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About Me

  1. IFi Audio announced yesterday an upgraded version of their “balanced” DAC, Pre- and HP-Amp NEO iDSD, called - who will wonder about that – NEO iDSD 2. I tried to have a short preview on the documents but gave up on quick & short and allow myself to show you more details on the available information than I was expecting this morning. The device is announced at 899 Euro/USD/GBP. I need to excuse my typo, initially I wrote 699. [EDIT] My summary on the NEO iDSD (Version 1) reads like this " 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." That's a lot and Ifi Audio fought an uphill battle to get better, to be fair, it's quite difficult if you already own the "King of the Hill" UPHILL! If you hadn’t been convinced on the first edition of the NEO IDSD because you missed these 8 A’s: - - A 10MHz clock via BNC (75 Ohm) - - A “single-ended” analog input via unbalanced 3.5mm - A better design for the remote control - And more intuitive-functional buttons on the device itself - A filter selector option - the device now (as seen already with the interim Performance Edition) allows to select between 4 filters of choice - A five-times more powerful headphone amp for both – unbalanced and balanced outputs - max. 2.832mW/5.551mW @32 Ohm - And 4 different gain settings from -12dB up to +16dB - An app on Android and IOS for setting up the device and manage OTA updates. this device will be right up your alley. Even more when you are that kind of Bluetooth enthusiast that was waiting for BT 5.4 and the 2022 introduced APTx Lossless codec in a brand-new DAC/PRE- & HP-AMP. I can see that some of the critical points I’ve amended with my 2021/22 review of the first gen NEO iDSD had found open ears chez iFi. And I really like that!
    DOWNHILL! There are some other points which may have not been inside their development budget and I may still feel that I would be good with investing close to the 4 digits’ mark if they would consider to work on the following points. 1. Cabling In my review from 2021/22 I have written about the odd cabling situation when using the device in an upright standing mode, and I am still not convinced having the power cable on the top end of device will prove very comfortable. The cable situation in regard of the supplied extras is still scarce - no balanced cable and no 4.4mm adapter are supplied with this edition. However, the power supply seems to be upgraded to the iFi power 2, which I assume may have at least 9V / 1.5 A 2. The hardware side - the collection of Bluetooth codecs is upgraded to the 5.4 standard and enhanced by the 2022 AptX lossless codec, which - from the data I have seen - seems to be even closer to almost lossless than the LDAC or AptX HD codecs we know. Even this may occur as an important milestone, you will find out only in a couple of month (or years - if you are rational like me with your smartphone renewal) if the performance will suit your ears. This is a generic problem of early adaptors and in my view not really a first mover advantage I may conclude.
    - I actually would have hoped that iFi would step ahead providing a BT output to wireless cans and pods, but my search of the documentation couldn’t confirm that. - I could see that adding a HDMI arc option or AES/EBU would bring this device in another league. - the fully balanced DAC/PRE still seems to hide inside a marketing-fog of “twin mono topology” which may or may not be different from what we know as dual mono design topology. - They use for example still one single Burr Brown DAC chip which may or may not be a proprietary design for iFi only, because no-one else (including TI/Burr Brown) uses the term “Burr-Brown DAC chip’s four-channel True Native design“ except of this website, which seems to be a grab-site of ancient iFi-Audio web information (according to a search with Brave indicating the “ “search term with -iFi). - I would have wished for a well-known and anticipated solution like we had with the iFi Micro iDSD BL, sporting a true dual mono design with dual mono DAC, dual Mono analogue stage and dual mono pre-amp as a basis for this balanced design. 3. The TI Burr Brown DAC chip chart: iDSD Looking at TI’s chart about their standard offers on DAC chips, I can’t directly conclude that iFi may still use chips from the BB 179x series as they did with iFi Micro iDSD BL (BB 1793). At least for me it isn’t obvious when they call it 4 channel & true native DSD design. 4. Loss of accessories We can note the lack of additional iFi accessory like iPurifier3 and Spdif iPurifier2 compared to the Performance Edition, which were a welcomed add-on for that product. As always, it’s a personal choice if you like a device or not ... Me personally can’t say that I would go this route, even I love my iFi products absolutely for what they are and for what they deliver. Ifi, I am still feeling you can do better, even without Thorsten Loesch. Perhaps straighten up the portfolio could help to avoid too many overlaps? Cheers, Tom Here are the ifi documents which are the basis fort this blog entry. I didn't touch a NEO iDSD v2.. NEO-iDSD-2-Briefing-Deck.pdfNEO-iDSD-2-Briefing-Deck.pdfNeo-iDSD2-User-Manual_Ver22.pdfNeo-iDSD2-User-Manual_Ver22.pdfPRESS-RELEASE-–-iFi-NEO-iDSD-2-Global.pdfNEO-iDSD-2_QSC_V8.pdf
  2. By chance (searching for some iFi iDSD pro information) I noted today on the iFi website that the company announces a new version of the iDSD micro. https://ifi-audio.com/products/micro-idsd-signature/ They say it is "Out of this world:" "- Sporting a Space Blue finish and powered by a built-in rechargeable battery, the micro iDSD Signature is a transportable DAC/headphone amp that’s ready for anything that the universe throws at it. - Battery power means it’s ultra-clean with ultra-stable DC power and avoids the pitfalls of AC mains – dips, spike and noise-inducing RFI/EMI pollution. - And with up to 12 hours playing time, depending on the headphones and performance mode engaged, it feels like you could take it to the moon and back." New seems to be some circuitry and the 4,4 mm Pentaconn output. Here's the link to the manual https://ifi-audio.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/micro-iDSD-Signature-User-Manual_1.0.pdf Gearslutz notes: " The iFi micro iDSD Signature is available later this month from selected retailers, at an RRP of £649, (€699, US$649). Only a limited number will be made, so those wishing to get hold of the Signature edition of iFi’s landmark transportable DAC/headphone amp should act fast to avoid disappointment." The perfect gift for iFi fanboys and those who who want to get there. ;-) Based on my iFi micro iDSD BL which I use in this moment writing the news listening to Fink's "Bloom Innocent - Acoustic" via the HD650 phones, I think this may be money spent well on a versatile & excellent digital analogue conversion. I use the BL DAC since 3 years in the main system or as hp amp at my desk without noting any flaw and great excitement when pushing through DSD512 (under ROON) Cheers, Tom
  3. NEO iDSD (around 700-800 $) : HIGH HOPES I need to underline that iFi had understood some of the critical input raised by the reviewers and made changes to the package and the firmware selection. The recent incarnation of iFi neo iDSD comes along as the iFi Audio Performance Edition at 799$ MSRP. The NEO iDSD Performance Edition now does include now the iPurifier3 USB B reclocker plus the SPDIF iPurifier and gives you a firmware choice that allows you to use all capabilities of the BB DSD1793 chips. For the older version for the serial number starting with 60010 xxxxx the updated firmware is here. The firmware branding allows the guessing that there might be a difference in the XMOS chips, which demands different firmware for the older and newer models. Original review: As noted in the introduction the NEO iDSD might have been seen as "THE ONE" by many, a device to fulfill our demand for a PRE/DAC/HPA device below 1k$ that ticks ALL the boxes. All early announcements have led to high hopes with the iFi fan crowd, me included. Now we are looking into the details. The device, prone to stand on the silver socket or lie 90 degree to the right (the display rotates only in that direction or back) has a beautiful sleek "purist" silver aluminum design with two headphone ports, one input selection and the on/off button, plus this big silver multifunctional rotary controller which may be used for: - the analog volume control and mute - dimming the brightness of the display - select the fixed and variable output i.e. DAC or preamp mode in conjunction with the on/off button - In fixed mode (DAC) the volume control for all outputs is bypassed. The flipside is the arrangement of the power input on the device's top back end and all the digital inputs located in the upper half. Using the rigid blue USB cable - which is usually a quality feature of iFi Audio - the unit always showed tendencies to move sideward as the cable supplied with the NEO iDSD is essentially short in quite a reduced way. Luckily for us and different from former iFi Audio micro cable experiences, this one is a standard USB 3.0 A to B connector. Too bad for me that it is pretty much the only USB cable type I haven't lying around in 3 available lengths in my homegrown USB vipers nest with roughly 80+ brothers and sisters from different USB generations. In case you decide to own the device, here's an advice for you: Get a more flexible 1m USB cable or use shorter but less rigid ones. perhaps combined with a wireless RPI as an endpoint. Don't forget to add weight on them if using them horizontally. The included analog cable is the lilac RCA connection we've learned to love from other iFi devices. The supplied adapter is 3.5mm to 6.3mm TRS. My first idea had been; Great, but why don't they supply a Pentaconn adapter? Second one: Time is ripe for iFi Audio to supply balanced cabling. I can see some room for improvement here. To the contrary of my failed perception & most importantly for the new owner, the box comes with an IFI Audio iPower 5v as DC power plug included plus a extra purist remote control which even fits the needs of Becky from WHF without constraints. A new kid in town My first impressions were: - Quite light but solid craftsmanship. - Designed by IFi, licensed by AMR Audio in the UK and assembled in China. - Display and analog volume control are two important boxes to tick when thinking about a future PRE/DAC. - This one comes with XLR balanced outputs, too. - And a remote control. 4 ticks, already!! Let's spy ahead: Burr Brown DSD1793 DAC, up to DSD512 & 2xDXD and balanced headphone output using the new 4.4. mm Pentaconn socket for cables with balanced TRRRS adapter. These specs sound like a delicious audio dream come true after 3 years using the Micro BL as go-to-DAC in my main system. I've had high hopes too, absolutely. The digital inputs NEO iDSD has inputs for three fixed digital sources: Toslink and SPDIF connection allow to transmit signals from other DACs, streamers or digital players. The maximum input is not specified, neither in the manual nor on the iFi website. The USB 2.0 compatible USB 3.0B input does not feature the iPurifier technology we have seen in the last two Micro iDSD devices. Bluetooth (see below) is provided as well. Balanced Analog Design If we look at the details, the Neo iDSD looks like the new kid in town featuring tech we've already seen throughout the iFi toolkit, most of it but not all, to be correct. The new sensation comes with the introduction of a balanced analogue output circuit, referenced as "PureWave" design which distinguishes it from the micro class of devices, including the recent Signature unit. "iFi calls this circuit design ‘PureWave’, referring to the sonic purity it achieves thanks to exceptional linearity and infinitesimally low levels of noise and distortion." (IFI Press Release). The PureWave design is "a new, balanced, symmetrical dual-mono topology with short, direct signal paths” that was "perfected" specifically for this model by IFI's Thorsten Loesch and the recently added wisdom of experienced & famous circuit designer John Curl. According to their website, the device, using this new balanced circuit design technology, the NEO sits in-between the entry-level ZEN and the totl PRO devices. BurrBrown DSD 1793 DAC chip When it comes to DAC chips, IFI Audio hat pretty much proved for years the validity of that gracefully aged phrase "it’s not the chip, it’s the execution that matters". Since the introduction of the Micro iDSD series with the dual mono implementation of the BurrBrown DSD1793 DAC chip, launched in 2003 by Texas Instruments. iFi has used this monolithic integrated circuit for almost all DAC designs - only adapting ESS chips with the ZEN Blue and xCan for Bluetooth based signal transmission. The top flight PRO iDSD i.e. uses four of these BB chips in an interleaved design, while until now single chip implementations were left exclusively with the lines below 400 USD. This rule of thumbs has changed with the NEO, which - with respect to its purist design philosophy - executes the signal conversion with a single BB DSD1793 chip and the GTO filter set before reaching the new balanced analog output circuit. Different to older devices, the NEO uses a more recent & powerful XMOS implementation which allows to process all announced formats including MQA simultaneously and deploys a new type of firmware. It can be changed accordingly to the small video you'll find in regard of the firmware upgrade process later on, however the most recent FW 1.35 does not include any different filter set options as we have been educated to with the iMicro and iNano series. For the NEO iDSD the selection of the GTO as single filter option plus the absence of a dual mono DAC chip concept may be the reason why its analog output could not live up to the sound qualities I enjoyed with the Signature and firmware 5.20. It may have its forté with chamber music and TV presentation, though it lacks the musicality of the micro iDSD devices for my ears. As of February 08, 2021 the FW v1.35 hadn’t been no longer available in the ever changing IFI website's download section. You can see in the FW upgrade video that this has been different in January. Personally, I was informed about availability the day before Christmas, however that link now leads into website nirvana without any notice about the FW retirement. I would assume that it may come back soon in an updated version. IFi Audio, when still present @ Audiophile Style forum in March 2019, once explained their underlying philosophy: "We always like to give our customers a choice." If this is still true, we may see the option to change the filter setting for the NEO in the future. UPDATE (12/2022) : My assumption has been proved to be correct ;-) In 2022, the iFi software engineers started providing FW options that allow to circumvent the GTO. Here’s the link, please be careful with the choosing the correct firmware, there might be a difference in the XMOS design with the newer generations of the NEO.
