iFi audio Pro iDSD - Standalone. Streamer. DacAmp - Reviews
Pros: Size.
Sound-so tunable!
Build quality.
Power.
Form/function.
Ability to play for days with all of the controls!
Cons: Base slides when it is stand alone.
We do not have a better look at the tubes.
Remote is small, but functional.
Cost to some?
iFi Pro iDSD ($2499usd): So good, I bought it…last year.



iDSD website:
https://ifi-audio.com/products/pro-idsd/

Amazon site (direct link from iFi site): https://www.amazon.com/iFi-Audio-iDSD-Music-Streamer/dp/B07C54B88P/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_3?keywords=desktop+usb+headphone+dac+amp+mqa


Dedicated, ingenious, childlike, kicking, beautiful, understated, talented, & taunting


iFi needs little introduction by now, what with the hugely successful micro iDSD Black Label, x-series portables and nano components as well. Throw in all of the cable options & DAC’s and the AMR-Audio subsidiary out of Accrington, UK presents itself well. Seemingly moving to the smaller and smaller more portable options, the iDSD Pro and iCAN move iFi into AMR-Audio range. Successful would be an understatement, and often given as products of the year, the iDSD Pro follows that legacy accounting well to the heritage.

I have several iFi pieces of kit. I have a stack with the iTubes2/iDAC2/micro iDSD BL, which I dearly love. I still use them often. But given the opportunity to try the iDSD after the iCAN, I found that the Pro truly can replace the stack. That said for less than half the price, the stack is incredible. But this is about the iDSD, and it simply put is superb. With so many functions and hook ups, I do not think I have even tried all to be honest.

So, after the extended review time, I chose to purchase the unit. As too often happens with iFi products I demo, I purchase them. Sigh, my wallet laments, but my sound espouses goodness. Paired with the iCAN, I imagine the sound to be quite good (OK, better than quite good), and I have noticed that several have the combination. The iDSD works solo for me, and that is just fine, especially when hooked to other gear I have. And, I am just fine.






Specs:

Sample rates:PCM up to 768kHz
DSD up to 49.152MHz (DSD 1024)
DXD and double-speed DXD (2xDXD)
Inputs:USB (required for DSD, DXD and sample rates above 192KHz)
AES3 (XLR – single link)
S/PDIF (coaxial/optical combo)
BNC multifunction (S/PDIF in or sync input)
Outputs:Balanced XLR at 4.6V (+15.5dBu – HiFi) or 10V (+22dBu – Pro)
Single-Ended RCA at 2.3V (HiFi) or 5V (Pro)
Headphones 6.3mm & SE 3.5mm Jack at 0.55V/2.1V/5V
Headphones BAL 2.5mm/4.4mm Jack at 1.13V/4.6V/10V
Headphones out 1,500mW RMS X 2 @ 64 ohm, 4,000mW max. 2 X @ 16 Ohm
Headphone Output Impedance:Single-Ended (S-BAL): < 1 Ω
Balanced: < 2 Ω
Volume control:Balanced (6-gang) Alps potentiometer, motorised with IR remote control
XLR/RCA outputs can be selected as fixed level or adjusted
6.3mm headphone jack is always adjusted
Other Functions:Various digital and analogue filters can be selected for DSD and PCM up to 384KHz
PCM Filters:Bitperfect 44.1 – 192kHz, always used for 352.8 – 768kHz
Bitperfect + 44.1 – 96kHz
Gibbs Transient Optimised 44.1 – 384kHz
Apodising 44.1 – 384kHz
Transient Aligned 44.1 – 384kHz
DSD filters:fixed 3rd order analogue filter @ 80kHz with correction for DSD’s -6dB gain
Gain (headphone section):user-selectable: 0dB, 9dB and 18dB
Dynamic range:119dBA (solid-state, PCM, -60dBFS)
Output powerPro iDSD 4.4mm socket. (16 Ω, balanced/single-ended): >4200mW /1>1,575mW
Pro iDSD 2.5mm socket. (16 Ω, balanced/single-ended): >4000mW /1>1,500mW
Output voltage(600Ω, balanced/single-ended): >11.2V / >5.6V
Input voltage (Pro iDSD):DC 9V/6.7A – 18V/3.35A
Input voltage (iPower+):AC 85 – 265V, 50/60Hz
Power consumption:< 22W idle, 50W max.
Dimensions:213 (l) x 220 (w) x 63 (h) mm
Weight:1980g (4.37 Ibs)



