iFi audio NEO iDSD

Makiah S

Formerly known as Mshenay
Sponsor: EarMen
iFi iDSD Neo Review - Taking Computer Audio to the Next Level!
Pros: Natural Sound, 3-Pin XLR & RCA Outs, Bluetooth Support, Full Watt of Power, Clean Pre-Amp, Plug n Play TIDAL MQA Support, iPurifier3 and S/PDIF iPurifier2 accessories included
Cons: Lacks a bit of control with super inefficient headphones,
These day's there are a plethora of excellent options to help get more out of a basic Computer Audio System and for a lot of music lovers these systems are excellent! But, if your like us, then your likely curious about that next level.

For this review we wanted to take a look at the iFi Audio iDSD Neo as an excellent gateway into the next level of Computer Audio playback!

More than Just Sound Quality
While sound quality is often first and foremost what we're looking for from an upgrade or step into that "next level," features and added convince are also hallmarks of truly lasting upgrades! iDSD Neo in particular offers additional digital inputs and full size line out connections over the Zen Dac. In my own system I found these allowed me to integrate iDSD Neo with more than just my Computer, I was able to integrate it into my home theatre system using the optical input and a secondary work station via a coaxial SPDIF input. Additionally I found the full size dual 3-pin XLR jacks more accommodating to longer cable runs over the 4.4mm Pentaconn to dual 3pin XLR adapter I used with Zen DAC.

While it retains the iconic natural iFi house sound I did find iDSD Neo both more powerful and resolving than Zen Dac. This improvement in power output was particularly noticeable with the Audeze LCD-2 and the increased resolution was quite discernible with HIFIMAN HE-R10D dynamic closed-back headphone.

Additionally for this review we're going to take a look at iDSD Neo as both an All in One using it's built in 4.4mm balanced output section and as a standalone DAC when paired with our GS-X Mini balanced headphone amp hooked up using the full size dual 3pin XLR output section.

Full Setup & Track List
Playback for iDSD Neo utilized SPDIF Input via ASIO Output from FooBar2000. All files were locally hosted an sourced as either 16/44.1 Redbook CD Rips or 24/96 WEB Downloads. Zen DAC was fed USB Input via a Samsung Tab S4 running USB Audio Player Pro set to bit-perfect playing the same locally hosted files. Levels between all three output stages where matched for each comparison. Track-list is as follows:
  • Pistol Annies - Hell on Heels: #2 Lemon Drop (16/44.1 CD-Rip)
  • Avenged Seven Fold - The Stage : #17 Wish You Were Here (2016 WEB 24/96)
  • Jennifer Warnes - The Songs of Leonard Cohen : #11 Ballad of the Runaway Horse (20th ANV Gold CD-Rip 44.1/16)
ZEN Dac vs iDSD Neo with Hifiman HE-R10D

Both Zen Dac and iDSD Neo have excellent timbre and tonality from their 4.4mm balanced outputs but what I appreciated about iDSD Neo over Zen Dac was the improvements to both the size and cohesion of the sound stage. iDSD Neo brings just a touch of openness with better micro-dynamic contrast to create a more believable presentation of music within recorded space. Additionally while I am enamoured with the slightly intimate charm of Zen Dac, iDSD Neo brought a much appreciate level of slam and punch that would likely over power Zen Dac's slightly more intimate presentation.

In particular with iDSD Neo it was easier to discern the unique tone and texture of each member of the Pistol Annies and still hear the depth of the space they recorded in. What we love about the vocal trio of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley featured in Lemon Drop is there position to one another on the recording and their use of harmony. This sense of space in relation to one another was more vivid with iDSD Neo without losing the magic of their harmony!

iDSD Neo 4.4mm Out VS GS-X Mini With Hifiman HE-R10D

For those who want even more resolution, texture and realism GS-X Mini proves itself as an immediate linear upgrade. It retains and compliments the timbre and tone density of iDSD Neo while offering an elevated performance in comparison to an already amazing amp stage. The most immediate improvements we noticed were in the bass texture and extension, dynamic contrast and sound stage depth.

Ballad of the Runaway Horse as performed by Jennifer Warnes features an outstanding double bass performance, an we found ourselvs mesmerized by the balance of warmth, body and texture GS-X mini has with HE R10D. This natural timbre and texture alongside the distinctly open staging of HE R10D blend together to present a beautiful sense of realism and immersion. While iDSD Neo's built in amp stage sounds grounded and real it wasn't quite as addictive as the combo of GS-X Mini and iDSD Neo!

We also noticed a smoother more refined top-end presentation that really pulled us deeper into the music. The gentle trill of crickets, distant percussive sound and aimbent string work become easier to discern within the soundscape. GS-X Mini presented slightly less top end fatigue and better clarity which made it even easier to discern all of the intricate nuance present.

iDSD Neo 4.4mm Out VS GS-X Mini With Audeze LCD-2

In terms of power iDSD Neo is no slouch offering a full watt into a 32ohm load and while this is sufficent for most modern efficent headphones there are a few instances where it's good but not quite the best option. GS-X Mini in comparison offers upwards of 6W into 32ohms, so six times as powerful, making it functionally and excellent compliment to iDSD Neo. The Audeze LCD 2 in particular has a good full bodied tone and clean texture with the 4.4mm balanced out of Neo, however there is a slightly softened sense of slam or immediacy in the lows. Moving up to GS-X Mini resolve this allowing us to retain the gorgeous tone of the headphone but also gain weight and power in the lows.

Heavier genres like Metal of rock will appreciate this added impact and weight, GS-X Mini whith Neo as it's source presents both the explosive quality of big drums and the nuance and sustained weight of their decay. Thus we find GS-X Mini to build on everything that we enjoy about iDSD Neo while serving as a better amplification option for less efficent harder to drive options.

The iFi Audio iDSD Neo makes an excellent option for any one looking to expand their Computer Audio system into the next level. It's lush detailed presentation and combination of input and output options alongs make it easy to integrate within existing systems as an all-in-one while also providing a solid foundation for future upgrades.


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pics on point, nice stuff dude : ) :)
iFi audio
iFi audio
Was going to write the same thing :D Thanks @Makiah S !


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

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​

iFi Neo iDSD review 2.JPG

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​

iFi Neo iDSD review 4.JPG

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).

iFi Neo iDSD review 3.JPG

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.

iFi Neo iDSD review 7.JPG

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.

iFi Neo iDSD review 5.JPG

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​

iFi Neo iDSD review 6.JPG

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.


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)
  • 1,040 mW (32 Ω)
  • 68.6 mW (600 Ω)
Frequency responseN/A
THD+N (@1 kHz)< 0.0015%
SNR> 120 dB

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".

iFi Neo iDSD review 8.JPG

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.

iFi Neo iDSD review 9.JPG

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.


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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Makiah S
Makiah S
I would definitely give the Coaxial input a shot, I have had issues with USB being both noisy and kinda hazy or "slow" for almost a decade lol. These days most of my listening is direct stream other LAN but if I have to interface with my PC I find the performance for coaxial to be an improvement over USB. Especially on this product!


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


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.


1000+ 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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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​


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.

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.

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.

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!


100+ Head-Fier
Pros: - audio performance useful not only for music
- lagless Bluetooth performance
- sound signature suitable for plenty of earphones
- modern, elegant looks
Cons: - hissing even with non sensitive IEMs
- low power single ended output
- short USB cable
- screen is more gimmicky than useful
- LED illumination is a missed opportunity for bitrate display

I’ve been caught red handed. I must confess I’ve never had the pleasure to test drive a desktop setup for anything audio. My personal preference on portability pushed me to delve deep into DAP and IEM territory, almost forgetting about the other side of the coin. Thankfully, planar headphones and Bluetooth/ANC enabled cans were able to pull me back from IEM’s embrace, briefly at least. Now, courtesy of iFi Audio and it’s newly released NEO iDSD DAC, I can get a taste of all the goodies desktop solutions have to offer.

The NEO iDSD was loaned to me as part of a tour.

iFi’s deal with the NEO seems to be an all in one solution. Starting with classic MQA streaming, followed by Bluetooth capability to spice up your connection, console compatibility and power amp/active speaker outputs. In my review I’ll focus on all of those except speakers, those are scary. Oh well.


The NEO comes in a sleek box with the device secured in foam and accessories in cardboard compartments. Dedicated stand feels sturdy and should hold the DAC in place, avoiding Playstation 2-era headaches. There is a remote control as well, which proved useful in remote operation.


The Heart and Soul

Since the NEO is more of an all in one solution than a typical music-only device, I decided to approach this review from another angle. It didn’t take me long to realise I have not watched a single movie using any of my earphones. Moreover, in a truly scientific manner I decided to brave yet another frontier I have never explored - Bluetooth! Mind you, I was as intrigued by whatever may result from this experiment as I was happy to go the easy route. No cables (not that I possess any long enough to cross my living room), simple pairing and I should be ready to go, as long as the tech will do so. And imagine my bliss when everything went smoothly! My Sony TV automatically connected to the NEO every time it was powered on bar the second time after initial pairing. Even my WH-1000XM3’s seem picky in that matter. Ease of operation made me forget my initial audio quality worries. Not that there is much to worry about. Justice League was able to provide a fix for my cinema cravings with all the details going on all around me. Marvel’s TV miniseries was a bliss to watch, both during dialogue-heavy parts and whatever action unfolded. One thing surprised me, I did not expect my HiFiman Sundara to be so much better a performer than my IEMs. Headstage was easily an order of magnitude larger, even in comparison to the Andromedas. Details were easier to locate, and voices sounded a lot more lifelike, all of which are attributes of Campfire Audio emerald creations, rather than Sundara’s. Perhaps planar magic was able to manifest itself during movie playback? I just couldn’t put the HiFimans down after comparing them to any of my IEMs. To sum up, TV playback is easy to set up, lag free and with plenty of detail (keep in mind TV’s audio performance also matters here).


Boy, this is really not at all about music, is it? Fear not, there is more! In a true all-in-one fashion I hooked the NEO to my PC purely with gaming in mind. Happily, both my test titles - Apex Legends and Valheim - did not require any extra setup and were ready to play as is. Both were played with Sundaras, with ModMic addon for voice chat purposes. Sound in both games was spacious with lots of detail. In Apex, I could hear enemy squads from quite far beyond the buildings I was in. This applied to height as well, I could easily identify how many players and where they were above me, being able to discern different levels when they decided to jump down from a building. Accuracy of my observation was confirmed with my quick demise soon afterwards. Mixing game audio with voice chat was also quite good but required a little more fiddling in terms of volume than I’d like compared to dedicated gaming headset solutions. During my adventure in Valheim, I was happy to use audio queues for fauna location - hunting necks and deer for materials was a piece of cake compared to running around looking for them. When epic audio themes started to rock in my cans during breakthrough moments of the game, I was really in them. Keep in mind that the NEO is only a part of the equation, and a lot depends on what headphones/IEMs you connect to them for gaming. Also, I did not compare this wired setup to my usual SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless headset since it can’t possibly power the Sundara, and switching between NEO and Arctis base would take too much time to be of value.

Finally, the music. Going through my usual Tidal playlist as well as my whole library at random, I found the NEO to be quite the performer. I enjoy the width it possesses, as well as the ability to precisely place instruments and sounds on the stage. However, depth is average. Paired with the sound as a whole being oriented rather close with a small amount of air between separate layers, it’s hard to put oneself inside of music, to be fully aware of every part of the composition. Mind you, it’s not impossible to do, but it’s no iBasso DX300. Then again, the NEO is versatile enough to be altered with additional amps to suit different tastes.

Last paragraph might sound a little less stellar compared to movie and gaming ones. But in my opinion, the NEO exists to assemble the Audio Infinity Gauntlet (music, movies, gaming) and it really does make me snap my fingers no matter what kind of audio it was playing.


