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The long promised iFi iDSD Signature & NEO iDSD review (Part 4) - The Red Elephant


DuckToller

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The red elephant & the art of product life cycle enhancement

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There is an elephant in the room, and it is kinda red.

PART IV:

The micro iDSD
Signature by design is a transition product between the good-ole iDSD Black Label edition and the new streamlined iDSD Diablo. This might explain why it comes with a limited availability.

The Diablo may show the new direction of iFi products - it comes in aggressive Lamborghini Red as the king of the purist design hill, a top-of-the-line device short of the 1k$ mark, with well selected additional equipment, but limited choice.
It came out in stealth mode just 3 month after the
Sig had landed, as a surprise to all new Signature owners and most reviewers - and it looks like even a better device than the Signature - if you aren’t in need of the Black Label’s features.

It’s a package which includes solutions for many things we may find unsatisfying with the iDSD Sig.
Plus it indicates that the underlying feeling of missing them had been very plausible because it would have actually been possible, thus it was willfully held back to mark the difference.

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Product Lifecycle vs. Products Management’s role

So what happened?

I would describe the Micro iDSD Signature as a strategic product with two objectives:
Bridging the gap between the iFi micro devices and the Diablo, providing in part the streamlined qualities of purist design with absence of preamp functions that are now exclusively available with NEO iDSD.
The main parts of the
Sig’s technology is well aged wine in a shiny bottle with some clever features added.
The execution of providing a very special product experience, in relation with iFi’s sub-1k$ portfolio - is far from convincing and left as a unique selling point to the DIABLO.

 

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Looking forward to this latest device by iFi, we can see clearly what could have been done differently to enhance added value & excitement to the Signature:
- an IFI Audio iPower plug for external power supply
- 4.4mm Pentaconn output by “true” balanced design plus XLR adapting cable
plus the aforementioned adaptive solution for the Pentaconn HPA output instead of 3.5mm-to-6.5mm adapter, something which may be saved for future incarnations. 

My view might be a conflicting vision with the recent portfolio policy of iFi audio and the product may not meet the desired price point, however, as a customer I love to have choices and feel great if a manufacturer supplies these intentionally as unique selling points. Facing the other way makes my appraisal for these well designed & intended products naturally a bit less enthusiastic.

 

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Conclusion

The NEO iDSD can’t be named a disappointment in a common sense due to its perfect market fit and quite potent performance.

In terms of IFI audio equipment, where we have seen an astonishing development over the past years into a beloved provider for excellent equipped, high performing gear with nearly unbeatable price-value-performance proposition, introducing the NEO iDSD as a new product range seems an odd choice to me.  When your product portfolio tool box offers so many excellent options to you engineering, dismissing most of them first hand wouldn’t be my personal choice.

Personally, I’d love to see
- a more potent HPA as we know from the micro iDSD series,
- a fully balanced design including a dual mono DAC chip implementation,
- a filter selection option (which may arrive with an alternative firmware flavor),
- an USB port with iPurifier technology built
- and an analog input.

These are desired features we already are accustomed to by the existing iFi audio portfolio. If they would be available, the NEO iDSD could have been described as the unit you have wished for.
Presenting to their customers a potent adaptive solution to use the 4.4mm balanced output sans paying extra for new can cabling, providing a better USB cabling length and perhaps more functional remote possibility via BT could be considered the icing on that cake.

A love lost, an unsuccessful try to establish a quasi- excellent iFi home audio device, given the opportunities the company has in his own toolbox. Smart choice of competitive market space, however, for audiophiles the choice between purist or proven design may have an interesting point, nevertheless between 500 and 1k $ bit streaming & a selection of filters may be indispensable.

The NEO teases high hopes with smart exterior design, but cannot convince due to iFi's choice of components and features. Devils in the detail. Obviously the former philosophy of giving the consumer a choice has turned into favor of streamlined, purist design selection, which has not necessarily met the reviewers POV / taste.

The Signature provides an outstanding performance as an audiophile mobile player when used in battery powered mode while you’ve selected the best available firmware for the unit and your personal taste.

For me it has been the 5.20 Limoncello which provided PCM768, DSD512 and double DXD, doesn’t suffer from MQA impact or GTO filter, thus gives you an outstanding performance at the end of the fully balanced signal path when using the 4.4mm balanced output or SE 6.3, driven by its potent battery without external power source.

The iDSD Sig may now earn the distinction of the adjective "mobile" while both, the Black Label and its predecessor were called "portable" for the limited practicability with mobile demands.

Compared to its ancestors the iFi Audio micro iDSD Signature does features advanced power provision with SQ enhancements and can be fine-tuned into a formidable portable DAC/HP amp. It does, however, lack some valuable features we learned to love with the Micro iDSD series.

This
SIG is one limited edition which works as a transitional vehicle to fill the gap between the micro iDSD series and the iFi DIABLO, the new king of the hill.


Equipment under review:

- iFi Micro iDSD Signature edition (649 $ in 2021 ) - 749$ (2022)
-
iFi NEO iDSD (699 $ in 2021) -> 799$ (2022)


Associated equipment:

- ROON core & Roon Vs. 1.8
- JRiver Media Center (JRMC) 28
- Qobuz lossless streaming service
- headless CAPS ZUMA with RPI4 as ROON endpoint, Gentoo-fied vs 2.15
- JDS LAB Atom Headphone Amplifier
- ALLO Revolution DAC with Nirvana SMPS
- iFi Audio Micro iDSD Black Label edition
- NAD 165Bee pre amplifier

- Airpulse A300 pro fully active 2-way stereo monitors (balanced mode - XLR/RCA)
- on Custom Design FS 106 speaker stands
- XTZ 10.12 edge subwoofer (x2)

- Sennheiser HD650 with 6.3 standard cable
- Hifiman HE400i - 2020 with aftermarket balanced 4.4 Pentaconn cable

- UNRAID NAS
- Philips 43” smart TV
- HDPLEX 100W

- Balanced cables by Sommer Cable
- RCA cables by Oehlbach

 

 

 

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