Features:

1. Quad-Core Burr Brown MultiBit/DSD hybrid DAC supporting DSD1024 and PCM768kHz
2. Studio grade DSD1024 remastering (Crysopeia FPGA Digital Engine)
3. Wireless DLNA/Airplay™/Ethernet Hi-Res Playback
4. User-selectable analogue stage: Tube or Solid-State
5. Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) playback
6. Global Master Timing femto grade clock system with external clock input options
7. Five filters: Bit-Perfect/Bit-Perfect+/Gibbs Transient Optimised/Apodising/Transient Aligned
8. Fully discrete passive LC analogue filtering
9. Zero Jitter Memory Buffer and Galvanic Isolation for all inputs
10. Discrete headphone/line amplifier
11. Balanced inputs and outputs
12. Galvanic isolated ultra-quite power supply with super capacitor



Gear compared/used:

Questyle CMA 12 Master ($1999)
iFi stack of iTubes2/iDAC2/micro iDSD BL ($1400ish)
Auris Audio Euterpe ($1599)

Audeze LCD-3
ZMF Eikon
Mr. Speakers Ether-C Flow 1.1
Sendy Avia
Campfire Audio Cascade
Verum Audio Verum 1

Empire Ears Legend X
Noble Savant II
CTM Da Vinci X

MacBook Pro
XDuoo x10t ii
Questyle QP2R
Shanling M5s


Songs used:

Van Morrison: Three Chords & The Truth
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Twenty one pilots: Regional At Best, Trench
Big Head Todd & The Monsters: Beautiful World, Midnight Radio
Bob Marley
Ziggy Marley
Roger Daltry
SRV
Santana
Los Lobos
Los Lonely Boys


Unboxing:

Coming in a large white-sleeved box, the Pro comes well packed and well-endowed with goodies. With specs laden on the bottom, and the types of music on the bottom, along with pictures on top; one could easily spend much time looking at the box after hooking the Pro up. One look at the back and you understand what a mighty critter this is. And I will again state that I have not tried all of the options.

As per typical iFi, once the sleeve is off you have a snow-white box replete with silver iFi labeling. Clean and clear, I like the simplicity. Opening the carton, you are met with a protective foam insert to protect the Pro. Taking the wrapped Pro out, there is a smiley face complete with wearing headphones and the message “thank you.” Lol, a nice touch.




Several boxes underlay the Pro, with the accessories, and power pack/cord inside. With an included dual RCA (in purple!!!) cable set along with the ubiquitous blue iFi device usb cable, there isn’t much else included. But when you think that you already have two cables you have a very good start. My XDuoo came with a mini-xlr to xlr, which hooked directly into the xlr source, so I had three options. As a fourth I used an iFi Mercury 2.0 cable, which I won. I used that to hook up to my MBP as well.


Initial set-up:

Hooking the Pro to my MBP first using a dual RCA to single 3.5 cable, the MacBook easily recognized the iFi when brought up as “headphone port.” Hooking the Mercury cable up and a micro-usb adaptor, the MBP recognized the iFi as an iFi. Easy as eating a pie. Using the input switch allowed quick changes between multiple sources. I would often have the MBP and another source hooked up such as the XDuoo or a DAP.

Once you turn the iFi on it goes through a system check, with the iFi Pro logo in the top left blinking orange until the tubes heat up enough as well as the cycling through the menu. Turning to green you are good to go. The process usually took about 10 seconds total. The unit does remember previous volume as well, with the knob actually moving to the level it was when turned off. Of course, this only occurs if you turn the unit down after turning off. I will admit that watching the orange glow of the tubes come on is a simple pleasure I enjoy, and the “looking glass” fisheye on top makes for an voyeuristic approach. With the curvaceous opening on top mimicking the orbits of planets around the sun you get the central sun look through the fisheye. Psychedelic and astronomic at the same time. Coooolll.