The Weird

The USB cable is so short I can barely have the NEO face me while connected to my laptop's side USB port. Desktop operation will be a nightmare without changing it for a longer one. While I get short USB C cables provided with e.g. TWS IEMs, of which there is abundance, USB A to USB B is not nearly as common a cable termination to skimp on length hoping for a user's rich inventory. While the NEO is ready to play out of the box, initial driver update and streaming setup is veery IT heavy (official youtube tutorials are very helpful, happily). I haven’t updated my PC’s drivers manually via the control panel in a long time. Dropping a file onto my Lotoo S1/DX300 is as far as I consider user-friendly. Of course, daily usage is as plug and play as a dongle. Sadly, dongle comparisons don’t stop there - it also won’t turn off on its own, even if the source did. But dongles don’t get remote controls so there is that. I am not sold on the screen as well - it does little more than providing input, volume, Hz and bits. Settings require button combos anyway. All of this could also be achieved by having simple LEDs change color depending on data. I hope the NEO+ has a larger, color screen to change settings on-device. Some additional eye candy wouldn’t hurt as well - like EQ settings, artwork display.

Bluetooth range is enough for an apartment, but I could not connect on the outside being roughly 2m away, behind a quite thick outer wall. Inside, range ended on the staircase when the signal had to cross a more 3D path. Sadly, Bluetooth is limited to input, with no output capabilities. Not unexpected with NEO’s screen estate (device pairing would be near impossible), but my PC wished for something more ambitious to stream Bluetooth with than an off the shelf dongle.


The Bad

For a brand known partly for their hissing solutions in the form of IEMatch, NEO is far from being hiss free. And we are talking not Andromeda levels, but sadly all of my gear found something to hiss about. Mainly while idling, becoming less audible during playback, but it’s there. Perhaps USB is to blame, since that was my only available input? There is a wall brick included but it seems to have on effect on hiss, being there probably to provide power to powerless inputs? If nano iDSD Black Label has the tech inside, why didn’t the NEO? Tested with three different PCs, mobiles etc., using different USB ports. Nada. Unbalanced port is in serious standard - 6.3mm - but might provide not enough current for serious headphones.


The End

All things considered I did enjoy the iFi NEO iDSD for what it is - a versatile all-performer. Wherever I decided to add it to the chain, be it everyday music listening, movie night or gaming sessions, something was gained. Finding different use cases was fun. It even found its use in audio mixing, where it was detected by various Native Instruments apps. TV could play with a bit more air compared to inbuilt speakers. Gaming usage proved that audio headphones are as capable in music as they are in action filled shooters. Moreso, there is a whole world of speakers to be explored. To sum up, the NEO could work as a single brain for all audio sources in the house. Are there better units for single use-cases? Of course, nothing beats dedication. But what if one would like to enhance one’s audio in a simple way? The NEO is worth the test drive.
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iFi audio
iFi audio
Lovely work, thanks!


Headphoneus Supremus
Neo iDSD Full Review
Pros: Size
No frills, no messing about
Cons: Not any at this price really
could use a 4pin XLR output

iFi Audio Neo iDSD – Full Review​

Posted by PAULHEALY123 on APRIL 5, 2021
I apologize that this is the only Photo I have, taken when I first received the unit. My Camera is out of commission currently. The rest of the photos featured in this article are directly from the iFi website.
Hey Guys,
Today we are having a look at another piece of gear from iFi Audio, the Neo iDSD. For info on iFi as a company, please see my previous reviews of their “Pro” line of gear. Apart from that, lets dive in, shall we!
This is the first desktop, not transportable based, non battery based iDSD product (apart from their flagship Pro iDSD.) However, it is still a medium sized piece of gear, and doesn’t take up too much desktop real estate. This is important for some people, especially those who like a low profile set up. The Neo iDSD actually surprised me with its pricing, coming in at a solid $700USD, or $1000CAD. This is more than I expected, but perhaps not out of line given its feature set and performance.
The Neo iDSD strikes me as a pared down version of the companies flagship Pro iDSD, a piece of gear I really enjoyed my time with. The Neo iDSD is based around a circuit design iFi is calling “PureWave.” There is no DSP, no selectable filters, and no XBASS or 3D, common on their other products. The idea is a “pure” signal, unadulterated, and unmolested. Basically, this is a no frills DAC/Amp combo, and seems to me to perhaps be the desktop counterpart to their new top of the line transportable, the iDSD Diablo.

The Neo iDSD does not feature a 4pin XLR output for headphone use, but a 4.4mm Pentaconn connector. I do not have any cables terminated in 4.4mm, and I have been waiting for an adapter to arrive from China for over a month, but it has not shown up yet. Sadly, this means I have no been able to use the Neo iDSD from its balanced output (for headphone use.) However, I was able to use it as a balanced DAC in both my speaker system and my headphone set up. The Neo iDSD, does indeed perform better as a DAC out of its balanced outputs, and I would surmise that this carries over to its headphone amp section. I could be wrong, as I have not actually tested it, but I would take note of this if you are considering the Neo iDSD. Spend the 50 bucks on an adapter from 4pin XLR to 4.4mm Pentaconn, or have a cable terminated in 4.4mm ready, as the Neo iDSD does see a bump in performance from its balanced outputs.
*As an aside, I should note that I am not a believer that balanced=inherently better. I believe a good SE design will be better than a poor balanced design, and a good balanced design will be better than a poor SE design. The Neo iDSD is a good balanced design, I feel, thus it performs better when used as such.*
I actually really like the simple no frills nature of the Neo iDSD. No messing with filters, and figuring out what suits you best. Whilst this is appreciated on more expensive gear, sometimes all you want is the “best” setting chosen for you, and a “plug and play” piece of gear. The Neo iDSD fits the bill. It really is plug and play. You can run the Neo iDSD directly from your USB port entirely, or plug in the included power adapter. I would assume that purchasing the iPowerX adapter would take the iDSD’s performance up a level, perhaps not hugely, but at least somewhat. However, with that being said, in the plug and play line of thought, the Neo iDSD works great simply from USB 5v power.

The Neo iDSD actually reminds me of my time spent with other iFi pieces of gear, but in particular, my iDSD Black Label, the ex flagship of their portable line. My Black Label sadly died after 3.5 years of use, literally all day every day, and I miss it. The Neo iDSD is maybe slightly more refined sounding, especially in pure DAC use, but there is certainly a familiarity to its sound. It isn’t overly warm, or cold and clinical, it just sort of hits that middle point of doing its job, and doing it well. Its not the most detailed piece of gear in terms of DAC use, but its certainly competent and I think compared to the competition that I have heard in this price range, does a better job of not sounding harsh and as if the designer doesn’t listen to their products.
Now, for DAC use, you can use the USB input, which also powers the unit. Or, alternatively, you can use the power brick which is included and use a spdif input, or the separate optical input as well. You can also use the Neo iDSD via Bluetooth, which in this price range is an attractive feature for some users who are trying to keep their set up as minimal, and clutter less as possible. Copied from the iFi website, its bluetooth capabilities are as follows, iFi uses Qualcomm’s new QCC5100 Bluetooth processing IC.
All current high-definition Bluetooth audio formats are supported – aptx, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX LL, LDAC, HWA/LHDC, AAC and SBC.

Now, I’m admittedly not a huge bluetooth person, but I did play about with it, and I was impressed with the ease of use and sound quality, in comparison to some other bluetooth experiences I have had in the past. It may not yet be at the level of wired connections, but it’s certainly getting closer, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the technology goes next. It’s promising, if not yet perfect.
In terms of headphone amplifier capabilities, as mentioned, you have an unbalanced 1/4” output, and the 4.4mm Pentaconn output. As also mentioned previously, I did not have a chance to use the 4.4mm output with headphones. However, I would guess that there is a bump up in sound quality, simply given the fact I felt the XLR outputs were better in terms of DAC use, and the overall balanced design. iFi’s chief designer is no dummy, and if he thought it was a good idea to implement a balanced design in this product, vs the previous single ended designs of the iDSD BL etc….you can bet he did so with good reason. Out of the balanced output, you are looking at a solid watt of continuous power, and 295mw single ended continuous. I’m not sure what the peak power is, as it is not listed on their website.
Using the single ended output, again, I felt the Neo iDSD was similar in regards to my iDSD BL’s sound quality. However, you take a hit in terms of available power. Even the 1000mw from the balanced output is paling in comparison to the BL’s output, not to mention the 5 watts the iDSD Diablo is now capable of. However, if you aren’t trying to drive the Susvara, HE6, or AB1266 from Abyss (and a few others) you should be ok if you use the balanced output. Darn, there is another reason to use the balanced output. I really do suggest if you decide to purchase the Neo iDSD, that you plunk down the extra $50ish for an adapter to use the balanced headphone output.
Using the SE headphone output, it’s a very slightly warm sound, with solid technical performance. Nothing earth shattering in terms of micro detail and micro dynamics, but it conveys the music in a very pleasing well done manner. The macro dynamics are very well done. It casts a very believable soundstage, but not one which is extremely wide or tall. It has good imaging capabilities for the price, and the thing that surprised me most was the depth in terms of soundstage. It is better than my iDSD BL in this regard. Maybe this is due to the new balanced architecture they are using nowadays, but iFi certainly seems to be on to something within this price range. Their non top of the line products just keep slowly getting better, and more refined. Hardly a bad thing for us, the consumers.
Looking swell used vertically, with the HD800s.
All in all, you are looking at a no frills desktop DAC/Amp combo from iFi that does exactly what is advertised on the tin. It isn’t too big, and can be placed either horizontally or vertically on your desk, freeing up precious real estate. It looks nice (in my opinion, though I wish it came in black as well as silver) and would fit in with most set ups in terms of looks. You don’t have to mess with 1000 settings to find your preferred sound, iFi just gives you the distilled version of what it considers its best design features from past products are. The Pro iDSD is the better sounding product, there is no question about that in my mind, and if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. However, for those that don’t need the vast feature set of the Pro iDSD, and want something that is a great sounding all in one desktop only model, at comfortably under $1000USD, the Neo iDSD makes a very strong case for being the current go to in my eyes. I’d definitely recommend checking out the Neo iDSD should you be in the market for this sort of piece of gear.
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500+ Head-Fier
iFi NEO iDSD, a little PRAT machine
Pros: Great Rhythmic Drive, Very flexible connectivity optioned DAC, Great centerpiece for a digital system.
Cons: On power on it always defaults to the Bluetooth input.
Let me first express my appreciation to Ifi Audio for the opportunity to test out the NEO iDSD DAC/Amp. I come at this as a consumer not a professional or part time reviewer. I’m just a guy who finds enjoyment from listening to music. My system has been evolving over several years chasing that amazing system at a dealer that I couldn’t afford. That system was sourced by a Naim CDX2 CD Player ($7,500 USD) which to me epitomizes enjoyment in music. I was testing out amps that day at the dealer and I now own (2) of those integrated amplifiers because I am nuts. My listening preference would be squarely in the camp of Pace, Rhythym And Timing (PRAT) as my primary, with detail retrieval as a secondary concern. I want to feel the emotion, the fun, the sadness.

NEO Nait 5si.jpg

Enough about me, lets talk about the Ifi NEO iDSD. Everyone talks in detail about Specs and Unboxing experience. Got to be honest here and tell you that if once I’ve researched a product those sections of subsequent reviews get skipped. This is a full featured product with multiple connection options including balanced connections. You have multiple input options including bluetooth. The outputs are both single ended and balanced for both the headphone and line level outputs. The volume is independent and separates the Headphone out and Line Level Out (which can also be variable). So you can have fixed line level out while utililizing the volume for headphone listening. The product is professionally packaged and looks stunning. One simple thing stood out to me was a little sticker inside the box which says “Thank You!”. As a consumer I appreciate this simple gesture inside the box. It shows appreciation to the buyer for supporting the company and acquiring the product. I’ll jump way ahead in the review and say no, Thank You Ifi for producing this product which sounds amazing for a reasonable price.

NEO Thank You.jpg

The NEO iDSD was put into my main system. The NEO was attached to my Raspsberry Pi4 with a USB cable and attached to my Roon music system. This same Rpi also feeds a Schiit Gungnir Multibit Dac which has their Unison USB. The primary speakers used were my Sonus Faber Venere 1.5 although I did also use a pair of Totem Mites. Amplification was a Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum tube amp and also a Naim Nait 5si (then a Naim UnitiQute). The DAC was evaluated in general listening sessions and also listed to critically on several test tracks that I like to use and listen for specific sections or details.

