iFi audio NEO iDSD

General Information

NEO iDSD: the new wave in digital sound

An all-new design, state-of-the-art specifications and a sound that soars – iFi’s NEO iDSD hi-res DAC/headphone amp is every music lover’s perfect housemate


Southport, England – Since its inception in 2012, iFi has been at the forefront of DAC technology for home and portable use, delivering exemplary sound with digital music sources both online and offline. This autumn sees the launch of an all-new mains powered iFi DAC/headphone amp, sporting sophisticated circuits to supply scintillating sonics with every audio format in a home environment.

The NEO iDSD is designed for maximum flexibility, with sleek aluminium casework that can be positioned horizontally or vertically, the latter via a supplied stand. An informative OLED display flips automatically to suit the preferred orientation, while a smooth-acting multifunction rotary control ensures the NEO iDSD is simple to use, despite its sophistication and versatility.


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Three operational modes ensure the NEO iDSD covers all bases with aplomb. It can be used as a pure DAC with a fixed-level analogue output to connect to a separate integrated amp or preamp in an audio system. Or, it can operate as a DAC/preamp with a variable output, ideal for connecting directly to a power amp or active speakers. And, of course, headphone users can make use of its excellent amp stage to create a fabulous ‘head-fi’ system.

Whether connected to source devices via cable or high-definition Bluetooth, the NEO iDSD’s next-level digital engine and fully balanced analogue circuits deliver captivating sound – brilliant with music, multimedia content or to enhance your next-generation gaming experience.
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Latest reviews

Slater91

100+ Head-Fier
The Blue Pill
Pros: Solid build with very nice design

1,040 mW output

Balanced outputs including XLR

Bluetooth with lots of codecs

Transportable
Cons: Design issues lead to background noise

Not truly balanced

Stock USB cable is too short

Poor value compared to competition
iFi Neo iDSD review.JPG


Back in May 2019, when I was at the Munich High End (it seems like entire lifetimes ago), I spoke with people from iFi Audio and one of the topics that popped up was that of balanced connections: back then no iFi product outside of the Pro line had those, but they promised me something interesting was in the pipeline. A few months later they announced the new xDSD and xCAN, which were the first products to include balanced output. The line-up has since got bigger and better and the iFi NEO iDSD is the first non-Pro product to offer XLR line outputs to drive balanced amplifiers or powered monitors. It also has a 4.4 mm balanced jack and Bluetooth, which all concur to make it quite flexible. Oh, and it's also gorgeous. Need I say more? (spoiler: yes. In fact, this review is 2420 word long.)

Disclaimer: thanks to Karina at iFi Audio for sending me a unit on loan. Additional info is available on the official website. The NEO iDSD retails for £699.

This review was originally posted on
Soundphile Review.

Packaging & Accessories​

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The package includes an aluminium stand, a USB cable (USB-A to USB-B), an RCA to RCA cable, the (optional) power supply, the remote and a 3.5 mm to 6.3 mm jack adapter.

The only complaint I have with the included accessories is the USB cable, which is really short. I had to use a patch cable in order to connect it to my laptop with both devices on the desk, as otherwise the cable wouldn't have been long enough!

One thing I don't especially like is the marketing jargon used on the box - it says "Ultra HD DAC + headphone amp", creating a parallel with the Ultra HD standard (also known as "4K") used for screens and projector, but there is no such a thing as "Ultra HD audio". While it may convey the idea that the device is able to reproduce music at the highest possible resolution, it still doesn't sound quite right to me.

Design & Build​

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The iFi NEO iDSD is absolutely gorgeous. It is absolutely modern in its aesthetics, but in a way that blends in well with more "classic" gear. While the body has classic plain aluminium looks, the front is definitely livelier: on the left there is a black area with an OLED screen, encased by two grooves on each side, leading to the large volume knob. There's then a single, larger groove on the right side where the status LED, the power button, the input selector and the two jacks (6.3 mm and 4.4 mm) are. There's also a "Hi-Res Audio" sticker. The back, on the other hand, has a Bluetooth antenna, a power connector, a USB 3 Type-B port, an optical connector, a coaxial connector, two XLRs and two RCAs (one per channel).

