With the release of the IT03 from iBasso, the audio world was shaken up by its performance, comfort, value, and quality. iBasso had thrown their hat into the audiophile ring and charmed the masses with a remarkable first effort. With the announcement of the IT01, all eyes were on iBasso - could they release another cracker of an earphone at an even more modest price?
"At a distance, the package looks quite premium indeed."
The IT01 comes bundled with a heap of goodies. The inclusions in this $159 pair of headphones put many other higher end offerings to shame, as the IT01 package includes a plethora of tips (9 pairs of silicone tips, and 2 pairs of foam tips), a high quality copper based MMCX to 3.5mm detachable cable, and a solid aluminium case for storage. At a distance, the package looks quite premium indeed. The earphones themselves are made of a durable and lightweight plastic; a practical material for this price point, but shaped expertly to allow a snug, comfortable fit. The sleek black IT01 pairs nicely with the copper cable to exude a high-end earphone look, or if function over form is your motto, the red/blue IT01 indicates left and right at a glance.
For another take on the IT01, check out our quick overview video!
So finally, how is the sound? Is it a cracker?
The IT01 is an earphone which emphasises the highs and the lows, i.e. the earphone has a V-shaped sound signature. The midrange in a v-shaped headphone is usually recessed, such as with the very popular Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear. On the IT01, this midrange recession is subtle, which allows vocal intimacy to be preserved and faithfully represented. The presentation of the midrange isn’t the only unique aspect of the IT01, the subbass of the IT01 is well textured and present, and a good seal provides a dynamic and punchy presentation. The culmination of these elements produces an energetic yet elegant sound that would be very pleasing to regular commuters and sit down listeners alike.
"The IT01 responds remarkably well to hardware changes."
There’s just one more thing, the IT01 responds remarkably well to hardware changes. Changes in the source, the cable, the eartip all have the potential to change your experience. The IT01’s frequency response is malleable and very tunable with any hardware tweaks, and since the driver performs very well with detail retrieval, speed, and cohesion, the IT01 performs well, tuned in a multitude of ways.
Since the IT01’s form focuses on providing a natural fit, finding the correct tip to complement the shape of the IEM is a major factor in the presentation of the sound and the comfort of the listener. In-store, the right ear tip fit sealed the deal for many on-the-fence buyers. Similarly to the fit, the material of the ear tip changes the frequency response, with harder tips like the silicone tips in-store placing an emphasis on the high frequencies, and softer tips such as the Comply-foam tips placing an emphasis on the bass. A softer silicone tip such as the Spinfit tip provides a relatively neutral presentation, and the angled tips on the Spinfits ensure the sound is properly directed through the ear canal. Soundstage and imaging is impacted as well, with silicone tips providing a thinner, and more spacious sound and the softer tips providing a thicker, warmer, and more intimate experience. The result is that the sound can drastically change with a quick five second ear tip swap on the IT01, more so than many other IEMs on the market.
"iBasso should be proud that such a high quality cable is paired with such a budget offering."
With a sensitivity rating of 108 (±2) dB, and an impedance of 16 Ohms, these IEMs are ripe for swapping out sources and cables, as any changes in the output impedance, capacitance (of the cable), or power output of the source can change the electrical characteristics of the earphone, and hence the sound. If you’re not a cable aficionado, feel free to skip this paragraph. The IT01 is paired up with a warm and thick sounding copper cable, iBasso should be proud that such a high quality cable is paired with such a budget offering, with no other 100% copper cables tested providing an uplift in sound quality or tonality. The IT01 responds very well then to silver plated offerings such as the Fiio LC-3.5D, as these cables add more soundstage and width to the headphone, as well as revealing a more neutral tonality. The changes don’t stop there. With a harder silicone tip and the Fiio cable, the IT01 transforms into a balanced, neutral IEM with fast bass decay, a natural midrange, and a slightly sparkly high end - a surprisingly different presentation to the initial out-of-the-box sound. The Pure Silver Litz from ALO Audio on the other hand accentuates the subbass, giving the IT01 a deep growl in EDM tracks. A hybrid cable, such as the popular Ref8 cable, although comically more expensive than the IT01 itself, brings the midrange to life.The Ref8 provides superbly textured vocal intimacy as well as a smooth and less-aggressive low end. The malleability of the sound is very unique with the IT01, especially in the sub-$200 mark, a price range dominated by bass-heavy or V-shaped dynamic IEMs.
Sources have the potential to change the sound too, but smartphone users need not worry. The stock configuration of eartips and cable don’t bring out the failings of smartphone dac/amps, and the experience stays largely intact. The headphones stay great for commuting. Better sources do impact the sound though, with an amp change for a Dragonfly Red speeding up the bass response and decay, and adding some sparkle in the high end. The Fiio BTR3 thickens the midrange and bass response up, adding more slam to the mix; perfect for the gym or a weekday morning. Alternatively, consider the Chord Mojo for a more relaxed and musical experience. The above mentioned cable swaps may also accentuate the increased detail of a quality amp/dac combo.
Despite the tweaks, the IT01 still has some limitations. In some vocal heavy tracks, the IT01 can sound stressed, with the midrange frequencies sounding slightly shouty or uneven. Alongside this, the driver is not as fast as some multi-driver or hybrid, albeit higher priced, IEMs, causing some loss of detail in complex tracks, or some aspects of music sounding too smooth. This phenomenon can be observed with many orchestral tracks, where some of the more subtle percussive instruments can drown out some strings. Compared to the similarly priced competition, the IT01 remains very competitive, with Fiio’s F9 and Sennheiser’s Momentum In-Ear exhibiting similar performance deficiencies.
The combination of the excellent sonic performance and the plethora of accessories included within the package show that iBasso is serious about providing a quality product in the sub-$200 market. The IT01 is a well rounded headphone; it gives listeners a true taste of the high end of the audio hobby without breaking the bank. Start here for a quality IEM experience on a budget.