iBasso versus Cayin versus Shanling daps - by whitigir

My latest passionate journey

Written by Head-fier @whitigir for Head pie

A compilation of my impressions and reviews of all the latest gear I have collected so far.

Ibasso Dx220Max
Cayin N6ii A02/T01
Cayin C9 tubes amplifier
Ibasso Dx300
Shanling M8
Shanling M30

I use my favorite Hd800S mostly and so it will be the main headphone that all of my experiences are based on.

Ibasso Dx220Max, I love the driving power of the Dx220Max, from stock the sub bass and the mid are slightly lacking in timbres density, but has a super airy trebles and great soundstage for the device of its compact form.  It isn’t easy to outperform the imagings, cues of positioning, and dynamic punches delivery from Max with any single devices, perhaps the only that can stand up to him would be the newer sibling, the Dx300!!

Now, while the Dx300 is smaller, it is longer, thinner, but the volume wheels and the length of it will practically make it to be a larger device than it really is.  The first problem that anyone would encounter would be the leather cases, I have gone through 3 stock cases and 1 TPU case.  The best case is the TPU which add a considerable thickness and bulkiness to the Dx300 but offers the coverage and protections all around.  The next problem may be the MKI and MKII, the different generations is simply the stock amp modules itself.  The first Gen is using the output transistors that can be found on the earlier portable flagship, the Dx220 and the revered Amp8 discrete class A module. 

Reasons are due to the obsoleted transistors from the makers, so Ibasso had to move on and get replacements while keeping the changes to the minimal, hence the 2nd Generation were introduced and would be the current stock productions.  The new transistors not only has a different sound signatures that is similar to how you could switch out any output tubes on any tubes amplifier, but with transistors, the changes toward biases and voltages are necessary, and as mentioned, while keeping it to the minimum, the changes in the sound signatures will still happens.  Fortunately, Ibasso had always been a good brand with excellent tuning performances, as a whole package, the 2nd generation provide a more positive performances IMO, or in short, an upgrade from the earliest 1st Gen.  

The short story is that the 1st Gen has a pretty warm signature with smooth textures and mid range liquidity, thickest upper mid body and but roll off a little faster than I would like.  If I would credit the 1st Gen for anything, I would vote for it tube like transients while keeping the bass super clean off the distortions but keep on pumping and slamming, then the smooth and liquid vocal.  I will say that if anyone who has been seeking a tube like portable players with impressive vocal and bass performances, seek no further, the Dx300 MKI will answer your desires.

Now, onto the MKII, thanks fully to the new transistors and it’s efficient, the background is cleaner, the transients is faster, bass is speedier, vocal is cleaner with better clarity overall in the signatures, and that airiness trebles with it extensions, together with a more neutral signatures, the MKII is seriously my cup of teas.  I loved it so much, and while to others, the changes are subtles, which I agree, so it will depends on how a person would wage the differences, and IMO, the differences is huge!! Enough to have me immerse the stock DX300 MKII each and every time if given the choices!!! Thanks fully to Ibasso, the MkII is the current production. 

What about that tubes like transients ? Well, the 2nd Gen is less than the 1st, but if you are coming off from AK and or DX220 Amp1 and so on, there is definitely the warmth, liquid and smooth signatures from the DX300 MkII.  Now, if that isn’t enough, you can even enjoy further with AMP12!!!! 

So, what changes in Amp12 ? From visual inspection and what were disclosed by Ibasso, the power supplies toward the input stage is now a discrete LDO stage, and the output transistors are now doubled up into 4x with 2x per signal line, and when you have 4 active signals lines to fully taking advantages of the quad DAC and discrete supplies, you will have an impressive total number of 8 transistors for the output alone.  That means 4x DAC into 8X discrete supplies toward 8X output amplifications!!! Discrete designs are all around for the Amp12 and the portable flagship DX312 as a whole system!!  I am sorry but, color me impressed, you are telling me that a $1500 portable system is impressively designed this way ?

Dual batteries, discrete supplies and discrete designs everywhere ? Unbelievable!!  So, if you ask me what is a good buy for sub $1500 now ? I would totally, and repeated it, totally boring and rooting for the Dx312 system as a whole!!! Oh, did I add the icing on the cake ? Amp12 has dedicated Line Out (LO) for people who would love to pair it to external amplifier, and the Amp12 transform the Dx300 into a pure LO source.  Has there been any other devices that offered such ?

