iFi Headphone Amp & DAC Lineup Review

hey everybody at audio advice we spent a lot of 
time listening to music with great sounding  
dacs and headphone amps the issue for many 
people is finding a dac that sounds good  
has plenty of features and enough power to give 
your headphones the dynamics you really want while  
also staying within a budget so if i really filled 
in this gap when they first came out in 2012  
and made products that are affordable and high 
fidelity and just a few years later they even  
won the eisa best product award accumulating over 
30 award-winning products ever since so in this  
overview we’re going to quickly break down a few 
of the most popular portable dacs in ifi’s lineup  
and compare their features and benefits with 
some of their newest models so let’s get started
alright first up on this list is the ifi 
hip-dac which is a portable dac and headphone amp  
this little guy bypasses the inferior dac and amp 
section in your smart device a pc or mac it sports  
a very sophisticated looking blue with a touch of 
copper and it’s small enough to slip discreetly  
into your pocket but i think the cool look of this 
one will definitely make you want to show it off  
it connects via usb so

you can relax with your 
favorite music streaming service and high-res  
music files it features a burr brown true native 
dac chipset that delivers bit perfect audio for  
hi-res pcm up to 384 kilohertz dsd 256 and 
it’s compatible with tidals mqa master tier  
this lets your audio files remain unchanged so 
you can listen to music as the artist intended  
in the format it was recorded you just insert 
your headphones and away you go in terms of  
sound quality the hip-dac sports a 4.4 millimeter 
balanced output for balanced headphone cables  
so it brings you the cleanest signal possible for 
those hissy in-ear monitors i recommend you use  
the 3.5 millimeter s balanced connection and this 
will let you enjoy all the benefits of balanced  
from your single ended connection the hip-dac 
also lets you adjust input sensitivity to match  
the level of drive to the load of your headphones 
now i would recommend leaving it off for those out  
and about IEMs or you could turn it on for on-ear 
or over ear styles with relatively low impedances  
for those times you just need to add a 
little more bottom end weight to your sound  
the x-bass sonic adjustment is there to address any 
lack of bass that’s often an issue with in-ears or  
open-back headphone styles and my advice is to 
boost that bass and pump it up to your IEMs with  
this little guy for less than $ 200 if you’re always 
on the go it’s really the perfect solution to take  
on a flight or even to get some remote work 
done at a coffee shop and with the extensive  
battery life you get on this piece you can take 
it out with you all day for up to 12 hours of  
playback time even if you’re using headphones 
that require a lot of power i think it looks  
great and for less than $200 it’s a go anywhere 
dac that provides substantially better sound  
alright up next we have the ifi nano idsd black 
label this was the first portable dac we received  
from ifi and i have to say i was really impressed 
when i first saw this one the nano idsd can handle  
dsd 256 mqa and it has burbrown dacs now those 
are some pretty impressive specs for a $200 price  
point and like all ifi products on this list the 
built quality on this piece was the first thing i  
noticed it has a solid aluminum body with a matte 
black finish smooth controls and rubber feet that  
will help it avoid sliding off a tabletop as 
for sound this headphone amp and dac goes above  
and beyond its price point it comes with an iem 
match three and a half millimeter output and a  
more powerful three and a half millimeter direct 
output pushing three volts at 600 ohms so this  
one will drive the most stubborn headphones with 
ease and i found that this one does so with crisp  
highs and full bass response another cool thing i 
like about this one is that it also features two  
filters for pcm listen and measure for transient 
optimized minimum phase and frequency response  
not only is this product great for headphones but 
the three and a half millimeter line output also  
makes it perfect for connecting with an existing 
hi-fi system which will also support mqa i tested  
it with a variety of headphones ranging from 
IEMs to audeze lcd4s and this could drive them  
all with awesome detail and a great bottom end 
weight even on a pair of bass weak headphones  
i think the ifi nano idsd really filled them out 
music was much more enjoyable even at low volume  
okay moving up the line we have a newcomer to 
ifi’s range of portable dacs this one is the micro  
idsd signature edition and if you like tweaking 
your sound then this is definitely the one for you  
the micro idsd signature is substantially larger 
but this piece shares a similar brushed aluminum  
casing as its nano idsd little brother 
and while the most obvious change to the  
signature edition from its previous iteration 
is the 4.4 millimeter pentagon headphone output  
and a new space blue finish the less obvious 
enhancements are actually hiding inside the unit  
exclusive here to most of the signature 
additions in ifi’s dac products is the refined  
circuitry packaged inside it still delivers 
the same impressive power performance as the  
original micro idsd but ifi retuned the signal 
path for maximum musical texture and detail  
and these extra performance enhancements 
really come down to the even higher quality  
components ifi selected throughout the signature 
edition circuitry it features a dual core burr  
brown dac chip upgraded amp sections for low noise 
and plenty of power to drive any headphones out  
there on top of that it has a whole host of inputs 
and outputs and these connections will make it the  
ultimate swiss army knife for your two channel 
system or for headphone use there are a host of  
adjustment modes and these all let you dial in 
and find that perfect sound for your headphones  
now some of these settings are more subtle 
which can be helpful for adjusting to taste  
but if you’re someone who just likes to set it and 
forget it i think the power related features are  
the only ones you’ll really need a quick rundown 
of the cool sounding features are x-bass plus  
which adds in a little more bass extension 3d plus 
this shifts the sound stage and increases top end  
extension and a pre-amplifier direct mode for use 
with the spdif connection there’s also a view of  
the sampling frequency right from the front panel 
with a new multi-colored led indicator light and  
now a usb-c charging port has also been added 
right next to the new battery status indicator  
light now the original micro idc black labels amp 
stage was already one of the best available in  
