Digital audio players (DAP) are something of a rare sight these days. Understandably so, given that it’s just much more convenient to directly plug in your earphones to your phone or PC, assuming you’re not using a pair of TWS.
There’s also the hassle of lugging around yet another device in your pocket, though for those who want the best audio experience (read: audiophiles), it’s worth the trouble. If you’re an audiophile, it’s likely that you’ve got an amp or DAC already, be it the desktop or portable kind. But if you don’t, maybe it’s high time to get one, or even consider a DAP.
A DAP is an all-in-one solution for powering your headphones or IEMs while also alleviating the need to store or stream your music on a separate device. Having a standalone device to handle such a task also means that the processing of audio is its primary focus, and there shouldn’t be any noticeable interference from other components.
But the question is: do you actually need one?
What It Is
We received the iBasso DX170 from the company itself, which is its latest mid-range DAP. For the uninitiated, iBasso is a Chinese brand that has released numerous DAP, DAC, as well as IEMs at various price points. The brand is (sort of) in the same vein as Chinese brands like Fiio, Hiby, and Hidizs, if those are more familiar names to you.
Pricing wise, the DX170 retails at RM1,999 here in Malaysia; in the US, it goes for $449. If you’re familiar with iBasso’s products, you can probably piece together that the DX170 succeeds the discontinued DX160. It was an incredibly popular player in the mid-range $400 price point, boasting performance close to high-end DAPs at half the price.
But the DX160 does have its flaws, and while the DX170 brings some notable improvements, it still shares some of the same shortcomings. More on these later.
Packaging of the DX170 is quite nice: there’s the player itself, a transparent silicone case, a USB-C to USB-A cable, as well as two plastic screen protectors. Hardware wise, the DX170 uses a Rockchip RK3566 SoC and a Dual Cirrus CS43131 DAC chip. It also has 2GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, and it runs on Android 11 out of the box.
There’s also playback support for up to PCM 32bit/384kHz and Native DSD256. While it doesn’t have the typical AKM or ESS DAC in its arsenal, the Dual Cirrus CS43131 DAC chip more than holds its own against them.
Build & Functionality
The DX170 has a brushed aluminium body and a glass front panel. It is offered in black, grey, and blue; the unit you see in this review is the grey colour option. On the right side of the DAP is a slightly recessed scroll wheel, as well as three buttons for playback controls (previous track, play/pause, next track).
On the other side of the DX170 is a single MicroSD card slot that is (oddly) not sealed. Right on top is a USB-C port, while the 3.5mm and 4.4mm ports are located on the bottom of the DAP.
In hand, the DX170 feels solid and rightly premium, but it lacks some heft, so it doesn’t feel quite as robust. This could be a plus point for some folks though, as it’ll be easier to carry around and feels less like a brick in your pocket or bag.
While the thin, recessed scroll wheel of the DX170 means less accidental clicks and scrolls, it’s also more difficult to get a proper grip on it. There’s no real tactile feedback either, so it’s not quite as intuitive to adjust the volume. The three playback buttons are more responsive with a nice click, but with the included protective case on, they do feel a bit more mushy.
While we’re talking about responsiveness, the Rockchip RK3566 processor and 2GB RAM of the DX170 do show their limits when I have several apps open. Not only does the interface feel more sluggish as a result, the player even froze on me several times.
That being said, with only Spotify or the default Mango Player open, the DX170 remains responsive. In my experience, it’s best to also remove all the pre-installed bloatware to free up resources and tidy up the overall user interface of the player.
Sound Signature & Tonality
Using the DX170 purely for music listening – how it’s meant to be primarily used for, basically – is when it truly shines. Its tuning leans mostly towards neutral, with a hint of warmth. Compared to music playback on a smartphone or PC, you’ll immediately notice the cleaner, lower noise floor. Instruments are also a little more spaced out, and you’ll get the sense of a more forward soundstage vertically, though not by a large amount.
Bass seems to be a tad tighter and more impactful, while mids are warmer and thicker. The treble also sounds smoother and more tame, though that doesn’t mean the DX170 has a coloured sound signature – far from it.
The speed of the bass is still vey natural, aside from the subtle warmth that comes through. This thickness sounds particularly great for male vocals, as well as hip-hop and some rock tracks. The warmth also pairs well with the smooth treble, giving you a fatigue-free listening experience.
In terms of power, the DX170 has more than sufficient power to drive consumer audio products from IEMs to full-size headphones. I never found the need to go beyond 50% volume on low gain, and I often hover around 35% to 40% on high gain.
Do note that the the player does get a bit warm after prolonged listening sessions, particularly on high gain.
Battery Life & Charging
iBasso claims that the 3,200mAh battery of the DX170 should last around 11 hours, and I did manage to get this level of battery life, though I was on low gain mode at around 30% to 50% volume. It’s only when I stream music via WiFi that the battery life take a noticeable hit: I got about eight hours of use just streaming music on Spotify at the highest quality setting.
The DX170 supports several fast charging standards, namely QC3.0, PD2.0, and MTK PE Plus Quick Charge. With a 40W charger, I can fully charge the player in about an hour and a half.
Is It Worth It?
All in all, the iBasso DX170 is a great mid-range DAP that gives you sound quality that isn’t far off from much more expensive players…as long as you use it mainly for music listening. Beyond that, it is not the most responsive DAP with a rather sluggish interface.
But whether or not you actually want or need a dedicated music player will depend on how serious you take your music listening experience. If you want to bring out the best of your IEM or headphones and supply them with a source that’s clean and powerful enough, the DX170 will do just that.
There are some quirks with the software and functionality of this DAP, but in terms of performance and overall musical quality, the DX170 is one of the best in its class. Yes, this is despite the fact that it carries a RM1,999 price tag, which is – believe it or not – good value in the audiophile space.
If you’re keen to get the DX170, check out iBasso’s official website to find out where you can purchase the DAP.