    Headphone amplifier The headphone section offers a true balanced Pentaconn 4.4mm TRRRS output socket plus the standard 6.3 single ended connection. Unfortunately, the fancy new feature which allows an output up to 1040mW per channel, did not happen to work properly with the device under review. I assume a contact malfunction as the channels were unstable and changing when the connector was turned inside the Pentaconn output. This left me using only the SE output with my Hifiman HE400i-2020 planar cans and the Sennheiser HD650. Contrary to the properly executed output to the HD650 (SE), the match with the 400i-2020 didn't work out to my satisfaction. The SE HPA provides a mere 295mW@32Ohm, enough for an acceptable performance with the HD 650, thus not sufficient for the HiFiMan HE400i. When I reported back to the manufacturer, I received a set of photos explaining how to connect your Pentaconn cable to the NEO correctly. Sadly, this didn't solve my problem, but decidedly it solved theirs. I informed them as well about my experience with the NEO driving my planar headphones. iFi support showed the air of being surprised about that topic and consequently led me to their HP calculator page in order to confirm that the NEO was designed to work with cans like the HE400i-2020. ("Using the headphone calculator, neo iDSD should have more than enough power") and suggesting a broken HP device. Did I mention to them that these cans were singing with the Signature? iFi Audio notes in their FAQ that you can use 2 cans at the same time with the NEO iDSD with limitations, "however, this will limit total power output delivered to each headphone socket as both rely on the same amplifier circuit." After reading this info, I tested that specific scenario for the Sig (due to malfunction on one of the NEO’s ports) with an output of 75dB on the HD650 and 69db with the HiFiMan: neither my ears nor my manual Sound Level Meter could indicate any loss of output power when a second device was attached. However, I would assume that at that level the threshold of the possible output power wasn't reached at all. Bluetooth Another killer feature - this time well executed - is the powerful Bluetooth 5.0 implementation which includes AAC, SBC, aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX LL, LDAC and the LHDC/HWA Codec up to PCM 96khz. After launching the NEO the device welcomes you with a female voice out of your speaker and informs you that you are not connected with BT. This lip service provided me with a surreal feel of IoT. You can store up to 8 BT devices with this module. An audio signal transfer to connectable speakers or cans is not part of the plan. Connection to my phone using LDAP with 96kHz worked flawlessly. "Pairing" & "Your device is connected - LDAC" are the commands you'll hear from NEO. Resume: The NEO iDSD ticks many boxes, comes along in a nicely purist design and may be crowned by a nod from your partner if placed in the living room. I can't see any problem with the device if your demands are balanced by nature which includes you won't mind the GTO filter and MQA integrated with the machine. For progressing audiophiles and the ones aspiring to get there - to the contrary - some criteria might be more important than others and expectations may have been different in comparison to NEO's real life appearance, technical concept and equipment. Personally, I wouldn't mind to pay even 200$ more if I would get these features known from the iFi tool box: - a HPA with sufficient output power to drive my cheap planar headphones, - a full dual mono design - and the possibility to avoid the GTO filter / MQA. I could accept the purist remote control, the missing analog input, the questionable concept of the back plate and the disappointing cable provision, as these factors are not important or genuine for sound quality. Nevertheless, the NEO iDSD will leave me with the feeling that it did not achieve what's possible in the segment between 500 and 1000 bucks. These are chances left behind and it gave me the strange feeling that the company did not live up to its own reputation but stopped half way before they would have achieved something very special. Looking at the +/- balance below, for audiophiles this just isn't special enough for the serious dough to pay. Exhibit 4 - Firmware Special One of the important qualities of iFi micro devices is the adjustable firmware that permits owners to make choices according to personal taste. The recent devices come with the newest firmware that does not feature DSD512 but MQA instead. You could either upgrade to GTO filters or downgrade to the MQA free version. I have had created a small video that could have guided you through the process. In the final test session both FW (V5.30 and V5.30c) showed flawless playback for DXD and DSD256, native and up sampled. A result different from my initial testing when the Signature arrived and I started feeding it. I had tested my initial setup with 2 different types of playback software and 4 different DACs, 3 of them from iFi and only the Sig showed problems in transmission then. However, the device has by now seen multiple FW up and downgrades and I am happy to confirm that it started working flawlessly for DXD and DSD256 with the MQA firmware 5.30. Please note the need to use FW 5.20 if your desire is enjoying DSD512, 2xDXD and upsampling to PCM768. DSD512 however is still a special case for most, as you need some horsepower under the hood of your server (My CAPS has i7 4790 - using ROON integrated upsampling - and achieves it only with ROON, thus the processor power is not sufficient for up sampling with Audirvarna. From a sq perspective, DSD256 and DXD sounded better with FW 5.20 and FW5.30, whereas I did not perceive the GTO filter in 5.30c as any advancement. However, if MQA isn’t your preferred format, the 5.20 FW with sub options for SPDIF usage and disabling the sleep mode may be the most advantageous choice. During the final review I've noticed that by mid-March 2021 iFi has changed the website design and provides a download hub for software / firmware, where you are asked to provide the serial number of your device prior having the options for DL displayed. When I visited the site lately, the firmware 1.35 for the NEO iDSD was on display again as are the USB 2.0 driver v3.2 (2018) and the 5.20 Limoncello for the iDSD signature. Consequently, the video sequence I’ve done in January renders worthless and I had to update work correspondingly. I refrained for doing it again, but if you need any guidance just contact me via PM and we’ll sort that out. Exhibit 5 – The Hifiman HE400i (2020) Turning into the world of balanced Headphone amps, I felt that my proven pair of Sennheiser HD650 may not live up completely to the expectations for this review. The Focal Elegia I had as a loaner in 2019 and 2020 was also returned, thus I acquired my first pair of planar headphones, the Hifiman HE400i which were just starting as the all recent value champion into 2021. According to Sandu Vitale, Hifiman followed suit after Sennheiser has dropped prices of popular models for enhancing market share and enforce customer loyalty by adopting this strategy and undercutting the initial price (2014) of its beloved predecessor – the mass market champion HE400i by 70 % - selling the 2020 model for 149$ in their online shop. The 2020 comes along with the same specifications as the original, however there were some design decisions taken and some cuts to be done. The packaging feels good, but less luxury as before. Related to the new pricing the packaging has a minimalist flair: The cans, cables, a standard 3.5-to-6.3 adapter and the paperwork. Please find it & the specs just below 20201124101738_90760.pdf . The ear cups didn’t change, thus the 2020 does profit from the newer (imho better) designed replaceable pads and a new comfortable headband. The 3.5mm mini jacks at the bottom of each ear cup are a step up to me, as these seems to be more reliable and resistant and particularly gives you a plentiful of options for aftermarket cables or your personal DIY build.
    The HE400i 2020 scores in the lower 95th percentile of Jaakko Pasanen’s Headphone ranking (Basis 580 over ear headphones) and I would invite you to test out the available presets for eq’ing these headphones. I am using the oratory1990 minimum phase with JRIVER convolution for them. The proper list is to found here. Measurements for the HE400i can be found in the previously linked review by Sandu. For me these cans were a first personal planar experience, and I was happy to work out the differences to i.e. the Focal Elegia which I used for the last year and the HD650s which I use like forever. The 2020’s weight lies just between the other cans, and the closed back Elegia is naturally the heaviest. I found the Hifiman phones extremely comfy for my not so small but sensitive head, whereas the headbands of the other two had slightly more grip, which I even didn’t notice before I started using the 2020s. From all three, the He400i excel in soundstage, have better detail retrieval than the HD650 and seem to be neutral with a pinch of warmth, not far away from the HD650s but quite different from the Focals in terms of detail retrieval. In my opinion, the HE400i 2020 really does appreciate the available power of your headphone amp, that’s the reason why they didn’t work well with the Neo but performed excellently with the Signature. I need to admit that I really enjoyed the tuning and the performance of the Elegia, nevertheless the Hifimans did impress me thoroughly positive. At this entry level price, they are an excellent budget option to start a headphone journey. This is the 3rd part of the review. The last part about the Red Elephant in the room will be published after Xmas. Part one and two can be found here:
  4. Is there any alternative to the ifi app on ios (Iphone) if the music source is an SSD drive directly attached (via USB) to my Zen streamer? Will Roon work? I am actually using this setup without a computer. Can I just put Roon on an iPhone w/o a computer? It sounds excellent but the ifi app is sort of primitive and I find it hard to control what it plays and its queue management. By the way, are there any decent instructions for the ifi app on the iPhone? It is hard to navigate. And the queue management is very strange; I can't even get it to, say, just play a single track and then stop without it next playing some track that I played days ago. Thanks in advance for any help. I've tried to google info about this everywhere, but I can't seem to find much.
  5. The red elephant & the art of product life cycle enhancement 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. 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. 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. 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
  6. Great expectations, high hopes & the elephant in the room iFi Audio Micro iDSD Signature & NEO iDSD review The Micro iDSD Signature - Great Expectations Contents Part two: Signature review Exhibt 2: 4.4mm balanced output Pentaconn Exhibit 3: The GTO filter Signature review Last November I was kind of surprised when I read the announcement of a Signature edition for the iFi Micro iDSD. Great expectations had been raised instantly about this shiny new gladiator for the pursuit of sound quality in your home system and for portable use cases. The package content is shown right here: This review will look into the details in pursuance of clarity about the Signature’s strengths and weaknesses in comparison with its predecessor the Micro iDSD Black Label edition, which I have reviewed here in 2017. You'll find a head-2-head feature comparisonjust below: As of IFI Audio’s PR material the Signature edition of the Micro iDSD will be produced in limited quantity, which may qualify for calling it a transitional device, smoothing the transition from the versatile Black Label edition to the new “portable king of the hill” iDSD DIABLO, preparing the iFi customers for a streamlined PCB design, perfected purist sound experience and a whiff of boosted mobility. The Signature’s form, haptic and technology is very much reminiscent of the Micro iDSD series, the most notable changes are: - the exciting blue colored surface, - the additional Pentaconn HP socket for S-balanced output - plus the separation USB port duties for signal transmission and advanced power supply. Looking at the spec sheets, not much has changed related to the signal path and the HP output apart from the higher output. The provision of digital inputs via USB and a combined SPDIF/Toslink port (adapter provided) is well known from the iFi micro range. The Signature still uses the BB DSD1793 Dac chip in dual mono configuration and a dual mono analogue & pre amplification stage. above the DAC sections of the iDSD micro Black Label and Micro iDSD Signature (wholeheartly thanks @ sandalaudio) However, the additional performance in the power supply and HP section comes at a cost. With the announcement of the recent DAC/Pre/HP amp in the iFi-portfolio the Signature lost the ability of variable RCA output mode and along with that change we notice the evanescence of the analog input and optical output. Consequently, we experience a lack of gain selection and supporting line stage. Connecting the RCA output, the volume control now is bypassed. Secondary features like loading external devices via USB port and polarity selection have been eschewed for the crusade toward better sound, purist experience and enhanced portability. On the positive side, IFi Audio has stepped up SQ with the new micro iDSD Signature, accessible under clear defined presets, a success accomplished especially through changes within the device's power structure and less importantly by enhancements in the output section using the 4.4mm s-balanced output design. The major impact in my view comes from the separation of duties for signal transfer and power provision. These presets for success were most distinctive to the reviewers' ears after changing back to the iFi Limoncello firmware 5.20 that permits the owner the spotless use of DXD and DSD512. Using the most recent software, both features aren't available and the more sterile sounding GTO filter is dominating the SQ. Nonetheless, as filters are often suspect to personal taste and experience, I'd suggest taking the challenge to find out for yourself. The manual for upgrading/downgrading firmware had been delivered here and effects - in my ears - were well distinguishable.