With a curvaceous top as well, one is left with a somewhat unfinished feeling. I understand the iFi want for different shapes, but having a dead flat front cover, with a tabletop smooth top line you get mismatched curves. At first glance one might even think that the fit is not quite right. But it is. When thought of in the iFi vein, you get the singularity of design, which is their trademark. There is nothing on the market, which looks like the micro iDSD Black Label, and you could certainly say the same here what with the curves. In the end, I like it.

Playing Van Morrison’s In The Dark Night Of The Soul, through my Cascade’s, I immediately appreciate the dark tonality of the tubes. Just like the iTubes2, you can run full-on tube sound, a gentler mix (SET), and solid-state (Push-Pull). I love tube sounds in the portable market, especially after listening to the vaunted (RIP) Apex Pinnacle 2 and my music. Stunning, extraordinary, exemplary, superb are words too soft to describe the Apex. The iFi Pro does not fall that far behind to me but does make me think of the welcomed two weeks with the Pinnacle2. Played at DXD 768, with a 9dB gain, the sound was wonderful. I immediately appreciated the sound, but also quickly realized that for much of what comes on the Pro I would be out of my element. In that regard, I would have to utilize what I could with the three cable set ups.



From the manual:

The Pro iDSD (just like the Pro iCAN) is a one-of-a-kind product that is able to switch between:


'Solid-State' - a purely solid-state J-FET based circuit of fully discrete Class A topology.

'Tube' - the J-FET circuitry is switched to an all-valve Class A section based on 2 x GE5670.

'Tube+' reduces available negative feedback to a minimum. As a result, a greater amount of the tubes natural harmonic distortion is produced (even order harmonics dominate).


Headfonia mentions the lack of Bluetooth, and I do miss that, but when taken as a desktop setup with wireless DLNA capabilities as well as the multitude of other options, it is not really needed. If need be, hook up a BT source, connected to another source and you would have it. But one might wonder why you would degrade the sound as such.



More about the options:

Simply hooking up a source gives you many options with which to fine tune your listening pleasure. Keeping the Pro close would be a good bet, as you could happily change the gain level as well as tube/solid state set up ad nauseum. Changing the filter setting gives more options, and even these tired ears can hear some difference amongst the options. Not only does the “filter” knob rotate to give differing options from BitPerfect to BitPerfect+ as well as three others, you can push the knob in to change the mastering level. Leave mastering off and you get how the song was recorded, which does change between songs on the same album. Pushing once changes the level to DSD512 (which on TWP Trees) yielded 22 MHz DSD). Push again and you have DSD1024, 45 MHz DSD. The brightest option to me (without volume change) was the original. So, when upsampling, the volume is lowered a bit.

Cycling through the five digital filters I found myself using the Gibbs Transient Optimized (GTO) setting the most. I found the treble to be lifted a bit, without too much sparkle, matching the corresponding darker tube tone well. A definite Yin-Yang sound to me. Complimentary indeed. My second choice was Bit-Perfect+ due to the roll-off correction.


Filters:

‘Bit-Perfect’ – No digital filtering is applied, one tap.
‘Bit-Perfect+’ – No digital filtering is applied, one tap, SINC roll-off is corrected.
‘Gibbs Transient Optimised’ – Minimum filtering, no pre-ringing, minimum post ringing, 32 taps.
‘Apodising’ – Modest filtering, no pre-ringing, modest post ringing, 128 taps.
‘Transient Aligned’ – Max filtering, max pre-ringing, maximum post-ringing, 16,384 taps.



Rounding out the front is the volume wheel, with very fine feel and adjustment, although using the remote gives less fine tuning. One touch on the remote yields about 2 adjustments up or down by hand. Next to the volume are the headphone outputs, with 6.3se, 3.5se and 2.5bal. Since my purchase a 4.4bal model has come out, which cost $400usd more. I would assume there has been some other fine tuning as well. I have no qualms regarding the lack of 4.4bal as I have never had an issue with 2.5bal jacks and do feel those that have are most likely unlucky or not careful enough. I get it, accidents happen, but to me that should not be the reason for purchasing a 4.4bal. Enough on that.



