DAC & AMP

iBasso DC03 Review

iBasso DC01 was the first device that sensationalized the USB dongle DAC market in mid-2019; and later on, iBasso also had released DC02 with 3.5 mm out. Both DC01 and D02 had dedicated and powerful AKM DAC chips under the shell for amazing sound. Following the trend, almost every brand has released their versions of ultra-portable Type-C USB DACs. Even the Year 2020 was flooded with such products from the 10$-200$ price range and different brands, but after DC01 and DC02 there was no development from iBasso in this product category. Although recently iBasso has announced two successors in the DC series, i.e. iBasso DC03, and DC04.

DC03 is the updated model of iBasso DC02 as the old DC02 has been discontinued officially. I had tried previous models of the DC series so wanted to buy a new DC03 from iBasso’s Indian retailer too but no luck. Thankfully iBasso DC03 was available in Penon Audio, so ordered it from there. Please note that I have purchased the unit spending my cash, and didn’t receive any discount/ compensation from iBasso in exchange for this review.

iBasso DC03

Specifications of iBasso DC03

  • Model Number – DC03,
  • Structure – Aluminum & OFC Cable,
  • Color – Glossy Silver or Black,
  • OTG Plugs – Type C USB 2.0,
  • USB Protocol – UAC 1.0/ 2.0,
  • Input – Type C, USB A (With Adapter),
  • Analog Output – 3.5 mm,
  • DAC Chip – 2 X CS43131,
  • THD+N – ﹤0.00028%(32Ω load, 1.2Vrms),
  • SNR – 127dB,
  • Output Power – 1.6V @ 32 Ω and 2Vrms @300Ω load,
  • Output Impedance – ﹤0.12Ω,
  • Bottom noise –  0.9 μV,
  • Frequency Response – 20 Hz to 20 kHz (-0.5dB),
  • MAX Decoding – PCM 384 kHz/32 bit, DSD 256 (Native),
  • Weight – 8+2 grams,
  • Length: 105mm,
  • Compatibility – Windows, Mac OS, Android, IOS (I pad pro with Type C).

Purchase Link – International or India

What’s in the Box?

  • iBasso DC03 USB DAC,
  • USB A Male to Type C female Adapter,
  • User Manual.
iBasso DC03

Presentation

To showcase the presentation, I have made an unboxing video which you can watch below. The presentation of iBasso DC03 is different this time. Instead of a paper box, now DC03 comes inside a transparent hard plastic box. Overall the presentation is neat, clean, and stylish this time.

Design & Build Quality

Design and build quality are good. Like its name, DC03 still following the same design principles of the old iBasso DC02 but as an upgraded model there are some changes too. Firstly; Instead of a flat shell, DC03 has curves on both sides of the shell, and secondly instead of an anodized matt finish DC03 comes with either shiny silver or black finish. I like the black color so bought the black one. Other than these two changes iBasso DC03 looks similar to DC02. This time black color in combination with golden front and back panels and SPC cable looking extremely good.

iBasso DC03

iBasso DC03 also has a status indicator light near the 3.5mm port. It lights up Blue after plugging and remains static after on, so now you don’t have to get confused about either your DC03 is working or not.

iBasso DC03

DC03 weighs only 8 grams but and feels solid in hand still being so lightweight. After using it for at least 1 month, I can say the build quality is no doubt good. I was a bit worried about the black paint first but no, the paint is tough and not going to chip easily.

Driver

iBasso DC03 doesn’t need any driver or specific settings to work with Android and IOS devices (with Type-C port). But for Windows OS, ibasso has a dedicated driver which you can install to enjoy the ASIO drivers in programs like Foobar2000.

DC03 Bravo HD Driver

Driver Link – Here.

Firmware and Standby

iBasso DC03 supports user flashable firmware upgrades. Recently they have released a firmware (v 1.0) where they fixed the phase rollover problem. DC03 also doesn’t have a standby feature, as soon as you connect it with your device it starts drawing power from the source.

Tested Sources with iBasso DC03

 Windows 10 PC, Realme C2, Hiby R2.

Tested Gears with iBasso DC03

Sennheiser HD6XX, ISN Audio D02, BQEYZ Spring 2, Magaosi K3 HD, Fearless Audio Crystal Pearl.

Tested Applications iBasso DC03

USB Audio Player Pro, Foobar2000, Hiby Music.

DC03 with Hiby Music Player

Output power and Noise

The output power of iBasso DC03 is 1.6V @ 32 Ω and 2Vrms @300Ω load, which is high and suitable for IEMs and not so demanding headphones. DC03 can easily handle 150-200 Ω headphones too. Almost zero background noise while using moderately sensitive IEMs. In comparison with old DC02 (0.97 V), ibasso DC03 can push more power @ 32 Ω. So DC03 is more powerful too than its old brother.

iBasso DC03

Power Draw and Heating

iBasso DC03 draws very little power from source devices. In idle mode, it consumes less than 100 mill watts and while working (with 32Ω load) consumes less than 250 mill watts. There was a big heating issue in iBasso’s old DC01 and DC02 but DC03 doesn’t heat up too much in constant usage.