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What I find quite interesting about the NEO iDSD is not only that its looks are timeless, so it can blend in whatever era your other gear hails from, but it can be used both horizontally and vertically. If you opt for this second option, iFi was so nice as to include a robust stand made of solid aluminium. It is a bit tricky to put it on, as it is just the right size for the device, but it also holds it quite well and feels secure. It has what seems neoprene strips to avoid scratching the NEO iDSD, plus the base has an anti-slip coating to avoid bad surprises.

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The display was quite cleverly engineered, so it rotates together with the rest of the device: if you hold the NEO iDSD vertically, it displays information upright - and it does so automatically! It seems iFi used an accelerometer to manage this without user intervention, which is a nice trick.

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The knob is not a real knob in the sense that it spins endlessly and it has discrete levels indicated by clicks. It has a bit of weight to it, but it spins almost freely. It's good to adjust the volume rapidly with large variations, but I would otherwise prefer a bit more weight to it. It has grooves all around it so gripping it is quite easy. What I love about the design of the iFi NEO iDSD is that the area around the knob has a circular depression with a lot of tiny grooves etched on it, so it reflects light in a weird way and creates a lot of interesting effects (which are quite hard to capture on camera).

The NEO iDSD comes with a remote which allows you to access all the features of the device from a distance: you can adjust the volume, switch inputs, adjust the screen brightness (which you can't do without the remote!) and putting the device in mute. The only thing you can't do is turning the device on and off, which is a bit of a bummer. One funny thing I noticed is that there is some interaction with other gear I use. To be more specific, I have been using a Topping DX7 as well, controlling it with its own remote. It seems like the frequencies used by the DX7's remote to lower the volume are the same used by the NEO iDSD to change input. While it's not an issue, it's certainly a funny coincidence.

Features & Specs​

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There is quite a lot going on in terms of inputs and outputs on the iFi NEO iDSD: on top of USB there are also optical, coaxial and Bluetooth in terms of input, while output is either headphones, RCA or XLR. One thing you can't do on the NEO iDSD is select the output, so you can't switch between headphones and, say, powered speakers. This is a bit of a limitation and while it isn't a major roadblock, it still would be nice to have in a device that costs around 700 quid.

Output can be either fixed or variable, the latter of which is helpful if you want to use the RCA or XLR output - e.g. to use an external amplifier or powered speakers like the iLoud Micro Monitor or the KEF LS50 Wireless.

The iFi NEO iDSD can be powered using the provided power supply, but it is not strictly needed: the USB cable is more than enough, actually. In fact I wondered how much this was true: would just USB power be enough? I decided that this question needed an answer, so I set up a small experiment (for the sake of science, of course, definitely not for the fun of it): I took the NEO iDSD, hooked it up to a power bank, pressed the power button... and it powered up! This makes the NEO iDSD a portable unit that you can power with anything outputting 0.5 A at 5 V - basically anything with a USB port.

I had no issues using the iFi NEO iDSD with Linux, it's purely plug and play. It should be on macOS, too, while on Windows you might need drivers.

iFi NEO iDSD

InputUSB (up to 32 bit / 768 kHz PCM/DXDx2, up to DSD512, MQA)
Bluetooth (up to 24 bit / 96 kHz)
Suitable headphones impedance16 - 600 Ω
Output impedance< 1 Ω
Maximum output powerSingle-ended:
  • 295 mW (32 Ω)
  • 17.6 mW (600 Ω)
Balanced:
  • 1,040 mW (32 Ω)
  • 68.6 mW (600 Ω)
Frequency responseN/A
THD+N (@1 kHz)< 0.0015%
SNR> 120 dB
CrosstalkN/A


iFi says the NEO iDSD adopts a "purist design", meaning there are "no DSP, no digital filter selection and no change in analogue playback". In other words, it tries to deliver you the music "as it is" without manipulation: that's quite a change from the other products by them, considering most of them have bass boost, a soundstage enlargement feature and a selectable filter. They call their balanced design "PureWave".