    The Signature’s SQ over Headphones, be it through the SE 6.3mm output or the 4.4mm S-balanced tuned Pentaconn port, is exciting by design. iFi confirmed to me that the DAC section with the BB 1793DSD double mono configuration was left untouched while the important changes towards SQ were made in the amplification section and through the selection between important and less important features. The selection of unbalanced SE or S-balanced Pentaconn did not make a significant difference for my ears, given the power output of both outputs is equal by design and the first demand of the HE-400i is current, current, current. My amateurish hand measurements with a SPL meter have confirmed my “ear educated” guesswork for that instance. I credit the direct drive HP amplification stage well known from the Black Label, with the responsibility for amplifying the signal that arrived through the dual mono analogue stage in both, single ended and s-balanced mode. As a matter of consequence, the Signature has lost some features we had learned to love with the older micro iDSD editions. There is no capable line stage that would qualify the unit as a digital preamp providing variable output and analog input anymore, while the device's new power circuit design doesn’t allow uninterrupted usage in your system without connecting it to an external power source. There is, for sure, an advantage inherited with that solution, the SQ enhancement driving the unit solely from battery and no USB bus power interference may inject unwanted noise of all sorts. Thus the Sig is an exquisite sounding device for "more transportable" or desktop use, with or without demanding headphones, however it features a far less complex functionality compared to its predecessor. Accordingly, with this minor "streamlined" changes the device now leans more toward mobility than the Black Label edition which for many users would do greatly as DAC/PRE in the main system. However, I need to admit that using the BL plus a RPI as endpoint rendered somehow as less comfortable for the limited charging power from the RPI2/3 ports plus the need for recharging after listening. Connected directly to the USB3 ports of my CAPS Zuma it has never asked for battery refill. The cleaner way of powering the Signature may allow you to use the battery now up to twelve hours, depending on the selected power mode. iFi support indicates no quality loss if the device is charged during playback. I've noticed a certain signal loss the very moment when connecting the device to the power supply and preferred generally to listen without power feed. However, employing a 20maH power bank proved to be a solution to allow nearly unlimited (2days) use when needed. Having noticed the availability of iFi 5v power plugs with some of the 2020/21 product range I would have saluted an inclusive solution for the Sig as well. Depending on what your objectives are, the Micro iDSD Signature may be exactly the device you are looking for. If you're in for a DAC with preamp functionality in your systems, the Sig won't make you happy with its new configuration and you may rather want to look for the Black Label edition, which is richer in features and not far away in line level sq with identical audiophile heritage, although some caveats regarding component selection are the price to pay for the comfort upgrade, knowing that slightly better SQ can be had with the Signature. Exhibit 2: 4.4mm balanced output Pentaconn This is a quick overview about TRS, TRRRS, Pentaconn, Balanced and S-balanced headphone amp output. There are some things to be understood when it comes to the new wave of so called balanced outputs from headphone amps. I am not an expert in EE, therefore I provide some third party information which I found useful for understanding what’s going on. TRS and TRRRS: The three contact phone connector standard version called TRS is a Tip-Ring-Sleeve connector that arrives in 2 formats (stereo/mono) and three sizes 6.35, 3.5 and 2.5 mm. The five contact phone connector standard called TRRRS is based on the same concept, providing but was only brought into the ITU-T standard P.382 in 2017 for 2.5 and 3.5 mm phone connector 4.4mm Pentaconn: The Pentaconn technology was developed by NDICS (Nippon Digital Information Communication and Service") in 2015 under the Jeita standard 8141C (only in Japanese), marketed under the name Pentaconn (5-connector) and the website pentaconnglobal.com. Sony was an early adopter and is the most prominent manufacturer to date using this standard. Since last year IFI audio provides this adapter/socket technology as headphone & balanced analog output solution in their devices. With the latest devices the installation is used for balanced signal transmission to XLR connectors. As noted above both units offer a 4,4mm Pentaconn HP output socket, which is by definition only usable with a TRRRS connector. In my opinion, based on acquired knowledge and experience, I like truly symmetrical signal paths for stereo output and balanced line level connections for offering some solutions and a higher dynamic range. With the Pentaconn balanced output I may enjoy higher power output to my planar headphones which in my reception could make a distinction in perceived sound quality compared to SE / TRS based connection. With reference to the Benchmark-Paper by John Siau about “Balanced Headphone Amplifiers” I like to list 3 important findings: Headphone transducers are always balanced devices and agnostic to the way (SE vs. Balanced) current is delivered to them. Balanced line Level connections are a common solution in regard to ground loop and noise injection problems. Balanced outputs in HPA can deliver up to 4 times more power for a given power supply voltage . While this proves to be helpful in battery driven devices, it gives no advantage in AC powered devices. Here are some quotes that offer food for thought why a 4.4mm pentaconn connection might not be completely indispensable: “Fully balanced internal circuitry has been promoted as yielding 3 dB better dynamic range, though at increased cost over single-ended designs.” Wikipedia “A truly balanced and differential signal path from source to load requires double the circuitry and is thus more expensive to manufacture, but it can yield an audible improvement. This is sometimes referred to as ‘dual-mono’ to indicate that each channel is completely isolated from the other” Headphonesty “Most audio products (recording, public address, etc.) provide differential balanced inputs and outputs, typically via XLR or TRS phone connectors. However, in most cases, a differential balanced input signal is internally converted to a single-ended signal via transformer or electronic amplifier. After internal processing, the single-ended signal is converted back to a differential balanced signal and fed to an output. A small number of audio products have been designed with an entirely differential balanced signal path from input to output; the audio signal never unbalances. This design is achieved by providing identical (mirrored) internal signal paths for both the "non-inverting" and "inverting" audio signals. Wikipedia /Source: http://www.co-bw.com/Audio_balanced_cables_audio.htm We could think about the Pentaconn as a solution that is looking for a problem in real life, however it works as well as a solution for easy adaption between the smallish TRRRS output and balanced inputs for the signal path outside the headphone environment. The easy solution for your existing cable could have been an adapter from SE 3.5 or 6.3 connectors to 4.4 pentaconn. When starting the review period I've looked at five weeks delivery time for such an useful gadget and decided on ordering a complete balanced cable for my Planar headphones instead - which was expedited in 4 days. However, buying a 4.4mm Pentaconn aftermarket cable could rip some serious cash out of your pocket. I paid about 50$ for the aftermarket cable for my 150$ Hifiman HE-400i 2020, if you are in it for your Meze Empyrean, for example, you may need to shed more than 300$ for a suitable connection. iFi Audio provides for both devices the timeless 6.3 male to 3.5mm female adapter. For me this exactly feels like they have kind of lost that special touch that made them so unique 5 years ago. In my opinion, you may get a stronger push for Pentaconn if you’d include a suiting adapter for 3.5mm TRRS connectors. Only a percentile of customers may be able to use the strongest unique selling points of the devices straight from the start. Even the majority of balanced headphone cables can't, because in the past they were XLR, 2.5mm or 3.5mm .... Late in 2020 - during my research - I found not more than a handful of cans using 4.4mm connectors as standard connectors, given I didn't go to specialist places with low volume output. My short research in European search engines just before Christmas did only provide 5 recent headphones apart from Sony products featuring 4.4mm Pentaconn connector cabling. The 25 best headphones endorsements for 2021 for the British HiFi consumer provides just a single pair of Sony cans (2k GPB) with the specific 4.4mm connection. Obviously we are facing the early adopter problem and the solution may find its problem in the years to come. iFi Audio used the Pentaconn technology with two different designs, the fully balanced design for the Neo and the s-balanced design for the Sig. As noted above, the strongest argument for balanced design for headphones may be the surplus current available for demanding cans, which is not provided for the Signature’s configuration. Most unfortunate, my new adapter did only work with the Sig’s output, but refused to function 100% with the NEO iDSD'S Pentaconn port, which led me to use it only with the single ended 6.5 TRRS cable/output. The caveat I had to face has been the nominal power output, which is too low to drive the (now more affordable) planars from Hifiman in a satisfying manner. Even with the 1040 mA @32 Ohm aren't sufficient to let the cans sing to me. A short look on the s-balanced design: “No second amplifier is used, neither is extra signal nor noise, nor distortion added, perfect for sensitive IEMs. Further including the iEMatch technology extends compatibility with ultra-sensitive IEMs. A dedicated negative wire per channel all the way to each channel’s amplifier’s star-ground makes sure there is no crosstalk between the channels” (iFi Audio) With the iDSD Nano BL this design permitted the use of both TRS and TRRS connectors without compatibility issues. Using it for the Pentaconn output while having a dual mono output stage in the device seems to be that kind of mystery to me that manufactures won’t like to explain. Here’s an overview of technology deployed & the output specs for iFi’s headphone amps: Exhibit 3: Gibbs transient optimized This GTO is neither a Ferrari nor a Pontiac GTO („Gran Turismo Omologato") of digital filters but a development that had been in the pipeline of the AMR/iFi universe since 2011 when they were in research for optimized organic filter solutions for the AM-777. Actually its primary aim is to minimize pre-ringing and correct the timing in order for optimizing the transient response. The introduction of "GTO" was escorted by a "white paper" like 9-page-document available here in 2018 when the GTO filter arrived as an alternative with the iFi iDSD pro. iFi says the GTO is their first choice when only a single filter is in the race. That is the case for example with the Neo iDSD. For their XMOS based legacy products the filter is available since FW 5.30c and substitutes the minimal phase filter. These GTO filters are a collaborative development from IFI Audio / AMR with the MQA Labs. "We must make clear that GTO is not directly related to filter types used by MQA, it is not “MQA through the backdoor”, but instead what we feel is the optimum solution for the playback of digital audio that has not undergone the MQA process. " The Gibbs Transients Optimized (GTO) is a set of filters for analog output which has been critically reviewed by mansr at our forum in 2019. Nearly everything written there as subjective support to the objective data provided by the thread starter correlates with my personal experience. My previous and first experience with the GTO filters came with an exclusive setup in a listening booth in Paris 2019. I recall liking the apodizing filter most then, which was a surprising experience because it was the first and only time I can remember this type of filter being my preference, while I was disinclined with most of the others and especially with the GTO filter that was recommended by the IFI personal at the show. To understand why I was kind of put off from that experience, let me introduce the Paris high quality chain: Aurender A10 & IFI Audio iDSD PRO & PrimaLuna EVO 100 with MEZE EMPYREAN or Audeze LCD4. This may have been the most rewarding headphone system I have ever listened to. During this review, whether it was comparing the iDSD NEO with no filter selection available against the ALLO Revolution with minimum phase fast roll off FIR filter setting or the different firmware selections 5.20 vs. 5.30c for the Signature, the GTO never worked to my aural satisfaction. While my overall less enthusiastic impressions about the GTO filter endured, the Sig & Planar combination allowed better SQ than experienced with the NEO, however it was the Sig's (FW 5.20) "bit perfect" processing that remained my go to choice. The GTO compared to bit perfect sounded to me again more sterile (like the opposite of organic), flat, less lively and providing absence of anything I would call PRAT for the ones who use that definition to describe audio performance. Surely it is called “analytical”- thus unfortunately not transporting the emotional bits to my ears. In a car metaphor I would point out to Toyota Camry or Chevrolet Trax, cars so uninspiring that concentrating on the road traffic is very easy. Some folks may be happy with that, I'll pass on that GTO. Part 1 Part 3 Part 4 This is the 2nd part of the 2021 iFi review. I decided to add it today, when the first installment had reached more than 120 views in less than 24 hours and I felt that the interest seems to be right there . Thank you guys and gals. PS: If you wonder about the big blue layout for the signature, in the word document it was in a handwriting (Signature) type, but the blog layout didn't provide that extravaganza.
