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iFi Pro iDSD Desktop DAC/Tube/Solid State/Headphone Amplifier/Wireless Audio Streamer/USB/SPDIF/Optical Inputs for Home Stereo - Home Entertainment Upgrade (2.5mm)

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  • HIGH RESOLUTION AUDIO - Play any high-res file natively with the Quad Dual Core Burr-Brown DAC chipset, which means media file formats and information remains unchanged for the truest sound, from MP3 up to studio grade Bit- perfect DSD 512, DXD, PCM 768 as well as MQA (Decoder)
  • WiFi STREAMING - All controlled from the palm of your hand via an app, choose a wireless connection to stream your favorite tunes from Tidal, Spotify, Qobuz – the list is endless. Take it up a notch by using a wired Ethernet connection to play from a router or NAS (Network Attached Storage). Or relax with AirPlay to enjoy playback from your iPhone, iPad or Mac
  • POWERFUL - Our balanced headphone amp outputs up to 4 Watts of power and will drive a wide range of headphones. Connections for 6.3mm (1/4"), 3.5mm TRS, and 2.5mm TRRS balanced IEMs
  • MUSIC YOUR WAY - Options include the ability to listen in solid-state, tube or tube+. We have also added digital filters to add flavor to your listening, such as the GTO filter, Bit Perfect, Bit Perfect+, Apodising, and Transient Aligned. Remaster any track (excluding MQA) to DSD 512 or DSD 1024. All there for you to customize you listening experience
  • MULTIPLE CONNECTIONS - All inputs (including USB) are galvanically isolated and the USB input is self-powered, femto precision clock, S/PDIF Toslink and Digital Coax, BNC, AES XLR, USB A and micro SD TF for external storage
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Product Description

iFi was born in 2012 with one goal in mind: to produce 'ultra-fidelity' audio products that push the sonic envelope whilst still priced within the mainstream.

iFi audio is under our parent company, AMR, Abbingdon Music Research, which designs and produces top-end luxurious audio products. AMR saw in 2010 that customer demand for wireless and portable headphones was expanding as the whole audio dynamic was changing. Thus, iFi was launched.

iFi offers small but prodigious personal audio products thanks to the superior knowledge of AMR’s technology. Today, we are proud of our British (and international) roots. We continue to design and produce over 35 different products. We are headquartered in Southport, UK with distribution including retailers such as B&H and etailz with production overseas.

We source parts from around the world from manufacturers including AMOS (UK), GE Valves (USA), WIMA (Germany) and TDK (Japan).

iFi audio Pro iDSD with a pair of headphones

Why do you need a DAC and Amp?

If you have high quality or hi-fidelity headphones you are going to need some power in the form of an amplifier to drive them to their true performance potential. You are also going to need an exceptional external HiFi Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) to process your music files in high resolution to enhance your experience even further. The DACs in a smartphone, computer, tablet or audio player on the market are not designed for processing high quality sound. iFi audio has developed top of the line products to meet the various needs and preferences whether you are an everyday listener or an experienced audiophile.

Pro iDSD Desktop DAC

There’s no wrong way to enjoy your music as long as you’re enjoying it, so we’ve created the Pro iDSD reference grade DAC and amp combo to be the centerpiece for whatever strikes your mood. When convenience matters, stream from your favorite services like Spotify, Tidal, and Qobuz over WiFi for up to 24 bit / 192 kHz high resolution streaming audio. For the ultimate in hi res audio connect your PC, laptop, tablet, digital audio player, Android, or iPhone (with Apple Camera Connection Kit, not included) to the high speed USB 3.0 input for native playback of all formats, including FLAC, WAV, PCM, DSD and even MQA decoding. The micro SD TF card slot and USB A inputs let you connect your external library, and you can run a network usb drive through the built-in ethernet port. Dust off your CD collection and plug in your DVD player via the SPDIF optical toslink jack to rediscover old classics. On the back, RCA jacks and a balanced 3 pin XLR output connection work directly with your home audio amplifier or receiver allowing the Pro iDSD to function as the preamplifier for your home audio. When speaker listening isn’t an option, the built-in headphone amplifier will drive your favorite pair of headphones with ease as you listen to your favorite beats. Choose a filter from one of five options or apply DSD Remastering to dial in the perfect sound signature, and switch between solid audio amplifier or tube audio amplifier on the fly for just the right amount of warmth. No matter the way you listen, this is the only digital audio converter you need for your home.

Front View of Pro iDSD

We believe that a product as feature-packed as the Pro iDSD deserves to have a brilliant looking, readable, nicely embedded display. OLED was the only answer. Such a display provides a true black colour and looks great. Its purpose is to provide you with all the key playback info you need when using the Pro iDSD. These are operation mode (PCM/DSD), current sample rate (44kHz, 45MHz etc.), Bitperfect/filtering mode, Base sample rate and currently used input.