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iFi chose a Burr-Brown DAC as the base for the device: not really a surprise, given that all of their products use Burr-Brown chips. iFi doesn't clarify neither on their website nor on the manual whether they use a single DAC chip or two; I asked them and they said that in fact there is just one DAC chip, after which the amplification is dual-mono. The takeaway is that the NEO iDSD is not truly balanced: not an issue per se, but a stark difference from the competition that actually offers such a feature. The amplification stage is managed by op-amps, which deliver up to 1,040 mW at 32 Ω using the balanced output - quite a large amount of power that will tame even the hardest headphones out there.

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Volume adjustment is done in discrete amounts and with a precision of a single dB - so no half-decibel adjustments are possible. This works quite alright most of the time, though, and I've never found myself wishing I could go just a half dB up (or down).

The iFi NEO iDSD offers Bluetooth 5.0 with a vast amount of codecs which includes aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX LL, LDAC, HWA/LHDC, AAC and SBC - basically every codec out there! That's quite great as it allows you to use practically any device as source, plus it is updatable to include future codecs. It's too bad it can't be used as a transmitter! It has a memory that holds up to 7 paired devices, so you won't have to pair it again every time you switch to another source. The range is quite good and allows you to move your source device around a room (and even outside it) without a hitch; more probably, though, you would want the signal to be stable if the source is far and that's actually the case.

Sound​

I tested the iFi NEO iDSD using various headphones, but mostly the IKKO OH-10 and the HiFiMAN HE-R10 Planar, using my laptop as the source through USB. Most files were FLACs in 16 bit, 44.1 kHz resolution.

The iFi NEO iDSD has an issue: there is a constant background hiss, almost a whistle-like sound actually, even when using the balanced output that should theoretically prevent issues like this. The hiss was especially present when I used low-impedance earphones (think lower than 64 Ω). I am confident the issue lies with the device as I tried various methods of powering it, all leading to the same result: using the provided power supply, the USB cable connected to my PC and even the USB cable connected to a power bank (which delivers clean power by definition, being it a battery) all led to the hiss being present. I thought this might have to do with the choice of USB 3.0, which is far noisier than USB 2.0 and is therefore widely not recommended for audio applications, but that's not the case: the hiss is there even when connecting the device to mains power without any actual USB cable being connected. So what this tells us is that there is an issue with the design of the NEO iDSD which leads to it being noisy. Using a device such as the iFi EarBuddy or earphones and headphones with high impedance and/or low sensitivity I could remove the hiss, but that's not ideal and definitely not what one would want from a device that costs 700 quid.

Update: when I was writing this review, I contacted iFi to inform them of this issue and they said they found a small set of units that had it, but that the issue could be fixed with a firmware update. We agreed to publish the review anyway. They then sent me a second unit that does not have the issue, so you can disregard the paragraph above (but not the one below!).

Allow me to make a brief excursus to emphasise the importance of testing equipment with a large variety of earphones and headphones. Even famous websites that receive a lot of praise often forget to do this, thereby failing to uncover issues such as this and promoting this very device as "lacking hiss, noises, clicks and pops"... just because they did not test it with sensitive earphones. I mentioned two headphones at the beginning of this section, but I actually used about ten with various values of impedance and sensitivity in order to make sure the device worked well with all possible headphones. Having a well-defined and tested method and using it for all reviews, spending actual time with the devices (I tested the NEO iDSD for more than a month before publishing this review! Also, thanks to the fine people at iFi for being so patient!) and trying to understand both the pros and the cons of the products, without turning reviews into advertisement, are all important factors that allow one to produce high-quality reviews.

The iFi NEO iDSD sounds dead neutral to me. Even when compared to the Drop THX AAA 789, which is widely considered among the most neutral amplifiers out there, the NEO iDSD sounds practically indistinguishable when it comes to the tuning. As much as I would like to find minute differences to describe in flowery prose, I can't honestly find any of any significance. What I can hear is a difference in the transients: the NEO iDSD is slightly slower, with a bit less physicality and impact. There's also a smidgen less detail. But this only became noticeable once I compared the two devices, as otherwise the listening experience on the NEO iDSD is absolutely flawless.

All headphones I tried showed no issues at all, including those with higher impedance such as the Sennheiser HD 6XX or the Venture Electronics Zen 2.0. The NEO iDSD drives them all with the same aplomb and with the same good results. Soundstage, imaging, and everything else you can think of is spot-on and doesn't require much comment - it's as you expect it to be.