  7. I have re-read my 2021 review about these two iFi devices, which I wrote between December 20 and Mars 21, and found that the work is likely worth to be published, even it is seemingly kind of old news, as the Neo iDSD has already received a revamp. I will make a series of entries out of the material, starting today with Part 1 1. Review intro and overview 2. The Micro iDSD Signature - Great Expectations 3. NEO iDSD - HIGH HOPES 4. The red elephant & the art of product life cycle enhancement Great expectations, high hopes & the elephant in the room iFi Audio Micro iDSD Signature & NEO iDSD review In 2020 most informed readers may have noted that top shelf DAC performance can be had starting 500 quids and climbing up the ladder gives you usually a plethora of choice on desired features, like build quality, architecture & implementation of DAC chip(s) in use, display, Pre-Amp functionality or headphone amp (HPA) integration, while balanced output design nowadays starts south of the 200$ coastline. If a company like IFI Audio, which had brought us in 2020 already affordable & powerful devices like the ZEN series with balanced design and a HPA output of 1150mW per channel @32 Ohm below this magic price point, announces their first upgrade to the celebrated portable series Micro iDSD since 2017with the Micro iDSD Signature, these exciting news are welcomed with great expectations. The new designed DAC/PREAMP/HPAMP device iDSD NEO with balanced analog design & output - announced just 4 weeks later - likewise is greeted with high hopes. Since December 2020 I have had both DAC / headphone amps on loan from IFI Audio/UK. The NEO iDSD is a desktop amp, best used close to your audio source in your main system or in your workstation environment. The Micro iDSD Signature, a more mobile device tagged portable by IFI, is a battery driven DAC and HPA powerhouse that allows you to drive even demanding headphones with ease. Both devices play in the 500-1000$ segment of combined DAC/HPA devices, with prices of 699$ for the Neo and 649$ for the Signature respectively at the time of writing. This review aims to have a close look at both devices, the deployed technology and attempts to classify them within the portfolio of IFI devices under 1000$. The review is not looking to compare overly the devices against each other thus to underline the distinct characteristics of each. In order to get familiar with some IFI specifics we make some excursions into history, portfolio, new & advanced technologies and the importance of firmware. Manufacturer’s description The Signature is a mobile DAC and headphone amplifier and the direct successor of the accomplished micro iDSD Black Label which was reviewed at CA/AS in 2017 here & here. ifi Audio says about the device: “The micro iDSD Signature is a micro iDSD BL, but internally streamlined and optimized, and externally equipped with several QOL (quality of life) improvements to be more user-friendly ... (it) features a Pentaconn 4.4mm headphone out, larger LEDs and a sleeker volume knob. Its internal circuitry is optimized and is more direct. (It) ... is better than micro iDSD Black Label in terms of functionality and ease of use.” The NEO iDSD is a home audio device for desktop or full system use featuring technology from different iFi devices, a new type of enclosure and a balanced design for headphones and analog output. iFi offers this description: “The NEO iDSD is our new desktop DAC/amp with bleeding-edge tech. Put simply, it is the first 3-in-one system at this price range to combine the following: 1. Hi-Res USB and S/PDIF DAC – PCM768/DSD512. Full MQA decoding. 2. Hi-Res Bluetooth DAC – 96kHz Hi-Res Bluetooth: LDAC, HWA/LHDC, aptx Adaptive/HD/LL, AAC 3. True Balanced circuit and headphone amp.” The attached table includes the available information of both devices taken from the manual and ifi Audio’s website. I put them into relation with the Micro iDSD BL which offers DAC, battery driven headphone power plus preamp functionality. The differences in features are indicated in red. Both devices share the Pentaconn 4.4 mm balanced output technology, although two different balanced designs are in play for each of the devices: "S-balanced" for the Signature and "pure wave" for the NEO. I found it useful to dig a bit deeper into specifics provided with Exhibit 2. Exhibit 1: Who is iFi-Audio “iFi audio believes that innovative high-end audio should be available to everyone, everywhere, so iFi uses the latest technology, materials and consumer feedback to provide an audiophile quality listening experience at an affordable price.” (LinkedIn) iFi Audio was launched in 2012 as the sister branch of AMR (Abbingdon Music Research), a British high end HiFi manufacturer, most famous for their innovative AM-777 designs, circa 2008. After a grace period during which iFi Audio blossomed into one of the most lauded and applauded manufacturers for portable & affordable HiFi equipment and accessories. The dormant AMR brand was revived in 2019. Trusting the Wikipedia information, AMR and iFi are subsidiaries of Abbingdon Global Limited, which is directed and owned by iFi's Sales director Vincent Luk(e). Depending on which iFi product you own, you may have spotted the information for this product: “Technology licensed from AMR-Audio, UK Assembled in China”. Vincent Luke has explained roughly the design/manufacturing process - in 2018 to 6 Moons and in March 2020 to stereonet.au - as an internationally divided organisation between their home surf at Southport, UK, their manufacturing/assembly site in China, including their design team in France/China and component supply worldwide. While there may have been supply disruption by Covidian inertia, iFi Audio has bounced back strongly with major product overhauls and new product announcements nearly every two month since last summer holidays ended. The end of 2020 saw Abbingdon Global establishing a subsidiary at the European mainland in France, where according to the articles mentioned above the new industrial design has its origins with the Studio Cocktail design company, which is officially located in the buzzing Dongguan region in China. ifi's product design has won them several awards in the last decade, from the multiple EISA’s to the famous “adesign” award in Italy. And we haven't started talking about the 5* reviews and accolades in the Audio trade press. In a nutshell, the iFi products - as we know them - are outstanding in design and technology, value for the money that often comes with the enthusiast's pleasure of selecting personal adjustments for the greatest audiophile enjoyment. The mobile audio branch has provided a steady stream of devices, enhancers, applications and even strictly @home devices like the Pro series or the wonderfully designed AURORA all-in-one music system to their customers. Having had DAC technology and headphone amplification as focal points for most of their gear in the beginnings, iFi Audio have introduced as well new product lines that may help their valued clients to overcome perceived quality issues with existing audio gear, power supplies and cabling. While most of us would think a company under influence from engineers like Thorsten Loesch and John Curl would be dominated by engineering, we have noticed over time that their marketing drive is quite remarkable, too. iFi audio has - for example - proved to be a vivid member of important audio forums throughout the last years, organizing product tours and crowd design calls . Being a company that is in full support of MQA technology’s “full ‘three unfold’ decoding process”, iFi/AMR - in 2019 - consequently have left our forums where they were highly entertaining for a couple of years (in my personal opinion). During the last two years of their sponsored forum presence here, they have faced many challenges from AS members that have left for more "objective" forums. iFi Audio's audio forum activity naturally went in the opposite direction. Since the last Munich High End in May 2019 Ifi has launched the Aurora wireless music system, some ZEN devices & the HIP DAC and overlooked the re-launch of the flagship iDSD pro 2020 4.4mm version. Then, they went into overdrive. Since the last quarter of 2020 the product pipeline didn't stop: We saw the launch of the iDSD Signature in October, a minor upgrade version of the beloved iDSD Black label and the new kid in town, the NEO iDSD, just 14 days later. 2021 has started with the iDSD DIABLO on Jan.15th plus a Signature edition of the ZEN series has been announced in February. It is a challenge to stay up-to-date with this pace because some devices are pure DACs or pure HPAs, although most of them are both. In case you find it sometimes difficult to digest the difference between these products I have prepared this overview for iFi DAC & HPA under 1000$, dated 31st January 2021. The Aurora and PRO devices are beyond the 3 digits $$$ edge, Zen & Hip below 200 and Micro iDSD are usually located above 600$.For the market space in-between the Nano iDSD and xCan/xDSD are IFI’s choice. It’s not an untamed jungle to cross although we face a serious variety of gear with different skill sets in accordance to the respective price bracket. You might be not completely on the wrong side of engineering if you think that the iFi toolbox & portfolio strategy looks like a smaller version of the Volkswagen Group modular matrix system for cross-engineering platforms & products. I.e. the iDSD pro uses a 4 x Burr Brown DAC interleaved installation, while the iDSD Micro has a double-mono set up of the DSD1793 and the NEO iDSD performs through a single BB chip, as does the XDSD. A look at mainstream* retail - main street sounds a bit flawed in these pandemic times - sites in France and the US revealed iFi Audio's marketing has made an excellent job to place these two devices in the bracket between 500 and 1000 $/€, because the fierce competition is either above or below, and nearly no other competitor can offer the range of skills & features like IFI does. Obviously some Chi-Fi devices are waiting in the shadows and I would see at the upper end the Matrix mini and the Mytek Liberty may be competing with a 30% markup to the Neo iDSD, while around the 700$/€ price point you may find brand-conscious devices from Shure or McIntosh that can’t stress the micro iDSD Signature on technical terms. *mainstream audio shops: Audiophonics, SonAudio, Bestbuy, Crutchfield, Audioadvisor, one thing in common, they have at least one of the devices under review on offer Executing a reality check where IFI Audio as a company stands in the audiophile DAC/HPA department, I had a look into the recent Headfonia poll featuring that precise market segment, which creates a pretty good impression about iFi’s strategy and success: From 69 DAC/HPA devices enlisted, 7 were from Chord (incl. DAVE, TT, TT1, Hugo1 / MScaler and Hugo2 / MScaler which imho are in a different universe, pricewise), equally 3 devices were presented by FIIO and SCHIIT respectively, while 6 devices in that list are manufactured by iFi Audio, although we miss out on the NEO iDSD here. Including the NEO and discounting the iDSD PRO from that list makes IFI Audio probably the “market leader” in the segment for devices between 100$ and 1000$,. With half of the units below 500$ - in my opinion - a real competition with CHORD is visibly not on the cards. In the aftermath of 2020 year’s end BREXIT, IFI Audio as a British manufacturer faces some new hills to climb regarding supply, shipping and service on European Mainland and elsewhere applying to new rules and procedures. It is fair to assume that the incommodities will sum up at a certain point into rising prices, which in turn means in order to support your favorite manufacturer: BUY NOW, prices may not drop further ... ( ... sorry that was March 21 ) Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 I did not check if all the links are still valid, sorry if one or the other doesn't work anymore. Especially the iFi website has overhauls regularly, that's why I will follow up with some of their documents I have either on PDF or as saved graphics. Last year, shortly after I finished my work on this review, when the slow dying of my Mum began and changed my perception of important things for the time I accompanied her and her estate. I did not follow up an Audio things back then, and when I came back from Germany in July ‘21 I had to fight many other demons rather than to concentrate on writing or publishing any review. With my mind slowly opening up again for my audio hobby I am starting to participate with refreshed energy in the forums and diving in my freelance hobby, which is represented in this blog and by being a contributor to the AS front page (Thanks, Chris!).
  8. Powering this dac using phone charger sounds kind of dirty and the harshness hurts my ears, I've tested Power Bank and it's really clean as they say, but the quality is kind of claustrophobic and very poor in bass, the same I've read in reviews about IFI Power Supply and IFI X (and the same for the USB filter IFI Silencer+), now I'm plugging directly into the notebook (The USB Data and Power cable), I've clearly noticed that the sound quality of the E30 is better than the above options, sounding good soundstage, clean, accurate without any audible noise or distortion, I would say it's a comfortable sound, BUT I sometimes feel a pain in my ear, like a ''needling'', it bothers me a LOT! Believe it's some kind of noise or interference from the USB ports. Could anyone recommend a good Power Supply Linear that is good in the bass and brings superior to what I mentioned?
  9. Hi! In the era of vinyl comeback, the wish to digitize might grow. In the iFi lineup, there is one important bit missing to accomplish this: the ADC. Are there plans to offer such a device in the not so far future? I somehow have more faith in Thorsten and team than in all these ubiquitous pro audio gear manufacturers to produce something "right". Their "cheaper" offerings (100-400 USD) are not that convincing to me (might be a subjective feeling, but anyway). Thanks!
  10. First... my system... Mac mini feeding music to KEF LS50w through USB cable. I need to run at least 30'. I have also been reading reviews of Regen and iFi 3.0, long usb cables, etc., etc. Has anyone done this ? Or does anyone have any recomendations?
  11. iEMatch What the $^ heck is it? We thank you all for your patience and for entering the competition. But besides DUke40, none of the answers were close to being correct - and Duke 40 already won over at Head-Fi. Nevertheless, we thoroughly enjoyed running the competition. Thank you all for entering. The iEMatch 1) What is this new product? Where is it used? iEMatch - it is inserted between the Source and the Headphones/IEMs. 2) What is the first button for – the one on the main barrel (on the left)? Getting rid of the HISS and excessive LOUDness. From mismatched source amplification and headphones. 3) What is the second button for – the one on the 3.5mm connector (on the right)? Selection of Single-Ended (TRS) or Balanced (TRRS). This is a connector proposed by iFi audio to make life simpler with SE or Balanced operation on the go. (More on this later). Why did we develop the iEMatch? The following series of technical notes outlines why we have brought this product to market. We hope you enjoy reading them. Too LOUD, too much HISS? (Part 1) Headphone/IEM mismatched Nearly every High-End Headphones/In-Ear-Monitors(IEM) user has encountered one of the following scenarios. When the headphones/IEMs are connected to the: inflight entertainment system smartphone A/V Amp, HiFi System or dedicated headphone amplifier the volume is at the lowest setting but it is still TOO LOUD and between songs there is a LOT of HISS. This is a mismatch between the Headphones or In-Ear-Monitors and your audio source. Now one can of course sell the new Headphones or IEMs and buy some that are a better match, except many modern Headphones and IEMs are designed with a very large (around 10 times/20dB) mismatch built-in. Instead, one can simply add the iEMatch® in line with your IEM’s or Headphones and adjust for the best match with your source. How bad a mismatch do I have? Background Let us take some numbers for sound levels. [TABLE=width: 100%] [TR] [TD=colspan: 2] Noise/Sound levels[/TD] [/TR] [TR] [TD] Jet takeoff (50m)[/TD] [TD] 140dB[/TD] [/TR] [TR] [TD] Thunderclap[/TD] [TD] 130dB (Threshold of pain)[/TD] [/TR] [TR] [TD] Auto horn (1m)[/TD] [TD] 120dB[/TD] [/TR] [TR] [TD] Chainsaw (1m)[/TD] [TD] 110dB[/TD] [/TR] [TR] [TD] Loud Rock Concert[/TD] [TD] 105dB[/TD] [/TR] [/TABLE] # sustained exposure >95dB may result in permanent hearing loss Due to the risk of hearing damage it is not advisable to exceed 95dB average SPL and around 115dB peak sound levels. Mismatch If we use an iPhone set to maximum (appx. 0.8…1V) and a common HiFi system or in-flight entertainment system (appx 8V) and play music with peaks at the digital maximum, how does a small sample of high-end Headphones and IEMs fare (2)? * at Ultra sensitivity setting [TABLE=width: 113] [TR] [TD] Mismatch[/TD] [/TR] [TR] [TD] Acceptable[/TD] [/TR] [TR] [TD] Good Match[/TD] [/TR] [/TABLE] Red (>116dB) is ‘WAY TOO LOUD,’ which means you have a jet taking off or a thunderclap right beside your ears, which is the majority of the headphones sampled fall into. Amber (113 - 116dB) is borderline. Green (<= 112dB) is fine. The loudest headphone (actually an IEM) is a whopping 30dB or eight times as loud as a standard airline headphone. No wonder it will blow one’s head off even at the lowest volume setting on in-flight entertainment. And with a good headphone amplifier or HiFi system it will produce an unbelievable 155dB, never mind irreversible hearing damage, at those SPL’s tissue in the human ear begins to die off!! (yes, hearing is permanently destroyed). In addition to irreversible hearing damage, having mismatched headphones/iEMs mean that the annoying background noise (hiss) is significantly amplified and affects the enjoyment of music. Solution Most headphones can be matched into the ‘green’ range for comfortable listening using iEMatch® with one of the two settings or at least be brought much closer.
