Closing the Gap on Price Versus Performance
It’s a new year with new gear, and we have the newest addition to the DX series of DAPs from iBasso, the DX240. Wait, what? Didn’t they already release the DX300? No, it’s not a typo folks, here it is….the DX240. Which was released…after…the DX300. Math is hard sometimes, but the only numbers that matter here are the specs under the hood of the device. Spoiler alert: they don’t disappoint. The DX300 remains their flagship player, but the DX240 actually closes the gap on performance while widening it with the price point. There’s a lot to cover here from the device itself to the swappable AMP cards, so let’s get started.
- Gorgeous, sharp display, Great device color
- Better internals
- Smaller, more portable design
- Customization with modules
- No 4.4mm connector
- Common Security issues with Google & Android
Materials & Quality
It's always a pleasure getting to open a shiny new iBasso music player. In the sense that most DAP brands package their products similarly, it's interesting to note that brands have their own distinctive feel and focus. For example, Astell&Kern has relatively simple packaging, compact and minimalist which makes you focus on the DAP itself. I feel like iBasso takes that extra step. Their packaging isn't over the top, but it's well put together and you can tell that much planning goes into reiterating the fact that you have just purchased a premium flagship-level product. Sliding off the cover feels like taking out a double-VHS movie (I'm dating myself, I know). The inside of the box is minimal as well, but the inside top of the box is protected by a thick layer of foam. Even the tray that the DX240 sits in is lined with a felt-like material with the company logo embossed on it. The tab used to pull up the tray is usually cheap cardboard on other brands, but iBasso uses a soft-touch ribbon. Little details like this go a long way for me.
Under the tray you'll find your usuals: paperwork and quick guide, 4 included screen protectors, braided USB-C charging cable, optical to coaxial adapter, and a burn-in cable.
The DX240 is a sweet little player. Considering other flagship players on the market have the weight of a brick, it was a nice surprise that this didn't. iBasso players are never heavy in the first place, since they utilize aluminum alloy for the body construction. It's remarkably durable and strong despite being so lightweight. Don't worry, it still feels premium, with precise machining and the curved frosted glass back panel is sleek. Much like the frosted backs of iPhones, it's no surprise that I called iBasso the "iPhone of the DAP market" way back when I did the review for the DX300. It fits.
Let's talk about one of the nicest things about this device: the screen. iBasso blows every other DAP manufacturer out of the water when it comes to displays. It's large, with a near-bezel-less design, with a 5-inch 1080p Full HD screen. Colors are vibrant, screen is responsive and snappy thanks to the Snapdragon 660. You can be assured that album covers will look dynamic and text sharp. It's the screen to beat, and there's no worry of anyone else remotely coming close.
The layout of the music player is typical of an iBasso player. On the top of the DAP you'll find a SPDIF port and the USB-C charging port. Left-side is the lone microSD card slot. Bottom of the device is the 3.5mm line out, 3.5mm (unbalanced) headphone port, and a 2.5mm (balanced) headphone port. The right side of the DAP is the volume knob, track back and forward, and the play/pause buttons. Controls are clicky and responsive as well, including tight-fitting headphone jacks. I would have liked to see the inclusion of a 4.4mm here, but we'll have to do with the 2.5mm for now. iBasso also includes a silicon case, so it's nice to see some included protection other than the plastic screen protectors.
Some are calling the DX240 DAP a large player. Well, I would say compared to the DX300 and my iPhone Pro Max that's an incorrect statement. Yes, the DX240 might be double the thickness of my iPhone (thanks in part to the curved back of the music player), but it's still very palm-able and portable. Concerning the form factor, the DX240 it backwards compatible with the other amp modules for the company, and they have faceplates which keep the sleek design of the DX240 intact if you have other modules you wish to use.
The total package is comprehensive, especially if you have existing iBasso gear or if you don't want to buy a case or screen protector - like you do for most devices like this. Of course, the silicon case will offer minimal protection for your music player, but if you want something a little more durable or substantial we would recommend the leather case as seen HERE.
