I never expected that I’d be reviewing two USB-C dongles when I already have a pretty good phone for audio, but here I am with two units bestowed by HiFiGo to compare in the circa $50 portable DAC/Amp market. I’m looking forward to seeing how these do in a quick set of tests.
|Property||iBasso DC02||xDuoo LinK|
|PCM||32/384 kHz||32/384 kHz|
|Frequency response||20 Hz – 40 kHz||20 Hz – 20 kHz|
|Accessories/features||USB-C to USB-A adaptor||Includes play/pause and volume buttons|
I should note that at time of writing both the iBasso DC02 and xDuoo LinK are on sale through the 12th of November (Los Angeles time-zone) with some savings.
Usability: Form & Function
The iBasso DC02 comes in a small square box. The xDuoo LinK comes in a long coffin-box. The orange and brown colouring of the LinK is a little nicer, but the form factor is a little better for the DC02. That long box is just too long. On the inside the LinK has a foam insert that is difficult to remove the DAC/Amp from. The DCO2 is easier.
The DC02 comes equipped with a USB-C to USB-A adaptor, which means you can use it with your computer right out of the box. The xDuoo LinK doesn’t have an adaptor, but does have a volume control and a play/pause button—I’m a fan. When using either of these in USB Audio Player Pro (UAPP) I get plenty of volume steps. The DC02 looks more premium with its anodised silver finish and silver cable braid than LinK does in its Halloween orange and black.
I’m measuring audio quality by trying a couple different setups and doing quick switches with by ear volume matching. It ain’t perfect, but it’s good enough to get an idea of the differences. It helps that these actually sound different.
Noble Audio Kaiser Encore
The Noble Kaiser Encore is a headphone that I use to test for hiss, because it likes to hiss like a mofo. It doesn’t hiss with the LG V30, the DC02 or the LinK. That’s a resounding success. The DC02 has the best resolution, stage, detail and imaging of the group with the Kaiser Encore. It has a bit more texture in the bass but less volume, while the LinK is smoother, bigger and warmer. The LG V30 on it’s own doesn’t have the mids detail or clarity of the DC02. The LinK gives me clicks in my left ear when playing Keith Greeninger – Harder That We Love, which tells me it might not do well playing DSD256. The DC02 is the least loud with the Kaiser Encore.
Overall, the DC02 is best with the Noble Kaiser Encore.
Test tracks: Daft Punk – Touch (24/88), Keith Greeninger – Harder That We Love (DSD256, does not play in DSD256 with phone; converts to PCM 352.8), Isaac Hayes – Walk On By (DSD64, plays natively)
This is a stupid test, but I’m doing it anyway.
The SendyAudio Aiva has 32Ω resistance and 96dB sensitivity. It’s not a hard planar to drive, but that 96dB sensitivity will make an amplifier work some.
Depending on the track, the SendyAudio Aiva can get loud enough. Right out of the LG V30 it’s a touch quiet with Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God). The DC02, in spite of having what I think is lower rated power has a more open sound on the track with greater clarity. In comparison the LG V30 sounds muffled. Kate’s vocals sound slightly back on the LinK and the overall sound is less clear.
On Leonard Cohen – Leaving The Table, the volume isn’t an issue. This is a louder recording. Bass is still smoothed a little on the LinK; some will like this quite a bit. The bass has a bit more texture with the DC02 and mids are clearer and crisper. There is a touch of crunch to Leonard’s voice on the DC02. Comparatively the LG V30 sounds soft on Leonard’s vocal with a little bit of the texture robbed from his performance.
Kraftwerk – Kometenmelodie 2 doesn’t get big amplitude with LG V30. The pitch of the high notes is right on, just bordering on strident, as it should be. The xDuoo LinK has a fuller and more well-rounded sound than the LG V30, which sounds a touch thin in comparison. The DC02 has a slightly blacker background, with little effects deep in the stage a little more apparent. It’s pretty dang impressive. People just don’t have an excuse to have bad sound anymore.
Both the LinK and the DC02 outperformed the LG V30 on this, but which you prefer will depend on what you like sonically. If more warmth and bass go for the LinK. If more texture and clarity, go for the DC02.
They are both good, but the iBasso DC02 is clearer sounding, worked a little better with my phone, and had a bit more to the build quality. I also had clean playback of DSD256 on the iBasso DC02, while I didn’t on the xDuoo LinK. If you are rocking a phone that sounds like muffled garbage (that’s a lot of them), these dongles are a cheap upgrade that can pay big sonic rewards. The LG V30 is a good sounding phone, but the iBasso DC02 sounds better. The LinK will work well for those who like a warmer more bassy sound than the more neutral iBasso DC02. These would make dynamite stocking stuffers.