Final Thoughts​

The iFi NEO iDSD takes balanced outputs for desktop devices to a much lower price point than that of previous iFi products: previously only the Pro line offered balanced outputs, but those products cost thousands of pounds. The NEO iDSD is true to its name in that it is a completely new range for the British manufacturer. It sits in quite a crowded area which is rapidly evolving and where a lot of competition is happening. And this is the main issue of the NEO iDSD. Competitors, such as the Topping DX7 Pro, offer more for the same money: more power output (1,700 mW vs 1,040 mW), more inputs (all of the iFi's, plus AES and IIS), more outputs (DX7 Pro also has XLR for headphones), more flexibility (can select output as well) and better measurements.

While it has quite a few things going on for it, the NEO iDSD is not really competitive with the market right now. Two years ago it would have been much more competitive, but nowadays its specs make it seem less appealing than devices from competing brands. It sounds good and it has a great design, but is that enough? At this price point I expect devices to be near perfect and to offer me great flexibility, which the NEO iDSD doesn't. Had it been priced around £500 it would have been much better. £700 are simply not justifiable at the beginning of 2021.
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jcslone

New Head-Fier
Outstanding DAC with minor shortcomings
Pros: Absolutely amazing DAC stage offering single-ended and balanced connectivity; incredible detail and layering, black background
Cons: Lackluster amp stage, could use more included cables for all forms of connectivity
iFi iDSD Neo DAC Review

Introduction:

I am quite happy and grateful to have been included in iFi’s USA Review Tour for their recently released iDSD Neo fully balanced DAC and headphone amplifier. I’ve always been a fan of Burr-Brown-based DAC designs ever since I bought a Yamaha AVR back in 2009 that sported a very nice Burr-Brown DAC that was unusually high tier for the product class. That natural sense of space, tonality, and detail is intoxicating, and I was curious to see if the Neo offered a similar experience.

My reference DAC is a Chord Mojo, which I use both in my home stereo and with headphones and IEMs. It has a wonderfully holographic, smooth, and detailed sound to it (despite it measuring audibly neutral) and pairs really well with everything I currently have. I also have a Monoprice Monolith THX 788 DAC and headphone amp which is incredibly linear and clean, although sterile sounding compared to the Chord.

I have actually been on the hunt for a DAC to replace my Mojo as a dedicated home stereo DAC, and previously had been considering upgrading to a Chord Qutest and obtaining one for demo. When the opportunity to review the Neo came along, I jumped on it, curious both to try an iFi product for the first time as well as a dedicated Burr-Brown DAC design.

All tracks were streamed from Tidal and Qobuz via Roon with non-destructive volume leveling enabled. MQA was enabled through Roon and the Neo for Tidal tracks that were encoded as such. At this time, I will declare that it is my opinion, based on a lot of recent and older evidence, that MQA is a lossy format and is inferior to FLAC. I won’t go so far as to say that I can hear the differences between FLAC and MQA-equivalent songs, but if the math says it’s lossy, then it’s lossy. I do appreciate that MQA can deliver very high quality files over 4G networks faster than Qobuz delivers their FLAC files, but that’s the nature of compression making a file smaller.

Unboxing and Accessories:

The Neo comes fairly well-equipped out of the box. You get the DAC, which can be mounted horizontally or vertically with the included, matching aluminum stand; an iFi switching power supply; USB A to USB B cable; RCA cable; port protector for the optical jack; remote control; and ¼” to 1/8” headphone jack adapter; and instruction booklet. The product arrives in a sturdy white cardboard box with thin cardboard sleeve over it. Opening the box reveals the DAC encased in thick foam lining and 3 partitioned small cardboard boxes underneath that contain all the accessories. This was a great way to package and present the product, although I would have liked to see an optical and coaxial cable as those are inputs available on the Neo.