  12. micro iPhono2 Only everything has been improved Southport, UK – 25th April 2016 The best just made the quantum leap The original iPhono was the ‘benchmark’ phono stage <US$1,000. Only retaining the same design philosophy, we went back to the beginning and designed a ground-up, all-new iPhono2. The design, circuitry and parts are all far-reaching: Ultra-wide gain range – 36dB to astonishing 72dB; suits any cartridge. Whisper quiet – SNR of >86dB, an impressive 10dB quieter than the original. Latest AMR trickle-down technology: revised Class A, TubeState® circuit for unrivalled linearity. DirectDrive® Servo-less ‘DC infinity’ circuit. No capacitor AND no DC-Servo means zero added noise and distortion, there is no purer audio signal path. The sonic performance of the iPHONO2 when partnered with any cartridge from the Shure V-15 through to the Koetsu Coralstone is something to behold. Features Ultra-wide gain from 36dB up to 72dB 6 precision stereo EQ curves (±0.2dB) Latest AMR trickle-down technology: revised Class A, TubeState® circuitry DC-Infinity circuit, DirectDrive® Servo-less circuit Reference class parts quality from Elna Silmic to Silver Mica capacitors iPower (15V) included, ‘quieter than battery’ power supply Specifications Freq. Resp.: 20Hz – 20kHz (±0.2dB) ----- 10Hz - 100KHz (±0.5dB) Dynamic Range MM (36dB): >102dB(A-weighted) MC (72dB): >100dB(A-weighted) Signal-to-Noise Ratio MM (36dB): >89dB(A-weighted) MC (72dB): >86dB(A-weighted) Crosstalk: <-70dB(1KHz) Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): <0.0007% (MM 36dB 1V out 600R Load) Output Impedance: <100Ω Input Voltage iPHONO 2: DC 15V ------ (iPower 15V included – do NOT use any other power supply) Input Voltage iPOWER: AC 85 - 265V, 50/60Hz Power Consumption: < 5W Dimensions: 6.2" x 2.3" x 1.1 Weight: 0.44 lbs. Specifications are subject to change without notice. The retail price of the micro iPHONO2 is US$499 (ex-tax) or Euro569/£435 (incl VAT). Thank you! About iFi iFi Audio, part of AGL, is headquartered in Southport, UK. And also owns the HiFi brand Abbingdon Music Research (AMR). AMR designs and manufacture high-end audio ‘home-based’ components. iFi Audio designs and manufactures portable and desktop ‘ultra-fidelity’ audio products. The combined in-house hardware and software development team enables AMR and iFi audio to bring to market advanced audio products.
  13. Hi, I am looking for any possible suggestions/ user reviews, etc for a Y Split USB Cable (one USB B going to two USB A). Anyone have any experience yet with the brand new IFI Gemni USB 3.0 Y split USB Cable? I am thinking about buying one to use with my IFI Micro iUSB 3.0, bit was hoping to see some reviews or opinions from CA Members first if possible? I have tried the Pangea Preimer Y Split USB cable, and for the price ($99-$150), it really wasn’t too bad, however I am looking for “more”. I also had Ghent (cable maker in Hong King) make me a custom Y split USB Cable, made from Silver plated copper, Teflon insulated, good copper braiding and a JSSG sheild (John Swenson technique attaching an external wire from one end of the copper braiding to the other, but not connected to the connectors). - The Custom Ghent cable had a bit of Harshness in my system and did not sound as good as the Pangea Y Split USB cable. Neither of these cables sounded as good as my Reference USB cables (to date), which are the Cardas Highspeed 2.0 USB Cables. (These are a split design (separated shielded cable for power and data), yet the USB A and USB B connectors both join at each end. Since I have the IFI Micro iUSB 3.0 reclocker, I want to use a Y split USB cable with separate USB A connectors (1 for power / 1 for data). Ifi has just released a brand new version of their Gemni cable (Gemni USB 3.0), so I am tempted to buy it. However, overall, I’ve notived not much mention of the original Gemni USB cable within Audiophile Reveiws, Blogs, Magazines, etc, so I’m a little unsure about how they “stack up” vs some more commonly praised USB Cables. The availability of USB Cables that come in a Y split design is pretty slim. Thanks for any thoughts or suggestions!!
  14. iFi audio have released new MQA firmware (v5.3) with MQA rendering support. Supported Products: Retro Stereo 50 micro iDAC2 micro iDSD Black Label & micro iDSD nano iDSD Black Label, nano iDSD LE and nano iDSD nano iOne See the Press Release for details. MQA seems to be infiltrating everything these days...
  15. "At iFi we believe that high-quality sound is a way of life. The nano iOne was created for both audiophiles and those who yearn for better sound quality from their existing home systems. The iOne is neither a one-trick pony nor is it a jack-of-all-trades. It is simply incredibly versatile and offers cutting-edge technology, with each separate function designed and implemented with as much care and dedication as they would receive in a single function device from iFi Audio." Bluetooth connectivity. In two words, that is what makes the iFi nano iOne different from any other external DAC in the marketplace. The postman dropped off a unit today for my review and recommendation. It is a very remarkable device and we here at "Computer Audiophile on the Cheap" are putting this to the test. At an MSRP of $199, it certainly fits into our price range. It can become part of your home audio system, and set-up is almost too easy. "The Burr-Brown True Native chipset is a MultiBit DAC which represents the ‘best of the best’ chipset design. This chipset handles PCM and DSD natively, so the music signal stays in its original format all the way through." There is a difference between the DAC chipset in the nano iOne, and the Schiit Modi 2, which is the standard reference in my system. I reviewed the iFi iDSD nano LE, which is a DAC/headphone amplifier. I felt that the amplification stage for headphones had an adverse effect on the line output through the RCA connectors. I liked the sound that it produced, but I found that too many pots spoiled the soup. There were issues when the signal was amplified in the DAC, and then the volume could also be adjusted by the receiver or pre-amp. Call me crazy but in a head to head competition, my lament was the iFi didn't sound as "musical" as the Schiit. I thought at that time, that it was a shame that the RCA line out was running through the amplifier stage. It affected the Sound Quality, and not in a good way. My contact at iFi offered to loan me the Black Label version of the nano LE, but in its current ideation, it is strictly a headphone DAC/Amplifier. Now I love headphones for my Smartphone, and when I want to really hear my music, even if nobody else likes it. I wanted to review the iOne mainly because it is a "pure DAC" with RCA output. There is no amplification stage, which suits me just fine. My man at iFi emphasized the "Bluetooth connectivity" as the selling point for the iOne. I was thinking, "Yeah, right" because my CAOTC system is computer-based, and with a Denon AVR-2805 to provide all the amplification I need to drive my Advents--the Bluetooth was a nice feature, but I hardly doubted if I would be doing much with it. Man, was I wrong? It was so simple to set-up. and the sound quality was remarkable. The files on my Moto G3 are all MP3 @ 192, hardly "Hi-Res Audio" but when the Moto was paired via Bluetooth, the SQ was still remarkable. I am using open-source VLC as my media player-- so playing FLAC Hi-Res files would not be a problem. My only consideration would be the file sizes--meaning I might need a 32 Gb SD Micro card for the phone instead of the little 16 Gb card, filled with MP3s. But streaming DSD files--which is basically the best source material in our current technology would be a breeze with iOne and the Bluetooth. (Sure I could stream through the computer, which is on my Internet connection-- but that is hardly a 'portable' option) How does the iOne stand up against the Schiit Modi 2? That is apples and oranges. My Schiit sells for $99 and is NOT Multibit. The Multibit version of Schiit Modi will cost you $249. The iFi nano iOne is a Multibit DAC which can play DSD natively. It sounds incredible. Does this mean that I can no longer use the Modi 2? Absolutely not. It will replace the Dragonfly by Audioquest (Version 1.2) on my second system in the bedroom. That will give me 24/192 resolution back there, instead of the 24/96 from the Dragonfly. But on the big rig-- my main listening system with the Denon and the $4,000 Nordost Valhalla speaker ribbon cables--the iFi nano iOne is the new Sheriff in town. I just finished listening to Thomas Dolby's "Aliens Ate My Buick"-- a very well engineered but not that popular recording that even Dolby himself said was a bit over the top. You know Dolby for his "She Blinded Me with Science" off his debut "The Golden Age of Wireless" album. I am playing that now, and it is crisp, clear, and accurate reproduction without any coloration. In the audiophile world, 'coloration' can be an attribute or a detriment. I prefer "pure" reproduction. I want to hear what the Engineer heard through their headphones when they were making the mix-down in the recording studio. I want to be able to listen at a moderate level and want for nothing more. I don't want any point in the signal path to be adding "warmth" or some other buzz word that describes what some say "makes digital sound like an album". If I wanted to replace my entire music library with 180 gram Virgin Vinyl LPs and all the accoutrement of that--then I would not be a "Computer Audiophile" and I would be hearing clicks and pops, not to mention having to get up from my sweet spot to flip the disc over every 15 minutes. No, Thank you! In my former life, as a photojournalist, I remember people asking me if Digital was "as good" as the film. From my practical considerations as a wire-service photojournalist, I had to admit the convenience of no wet processing made digital my preference. But those were the days of less than 5-megapixel files from my Nikon D2H. Once I moved up to a 16 Mp sensor on my Sony, I could honestly tell people that Digital was Better than film. Without question, the film was a nostalgic, albeit troublesome choice. Kodachrome had long since been discontinued, and if the reference was ISO 800 Fujicolor negative film--a 16 Mp file blew film off the map. In audiophile world, there is a traditionalist snobbery associated with spinning vinyl. And since the roof has been blown off the high-end turntables, cartridges, and record-cleaning machines--I have to put all my effort into digital as my source. If you want to defend analog (LP records) you need to find someone else to argue with. I am a Modern consumer, I have no use for Tubes or LP records. I will take an HDTracks 24/192 file and enjoy the Hell out of the listening experience for hours on end with no record flipping, no pops, and cracks, no scratches, period. Two albums into this testing session and iFi have convinced me that this is the Modern Solution to digital music reproduction. Now I am listening to a playlist of 24 bit 192 recordings. One word...Spectacular! The Brown-Burr chipset is awesome with Hi-Res Audio recordings from Linn, on their 40th Anniversary Collection sampler. There is NO noise floor, it is gone. What is coming out of these 40-year-old loudspeakers is a sound that Henry Koss could have never imagined when he designed these speakers. The iFi Nano iOne is an obvious "Must Buy" when you are ready to upgrade your music system. Back to the Apples and Oranges-- the Schiit is a good DAC for $99, but the iFi with Bluetooth Connectivity is a steal at $199, and well worth an extra C-note. Recommended by the Computer Audiophile on the Cheap! That is my highest accolade. Computer Audiophile on the Cheap Magazine Chat (26)
  16. iPurifier 2 – Active Asynch USB Purifier Repeater Filter-packed to the nth degree Southport, UK – 30st Oct 2015 Leading the field in USB audio technology The iFi obsession with cleaning up the USB audio chain continues. Drawing from the knowledge pool of AMR and on the heels of the iUSB3.0 comes the iPurifier2. It is an Asynchronous Active USB Purifier Repeater. It offers 100X to 100,000X [1] noise reduction for USB Power, underpinned by REclock®, REgenerate® and REbalance®. It is so intelligent, it is an active USB repeater so it can extend USB lengths. Used at the end of the chain, just select the type A, B [2], C or micro USB connector version to enhance any and every USB audio device. Features Active Noise Cancellation® military-grade circuit for 100X to 100,000X noise reduction REgenerate® and REclock® asynchronous technology to eliminate jitter REbalance® re-corrects USB signal balance to cancel DC offset noise Compliant with USB Audio Class 2.0 for DSD/PCM/DXD formats (to 768kHz and beyond) Aluminium aircraft-grade ‘Final’ connector (impedance 90 ohms) 4 versions – USB A, B, C and micro connections The retail price of the iPurifier2 is US$109 (ex-tax) or Euro119 (incl VAT). [1] Magnitude of improvement dependent upon where in the audible frequency range. [2] Type B is available now, types A,C and micro USB to follow. Enjoy!
  17. Am auditioning the iFi Micro DAC but have yet to determine its optimum settings. For instance I've read 3 different reviews, each of which suggest a different filter setting for optimum sound! There's also power mode, IEmatch, as well as XBassand 3D switches. For serious listening I usually pair with my HiFi man 400i's. Can any experienced iFi users weigh in with their preferences? Also, as a newcomer to the world of USB DAC's, I am very interested in finding the best way to conduct a listening test to highlite the differences (if any) between audio coming directly from the headphone out on my iMac, and thru the iFi Micro. Pretty difficult to do a proper AB test! Also choice of music is important... Suggestions welcome....