any battery powered portable dac but for around 50 
dollars more than the original micro idsd i think  
the audiophiles will really appreciate all the 
extra details hiding inside this premium signature  
model the micro idsd signature is much more 
engaging and dynamic and for less than $700 this  
one reveals a lot more detail hiding in your music 
with the warm sound signature of analog components  
alright at the top of the ifi range of portable 
dac headphone amps we have yet another newcomer to  
the lineup and this one is called the idsd diablo 
for less than 400 dollars more than the signature  
edition micro idsd we just went over i think 
diablo is built for true headphone enthusiasts  
and music purists in mind if you really want to 
squeeze out every last drop of performance from  
a pair of audiophile grade headphones then this 
is the piece for you for the digital stage if i  
selected a similar burr brown dac chip used across 
their line of other products and they do this for  
good reason this chipset has a natural musical 
sound signature however ifi’s deep experience with  
this chipset means they really know how to squeeze 
out every last drop of performance they took the  
same digital engine from the micro idsd signature 
model which uses two of these chipsets installed  
in a custom interweave configuration as its high 
performance engine now it’s also worth mentioning  
that ifi applies this same configuration with the 
micro idc signature edition as well to lower the  
noise floor improve channel separation and enhance 
the dac’s ability to resolve finer musical details  
and those micro dynamics hiding in the music but 
for the idsd diablo they souped it up with a new  
16 core low latency xmos microcontroller that 
processes the data at double the clock speed and  
with four times the memory compared to the current 
generation of eight core chips throw in ifi’s  
special jitter eradication including their gmt 
fimto precision clock intelligent memory buffer  
and their gto filter as standards and you’ve 
got one heck of a super dac for less than $900  
the state-of-the-art dac also has the benefit 
of letting you have access to every hi-res music  
format under the sun with the highest fidelity 
it can handle pcm data up to 32 bit 786 kilohertz  
all levels of dsd up to dsd 512 and single and 
double speed dxd and thanks to the burr brown dac  
chip’s four channel true native design pcm and dsd 
take separate pathways here so this enables dsd  
as well as pcm to remain bit perfect in its native 
form right through to the analog conversion this  
is often not the case with dacs from other 
brands even if dsd compatibility is stated  
many dacs actually convert dsd signals to pcm 
there’s also great bluetooth onboard and  
this piece provides full mqa decoding up to 384 
kilohertz you can thank that extra processing  
power from the new 16 core xmos chip for this 
and now with mqa being available over spdif  
this means you can take advantage of the spdif  connection to play back the mqa cds in your  
collection which i think is really cool alright so 
the last one we’re going to go over in this video  
is also another new model and this one’s called 
the neo idsd unlike the other models we’ve talked  
about this one is a new high-res dac headphone 
app that you place on a desktop or a tabletop  
it inherits some of the same custom boutique grade 
components and the dual core burr brown dac chips  
from ifi’s signature series and there’s a lot of tech 
in there that trickles down from their flagship pro  
idsd desktop dac which sells for over two 
thousand dollars this one also has the same  
boost and processor speed as the idsd diablo with 
its 16 core low latency xmos micro controller  
with the latest super speed usb standard and spdif 
digital inputs at double the clock speed and four  
times the memory and when you throw in the special 
jitter eradication their femto precision clock  
intelligent memory buffer and their gto filter is 
standards and this one you’ve got a super desktop  
dac for use at home for a hundred dollars less 
than the premium portable idsd diablo we just went  
over what really sets the neo idsd apart is the 
sleek aluminum case work it’s very flexible design  
and the very generous amount of i o and of 
course headphone users can make use of the  
high performance amp stage so i think the neo idsd 
is a great head-fi system with just about any pair  
of headphones as a desktop dac and a headphone amp 
solution i like how the neo idsd can be positioned  
horizontally or vertically the oled display 
actually automatically flips to suit the preferred  
orientation too so if you decide to set this one 
up vertically it also comes with a stand to prop  
it up and this is really cool because you can use 
this to match the immersive picture quality of the  
sony ps5 or the xbox series x with high fidelity 
sound for the ultimate gaming experience plus  
there’s great high-res bluetooth onboard it has 
qualcomm’s newest bluetooth chipset which supports  
all high definition bluetooth formats and it will 
store and remember up to seven bluetooth devices  
thanks to bluetooth 5.0 whether you connect this 
one up with a cable or high definition bluetooth  
i see the neo idsd’s next level digital engine 
and fully balanced analog circuits are really  
perfect for gamers who want to enhance their 
gaming experience and movie buffs who just  
want the most immersive sound possible this one 
delivers incredible detailed sound for music  
movies and of course this all translates to a more 
immersive gaming experience alright that wraps  
up our overview if you’re looking for even better 
performance that will give you audiophile results  
i think ifi can push even the most stubborn open 
back headphones and give you the lifelike music  
you’ve been wanting now the world of headphones 
can be confusing but it doesn’t have to be  
expensive so if you’re looking for an affordable 
headphone amp and dac to bring life into your cans  
we have exclusive setup guides that show you 
exactly how to optimize your listening sessions  
like a professional audio engineer and all audio 
advice purchasers will receive our tips and tricks  
videos sent directly to them i think ifi has some 
great solutions and there are even more models  
in the full written version of this comparison we 
have a link to that in the description so be sure  
to check that out if you’re interested in learning 
more if you have any questions on any of these  
dacs or any other home audio or home theater gear 
just give us a call chat with us at audioadvice.com  
or stop into one of our award-winning showrooms 
we’ll be happy to let you know how these will fit  
in with your on the go or home audio setup thanks 
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