Sources/options:

I found the Pro eminently changeable and adaptable. With the multitude of source options as well as filtering/mastering options you have roughly 150+ listening options when all tuning variables are included. For those that do not like to tinker, you may find your optimized setting(s) and leave it be. That is pretty much what I did but will admit it was much more fun than I thought changing the bits and pieces.

Using the XDuoo x10t ii transport, I found I liked the Xduoo even more. Since it is a dedicated turntable, one must hook it to an amp. Running it normally through my iFi xDSD, the iDSD Pro was a very nice treat. The clarity of tone was not diminished, but slightly enhanced with the full tube sound. I found myself changing the filter just for fun, but always seemed to come back to the GTO. Minimizing the change, I heard the dark tone of the tube come through, settling any dispute with a less than black background in a recording, which might have one. With excellent width of sound stage as well, the sound opened up to allow the vocals to take center stage. On TWP’s House Of Gold, Tyler’s Ukulele sounded bright and airy. When his vocals come through the middle, you cannot do anything but appreciate the center stage. The supporting cast of instruments coming in behind and in backing of the vocals tied together by the Ukulele. A thoroughly enjoyable airiness imbued an overall tone of a lilty atmosphere. Followed by Car Radio’s energetic full sound you get the sense that the Pro can adapt almost like a sentient being. And truth be told we are not too far behind that…

Using the Cascade’s in the above paragraph, one might think the Campfire Audio’s dark tone would be overwrought with dark tube sound. But, combined with the 2.5bal LQi cable and the XDuoo you find it open in sound more than other sources. Even in full-tube sound, the clarity belies the typical response of the Cascade (run on smallest filter for best bass quantity). What a wonderful trio.

Much time was spent on my MBP through the Mercury 2.0 cable and Tidal Premium. Almost as much time as on the XDuoo. I find the Premium sound of Tidal to be a bit dark of its own volition. With the Pro in tow, the sound again was a bit less dark, and more open. Going old school with Hurry Tomorrow from Los Lobos, the song provides a cacophony of variation. David Hidalgo’s vocals take on an almost ZZ Top-like quality, thrown in with an old Santana-like guitar riff. But when you listen, you know…its pure Los Lobos. An iconic group of which all should be exposed. The mix of guitar, drums, xylophonic sounds in the background and David’s vocals give you reprise and respite. This is the stuff of dusty east-Cali stuff, leading to that long desert road in Arizona on your way to west Texas via New Mexico. In an old Ford pick-up of course.



I did find that I had to raise the volume level about ¼ higher on the set up, but that is not all that much. Plus, I could have easily switched to the full 18 dB gain on the fly. When one does that there is a lag while the circuitry changes the option. One might be wise to lower the volume first. I will also note that using this combo gave various lags, niggles and quirks. Sometimes a loud switch between Tidal songs was had. I blame Tidal and the MBP because when using Pine Player on the MBP the lags were not heard. Something with the MBP/Tidal/iFi trifecta did not like each other.

I could also Airplay over to the iFi as an option as well. I found no problem with either setup.



I follow the above song with Los Lobos live version of Chuco’s Cumbia, playing it at much too loud a volume, but do not care. The clarity of which the acoustic guitars come forth is mesmerizing, enticing and make my feet move in time like an actual dancer. I am wrought with fantastic organic (yes, I wanted to use the other word…) sounds, which come across like the clear concise song you would find in a trip to the Mexican coast of the Pacific on a hot sultry night awash with dancing and much imbibing. It is a fantastically phenomenal sound with thorough depth and height to go along with the width. I am just along for the ride. After listening three times back to back, I must stop, for my typing becomes garbled, grabbled, gibberish. More in the morning. This is too good not to just sit and listen.



To go over all of the options, which the Pro can provide would take a 10k treatise. And frankly you do not want to read anything I write, which is that long. Suffice to say that 4k will usually be enough.