  18. Hi , the reason I started this topic was because of the question I had in my mind and couldn't find an answer elsewhere . I have a ifi nano idsd dac and because of firmware limitation (5.2 vs 5.3) I have to choose between MQA decoder or DSD256 in DoP mode . since I have a roon hqplayer setup , I wanted to ask if it is worth to stick with mqa and DSD128 DoP or it is better to use no-mqa and DSD256 DoP and upsample everything (mqa and non-mqa songs) with this setting in hqplayer ? p.s : Sorry for my rusty English 😬🙏
  19. From Fatman Itube to ifI ITube, a personal computer audio evolution story In medias res About two years ago I got a Fatman Itube ValveDock with an included IPod dock and two loudspeakers. This is a very nice looking hybrid amplifier using two 6N1 tubes in the preamp stage, integrated with a transistor amp. I discovered quite early, that the sound coming from the included loudspeakers is limited, boxy. So I started to search for a quality replacement for them, and I found the Tannoy Mercury V1, based on the reviews. That time I had a desktop (gamer) computer, and inside that worked a Terratec 6Fire home musician soundcard as the sound source. The 6Fire-Fatman-Mercury chain produced room filling, warm, dynamic, strong, detailed sound at moderate volume levels. I really enjoyed listening to classical and jazz music on this equipment. But there was something that bothered me – during listening to electronic or rock music I felt that the playback became a bit ’slowhanded’, the system did not have a firm grip on the quick changes in the music. Furthermore the 2x13Watt power of the amp seemed to be a bit weak for the Tannoys – from 50-60 % volume distorsion appeared and rose quickly. Then I received the Audioengine A2 for a try, and fell in love with their voice: great bass for the size, open sound with balanced sound signature in the whole spectrum, enchanting midrange, and the previously missed quickness, freshness. I have sold the Fatman Itube and the Tannoys, and bought a pair of A2-s. In the meantime I realized that I have less and less time for playing games on my PC, but I listen to music almost continuously – I decided to change the desktop PC to a used Thinkpad X60s, that resides since nearby the A2-s. About the same time I bought my first USB DAC, a FIIO E7, based on the review in What Hifi. During everyday use I found out, that the bass of A2-s rolls off quickly below 60Hz. Following a short Yamaha SW-150 bypass, I bought the Audioengine S8 subwoofer, that complements perfectly the A2. The pure power of the S8 (240W) may seem overwhelming, but using it with 10-15% level, setting the crossover to 70Hz, and following fine tuning of the Phase settings, the S8 seemlessly adds the missing base frequencies. That time I used the E7 during daily work with my notebook, and connected the A2 with a FIIO D3 SPDIF DAC and a M2TECH Hiface2 async USB-SPDIF interface to the Thinkpad. I think, the FIIO D3 was one of my best price/performance audio purchases until now. An outstanding Wolfson WM8805 USB-SPDIF receiver and a reasonable 24bit/192KHz DAC (Cirrus Logic 4344) worked inside – for about 35 USD. My friend Szabolcs helped me to change the „achilles heel” of the device, the TI LMV358 OPAMP chip to a AD8656, that resulted in a great leap forward in dynamics, without losing the nice detailed and open sound signature as a tradeoff. With such small optimization, the FIIO D3 could compete with DAC-s many times his price. (Unfortunatelly in the follow up product to the D3, the TAISHAN, the WM8805 have been substituted for a Cirrus CS8416 SPDIF receiver – based on several audio forum entries, the new version is less suited for pure music listening purposes). The E7 had considerable advantage in sound quality over the headphone out of my Dell notebook, but on the long term I found the soundstage annoyingly compressed. The logical next step came in the form of the FIIO E17. It used the same Wolfson 8740 DAC chip as the E7, but FIIO emgineers opted for a different USB receiver to enable 24/96 playback, and also changed the OPAMP. The FIIO E17 unsurprisingly shared the warm, bit dark sound signature with the E7, but the sound quality was as different as chalk and cheese: increased detail, micro dynamics, airyness and most importantly the larger size of the soundstage. The E17 became my audio buddy for about a year. It is easy and very enjoyable to ’make the mistake’ of following the audio websites, forums and magazines trying to catch up with the booming evolution of USB dacs in the last couple of years. In the second half of 2011 the Audioquest Dragonfly became the ‘darling’ of the audio magazines. The most important buzzwords were: 24/96 ESS 9023 SABRE DAC, designed by Gordon Rankin, asynchron USB interface, smaller than a small pendrive (very important one!), does not require USB cable, short signal path, analog level control from the computer, and last but not least the coloured bitrate led. I had to try it out. I have used the Dragonfly with my AIAIAI TMA-1 for weeks, but I had to conclude, that I do not like their sound. Fortunatelly it was not the the case was with the Dragonfly and the A2. The rich and fresh midrange of the Dragonfly came alive on the open sounding A2, and the Dragonfly succesfully controlled the base frequencies on A2 and S8 pair. The stereo separation was great, I could easily follow the diverse instruments in the mixes. I had only one complaint – the soundstage – they could not fill our small (15-20sqm) living room with powerful sound. I have to admit, that the A2 was designed initially as a desktop sound source, not to stand on a silicon desktop stand on the top of the case, bent towards and firing soundwaves aiming at our couch. It has been written in many publications, that the sound of the Audioquest Dragonfly is very detailed, but can sound a bit hard/digital and flat, and I had to agree. I really like the sound characteristics of the Dragonfly-A2+S8 chain – the lively midrange, the realistic portrayal of singers voices, separation of instruments – with all the compromise written above. I have tried to find some solution for the flatness, and I came upon the ifi IUSB USB power supply during reading articles about the problems and handling of computer USB power sources. The articles covered all the issues, how the noisy USB power source from the computer raises the noise level of USB DAC-s during music playback: lowering level of dynamics, ruining separation of instruments, smearing the sound of the unique instruments. I decided to give it a try. Ifi IUSB The IUSB is the product of Ifi Audio (the new subsidiary of the renowned british high end company, AMR). It integrates two functions: a clean, computer-independent USB power supply, and power filtering. The device can be connected to the computer with the included higy quality blue USB cable. Besides the USB socket have been placed the socket for the included ultra low noise 9V AC/DC adapter. In the iUSB the power is further ’purified’ in a multiple-step Super regulator filtering process developed by ifi Audio. Between the two sockets resides the switch for the IsoEarth ground noise elimination system – ifi promises 10x less ground noise using this functionalty of the iUSB – to handle problems with grounding, that is the second most critical noise source for USB DAC-s beneath the power source. On the other end of the device there are two USB outputs: the first is an integrated USB data + power socket, while the other provides only 5V power. The IUSB can be used in two configurations: · The DAC connected directly to the data+power socket or · powering the DAC from the USB power socket and receiving only data through the data+power socket using a V-cable. It may seem a marketing move from ifi Audio to offer only an other accessory, but it is far from that. With the help of my electric engineer friend (Szabolcs) we have built a short USB cable, connecting gold plated USB connectors with high quality copper wire taken from an ultra high speed STP/S PiMF CAT 7 cable, and shielded the power and data cables separately, also taking the professional shielding material from the CAT 7 cable, avoiding interference between the power and data paths. Since then I only use this USB cable for USB DACs on my notebook. The look does not justify the audio quality of the cable J - it overachieves easily in soundstage, level, detail retrieval and noise level the mid range audio USB cables I could try. This way I experienced the importance of the separation of data and power wires in USB audio cabling. Ifi Audio produces such V cable called Gemini, and there are several competing high quality products on the market, like the Elijah Audio ISOLAATE BL or a cable from Kingrex. Following the arrival of iUSB from the italian distributor I was very excited to check how the separate power and data path from the IUSB affects sound quality. Without a special V cable at hand I used a USB cable for external USB hard drives, that can take extra voltage from a second USB socket. This was imperfect, since this cable has taken power from both the power and power+data socket. The power and dynamics of the sound increased substantially, but as a tradeoff the base became less controlled, so I decided to plug the Dragonfly again directly to the data+power socket. Ifi Audio provides a USB- DC adapter to the IUSB, with that the IUSB can be used as a high quality clean 5V power source for 5V audio devices like the Squeezebox Touch. The installation was very straightforward - it did not require more than a couple of minutes to attach the device to the computer using the included USB cable, and powering the device with the included AC/DC adapter. I did not encounter any problems using the IUSB on several computers – all DACs attached through the IUSB have been recognized immediately by the computers. I have read in some forum entries, that in some cases the USB DAC could not be recognized by the computer – the temporary or permanent disabling of the ISOEarth function was the common solution for these issues. I did not have such problem, so I let on the ISOEarth ground filtering all the time. Listening experience Thanks to the substantial lowering of the noise level I could identify and listen to previously unheard details. In the recording of Easy to love from Bass Swing Trio and Barbara Bukle on the Stockfish Records-Art of Recording CD, the voice of the singer sounded much more natural, I could hear even her breath and touch of lips. Her sound moved away from the loudspeakers, it appeared holografically between them. The decay of the resonanse of the double bass strings was very realistic, the resonance of the body of the musical instrument also could come over, and I could paralelly listen to the piano and the diverse types of drums. During listening to live recordings, like on the CD of Nils Frahm called Spaces, in the song Says I could easily and clearly hear the individual noises made by the audience in the background, while the piano solo appeared properly positioned in the foreground. The atmoshphere of the concert hall was represented very convincingly. The wide range of dynamics, subtlety and diversity of his piano playing sounded very engaging. The music sounded much more dimensional, and dynamics became much better without changing the beloved characteristics of the sound of the Dragonfly and A2. With the IUSB the control of base frequencies became even better, more firm. On the recording Rise and fall from Bruce Cockburn I could easily follow the constantly moving baseline, the guitar bends and licks, the diverse types of drums and the bells also played by Bruce Cockburn. The IUSB added those elements to the sound of my system, that were missing/I hoped for: the musical instruments sounded more detailed with more believable touch and decay retrieval, more dynamic and potrayed better in space. The instruments moved away from each other in depth and horizontally. As a result more complex musical arrangements were easier to follow, did not collapse into tiring cacophony. The effect of IUSB is diverse, depending on the DAC it is used with. According to my opinion the Dragonfly arrived into a different league combined with the IUSB. Parallel to the Dragonfly I could listen to the HRT Microstreamer and IUSB combo. In this case the level of improvement was lower. The already meaty sound of the HRT became a bit better defined, and the perception of space, primarily in depth became more realistic. The IUSB can have the greatest effect on such USB DACs, that does not have independent power supply, but it can positively affect all USB DACs. The DACs without galvanic isolation are prone to the negativ effects of ground noise. The level of improvement depends on the quality of the power management of the USB DACs – based on my experience it is worth a try. The inclusion of the IUSB into the sound chain had a very positive effect on the sound quality, including the soundstage of the system, but I was still looking for the solution for the powerful room filling sound. It was an additional impulse for me, when I heard Nat King Cole songs (Nature boy, Love, etc) first on the great HRT Microstreamer – AIAIAI TMA-1 Studio Young Guru combo, then on the loudspeakers. On the IUSB-Dragonfly-A2 chain the velvety, shiny character of Nat King Cole’s sound was lost. It sounded detailed and nice, but cold and distant. Memories of the good old Fatman iTube came into my mind. Started to look for ITube MKII (2x25W) amps, but I did not find any for purchase. Parallel to that I listened to some studio monitor loudspeakers (Mackie MR5 Mk2, Presonus Eris E5) to check if the A2 is the limiting factor. ifi Audio started to promote their new product called iTube. Fortunatelly I could convince my friend Peter to order demo equipment from ifi, that landed at me for testing. ifi iTube The Ifi ITube is an integrated device, with multiple complementing functions. Ifi calls it The swiss army knife of audio – now that is the marketing J The iTube works solely in the analog domain. A General Electric 5670 NOS tube is hidden in the slim aluminium body of the device. The only sign of the working vacuum tube inside, is the small red light dot on the upper surface of the iTube, when the device is turned on. The modes of the iUSB can be set with DIP switches placed on the base surface of the device. With the default setting it acts as a tube buffer without gain with 1 M Ohm impedance. The iUSB can also be switched to preamp mode with 100K impedance. In both cases 6dB gain can be turned on, that can come handy with low output level players, like IPhones or Ipad as sources. There are two addtional switches on the device for the other two functions of the iUSB. The Digital Antidote Plus is the enhanced version of the sound improvement technology developed initially by Anthony Taddeo in the eighties. It completes timing and phase correction operations on the analog signal to eliminate phase errors resulting from digital signal processing, primarily from upsampling/oversampling techniques. The information I found about DAP, that it splits the analog signal coming from a digital source, delays one of them with some millisecs, than unites the signals again aiming for a more organic sound. The second optional function is called 3D HolographicSound. The headphone specific version of the technology was introduced in the iCan. This method corrects the sound of the diverse frequencies according to the characteristics of the human hearing. There are three modes: Off, Normal for HIFI loudspeakers with 2-5 meters of distance between them, and Wide for desktop loudspeakers. Experience, sound I presumed, that the ifi iTube shall bring