iFi audio GO blu

General Information

All systems GO!

iFi’s acclaimed DAC/headphone amps have formed a cornerstone of the company’s product range since its formation in 2012, delivering brilliant sound from smartphones, tablets, PCs, Macs and more. Some of these devices include rechargeable batteries and are sized to make them conveniently portable. None, however, are as eminently pocketable as the GO blu – iFi’s most diminutive DAC/headphone amp yet. But, while it may be delightfully small (55x34x13mm, similar in size to a matchbox or Zippo lighter) and weigh just 26g (less than an AA battery), this pocket rocket delivers a performance that is remarkably mighty.

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hokagoteatimereviews

New Head-Fier
How well does it hold up in 2024?
Pros: 1. The size is really good

2. The volume knob is so much better than a volume button

3. The overall sound

4. Addition of xbass mode. Its awesome for some iems

5. Xpsace mode along with xbass+xpsace mode
Cons: 1. Lack of an app could be turn off some (although i personally don't mind at all as xbass and its variations are present)

2. Price (Could be a nitpick, but then again it could be too much for some)
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Introduction:-

Hi Guys, today we will be taking a look at the IFI Go blu. In the fast moving audio space the go blu is quite old. It released a year and half back, but it surprisingly has some great features. Like the 5100 Qualcomm bluetooth chip and it uses the CS43131 dac which has become quite popular for dongles dac in the $50-80 range.


I have also shared a video version of the review at YouTube any support there in form of a view, A like or A subscribe is greatly appreciated. But if you so wish to read the written version you can read this.




This unit was sent to be by IFI, but all the thoughts and opinion you are about to hear are my own.

You can buy it here (Unaffilaited Link) :-

https://ifi-audio.com/products/go-blu/

If you cant buy it from here, have a look at the authorised ifi dealers in your country from the above web page


As usual it wont follow the usual format


I will be as usual following my bullet style format for better readability for those who are dyslexic and in general find it hard to read long paragraphs. I follow this guide in general from the British Dyslexia Association.


So lets start the review!




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Review:-



1. So the price of the IFI is $199



2. It has a 450mah battery which lasts around 8 hours depending on the load of the iems, the volume you are playing at and also the codec. I got around 7 hours 40 minutes with the moondrop chu 2 at around 30% volume from the 3.5mm



3. Inside the box it comes with a pouch, the dac and usb cable. There is also a clip case which I like but this is an extra purchase.



4. This clip case is mandatory in my opinion as that is what makes it very usable daily, but sadly its an extra. The clip makes a great change to the dac where in I can clip it and use it for music and also for calls if needed.



5. The go blue defers from the other dongles like the Q5K and Fiio BTR series by a lot. The Ifi doesn’t have an app, for some this can be a deal breaker for some it doesn’t matter.



6. For me I am ok with the lack of an app as everything is just plug and play and I don’t have to deal with the app. But I completely understand why someone would want to tinker and use PEQ and other awesome features found in the qudelix app.



7. As for the power it has 165mw from 3.5 and 245mw from 4.4 at 32 ohms. It drove all my iem and headphones without any issues from the 3.5.



8. The volume wheel it has is great! I really love the stepped notched volume wheel which has enough resistance but also increases the volume at a good linear range.



9. This doesn’t have the Iematch feature, I would have liked it as it has very very very minor his on very sensitive iems. Its not even noticable if there is a slight noise around you, but I thought of mentioning it. I am fine with something like this.



10. It has the Xbass – which gives a bass boost, but the bass boost here is much more subtler than the hip dac 3 and I really like this xbass feature for most iems ; Xspace – Gives a sense of wide soundstage, I personally quite liked this feature in some iems but for some it spoiled the overall sound so this is more of a test and find feature ; The last mode is the Xbass + Xspace which combines the both this again works fine but again it depends on the iem for some iems it sounds good and that little nudge in the bass region and space region does help it a lot but for some they some weird.



11. This has Bluetooth 5.1 and it has support for the codec AAC, SBC, aptX, aptX HD,
aptX Adaptive, aptX LL, LDAC, LHDC.



12. There is a latency when playing games as expected but for watching media there was none. If you still have latency issues I suggested shifting to the aptx LL mode baring your device supports that.



13. Talking about the sound. Well in a vaccum its hard to judge a sound from a dac, but when A-B ing with other dacs there is a difference in sound. They sound really nice with most iems, but the simgot ea100, penon fan 2, Celest phoenixcall, Truthear Nova and the 7hz timeless AE shines on these.