Discrete components/designs/dedicated LO ? The Dx312 is the only one, with the discrete LDO in the buffer stages for LO, the DX312 is not technically the superior portable LO source, but also subjectively the best in LO performances IME for a portable system when connecting to other systems such as Cayin C9 and stereos.  The LO sound signatures is pretty neutral with natural and balanced timbres, which is different than the amp out.  The Dynamic, textures, details and fidelity of the LO performances is excellent with great imaging.  So, what sound signatures does the Amp12 offer ? It is almost similar to the 2nd Gen Amp11 stock, but with the bass being a little more meaty and nice sub bass body, which is a little more emphasizes when compared to 2nd Gen Amp11.

The similar boost in treble and upper treble, so the airiness, clarity and extensions are more elevated than the Amp11 MKII, the vocal would be a slightly step back a little bit in comparisons, not by much, but together with the differences in bass and highs, the vocal may seem to be a little recessed due to the illusion of the whole presentations.  However, the pros of such presentations and the great imaging, fidelity offered by the Amp12, we get a much grandeur soundstage in presentations in both Depth/Width and even vertical plane. 

 The Soundstage is almost on par with Dx220Max but with a slight edges in imaging and textures, together with portability and more compact form, I would rate the Dx313 to be an outperforming device when compared to Dx220Max, and when you add in the blazing UI, the future proof SOC Qualcomm 660 with FPGA…etc as you already known, a large phablet screen, the DX312 is an easy winner, and especially an easy choice when Dx220Max can’t be found anymore.  But with the used price of Dx220Max and the powerful output that it has to offer, the speedy and Sabres signatures ? The Dx220Max will still be a heavy competitor, especially if one focused on sound performances only, the Dx220Max will be a great choice.

Then, if you are looking forward to the future amp modules ? The Dx220Max as much as Dx300Max would be out of the questions and considerations 

So, then again, the Dx300 and it options Amp12 as a side purchase will intrigue everyone with the differences that each amp modules have to offer with slight changes in sound performances.  The discrete designs and powerful phones out with Dedicated LO, the Dx312 is so versatile, powerful, fast with Ibasso best in the industry customer service and Paul whose responds are also blazing fast !!! Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder if he even sleep !!!

The DX312 and even stock Dx300 will be a challenge for many portable players out in the wild ATM.  Yes, I wasn’t so much for Dx300 1st Gen, but the 2nd Gen is something that I can’t over look, and I would encourage everyone who is shopping for sub $1500 system to seriously consider to give it a spin.

So then, where would the Cayin C9 be placed at ? The dedicated amplifier that offers 4 in one modes, Class A, Class AB, Solid states, and Tubes, with all
Modes available in balanced.

It has other bonuses such as Pre-in mode which maximize the output and bypass the volume controls, which is meant to taking the advantages of superior sources with LO that has a better attenuations than the C9 built in by itself, and by far as much as portable being a concern, I don’t find any just yet, so I don’t really find this mode being useful.  Then the Single Ended input and output with low gain and high gain.  With all of the portable sources and players nowadays such as the A02 modules from N6ii, dual architecture of AK4497EQ which was meant to be fully balanced to begin with, it only makes senses to be maximize with balanced features on the C9 by itself.  So, I don’t really find the SE being useful much either. 

It is great if for a nostalgic moments with your older MDplayers, Discman, Tape Walkman, DAT systems, you will find new life and joys with them all.  The greatest things the older plus newer technologies can bring into your life, and will make you being glad to be witnessing it.  If you have all of those above and enjoying them all, you will find that the Cayin C9 is an important piece in your collections and will stay with you for a long while.  Unless you are like me, who is active and constantly be on the move, so conveniences are an essential of the whole performances, then you may find stacking isn’t a good way to go.  Then we can talk about the next newest release, the Shanling M30 later!! 

Back to The Cayin C9 sound signature overall, this Amplifier has a nice touch of warmth, very little touch of warmth when compared to the others such as DX200Ti stock Amp11Ti, or AK signatures, and with a slightly thicker density with powerful dynamic, smooth textures and effortless sharp highs with great extensions.  The warmth and sub bass is a little more pronounced in Class A than Class AB, and Tubes has a touch of tubes distortions, with the transients of solid state like and the liquidity and fluidity of tube like performances and clean back ground (though I am not too sure of sensitive iems, in some cases, some people do not find it appealing with slight hisses), but with other easy to drive and not too sensitive gears, the Tube stage and class AB has a very clean back ground IME,   the dynamic, staging, imagings of a high end systems in such a portable form with the obvious forever adaptable toward the future LO sources, and hybrid like tubes implementations (which is clarified by Cayin that Tube is being used as an input stage), the C9 is an impressive amplifier, from form to functions and performances.  Then the replaceable 18650 batteries, the C9 is meant to stay here as long as you still have the 18650 available!!!! 