Sound quality is a funny thing when talking about iBasso DAPs. The whole design is based on being able to change the sound of the music player depending on the swappable amplifier module. The DX240 music player comes equipped with the AMP1 MK3 module, which includes a 2.5mm balanced headphone jack, a 3.5 unbalanced jack, and a line out port. You can switch the amp module in the DX240 based on your personal preferences for various configurations. It's important to note that the DX240 supports AMP1 - AMP8 modules straight out of the box (these modules were previously launched for the DX220 series and continues backwards compatibility with the new DX240). Only the AMP9 and above modules are not supported by the DX240, as they were specifically designed for the DX300 and thus have incompatible dimensions.
The other side of the equation is the ES9038 PRO flagship DAC chip. It's one of the best chips on the market and is equipped in other high-end devices like the X-SABRE 3 Pro and Element X from Matrix Audio and the Astell&Kern SE180 DAP. It's a very resolute DAC and provides plenty of detail and depth to your audio. To boot, the DX240 supports high-resolution 32-bit/768kHz PCM and Native DSD512 decoding, making it an incredibly powerful and versatile portable music player.
Homeward by Future of Forestry is a cultural amalgamation of Indian overtones to an otherwise ordinary folk rock sound. The melodic Chikara and rhythmic tablas actually fit well to setting the atmosphere in the intro. Tabla's are a versatile drum in that they can produce a myriad of tones, from low and deep tones to higher, more thin sounding beats. The DX240 reproduces these tones accurately. This song is approached like a spiritual, with the focus being on the chorus/vocals with a steady beat in the background. I always like how the ES9038 Pro handles vocals with a nice unveiled clarity while providing depth to the range of voices. If anything, the clarity unveils the sloppiness of the synchronization of the intros and attacks on the phrases, as well as the cutoffs. Perhaps it was intentional by the artist to make it sound less refined, but in a lesser system these variations would easily be covered by the percussion frequencies.
In the same vein, Lovers Eyes by Mumford and Sons is arranged similarly, with the focus being on harmonized voices. Mumford provides a little more percussion from the instruments rather than from drums, so it's interested to hear how the DX240 handles those amidst the vocals. Much of the rhythm comes from the strummed guitar towards the last half of the song, and the arpeggiated picking of the banjo, both providing some excellent percussive elements to the song, while not overwhelming or overpowering the vocals, which are really the emotion and strength of the arrangement. My big takeaway here is that the DX240 provides very good layering and depth with the ES9038 Pro, and although the signature of the chip leans to the analytical side of balanced, the lower frequencies are still very much present. The amount of low-end however will be more impacted by the choice of amp card and headphones.
Switching the genre up, I decided to relive some golden-oldies from my high school days. Blink-182 and pop punk was a staple of my childhood and there's nary a genre that instills more nostalgia for me. Loud guitars, fast drums, crappy vocals - it doesn't get much better than that. Literally. The palm muting had surprising thump in the DX240 even with the 99 Classics headphones. The bright lead guitar parts do have a nice sparkle to them, it's not harsh or bright, but the clarity shines through. It's not a complicated song, and the parts are hardly technical, but the DX240 does breathe new life into the tune. The bridge is one of my favorite parts on the entire album, with the lead guitar having a beautiful crunch tone with some delay and verb, and the delayed panning is clear as day - something I haven't really made out before. The harmony vocals on the bridge also fill in nicely with the strummed guitars coming in as well expanding the soundstage. The DX240 is an impressive little music player that has flagship level performance when it comes to sound.
Again, I'll reiterate the fact that the ES9038 PRO DAC chip is an excellent flagship level DAC. In comparison, ES chips can be more analytical than AK chips, but the 9038 is a great middle of the road - providing astounding detail and clarity with satisfactory bottom end accuracy and presence. Keep in mind also that your headphones will play a big part of the equation of your overall sound impressions from the DX240 music player. The Meze Audio 99 Classics are some of the best entry-level cans around, and I tend to use them as a base-level for low-end performance overall. It doesn't really disappoint either. Of course, you'd be doing the DAP a disservice by only using it to drive some entry level headphones, and the HIFIMAN HE-R10D as well as other headphones like the Focal Stellia, Meze Liric, and the AEON 2 by Dan Clark perform well with the up to 6.2 Vrms balanced output.