Home stereo DAC Performance:
For reference purposes, this is my current stereo system used for evaluation:

Power Conditioner: Panamax M-5100 PM (main system), Monster HTS 1600 (sub and networking equipment and Roon Core)

Source: Roon Core over ethernet to Bluesound Node 2i stream
DAC: iFi iDSD Neo fed via optical from the Node

Preamp: Schiit Saga (2017 model) w/Shughuang Treasure CV-181 tube, fed via RCA

Power Amp: Crown XLS 2502, fed via RCA

Speakers: JMLab/Focal Chorus 715’s

Subwoofer: Rel T/5i

Acoustic Treatment: Acoustic Panels behind mains and at first reflection point on left wall, Sub-Dude II subwoofer isolation platform.

Interconnects: various brands

Speaker Cables: Pine Tree Audio custom 14 AWG quad braid OFC terminated with rhodium banana clips

The difference between the Mojo and the Neo was a bit startling at first and made me unsure that was I was hearing was real and not expectation bias. Instead of sitting and listening critically right away, I put on one of my favorite playlists and just let the music play in the background at a comfortable volume (around 55-60dB). I did this to let my brain adjust to any perceived differences in the sound presentation as well as to calm some of my own bias down.

The first thing I consistently noticed was that notes, all notes, were more immediate and crisply defined. The starting synth loops in Cyran’s Get Wild (Qobuz, 44.1/16 FLAC) when played through my system with the Mojo as DAC have longer decay and tend to blur together just a little bit. With the Neo, these beginning notes had clear definition between each other, with a clearly audible, yet momentary, gap between each note as it decayed and echoed.

The second change that was consistent was that bass notes exhibited this same kind of definition that I noticed in the upper midrange/low treble synth loops. A good example of this is the rolling bass and percussion lines in the latter half of Darren Styles Switch (Tidal, 44.1/16 FLAC). Rapid and playful double bass and synth bass notes hammer away with speed and authority whilst not coloring the lower midrange or treble’s airiness.

Third, the depth, width, and layering of the soundstage improved. The Mojo is a more intimate sounding DAC overall whereas the Neo is spacious, impressively detailed, and places and holds each musical element in the stage firmly. This is evident while listening to UnSun’s Time (Qobuz 44.1/16 FLAC). This track (the entire album actually) is very well composed and arranged but suffers from compression that tends to flatten the soundstage out and kills the airiness in the female vocals and other treble. With the Neo, this compression is still noticeable but far less so. The straining, guttural bass guitar comes through with great expression, Anna Stefanowicz’s voice soars and echoes, and the complementing harmonies and melodies in the leading and backing guitars, synths, and percussion flow together with ample separation.

Headphone Use Performance:

I didn’t spend a terribly large amount of time using the Neo as a headphone amp because I do the majority of my listening on my stereo these days. I did cycle through the V-Moda M-100 Crossfades (with XL pads), Beyerdynamic DT 7700 (80 ohm), and DCA Ether Flows on the Neo. Pairing the V-Moda’s with the Neo resulted in the single best experience I’ve had with these tanky, bass-cannon headphones. Bass was deep, articulate, with very little bleed into the midrange, with a reasonably large soundstage for a closed-back can, and the treble had a sparkle and refinement that the Mojo simply doesn’t bring to the M-100’s. The DT 770’s were not a good pairing however, as they sounded sterile without body or richness. The best pairing was surprisingly the Ether Flows. The soundstage was utterly massive and truly outside my head, with pinpoint details, rich, impactful bass, and artfully rendered midrange. Massively superior to pairing the Flows with the Chord Mojo.

Final Thoughts:

As a DAC alone, the Neo is superb and offers performance that justifies its price tag. The inclusion of wireless connectivity is a benefit for those audiophiles who prefer these solutions (even though I do not personally), and the design and ability to mount horizontally or vertically was a very thoughtful inclusion into the design of the product. Unfortunately, the headphone amp is just not up to snuff. While offering adequate power for most high sensitivity and low impedance headphones and IEMs, when paired with something more demanding and refined, such as the Ether Flow, the Neo’s headphone amp stage is seemingly lackluster compared to similar offerings.