Front View of Pro iDSD

OLED display

Back View of Pro iDSD

Amplifier

Top View of Pro iDSD

Smooth and slick

Pro iDSD back with connections plugged in

Noise filtered

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Customer Rating 3.8 out of 5 stars (17) 4.5 out of 5 stars (729) 4.2 out of 5 stars (23) 4.8 out of 5 stars (10)
Price $2,499.00 $169.00 $149.99 $1,799.00
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Sold By GRAMOPHONE iFi audio Quantum Networks GRAMOPHONE
Item Dimensions 8.7 x 2.5 x 8.4 inches 4.02 x 2.76 x 0.55 inches 6.2 x 4.6 x 1.4 inches 0.39 x 0.39 x 0.39 inches

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Size:2.5mm

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3.8 out of 5 stars
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Reviewed in the United States on August 7, 2018
Size: 2.5mmVerified Purchase
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Best sub $5000 dynamic DAC out there
By ChitoryuNY on August 7, 2018
(I have owned several iFi products over the last 5 years and dedicated to write this review after buying this and spending last 10 day using almost every feature of it. I hope it helps some of you).

Ifi has always been a company that’s known to serve the audio world with great value. Their early products such as the Micro iDSD received high escalates in the audio community for their excellent sound but offered at a significant lower cost compared to competitors. In the past few years, iFi began to push the high-end audio market. Many consider the Pro iCan one of the best, non-exotic amplifiers on the market. For $1500, it can drive the high-demanding Abyss AB-1266 and Hifiman Susvara with ease. You shouldn’t be surprised because high-end has been in iFi’s blood. Many may not be aware iFi is actually a subsidiary of Abbingdon Music Research (AMR) who produces high-end consumer audio products. AMR’s flagship DAC DP-777 DAC was a $5000 DAC at release. When the Pro iDSD was announced, it was met with a lot of excitement, given the spectacular specification and myriad of features, but similarly many wondered if iFi is able to deliver the sound and performance at the now crowded $2000-$3000 market.

The In & Outs:
The iDSD is made of an aluminum chassis. There are fenestrations on the top and each sides of the unit to give you a glimpse of the internals. The top panel also houses a small, round viewing window which lights up in a Chordesque fashion when you are using the tubes. Speaking of tubes, the iDSD can operate in all-solid-state mode, an all-valve Class A section based on 2x GE5670 tubes, or a Tube+ mode which “reduces available negative feedback to a minimum.

Other goodies under the hood include a quad stack of Bit-Perfect DSD and DXD DACs by Burr-Brown. Based on speculation, the actual Burr-Brown chip used is the PCM1793. All signals to the DACs are re-clocked with the low-jitter Global Master Timing® derived master clock from the AMR DP-777 DAC. The quad DAC chips together with the new XMOS XU216 X-Core 200 Series 16 Core processor allow PCM decoding up to 768 kHz as well as DSD upsampling to DSD1024. Pro iDSD also uses a custom FPGA and DSP chip to carry out its digital filter duties.
Moving to the front panel you will see the power button, input selector (press to adjust OLED brightness and hold to adjust polarity), filter selector, output mode (solid state, tube or tube+), a 3.5 mm SE headphone jack, 6.3mm headphone jack, and balanced 2.5mm TRRS headphone jack, headphone gain selection (0dB/9dB/18dB), and volume control. You can control the unit with the included remote. The remote only controls volume, but it can control both Pro iCan and Pro iDSD.

If you are not impressed with its internals, the Pro iDSD also offers a plethora of inputs and outputs. On the back panel from left to right you have the following:
1. XLR Balanced Out
2. RCA SE Out
3. Output selector (Hifi Fixed, HiFi Variable, Pro Fixed, and Pro Variable): The recommended setting is the Hifi Fixed as a pure dac or HiFi Variable if you want to use the iDSD as a DAC/Preamp. The HiFi Fixed mode puts out 4.6V vs 11.2V of the Pro Fixed mode.
4. Ethernet to use iDSD as a network streamer.
5. USB Type A Host: You can play USB drive, external HDD directly from it. Make sure you format your media as FAT32. You can only access the USB drive via the MUZO app (more in the network streamer section).
6. USB 3.0 Type B to connect to PC or laptop USB port. It’s important to know that the Pro iDSD is galvanic isolated but has the technology behind the Micro iUSB3.0. Theoretically you should be getting a very clean USB signal.
7. Digital Coaxial SPDIF
8. Micro SD card slot
9. AES/EBU digital input
10. Wifi antenna: The easiest way to connect the Pro iDSD to the network is through an ethernet cable. Then you can find the ip address on the Muzo app. You type the ip address in the browser in your browser to setup wifi. Otherwise, you can hold the WPS button (filter button) to link with your wifi router.
11. BNC digital input which acts both as SPDIF and AES3id to be used with high-end CD transport.
12. Clock sync mode: I have not played with external clocks to make any meaningful comment about this.
13. BNC Sync out
14. DC Loop-out: This allows the iDSD to be used with Pro iCan amp.
15. 15V/4A DC power
Please note all inputs other than USB are currently limited to maximum sample rates of 192kHz PCM and DSD(64) via DoP.