Comparison:

iFi iDSD Pro ($2499) vs Questyle CMA 12 Master ($1999):

Both of these winner’s approach sound as their mettle. But they approach it quite differently. Where the iFi is warm and provides much depth, the Questyle is almost as crystal clear as the finest Swarovski crystal from Germany. The true greatness of the Master to me is its ability to make clear pretty much every sound that comes through. That is not to say it does not provide a soul, or depth; but this is probably the cleanest sounding set I have ever heard. It’s Just My Heart Talkin’ is one of my favorite Los Lonely Boys tracks and an outstanding track for judging detail retrieval and clarity. Along with that, if there is any sibilance in the source/amp/headphone chain…it shows. And the Questyle passes with the self-assurance of a Le Mans 24-hour winner. There really is not anything terse to say about it. It performed admirably in any set up. The precision fits. Sound stage is quite good, bordering on a square. But that air between notes certainly makes up for any perceived “deficiency.” There are wider, there are narrower; but to combine an adequately big sound stage with that air is truly wonderful. Some might find the sound too analytical, but I say it is the neutrality that is driving that verbiage. This is probably the most neutral amp I have heard (again sample is limited).

That said, most often neutral bothers me for to me it lacks any real presence. There is definitely presence here. Throw on Los Lonely Boys Heaven and that song alone dispels any thought of analytical and dry. Bass is rich, vocals crisp like a Minot, North Dakota -35 F morning and a soul, which belies its neutrality. Want more neutrality? Switch the bias toggle up for pure class-A albeit a bit less power. This is one damn fine headphone amp. It really is. But it is so much more than that with all of its capabilities that to simply think of it as an amp would be an egregious error.

Whereas the iFi is dark in nature and I am OK with that. I love the tube sound and can fine tune the sound with the filters and other settings. But, if I had not already purchased the iFi, I would have seriously considered the Questyle. Even with that neutral clarity-driven tone. To me it is that good. A breath of fresh air, and it would be a superb dac/amp to consider for your home set up.



iFi iDSD Pro ($2499) vs Auris Audio Euterpe ($1599):

From my Euterpe review:
Compared to my iFi Pro iDSD, the Euterpe is simply spartan, utilitarian or void of options with which to tune the sound, save low/high impedance. The real fun is changing the tubes in the Euterpe. The iFi has switches and gizmos to do that. And if one wants to be able to change sound quickly, the iFi has few peers. Costing half-again what the Euterpe is, I find the sound comparable, but with many more options, the difference comes to the front. I can get that same tube sound and alter the sound signature of the music as well. With the Euterpe you are bound to the source. Not a bad thing, and really not meant for that many options. If I had heard both side by side before purchase, I would still have come home with the iFi. But based upon options, not a huge difference in sound.

Finishing my time with Boom Boom playing from BHT&TM, with John Lee Hooker, I get why I like the sound. There is a certain “dirtiness” to the song. A kick the seat back and find an open road to it, John Lee’s vocals simply give it that down home sound. The Euterpe adds to that dirtiness. Giving more. Adding a breadth of sound, which through tubes makes the sound oh so sweet. Follow that with Please Don’t Tell Her, and you understand from where Auris comes. One need only look at their website to garner a look at the more expensive wares. That technology used trickles down to the Euterpe well. And if this is their entry sound, one can only wonder what the more expensive units sound like. I am thoroughly satisfied with the Euterpe sound, and would consider it if there were more options to inputs and maybe adding a balanced-out option. But as stated earlier, as a stand-alone pure tube headphone amp, the Euterpe can muscle into the $1500USD quite well.



iFi iDSD Pro ($2499) vs iFi stack of iTubes2/iDAC2/micro iDSD BL ($1400ish):

My first genuine attempt at making a quality pairing, the stack still gets used. It is quite a fun sound, with the ability to play rocket ship pilot turning and fine tuning all of those knobs. I do not know, but I estimate there are well over four dozen different combinations to be had. I enjoy that aspect and can tune pretty much any headphone/IEM that comes in contact with the set. Plus, I absolutely love the BL alone as it is. That said, the Pro is better all around. With the option to add as much or as little tube sound as I want, this trumps the stack. To do so, I could still use the iTubes2 in the push-pull setting but there is less variation. The sound is crisper through the Pro, and the tube sound, well tubier. With all of the filters that can be applied, the Pro has few peers, even now. I have had several come its way, but the Pro still resides next to my station and gets the most use.



