Mad Max: DX220 shows size matters

Jack Baylor: You did that in a day?

Bruce Almighty: Imagine what I could do in seven...

Otherwise, imagine what iBasso Audio could do with circuit board real estate, a big power supply, a Class A discrete headphone amplifier, an actual analog volume control, much expense and a receiving public in the DX220 MAX...

No one said conceiving or constructing DX220 MAX would be easy. That's why many an audio manufacturer won't do it. Pushing part numbers and marketing specifications are much easier than building, let alone selling, this.

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Did we tell you how much of a handful this @ibassoaudio is? A DX220 Max isn't so much an unboxing, as an uncaging. We've tamed this beast sufficiently to let it out, and now it awaits to answer to a new master. That could be you, for this ruler of @headfi. Cue a score of epic proportions. That'll be fitting to accompany your new level of listening. #headfi #ibassoaudio #ibasso #dx220 #dx220max #DAP #musicplayer #highresaudio #hiresaudio #esssabre #highendaudio #desktopaudio #digitalaudio #digitalmusic #digitaltoanalog #dxd #instahifi #audiophile #zeppelinandco #audiocoffeepeople #flagship #totl #portafi #newlaunch #unveiling #finallyhere #officialannouncement #unboxing #unboxingvideo

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Evidence presented, it doesn't take a digital audio expert to know that iBasso's original DX220 – standing at a half physical length x width x height – was sacrificing aspects. Power supply to its digital decoding and amplification sections would be meagre, by comparison to MAX. 

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Yet, iBasso's still, current, flagship music player sounds and performs great. How does one improve from there?

Follow the route of a different manufacturer and switch DAC ICs from dual ESS Sabre ES9028Pros to dual ES9038Pros? Martin Mallinson, CSO of ESS Technology, steps in as a topic expert who doesn't need to guess because he knows:

"The ES9038Pro DAC gets its great noise performance due to the very low driving impedance to the output amplifier.

"This leads to a very interesting problem that can catch some designers unaware: the amplifier converting the differential output to single-ended must now sink this much higher signal current. The trade-off between an amplifier that can technically sink the signal current and one that 'sounds good' is not a trivial one.

"Additionally, the current through the amplifier output stage will flow to its supply pins – this may cause the amplifier PSRR to be seen at the output. The design of power supply for ES9038Pro DACs is not trivial."

Would upgraded DAC chips in a DX220 have sounded better? No. Would upgraded DAC chips have sounded worse? Probably, yes.

The route that would have seen your music player attributed 'Pro' status by any other manufacturer around thrown out, there was the only option left really. Go big, or go home.

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Our qualifiers are now out of the way. If you've been checking out what's under the hood before you've bought your previous music players, you've been missing key performance aspects. High-voltage power supply. Analog stage design. Low noise. Optimal circuit topologies.

That's why we've lauded fellow manufacturers Cayin Audio before, for their attention in good-old audio design. Nothing before power supply, not even the most in-vogue digital parts that seem to roll off tongues. The latter's only half the value conferred.

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Now, a proper marriage. And pros outweighing the cons. A superior circuit with basic parts will outperform an inferior circuit with boutique bits every day.

But both a superior circuit, and premium parts, in one device? Never before has this been undertaken at this price and (boosted) size. What may have been missing was a touch of madness to go MAX. Or an adherence to engineering basics knowing the route to winning a meaningless, spec number, arms race was just not to get swept up in it.

Who are we to know, though. We've tried our best to define the exploits of iBasso's DX220 MAX. Mostly, we just hope you enjoy them.