14. They have this slight boost on the female vocals, and the overall sharp treble from the phoenixcall and ea1000 is smoothened out quite a bit which sounds really nice. There is also a slight tinge of sub bass boost which makes it sound really nice overall. This doesn’t mean that the clarity of the iems like ea1000 or the timeless ae is lost they improve on them too. When listening to the songs like the 1985 live album the soundstage depth and width sounded really good specially with more power. Vocals like yourshika and yoasobi sounded crisp but not being too over the top.



15. I particularly used the xbass mode a lot when paired with the ea1000 that slight boost of bass along with the ea1000’s overall signature sounded majestic! In songs like crack crack crackle by classy I got the extra thump of the bass and it made the song well rounded and sounded really good.



16. All this awesome sound via ldac and been sort of wire free and being able to take calls was really convenient. I will give a mic sample of the ifi go blu now, you can have a listen at it.



17. I had no pairing issues with the go blu, as I said it doesn’t have any app. But if you wanted to update the firmware there is an android app you can download and use to upgrade the firmware and change basic features like name of the device and also the codec you want. For example if you only want to use the ldac codec you can do that via this app. I will leave a link down below, so that you can check it out.



https://ifi-audio.com/support/download-hub/



18. The app cant be downloaded unless you give the serial number of the device, which is very weird in my opinion. I will show some screenshots now so you can see it.


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19. The go blu makes a great no fuss purchase and is really awesome with the sound it produced and the way it pairs with most iems. But what might turn of most people is the lack of an app and specially the lack of a detailed and robust app like the qudelix 5K. For me personally I do not mind it, but yes it would have been nice if there was an app like the 5K so for those who like tinkering could do that.



20. Comparing with the Btr5 I prefer the go blue any time of the day.



21. Comparing with the Muse Hifi M4 the GO blu has a much warmer sound than the M4 which has a very neutral sound. If bought with the clip case you can even clip the go blue which the M4 lacks. Also the mic of the M4 is very bad unlike the go blu’s. Physically the M4 is bigger too but this all falls shorts when you see that the M4 is almost half the price of the go blu. It really depends on how much you want to spend, also one more thing the M4’s 2.5mm has its left and right side reversed so if you 2.5mm.



22. That was my review of the IFI go blu, I hope you liked it.





Thanks for stopping by and have a great day ahead! Bye!


If you have any questions please feel free to ask me and also if you have any issues regarding this format of review please do comment I will try to mend it. Also sorry to those who are used to reading long paragraphs of review in headfi. I hope my review was upto the mark, I appreciate any feedback.

Again a big thanks to IFI Audio for making this review happen.

Have a great day ahead :)

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Hooga

100+ Head-Fier
Surprisingly good
Pros: Outstanding DAC reconstruction quality
Very good Balanced output amping extension, dynamics, power, clarity
Outstanding BT implementation
USB connectivity option as a plus
Nice volume+gain control implementation
XBASS and XSPACE extra options
Selectable reconstruction filter
Upgradeable firmware
Doubles as a good handsfree office communication device
Cons: Unimpressive Single Ended output
Balanced output hiss on very low impedance loads
Limited digital input options
Limited package options
GO Blu is iFi’s entry-level DAC-AMP, primarly focused on Bluetooth connectivity, high miniaturisation and straightforward operation. It retails for just below 200€ and I got a temporary loan unit for review purposes which I analysed for quite an extended time. Here’s my report.

Features and description


Externals

The Go Blu is a minuscle device, approximately the size of a 9V battery but much lighter in weight (just 26g).

It carries an on-off button, an options button, and a volume knob which also has a button as its central part.

Phone outs, and a status LED are on the top side of the device. On the bottom there is the USB-C port, the microphone hole, the power LED, and a futher pin hole for hard reset.

The accessories package is quite limited: GO Blu comes with just a short USB-A/USB-C cable and a soft carry pouch. No USB-C/USB-C cable, let alone Apple cable are included, nor – oddly enough – a shirt clip is bundled inside the box.


Internals

Unlike so many competitive alternatives on the market, GO Blu is not designed around one of those “single chip does it all” items, but is rather a fully articulated dac-amp device, with separate communication, dac and amp sections, just “miniaturised” to fit an extremely small and lightweight footprint.

go blu

https://ifi-audio.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/iFi_GO_blu_Lowdown_02.pdf

Connectivity is assigned to Qualcomm’s QCC5100 chip, the latest or one of the latest releases in its class by the wireless techology leader. The DAC section is centered on a 32-bit Cirrus CS43131 chip, sided by a separate hi quality precision clock. The amp section follows a full dual-mono design, and exploits some iFi proprietary technology called “Direct Drive” whereby they avoid using output coupling capacitors to get an even cleaner result on even other conditions.