Lets talk about general listening impressions. The NEO iDSD is a little PRAT machine. Simply put it is the closest sound to that Naim CD player that I have had in my system. For music that has drive, punch, articulation, detail the NEO brings it in spades. If you are a fan of the band Rush and Neal Peart specifically listen to the “O Baterista” drum solo from Rush in Rio Live. The drums were dancing all over the soundstage. It was like Mr. Peart (may he rest in peace) was giving a private solo in my listening room. Pearl Jam was a revolution to me when I first heard them on the radio in college. They immediately made almost all the music I listened to in the 80s irrelevant. NEO iDSD nails Pearl Jam. You can feel the gravel, the grunge. Now you are asking if the NEO iDSD is a blunt hammer right? Not at all. I listen to many Genres of music and NEO iDSD is adept. In fact the above prog rock and grunge are the least of my listening these days. There are many genre’s that fall where NEO iDSD’s ability for detail, transient response and just the ability to make music come through in spades. I also enjoy listening to what I would call world music. A DAC must be able to be subtle bringing life to natural instruments, vocal tones and rhythms that are not typical in the kind of music I grew up with. Examples of this would be Baka Beyond, Toronto based guitarist Ray Montford, and a lot of Peter Gabriel’s solo music definitely delved into this. NEO’s ability to faithfully reproduce natural instruments comes through. Bass lines are delineated. The reverb is there, the bite of a trumpet.

Well while I appreciate the PRAT and drive of music the reality is the majority of my listening is to calmer music. Music that is delicate, subtle, relaxing and fun. Life is busy, hectic and stressful. Music is my escape, its my calming waters. The saying goes music soothes the savage beast. NEO iDSD is also delicate and nuanced.

Much has been said in other reviews about the headphone amp section. So I approached this carefully because I really like this product. I just recently started into the headphone world so I’m not experienced in this segment of audio reproduction. That being said I have a pair of Drop Sennheiser HD6xx and LH Mera IEMs. The amp by itself sounds good. I think that taken in context of a single box that NEO iDSD is very competent. It carries over the characteristics that I heard when just using as a DAC. Can the internal amp be bettered by an external one? I am going to say yes. I felt that my Schiit Asgard 2 has the edge in sound with a little bit more of that something there. Also my Schiit Magni Heresy although the Magni Heresy was more about power than sound.

That all being said I decided that I would not be happy going back to my other DAC for my main system. The day after I sent off NEO iDSD my new one was delivered.

NEIO Final.jpg
iFi audio
iFi audio
Thanks, lovely stuff!


500+ Head-Fier
Pros: Transparent sound
Array of inputs
Pleasing form factor
Cons: Needs amping to be fully appreciated
Underpowered single-ended 6.3mm output
Subfunctional remote

The NEO was loaned to me as part of a review tour. It will be sent on after my time with it.


iMac 2017 & Pine Player
OnePlus 6 & Neutron Player
Ifi NEO DSD + iPower mains adaptor.
Ifi iDSD Micro Black Label
TakStar Pro82 + Earmax 2.5mm balanced cable
Campfire Audio Solaris OG + Penon OS849
KBEAR Lark + Moon Audio Silver Dragon
Sony MH750

Playlist made up of MP3, FLAC and DSD256 tracks.

It arrives in a box of understated quality with the various accoutrements packed in 3 boxes underneath. I used the supplied cables for power and USB sourcing and my own coax to 3.5mm cable to hook up an external amp. The NEO styling is a departure from the current Ifi portfolio, more akin to full size audio hardware. It has a more modern industrial design look about it.

The Neo is the size and weight of a thick paperback book. The powder-coated finish is simultaneously smooth and rough to the touch, creating an uncomfortable sensation through my fingertips. Like touching a fork to a dental filling, it feels disagreeably electric. The edges of the front gaps within the partly recessed space for the large off-centre dial are very sharp. The dial itself has a nice stepped action, in stark contrast to the analogue rotary pots used for the majority of the Ifi line up. The display is clear, functional and non-intrusive if required.

A slim remote is supplied but with a noticeable omission - no power button. Instead of 2 buttons to move up and down through the source selection, surely one could be used to cycle the inputs and leave 1 spare for power?

The 2 buttons on the front are small and rather wobbly but have a positive push action. The lefthand button cycles thorough the inputs; when selecting Bluetooth a British lady informs you firmly but non-judgementally that it is enabled. She also tells you which codec is active. Nice. Pairing occurs without a problem to my 2 sources, LDAC on the phone and SBC on the iMac. The connection is stable, as long as you have the antenna screwed in.

I used the USB input primarily as I found the sound quality from Bluetooth to be rather thin and lacking in bass texture when compared to a wired connection, which is to be expected. In isolation the bluetooth sound and performance is good and without any obvious fault.


So, how does it sound?

With all of my transducers, the sound is balanced and crisp. There is no particular bias towards bass or treble. Note weight is just on the thin side but separation, attack, decay and transients are presented holistically, as a well-integrated package. The NEO allows the nature of the transducer to shine - The I3 is a smooth U shape with a superb midrange; the Lark is a neutral hybrid that scales well, the Solaris balanced and tonally sweet and the Pro82 resolving but musical. Detail is excellent with the balanced output. The single ended output is rather muddy and closed in. I didn’t use it for long.

Outputting the DAC through the rear coax into the 3.5mm input of the Micro BL, I heard warmth akin to the NEO SE output but with greater depth and slightly better separation. If I had a balanced amp I’m sure this would have sounded phenomenal. My preference was for the balanced NEO output unless the tracks were particularly bright. Having said that, the TakStars sounded richer and slightly warmer with bass and soundstage depth that wasn’t present through the NEO alone, presumably because of the increased power available.

There was some hiss from the Solaris on the balanced output, as expected but this did not detract from the sound. The Solaris sounded closed in and dull through the BL, even on the Ultra IEmatch setting.

Is the NEO for you, I hear you ask?

Well, think of it like this.

You know when something or someone fulfils a purpose with unruffled competence, proficiency and professionalism? When you use an object or ask a person to do something and you know you are getting exactly what you want? That’s the NEO. A Lexus in terms of design, performance and function, if you will. It’s not exciting per se but when you want balanced handling and a mature, composed sound the NEO provides.

But….not everyone wants a luxo-barge Lexus with bells and whistles. There are other models within the range or different brands that will fulfil your desires. That’s part of your journey, right?

I like the Neo’s interpretation and presentation of my music but it needs more power to be a standout offering. I would choose the NEO not as a standalone DAC/Amp solution but as the transparent part of a signal chain that involves a balanced amp.
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iFi audio
iFi audio
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There are other models within the range or different brands that will fulfil your desires.
Could you name any others same price, quality and with balanced scheme?
To be honest, I don't have experience of any other similar gear. I think reading the other reviews might help you out there.


500+ Head-Fier
Breaking the Mould
Pros: Excellent industrial design that stands out (not another boring rectangle)
- Small footprint, vertical mount is handy
- DAC performance is excellent and comparable to similarly priced DAC-only options
- Excellent BT performance, MQA full decoding, remote is handy
Cons: Buttons on the front haven't got the best feedback
- Amp section is underwhelming
- Noisy output from headphone out with sensitive IEMs/Headphones (might be fixed via FW upgrade)

iFi Audio is on a roll lately with new releases.

First there is the Zen stack. The Hip DAC soon followed, and then came the iDSD Signature. The release of the Neo iDSD, however, was quite sudden as it’s been a while since iFi has released a desktop all-in-one solution.

Nonetheless, iFi refreshing their lineup is definitely a welcome move as they’ve been lacking options in certain price-points. The Neo iDSD aims to fill in the sub-$1000 bracket, and with a list price of 750 euro is definitely targeted towards premium buyers. This market segment is a very competitive one as products both below and above the price range can serve as quite viable options. The Neo iDSD ain’t short of tricks up its sleeve though to stand out.

A lot of ground to cover, let’s get right into it.

This review originally appeared on my blog.

Note: the ratings given will be subjective to the price tier. Karina Dearman of iFi Audio was kind enough to send the iFi Neo iDSD as part of the head-fi review tour.

Headphones/IEMs used: Sennheiser HD650, Final Sonorous III/E5000, Hifiman Ananda, Dunu Studio SA6/Zen
Price, while reviewed: 750 euros. Can be purchased from
Amazon DE.


Build: The iFi Audio Neo iDSD looks quite unique and the design is a welcome departure from the boring rectangular boxes you see literally everywhere nowadays. The silver-colored chassis is made out of sandblasted aluminium. There is a solid heft to the unit despite its diminutive size. Speaking of dimensions, the Neo iDSD is on the smaller side vs other DAC/Amps in this price bracket, esp if you orient it vertically. Yes, the Neo iDSD supports both horizontal and vertical orientation and I went with the latter which not only makes it look sleek but also saves desk space.

The front of the unit has the OLED display up-top which is a Silentline OLED, i.e. it doesn’t add any noise to the signal path and shows the current input signal type, sampling rate, volume, and selected input. The display also orients itself accordingly based on the orientation of the unit courtesy of a built-in accelerometer. At the bottom you’ll find the input selector along with the power button, followed by the 4.4mm pentaconn balanced out and the 6.35mm single-ended out. Sandwiched between the display and the buttons are the volume knob (also acts as a navigation wheel incl. push function and has nice tactile bumps when in operation) and a white, diffused LED strip to indicate that the unit is powered up.

Oh, I almost forgot the Hi-Res sticker. Very important.


The back of the unit is where things get more interesting. Everything is labeled already (as you can see in the picture) but just to reiterate: the output can be either RCA-in or two 3-pin XLRs. Also at the very top you can see the antenna screw-in point to improve reception of BT signal. Other than the front and back, the sides of the unit are bereft of any controls or ports.


All in all the build quality is excellent. I do have one nitpick: the power/input selector buttons are a bit wobbly. Minor nitpick though. Also ignore the scratch on the display on my unit, that’s how the tour unit arrived and brand new units should be spotless.

You get quite a few things in the Neo iDSD package. Alongside the usual RCA-to-RCA interconnect and a short USB 3.0 cable you also get a handy remote control (runs on cell battery), an antenna to improve BT reception, a metal stand where you can mount the Neo iDSD in vertical position, a 3.5–to-6.35mm converter, some spare rubber feet, and finally the iPower adapter. It’s definitely a complete accessory package but I have an issue with the super-short USB cable. The RCA-cable is short as well but I usually go for aftermarket RCA cables so that’s not an issue (and most buyers in this range will likely get a third-party one too). The USB 3.0 cable, however, is too short for desktop users. I wish iFi improves this part of the package in future products, esp at mid/upper-mid level pricing.

The Neo iDSD can be operated using the supplied remote or the buttons on the front panel. The operation using the buttons is a bit different so it’s best if you check out iFi’s tutorial videos:

Also note that to switch between fixed and variable line-out mode you’d need to restart the DAC while holding down the volume wheel. Weird, I know.

Tech Inside: As usual, the specs first:


The iFi Neo iDSD uses a Burr-Brown chip as per tradition. The BT5.0 is one of the highlights of the product and has LDAC support. iFi also uses a new proprietary PureWave topology where they go for a dual-mono setup with shorter signal paths than their previous designs. They also didn’t use their custom GTO filter this time around and also ditched the xBass/3D analog circuits. I am a bit bummed at the omission of the xBass but Neo iDSD aims to be a purist design and those analog DSP effects are anything but purist.

The internal components are all high quality as expected. TDK/Murata caps, FET-based switching to mute those annoying “pops” you encounter on some DAC/Amps, and native MQA full-rendering support. I confirmed the latter by setting up Tidal on Windows in exclusive mode and playing MQA Master files, which were seamlessly handled by the Neo iDSD (indicated by displaying MQA in the OLED display). At this juncture I should mention that it’s advised to install the iFi Neo iDSD driver package if you’re on Windows (Mac version coming soon). You can get it here.

The Bluetooth also works really well. I transmitted music from my Sony Walkman NW-A55 via LDAC without much fuss. iFi has really nailed BT support on this device.


Amp Performance:
The amp section on the Neo iDSD is disappointing from my experience, sadly. The single-ended out is too underpowered and the balanced out, while powerful enough to drive the Sennheiser HD650 and the likes, lack the dynamism you get when these headphones are properly driven. iFi’s own budget Zen Can has far superior amplification for such headphones and when using the Zen Can as an amp with the Neo iDSD the lack of drive on the Neo iDSD is painfully obvious.

Another issue is the noise you get with sensitive IEMs. I’m not entirely sure if this is unit specific or a firmware issue (iFi did issue a FW upgrade to solve this issue but it didn’t improve things on my unit) but a few other reviewers have also experienced it (e.g. Currawong) so I’d advise against driving sensitive IEMs out of the Neo iDSD.

