Download iBasso DC03 Portable DAC-Amplifier Review: Compact, Capable DAC for free
Since many modern smartphones today do not have a 3.5mm headphone jack, it is becoming difficult for audiophiles to use them as source devices for lossless wired listening. While many will be quick to suggest using a dedicated high resolution audio player or DAC amplifier on a computer, these can be expensive. Fortunately, inexperienced audiophiles on a budget have some worthwhile options to consider, including good portable DAC amplifiers like the iBasso DC03.
Price at € 4,999, the iBasso DC03 is a compact but fully-fledged DAC amplifier that is intended for use with smartphones or computers. You can connect 3.5 mm headphones or headphones to this device, which, like the somewhat cheaper Shanling UA1, act as a bridge between source and output devices. Is the iBasso DC03 a good choice for your audiophile budget setup? Find out in this review.
iBasso DC03 design and specifications
As with the Shanling UA1, the iBasso DC03’s biggest advantage is its size. The core device is just a small dongle with an attached cable that leads to a USB Type-C connector. Even if you plug in the included USB Type-C to Type-A adapter, the DC03 is still a very small device and easily fits in your pocket next to your smartphone. In addition, it weighs only 11 grams. The supplied USB cable is clear and braided, while the DAC itself is made entirely of metal with a reflective surface. The iBasso DC03 is also available in black, but I really liked the silver on my test device.
There isn’t much for the user to do to use the iBasso DC03 – just plug it into an Android smartphone with a USB Type-C port and it’s ready to go (you may need to turn off the audio output). manually via the phone settings on USB). If you want to connect the DC03 to a laptop or desktop computer, the USB Type-A adapter mentioned above is available. When using it with my MacBook Air or OnePlus 7T Pro McLaren Edition, I didn’t have to make any additional settings; just plug it in and it worked.
While the USB Type-C cable comes out on one side of the iBasso DC03, there is a 3.5 mm headphone jack on the other side. So you can use it to connect your own wired headphones to a smartphone without a 3.5mm headphone jack instead of using a standard conversion dongle, or to enjoy the sound quality with superior digital-to-analog conversion than most Wearable devices offer themselves to improve.
On paper, the iBasso DC03 is indeed a very good DAC amplifier with two Cirrus Logic CS43131 digital-to-analog converter chips and support for audio files up to DSD256x and 32-bit / 384kHz resolution. The device has a nominal frequency range of 20-40,000 Hz and draws power for itself and the connected earphones or headphones via the USB port.
iBasso DC03 performance
Though a bit more expensive than the Shanling UA1 at Rs. 4,999, the iBasso DC03 is a bit more powerful in terms of specs. The device has two Cirrus Logic CS43131 DAC chips which are impressive given their small size and add more refinement and nuance to the output. Sure, you need a good source device and quality audio, and decent earbuds or headphones to complete the trail, but the iBasso DC03 is forgiving of the quality of the other components in the chain.
I’ve heard a noticeable improvement in detail over the Shanling UA1, as well as smoother, more consistent audio across resolutions, file formats, and music genres. In addition, the iBasso DC03 is a bit more flexible in terms of the type of headphones and earphones it can work with. While there isn’t a recommended impedance range, it should power most entry-level and mid-range headphones and earphones without any problems.
You might even get decent results with some high-end open-back headphones, but this should be a more limited use case than part of a regular setup. The size and connectivity of the iBasso DC03 make it easy to use with smartphones and audiophile wired entry-level headphones such as the KZ ZSN Pro X or the Moon drop spaceshipthat I used this DAC amplifier with for much of my review.
The iBasso DC03 offers a decent gain boost, but is not as pronounced as the Shanling UA1. However, the gain feels softer and finer, which allows more detail with less of the typical shrill that creeps in with a large gain boost.
While listening to a high definition version of Foster The People’s Life On The Nickel, the iBasso DC03 and Moondrop Spaceship kept up with the fast beats of the track with a superb soundstage and beautifully detailed playback. This level of detail was particularly noticeable in the weakest aspects in other tracks; Both the subtle synthesizer elements in Gotyes State Of The Art and the auto-tuned vocals were reproduced beautifully.
With the more expensive and much more powerful Sennheiser Momentum on-ear headphones, a high-resolution version of Michael Jackson’s You Rock My World sounded driven, taut and roomy, with a subtle level of aggression that got the most out of the headphones. Where the iBasso DC03 outperforms the competition in its price segment is its ability to promote budget and mid-range headphones and earphones alike.
The iBasso DC03 comes from an established line of products that have long been considered the best compact budget DAC amplifiers one can buy, and it lives up to expectations. This is a powerful DAC amplifier that is well above its weight and is reasonably priced at Rs. 4,999 in India. Coupled with a good pair of headphones or earphones, the iBasso DC03 serves as an excellent bridge between source and output devices by adding detail and subtle and careful amplification.
While the Shanling UA1 is much cheaper than the iBasso DC03, the latter offers a bit more detail and sophistication, which is worth the extra Rs. 1,000 for aspiring audiophiles. In combination with inexpensive headphones, the iBasso DC03 offers a better listening experience than most wireless audio products and covers most high-resolution and compressed audio formats.
Price: € 4,999
Reviews (out of 10):
Value for money: 8
- Small in size, very easy to use
- USB Type-C and Type-A connectivity
- 32-bit / 384 kHz, DSD256x support
- Greatly improves the level of detail and amplification of the sound
- Works well with budget and mid-range headphones and earphones