Input specs are quite limited in terms of accepted formats: just PCM and only until 24bit / 96KHz. No higher res PCM. No native DSD. No MQA. The meta-message by iFi is quite evident here: focus on doing less, at higher quality.

Output specs (find them all here) are quite impressive: up to 5.6V @ 600ohm load on balanced output (half of that on single ended) and a promising 245mW @ 32ohm load on the opposite end (always on BE). Output impedance is below 1 ohm on both ports.

There’s a 6dB gain which is applied “automatically” as volume goes up – read more under Volume Control, here below.

The on-board battery while small features 450mAh capacity, and offered me – based on my typically low-ish playback volume, and always top-rank digital resolution – around 9-10 hours of operation.


Input

GO Blu is mainly conceived as a BT DAC-AMP device, and BT performance is in facts ace both in terms of features and results. The pairing process is straightforward and I had no problem with any of my owned devices (phones, computers).

GO Blu supports BT 5.1, and a whopping array of different codecs including AAC, AptX (Adaptive, HD and Low Latency), LDAC and LHDC/HWA. The LDAC/96 implementation in particular is very solid and – when paired to another known-good-LDAC capable device – I was able to get at least 10 meters away on open path, or 7-8 meters with 2 walls in the middle, with zero dropouts.

The USB-C port on the bottom of GO Blu main body can be also used as a digital input. Again, connectivity proved straightforward both when attached to my PC (directly, and via the Nano iUSB) or to my Android devices – on which I use 3rd party sw players e.g. UAPP and Roon.

Didn’t try Apple ecosystem devices, which are declared as fully supported nonetheless.

Existing connectivity type will take priority: if GO Blu is connected somewhere via BT, a subsequently established USB connection will “not to work” – and similarly, if I have GO Blu on BT pairing mode, but not yet BT-connected to anything, plugging it into a USB data source will kill the BT pairing process, which will not resume for as long as the USB link stays on.

Finally, GO Blu has a very good working microphone on its bottom, which is straightforwardly used for calls and phone assistant interaction. The mic quality is above average at the very least, and Qualcomm’s built-in ANC works a charm: I could use it as an office tool for a while with great satisfaction.

When using GO Blu as a bi-way communication device, short-pressing once on the volume knob’s central button answers the incoming call. Long-pressing ends the call, or activates the phone assistant.


Output

GO Blu comes with two phone output alternatives: a Balanced 4.4mm option and a 3.5mm Single Ended (S-Balanced, actually). The former is by all means the one to go for whenever possible – more on this later.

Neither is configurable as a pure Line Out.


Volume and gain control

The volume knob is apparently well designed and feels solid and precise. iFi is particularly proud on the Swiss tech they added on that, I got no competence to confirm or dismiss but a fact is I couldnt appreciate any audible volume unbalance above 2% or something, and I did witness supersmooth and cracklefree operation for my entire (long!) assessment period.

On the GO Blu iFi chose to integrate gain control within the volume knob excursion – they call it “automatic gain”. In a nutshell, GO Blu is offering low gain until 60% volume level, then it quickly applies a +6dB gain from there on.

In general, I’m not a high gain fan to say the least: the higher the gain, the higher the compression especially on budget (read: sub-multibuck) class devices. High gain to me can and should be used with high impedance loads only, and that’s why I don’t particularly mind having a classical separate “gain switch” for that.

On the other hand I do see the point iFi designers are making on seamlessly integrating gain and volume controls, clinging at non-specialistic users who will simply not want to care on learning why and how they should or should not engage High Gain, and just want a device that “does it right, automatically”.

What makes the equation solve correctly in GO Blu case is that that little device delivers a whopping high level of current already at low volume marks. Which means that most if not all mid & low impedance devices I connected to GO Blu went nicely loud and dynamic (!) already at moderate (way sub 50%) volume levels, thus never needing to engage the High Gain mode. Plugging my HD600 required a deeper volume knob excursion, and -correctly- ended up into +6dB gain territory. Good job!


Other features


Software and Firmware

Like all iFi devices GO Blu allows for easy user-operated firmware flashing. In this specific case, operations can exclusively carried out from an Anroid host though, so be aware!