the warm, meaty character of the Fatman iTube’s sound into my system. Based on my experience of two weeks usage, the ifi iTube does not stick to the whole stereotype of tube sound, but fortunatelly also does not contradict that. As an active loudspeaker user I used the iTube as a pure tube buffer without gain. The iTube did not color the sound, did not emphasise any of the frequency ranges - the preferred sound character of the Dragonfly - A2 – S8 chain remained unchanged. In exchange it brought back the wished velvety, polished character and liquidity of the sound. The digital edge and precise but sterile nature of the sound vanished. The previously rolled off decays became more realistic in space, and the occasionally hard edged sounds produced by the Dragonfly became more rounded. The attention to micro details, vividity, dynamics and the freshness/speed remained unchanged. Fortunatelly these improvements did not bring any tradeoffs with them (like the smearing, slow sound of the Fatman), and the base became more tuneful and tight. Everything sounded more natural. I tested the effect of Digital Antidote Plus, switching it on/off during listening to diverse types of music. The effect of DAP is more subtle, than the effect of the tube buffer or the 3D HolographicSound function. It smoothes primarily the sound of high frequency instruments, like violin, some wind instruments, and make them sound stronger. I listened many times to the recordings of Miles Davis - Tutu and Dave Brubeck Quartet – The Last set, with the DAP effect turned on. I felt that in some cases the sound became too smooth and homogene for my taste, I missed the ’bite’ of the brass section, so I decided to turn off the DAP. The preferred sound signature changes from person to person, and level of the effect is different on diverse types of music. The DAP effect can be turned on/off on the iTube making it possible for the user to set the sound according to his/her actual preference. First I switched the 3D Holographic sound function mistakenly to wide mode – the sound disintegrated in the room, it was horrid. I quickly turned it off, and later on switched it to the hifi/normal mode, appropriate for my setting. The instruments found their place in the space, the soundstage became wider, the instruments seemed to move away from each other, and the sound of base instruments felt stronger and even more tight. As a noticable change the sound of singers moved away from the loudspeakers and walls. The iTube could not eliminate the volume and pure air pressure limits of the A2s, but the system could finally fill our room with dimensional sound. Some weeks ago I could attend the concert of Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble on the A38 boat, that was one of the best concerts I have seen in ages. The CD cannot represent how vivid and colourful the concert was, but during listening to Bop, I could easily identify and hear the harp solos, the tight percussions and double bass, the brass section containing a tuba and pozan, the musical jokes like playing the base line with beating the mouthpiece of the tuba or solo played with the strings of the piano, beneath the continuosly pulsating piano base. The complex arrangement did not collapse. The Nat King Cole songs, for example Love regained the unique sound of the Capitol recordings and the purity, velvety feel, that did not hide the occasional small intentional hardness of his voice. The same could be said about the beautiful Strangers on the shore song from Acker Bilk, that was rediscovered on the Late night tale compilation of Röyksopp. Finally I felt, that I listened to these recordings from a digital source ’in the original form’, not just in good quality. During listening to the Once upon a time in America Cocoye theme from Yoyoma’s Morricone adaptation CD, the cello almost cried, and I heard the crackles of the instrument at the unrestful beginning of the song. Later on the melody calmed down, and the voice of the cello became warm and soft, showing all steps of the transition in between. I mentioned previously the Barbara Bukle song from the Art of recording CD. Hearing a Chopin Nocturne played by Gergely Bogányi from the same CD was really enjoyable thanks to the special gloss of the sound of piano during the lyric parts, and the full-blooded sound of the piano hammers sticking together with the resonance of the whole body of the piano in the more dramatic sections of the song. The album SSSS from VCMG presumably will not be a classic of the electronic music history, but the pulsating analog synthetiser sound of the first five songs can easily grip me anytime. It floored me to experience the ringing, resonating analog synthetiser sounds floating between and around the loudspeakers in the room with huge energy – I felt that I could almost feel the sound in the air coming from the A2s. I would like to mention the elementary power and dynamics of the drum+base startup of Billy Jean, and the clean separation of the elements in the complex base+synthetiser+singing+vocals+guitar solo arrangement in Scream from Michael Jackson’s History album. Based on the above detailed experience I can say the addition of the iTube between the Dragonfly and the A2 solved my problem, put an end to the flatness, analitical nature of the sound. The sounds became more rounded, palpable, full bodied surrounded with ambience. The iTube borrowed an analog feel to the sound of my system. The level of improvement varied again from DAC to DAC. The Dragonfly benefited strongly from the added subtlety, liquidity to the detailed, dynamic base sound signature. The sound of the HRT Microstreamer is more meaty and analog like (but I feel it a bit compressed used with loudspeakers, that I did not notice when I use it with headphones) – here I did not hear so much improvement. In summary it seems to me that the systems primarily focusing on detailed sound retrieval, having a bit digital, hard-edged sound (think for example Sabre…) can benefit the most from the addition of iTube. The level of synergy with already analog sounding high end DACs will be much lower. Some additional songs, and the effect of the iTube on the listening experience · Vocal o Janelle Monet – Give em what they love § The continuosly present guitar riffs with diverse effects, Prince’s halfways appearing guitar solo, the brass section, electric organ theme and the duet of Monet and Prince all found their place in the space. o Morningdeer - Concert on a Twig /Drive § All small momentum, resonance and the constant changes from almost crying voice to tender or jazzy singing was represented authentically together with the strong guitar-drum baseline, the marching piano, the diverse types of percussions and sound effects – all performed by Krisztina Dányi. · Rock o Rolling Stones – Under my thumb § The distinctive smooth character, mixing and ambience of Aftermath was present in the song. o Motorhead – End of time § I enjoyed the pure power of the distorted guitars in harmony with the base drums, percussions and hard edged singing of Lemmy. · Electronic music o Darkside – Psychic / Heart § The drums marching in at the beginning of the song from right to the middle of the space to slowly fill it out completely, the electric guitar jumping in at 1.02, the synthetiser sound becoming unexpectedly huge, and parallel to that the processed singing and guitar solo all sounded very real, convincing. o Marcel Fengler – Dejavu, Liquid Torso § The colourful synthetiser sound and the effects of the song from the album Fokus from the Berghain rezident dj floated in the air around me above the huge, hammering baseline. Usage, summary The ITube, as a vacuum tube device, should be switched on some minutes before listening to music to let it warm in, avoiding unwanted distorsion. During continuous usage the device becomes hot, not burning hot, but hot. It should be placed where ventillation is unhindered. The tube is socketed, it can be changed, if needed – screwdriver is included in the package. According to ifi the expected lifetime of the tube is 100.000 hours. Together with my wife we liked very much the sound of our system extended with the iTube. It is easy to get used to good things. When I had to give it back, both of us felt, that something is missing from the sound. We ordered one as a christmas present. Closing comments In this review I shared with you my computer audio experiments. Our recent system can play back all the types of music we used to listen to a very believable, enjoyable way. Recently I could hear the ifi IDAC, that is based on the same ESS9023 chip as the Dragonfly. Unsurprisingly, the sound character of the IDAC is very similar, but the dynamics are considerably better - maybe I shall change for that. In case I have to fill a bigger room with sound, then I shall audition some bigger active loudspeakers. The Adam Audio F7 would come first into my mind, that is starting to build a reputation of a price/performance champion in audiophile circles. Right now I feel, I have arrieved to a system, that provides such musical sound, that fully meets my/our expectations. Further developments are the ’music of the future’ (it is a hungarian slang for ’time will tell’J There is an important question – how much does it cost, and is it worth to buy? · Ifi IUSB: around 200 EUR · Audioquest Dragonfly DAC: around 200 EUR · Ifi iTube: around 300 EUR If you ask me, the short answer is yes. The three devices together produce a very detailed, dynamic, analog-like sound, that was the priviligue of the premium DACs costing 800-1000 EUR or above until now, without the tube buffer. I think, that the flexibility of the further development of the system is also a very important advantage. I could have avoided using a computer for music playback, plugging the IUSB and the DAC directly into the Synology, and playing music with its own AudioStation software, controlled from a tablet. I really like the sound and GUI of Foobar, so I shall set up the wireless controls through some addons in Foobar. Beyond reviewing these devices I tried to represent in this article, that thanks to the booming development of USB DACs, it became much easier and cheaper to build a notebook based mobile hifi system. Thanks to the fact that I did not have the money to buy a high end DAC 2-3 years ago, without the above mentioned steps I would have missed this period of rising quality mobile music playback, music enjoyment. Nowadays a FIIO E10 (Wolfson 8740) is worth a try as a first step, that can be bought for as low as 65 EUR. Combined with the iUSB its sound catapults into a different league. Later on the DAC can be changed to a pricier alternative, that also can be used with the iUSB power supply. We should not forget, that these devices are fully mobile, they can be used during working hours with a notebook and a headphone, and arriving home can become the competent sound source for the hifi system. I won’t say there are no other ways… Many music lovers believe that USB batteries, like the Kingrex UPower provide the cleanest power source. The music specific models cost around the same as the iUSB. The possibility of mobile use made them interesting, but the requirement of constant recharging and the obligatory usage of a V-cable kept them away from me. It’s up to us to find the system (elements), that fits our sound preference and wallet the best. Sound system used for testing · Thinkpad x60, 3GB RAM, 60 GB OCZ Agility SSD, Windows 7, Foobar 1.3 beta 5 · ASUS GX-D1051 V2 Gigabit switch · Synology DS212j NAS · Ifi IUSB + Gemini cable · Audioquest Dragonfly DAC · USB A-B converter (Conrad) · ifi iTube · KáCsa® OCC Line RCA cable · Audioengine A2 + S8
  20. iDEFENDER3.0 The iDEFENDER3.0 solves the common ground loop/hum. It ‘breaks’ the ground loop but in a, proper and electrically safe way Just add iPOWER 5v to inject clean power at the source. Break ground loops the correct way. iDefender3.0 with IsoEarth® Use upstream at the audio source. Because USB is bi-directional. Latest USB3.0 standard. For optimum performance. Cut-off noisy power. Inject pure, clean iPOWER 5v. The iDefender3.0 protects against the common problems of ground loop noise and noisy USB power (if used with optional external iPower 5V). As USB is bi-directional, it is important to address noise issues upstream as well as downstream. Common USB noise problems addressed by the iDefender are: [*=center]Breaks noisy ground-loops. Significantly reduces system noise floor and makes for better dynamic contrast, warmth and resolution [*=center]Disconnects the USB Power from the PC and replaces it with a clean external power (optional iPower* 5V for ultra low noise) [*=center]USB3.0 port technology – most advanced and highest USB specification The iDefender, just like its iUSB power sibling, brings usb port noise at the computer from a typical 100uV down to 1uV. So a 100x reduction that is quieter than a 9v battery. Beneath the compact exterior, the iDefender is feature-rich, with the latest iFi technology. To be used directly at the Source such as the PC usb port, it breaks ground loops and cuts the noisy USB power line. From computer audiophiles, musicians, home studio artists to pro audio customers, it improves audio playback quality at home and on-the-go. *To obtain the best result, the optional iPower 5V is recommended. USB is bi-directional, pays to look upstream Unlike SPDIF which is directional, even as the USB logo itself illustrates, USB is bi-directional. Therefore, despite more efforts and benefits to looking downstream such as at the DAC end, we believe it is also beneficial to look upstream at the source. The iDefender3.0 solves one quite common issue found with either: 1. Multiple earths 2. No earth That is a ground loop which manifests itself as an audible ‘hum.’ The iDefender3.0 cuts the ground loop AND also offers the ability to inject a clean 5v power supply via the micro USB port at the side. For computer audio enthusiasts to professional recording studio engineers, the iDefender3.0 slves these two issues in one fell swoop. Break the noisy USB power, but in the correct way There are more than a few products that break the USB Power connection, but of the ones known to us, they do very little because the noisy ground connection remains. This is quite a major oversight in our opinion. For DAC's that do not use USB Power (except for handshake) the iDefender3.0 breaks the ground connection eliminating earth loops, while allowing normal handshake operation to continue. So in terms of cutting out the noise, it does it in the most comprehensive way possible while at the same time, in an electrically correct way. USB3.0 technology, at the cutting-edge It is now a hallmark of all the latest iFi signal and power products to be USB3.0 standard. First USB3.0 is backwards compatible with USB2.0. Second, in terms of the specifications, USB3.0 is superior to USB2.0 eg the wire gauge specification is more exhaustive and the connections are better. Need clean power? Inject iPower ‘quieter than battery’ technology As the iDefender3.0 breaks the noisy power supply, this is it for DACs with an internally-powered USB line. But for DAC's that use USB Power a separate power connection is provided to feed in a 5V DC Supply - this is needed to break the ground connection, as long as the DAC tries to draw USB power from the Source instead the ground cannot be isolated. With a noise floor that of 1uV, the iPower is a new-breed of near silent DC-power supply. Low power consumption and low-noise. With 12-Element Array on the output and 6-Element Array technology on the input, there is next to no noise supplied and ‘leaked’ back out to nearby devices. Specifications: Super-Speed USB3.0 (and USB2.0 backwards compatible) Connectors: USB3.0 gold-plated connectors Dimensions: 48 (l) x 18 (w) x 8 mm (h) Weight: 6.5g (0.23oz) Warranty period: 12 months The EU retail price: €49 incl VAT The US retail price: $45 ex-tax