The cons is that it will warm up a bit if staying inside the pockets especially under Class A with Tube mode, and also the interconnect May protrude out and touching stuff or snagging around.  So this may reduce the leisure’s of bringing it around and with you everywhere you go IMO.  Then once the M30 enters the picture, the situations may change quiet a bit 

Let’s talk about Shanling, a very well known company with a long time history and especially the revered tubes CD deck a while back!  So Shanling isn’t the new kid in the game, also innovative and creativity are their very strengths as well.  But mostly, Shanling knows just exactly how to tune their stuff acoustically.  Case in point is that with the portable flagship M8, you will get a taste of Shanling specialty house sounds, an exquisite blend of everything, from pronounced sub bass, punchy and powerful bass, with analog warmth, liquid mid, and fluid trebles with airiness details and extensions.  Yes, enter the Shanling house sound, it is unique perhaps, because where other have trade offs usually either focused on low, mid, highs, Shanling somehow were able to blend it in nicely. 

Perhaps the only trade off that shanling has is the warmth and fluidity, that makes it standing apart on opposite polar from the airiness and clarity but yet clinical AK sound signatures .  Yet, Shanling house sound isn’t only musical, with the details and fidelity, it can easily be called a references musical sound signature.  Remember ? An exquisite blending of everything.  But this is exactly how I love Shanling house sound and how the M30 enters my journey.  In short, Shanling reminds me of Aiwa back in many many years ago.

Having the M8 for a little bit there and having to deal with it bugs, bits, problems, the only gripes I had with it was because I mainly drive my Hd800S and the M8 is just like any other DAPs, yet powerful on papers, also can drive the HD800S, but can it bring out the Prime of HD800s ? The answer is obvious, and is also the reason why I grabbed the C9 at first!!! Being advertised at 4W output per channel, and I am not saying the C9 is bad!! You can look up my previous details about it, together with so many tricks up it’s sleeves, the C9 is mightily impressive in a compact form in both performances and appearances.  Then yet once again, if it wasn’t for the M30, I wouldn’t look away from the C9, no way!!!

Back to Shanling and my desires to get the M8 sound signatures but be able to drive my headphones 800s effortlessly and squeezing every ounce out of it ? Sure, the Cayin C9 was released before the Shanling M30, which marks my first impressions about Shanling marketing team.  There was virtually no indications that the M30 were set to release, not at all, and while I am itching for something to satisfy my desire, I thought C9 and M8 would do just that ? Oh well, as I said, if it wasn’t for the M30, I wouldn’t let go of the C9.  First of all, the M8 can’t pair well with the C9, as much as I tried to enjoy it and telling myself to settle down, I couldn’t.  So I sold the M8 and tried to bring the C9 to its primes, I grabbed the A02 with a true line out to amplify with the C9.  So under this comparison, you can think of the C9 prime VS the M30!!

First and foremost, C9s (stands for stack) can not and will not have that exquisite Shanling house sound.  This left my desires for shanling unsatisfied, then Of course the M30 with how experienced Shanling is, they have conjured up the M8 on a bulkier, bigger, badder, features packed, and weight as much as….3Kg, but it has that Shanling house sound I have longed for, especially in the “Bypass” mode.  While I was impressed by this mode, the term is misleading, Bypass? But bypass what exactly ? I once again send questions toward shanling, and were received a typical responds “we will consult with the engineering team!”  Then it never get further than that. 

  In the while there are buggy firmwares on the M30, which I swallowed down and try to enjoy the M30 as much As I could , so pardon me to not be listing it out.  This marks the second negative impressions I have from Shanling and the marketing/customer service teams.  But once more, Shanling performances is so very satisfying that I don’t care much more.

Then before I forgot to mention it, the M30 is an M8 on steroids!! Moving on Toward the main object to compare between C9s VS M30.  The very first that would stand out to me is the soundstage, the M30 has a grandeur soundstage, slightly larger in width but hugely deeper in depth and expanded further in the vertical plane.  Yet, the C9s has it perks, with the narrower staging, there are better details and body to be observing, also with a better imaging and positioning.  Yet, under bypass mode, M30 is slightly more neutral with more vivid imagings and placement.  However the transistors are a lot warmer than the C9s and the Tube mode has a lot of tube distortions, slow transients that resemble the classic tubes with orange glows where as the C9s has just a slight touches of the Nutubes in it signatures. 

 Between the 2, the M30 tubes will obviously be called out each and every time in a blind test, where as the SS/Tubes on the C9 will have a harder time to blind test apart unless you know what to look for.  Actually, If I have to enjoy the Tube mode, the C9s will be my first choice every time.

Finally, the reason why I am switching to the M30 more, practically, the M30 in solid states and bypass has a superior driving power while on paper it isn’t as impressive as the C9.  This allows the M30 to have superior staging and to me, this has always been the determining factor.  Additionally, I can further enhance my experiences with the M30 further by modifications and so on!! One of the main perk of having modular system is to be Able to buy the module, and discard it if failed modifications happened !!! This has been verified that modifications can further bring benefits to the M30 and further distancing the potentials of M30 VS C9. 