Sound:
My setup: Alienware R7 with Paul Pang Audio V2 USB PCie card -> Pangea solid silver USB cable -> Pro iDSD -> McIntosh MHA100 -> Hifiman Susvara

I purposely mentioned the dedicated USB PCie card because it took me a long time to understand how PC and USB noise can degrade audio quality. The few things I did to clean up the USB signal improved SQ dramatically in all my gears.

Now back to the Pro iDSD. The Pro iDSD sounds so good that I think just breaking down its SQ based on highs, lows, vocals doesn’t do it justice. Music is emotional, and how the Pro iDSD evokes your emotions is difficult to convey with words. Right off the gate without any burn-in, the Pro iDSD sounds very dynamic while maintaining excellent detail. Every track sounds more punchy with excellent layering. The most popular DACs have something special about them, and if you have to name one special trait about the iDSD is that it is one of the most dynamic sounding DACs on the market. Moreover, the Pro iDSD is still able to maintain a natural and analogue portrayal of music. It really pushes the Susvara to its full potentials in terms of speed and detail. Every track you own will sound better, but you quickly notice poorly recorded tracks vs well recorded ones.

The Pro iDSD’s sound signature is neutral, it doesn’t color the recording. Sound stage in terms of width and depth is one of the best I have heard. In well recorded jazz tracks, the instruments really pops with the Pro iDSD. It feels like the sound is coming out of the Susvara and filling all around my head space.
One disappointment at the writing of this review is lack of MQA function for Tidal streaming which was promised by iFi. The current speculation is the MQA update will come with a September firmware update.

Solid state mode: This is my favorite mode for pairing with MHA100 and Susvara. The is the best sound and most refined mode. My sound impressions above is based mostly on solid state mode.

Tube mode: This is my least favorite mode. I feel I lost detail and everything sounded too warm. There is also significant loss of transparency in the treble region.

Tube + mode: Probably a balance between solid state and tube mode. I keep going back between the Tube+ mode and solid state mode. There is something very analogue and laidback about the Tube+ mode. You don’t lose too much treble. I think most owners will find them flipping back and forth between the solid state and Tube+ mode. Again, the SQ of different modes may vary based on your amp and headpones/speakers, so YMMV.
Compared to other DACs:

Chord Qutest: I really like my Qutest. The Qutest has a very detailed and natural presentation. The sound stage is excellent. However, the Qutest doesn’t come close to the iDSD in terms of the surreal dynamics. The iDSD hits so hard and in your face, you get a more visceral feeling with music particularly with live recordings.

Schiit Gungnir Multibit with Gen 5 USB: The Gumby sounds very natural and analogue with a very holographic rendering of music. That kind of sound signature can be very addicting. When you move to the Qutest or the iDSD, you don’t lose out on any of the analogue qualities of the Gumby but gain significant detail and dynamics. From my research, The Yggy Analogue 2 may be a good competitor for the iDSD, but I have never heard of it. One thing that really bothered me with the Schiit Multibit DACs is the constant clicks with bitrate change. This is the primary reason I sold my Gumby.

McIntosh MHA100: For a long time, I just used the MHA100 as an one box solution. There is something to be said about having single device that can perform both the DAC/Amp function. You don’t have to play around with interconnects, etc. Usually combo units are optimized by the manufacturer. Many feel that the DAC section of the MHA100 is its weakest link. I actually enjoy it very much for a long time. With both Gumby and Qutest, I notice an upgrade, but I never felt the upgrade was so substantial that I got a different emotional experience listening to music. This is where the iDSD really separates itself of the pack. Because the iDSD delivers layering and dynamics like no other.

iFi Micro iDSD Black Label: The Black Label is an excellent DAC/AMP for its size. However, it really isn’t a fair comparison to the Pro. The Pro is a different beast all together. The Pro wins in every category you can think off. Most noticeably is that when operating as an external DAC feeding MHA100, the Black Label has the smallest soundstage of all the DACs I have owned recently. It sounded digital and congested compared to the all of the above mentioned DACs. I actually preferred the integrated DAC of the MHA100 compared to the microiDSD. I’m mainly mentioning the Micro iDSD because it’s iFi’s previous flagship DAC.