There’s currently only one GO Blu firmware version available, released last January 2022 – which must be flashed in should the device come with an earlier version as previous one(s) were, frankly, buggy as hell.

On the other hand, iFi offers no host software to remote-control / remote-configure GO Blu. Nothing in the line of what E1DA does for 9038x, or Fiio for BTRx, etc is available. Too bad.


Alternative reconstruction filters

GO Blu firmware includes a sort of “easter-egg”, allowing the user to switch onto an alternative DAC reconstruction filter by following an undocumented button-pressing sequence.

To access such feature one needs to turn on and connect Go Blu (BT or wired, doesn’t matter), then triple-short-press the Power Button. At this point, single short-pressing the Options button (the one below the Volume knob) will toggle between two DAC filter alternatives:
  • Minimum phase filter (upper LED turns Purple)
  • Standard filter (upper LED turns Green)
The setting is saved, and will resist powering the GO Blu down.


XBASS and XSPACE

On the GO Blu too iFi added two of their most appreciated “extras”, namely XBASS and XSPACE.

Both implemented on the time domain – i.e. on the already calculated analog output coming off the DAC – for superior quality results, XBASS is a bass/sub-bass enhancer, i.e. a filter enhancing all bass frequencies without impacting on the rest of the presentation, while XSPACE is a crossfeed filter, i.e. a system whereby, vulgarly speaking, “a bit” of the left channel sound will be hearable on your right channel too, and viceversa, which brings the headphone/earphone listening experience closer to that of full size speakers of course.

Both are great to have – especially on such a modest budget device – and being a late-50ies / 60ies acoustic jazz lover I’m especially fond of XSPACE, which “magically” compensates on many of those early stereo hard-panned masters with John Coltrane “fully stuck to the left”, for example, making them even more enjoyable.

To activate XBASS and/or XSPACE all it takes is to cycle-press the options button on the right side of the device, just below the volume knob. 1 press = XBASS, 2 presses = XSPACE, 3 presses = both, 4 presses = reset to none. The options led on top, near the 4.4 port, will light of a different color accordingly.


Sound

GO Blu sounds seriously well.

The presentation range is very well extended both down low and up high, notes have very good body accross the board, and a particular mention is deserved by bass being very controlled. Highmids come accross a tad too evident, on the other end. Trebles are way airier than one may expect from such a small – therefore necessarily hw-limited – device. Perhaps most importantly, instrument separation and microdynamics are nothing short of outstanding.

Comparing by memory (I sold my unit quite some months ago) with an overall similar-featured device, GO Blu sounds significantly better than Fiio BTR5 for example : definitely cleaner, more extended, more macro and micro-dynamical.

Comparing instead with a different-featured but similarly priced device by the same manufacturer, GO Blu’s presentation is not the same as Hip-Dac – the latter is warmer down low, and less hot up high – although the “general sound quality” impression I can get from either is definitely on the same league.

As for probably 95% of sub-1K$ devices I auditioned to date, on Go Blu too single-ended output delivers much lesser quality than the balanced option next to it. Simply put, I would recommend Go Blu for Balanced only – and skip it if your main drivers are all single-ended and you don’t want to (or can!) plan on swapping cables.

Some caveats now.

One: In spite of a quite low output impedance (below 1 ohm), GO Blu’s Balanced output produces significant hiss on very low impedance + high sensitivity loads (Andromeda and such).

Two: GO Blu’s USB connection does and will charge the battery while playing, when connected to a host providing power on the VBUS wire. As a consequence, USB-connecting GO Blu directly to my PC produces audibly worse (closer, more compressed, less dynamical) output compared to connecting it through my Nano iUSB3, or to a battery-powered pure transport (eg a Tempotec V1).


Some educational pairings


Final E3000

I would call this an unreal pair in terms of amping authority, if it weren’t for the fact that E3000’s fixed cabling forces me into the Single Ended option on the GO Blu, and sadly it shows. With that being said, GO Blu’s amping module makes E3000 open up and sing quite well, so much as to make the pair an incredibly good “compromise option” e.g. when adopting GO Blu as a BT device and mid-fi digital sources e.g Spotify or similar.


Final E5000

Not the best pair in the world at all for those but waaaay better than so many alternatives. E5000 is the empyric proof, if one is ever needed, of how vivid current GO Blu outputs already at very low volume positions, making E5000’s bass not “melting” into a too dark presentation as on most other lowcost stuff I heard it on. Very well done here.