On top of that, the M30 has many other bells and whistles that the C9s may not see the benefits for a while, the M30 is able to perform SRC (Sample Rate Conversion) up to 384Khz or live PCM —> DSD 256 with Tubes, Preamp XLR true line out, and the possibility to upgrade other modules.  Most importantly, it forces me to either sit still or only semi carrying it from and to places.  So I don’t have to deal with the snagging interconnect!! LOL ! Or the little heat monster.  But after all, it drives my HD800S flawlessly and satisfying together with my Shanling house sound that I have wanted, the M30 is a keeper.

Then when and where the financing is running short with such an expensive hobby and companies keep ditching out new techs/products more than my chicken laying eggs ? I have to sell and scoop back the greens in order to feed my dirty desires

Next up is an amazing feature that would leave many people speechless, yet you don’t have to take my words for it, you just want to witness it because “hearing is believing”.  The ability to do PreAmp Out, and later on, this feature technical details were confirmed by Shanling, the system would take advantages of all the features including “Bypass, Transistors, and Nutubes” , the Burrbrown PGA2320  Analog controls (which categorize it as a preamp) but the output stage is going toward the MUSE buffer MUSE8920 for a true LO dedicatedly.  This makes the M30 to be a dedicated DAC with Nutubes Output!!! And as mentioned, the performances is amazing. 

 There are no other DAC that has Nutubes and also run on battery, which can also drive headphones as the M30, yet also modular in designs !! Then mostly, priced at an impressive MSRP $3,499!! The performances is with great imaging, large staging with tubes goodness.  While I am not much into tubes with phones out, I just simply loving it with preamp out. Then I was asked if I feed it toward the Cayin C9 ? Well, I tried, and while it isn’t bad, somehow it isn’t that impressive.  Not enough to warrant both devices, the separations and dynamic edges out on the M30.  Yet, the combinations of both would yield such versatile features, options for sound signatures changes.  However, I would think that they are better be used with some easier to drive than HD800s phones.

Simply puts, the C9 doesn’t drive the HD800S to my desires where the M30 does better, especially when tastefully modified.  Anyways, when speaking of portability, beside the sound signatures differences, the C9s can totally be a substitute for the M30 which can be a substitute for a desktop system!  But in my case, I optimize my budgets and I would pick the M30.  Neither choices would be wrong though, one just have to carefully weighing the options 

Now, onto the technicalities of the M30.  The M30 also has Nu tubes in all modes.  Fully balanced Dual volume control systems, either by analog Burrbrown chip or digital attenuations from the AK4497EQ duals.  Preamp out is true line out with MUSE buffers.  There are Ultra capacitors or super capacitor in the systems, especially the amp and digital processors! The battery modules is 18650 and while I am unable to verify for sure that the power rails are running +/-15V yet, Shanling is clarifying that the M30 is based on a desktop architecture and classified as a desktop device.  The Low Pass filter is OPA 2211 coming off DAC AK4497EQ and with ADA4610-2 as Dual channel buffers for both active signal lines and each BUF634 as a single channel with each chip dedicated to a  single signal lines.  We finally have 4xBUF634 for a true balanced output. Tubes mode will have the Nutubes acts as first stage buffers before feeding it toward line buffer stages!

Below is the disclosures of the modes by Shanling 

Tube Output
AK 4497 DAC - OPA 2211 - Tube 6P1 - PGA2320 volume control - ADA4610 - BUF634 - Headphone outputs

Transistor Output
AK 4497 DAC - OPA 2211 - PGA2320 volume control - ADA4610 - BUF634 - Headphone outputs

Bypass Output
AK 4497 DAC (Digitally controlled volume) - ADA4610 - BUF634 - Headphone outputs

Written by head-fi @whitigir


  1. Your review was great! But know I don’t know which one to choose between the m30 or the c9. They both sound great!
    I’m just looking for something to mate well with my collection of daps and cans that wont screw up there sound signatures but, give me more power plus versatility. Sometimes I don’t want anything in my ear. So, I’m looking for a good external amp for my Astell & kern Sp1k, Sp2k, L&P p6 pro, Paw gold touch and Wm1z. My cans i will be using, meze empyrean, Diana v2, sony z1r, hifiman Arya and focal stellia’s. The hardest to drive would the abyss v2. Which one would you recommend

    1. I have informed the author/contributor of this article of your comment and they should reply soon

  2. I would recommend to keep the C9 as you have too many good DAP that can be a good source. But for pure driving power for full sizes, I would say that M30 as an all in one is very impressive


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