Usually I am not doing reviews except for the products I am interested to buy for myself.
I find the price of go link exceptionally reasonable and normally I would not ask for a review unit but as I could not find one back in Xmas to buy I asked for a review unit to have it as soon as possible. When eventually I found it to buy in Amazon myself ifi have managed to sent me one and thus I have the obligation to do a review now.
I am fan of ifi products I have a few of them and I like the company a lot. I find usually their products to have good synergy with my favourite headphones which the 6## line of sennheisser.
I am also a fan of dongles as I have a super busy life with work and kids and I am not using proper desktop amps and DACs anymore. I need simple and quick solutions. I was one of the first early adopters that used a dragonfly 1.2 with the first android version that could support usb audio back in 2014 or 2015 I think and nobody in forums back then knew and discussed their inherent limitations.
Then the small DACs and Bluetooth amps became a thing like the xDSD, xcan and the rest. These are great and I have reviewed these products in the past in this forum.
As Apple Music made the leap to lossless I found Bluetooth not enough anymore, never being a fan anyway, so the need for a simple and audiophile usb solution is more prominent than ever.
The fashion now is to use usb dongles and they are coming by dozens a day as it seems. From the new generation of usb dongles I bought the KA3 before even ifi presented a product in this category.
It was recommended to me from a great reviewer and friend and I like it very much although some times I find it a bit bright. Then the go bar was presented and I immediately asked one for a review and it was great but I find it expensive for my budget and my purpose as I have budget and simple headphones among them the following:
Meze 99 Neo and Classics,
HD58X, HD6XX, HD660s
I am listening mostly to music with my 58X and just recently bought the 660s. But when I was buying a dongle was to match and drive my 58X mainly.
Because the go bar was a bit expensive for my taste but because I like its smooth presentation I have decided to buy the KA2 as a cheap alternative (have the same brand chip : CS). I thought that the smoothness maybe was originated by the Cirrus Logic chip that both these devices use.
However I was wrong because although KA2 is smoother than KA3 still has this aggressiveness to treble that bothers me from time to time.
Then ifi unexpectedly presented the go link a very cheap alternative to go bar so I immediately jumped to buy it. The ibasso came later as I read again a glorious review and I find the price reasonable too.
Therefore, I will compare the go link among these rivals.
The go link is the smallest of the bunch a little bit larger than an iPhone or android adapter. It has one ESS dac chip and it is s-balanced. It has all the adapters needed in the box. Nothing extra to purchase.
I do not know the technicalities of the s-balanced but if you use a s-balanced adapter with a balanced cable to an unbalanced 3.5 input you listen only from the left side with my other dongles. I tried by mistake and this is what happened. Only in ifi products I can hear from both sides with this specific adapter. And yes in my case with my 58x makes a difference.
I find my 6XX and 58X quite thick and dull with the original cable (not the 660s though) so I found in the past that with both these headphones a nice but cheap aftermarket balanced cable makes a more than noticeable difference. Is great for me to use my 58x without changing the cable. The s-balanced cover almost half the distance between balanced and unbalanced. The balanced output of KA3 and KA2 keep the full advantage of the balanced configuration while DC03 pro has none.
The KA3 can drive the 58x better from the fully balanced output as the sound is amazing and in some genres like AC/DC I even prefer it to the go bar. I believe this is because of the op amps that the KA3 has. I found that in every device like xcan, xDSD and little bear (even rolling op amps there) that use some kind of op amps to make really a difference to headphones like 6##. A different quality level especially for rock songs. But the KA3 and op amps in general consume a lot of energy so is not like an ideal mobile dongle situation. If I have an hour to listen after the kids go to sleep, you put the dongle and enjoy a bit and that is. Also the aggressiveness of the ess chip implemented there does not allow you to listen for many hours.
The KA2 is using less energy has great bass but still is aggressive and is only for balanced headphones.
The ibasso DC03 is a hit and miss story. There where times that I do not notice that is even there (with my android phones) and sometimes is amazing (with my iPhone) where everything is controlled by the volume buttons of the device. Suits well my 660s which I find sometimes very aggressive and very different than both my 58X and 6XX. It has a more smooth and easy going character that suits some situations well but sometimes gets a bit dull.
On the other hand, the go link is the amazing little device that do almost everything great and sometimes do things that they are not expected. It has an ESS chip which is very energetic but never aggressive. Can be organic at times and then punchy some other times.
The biggest surprise for me was last night when I used them with my 6XX and koss 30. Two headphones that have similar tonality according to me.
It could drive adequately the 6XX and in a fun and interesting way (I am not saying that scales them like a 2000 tube amp here…) having not to envy much even from my xdsd!!!
I remember from my xCan review that ifi implementation of ESS chip has tremendous synergy with the 6XX headphone. At least in my case and with an android phone that does not have the iPhone battery limitations. A playmaker is a playmaker but when occasionally can play the number 5 position and win the game then he is simply…Magic!
And just by accident I decided yesterday to try my koss 30 with the go link….What…What…was that??? Almost surreal 59£+27£…What… what combination is that??? The new generation does not know how lucky and privileged is nowadays in audiophile terms. In my days back in university I was paying a fortune for a crappy sounding SONY minidisc with few crappy discs and nowadays … your phone + subscription + 59£ + 27£ or whatever budget headphone you like and you are in heaven. We might have destroyed the planet for them but they are in good hands in audiophile terms…
The biggest negative for me is the absence of an app to control the volume as this is very difficult to fine tune the volume when using streaming services. Although the FiiO have apps that change filters and gain none of them has volume control. Only ibasso is the king here with both the app and the physical buttons.
Another negative for me is the light which is too bright in a dark room. I turn the device opposite to me where in comparison ibasso has a much smoother light.
All the other negatives of the go link they are no negatives really but limitations of the cost bracket and the size of the device. Yes sure I want volume buttons yes sure I want detachable cable yes I want two DACs and two opams but this is not what this device is for.
I have to say though that all the 4 devices mentioned in this review are great and for the price you cannot go wrong whatever device among them you choose. It depends if you want iems, you want balanced, s-balanced low consumption or whatever else. I am happy that I have all of them.
The go link is the most versatile and the absolute no brainer one of the group. And it sounds amazing with an absolutely reasonable battery consumption.
The go link is not a giant killer and it was not designed to be. Is one of the most affordable DAC dongles out there with an amazing true audiophile sound. All the technology for eliminating jitter in the digital time domain is there. You will feel it bit by bit and now only for 59£.
Even the iPhone adapter is there for you not to spend a minute on the internet and keep looking for one or paying money essentially just for shipping. I paid 17£ the previous time for my KA3. Although I have to say that for IOS products nothing is like to connect your DAC with the original Apple usb 3.0 adapter in sound quality wise terms no matter how much inconvenient they are.
All in all, it seems nowadays that…
Money for nothing and DACs for free…
Will give it a go with my 3.5 pro (balanced) dunu adapter today