iFi Pro iDSD DAC. Demo model.
This is the DAC that the Absolute Sound (February, 2019) says has “reach
out and touch the performers realism.”
And, in the context of headphone application with the iFi Pro iCAN
amplifier, “represents an absolutely masterful personal audio playback platform
that has few peers at this (or really any) price point.”
We are often critics of DAC reviews because the writers
don’t go into enough detail with regard to exactly which outputs of the music
server, and inputs of the DAC, are being used when they audition the DAC. As usual, this fine review made a mistake
(although the writer, Chris Martens, makes few of them). This mistake is easily
forgiven. The writer was doing a review
of a HEADPHONE DAC. But, after reading
the review, we had to audition the iDSD ourselves within a good audio system,
and compare it to the DACs in our own reference system that includes Wilson
Sasha speakers, JC1 monoblock amps by Parasound, and two DACs – the Berkeley
Reference 2 with MQA firmware upgrade ($20k), and the T+A DAC 8 DSD unit
($4.5k). We now know that the new iFi
iDSD is the best bang for the buck in DACs we have yet heard, whether for a
headphone system or one involving $20K+ speakers. We are now authorized iFi dealers as a
result. Our test unit is on sale now as
a demo unit because we don’t keep on hand any of the DACs for which we are
dealers – our two main rooms are already loaded with equipment and we have
people fly to our Montana showrooms only in the context of them considering a
purchase of a Baetis Audio Reference music server.
Our main concern when auditioning any DAC is that we want
them to have mind-blowing detail but without any of the “digital” sound of many
DACs. A major reason why we like the
Schiit Yggy and the T+A DACs – at the $2.2k and $4.5k price points,
respectively, is that they do NOT use the ESS Sabre DAC chipsets found in the
legions of DACs at all price points. If
you are an ESS Sabre chipset fan then you might not want these other DACs. But we love them, and the iFi now replaces
the Yggy as our best bang for the buck in our view.
The review writer agreed with the factory that using the
Gibbs Transient Optimized filter sounded the best, but we disagreed. We preferred Bit-Perfect streaming from the
server to the DAC. To employ this method
you must download and use the iFi USB driver from their website if you are
using a Baetis server. With a Mac you do
not need this driver, but, of course, a Mac’s factory USB output is not very
good (despite the fact that most magazine reviewers haven’t figured this out
yet). The factory USB outputs have too
much common mode noise. If you want to
improve the sound of your Mac or PC without forking out for the more expensive
Baetis models, you can purchase the SOtM™ USBhubEX external USB board and separately
power this board (in its own plastic case) with an iFi™ iPower wall wart AC/DC
converter (at $49). The iFi power supply
unit has lower noise than any other PSU including linear or battery units
– and we use it even with the HD-Plex™ linear PSU on our expensive models
because the separation of the two units (the 9V PSU powering only the SOtM USB
board) further reduces common mode noise, the bane of all digital audio
If you buy a Pro iDSD unit (except for this one-time only price) you should
know the following:
Before powering it up, use the black plastic
straight screwdriver in the contents bag to turn the Output Mode screw on the
rear of the unit to the HiFi Variable setting.
The “Pro” settings involve way too much voltage for most systems and the
Fixed settings (for either HiFi or Pro) operate at the maximum voltage for that
range. Otherwise, the other settings
will blow out speakers unless you have JRiver™ or whatever music playing
software you are using set at “volume protection”. This particular unit already has the screw
set to HiFi Variable.
We never even plugged in the wifi antenna
because we are not fans of running any DAC without a decent music server, even
if it’s a Mac Mini with an external SOtM USB board. That is, only JRiver or Roon™, in our view,
have all the necessary features to control your music. This is especially true with regard to
transcoding PCM to DSD or the other way around (with JRiver). Most of our customers have both JRiver and Roon installed in their Baetis servers.
The Gibbs Transient Aligned filter does not
have the word “Gibbs” marked on it (as appears in the review article). Probably this is the second-best setting
(after pure bit-streaming).
The main reason why most people will buy the iFi is that it has
more features than most any DAC at any price.
The iDSD DAC will play true native DSD (which dominates DoP in any other
DAC we have ever tried). As an option
you can have the iDSD up-sample a DSD file to DSD1028. We did not find that this DSD1028 option makes
any appreciable difference. For PCM, the
iDSD up-samples all PCM to 2DXD, which is either 705.8 kHz or 768kHz (depending
on whether the native sample rate was 44.1 or 48). We don’t think this is
terribly useful but it sure doesn’t hurt the audio or we wouldn’t be so hot on
In addition to PCM and native DSD, the iDSD also does both MQA
decoding and MQA rendering. This is the
third straight DAC which does both that we have auditioned, and our auditions
cement a view that MQA is wonderful for streaming via the internet, but it does
not make PCM sound any better in the case of downloaded hi-def PCM. Nor does 2DXD make music sound any better
than DXD – which is PCM in either 352.8kHz or 384kHz native form.
Now, if we could only get iFi or its parent, AMR, to make a
Multi-channel DAC that has the basic features of the Pro iDSD, we would replace
our pre/pro in our MCh room.
For questions, call John Mingo at 406-686-4282 or e-mail me at [email protected]
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