When connected to high impedance/less sensitive headphones/IEMs the output is clean and exhibits a nice smoothness. Things can get too smooth at times if you’ve connected the Neo iDSD to a warm headphone but overall it’s an enjoyable listen, provided that you use something that’s not sensitive to background hiss.

DAC Performance:
The iFi Neo iDSD is 50% DAC and 50% Amp on paper, but for my use case — it’s 100% a DAC and a darn good one at that. Heck, it is one of the best DACs out there in the price-bracket, period (more on this in the comparison section). The overall sonic rendition is wonderful. Dynamics are spot on, the soundstage has great depth (albeit less impressive height and width). The best part was the midrange rendition: smooth without losing details and very engaging presentation. The treble isn’t on your face either but has good amount of sparkle and air. Please note that these impressions were made by using Cayin iHA-6 as an amp and then connecting the HD650/Sonorous III. The Neo iDSD was also set up in balanced configuration via the two 3-pin XLR cables.

One area where the Neo iDSD might not suite everyone as a DAC is soundstage width. It’s one of the regions where it falls a bit short. Another area would be the bass, which has great texture but lacks the meatiness some might prefer. For a more balanced, engaging presentation the Neo iDSD does really well, however.


Amp Pairings
I mainly used two amps with the Neo iDSD: the iFi Zen Can and the Cayin iHA-6. The former is a relatively budget offering and provides an upgrade over the built-in amp of the Neo iDSD IMO, esp when powered with iPower X. The Cayin iHA-6, however, took things to the next level. Exceptional layering, stage depth and micro-detail retrieval coupled with great dynamics. Given the ~$1300 price tag for both of these devices combined, I’d say you’re getting comparable performance to other DAC/Amp setups in a similar price-point, though this particular pairing is mostly suited for full-size headphones rather than IEMs (iHA-6 is too powerful for most IEMs due to 7W @ 32ohms rating from the balanced out). For general all-purpose use I think something like the Topping stack (A90/D90) will be more versatile, or perhaps pairing the A90 with the Neo iDSD.


Select Comparisons
Questyle CMA-400i ($800): The Questyle CMA-400i is my daily driver DAC/Amp and shares some similarities with the Neo iDSD. Both got fully balanced architecture, both can be mounted vertically (though the CMA-400i stand is very difficult to find), offers no analog input (to use as an amp alone) and both are using relatively older chipsets without any selectable reconstruction filter options unlike the latest DAC/Amps out there.

The similarities end there though. The CMA-400i is much larger and weighs substantially more, has 2.5mm and 4-pin XLR balanced out unlike the 4.4mm one on the Neo iDSD, and has no display/remote option.

In terms of sound, unlike the Neo iDSD the CMA-400i has a very clean output. Unfortunately selecting the gain mode is cumbersome (you need to push 4 DIP switches at the bottom of the unit to switch gain) but even at high gain sensitive IEMs don’t exhibit as much hiss as the Neo iDSD (and in low gain it’s basically silent). The sonic differences are also quite noticeable. The CMA-400i goes for an airy presentation and displays a high amount of detail. In fact, resolved detail is higher on the CMA-400i than on the Neo iDSD. Depending on headphone though this can get a bit overboard, but I personally like it for my use-case (most of my headphones are warm-ish). Neo iDSD plays it safe on that regard. Both got exemplary stage depth though Neo iDSD edges out the CMA-400i on that regard. CMA-400i hits back with better stage width/height and more impactful bass rendition. Also if you want native MQA the Questyle can’t help you.

As a DAC, the CMA-400i is close to the Neo iDSD, with personal preferences splitting the difference. As an amp though the CMA-400i is clearly better and is more versatile for headphones and IEMs due to less background hiss and better drive (Questyle’s Current Mode Amp is truly exceptional in this regard).

vs Topping D90 ($750): The Topping D90 costs as much as the Neo iDSD but since I’m mostly using the Neo iDSD as a DAC I thought this is an apt comparison. In terms of features the D90 is clearly superior to the Neo iDSD with the highest-rated AKM flagship chipset and a very sophisticated UI that allows you to modify the sound in a number of ways. I do prefer the Neo iDSD’s minimalist approach in this regard but those who love to tinker might veer towards the Topping D90.

In terms of sound, the D90 is basically details galore. The stage is much wider and taller, though depth seemed similar. Mids are a bit pushed back on the Topping D90 at the expense of bass and treble presence. In terms of dynamics, I prefer the Neo iDSD though, as the Topping can feel a bit dull and uninspiring. In fact I enjoy listening to the Neo iDSD more than the D90 despite the latter having superior resolution and wider staging.

If you want a more neutral, almost boring presentation I think the D90 can serve you well and provide you with a feature set longer than the constitution. If you want a more engaging presentation though the Neo iDSD is the one I’d recommend.


The iFi Audio Neo iDSD is a far better DAC than an amp, basically that’s my takeaway after using it for over a month. The amp section leaves a lot to be desired from an all-in-one perspective but the DAC section is excellent and will give even dedicated DACs in this price bracket a run for the money. The BT support is seamless, it looks sleek, and I just love the vertical stand option. iFi broke the mould of making boring rectangular DAC/Amps and offered purist design which I definitely appreciate, though those looking for all the bells and whistles like selectable reconstruction filters or PEQ might have to look elsewhere.

If only the amp was less noisy in the output and had better drive for higher impedance/low-sensitivity cans I could see this one as an endgame DAC/Amp solution for many. Sadly, it’s a bit away from that crown. Perhaps the next one might break through the barrier.

Overall rating: 4/5
#Recommended (for use as a pure DAC, amp section might disappoint)
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@F700 thanks a lot for the kind words mate!
I experienced the same power output issue with the iDSD Neo. Quite interesting because both the iDSD Black Label and even the xDSD have plenty of power...
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What a great idea review
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Headphoneus Supremus
Strong Performer
Pros: Neutral tonality
Fully balanced
XLR analog outputs
Excellent Bluetooth performance
Cons: No IEMatch
Limited power

There is no end to iFi audio’s surprises on how they read my (and, of course, not only my) mind. I think it is a matter of the right marketing strategy and understanding of customer needs. In my opinion they do not just release some new products on the market to compete with other brands but have a clear understanding of why and for whom they are doing it. They do not just chase after numbers and the best measurements results just for the sake of results, but first they think several steps ahead of how this or that product will be perceived.

The first thing that surprised me, back in the fall, was the announcement of the iDSD Signature which became a modification of micro iDSD BL. The manufacturer took into account all the wishes of users, making the device almost ideal. We all know iDSD Diablo is coming, but that is another story.
In fact, I don't see any continuity between micro IDSD BL and Diablo, unlike the Signature, which is to me a logical upgrade for the BL.

The second point is just connected with the announcement of the Neo iDSD. At first, I could not understand what positioning the device would have.

As a matter of fact, I tried to find on the market a DAC with full MQA support up to 1000 USD with a good sound. Recently I began to listen to more jazz and classics, which more and more appear in the mqa format. My current Violectric DAC V800 becomes obsolete and does not support the mqa format, and it is limited to 24/96 kHz, which by modern standards is a serious lag. I do not listen to DSD very often, I practically do not have many, but I would like to listen to more mqa albums as stated above.

After seeing the announcement of a head-fi tour, I subscribed. Probably a month or so later, I received an email from ifi audio saying they are ready to provide me with the device through their distributor. To be honest, I did not expect it. It seems to be more real when a tour is in Europe and/or in the US, where there are no borders, where the number of participants is larger, where it is easier to coordinate such an event and the return on such tours is also higher. Therefore, I want to thank iFi audio and their Russian distributor Qvinta for the opportunity to test the device. I was allowed to test the device for about a week.

The main question that I wanted to clarify for me was:
Will NEO be able to cover my needs as an mqa DAC at the price up to 1000 USD?

Let’s dive deeper, NEO and see “how deep the rabbit-hole goes” (“The Matrix” movie)

What is in the box?

As it has been mentioned in some previous reviews:

USB 3.0 cable, RCA interconnect cable, 3.5 mm to 6.3 mm adapter, iPower power supply, Bluetooth antenna, silicone feet, vertical stand, remote control.

DSC_0362.jpg DSC_0364.jpg

Although, thinking of the positioning of the device as a fully balanced DAC, I would prefer to see XLR interconnect cables instead of RCA in the kit.

How it looks like?

I would skip all technical specs since this is available on the official website.

In terms of looks and styling, the device is unlike any other in the ifi range. Perhaps they plan to move on in this direction, we will see. I have not yet personally fully developed my attitude towards the new styling. But I like the way the DAC looks upright on a vertical stand. The device is quite compact both horizontally and vertically. But at the same time, it is quite weighty.

Dimensions: 214 x146 x 41mm
Weight: 970g

DSC_0392.jpg DSC_0399.jpg DSC_0403.jpg DSC_0400.jpg

MQA and Roon setup

As far as I know, this is the second device of the company after Pro iDSD, which makes full decoding and playback of MQA files. It seems that the new iDSD Daiblo will be capable of this too.

Setting up mqa capabilities in Roon is simple, you need to select the Decoder and Renderer in the MQA section to get a complete unfold.

Information of file’s format is displayed on the screen.

By the way, Roon does not identify the device as Neo iDSD. Perhaps this will be fixed in the future, it can be on the Roon and not on ifi side, I do not know.

There is one nuance connected with this - when you turn the iDSD Signature on, while NEO is turned off, Roon defines it as an unidentified ifi audio device and assigns the NEO’s zone to it. And since Signature requires the first software unfold of mqa, unlike NEO, you must go into the settings and change it to Renderer. And visa verse, when you turn the NEO on, you must do the opposite procedure to get mqa on NEO. Which is not very convenient.

2.JPG DSC_0394.jpg


To be honest, I do not see a big value in describing the sections from the user guide here. There are not so many buttons here and the functions are tied to the central volume wheel. During testing I have never had to switch anything except for USB/Bluetooth input. When listening the device was on the factory settings.

The firmware was updated from 1.25 to 1.35 version.


(“You hear that, Mr. Anderson?...”)

Here I would again return to the question of positioning the device. Most reviews focus on NEO mainly as a DAC + Amp, using headphone outputs to evaluate sound. In my opinion the device is primarily a DAC for paring with an external balanced amplifier and then a headphone amplifier as a secondary application.

Ultra HD DAC

The following set-up was used for listening:

  • Intel NUC on ROCK (Roon Optimized Core Kit)
  • Fully balanced headphone amplifier (dual mono) MS Audio Laboratory FHA 1.3, with a power of about 8 watts at 32 ohms per channel.
  • Self-made XLR interconnect cables on Neutrik connectors, based on Viablue NF-S1 Silver Quatro and Oyaide PA-02 V2.
  • Snorry NM-1 TOTL planar-magnetic headphones (pre-production version with wooden cups, drivers upgraded to the production version), a rather difficult load (about 40 ohms at 90 dBa) for many amplifiers.

I think with NEO ifi audio want to introduce a new vision of sound and possibly the direction in which new products of the company will go. I can’t say that the sound has changed conceptually. The DNA remains the same and there is certainly a similarity in sound with the previous generation, but the tuning has become more towards neutral and reference sound with an emphasis on “technique” if I may say so.

I have to admit that it requires some burn-in time to perform its best.

I think due to a more linear and neutral approach the DAC is more about width than depth. Regarding the width, especially on several MQA recordings, the channels go far from the central axis to left and right and I believe with phones like HD800S you can clearly hear how wide it can go.

In general, there are no questions about the soundstage.

The separation of channels and instruments, considering the balanced circuity of the device, is at a really high level. You can clearly hear each instrument and its location.

I think there is more about mid than sub. The bass is very well controlled and fast. It does not draw attention to itself and does not climb into the mid range. It aligns harmoniously with the rest of the frequency ranges. Perhaps for some it will seem a little dry. It plays out right fast and technical genres, as is to be expected from such a device.

Mid frequencies
Here, too, there are no questions about the quality of this range. Technically it is clean and detailed. There are no peaks or dips. Everything is perceived quite naturally.

High frequencies
They are detailed and have an exceptionally good extension. I would not call NEO bright at all, unless, of course, you use bright headphones with it.