All in all, the iFi iDSD Neo is a fantastic device with some shortcomings that can be easily overlooked if all you’re looking for is a killer DAC with a sexy appearance.

corgifall

500+ Head-Fier
The odd ball
Pros: Small footprint for a DAC/amp. Clean sound. Pre outs. Good looks. Low noise out of 4.4mm pentaconn. Pretty decent headphone stand.
Cons: Missing all the signature "iFi" features. Sound signature may come off boring. Not enough power for full size cans in single ended.
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The NEO iDSD was a really interesting product release from iFi when they first showed it off. A modern and good looking all in one DAC/amp combo with 4.4mm pentaconn and single ended and balanced pre outs really caught my attention. I was the first in my tour group to receive a unit. After some slight design hiccups causing some electronic noise, iFi recalled my tour unit and came out with a new revised version of the NEO. While I didn’t hear anything about the NEO getting a revision, there was quite a difference in a few areas vs my initial review I had written out.

Thanks to iFi for hooking me up with a tour unit. While I always appreciate stuff being sent in to test and review, It never affects the rating of my review.

Gear used​

S.M.S.L. SU-9/SP400, iFi iDSD Signature, Ikko OH10, DUNU EST 112, HEDD HEDDphone, Audeze LCD-GX.

Looks and Feel​

The casing is a really nice matte/bead blasted finish on the metal. The design is nice and small while still making good use of space by still including a full set of inputs, single ended and balanced outputs. The front has a nice little OLED white text display that rotates depending on orientation. The volume knob is fairly big and has a nice feel when adjusting volume. The power and input buttons feel fine but they have a bit of play and rattles when you pick up the unit or give it a romantic shake.
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Accessories and unboxing​

A nice chunk of stuff comes with the NEO. We get a nice little remote, stand to make the NEO sit vertical, RCA cables, rubber feet for the NEO, a power adapter and finally the shortest and most useless 3.0 data cable that could have been included for a desktop unit. The Signature comes with a longer usb cable and its a portable/transport device. Why they included such a short usb cable is beyond me.
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UI​

The UI isn’t very complex as there isn’t really a menu system and everything is either done while turning the unit on or by pressing the volume knob which also functions as a button as well.

Sound(overall)​

These final impressions were done off the NEO iDSD with no external amp usage. This will be what the NEO iDSD sounded like with all the headphones I used. Things like headphone pairings or using different external amps will produce different results and impressions vs what my ears hear on my specific gear.

Lows are fairly neutral sounding but there is a light warmth that keeps the NEO from sounding dry or lean. When paired with headphones that do low end well, the NEO is able to keep the speed up and deliver a somewhat lush sound(when running easy to drive headphones). Mids are still somewhat boosted near the upper area and this can sound fine with headphones that don’t already have boosted mids. It came off too sibilant on some IEMs I used such as the LUNA and ZEN. Highs are fairly neutral sounding and don’t have any extra zing up top. I like an amp that gives a little sparkle in the treble region but the goal of the NEO is to sound reference and different from the normal iFi line of products.

Imaging/Soundstage​

While the soundstage is decently wide, I find the depth to be somewhat lacking. This gives the “music in your face” effect that I don’t really like personally. Imagining I believe is more headphone dependent but I had no issues with all the headphones I tested.

Inputs and outputs​

There’s a nice set of inputs one the back. We have options for USB-B 3.0, coaxial, Bluetooth and finally optical. For the pre outs, we get RCA and XLR outs.

Personal grips with the NEO iDSD​

The only real issues I have with the NEO were mostly on my original tour unit. There was a glaring issue with an electronic whining noise that was extremely noticeable and the 4.4mm port was super noisy. Both those issues were fixed with this new unit I received. Now the only issue I have with the NEO is the power output for full size cans. I’ll get into the power output shortly but the NEO had big problems running more “needy” headphones. Outside of the power issues and the USB cable not being long enough, I think the unit is very good overall.

Single ended/balanced power outputs and gain​

I’ll straight up say it…. The NEO iDSD is a potato when it comes to power output via single ended by modern 2020/2021 standards. Even compared to the iDSD Signature which is almost the same price, it’s weird that the NEO lacks power or even gain settings. Enough of my complaining though, let’s get into some numbers and compare. We get 295mW at 32ohm via single ended and 1040mW at 32ohm via balanced. This wouldn’t be so bad if there were gain settings. While I had no issues powering IEMs and easy to drive full size cans. Things like the HEDD HEDDphone would barely get to a decent volume at -8. When quieter songs played, the NEO wasn’t able to get the HEDDphone up to a regular volume I personally liked. This is all out of single ended. Once I ran things balanced I felt the volume levels were fine for pretty much everything. I think iFi missed an opportunity here by not having any type of gain switch.