Sennheiser HD600

GO Blu drives HD600 with great authority powerwise, even from the single ended out which is the sole I could test as I don’t care putting a balanced cable on my HD600, Groove pair being endgame for those at my place. GO Blu’s “automatic gain” works greatly here.


Considerations & conclusions

The main thing about GO Blu is that, quite simply, it sounds surprisingly good – especially so via its Balanced Ended output, which is the part I would recommend it for anytime really.

This little kid impressed me quite a lot for its very good DAC reconstruction quality, its more than decently clean amping stage, its capacity to drive low impedance and high impedance loads equally well, and the incredible life it delivers to most of my drivers.

Weren’t this enough add supersolid BT 5.1 (!) connectivity, XBASS and (to me, especially) XSPACE, and great performance for office calls, too.

What else can one want? The man on the road would probably, and justly, respond “nothing, just take my money now”.

I’m an old grumpy fellow so I always go around looking for flipsides, and GO Blu does have a few of course too: Single Ended output quality is rather unimpressive for one; output power although good is not enough for planars and such; Balanced output hisses off on very low impedance loads; well… that’s it really.

I took my sweet time assessing this device and I feel I need to particularly thank iFi Audio for the patience they had after supplying my loaner review unit back last december 2021 already! This article originally appeared on audioreviews.org, here, in april 2022.

project86

Headphoneus Supremus
Versatile, great sounding little device
Pros: Works via USB or Bluetooth and sounds great both ways, balanced option for those headphones which can take advantage, nice build quality, battery life better than advertised, very small/lightweight
Cons: Personally I would like to have an integrated clip - although iFi now offers a clip case so no big deal.
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The older I get, the more I seem to enjoy complaining. To be frank, I've gotten pretty good at it, and there is certainly no shortage of topics to choose from. One of those topics has been around for a while by now but I am no less frustrated by it - that would be the omission of 3.5mm headphone jacks on nearly all high-end smartphone designs.

I could tell you all about how the first mainstream high-end device without a headphone jack (the Moto Z, announced in early 2016) actually made sense - it was a one-off, ultra-slim phone which just didn't have the physical space to shoehorn a 3.5mm headphone jack inside. I could discuss Apple's culpability in this whole thing by removing the 3.5mm jack in their iPhone 7 series - which had the same exact dimensions as their 6 series and thus did have enough real estate. I could explain how I was impressed with Samsung for bucking the trend, then disappointed when they reversed course on their S20 models. I could talk about how much I appreciated LG focusing on sound quality - via wired headphones - until the bitter end when they exited the smartphone market.

I could tell you all these things, but I won't. The point is, lovers of traditional wired headphones, wanting a flagship-level phone in 2022, are pretty much out of luck (outside of a few obscure offerings from brands that aren't available in most regions).

That leaves us with a few options.

First is the blossoming wireless headphone market, which thankfully has shown significant improvement since the iPhone 7 days. It's now possible to buy some great sounding Bluetooth headphones from "real" audio-oriented brands such as Sennheiser, Audio Technica, and Sony. I predict continued growth in this segment, with more and more traditional audiophile brands jumping on board in the coming years.

That's great, but what about those who already have sizable investments in headphones and/or in-ear monitors, and just want to make use of the gear they already own while on the go? The answer for those folks involves either using a so-called "dongle" DAC/amp (another blossoming segment) or else going semi-wireless with a Bluetooth DAC/amp. The former is the best choice for optimal sound quality, yet the latter can still perform admirably while offering additional convenience and versatility.

But what if we could have both?

iFi offers just that with their "Go blu" which sells for $199. It's an extremely compact integrated DAC and headphone amplifier which can be used wired via USB C connection or else paired wirelessly using one of several Bluetooth options, including high quality LDAC and AptX HD. iFi packs in much of the same technology found in their larger gear, which means we get familiar sound adjustment options like XBass and XSpace, both of which pretty much do what their names imply. We also get a 32-bit Cirrus Logic CS43131 DAC chip, Qualcomm QCC5100 Bluetooth chip, symmetrical dual-mono signal paths leading to a 4.4mm balanced output, and quality parts used throughout the design. The Go blu is built in typical iFi fashion which means it looks and feels like a very well made product.

GO_blu_IMG_3646.jpg


Gear
I already own a bunch of decent sounding Bluetooth headphones/IEMs. And I definitely enjoy them under certain circumstances. But when given the choice, I will nearly always go with a higher-end custom IEM from the likes of Noble, JH Audio, Ultimate Ears, 64 Audio, etc. It's a matter of comfort for one thing, but also of sonic performance - no Bluetooth IEM design comes anywhere close to that level of quality.