Filters:
By pressing the filter knob, you go from non-DSD remastering to DSD512 remastering to DSD1024 remastering. If you play a nonDSD file in the nonDSD remastering mode, the following applies:
1. Bitperfect: this is the same and non-oversampling mode.
2. Bitperfect+: This applies an analogue filter and corrects SINC or very high frequency roll-off which happens in the Bitperfect mode.
3. Gibbs Transient Optimised: This is a digital filter with pre-ringing, minimum post ringing, 32 taps of correction. It minimizes the Gibbs phenomenon causing time-domain distortion.
4. Apodising: no pre-ringing, modest post ringing, 128 taps of correction.
5. Transient Aligned: It has the largest tap count at 16,384 taps

If you upsample a nonDSD file to DSD512/1024, iDSD first oversamples to 705.4/768kHz. None of the filters mentioned above applies in those 2 modes. You can turn the knob, and may appears that you are switching digital filters, but they are not doing anything.

If you play a native DSD file, iDSD will only play it in bitperfect mode only. If you upsamples a native DSD file to DSD512/1024, there is no bitperfect mode because a digital filter has to be applied.
To be honest, I had to do a lot of research to figure this out. I reassure you that the difference between the different filters is small. If I tell you I hear a significant difference, I’ll be lying to you. The most noticeable difference with the filters I hear is that when you upsamples to DSD512/DSD1024, you lose a little dynamics but add a little sound stage and clarity. None of the filters is going to make or break the iDSD as a DAC. Perhaps, more sensitive ears can pick up greater differences.

All the above mentioned digital processing options apply to all sources, including the network audio bridge and AES/EBU & S/PDIF inputs.

Pro iDSD as a DAC/Amp Combo:
The Pro iDSD is outfitted with 3.5 mm single-ended, 6.3 mm and 2.5 mm TRRS balanced output. The output power is clearly weaker compared to Pro iCan. I need to put the gain at the highest level and turn the volume to 12 o'clock to achieve the same listening level with Susvara with the 6.3 mm plug. The vocals sounded good, but everything else sounded restrained. The soundstage shrunk considerably when compared to when driven from the MHA100. Most who buy Pro iDSD will likely be using it as DAC only, but I can see it as a good single box option for those who own more efficient headphones like HD800/HD800s or Utopia. I also tested the 2.5 mm output with Westone ES60 at the lower gain level. Now with the IEMs, the Pro iDSD sounds better than the AK380. I was amazed that the desktop DAC/Amp has a cleaner background compared to a dedicated endgame portable DAP. The sound stage is also excellent but not as grand as the AK380.

Network Streamer:
I tested iDSD’s network capabilities through the Muzo Android app. It utilizes Linkplay and has built-in Spotify and Tidal. For Tidal, it will only play back at 16/44. I was able to stream hi-res files on my phone to iDSD and get native resolution playback up to 32bit/192kHz. It sounds good but not as good as playing Tidal through USB.

Next I set up DNLA server on Jriver Media Center 23. On the Muzo app, you can find the Jriver DNLA server as source. This allows you play all the way up to 32/192. When I tried to play DSD files, the app just froze. It may be due to the large file size. The audio quality was very good, but a tad worse than USB out. One factor to consider is that I was streaming through an ethernet cable. The ethernet was ran through a powerline passthrough. There is likely a lot of noise. I’m doing nothing to clean the noise out of the network signal. So the sound quality could be even better. In the future, I would like to iFi either develop their own streaming app or support more 3rd party apps.

Conclusion:
The Pro iDSD is, utmost, an impressive DAC. Even at its current price, the iDSD is completely justified as a DAC alone without all the bells and whistles. It is much more than just a DAC and could be much more if iFi develops a better application to control the network streamer aspect of the iDSD. Then the iDSD will position itself at a different echelon. However, to my ears, Pro iDSD’s ultimate trump card is its dynamics. Nothing I have heard rival that of the Pro iDSD.
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Reviewed in the United States on May 24, 2019
Size: 2.5mmVerified PurchaseEarly Reviewer Rewards(What's this?)
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4.0 out of 5 stars An Affordable Step to enter the Palace of High-end Audio!
By Vazhaspa Spitman on May 24, 2019
[Updated Sept 12, 2019]
First off, I am giving this device only 4 stars, for the very reason that nothing I believe is “perfect”. In fact, as a skeptic, I usually take over-praising reviews with a pinch of salt. Thus, initially, I had my own doubts with respect to purchasing ifi Pro iDSD or any other DAC (Digital-to Analog-Converter) at all, to listen to high-end digital music. But then ... as I tested the ordered ifi Pro, I was thrilled with the output as I heard the subtle nuances that I never heard before in the playback of my familiar music pieces. It was as if every instrument presented itself more or less in full. The relative clarity, resolution and the refined quality of the music that this device brought to life was so much overwhelming that now, after two months of testing, I feel obliged to write, in length, about it and convey my aesthetic experience to others!