IEM pairing opinions​

IKKO OH10/Sennheiser IE 300​

Both are somewhat bass elevated IEMs and I tend to use that as my daily drivers. I prefer both on a somewhat neutral sounding amp so I was fairly happy with how they sounded out of the NEO. The OH10 sounded warm but somewhat balanced still and the wide soundstage worked well with this pairing. The IE 300 sounded like a bass cannon and the mids bump the NEO provided helped even the lack of mids the IE 300 has. Both were good pairing on NEO IMO.

DUNU EST 112​

The EST 112 is one of my new favorite IEMs for regular use around the house. I found the NEO provided just a bit more bass that 112 somewhat needs. Treble was somewhat boring from the NEO and the treble can use the extra help in general. I ran this balanced via 4.4mm pentaconn jack and had zero hiss on this new unit. Overall I no issue with any of the different IEMs I tried on the NEO.

Over ear pairings​

HEDD HEDDphone​

I complained above about the lack of power for the HEDDphone. Going balanced solved the issue though I felt the HEDDphone doesn't sound as fast or interesting as it does off some of my other gear at home. Everything sounded somewhat lean and lacking even balanced and I was bummed to say that the pairing wasn’t my favorite at all. For super hard to drive headphones, grab something with a bit more power.
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Audeze LCD-GX​

The GX is the complete opposite and doesn’t need much power at all to run to its fullest potential. The GX sounds somewhat neutral and boring to me most of the time so the little bit of warmth from the NEO did help make the GX sing to my tastes a little more than usual. Staging was ok off the pairing and I didn’t have to push the NEO hard to get a volume I liked off balanced or even single ended.
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Amps comparisons​

iFi iDSD Signature​

The Signature comes in around the same price as the NEO. How does it compare sound wise? I think the Signature sounds way better than the NEO. The stock tuning from the amp is somewhat warm but with a nice airy sound. There seems to be more life to whatever headphones I plugged into the Signature after using the NEO. The biggest difference between these two devices will mostly be the inputs and outputs. More input and output options for the NEO which make it a better desktop amp. If you could care less about XLR outs, bluetooth in or coaxial in then I would say grab the iDSD Signature. I think it's worth it over the NEO if you can live without the things I just mentioned. You also get around 4 watts at peak with the Signature which is wonderful for a device so small.

S.M.S.L. SH-9/SU-9​

I think the biggest difference between the SMSL stack and the NEO comes down to how much space you have and what sound sig you’re looking for. I find both have about the same low end performance. The mids are a personal preference and I never really liked a mid focused amp. I rather have the energy up top which is where the biggest amp differences are. The SH-9 has a better sounding and clear top end with the NEO coming in somewhat boring sounding and flat. The staging is also fairly different. With the SMSL stack you get a decently balanced width and depth. The NEO has a prominent “It’s all wide but in your head” stage which wasn’t my personal preference. If you don’t mind a stacked DAC/amp then I think the SMSL stack sounds a hair better. If you need the option for XLR and RCA outs then the NEO will win hands down since the SH-9 lacks any outputs.
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Overall thoughts​

Well at $699 is the NEO iDSD worth it? Since the iDSD Signature comes in $50 less, I don’t see the point of the NEO for sound quality only. That XLR pre out, bluetooth in and coaxial make the NEO worth it as a desktop only unit for sure but if you can live without those features then the Signature well worth it over the NEO. I won’t be giving the NEO iDSD a recommendation unless you really need the XLR pre outs and bluetooth in your setup. Both the SMSL SH-9/SU-9 stack and iFi iDSD Signature both make me smile when I listen to headphones on them. The NEO always leaves me feeling lukewarm after listening sessions which is a bummer. Thanks for reading!
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iFi audio
iFi audio
Thanks a lot for your review, it's highly appreciated!

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