Which is why I used all of those CIEMs and more while evaluating the GO blu. I also tried an assortment of big headphones ranging from the Campfire Audio Cascade to the Sendy Peacock to Meze's Empyrean and Elite, and found the GO blu surprisingly capable of driving them all comfortably. For sources, I fed the GO blu via USB C from my Surface Pro and then used LDAC to go wireless from my Pixel 6. Music was a mixture of lossless Tidal, Apple Music, Qobuz, and my own library of FLAC files.

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Listening
Initial listening was done via Roon using the Surface Pro, with the GO blu driving a set of Campfire Audio Cascade headphones via the standard 3.5mm output. This allowed me to play up to 24-bit/96kHz files and worked flawlessly with no drivers involved. I immediately perceived an improvement from iFi's presentation, which was noticeably more refined and potent than the Microsoft tablet's integrated headphone output. Cascade is not difficult to drive but with the iFi in the chain I heard more clarity, more spaciousness, and - very important with the Cascade - more control. The Surface headphone jack was generally flabby and bumbling when it came to basslines and low frequencies in general, whilst the GO blu gave me the proper sound I'm accustomed to with Campfire Audio's unique headphone design.

I broke out Crooked Still's Shaken By a Low Sound (folk or "progressive bluegrass" as I've heard it called) to see how the GO blu/Cascade combo kept up with the cello and bass, which at times can become complex and fast-paced on this album. While the result was perhaps not quite up to the standard set by iFi's more expensive desktop models, it nonetheless performed admirably, sounding rich and clean without unwanted bloat. The sense of bow-across-cello-string was convincing, as were the plucks of the bass. Switching back to the Surface headphone jack turned those instruments to mush, and also revealed some unwelcome grit in Aoife O'Donovan's beautiful voice which had not been there via the GO blu. Overall, this was a highly enjoyable result.

Next came the Sendy Audio Peacock. This planar magnetic headphone has an interesting sound signature - it reminds me somewhat of the Sony MDR-Z1R in the sense that neither has a textbook frequency response, yet each can still sound very satisfying. To my ears they both give more of a speaker-like experience than most headphones, even if that speaker is something like an Audio Note design which is intriguing if not exactly neutral. I suppose the sound is more emotionally appealing than technically correct - I understand why the Peacock is polarizing but I've grown rather fond of it over the past couple months.

The Peacock comes terminated with a 4.4mm balanced plug, which makes it perfectly suited for the GO blu's balanced output. This duo was warm and inviting when playing Ahmad Jamal's The Awakening, or Sonic Boom by Lee Morgan. Power seemed plentiful, and there was no shortage of drive even when playing quiet classical or jazz pieces. Meanwhile bombastic material ranging from Phantogram's Voices to Meshuggah's 1995 masterpiece Destroy, Erase, Improve did not lose the plot as they did when run straight from the Surface alone. This level of performance is what I typically associate with midrange DAPs from the likes of Cayin, Shanling, or iBasso, so it's impressive to hear it coming from a tiny $199 device. Also note that the delta here was even larger than it was with the Cascade - I could still enjoy that headphone well enough straight from the Surface itself, but Sendy's Peacock sounds downright bad when I remove GO blu from the chain.

Lastly, my headphone experimentation brought me to the Meze Audio Elite, which is perhaps my favorite headphone at the moment. It's a superb do-it-all performer that isn't terribly difficult to drive and is thus - in theory at least - less fussy than some competitors like HiFiMAN's Susvara or the Audeze LCD-3/4/5 models. And the GO blu seemed to adequately power it, with plenty of volume and a significantly improved sense of drive over the Surface alone. Still, the Elite sounded a bit flat and uninspired compared to what I know it to be capable of. Activating XBass helped a little, though I still wasn't completely sold on the combo. It pushed things too far into the analytical realm, and lacked the authority and depth I'm used to hearing. The Elite thus became less balanced, less well rounded than it usually is. Switching to the original Meze Empyrean, with its darker, warmer signature made for a much better pairing - very impressive for the compact size of the GO blu, and no XBass needed. One of the largest headphones I own paired with one of the smallest DAC/amp combo units I've ever tried? An unlikely pairing, but it certainly works.