-Homeward by Future of Forestry (Awakened to the Sound)
-Lovers Eyes by Mumford & Sons (Babel)
-The Rock Show by Blink-182 (Take Off Your Pants And Jacket)
-Stan by Eminem (The Marshall Mathers LP)
My big takeaway here is that the DX240 provides very good layering and depth with the ES9038 Pro, and although the signature of the chip leans to the analytical side of balanced, the lower frequencies are still very much present. The amount of low-end however will be more impacted by the choice of amp card and headphones.
There are a number of features which brings this music player up to a flagship level DAP, and that's just how iBasso is pitching their new DAP. The ES9038 PRO chip is one of the best DAC chip they've put in their players, and compared to the previous DX220, sounds much better and cleaner than even the dual-DAC 9028 setup in my opinion. When it comes to capability, the DX240 supports high-resolution 32-bit/768kHz PCM and Native DSD512 decoding, as well as full 16x MQA decoding. The Snapdragon 660 mobile platform chip is also incredibly fast, boosting eight-cores for snappy and precise performance. In comparison, it makes some Astell&Kern players feel like sluggish touch-responses from 10 years ago. Having a device that responds quickly without lag makes not just navigating the device, but using it in general that much more enjoyable.
iBasso was the first big high-end music player manufacturer that implemented a module design for their DAPs. This was revolutionary in the sense that it allowed users to customize their players according to their specific wants for sound and inputs. Giving the audiophile the choice to tailor their sound is apparently such a good idea, now even Astell&Kern is doing the same with the design of their popular SE180 music player with swappable DAC cards. The DX240 comes equipped with the AMP1 MK3 module, which sports a 2.5mm balanced and 3.5mm unbalanced headphone jacks, as well as a 3.5mm line out port.
The DX240 is compatible with AMP modules 1-8 which were designed for the DX220, and you can equip special module faceplates to keep the form factor of the new DX240 design. Backwards compatibility is a huge plus here as it helps to retain the value of your other amp cards if you have them. Each card has various features which customize the tone and configuration of the DAP, such as the AMP7 and AMP8 offering a +/-8V high voltage swing which improves dynamics and headroom to the music. The cards feature different I/O ports, the AMP7 being an unbalanced output (3.5mm) and the AMP8 a balanced output (4.4mm). The only trade off to higher-output amp cards is the quicker battery discharge (shorter battery life). Both the AMP7 and 8 cards provide an estimated 7-7.5 hours of use. the AMP1 MK3 which comes packaged with the DX240 will provide an estimated 11 hours of continuous music playback. Customization is why iBasso remains one of the best music player manufacturers on the market.
Taking a cue from the popular DX300, the DX240 takes the crystal-clear and sharp display and shrinks it to a still respectable 5-inch near bezel-less screen. It's gorgeous and colors are vibrant and the response is snappy. It's a stark contrast from a manufacturer like Astell&Kern, who also makes some sleek-looking music players, but I feel like AK has a double purpose of not just making them functional but also resemble works of angular art. It's equally an art-piece, whereas iBasso is more your standard UI-centric music player, a true android-based device allowing you to tailor both your sound and your interface to your liking. The DX240 like all iBasso music players are built on a dual-OS system, including Mango OS and Open Android 9.0.
The DX240 also includes coaxial output support, along with upgrading to Bluetooth 5.0 - offering longer distances and more stable connections to your devices. Dual-band WiFi is also included, giving you both 2.4 and 5GHz bands for connections.
The DX240 is a true upgrade and update to the previous DX220. They are similar enough products, but the DX240 just makes some great quality-of-life updates that brings it to the forefront of iBasso's DAP lineup. Yes, the DX220 had two ES9028 Pro chips, but the newer flagship-level 9038 Pro easily outperforms the last generation chips, providing more detail, clarity, and overall definition. Measurements for THD+N, Signal-to-Noise ratio, dynamic range, and crosstalk are all improved with the ES9038 Pro chip specs.
The nice thing about the previous generation flagship is that all the AMP cards designed for the DX220 are also compatible with the DX240. The DX220 came packaged with the AMP1 MKII - which has a similar configuration as the newer MKIII that comes with the DX240. All AMP cards designed for the DX series (except for the DX300) are backward and forward compatible according to iBasso, and they have no planned obsolescence for future DX series products. Since this statement is not necessarily consistent with the DX300 model, time will tell if this holds true for future DX series product releases.