Conclusion:

This review is long, long overdue. What started as an audition, turned into a purchase. And as such, I became quite lazy. I preferred listening, instead of writing. And due to Lawrance’s infinite patience, I could be lazy and wait. He politely emailed me again, which was the nudge I needed. I sit here pecking on my keyboard listening to twenty one pilots through my Legend X and the fabulous XDuoo x10t ii/iFi Pro iDSD combination. I have better DAP’s, but to me the XDuoo is about as pure as it gets. And as such, I can customize the sound at my beck and call through the iDSD. This is as good as it gets. Sound-wise, the Apex Pinnacle 2 is better (as it should be for $12k), but with infinite more options for tuning, the Pro iDSD is my choice for well over 60% of my listening. I will fiddle with the filters on a sing by song basis sometimes but leaving it to one setting is as much fun as the other.

And here is where the true benefit comes in, the ability to filter as I chose, the ability to source as I chose, and the ability to tube as I chose. That to me is what sold me on purchasing the Pro. And I do not regret it at all. This is still a fantastic unit (with 4.4bal option now), and truly one, which will stay in my rotation for a good long time. It is the basis of my comparisons, as it should be. And that gives me the kind of joy I have right now finalizing this. The sound is sublime, and all is good. Enough said.


Thank you to Lawrance for his continued patience, and to iFi for producing this gem of a critter.

B9Scrambler
B9Scrambler
So much detail! Also, loving the Audio wagon :D
ngoshawk
ngoshawk
Much obliged, sir! The Audi S6 Avant is one of my all-time favorite cars...
Pros: Great feature set
Great sonic performance
Cons: A bit pricy
Best value is if you use all the features
iFi Audio Pro iDSD – Full Review

Hi Guys,
Pro iDSD – Verite
Today we are talking about another great Swiss Army knife type piece of gear. The iFi Pro iDSD! The companies flagship DAC. As with pretty much all of iFi’s products, it tries to bring both value and great sound to the table, and I think they have managed to achieve one and a half of those goals.
iFi Audio is a British company that was founded in 2012. It is a subsidiary of AMR Audio, which has a long history of making stereo equipment. iFi has always struck me as a company that focuses more on headphone and personal audio, but that does seem to be changing lately, and they are branching out into other areas (see the iFi “Aurora” all in one for an example of this.) Their products are innovative, and seem to prioritise functionality as well as sonic performance.
The pro line up is iFi’s flagship line, consisting of the Pro iCAN that we reviewed a few months ago, the iESL Electrostatic energizer, and the Pro iDSD. The Pro iDSD was the last in the lineup to hit the market, as iFi really did want
Pro iDSD – Verite
To do their best to get it “right” on the first go round. The Pro iDSD incorporates so many features, that it is actually hard to remember them all without looking at the companies specs page. The Pro iDSD is not *just* a DAC, but a capable all in one DAC/Headphone amp/Streaming solution. Similar to the Pro iCAN, it offers solid state, tube, and tube+ modes, as well as a fully balanced architecture. I was honestly worried that with all these features, the Pro iDSD may not have managed to sound great as well, but, for the most part, it absolutely does.
I will talk about what I feel the basic sonic signature of the Pro iDSD (used as a DAC) is, and then get into the variations on the sound, depending on which features you are using.
The Pro iDSD seems to slightly warm, and I really do mean slightly here. It isn’t dead neutral, and it certainly isn’t cold and clinical. However, with that being said, it isn’t as warm as some other solid state DACs I have heard, and certainly doesn’t venture into being mushy and gooey sounding, as some pieces of gear do. Dynamics, both macro and micro come across with convincing realism, and detail, both macro and micro was pretty darn good. Not the best I have heard, no, but far from the worst I have heard. I think the tiniest of micro detail may be better conveyed but other DACs, but the ones that I have heard that manage to do so are also quite a bit more expensive. I suppose it really depends on the features you prioritise, and what you are looking to get out of a DAC that matters when making your final choice.