With the NM-1, which itself have a linear FR without any emphasize anywhere in the treble area, the NEO does everything accurate and clean without a hint of harshness and sibilance.
Well, it will also depend on the quality of recordings too.

NEO is extremely fast and dynamic. You do not fall asleep with it. It keeps the rhythm! Good job here, ifi!


Now I will shortly compare the device with my Violectric DAC V800, built on single TI BB PCM1792. At the start of sales back in 2011 (or may be earlier) the MSRP of the DAC was 1299 USD. I have it for about 1.5 years. I bought it new directly from Lake People in Germany in fall of 2019 for about 600 Euro (last stock unit under Black Friday deal). It seems to me that it was discontinued that year or so.

On the one hand, we are talking about DACs, roughly costing one - 700 and the other - 1300 USD. On the other hand, the subject of price and price positioning is not always related to the sound, as I think.

As you may know, V800 does not support DSD and MQA format. My version has a 24/96 kHz limitation, everything above is got down sampled. Nevertheless if you don't pay attention to the lack of support for modern formats like mqa, the V800 remains a solid performer up to this day.

The devices are similar in tonality, both are neutral and transparent, but the V800 is more in the warmer side of neutral and delivers everything a little smoother.

Neo sounds closer to the listener and more in your face. V800 moves the stage a couple of rows further. To me the sound of the German DAC is weightier, that is the notes are "weightier". I do not mean that Neo sounds "thin". But there are more "meat on the bones" with Violectric. There is a slight difference in bass section too. NEO is more about mid bass, the V800 adds more weight in the sub bass area. I think the level of details pulled out from music is at the same level. Violectric also sounds a bit deeper.


+ Headphone Amplifier

Here I’d like to draw parallels with the iDSD Signature, which I have had since the end of December. I immediately bought it as soon as it became available in my country. I was looking forward to this device, owning iDSD micro BL for quite a long. And I can say that I never regret about my purchase.

With IEM

For evaluation I used my reference IEM from Earsonics, S-EM6 V2.

I remember the wonderful synergy of these IEM with BL, and of course, the synergy they have with the Signature today; this paring has become even better.

On the one hand, these IEMs like amplification and do not perform well with weak sources; on the other hand, they are quite sensitive - 112 dB / mW. I remember with the ZEN DAC and Hip DAC (out of the 4.4 mm outputs) it was not possible to listen to them due to the background noise. Note that iDSD Signature (micro IDSD BL in the past) has no background noise at all at any gain or mode. There is just “dead silence”. Unfortunately, with NEO I also hear a distinct background noise from the amplifier with the S-EM6 V2. The sound signature of the amp section is like what I hear with an external amplifier – more on neutral side, detailed, fast.

With headphones

Naturally, there is no background noise with the Snorry NM-1. But the amp section of NEO is not able to drive these tight isodynamics to an acceptable level of their normal performance - need more current.

Make sure you choose headphones for NEO which are not overly sensitive and not very demanding on output power.

DSC_0408.jpg DSC_0420.jpg


I used Sony NW-A100 player as a source. Connecting devices does not cause any problems. They quickly find each other. In the past, owning xDSD and xCAN, I could see how great ifi audio managed to bring wireless sound to a new level. Sometimes to distinguish the sound from the wired one, I had to listen deeply to the recording. As expected NEO already with LDAC support is pushing this bar even higher. This will be highly estimated by those who are really looking for the latest wireless signal transfer technology.

DSC_0424.jpg DSC_0434.jpg


Have I got the answer to my question after about a week of using the device? Yes, and the answer is yes.

NEO iDSD can confidently cover DAC needs in the range of devices up to 1000 USD, in case your tastes match with the general philosophy of sound that ifi audio is presenting to its audience today.

I also hope that the gap in portfolio between Neo iDSD and Pro iDSD will be filled with something interesting (desktop standalone DAC?) too.

I am really grateful to ifi audio for the great opportunity and wish them success in the further development of their products! I would also wish all of us to have a chance to listen and possibility to purchase these products in future.

It is time to return the unit.)
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iFi audio
iFi audio
Thanks a ton @qsk78 ! Great stuff that made our weekend this much better :D :beerchug:
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Codename john
Putting the UK on the map 🔥
Very good review, thanks a lot! :)
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Reviewer at hxosplus
A Master of all Trades
Pros: - Reference quality neutral sounding DAC
- Fully balanced topology
- Dead silent
- Balanced headphone amplifier
- Balanced preamplifier
- High resolution bluetooth receiver
- Good build quality
- Remote control
Cons: - Single ended headphone out is underpowered
- May not suit well bright components

The NEO iDSD was provided by iFi for one week as part of the Headfi loaner tour.
Due to the holiday season I was privileged to abuse that time.
I would like to thank them very much for letting me participate.
The review reflects my personal honest and subjective opinion.
iFi never asked for a favorable review of any kind.

About the firmware

A few words about the supposed noise problem that was discussed here in Headfi.
My loaner sample came with the original release firmware and was dead silent during all the tests I have performed.
After installing the updated firmware the unit remained dead silent and the only change I have noticed was a somewhat improved sound signature at the higher registers.


The hated and long forgotten 2020 was not good at all for humanity but it sure was a very prolific year for iFi.
They produced the fabulous and highly acclaimed - value for money - ZEN range and then the micro iDSD Signature followed by the brand new NEO iDSD.

The NEO iDSD is a fully balanced desktop DAC with balanced preamplifier function plus a discrete balanced headphone amplifier.
It supports wireless Bluetooth connectivity and it is remotely controlled.


Technical specifications as published by iFi.

The Burr-Brown True Native® chipset means file formats remain unchanged or ‘bit-perfect’. This means you are listening to music as the artist intended in the format in which it was recorded.

The XMOS 16-Core chip processes the audio data received via the USB and S/PDIF digital inputs.

This new low-latency XMOS microcontroller has greatly enhanced processing power. Compared to the current generation of eight-core chips, this new 16-core IC delivers double the clock speed (2000MIPS) and four times the memory (512KB), as well as the latest SuperSpeed USB standard.

Extensive jitter-eradication technologies are applied to the digital stage, including our GMT (Global Master Timing) femto-precision clock and intelligent memory buffer. This represents a total ‘out-of-the-box’ systematic digital solution that solves jitter once and for all.

Even the OLED SilentLine display is engineered to ensure there is no electrical noise to interfere with the audio signal as it switches itself off when not in use.

As with many other iFi audio products, we’ve incorporated a custom OV Series operational-amplifier. This top-notch component contributes to the extremely low noise, low distortion (0.0001%) and wide bandwidth.

Balanced, differential analogue circuit design reduces noise and cross-talk within the signal path by fully separating the left and right channels.

The headphone amp stage has a continuous power output of more than 1000mW into 32ohms available through the balanced headphone socket. To retain maximum resolution, the volume is adjusted in the analogue domain via a resistor ladder, under precise microprocessor control.

All internal components are hand picked by major brands.

Hi-res audio support is state-of-the-art with True Native® playback. It handles PCM data to 32-bit/768kHz, DSD up to DSD512 and single and double speed DXD.

MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) is supported through the USB and S/PDIF inputs, with full decoding of MQA files up to 384kHz thanks to the processing power of the new 16-core XMOS chip.

iFi uses Qualcomm’s new QCC5100 Bluetooth processing IC.
All current high-definition Bluetooth audio formats are supported – aptx, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX LL, LDAC, HWA/LHDC, AAC and SBC.

Physical specifications and handling.

The NEO iDSD is a bit larger than the ZEN series but is still very discreet with a small footprint.
It measures 214 x 146 x 41 mm and the weight is 970gr.
The unit sports a rather futuristic design that differs significantly from the rest of the iFi products.
It is a sturdy all aluminium case with good build quality without any hard edges.
All the buttons and plugs are of good quality and well put together but care should be taken with the display which is very prone to scratching.

The front panel is dominated by the large rotary knob in the middle with the OLED display at the left side and the two headphone jacks at the right.
One small button is the power switch and another one is used to enable the bluetooth and select the digital input.
A large white LED illuminates the center part giving a spaceship glow.
At the back from the left to the right we can see the XLR and RCA outputs , the coaxial , optical and USB digital inputs , the DC jack and the bluetooth antenna.


The unit can be placed horizontally or vertically thanks to the supplied extra base and the display will automatically adjust it's orientation.
The NEO iDSD can be powered from the USB input while under this mode but for any other operation the external power supply is needed.
The iFi iPower upgraded low noise power supply is provided as a regular inside the box.
The other accessories include an external bluetooth antenna , a USB 3.0 cable , a generic stereo RCA cable , four silicone feet , the extra base , the remote control and an 6.35mm to 3.5mm adapter.


Connectivity and use.

Setting up the device is an easy and straightforward procedure.
We can cycle between the three available digital inputs with the remote control or the input button.
For the USB input we need to install the drivers from the iFi website and we are provided with ASIO bit perfect support.
While in Bluetooth mode the device will automatically enter seek operation and pairing is fast and easy.
Up to seven different devices are remembered and the connection remains active even if we switch to another digital input.
So we can cycle between all the available digital inputs without losing wireless connection.
From the main menu we can choose whether the analogue output will be fixed or variable and plugging in a headphone will cut off the output.
A voice assistance is heard during the various operations.

Sound impressions.

We have decided to test the NEO iDSD first of all as a stand alone DAC and then with the internal headphone amplifier.
We have used our reference 2 channel audio system with the AudioPhysic Step 35 speakers and Cambridge Audio 851A amplifier plus some external headphone amplifiers like the ZEN CAN and Feliks Audio Euforia.
Unfortunately no active loudspeakers were available to test the balanced preamplifier function.

Our first contact was something of a surprise as we didn't experience the known somewhat warm sound signature of recent iFi products.
Instead the NEO iDSD is very neutral and transparent favoring a precise and honest reproduction of the supplied material without any kind of altering or processing of the signal.
The dac is very clean and crystal clear with a linear response from bottom to the top.
Detail retrieval is superb thanks to the dead silent and black background.
Mind you that this is not the kind of a mechanical or soulless presentation as all the fine particles blend together in an uncanny and effortless way.
The NEO is lighting fast with a great sense of timing and never lost pace even during the most demanding and complex passages.
This is a true reference sound at its best and it is going to expose equally all the best and the worst parts of the whole chain.


iFi could very easily have stopped here calling the NEO a winner as an excellent reference DAC and be done with it.
But that's not the case here as there is a lot more to it and this is not of a surprise considering iFi's tendency to favour musical and analogue kind of sound.
And the NEO can support that claim as it is full sounding with excellent overall timbre while retaining the great neutrality.
The bass that extends down to the lower registers is visceral , tight and hard hitting with exemplary layering and definition.
The mids while ultra flat and crystal clear don't sound distanced or lifeless but on the contrary are well rounded and very engaging with an organic flavor to them.
Higher above the presentation is very luminous touching brightness but thankfully it is well contrasted and equated by the bass and mids performance.
Truth to be told there is a certain lack of body and a faster than the desired decay so some instruments at certain recordings and with several headphones / speakers will sound lean or somewhat etched.

Synergy is as always the key word with this hobby and as that we would avoid pairing the iFi NEO iDSD with bright or overly analytical external amplifiers or speakers / headphones.

The NEO did surprisingly well with space and time domain and we were treated with an accurately placed recording venue that unfolded in a three dimensional stage with the right proportions between the instrumentalists from a solo singer to the whole symphonic orchestra.

The Headphone Amplifier.

Listening tests were performed mostly with Drop Hifiman HE5XX - Hifiman Ananda and Sennheiser HD660S.
Switching to the internal headphone amplifier all the above characteristics are retained intact.
The amplifier is totally transparent and it does a great job amplifying with great dynamics and speed delivering a satisfying experience.
That is of course if we have somewhat efficient headphones because from the single ended output it is rather underpowered while from the balanced is a lot better but still not enough for very power hungry headphones.
As an example with the easy to drive Sennheiser HD660S we didn't get past the -25dB mark with low level recorded classical music.
So under real life conditions the internal headphone amplifier is sufficient enough for most of the usual headphones be it that they can support balanced connection.
Owners of difficult loads or users seeking an upgraded overall experience should add an external amplifier.