Hardware Volume control and Mic/in-line control

iBasso DC03 supports internal hardware volume control via applications like USB audio player pro and iBasso UAC. But don’t use both the apps simultaneously because they are creating conflict with each other. Sadly DC03 doesn’t have a Mic and in-line control support.

iBasso UAC app

Sound

Before proceeding to the sound analysis part, one thing needs to be discussed first. The choice of DAC chip in iBasso’s old DC series of DAC was AKM. But this time they shifted from AKM to Cirrus Logic. We all know the fire incident in the AKM factory but as DC03 and DC04 came before that incident, we can say that iBasso shifted from AKM to Cirrus Logic for other reasons.

iBasso DC03

AKM chips are no doubt very powerful and capable, but Cirrus Logic’s new chips are not behind too. This is not the first time I am using devices with Cirrus Logic chips so I know how far these chips can go. The good thing is iBasso has used 2 chips instead of one. For balanced output in DC04, the usages of two chips are justified but in DC03 the same two DAC chip combination is there too.

Now with Cirrus Logic chips, the new DC03 is more efficient. Consuming less power, generating less heat, and outputs more power. Sound-wise iBasso DC03 is overall balanced sounding.

Bass

I could have easily called DC03’s overall sound neutral; but due to its little extra emphasis on the lower frequency part, I am calling it a balanced sounding DAC. iBasso DC03 can produce a good amount of Sub and Mid-bass with moderately bassy IEMs. Bass is not overpowering at all and a tight, punchy lower frequency part can be achieved using iBasso DC03. The quantity is sufficient for any bass lover yet the quality of the bass is here needs appreciation. Speed is moderately fast and decay is good. With my Fearless audio Crystal Pearl; songs like ‘Instant Crush’ by Daft Punk sounding extremely good, the sub-bass rumble is there and I am getting an overall well-controlled presentation.

Mids

The implementation of a DAC chip inside a device determines the sound most of the time. But different DAC chip also has its own sound signature and if you ask me, what I like the most from Cirrus Logic’s sound then I would say the musicality of the Mids. Now some DAC chips have either very dry or warm midrange but in Cirrus Logic chips the midrange is very natural and sweet sounding.

DC03 is no exception here. With iBasso DC03 I am getting a rich midrange with above the average resolution. No particular emphasis on either Upper-Mids or Lower-Mids so both male and female vocals sounding smooth and natural. The timbre is good and the separation between vocals and instruments is also good. Acoustic instruments sounding very good especially pianos, violins, guitars, & saxophones. For example, songs like ‘Your Latest Trick’ by Dire Straits sounding fantastic.

Treble

I have used DACs with Cirrus Logic CS43131 before and in those devices, the higher frequency part is always not so well extended. In iBasso DC03 the story is different. DC03’s higher frequency part is well extended yet not harsh. With properly mastered tracks and balanced sounding IEMs, you can enjoy the airy and spacious highs. Maybe the micro details are not so refined but enough to please a treble lover. While listening to the entire album ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson, I never felt DC03 lacking in the treble part.

Soundstage and Imaging

The added soundstage of iBasso DC03 is wide, Imaging is also above average. With well-mastered tracks like ‘Family Man (Extended Vocal Remix)’ by Fleetwood Mac the added soundstage is wide but not too wide to make it holographic. Overall the soundstage and imaging are satisfactory.

Comparisons

There are so many such dongle DACs in the market now and comparing them with each other is a difficult job. Still, I am trying to compare iBasso DC03 with its predecessor DC02 and another DAC from Shanling i.e. UA1.

IBasso DC02 vs. iBasso DC03

I don’t have DC02 now at the moment so I am comparing DC03 with DC02 from my memory. Design and build wise both have similarities but DC03 feels solid, well build, and stylish. DC03 is more efficient, more powerful than DC02. Sound wise in DC03 the tonal balance is better in comparison with DC02. Less warmth in DC03 and better midrange too. Maybe the soundstage is better in DC02 but from the aspect of musicality, the iBasso DC03 is superior. Both of them are similarly capable of rendering a good amount of details and air in the treble part.

iBasso DC03 vs. Shanling UA1

iBasso DC03 vs Shanling UA1

This is the toughest part of this review. I am getting multiple requests from my readers, to tell them which one is better between these two DACs. Sadly I don’t have any clear answer for them. I have both the devices in my hand and both of them are good. Using them side by side and pointing out the difference is quite difficult. Still, there is something which I would like to mention here. Please note that these differences are not huge.

  • From the price point of view, no doubt Shanling UA1 has the advantage as its 14 $ cheaper than iBasso DC03.
  • Build, design-wise I would say iBasso DC03 is better.
  • On the paper, output power of both the devices are the same. While listening to the same volume, Shanling UA1 sounds louder (1dB-2dB) than DC03.
  • The power consumption of both devices is the same.
  • Sound-wise iBasso DC03 can produce more bass especially the sub-bass. The speed of the bass is better in Shanling UA1 but the quantity of bass is better in DC03.
  •  The midrange is more lush and rich in iBasso DC03. Acoustic instruments sounding better in DC03 too.
  • The treble part has been extended well in Shanling UA1 still DC03 is not far from that. Both the devices have managed to add sparkle and air.
  • The soundstage is slightly better in iBasso DC03, but imaging is better in Shanling UA1.