I suspect the Empyrean could sound better still if driven from a 4.4mm balanced connection, taking full advantage of the GO blu's capabilities just like the Peacock had done. But all the Meze-compatible balanced cables I own are terminated in 4-pin XLR, and I don't have an adapter for 4.4mm operation. Still, it sounds remarkable even via the less powerful 3.5mm output. And while balanced mode may help a bit in driving the Elite, I doubt it would change the general character enough to cause a synergistic pairing. You win some, you lose some.

iFi_GO-blu_pcb-10.jpg


IEMs
I then turned my attention to IEMs, which for me would be the more common usage with a device like the GO blu. I started with the Surface again, and later moved to my Pixel 6 using the LDAC Bluetooth protocol. In both cases, the GO blu reminded me of its older siblings from the iFi lineup. I've heard quite a few over the years, and generally speaking they all had a similar signature - nice detail with just a hint of warmth and smoothness, excellent staging, and a firm sense of control. The latter is something we would obviously expect from their higher-end models with gobs of power on tap, but I've experienced it on their $400-600 devices as well - and now add the $199 GO blu to the list.

Quality IEMs can often rival or surpass many of the best full-sized headphones when it comes to giving absurd levels of detail retrieval. I tried a wide range of custom IEMs ranging from certified classics like the Noble K10 and JH Audio JH13 to modern flagships like the 64 Audio A18t, along with some lesser-known models from Jomo Audio, Cosmic Ears, Lear, and more. The GO blu handled itself just as it had with the larger headphones mentioned above - excellent dynamics and speed, no shortage of drive, and a well-balanced tonality with just a touch of added warmth. I was unable to find even a single pairing that I did not enthusiastically enjoy.

Moreso with IEMs than headphones, I found the XBass and XSpace functions to be welcome depending on the situation. XBass helped highly-neutral models like my Jomo 6R and Cosmic Ears BA4 to sound just a bit less analytical. It's a pretty subtle change for the most part, and feels more like a compensation for slightly-bass-deficient models than an actual bass boost per se. I'd describe it as having the largest boost (roughly 5dB give or take) in the lowest sub-bass regions, with that boost steadily declining as the frequency increases. By 100Hz or so, XBass is done, so it doesn't touch anything above that range. The result is perhaps more subtle than some people might desire but for my preferences it worked quite well.

Speaking of XSpace - it's really subtle for the most part. A bit of crossfeed and perhaps a slight boost in the upper midrange/treble region which generally helps flesh out the feel of a realistic soundstage. I found it less obvious than XBass, but after careful listening I have to admit it does help out with certain music. Many IEMs have a fairly direct, focused presentation, and XSpace gives them a bit more of an open feel overall. On the flip side, something that already has a tipped up response just might be pushed over the edge. So while I would not use it universally, it's nice to have the option available. iFi does allow both XBass and XSpace to be active at the same time, which for some reason I found less appealing - but maybe I just didn't find the right situation where I needed both at once.

My biggest concern with IEM use was background hiss, which I've heard mentioned from several different folks when discussing the GO blu. I try to avoid reading about a product when it's under review, but I've been told hiss is a fairly common complaint. Keep in mind that hiss has been a problem with portable amps since the dawn of time, so it's not like iFi is unique in this. But I was surprised to find that very few of my CIEMs showed any sort of hiss at all. I've got a wide range of sensitivities represented in my collection, and the only ones I recall having any noticeable noise both happened to be from Empire Ears. That would be their previous flagship Zeus XR and their old Spartan from back when the firm was called Earwerkz. Both of these gave just a bit of background hash which for all intents and purposes disappeared when the music actually played. Using the 3.5mm output gave less than the 4.4mm balanced jack but as far as I'm concerned it was tolerable in both cases.

I'm not saying the hiss issue is overblown. My sampling of roughly a dozen CIEMs is nowhere near large enough to make that claim, and perhaps there are a bunch of universal IEMs out there with higher sensitivities. I also admit that I'm not up to date with the universal IEM market, as my ears tend to dislike them from a comfort perspective. So there could be a large number of popular IEMs out there which in fact do experience hiss when driven by the GO blu. My point here is simply to document my experience that there are also a significant number of well known, excellent (C)IEMs which in fact do not have any issues with hiss at all. As with any amplifier or DAP, your (hiss related) results may vary.