To those impatient readers, who are after a very quick +ve or –ve snapshot, I can only say this: In our digital age, anyone, who is after a very pristine analog-like playback, should go for an affordable DAC; especially if the DAC can also read and handle such high-end audio formats as DSD (Direct Stream Digital). In this regard, If you have a DSD-reader software (such as Jriver) then even a cheap audio interface (such as Presonus Studio 2|6) would do! In short, anything better than nothing. Also, have a look at "PROS & CONS" below.

IN MORE DETAILS:
Anyone who has only listened to music via a low-end system, would be indeed dumbstruck by the proper sound and clarity of iFi Pro DSD output. And that is not a verbiage , as I could have not believed my own ears when I first listened to certain playback: The DAC provides you with quite an experience, provided that you have a set of reasonable speakers. As a simple test, one can use her/his laptop/computer and start with playing free samples of AUDIOPHILE music (found on YouTube) or Amazon Streaming (free for Prime members), as well as any online Radio, such as InternetRadio. As for high-end DSD music formats, they can be purchased and downloaded to your computer from any online provider (e.g. NativDSD). One, then, needs a a proper software (e.g. JRiver, for $60) capable of handling DSD format. You may also use the DAC as a preamp to accompany any audio player, e.g. a CD player. Overall, a DAC is, supposed to convert authentically, a stereo digital signal (PCM = Pulse Code Modulation) from CD into analog. Eventually, if you are not using headphones, all such audio signals are to be transmitted through the DAC to either the internal amplifiers of active (powered) speakers or to an external amplifier that drives passive speakers.

PROS & CONS?
[Update: my bad!-- With regard my following criticism of disturbing static (jittering/rattling) I was wrong thinking something wrong with the internal structure of DAC, but I was right to give it some benefit of doubt: The source was simply the WiFi! Just take the iFi antenna out-- and the noise would go away! It shows the DAC antenna was picking all sorts of unwanted waves!. Nevertheless, I do not erase my previous report, in case some other user faces the same issue and look for the source.]:
The most prominent shortcomings that I found in testing iFi Pro showed itself as follows: When the DAC is ON, but not playing anything, if we increase the amplifier volume... we would hear a rattling sound (a static buzz) (Warning: careful to put the Output Mode at the rear of the DAC on "HiFi Variable" or "Pro Variable" [see the attached photo], and turned down the DAC volume knob-- just in case you coincidentally hit play music when amplifier volume is at maximum, as you might blow out your speakers or--god forbids-- your own precious eardrums!).
However, No such a static nice if you use headphone. In my case, the noise is louder on one channel. As an evidence I swapped the speakers. Still, I give iFi Pro iDSD the benefit of doubt, because I wonder if the source of the noise is external.
IFi Pro iDSD DAC is not a Bluetooth device. However, it supports WiFi, which is more appropriate for larger audio files. It can connect to networks etc. via its antenna or Ethernet cable.
The DAC has only 2 channels (Left and Right = stereo) output, so it can only handle Stereo DSD audio-files—unlike certain DACs (e.g exaSound 8-channel e38 DAC, for $4,000) capable of playing Multi-channel DSD files. However, according to iFi technical support, one may obtain a multi-channel USB > SPDIF converter (e.g. USB to 4 X SPDIF with 8 channels) to be used with SPDIF inputs. Unfortunately, I had no chance to check this property, nor did I play a movie from a Blue-ray or DVD to see if the DAC is capable of passing a multi-channel digital bit-stream to an AVR (Audio-Video-Receiver).
Speaking of price and features, a friend of mine came up with his own audio system to prove me a very logical point, for which I have to quote him--to be fair to the customers who are searching for the best options--: If you pick Rotel RA-1572 integrated amplifier ($1,700) which has a built in DAC (supporting DSD), even if you go with its more expensive new version, Rotel RA-1592 ($2,500), not only you get a very excellent playback (to check, Google search: Review: Rotel RA-1572 | The Master Switch) but you are presented with a range of many more synergic features (e.g. inputs for phono, two passive speakers outputs, a whole host of digital inputs … Bluetooth … etc.) for a much cheaper price that one can only obtain from the juxtaposition of many devices at a much higher price with the same quality, such as: iFi Pro ($2,500) + Amplifier (Halo 21, for $2,000) + Speaker Selector (TC-7220 for $125) + Phono Preamp (at least $80) + Bluetooth device ($100) ... etc.