Yes, the DX240 sounds better. It provides much more definition and dynamic range than its predecessor, and despite having similar specs such as an octa-core CPU, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of internal storage, the DX240 performs faster thanks to the new Snapdragon 660 and the updated Android 9.0 (from 8.1 in the DX220). Also, thanks to design improvements the average playtime is increased from 8 hours on the DX220 to 11 on the DX240. Of course, this can vary depending on specific AMP cards, and sample/bit rates and formatting of your music.
To put this into perspective: the flagship player from Astell&Kern costs around $3,500. The flagship player from Sony costs $3,200. The DX240 from iBasso costs less than $1000. Sure, it doesn't sound as good as the SP2000 in my opinion, but you're still getting flagship-level sound and performance for just $200 over what the entry-level player costs from Astell&Kern. You can't beat the value of the sound in this package.
Comparison with the DX300
The DX300 is technically the flagship of the DX series from iBasso, and there are some notable differences between the two players. Firstly, the DX300 comes equipped with 6GB of RAM to the DX240's 4GB, and the internal storage is doubled from 64 to 128GB. Both DAPS sport amazingly bright and sharp-looking screens, but obviously the DX300 is a larger display due to the size of the device. They also show off the near-bezel-less borders and are a complete pleasure to use. Both DAPs share the same Snapdragon 660 CPU, but the biggest difference comes from the DAC chips.
The DX300 is equipped with quad CS43198 DAC chips. It has a warmer sound signature than the ES9038 Pro chip in the DX240, and provides more depth and transparency as a result. Thankfully, the flagship player also comes with a 4.4mm balanced jack, a much improved connector over the 2.5mm in our opinion, and something we wish was utilized more in the DAP market. Comparatively, the DX240 is still flagship-level sound, so all things considered you can't go wrong with either DAP as a top-performing music player.
The Dragon Cable Experience
It’s always an interesting phenomenon to me to see audiophile-quality music player implementing a means of wireless audio connection that the community almost wholly criticizes for its sub-par sound quality. Let’s face it: wireless is a technology of convenience. The quality of wireless audio is undoubtedly getting better each and every day, but it's going to be a long time before it can even be comparable to a wired connection.
A wired connection is going to deliver the best sound quality from your device to your ears. The other thing to consider is that not all cables are created equal. Most of the time the stock cable is not created with the same consideration and quality that the main headphone or the gear is produced. The Black Dragon Portable Cable was the sweet spot for me, adding more warmth and musicality to the ES9038 Pro DAC. The Black Dragon boosted mid-range tones, providing a perceived added depth to the music and overall body to my music. It was a great option especially for a pairing with the HifiMan R10D. of course, your pairing might be different, so feel free to Contact Us with your headphone information and we'll be more than happy to provide a personalized cable recommendation for your headphone and the iBasso DX240 DAP.
The DX240 from iBasso is a very capable flagship-level music player without the title of flagship. It's pretty impressive when you consider what iBasso is charging for these things, because anyone else would be charging a premium for this kind of performance and features. The DX240 represents amazing performance and value for the price. It’s not a perfect player, but it provides a satisfying user experience with plenty of options for you to customize it according to your listening preferences. It’s strange to me that the flagship player is only $250 bucks more, but you also have less options for amp modules with a much larger device as the trade off. Personally, I consider the DX240 to be the better value here, with a smaller and more portable device, while still maintaining great performance and specs. You’ll have the larger selection of backwards compatible amp cards to choose from, and it includes one of the best DAC chips on the market with the ES9038 Pro.
What's in the Box
- iBasso DX240 DAP Music Player
- AMP1 MK3 amp card
- USB-C cable
- Coaxial adapter
- Quick-start manual
- Silicon case
- Faceplates for your amp modules
- Burn-in cable
iBasso DX240 DAP Review Video
iBasso DX240 DAP Unboxing Video
- Stock amp module: AMP1 MK3
- Output ports: 2.5mm TRRS, 3.5mm Single-ended, 3.5mm Line Out
- Display: 5.0” 1080P Full HD
- Battery capacity: 4400mAh
- Charging time: 2.5H
Playback time: up to 11 hours