The new Qualcomm processor is very powerful and integration is perfect.
New generation bluetooth is much improved offering a very stable operation and great sound quality.
With the high resolution codecs aptX HD and LDAC the overall loss in sound fidelity is minimal and the sonic results are almost excellent.
Add the ease of use and we would not be very surprised to discover that the bluetooth connection is the most preferred one.
The only thing that we missed is the lack of a transmitter mode that could be very useful with bluetooth headphones and speakers.

At the end.

The NEO iDSD is a reference quality standalone balanced DAC with balanced preamplifier function able to stand strong against the competition.
The high quality balanced headphone amplifier is a welcomed extra bonus that adds a lot to the whole value as is the high resolution bluetooth support and the handy remote control.
The NEO iDSD is a top class minimal all in one device that can support multiple use scenarios with great success and it is aligned with the contemporary way of life.
And instead of being a jack of all trades condemned to mediocrity it is rather a true master in every trade that exercises.
Highly recommend.

The test playlist - http://open.qobuz.com/playlist/5669033

Copyright - Laskis Petros 2021.
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Thank you very much.
It was a pleasure to review it!
Sebastien Chiu
Sebastien Chiu
Thanks again for the review @Ichos!
My pleasure , thanks for letting me in!


100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Great looks, Great build quality, Great sound, Great for those wanting simplicity.
Cons: Not for those who want to dive into sub-menus and choose parameters

First let me start out by saying that the NEO iDSD was sent to me for review by iFi Audio as part of a tour they organized on Head-Fi. In exchange for the loan, the only request was that I published my opinions of the unit, good or bad, here on Head-Fi.

I have not received any other requests or offers but as always, it is good to understand that it hasn’t cost me anything to test this product.

I have actually had the unit in my possession for longer than was originally agreed. When I first received the unit, it had an issue with noise from the amplifier when using sensitive IEMs. I mentioned this to iFi, as did other people who had received units, and they asked me to hold on to the unit until they released a firmware update to correct the issue.

Around a week later they released the update but as it was just before Christmas, they kindly allowed me to hold on to the unit for a couple more weeks to update it and then complete my review. The update to the firmware did indeed solve the issue I was experiencing, so nothing but praise for iFi on this point.

Now, on to the review, which is also available in Spanish on my blog and YouTube channel...


Before I even unboxed the NEO, I already knew that reviewing this item wasn’t going to be easy, speaking from an audio point of view. On one side of the coin there is the fact that there are many “firsts” in the equation, it is my first iFi Audio product, it is my first Multibit DAC (as far as I am aware*) and it is also my first experience with a Burr-Brown DAC. As I said, that is a lot of “firsts” that hinder my ability to narrow down what is different.

On the other side of the coin, as I have said in previous reviews of amplifiers, I am someone who has always, due to my line of work in audio, been in the camp that thinks that a DAC and an amplifier should be “transparent”, not adding anything of their own, unless we are specifically looking at tube amps or similar that purposefully change the sound (I think of them as products with a fixed onboard EQ). To be totally honest, I find it very difficult to spot differences between different good DACs and good solid state amps, and when I do pinpoint them, I struggle to convince myself if they are really there if I am creating them.

Having said that, I have spent this time testing the NEO iDSD alongside my usual chains that I use for reviewing IEMs and Headphones and will do my best to share what are my feelings, whether subconscious or not.

*I say “as far as I am aware” because I have used lots of equipment in situations where I had no idea what kind of DAC was being used, therefore I cannot be certain.



The iFi NEO iDSD is presented in packaging which, while nothing is really luxurious, does relate to the price of the unit and shows that care has been taken, it hasn’t just been thrown in a box.

On an outer cardboard sleeve we find an image of the unit, along with plenty of specs and other information about it.

Sliding out from the sleeve there is a simple white box with the iFi logo on the top, inside of which we find the unit safely packed. Underneath this there is a selection of smaller boxes that contain all of the accessories:

USB 3.0 Cable
RCA Cable
3.5mm to ¼” adapter
Power Supply
Bluetooth Antenna
Silicone feet
Stand (so it can be placed horizontally or vertically)
Remote control

I find things like the cables and adapter to be extras that cost the company next to nothing but do add to the pleasure of the person opening their latest purchase.


Build and aesthetics…

Although I haven’t had the pleasure of trying or owning any iFi Audio geaar in the past, I have taken note of many of their products and I think that they are one of the companies that opt for looks that break from the norm, which some like and others don’t. As always with aesthetics, it is a very personal thing. I am someone who does like the majority of the iFi designs and the NEO is a product that I really like the look of.

In the case of the NEO, they have opted for a design that is simple but elegant and I think that it’s looks are something that would make it an easy option for a desktop environment. It is small enough to not take up too much real estate, while at the same time, not so small that it looks temporary.

The fact that it can be placed vertically or horizontally, with the screen rotating automatically, is something that I feel is a great option, allowing it to be placed almost anywhere. On my desk in the office, I run a quadruple monitor setup (with my DACs and amps off to the side) which means space is at a premium. I found that the NEO, in vertical mode, fits perfectly between two monitors, allowing it to be straight in front of me. My home set up is housed in a 19” rack (yes, I have a 19” rack in my living room, much to the dismay of my wife) and the NEO fits perfectly on a 1U shelf.

As far as build quality, the whole unit is metal, feels robust and both buttons and volume knob feel sturdy and accurate. I obviously can’t say how it will resist the passing of time but I see no build flaws that strike me as possible issues.



The NEO iDSD seems to have been designed for those who are looking for an all in one solution while maintaining simplicity. There are no menus to get lost in, no choice of filter settings, no choice of outputs (all outputs are always active), no EQ, etc. The only thing that could be considered “hidden” is the selection of “Fixed” or “Variable” for the DAC outputs on the back. To access this you need to turn off the unit and then turn back on while pressing the volume wheel.

Everything else is as simple as it gets. There are two buttons and a volume wheel that also serves as a push button, each of these serves one function.

The bottom button (when standing vertically ) is for power, the second button is for choosing input (cycling through USB/Bluetooth/Optical/Coax) and the volume wheel mutes the unit when pressed or allows you to change screen brightness if held for 2 seconds (it can also be set to auto off, leaving only the white light below the volume wheel active).

The volume knob is smooth and accurate, with a great feel and placed in a position that makes it easily accessed in both horizontal and vertical modes.

Another nice touch is that the unit speaks to you when selecting Bluetooth. Rather than just seeing a flashing icon on the screen (which is also present), a voice tells you that you have activated bluetooth and when it enters pairing mode etc. The voice even tells you what codecs you are using when a connection is established.

While on the subject of Bluetooth, connection was very easy and fast from my phones and DAPs. LDAC connection was easily established without any need to force any settings on my phone, an issue I have had with a few LDAC capable receivers. I haven’t really checked the maximum distance for connection but I have moved around my office and my living room with my phone in my pocket and haven’t experienced any glitches or dropouts.

There is also a remote control included with the unit, however, there is no need to actually use the remote if you don’t want to, as all the same functions are available directly on the unit. The only added benefit of the remote (apart from being able to control the unit while sitting on the sofa) is that the screen dimmer is a dedicated button, which saves you a 2 second press of the volume wheel.

I know that the functionality of the unit is simple but I really appreciate the fact that there are no functions that need the remote. As most of my equipment is within arms reach, I hate having to use a remote to access a specific function or setting.

As far as functionality, there isn’t much more to add, it is a simple unit that covers all of the basic inputs that an all in one desktop device should. If you are someone who loves to dive into sub-menus to change parameters and tweak settings, then I guess this unit isn’t for you. However, if you are looking for something that just does what you need it to without having to do more than select input, this unit is perfect.

I haven’t mentioned outputs but they are also very complete. On the back of the unit we get both RCA and balanced XLR outputs from the DAC, while on the front we have a single ended ¼” TRS and a balanced 4.4mm Pentacon.



Now comes the difficult part, explaining the sound in comparison to my other set ups. As I said at the beginning, it is hard for me to differentiate between two good amplifiers and even more so between two good DACs, as I am never sure what my brain is adding to the equation based on expectations.

Apart from spending lots of time just listening to music through the NEO, I have also done some comparisons against the usual DACs and Amps I use for my headphone and IEM reviews. At work, where I do most of my general listening, I use an SU-8 or an 01V96i feeding an Atom amp, an L20 amp and a QSC CX302 amp (for my speakers). At home, I use a Topping D10 to distribute optical to various other DACs and systems and also a Modi 3+ connected via Coax with an L30 amp and a Magni Heresy. I have a couple of other set ups around the house but I haven’t really compared them against the NEO as they serve other purposes.

So, with that cleared up, on to what I have actually tested and found, or at least what I think I have found…

General listening...

First off, I’ll start with my general listening tests. For these I have spent many hours just listening to music, using a combination of headphones and IEMs, from both the unbalanced and balanced outputs. I have listened to all kinds of music from my own FLACs (using Foobar), Tidal and even Spotify. During this time, I had absolutely no issue with sound quality at all. Everything sounds as it should, nothing strange stands out and the NEO provides more than enough quality for me to consider it a good sounding device.

For my first few days with the unit, I didn’t have a Pentacon adapter available (my equipment is XLR4) and had to order one. This means that the first 4 days were spent with the unbalanced output, allowing me to give it a good run without even worrying about the balanced output.

I found that the unbalanced output was lacking a little in power for driving my HD6XX and the DT1990 Pro, although the Ananda did have more room to spare. I don’t listen at very high levels, so, to be truthful, I didn’t find myself running out of power but I did find that with some quieter tracks (especially some DSD files) I was getting up to around -10dB (max is 0dB), so I could see someone who likes to play music loud (using low sensitivity headphones) finding the unbalanced output a little weak. I will say though that even when nearing max output (unbalanced), there was no sign of any audible distortion.

Moving over to the balanced output, the power issues with the HD6XX are gone, providing plenty of power for my needs and seemingly adding a little more clarity but that could quite easily be my brain that is adding it. Again, I used multiple sets of headphones and IEMs, all proving to be powered with ease from the balanced output.

Detailed listening and comparisons…

Searching for differences, I went through a series of comparisons and combinations to see what I could differentiate (or what my brain tells me I can differentiate, however you want to look at it).

My first comparison was to test the overall unit (as a whole) against other setups. I tested this against various combinations, however, as all of my solid state amplifiers are single ended only, I stuck with the SE output of the NEO. My subjective findings were that the iFi is a little smoother than my other combinations. I mean, this was not night and day, it was small things like the decay of notes and reverb of voices that seemed to be a little smoother. I found the attack to be very similar but the release was smoother.

I did find also that the SE output of the NEO is very weak in comparison to amps like the L30, Heresy or Atom. While I was hitting between -20dB and -10dB (depending on track) on the NEO, I was at much lower levels on the other options (for example, L30 around 10 o’clock on medium gain or Heresy at around 1 o’clock on low gain). The balanced output of the NEO gives these little amps a much better run for their money as far as power.

Switching back and forth between the combinations, I came away with the sensation that the iFi NEO iDSD was more enjoyable while the others were sharper and more "straight to the point".

My next comparison was to test the amplifier of the NEO. There is no analog input on the unit, so it is not possible to take the DAC out of the equation, therefore I ran the DAC output to other amplifiers to compare against the onboard amplifier. I balanced the output levels of the amps (as in the previous test) to avoid automatically preferring the loudest of the two, I started out with the SE output from the iFi but again ended up opting for the balanced output to compare.

Here I found that the DAC connected to an external solid state amplifier is sort of a middle ground between using two completely different chains (for example, the iFi NEO vs Modi 3+ & Heresy). There still seems to be a slightly more rounded touch to the sound but not quite as much as before, although I am talking about micro changes and these could again be due to personal expectations. I actually really liked the combination of the iFi DAC paired with any of my small SS amps.

Finally, I compared DACs. My non-scientific approach here was to use the two inputs of the Atom, setting the output of the NEO to variable and balancing the levels against the SU-8 which also has a variable output, however, it turned out that the output levels of the two DACs are identical when set to full.

I spent an hour or so switching back and forth between the two DACs on the Atom. To be totally honest, I am not sure I noticed any difference at all. There were times that I again got the sensation that the iFi is smoother than the SU-8 but the next song I wouldn’t be able to pick which was which.

In the aim to be a little more scientific in my approach (but only a little), I asked a colleague to randomly connect the two DACs to whichever input of the Atom he liked, without me knowing which input was which. After another hour or so and many switches back and forth, I picked the DAC that I thought sounded more “musical” to my ears.