One obvious positive feature of ifi Pro iDSD: the DAC gives you the option of vintage fashionable vacuum tube (installed inside the DAC) beside either using its normal solid-state technology. This is a plus for those who are pro-high-end devices. As for myself, knowing that vacuum tubes are more vulnerable and one has to replace them every now and then, I preferred to stick to the solid-state. Nevertheless, when I switched to the tube, I hardly could hear anything different, in the same way that changing different filters provided by the DAC could hardly make any difference—(Perhaps one has to have more sensitive ears or higher-end equipment to hear the subtle difference!). Of course, I noticed a natural very mild heat-rise whenever using the tube, and sometimes even with the solid-state. Thus, not to take the risk of overheating, I chose AC Infinity AIRCOM S6 (Cooling Blower Fan System 12" Rear-Exhaust for Amps , for $50) to go on top of the DAC.

DAC & ECONOMIC SAVING?
Generally speaking, beside what I mentioned above with regard to Rotel, I should say: by using a proper DAC, one might save quite an amount of money, since s/he no longer needs an audio receiver (=radio+ CD player etc.) yet can enjoy high-end music quality. Likewise, there is no need for a preamp just to control the volume,—which is a MUST not to blow out your speakers or your ear-drums!—because iFi Pro iDSD can also act as a preamp. Furthermore, the DAC wins over digital music players that have internal hard disks of their own (e.g. Sony HAPZ1ES, $2,000) but waste too much of your precious time when it comes to downloading/pasting large audio files on their hard disks-- while the DAC relies on the processor and hard disk of your computer/ laptop/ ...

WARNING:
Everything aside, the real criterion here is the quality of music playback. In this regard, testing an audio device is not exclusively about technicality. On the other hand, we all know that enjoying music or evaluating different performances or playbacks is mostly subjective. So, to clarify my criteria and stance, or attitude (for instance: why I keep mentioning the market price of each device in this review) you may look at the end note (Precautionary Caveats).
Now, as far as the objective tests goes:

TEST
The Device spec.
As soon as you turn on the DAC, your computer/ laptop (mine on Windows 10 platform) recognizes the ifi and automatically chooses the DAC as the audio interface. (In Windows 10, Sound setup you can change your audio devices manually).
Note that if you are to use speakers, you might as well change the Output Mode switch, on the rear of the iFi Pro IDSD, to “HiFi Variable” option to activate the volume control for the speakers. Otherwise the volume would be active only for headphones. An excellent feature of the iFi Pro iDSD is that as soon as you turn the DAC off, the volume knob will automatically go back to zero, and if you turn on the DAC back again, the volume knob will urn up to where you left it. This feature would guarantee that if you accidentally turn up the volume knob to the maximum, when the DAC is off, you would not blow out your speakers after turning the DAC back on.
As already mentioned, the DAC is naturally designed to be used with headphones for which one is provided with the Gain Control switches, in addition to the volume knob. Furthermore, as it is expected, as soon as you insert the headphone jack into the DAC, the speakers go mute, and emitted audio signals are automatically directed towards the headphone.

The PROCEDURE and PERIPHERAL EQUIPMENT:
At the first stage of the test, I used headphones. That is because it is a well-known fact that headphones act as audio microscopes, magnifying the details and the subtleties of the playback. Here, ifi Pro iDSD easily passed the test. One may indeed test the headphone gain, using binaural or 8D music (found on YouTube): Indeed, I played "Imagine Dragons - Believer (8D AUDIO)" and while it had low bass in 0 Gain(dB), the full force of the music hit me as soon as I increased the iFi Gain to 9 or 18 dB. With any music genre, the output was so excellent that I have to confess: hardly could I say the difference between the sound quality of a relatively expensive high-end headphone (ZMF Auteur, $2,000) and a moderate old one (Sennheiser HD 598 Over-Ear open back headphone ~$400) that I used, although an audiophile might describe the sound of the former as somehow “warmer”. Unfortunately, I am not a headphone guy: one cannot only rely on headphones to listen to music for long; especially, since any audiologist would warn us against listening via headphones for a long duration of time, even at the lowest volume, as it would damage our hearing. So, sooner or later one should leave the idealistic realm of headphones to prevent hearing loss!

In a more pragmatic (down to earth) test, I used active (powered) speakers that are not very high-end: A pair of JBL speakers (LSR305, 5", $200), in addition to a pair of Yamaha Studio Monitor (HS7 6.5", $600). Using these moderate speakers separately, the output seemed satisfactory enough. Still, I managed to get a fuller output when I combined the two pairs (in daisy chain connection) as if dealing with 4 way speakers!

