the silver model, and its chassis is made from CNC machined aluminium alloy paired with tempered glass panels on its front and back for a rather premium appeal. As for pricing, it retails at $69 (about RM305).
Interestingly, the DC03Pro’s settings can also be tweaked with the iBasso UAC app. It gives you options for five digital filters, three levels of gain modes, 100-level volume adjustment, as well as different EQ adjustments to suit your individual preference.
As for the iBasso CB18 OTG cable, it is…well, a USB-C to USB-C connector cable for $40 (approximately RM175), and it’s quite sleek-looking. It’s made with high-purity 6N single-crystal copper silver-plated braided wires and terminates in stainless steel USB-C connectors.
How Does It Sound?
First, it’s important to manage expectations when it comes to portable DACs and AMPs, especially one that is of this size and calibre. There should be an audible difference listening to music through these devices, but don’t expect it to be immediately noticeable to the average listener. Swapping your headphones or earphones will, no doubt, produce a much more significant sonic difference in comparison.
Anyway, listening to music with the DC03PRO, you get a sense that everything sounds a tad cleaner and clearer; the soundstage opens up a bit and instruments are better separated. Bass and treble are tighter with the latter sounding noticeably more textured.
Mid-range clarity is also improved, but it does have a certain artificial quality to it, almost like it’s overly polished. Vocals are also pushed further away in the soundstage with more of a dry tonality to them. The smoother high- and low-end also make songs sound less energetic and a bit too clinical to my ears.
The DC03Pro outputs more than enough power for IEMs and mid-range headphones too, though you might find yourself cranking the volume up a little higher on more demanding cans. Speaking of volume, the physicals buttons controlling the volume is a tad cumbersome to use.
After all, you’re required to tap on two tiny buttons repeatedly to adjust the volume by single increments. It’s much easier to just adjust the volume from the mobile app.
Aside from volume controls, the iBasso UAC app also gives you left/right balancing, digital filters, and gain controls. The filters give you options like “slow roll off” and “short delay fast roll off,” and adjusting gain via the app is definitely easier than tapping away at the tiny physical buttons of the DC03PRO.
There’s actually a Type-C to Type-C cable already included in the box of the DC03PRO, so you’re probably wondering if the upgraded CB18 cable sounds any different – and if it’s worth the $40 asking price. Well, pairing it with the DC03PRO does produce clearer, snappier snares, tighter bass, and slightly expanded soundstage.
Of course, it’s debatable on whether or not you’re getting your money’s worth for the slight boost in audio quality, but there’s no denying that pairing the CB18 with the silver DC03PRO does make for an eye-catching combination.
Is It Worth It?
The iBasso DC03PRO isn’t going to instantly make your IEMs or headphones sound like a different one entirely. But what it does is bump up your audio quality without being too much of a bump in your pocket, given its portable nature.
If you often listen to music on the go and want improved sound quality, the DC03PRO is a solid companion. But if a normal dongle is already one item too many for you to lug around, you probably won’t find the thought of carrying another device with you particularly appealing – even if the DC03Pro is very pocketable.
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