I’ve owned an iQube V3 DAC/amp ($800) for a week now. I’m surprised how little mention it receives on head-fi, or elsewhere on the internet for that matter. Here are my impressions. I hope others will contribute theirs too.
The $500-$1000 DAC/Amp market is crowded right now with lots of wonderful contenders. I hope somebody can do a careful comparison eventually, but that won’t be me. I wanted an upgrade from my Pico ($500), which I’ve loved for years. I wanted an optical input, and I wanted a 24-bit DAC. I mostly considered desktop DAC/amps, but I’m delighted to have found something portable that sounds awesome.
1. Macbook Pro running Amarra / iTunes or Enqueue (some lossless files, some low-resolution files. Musical gamut including Radiohead, Bach cello sonatas, jazz ensembles.)
2. SPDIF input to iQube
3. JH Audio 13 IEMs (30 ohms) or Sennheiser HD650’s (300 ohms)
Bottom line - this is the best I’ve heard my music sound so far. I feel like my headphones were capable of more than I’ve realized till now. The things that keep standing out in the music through the iQube are impactful bass and sculpted details. Also, I’m getting a sense of space and separation between the sounds that’s beyond what I’ve heard before. The iQube sounds smooth and even, with nothing harsh and no particular frequencies dominating.
Other things to mention:
1. There is essentially no background noise. With no inputs connected to the iQube, and my JH-13’s on, I carefully turned the volume all the way up. On the low gain setting, I heard audible hiss when the knob was nearly at full volume. On the high gain setting, the noise floor becomes audible around 75% of the way up the dial. I am certain the music would be deafening at these volumes.
2. As I turn up the volume close to the limit of comfort, the sound scale evenly. The music never becomes harsh, tinny, clipped, or dominated by a particular frequency.
3. As I turn the volume down close to inaudible, both left and right channels fade equally. That balance at low volumes is really important to me, and I think it speaks to an excellent amp design.
4. Build: the unit is just gorgeous. Compact and solid, professionally constructed. The brushed aluminum and black matches the macbook pro’s aesthetics perfectly. The iQube is a bit larger and heavier than a portable hard drive - easy to carry in your hand strapped to your ipod, but too big for a pants pocket.
5. SPDIF sounds clearly better than USB. I have not carefully compared Pico USB to iQube USB, but it’s my impression the iQube would be noticeably better. The Pico sounds somewhat harsh and forward, less even, than the iQube. The Pico still sounds lovely. I’m happy with the upgrade for the expense, but other might not consider it worth it (if you’re on this site, that statement probably does not apply to you…)
6. I would not describe the iQube as “unforgiving” with low-resolution files. I have always had trouble consistently distinguishing 320 kbps mp4 files from FLAC files. I can enjoy 128 kbps files just fine if there isn’t an alternative - it’s not like the iQube makes their flaws more evident.
7. I really appreciate that the iQube runs off a battery. I’ve heard so much about power supplies affecting sounds, and I’ve heard plenty of ground loop hum. It’s great to charge overnight then run all day from the battery.
In all, I opted for this unit over a desktop DAC/amp, figuring if it did not sound dramatically better than my Pico, I would exchange it. No question, I’m keeping the iQube.
1. Foremost, the iQube does not work with my iPad and camera connection kit. For me, this is the greatest reason to keep my Pico. (There may be a way to get it working - I haven’t tried much yet.)
2. The charging light is confusing.
4. It doesn’t come with a charger. Not a big deal - any mini USB charger seems just fine.
5. No manual, really. But, who needs one? The panel icons make it obvious, and it’s basically plug n play.
I’m looking forward to years of happy listening with my iQube/JH-13 combination. Time to stop AB’ing and just enjoy some music.
Edited by ab_ba - 1/6/13 at 11:18pm