In the next step, I connected iFi directly to a mediocre powered Subwoofer (JBL LSR310S 10" 200W, $350), and from the sub to the aforementioned chained speakers. This time, the result sounded somehow broader with better sound-stage, regardless of the music genre (modern or light classic one). However when it came to a symphony with full orchestration, one could feel the limit of the speakers in reproducing the high resolution and soundstage of a live concert. I'll return to this flaw within a moment.

As a final test, using a good quality cable (Blue Jeans: BJC Twelve White Speaker Cable, $43), the DAC was connected to a powerful amplifier (Parasound Halo A21, originally $2,500—not to be mistaken with its new refined versions A21+ for $3150; JC5 for $6,000; or its less powerful but cheaper versions: Halo A23 or A23+) to drive a pair of old floor-standing tower speakers with 90 dB sensitivity (Vienna Acoustics Bach, originally ~$1600; retail price: $2500). The outcome sounded more staggering than the former arrangement—either because of the effect of the boosting beast (Parasound A21) which is known for its rich and dynamic empowerment of the speakers or due to the capability of Vienna Bach whose full-range output is generally described as sweet with detailed sound-stage.
Whatever the reason, any pleasing outcome is surely the result of synergy between every components in an audio-system. Once more, the output was short of satisfactory when it came to a classic symphony performed by a huge orchestra (say, Beethoven's Symphony No. 5). Connecting all above mentioned systems (both active+ passive speakers) was a good test to check the possibility of using both XLR (balanced) and RCA (unbalanced) outputs of the DAC simultaneously. Of course, it would not lead to better quality. Personally,I found that the musical performance of Vienna Bach creates some kind of “listening fatigue”, in long run, after few hours of listening to a loud (symphonic) music; but it is hard to assess the role played by the DAC here. My guess is that it was either because of my ears reaction to an elongated test or due to the disturbing resonance in the speakers wooden box (mine is rosewood) when it comes to loud sounds— after all, the recommendation by Vienna company is to fill the speakers with sand, which I have so far refused to do! I noted that Vienna Bach speakers performance is excellently natural and pristine with the sound of guitar or piano (especially when the grills removed), but not so with violin, so I should rather blame my old speakers rather than the DAC.
There is also some possibility that certain DSD formats are not the result of a direct engineered recording,--especially in the case of certain classic symphonies-- as these audio files are mostly converted to DSD from a poorly (low-resolution) recorded source. That is because when I used a simple external CD-Writer/Reader (Asus BW-16D1X-U, $100) to play a full symphonic music (Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet), from a high-quality CD via the ifi Pro iDSD--connected to both pairs passive and of active speakers (+sub), described above--I encountered a very plausible performance for this genre of music. So, if it is not just a wishful thinking, I assume that iFi can do a better job and produce higher resolution with peripherals better than devices at my disposal in my limited audio test.

COMPARATIVE ALTERNATIVES?
The aforementioned positive results, in general, are still prone to criticism: on one extreme, one may wonder what would have been the sound like if instead of iFi Pro iDSD (for $2,500), we had chosen a much cheaper DAC (say iFi xDSD portable for only $400), along with lower-end devices such as iFi Retro Stereo 50 Integrated Tube Amplifier ($1,300), or PS Audio Stellar S300 ($1,500) if not a budget amplifier like Onkyo A-9110 ($300). Of course, in any case, the speakers' impedance and sensitivity, should match other elements in this musical dance.
On the other hand, an audiophile, who is after “ultra-clarity” and “ultra-information detail”, might prefer a more “revealing audio system” equipped with highly priced/ praised DACs or integrated amplifiers (incorporated amplifier with an advanced DAC supporting airplay streamers) such as Hegel H360 ($6,000), DirectStream DAC from PS Audio ($6,000), Invicta Mirus Pro DAC ($6,000), or even MSB Technological Reference DAC ($40,000) .... etc. along with such high-end amplifiers as Audio Note Japan Ongaku ($250,000), etc. to go with higher and higher speakers such as Klipsch Forte III (with 99 dB sensitivity, for $4,000), Focal Electra 1028 BE ($5,000), Rosso Fiorentino Volterra ($13,000), Daedalus Audio's Argos v. 2 ($13,000), or even Focal Stella Utopia EM ($50,000 to $65,000) and Focal Grande Utopia EM ($120,000) ...
As you see, the list seems never-ending … and mostly beyond the common people’s budget—not to mention that a high-end audio equipment needs a larger space or a studio-like room optimized to its full (e.g. no windows, no cavity …) and treated with reflection absorbers; while the audio devices should be equipped with all kinds of expensive "water of life" (if not snake oils!) like vibration dampers (e.g. Stillpoints Ultra isolation spike feet, each for $225) etc.