  21. Anyone seen or heard this yet? Could only find one review yet: High Fidelity
  22. I’ve been on an obsessive mission to upgrade my computer audio system and desktop listening station to respectable performance level. I’ve been interested in hi-fi for a long time, but never really graduated beyond the entry-level gear, although I tried to buy the best (think Vandersteen 1B, PSB Alpha B1) and my “main” rig serves primarily as day-to-day home theater (those B1s are literally relegated to a bookshelf in a media console). With advances in computer audio, I saw an opportunity to get my audiophile on at the desktop, as well as revamp the computerization of my music. My initial purchase was the Sennheiser HD-650 headphones. This dictated my budget for a DAC and amp, in keeping with the conventional wisdom that headphones (or speakers) should garner the lion’s share of the hi-fi budget. Several DAC/amp options have emerged for $300 and less over the last half year, and the next level is a substantial leap upwards of at least 50%, and losing the integrated headamp and portability in the step (e.g., Schiit Bifrost, Halide DAC HD, Resonessence Concero, or Asus Xonar Essence One). So I focused my attention on the Dragonfly, iDAC, Modi, and now the Explorer. I bought the Dragonfly before the Explorer’s release, then purchased the Explorer in somewhat of an impulse purchase, and quickly conducted some casual comparative listening before the return window runs out on the Dragonfly. Starting with the Dragonfly Dragonfly is available on Amazon, replete with expedited shipping, easy returns, use of gift cards, etc. Although a good DAC remains an enthusiasts’ purchase, these simple-to-install, portable products with reasonably wide appeal and price under $500 should have minimal distribution hurdles and constraints, resembling the mass market more than a network of exclusive audiophile boutiques. Availability: not an issue with Dragonfly. The Dragonfly’s 3.5 mm output swaps easily between different downstream kit (headphones, external amps, powered speakers), even easier than dual RCA jacks. I didn’t require the Dragonfly’s supremely small thumb drive form factor, and would have preferred that the design budget be freed up to a larger size and allocated to other performance attributes while remaining aptly portable, as with the other DACs I considered. But the form factor is as functional as it is impressive. I bought the companion Dragontail USB cable to ease strain on the main unit’s USB stick and simply add back some substantive bulk to the diminutive device with a matching cable. As others have reported, there’s a gap between the cladding on each device, and the connection is crooked. Although it works fine and it’s a minor issue, what little I’m asking from the simple yet premium passive component from a major name in cables is a conspicuous disappointment. Research My initial impression of the sonic performance, before I actually listened to anything, was formed largely by AudioStream, to which I owe credit for very helpful research. Dragonfly placed on the light and lean end of the sonic spectrum, in contrast to the fat and rich presentation of iFi’s iDAC. With a similar position on the spectrum, Modi conceded to Dragonfly in Audiostream’s assessment. Late to the party, Explorer was the Goldilocks of the group, neither too fat nor too lean. Lacking the Goldilocks choice initially and forced to choose one end of the sonic spectrum over the other, fat and rich sounded more appealing than light and lean. But iFi availability was sketchy. One dealer that deigned to offer it online in the United States listed availability as January 20 up until February, and I also heard of shipping delays from otherwise satisfied customers even in its home country. And iDAC cost another $50 plus shipping than Dragonfly. And the RCA jacks would make for a slightly more cumbersome switch among systems. The Modi/Magni stack, while cheapest and small enough to port around the house, are even more suited for semi-permanent desktop placement, dedicated to a headphone rig. It was tough (and somewhat unpatriotic) to pass on Schiit’s exemplary home-grown manufacturing and distribution, but I haven’t ruled out adding one of their popular headphone amps. Purchase So I bought the Dragonfly. Behaving more like a young lad than a middle-aged audiophile, I proceeded to crush my new toy immediately out of the box with hard rocking favorites, recently re-ripped from CD (hopefully for the final time) to ALAC with XLD. Additionally, I played a smaller but more diverse collection of HD tracks up to 192 kHz sample rate, served up by a Synology 212j NAS via iTunes and BitPerfect on a MacBook running Snow Leopard. Stock cables. Dragonfly delivered the goods, but I was struck by its analytical sound. Much of this I attribute to being new to serious computer audio and headphone listening, if not entry-level hi fi more generally. It was a fascinating new perspective on my music, but one that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with. The center of gravity of my music collection is 90s indie rock, with a tilt toward the hard stuff. This is not particularly amenable to the audiophile treatment, not to mention a rather analytical one. On poorer recordings of favorite material, I pined for an old-fashioned treble control to turn down. Nevertheless, Dragonfly delivered impressive resolution. I could pick apart individual elements of otherwise congested noise pop, for example. Aggressive attack livens up the sound. The resolution and attack serve up bass very nicely; nothing muddy about it. But even after listening for a few days and adapting to the sound and allowing for some burn in, I find that these strengths come at the expense of the corresponding excesses—a rather clinical sound. Dare I say, digital. Even with superior, more “grown up” recordings, albeit less so. One knock on the Dragonfly is that it stresses when pushed. Even within the context of my challenging listening habits, I observed this initially and over time. On most recordings, the sound completely falls apart beyond 75% volume, and often before. I reach this harshness limitation before a discomfort of otherwise clean sound pressure alone on nearly every recording; only the best of them overcome this. Over time, I tend to keep backing the volume down, winding up marginally above 50% at most, even though the loudness itself seems reasonable at, say, 67%, even 80% for short bursts of cranking up a favorite passage. Even after embracing the detailed presentation, it can be fatiguing to listen loud enough to hear the nuances. An external amp could help here, and I’d probably add one (most likely the Magni) were I to stick with the Dragonfly. Maybe even a tube amp, even though I’m not a big advocate of seeking tone control with amplification coloration. Otherwise, longer-term listening is pleasant enough at 50% or below. Enter the Explorer Its simultaneous launch and evaluation on Audiostream and Computer Audiophile immediately placed Meridian's Explorer as the new king of entry-level portable DACs. Well, more sonically neutral than Dragonfly and iDAC according to AS, and demonstrably superior to Dragonfly on CA. Having conducted such and exhausting initial search, I bought the Explorer almost impulsively, from Audio Salon in Santa Monica, per CA’s recommendation. Audio Salon delivered attentive service and quick shipping; I concur with the recommendation. Beyond the obvious feature set comparison, one thing I confirmed immediately with Explorer is that you can feed the separate headphone jack and line out simultaneously. Not that you’d want to listen to them both at the same time, but swapping between, say, headphones and desktop speaker monitors doesn’t get much easier, since you can keep them both connected and running with no switching. If I read the scant info on the iDAC right, it has both headphone and line out RCA jacks, but can only output one at a time correctly. Swapping with Dragonfly is literally a snap, but there’s just the one port. Evaluating the Explorer sound vis-à-vis Dragonfly has generally been an exercise in confirming expectation bias. Sorry, no rigorous blind ABX for the objectivists, but also no offending absolutist subjectivist claims intended. Explorer gets more right with less wrong than Dragonfly. Explorer does not exhibit Dragonfly’s excesses, but nor does it succumb to corresponding shortcomings. It sounds more natural and euphonic than analytical. Explorer delivers the whole rather than the sum of the parts, which Dragonfly picks apart (albeit to fascinating effect). Not hyper-detailed, but also not congested. Explorer excels at timbre and decay, but not at the expense of being unnatural or colored. Attack is not overbearing, but nor is it too slow. Soundstage and imaging are better with Explorer, too. Explorer sounds more laid back; I’m not sure whether that’s a notable signature or just a contrast with the fast, forward pace and attack of the Dragonfly. The Dragonfly attack is apparent on drum thwack. It’s punchy, but after a bit of time at satisfying volume, you feel like you’ve been punched. The Explorer delivers more satisfying decay on drums and strings, resulting in a more obviously natural sound. Part of that comes from well-presented timbre, which is sonically where Explorer outshines Dragonfly most gratifyingly. By my calculations and listening experience, Dragonfly delivers marginally more power into my HD-650 (300 Ω) than Explorer. Although both DACs sound good at modest loudness levels, Explorer holds up at higher volume longer. With Dragonfly, I’m usually reaching to turn it down. With Explorer, I’m reaching to turn it up. The Explorer sound quality breaks down at about the same point I reach my volume limit or just after. I can usually reach my short-term volume limit, but sometimes not. Again, an external amp would help here (I may look for one that goes to eleven). But that would require use of the non-headphone line out; I’m excited about the prospect of toggling back and forth between my headphones and desktop speakers—which is my next computer audio upgrade adventure (Emotiva Airactiv 5 or Adam F5?). Results So I will be sending the Dragonfly back with its tail and keeping the Explorer. Which is not to say that Dragonfly is a loser, or that Explorer is the final word on DAC/headamp combinations. Dragongfly excels with portability, punchy delivery, and fine detail. I don’t doubt that I might like iDAC even better sonically, but the more natural and balanced reputation of the Explorer seems more “correct,” but not at the expense of euphony. And there’s the port configuration and availability advantages that favor Explorer. I suppose Explorer gets you in at the entry level for neutral and natural, whereas previously, you had to choose among trade-offs at the humble $300 level. Explorer and Dragonfly may perform as good as previous generation DACs that cost much more, but even today, $300 doesn’t remove all room for improvement on sonic realism by any means. But Explorer is not lacking for much in a $300 DAC, not to mention one that’s portable with a headamp. And there’s always incremental improvements like an external amp or iFi’s iUSBPower plus two-headed cable. The latter gets you to the $500 class with a modular, incremental, optional upgrade rather than an up-front hit to the budget. I also fully acknowledge all manner of expectation bias, and I don’t pretend to scientifically pick apart different DACs. I just spend time listening to each DAC and forming impressions, fully aware of bias introduced by reading reviews and commentary—embracing it, even. I concede some trust in the most credible reviewers and reputable manufacturers that I’m getting the most for my budget. Beyond that, it comes down to basic features like outputs and even availability via a robust distribution channel (I haven’t even mentioned 192 kHz capability until now). While alternatives remain viable for different priorities, I’m delighted with the Explorer.
  23. Delivered to me 3 weeks ago, as new with all accessories, boxes and packaging. Included 2 x 6ft Blue Jean Cable CAT 6a patch cords. Priced separately $1100. Will deliver in cont. US for $950. Money order, personal check (ship when cleared). PayPal add 4% ($988 total) PACKAGE ONLY FOR SALE. Will not separate. Audiogon ID:doak FB:1155 100% since 1999 Links: SONORE microRendu sonicTransporter – Small Green Computer Accessory – iPower Data Cables at Blue Jeans Cable I've decided to keep my optimised Auralic Aries set-up for a while longer (Regen, trick LPSUs, cables, etc) IMO sound is VERY good with either though definitely different "flavors." I'd characterize the set-up for sale as being crystal clear, tight, quiet, and probably the more accurate of the two.
  24. Hi, i am connecting the Digione to ifi iOne Dac via spdif coax. My DSD 256 audio source is stalled in my usb drive which was directly plugged to the usb port of the Respi. I am playing using Volumio. I have no issue playing DSD 126 audio, however when playing DSD 256 audio i hear stuttering throughout the track and according to the colour code on my Dac, it seems the output from digione is not DSD 256 source, but lower resolution. I confirm that my Dac is capable of playing DSD 256 audio. My setting on Volumio is DSD direct, no upsampling. Please advice what could be the issue. Tia
  25. Hello, I have the following for sale: 1. iFi Gemini twin-head usb cable: 1.5M, all original packing materials, boxes, warranty card, velvet bag, adapter, original owner, purchased from authorized US Dealer, Avatar Acoustics. Mint Condition, only used for a few months. Retail: $250 Selling Price: $190 2. iFi iUSB: All original packing materials, boxes, stock usb cable (unused) that was included, great condition, works perfectly. Purchased from authorized US Dealer, Avatar Acoustics. A little over 6 months old. Retail: $200 Selling Price: $140 3. Nordost Heimdall speaker cables: 3.0 meter, Bi-Wire, spades on amp end, bananas on speaker end. Originally, cables had bananas on the amp end, and I sent them to Nordost to switch the bananas to spades on the amp end (have documentation from Nordost showing factory re-termination by Nordost and will provide to buyer). I am the original owner, cables are in great condition and are about 1.5 years old. Unfortunately, there are quite a few chinese counterfeit/fake Nordost cables on the used market. I bought these new from an authorized Nordost dealer 1.5 years ago and will provide buyer with a copy of the sales receipt to prove authenticity and corresponding serial numbers. I also have the original retail packaging and original Nordost shipping box. Retail Price: $2,090 Selling Price: $750 4. KingRex uArt Y usb cable: 2.0M, twin-head usb cable with all original packaging, terrific condition, I am the original owner and purchased new from KingRex authorized dealer, Moon Audio. About 6 months old. Retail: $600 Selling Price: $400 http://www.hifi-advice.com/KingRex-unanimous-review.html http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/usbcables/3.html (see page 3) and 6 moons even preferred the uArt to the uCraft: http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/kingrex12/1.html Prices include ground shipping to USA. I will ship to Canada, but buyer will pay for shipping. I will eat the Paypal fees. Thanks, Blake
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