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Wired or Wireless?
Notice that in the above section, I didn't really separate the performance in terms of wired versus wireless. Why is that? Because there really isn't a big distinction between them. This of course may vary depending on the music, headphones, and wireless protocol being used. My experience with LDAC, using decent recordings and quality headphones/IEMs, is that it is nearly indistinguishable from using a wired connection. I notice a mild reduction in top-end air and delicacy, giving less realistic staging and ultimately inferior reproduction of spatial cues. But it's not the sort of thing that immediately jumps out at you. I also get the vague impression of reduced dynamics, and perhaps slightly less clarity overall. Imagine looking out through a nice clean window, whereas the wired connection opens that window for an even more transparent view (there is no window screen in this analogy, if that helps the visualization). Again, all of these differences are such that they aren't obvious during casual listening, and certainly don't ruin the experience even when listening closely to excellent recordings with reference-caliber CIEMs.

Switching to aptX HD using the developer options on my Pixel 6, I notice a bit more of a "hazy" feeling, with softer transients and another general reduction in clarity. Overall still quite enjoyable and still not trivial to distinguish compared to a lossless/wired connection. Below that, standard aptX was where things became a bit more obviously "wireless" sounding if that makes any sense. Certainly not terrible but the difference was more pronounced when listening closely. I could (and did!) still enjoy the music even with this relatively-compromised choice. Lastly, dropping to the basic SBC codec is where I drew the line and said "no thanks", due to the very obvious compression artifacts and collapse of realism - as expected using SBC. I did not try out the remaining CODEC options (AAC, aptX LL, HWA) so I can't comment on how they perform. Bottom line: for me, using the higher-tier Bluetooth connections did not hinder my musical enjoyment in any way.

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Odds and Ends
One thing which did hinder my experience was the lack of any sort of clip on the device. If I'm wearing a shirt with a front pocket, it's not an issue, but much of the time I don't have any reasonable place to store the thing during active use. If I'm just sitting at my desk listening, it's fine, but for on-the-go use I find it less than ideal.

I had a whole extra paragraph here with further grumbling about the missing clip (I warned you about my love for complaints!) but I now notice that iFi offers a great little leather case, complete with clip, for $29. So that solves my issue nicely. I would like to see it offered in additional colors in the future but I'm just happy to see anything at this point.

In terms of battery life, I'd call the GO blu "satisfactory" in the best sense of the word. I was typically able to get anywhere from 9-12 hours out of the thing, depending on CODEC, volume, and headphone choice. That's impressive for such a tiny device, and easily exceeds the rated time of 8 hours, so I'm quite pleased with it.

For those of you who think you might have zero need for a wireless solution - just be aware that hard wiring isn't always possible. For example, did you know the popular Google Pixel phones have historically had issues with USB audio out? It's not something I had heard anyone mention until I picked up a Pixel 4 XL back when it launched. I plugged in a USB DAC which I knew to work with various other Android phones, and went to install the always-useful USB Audio Player Pro, only to find... it crashed when I made a connection via USB. I tried various other apps such as Neutron and HiBy Music, and while they didn't crash, none could pass a digital signal out to my DAC. Did some searching online and found other people having the same issue. At the time I assumed it was a bug.

Fast forward to mid-2022, and Google is just now fixing the issue. USB Audio Player Pro did not even show up on the play store when searching on my Pixel 6, until last month or so. Sideloading the APK resulted in immediate crashing - the same behavior I experienced a few years back with my 4 XL. In short, until Google fixed this problem (which took them several years), wireless audio was the only option for Pixel users. If it could happen to Google on their flagship lineup, it could happen with future phone releases from other brands too. So it's nice to have a device which side steps that problem whilst losing very little in terms of sound quality.

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Conclusion
iFi's little GO blu is the type of device that is easy to overlook. In a sea of more affordable "dongle" format devices from the likes of Questyle, iBasso, and others, it might not grab the same amount of attention. Likewise, iFi's own lineup contains half a dozen quality DAC/amp options in the sub-$1k price range, all of which have great reputations for performance and value. Still, none of those offer the one-two punch of USB plus Bluetooth connectivity, which the GO blu handles without compromise. It really does deliver a large helping of iFi's proven performance, despite its miniscule size and relatively low price.
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iFi audio
iFi audio
Very cool stuff @project86 Really enjoyable and informative, thanks a lot!
gadgetgod
gadgetgod
The design and build of this device are exceptional!! Great writeup mate!!
E
Echoic
Great review! Been thinking about swapping my 5K out for one of these. Side note, project 86 was my fav band in high school in the 00s. Glad to see someone still listens to them.

Comments

kgs51

100+ Head-Fier
Can you explain how to hookup the ifi go blu when my device is an iphone. I want to listen to aac tunes in 96.1khz via bluetooth. It says in faq's that I must use a bluetooth transmitter.
 
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