Conclusion

I like iBasso products for their unique design and uncompromised sound. They may have not a huge lineup of products, but every product from their brand worth its price and shows their mastery over sound tuning. I am buying iBasso products for a long time and never felt disappointed. iBasso DC03 is also another good purchase for me. I like listening to a lot of blues, Jazz and with iBasso DC03 the overall listening experience is very good. No doubt iBasso DC03 worth its value, and possibly the best implementation of Cirrus Logic CS43131 so far.

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41 thoughts on “iBasso DC03 Review”

  1. Thanks for this review first of all. I’ve been using UA1 for around 1 month and I think it’s good. But dunno why I feel it’s kinda lacking for listening to vocal / pop track. Do you think it’s worth it to sell UA1 and go for DC03? I mean for better detail retrieval and mid?

    1. The DAC only can’t be responsible for the lacking Mids. Which IEM/Headphone you using with UA1? DC03 can give you thick Mids but not better details.

  2. Could you give me an idea of the DC03 sound compared to the iPhone sound signature? From what I understand, Apple uses Cirrus Logic DACs too so I’m very curious about the comparison. (I’m specifically looking at sound signature and amplification)

    1. Latest iPhone’s doesn’t have headphone out, so you can’t compare it’s sound with any other DAC. Apple uses Cirrus Audio Codec, not DAC chips. DAC chips are superior than codec chips in terms of sound and output power. I have ipod touch 6th gen which have 338S1116 Cirrus Audio Codec and sound almost same as iPhone 6s. In comparison with DC03; DC03 sounds more dynamic, detailed and have proper extension. Now of course you need a good earphone/headphone to justify DACs like iBasso DC03.

    1. The downloaded zip file has a pdf file, in which the update process is mentioned clearly with images. Only update via windows.

      1. I cannot work out how this works at all – still get device not available on the Bravo HD Audio. And how can I tell what firmware is running?

  3. I have Final E3000C as my iem..& Xiaomi Mi A3 as my source…which type c dac/amp will be sufficient for powering my iem? Thanks in advance..
    PS: I am a basshead

    1. I think Final E3000C is not so hard to drive earphone. So you can buy any decent type C DAC like iBasso Dc03 or Hiby FC3.

  4. Between Audirect beam 2 and dc03 which one has thicker mids and better extended lower frequency response? Mainly focusing between shanling UA1 and Audirect Beam 2 SE.

  5. Hi. Will it turn off phone mic during call? I’m using cheap dongle, but it turn off phone mic when calling. I can only listen. IEM CCA C12 + Xiaomi Note 10 Lite phone

  6. I cant understand, why companies are skimping the mic input option it will be very inconvenience if we cant use headset with these dongles.

    1. Yes true. But companies focusing more on the high fidelity audio so they choosing DAC chips like AK4490 or ESS9018. Now this chips don’t have ADC build in so they can’t use mic inputs.

  7. I cant download the driver to use it on my windows PC. Do you have any other way or link that I could download it?

  8. is this DAC is well matching character to improve sony wh1000xm4 heaphone SQ and for HK aura studio 3 SQ also?

  9. i’m sorry for perhaps stupid question, but is there any info on which usb c version protocol this dac uses? I have run into problems with other circuits in the past – for example white tempotec sonata hd pro sports micro usb 2.0 protocol specifications, it won’t work while plugged to usb 2.0 ports.

    1. I have already mentioned in the specification area that DC03 supports only up to USB 2.0. I have used Tempotec Sonata HD pro in both USB 2.0 and 3.0 port and never faced any issues.

      1. my bad, and to boot it’s right above the spec parameter which reading ticked me into asking that question (uac 2.0 which in my understanding is carried through 2.0 and 3.0 iterations of usb). perhaps i was control-effing wrong term. regardless, apologies.

        looks like that mentioned sonata issue is me-exclusive problem then. can’t figure out why but then again it’s not a tech help forum so I won’t both you. thank you for the answer.

        1. Nothing to apology my friend. It would be my pleasure if I can help my readers by any means. Tempotec products have lots of problem, but did you inserted earphone first in Sonata HD pro then inserted in USB port? Without earphone inserted it won’t work.

          1. yes, I’ve tried both methods (plugging headphone-connected dongle, and plugging it solo first) but for whatever reason it’s like it’s not even connected when it comes through 2.0 (tested on two different units). it’s probably best to return it – while the stick sports great sound, especially considering its asking price, quality control is ane issue when it comes to chifi, reputable brand or not.

  10. Excuse me, sir, so to overcome the inability of Windows to read the driver from Ibasso DC04, is it the same as the steps that must be carried out when upgrading on Ibasso DC03, sir, by deactivating the windows drivers signature first on my windows (on Windows 7 and Windows 10)
    thank you for your attention sir, regrads

  11. iBasso products are rarely in stock. IT00 kept me waiting forever. DC03 keeping my friend still waiting (I luckily bought in Feb) 😀 Any idea about this situation, anything specific with India?

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