Personally, I wished I had opportunity to evaluate the sound of the iFi Pro iDSD with Tekton Double Impact ($3,000), or rather, Anthony Gallo Acoustic Reference 3.1 (used ~ $2,000) speakers that could recreate the grand musicality of a live orchestra performing a symphony on a stage. However, I did check it with Focal Profile 801 ($5,000) and the sound was overwhelming for my small room, yet I did not like the harsh sound of higher frequencies (due to Focal??). In any case, my initial assessment (or educated guess) is that using higher devices would create no problem for this moderate DAC, even though the output might be impinged with different subtitles, warmth and coloration in each case. Thus, we may conclude that for a vast range of musical genres, the iFi Pro iDSD output would be quite pleasing for any one who uses decent speakers drived by some appropriate amplifier.
__________________________________

AND NOW, SOME PRECAUTIONARY CAVEATS:
(A)- In writing this review I assumed that most readers are like me: a music-lover rather than an audiophile per se, or a "device lover"! This is to say that the common reader is not an idealist in pursue of an illusive unachievable audio "perfection"; because, after all, the "best" audio device is not “perfect” but the outcome of many inevitable compromise by engineers. Still, for those interested I had to present a list of equipment, to make the search easier in this vast market domain.

(B)- One cannot evaluate any DAC without having a set of synergic periphery equipment in a treated room. Yet, once again I do not go for perfection. As the well-known saying goes: certain audiophiles use music to praise their audio equipment; while a music-lover uses the equipment to appreciate the music. Sometimes, of course, the difference is too subtle to be discernable.

(C)- Throughout this review I have tried to give the reader the approximate price of each device, just as a “tally”-- even though, not a direct relationship exists necessarily between the quantitative price (the commercial value) and the qualitative price (the audio output) of an audio device. This is despite the fact that, sometimes, "beauty" has a market price, and that is why by buying an appropriate equipment, you have somehow paid for some beauty that might bring you happiness. Nevertheless, recall a logarithmic graph: if a $2,500 device, can give you 2,500 tokens of subjective beauty, you cannot conclude that a similar device costing $100,000 will yield 40 times more beautiful audio output. Rather, as you go higher in price, the sound quality is improved incrementally in very small steps-- and these steps get smaller the higher in price you go up the market ladder; to the extent that, eventually, the improvement would be quite negligible to our ears.
It is as if the value for your money is depreciating the higher you go. Thus, although an expensive high-end DAC (e.g. Nagra HD DAC X for $25,000) might be a dream-come-true for an audiophile, a moderate DAC, like ifi Pro (for $2,500) with its reasonable output would properly handle what a common music-lover might anticipate.
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Reviewed in the United States on August 8, 2019
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RDK
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Multi-Function Solid State / Tube DAC / Headphone Amp
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 1, 2019
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5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Multi-Function Solid State / Tube DAC / Headphone Amp
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 1, 2019
Positives :
-Quality Construction
-Knobs for various settings are crisp and well made ( found the motorisation a nice touch)
-OLED display works as they advertise and is a great addition
-Fantastic DAC / headphone amplifier whether it in or over ear

-Best of both worlds with a built in Solid State and Tube Amps , at the flick of a switch
-The amount of potential settings is astronomical , between gain / filters / DSD upscaling etc

Negatives:
-It is pricey but you are getting a lot of function
-There is no in-house app , so you have to set up streaming via other applications , however there is inbuilt support for the likes of Spotify or even Tidal for the higher quality music files.

I’m not an expert in any shape or form but this device is something else , DAC / Headphone amp / streamer ( even wireless) the amount of features and tech packed into this relatively small device is astounding.
I use mine mostly as a DAC for headphone use (whether that critical listening / gaming or even just relaxing to music ) , as I have mine in stack with their other product the iFi Pro Can ( which is another fabulous addition dare i digress ) .
I use the streaming function via ethernet cables , it works well with my speakers so I can sit back in room if i have guests over and use the IR remote to control the volume / app on phone to change the music.

Overall I am thoroughly pleased , was hesitant on paying it but it’s a flagship model , it delivers in my opinion in all the right places , this is my 3rd iFi product and not been disappointed yet., my only regret was not getting the 4.4 mm model heh
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Yosan
3.0 out of 5 stars Great DAC, Good headphone amplifier, Rubbish streamer
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 31, 2019
Size: 2.5mmVerified PurchaseEarly Reviewer Rewards(What's this?)
5 people found this helpful
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