There was one DAC that I felt sounded better with acoustic instruments (guitars, basses etc.) and voices, basically being smoother overall. Basically, I chose the one that I would buy if I could only use that selector switch to decide. That DAC did turn out to be the iFi NEO which I guess is a good thing but this was based on specific songs that I have heard thousands of times, I certainly wouldn’t bet my money on picking it in a blind test.

As far as the balanced outputs of the iFi NEO iDSD, I don’t really have a quick way of swapping sources without going through an extra level of processing (my speaker set ups are driven by a BSS Blu-160 which does an ADC before processing and then DAC out to the speakers). I only have one balanced headphone amplifier, the P20, which involves swapping cables and isn’t a simple A/B test. Saying this, the iFi presented no issues and the overall sound quality was very enjoyable on all my systems, headphones and speakers.

One thing to take into consideration is that the outputs of the DAC are always active, with no way of turning them off. That means that if you are using the NEO to feed external speakers or amplifiers, there is no way to switch between headphones and line out from the unit, you will need another way of turning them on or off. Yes, they can be set to variable but raising volume when using the headphone outputs will also increase volume on the DAC outputs.



The iFi NEO iDSD seems to be a product that is aimed as an all in one solution for those that are wanting a simple desktop unit that provides all the functions one would need in a very simple but elegant fashion.

The unit is good looking (in my opinion of course) and seems to be very well built, making it a perfectly valid option for someone who is wanting something like this for their desktop or even living room set up. I would be quite happy to have the NEO on my desk at work, covering all the needs I have in my office. and on top of that, it sounds great!

All in all, I am impressed with the iFi NEO iDSD and feel like it is a very good option at it’s price point. You could put together a similar system (as far as sound and functionality) using separate pieces of equipment but I don’t think you would save anything as far as cost and you wouldn’t end up with a good looking all-in-one that the NEO is.

A big thank you to iFi Audio for allowing me to try out the NEO iDSD!

Sebastien Chiu
Sebastien Chiu
Thanks for the review, Seynor!
iFi audio
iFi audio
Thanks for a lovely writing!


1000+ Head-Fier
iFi Neo iDSD: A Fun and Dynamic Balanced DAC and All-in-One.
Pros: 4.4mm Balanced is well-tuned and matched to the DAC section
Exceptional sense of speed and microdynamics.
Above average sense of musical engagement compared to some others in its price range.
Cons: Single-ended headphone output is kind of average.
Upper-mid energy might be problematic with headphones that already emphasize presence region.
Some listeners may prefer a thicker or "meatier" sound.
Introduction and background

To satisfy the requirements of the recent iFi Neo iDSD loaner tour, the following is my review of the iFi Neo iDSD. I reached out to iFi to request participation in the tour and was given 1 week to evaluate the equipment. No direct compensation is being provided for this review, although tour participants are being entered in a drawing to win a Neo iDSD by random draw.

My personal preferences and biases place a stronger emphasis on (pseudo) stereo imaging and the dynamic/transient characteristics of the equipment than the perception of ruler-flat frequency response. It is my view that the brain can significantly adapt to minor frequency-response aberrations, given enough time. There are practical limits to this, however. I also value midrange tonality such as female vocals and wind instruments more than subterranean bass or perfect treble, although the latter two are appreciated. I tend to prefer a mildly upfront midrange that doesn’t give the impression of excessive distance or detachment. My initial bias going into the review is that it might be a slight improvement over the Micro iDSD (non-black label) that I’ve owned twice before, but I didn’t expect a large improvement.

Compared equipment

Sennheiser HD-650 (Spider and rear-foam removal mod with 2 pieces of Sorbothane on magnets only) /w balanced cable and adapters where appropriate.

Lenovo P71 workstation laptop
Qobuz streaming.

DAC/Amp Combinations:
iDSD Neo built-in output (both)
iDSD Neo balanced XLR out + Burson Soloist 3x /w V6 Vivid
iDSD Neo single ended RCA out + Burson Fun /w SparkoS
iDSD Neo single ended RCA out + Gilmore Lite Mk. 2
Schiit Modius + Burson Soloist 3X


Build quality and user experience:

The build quality and aesthetics, aside from being a departure from other iFi products is a nice step up from the Micro series. The design is clean and modern and conveniently sized for many desktop setups. The vertical stand allows a space-saving operational mode when needed, and the display automatically adjusts the orientation, I assume, via an internal gyroscope or similar. The rotary encoder operates very smoothly and has a unique soft-click sound and feel rather than the usual rubbery tactile bump. Unfortunately, the knob, from what I can tell, is a press-fit knob for a clean look rather than using a set screw. Like the knob on my Soloist 3X, these press-fit knobs seem to give it a slightly loose or wobbly feel compared to knobs tightened with a set screw, but this is ultimately a minor criticism.
The display is small but generally clear and easily readable, with adjustable brightness and an auto-off mode. The “high-res audio” sticker looks a little cheesy also, but I’m assuming it can probably be removed by the end user. Otherwise, I really liked the design and build-quality, a tighter-feeling knob would just be icing on the cake. A photo of the Neo with some of the other equipment compared is shown below.



The bass-boost functionality of several other iFi products is conspicuously absent on this model, but as others suggested to me, the quantity of bass feels sufficient for me, which for some may be a touch greater than flat. The 4.4mm balanced output produces a well extended and quality bass, especially with acoustic music, but the Soloist 3X connected produces an even stronger and more authoritative bass response.


Depending on equipment pairing this could be a small area of weakness. Out of the 4.4mm output, the mids seem well integrated without being too dry or tonally saturated. There’s a slight upper-mid emphasis that imparts an energetic presentation to the Neo, but it seems to hold back just before getting too much. Perhaps with other headphones that overly emphasize the upper-mids, this could be a bit too much. Other users have reported excellent synergy with Focal headphones like the Clear and Elegia, that tend to have an upper-mid recession, which supports my observation.

When connecting the Soloist 3X with V6 Vivid, the true midrange recession becomes a bit too much and things sound over distant for my preferences. The V6 Vivid in the Soloist 3X has a naturally spacious sound that is a bit laid back. Tonally, the Fun with SparkoS matched better, so I suspect the SparkoS in the Soloist 3X would produce a similar positive effect.


Treble is quite extended and clear without any major problems that jump out at me. Do keep in mind that I use the HD650 which tends toward treble roll-off and may hide problems with more treble-present headphones. One thing of note is that with the 4.4mm balanced output, there’s a positive quality to the speed of the treble which makes things such as hi-hats feel a little more realistic than with the Modius or ADI-2 DAC. Otherwise, there’s nothing else that stands out in a positive or negative way.


Now this is where things start to get interesting. The real capability of the Neo is shown in its rendering of microdynamics and transients of medium intensity. This is a characteristic I weigh heavily in my personal preference, as this is what gives live and instrumental music it’s character, groove, and sense of “life”. It’s a characteristic the Modius also performed admirably on (although a little behind the Neo). It’s also a characteristic I thought the ADI-2 fell flat on relative to the Neo and Modius.

The 4.4mm output gives a clearly defined attack, sustain, and decay, and adds to the realism of acoustic drums and subtle piano flourishes. I don’t want to call it “class leading” because there’s a lot in its price range that I haven’t heard yet, namely the Schiit Bifrost 2. It’s certainly the most delightful strength of the Neo. The Soloist 3X with V6 Vivid seems to soften the attack a bit, but I also think the SparkoS would improve this and better communicate the strengths of the Neo.

Imaging and separation:

I don’t have too much opinion on this other than it’s satisfactory and satisfying. Similar to the ADI-2 which is strong in this area. The Modius falls behind the more expensive DACs with a more closed-in and intimate sound by comparison. There is nothing seriously objectionable going on like an overly flat or 2-D presentation. Things sound a little more airy and separated out of the 4.4mm balanced due to the perceived speed of attack and decay.

Overall musical engagement:

For me, This is primarily a function that is the sum of the dynamics, imaging, and midrange presentation, and likely the most purely subjective opinion since it involves my interpretation of my observations. I found the overall musical engagement to be superior to both the Modius and the ADI-2, although the Modius again performs very well at its price point. This is where I think the Bifrost 2 would be a fairer comparison and one I hope to do in the future, hopefully by around March.

Anecdotally, many users cite musical engagement as a strength of the Schiit Multibit DACs, and I’ve also found it to be a strength of the Neo as well. I would expect the Gungnir Multibit (which I’ve owned) to exceed the Neo in this regard, but at a much higher price and occupation of physical space. Ditto to the next level for the Yggdrasil. The musical engagement of the Neo, especially at it’s price, really impressed me. This is really the make-or-break factor for me when I evaluate gear.

Conclusion and other thoughts:

Taken all together, the Neo exceeded my initial expectations by a fair margin I and feel like it’s worth the price of admission, whether as an all-in-one for mid to high efficiency headphones, or as a pure DAC to a higher-end balanced amp like the Soloist 3X. With the HD650 in balanced mode from the 4.4mm output, the output doesn’t just feel tacked on. You may notice that I didn’t really mention much about the single-ended headphone output, and that’s because it was kind of meh. It’s not terrible, but you can do better with an external single-ended amp like the Burson Fun or Gilmore Lite Mk. 2 (Maybe an Asgard 3 also, but I haven’t heard it).

I think the balanced headphone output is more than serviceable for most headphones, and tonally well-matched to the DAC section. You’d have to spend considerably more than the cost of the aforementioned amps to improve upon the 4.4mm output. Even the single-ended amps I compared were more of side-grades with a different flavor, although I do think the Burson Fun with SparkoS edged out the built-in amp once it was fully warmed up (Burson class-A amps take a notoriously long time to warm up).

As much as I liked the Neo, I think the platform itself has a ton of potential for future improvements which I will recommend here for iFi’s consideration. Given there’s still a large price-gap between the Neo and the Pro iDSD, I think it would be wise to eventually produce an improved “special edition” not unlike what’s been done with the Black Labels and Signature. The PCB appears to have sufficient room to implement at least a discrete output-buffer circuit. An FPGA or DSP chip could be added to implement other filter options like the Pro instead of just the GTO filter. The XBass and 3D would be nice additions too, but less preferential to me than the first two.

Perhaps the current Micro iUSB power could be replaced by a Neo iUSB power station with similar form factor to serve as an improved power-supply for the Neo. If an improved Neo iDSD sold for $1000-$1100 and the optional power supply upgrade for no more than $500, that would put the total price about halfway between the current Neo iDSD and Pro iDSD. The iFi Neo is a terrific performer at its price-point, but it leaves me with the itch of “what could be”. It makes me very curious of what the Pro iDSD is capable of, but unfortunately, that is well beyond my financial comfort zone for a while. I would definitely like to see what more can be squeezed out of this platform in the future.
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I am curious if you roll the op amp of soloist to from vivid classic would make a good pairing to the neo. Very nice review btw, I think this is the best review of neo so far
Unfortunately, I don't yet have any alternative op-amps to try with the Soloist 3X. I technically could have tried the Classic in the Fun with the Neo, but I already felt crunched for time switching between other amps and sources, and I was more interested in how the Fun with SparkoS compared to the Soloist with the V6 Vivid out of the Neo. If my budget permits around March, I'll probably get two sets of SparkoS dual-channel, and maybe a pair of classics to test in the Soloist 3X. If budget really permits, I may also order a Bifrost 2 and Neo to compare back to back and keep the one I prefer. I'm also considering the possibility of adding the HE-6SE V2 if it goes on sale again.
It's hard to say in speculation, though. I don't think the Fun with Classic would jive with the Neo as well, but maybe the Soloist 3X with its more spacious sound may better accommodate the more intimate Classics in conjunction with the Neo and its spacious sound. The V6 Vivid in the Soloist 3X with the Neo was almost a little too distant.


Reviewer at Ear Fidelity
Pros: Fantastic Bluetooth
Marvelous design and build quality
Vertical stand
The volume knob is very satisfying
Great performance
Airy and pronounced, yet delicate and sweet
Very good value
Cons: Lacks power for some demanding headphones
can sound too delicate for some

iFi Audio just released its newest product – the iDSD Neo. I’ts a stationary DAC/AMP combo with Bluetooth, balanced output, and unique, futuristic design. It is priced at 699 USD.

Sound quality for the price
Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Build quality
Rating: 10 out of 10.

Rating: 9 out of 10.


iFi made some changes to their packaging style, it’s not all white anymore. iDSD Neo comes in a grey box with a shiny render, logo, name, and some Japanese signs. Inside, you will find an iDSD Neo itself, an iPower, a remote, a 2x RCA cable, USB type B cable, rubber feet, 3,5 to 6,35mm jack adapter and a bluetooth antenna.
There’s also one wonderful thing for me – an aluminium stand to position your iDSD NEO vertically. I’m missing that thing with many other DACs. It can save a lot of space on the desk.

Build quality

Take a look at this design, it’s one of the most beautiful DACs I’ve ever seen. This little buddy agrees too.
iFi iDSD Neo is pretty heavy, it weighs about 1kg + the vertical stand. It is top quality in terms of handcrafting – aluminum shell with a matte finish, a glossy screen at the front, and a LED indicator.
The potentiometer placed in the middle of the front has a perfect, smooth click and is VERY satisfying to use. The screen is an OLED which rotates to match the orientation. It shows the volume level, type of connection, and quality of a file that is currently played.
You can find analog outputs on the backside, both XLR and RCA, same as the digital inputs (optical, coax, USB), and obviously the power connector.

Back to the design – iFi made some cool marketing when they announced the Neo a couple days ago. Bright neons, digits and flashy colors – it’s all represented in the final product in a way. Neo looks futuristic, asymmetric and just fun. It resembles the iDSD Pro more than the new iDSD Signature for example.


iDSD Neo provides some extra functionalities, which are:
  • Bluetooth 5.0 with HWA connection (96kHz). Its range is fantastic, I can go to the other room, with some walls on the way and the quality doesn’t change.
  • MQA Decoding
  • Balanced XLR line out
  • 4,4mm balanced output, which provides a 1000mW of power.


Okay, I have to say that, I fell in love with iDSD Neo. It has a very light and delicate sound signature, but I’m not missing the body here. It provides a lot of fun, but in the meantime, it’s not underwhelming thanks to its lightness. Dynamics are also fantastic, provides a tempo to the music.
The sound signature is pretty simple, with pronounced bass and a higher midrange.
But it can’t be that beautiful at all, iDSD Neo doesn’t have as much power as many of us would like to. It sounds lovely with many headphones, but it’s lacking power while using some harder to drive headphones. The balanced output is fixing that a little, but it still doesn’t have juice to drive many demanding cans. JDSLabs Atom has 1W via 3.5mm output, which is 3x more power than the iDSD NEO. Oh yeah, and it’s 99 bucks. iFi can push 1W through the balanced output, which is on the level of Mid-Fi DAPS nowadays – it ain’t impressive at all.

The bass is full, round, and light. Subbas is delicately purring in the background, with more visible kickbass. Neo bass reminds me of the Moondrop Blessing2, cruelly fast, and some can recognize this bass as quite recessed, but trust me, it isn’t. It’s lovely with most music genres, it doesn’t matter if that’s a music band like “Coals” (a small polish band, but they’re singing mostly in English) or something like Red Hot Chili Peppers. Neo matches everything in the bass part. It’s getting a lot heavier with electric music, like the “Television rules the nation” by Daft Punk. It rocks.

The midrange is pretty smooth, with a lot of details. It is very comfy, with the higher mids coming a little bit to the front. All voices are full-of-life but also delicate and well pronounced. Of course, as I mentioned at the beginning of the sound description, they are ethereal, so for some, they may lack a little bit of body. I have such feeling only in metal, in which the vocals sometimes feel slightly too distant.

The treble is clicky, highly detailed. Bells and cymbals are pleasantly shimmering. Violins have more power and are more texturized than mids, but without unnecessary sharpness. They generate the shape of the instruments marvellously. iDSD Neo treble is a challenging part to describe because it’s that good and neutral. It all sounds like it should, without the imposition of its style.

The soundstage is decent when it comes to its size. It is quite broad and deep, but for example, Topping DX7 Pro has a bigger soundstage.
If you’re a fan of holography and imaging though – oh man, that’s truly the best part of the NEO, slaughtering the other DAC’s at this price range. I can feel the instruments hiding behind the others and then coming back from the other side, every distance or height change. It also works great in games. I can hear enemies from every side, same as the distance or even the direction they’re heading. Marvelous.


iDSD Neo is something new for iFi Audio when it comes to design and sound, but both are incredibly good. The whole sound is really light, with a lot of air and a calming manner. Details are on top-level in its price range. iFi Audio yet again proves they are one of the best in the industry.
Highly recommended.

Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as accompanying equipment:
  • Headphones – Philips Fidelio X2HR, Kennerton Odin, Vision Ears EVE2020, Audeze LCD-3, Bqeyz Spring 2, Craft Ears Four, Hifiman HE400i 2020,
  • Sources– Topping DX7 Pro, SMSL M300+SP200, Chord Mojo, iFi iDSD Signature
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Headphoneus Supremus
iFi NEO iDSD: a good first step to a promising direction
Pros: great Bluetooth capabilities, if that is something you seek
- build quality
- horizontal or vertical placement with included stand
- balanced, warm tonality
- remote control
Cons: bass is a bit soft and rolls off
- lacks dynamics and details
- treble lacks air and sparkle
- wide but not deep soundstage

iFi has been generously lending their audio products to several reviewers which is respectable. I owned or reviewed most of their DACs and amps from the entry level Zen DAC to the high-end Pro iDSD.
I have just finished reviewing the Zen DAC (£129) the other week, and now I have got the brand new Neo iDSD on my desk. I was very impressed by the price performance ratio of the Zen DAC, so I had high expectations towards the Neo iDSD (£699). It is said to be the middle ground between the Zen DAC and the Pro iDSD (£2499), which is a bold statement. Let us find out if it is true.


For all the technical details click here, I will just mention a few of them that I personally find more interesting. The Neo iDSD has XLR balanced output for connecting an external amp and a 4.4mm pentacon balanced output for headphones. Unfortunately I do not own 4.4mm balanced cables, so all my listening was done via the less powerful 6.35mm (quarter inch) single ended output. Keep this in mind when reading my review, as the more powerful balanced output is often superior sounding on similarly priced devices. (This is not true for high-end gear where single ended output can be equally good or better than balanced.)


iFi is proudly using the Burr-Brown DAC chip these days, not just in the brand new Neo but in the Zen DAC too. This DAC chip is known for its slightly warmer, musical nature versus the more neutral and perhaps technically more capable AK4490 series or the generally brighter sounding ESS Sabre chips. It is important to note, that the DAC chip itself does not necessarily determine the whole sound, the implementation is even more important. There are poor and good examples in each camp.
I quite like the warmer sound of the Burr Brown chip since the first generation Fiio X3 portable DAP. This is not the most popular choice by audio companies these days, so I am glad to see iFi using Burr-Brown chipset and bringing back this kind of tonality.

neat design with a great stand

The Neo iDSD also has the best available Bluetooth technology (96kHz), plays DSD 512 and of course MQA. While I found the Bluetooth sound nice and clean for a wireless connection, to my ears it still can’t compete with the wired one.

there is a protective film on the screen of this review unit which looks scratched it is not the actual display

Build quality

Build quality is excellent, as it is with all iFi products I have ever held in my hands. The Neo is made of solid aluminium and has a nice design. I love the fact that iFi gives you the option to place it horizontally or vertically. It is a very desktop friendly solution where one can save a lot of space. The small screen will also automatically turn, depending on the position.

remote control is an excellent addition


As I mentioned at the beginning, due to the lack of a 4.4mm balanced cable I was only able to test the 6.35mm output with my trusty Audeze LCD-X headphones. When it comes to price, the Neo iDSD at £699 is dangerously close to my daily driver RME ADI-2 DAC FS (£838), so iFi’s new DAC at this price was basically asking for some comparison.
I gave exclusive listening time to the Neo iDSD for a few days in a row, to give my ears a chance to fully adjust to the sound. These impressions are based on my general experience with audio gear, listening exclusively to the Neo iDSD and comparing it to my RME ADI-2.

same size


I find the bass not to be the most impressive part of the new Neo. To my ears it is a little bit soft and not very technical. I was expecting a little more clarity and punch. I also found with certain tracks it becomes pretty powerless with the deep sub-bass notes, we could almost call it a roll off. The bass is warm, soft and unclean to my ears lacking punch, separation and dynamics.
I wonder why iFi decided not to include the bass enhancement button on the Neo DAC when it works really well and is quite popular on the Zen DAC and the Pro iDSD or pretty much every other DAC of theirs. Perhaps a gentle bass enhancement like the one on the Zen DAC could have saved the show for me, but for £699 I have to say this is not the most impressive bass performance I have heard.


I think the mid frequencies is where the Neo iDSD performs at its best. The gentle warmth of the Burr-Brown chip really elevates those sweet vocal tones and breathes life into voices. I would consider vocals to be slightly forward, but still smooth and not intrusive. Listening to music based around solo singers can be a pleasant experience with this DAC.


The higher frequencies are smooth and they fit well into the overall warmer tonality. I do not get the impression of losing too much detail, but a little more air and a little more shine/sparkle would have been nice.


Spaciousness, detail retrieval and other technicalities

The perceived soundstage or headspace is average. Without a question it is really wide, but height and even more so depth is lacking when it comes to equal proportions of this three dimensions. It feels more like watching a wide screen movie versus a live performance on a stage.
Another area where I was expecting higher performance for the price is details. My RME ADI2 for only £139 (20%) more is a significant leap in detail retrieval, clarity and refinement.
A difference this obvious is usually measured in hundreds of good old British pounds at this level.


While the Neo is a definite step up from the Zen DAC, with regrets I have to say for £699 it did not meet my personal expectations. In my opinion it is not the same bargain for price as the Zen DAC is (or the RME ADI-2 for that matter).

A little more on the Neo vs. the ADI-2

I do not want to go into too much detail when comparing the Neo to the RME, as it is not entirely fair, even though I think customers who buy a £699 DAC can and will quite easily buy a £838 DAC as well.
This is a Neo review and not an RME review, so I really wanted to write similar positive things about the Neo’s sound as I did in my previous iFi review about the Zen DAC. Apart from the pleasantly warm and balanced tonality to me the Neo just falls too short in comparison to the ADI-2.
RME’s DAC is simply much more spacious, much more detailed, much faster (attack/decay), much more dynamic, brings out the lowest sub-bass notes with ease, it sounds cleaner and clearer with an airy treble. There is no competition, even the slightest, that the price tags would suggest. (And I am not even going into features and sound adjustment options.)
While I was listening on 6.35mm single ended output on both DACs (somewhat equal chances), I have a feeling that the Neo iDSD would make it up to some extent on the 4.4mm balanced output. Although, if you want to buy a decent 4.4mm cable to your favourite headphones to use it with the Neo iDSD, you are basically paying the price of an ADI-2.

sleek looking desktop system

Finishing thoughts

I almost feel guilty not praising the Neo as much as I did the Zen but at the end of 2020 iFi’s new DAC is facing a fierce competition and growing expectations. Is the ADI-2 too good for its price? Does the 4.4mm output sound much superior to the 6.35mm output on the Neo iDSD? Read more reviews if you are about to buy a DAC/amp combo in the £600-900 price range. Just like any review this is only one person’s opinion, my experience and my impressions. Your ears and needs might differ.
In my opinion based on sheer sound quality for £400-500 the Neo would be a great deal. For £700 at current retail price considering the competition it is just OK.

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@zyghom Thanks. Yes, I mentioned in the review that I expect the balanced out to sound superior. Unfortunately I was unable to test it due to not having a 4.4mm cable around.
The Neo iDSD is definitely a step up from the Zen DAC in every sense. The Neo has better resolution, more details. The Zen DAC has a very pleasant tonality and from memory a slightly thicker sound vs. the Neo. While the Neo is clearly superior to the Zen, I consider the Zen Dac a bargain while I can't say the same about the Neo when it comes to the competition in their respective price range.
Ifi has always delivered in terms of raw power with their amps, but not this time... even an xDSD delivers more than the Neo. I really don’t understand why they decided to fail so blatantly with the amp section, because the DAC is incredibly good in isolation.
Yes, it seems with the Neo iFi ventured to the other extreme this time regarding power output on SE. I also wonder why. Feels like a missed opportunity.