For the first little while that I had the Pro iDSD, I experimented with the settings to figure out which I liked best. I ended up settling on using the bit perfect + filter, as well as the DSD1024 upsampling option. This seemed to bring a slightly better focus to the music, not making it sharp, but perhaps more incisive, with a tighter leading edge. Now, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t find the difference HUGE by toggling the DSD1024 upsampling on and off, but it did make a slight difference, so I went with it. Once I had decided on these settings, I left them alone for the most part. The Pro iDSD has SO many options to tweak, and play with, it can become overwhelming. I also think that if you are always changing all the settings, you might lose track of which change is coming from where, leaving you clueless as to what you really prefer.
So, with the settings decided on, I started listening to the solid state, tube, and tube + modes. These were quite similar to the tube settings on the Pro iCAN, which makes sense as it is exactly the same tube being used. Solid state mode actually ended up being my preferred mode for some music, mostly that which was fast paced and complicated in nature. Tube mode however, was probably my favourite mode out of the three. There isn’t a massive difference between the two, but tube mode seemed to have a bit better sound stage expansion in comparison to the solid state mode, at the expensive of the incisive leading edge of the notes with solid state mode. Tube + mode was curious, as I didn’t really notice it bringing anything positive to the sound signature over the regular tube mode, but it further reduced the incisiveness of the recording and also seemed to reduce the speed of the sound, albeit slightly.
Two settings that iFi didn’t include on the Pro iDSD are the “XBASS” and “3D Sound” features, that are present on the Pro iCAN. I reckon that they simply couldn’t find space and time to implement these features on and already feature laden device. Also, I suppose most people will at least consider using the Pro iDSD with the Pro iCAN, which does have the features, so there was no reason to include them twice.
The headphone amp section on the Pro iDSD is fairly competent, and can be used either in either unbalanced or balanced configurations. A recent post release update to the Pro iDSD has added the option of the 4.4mm Pentaconn connector as the balanced option, vs. The original 2.5mm jack. This is a welcome addition in my opinion, as it is a much more sturdy conductor, and will have a better lifespan. The Pro iDSD I had for review had the original 2.5mm balanced jack, and I have no cables with that termination, so I stuck to using the 1/4” TRS output. There are three gain options (0db, 9db, 18db) and up to 4w of output power (balanced) on the Pro iDSD. This means, for the most part, it will drive most headphones out there. Granted, for the HE6 and Susvara etc….you are going to get much better results with the Pro iCAN, but in a pinch, the Pro iDSD will work decently on its own. The headphone output struck me as remarkably similar to the Micro iDSD, albeit slightly more refined. However, there wasn’t much comparison when compared to the dedicated amplifier that the Pro iCAN is. Quite simply, if you have the means, or possess harder to drive headphone, I would highly recommend adding a dedicated headphone amp to use with the Pro iDSD. If, however, you are looking for an all in one solution, that will still do a competent job, you could do a lot worse than the Pro iDSD.
I did play around with streaming and the Pro iDSD, but I have to be perfectly honest and say that I didn’t venture too far with it. I don’t use streaming in my day to day listening to music, and wouldn’t like to speak about something I honestly don’t know much about. The small experiments I did end up doing went smoothly, and seemed to be consistent with my results from wired use. I reckon it is best for me to leave this option of use alone in this review, and allow those with more experience to speak to the streaming portion of the Pro iDSD in their reviews. I apologize for this lack on knowledge on my part.
Compared to some other DACs that I have had here, the Pro iDSD did fair quite well.
iFi Micro iDSD BL
The Pro iDSD brought a very similar tonal balance to the table, but did out resolve the iDSD BL quite handily. With that being said, I still think the iDSD BL offers a good value for what it does. The Pro iDSD also took the win on dynamic swings, and punch/impact.
Hugo TT 2
The Chord Hugo TT2 is quite a bit more expensive than the Pro iDSD. Using them both as purely a DAC, the TT2 is brighter, and perhaps more fatiguing. It does one up the Pro iDSD on raw detail, but I think that the tonal balance of the Pro iDSD may be more pleasing to a wider audience. The TT2 also out does the Pro iCAN in terms of being the better all in one unit, but as mentioned before, there is a significant price difference.
There are some concerns I have about the Pro iDSD. It may not be the best value proposition if you aren’t going to be using it as an all in one solution. The extra features add to the cost, and if you aren’t going to be using them, it makes little sense to purchase the Pro iDSD, given the other options that are out there on the market nowadays. The Pro iDSD is a good DAC, there is no doubt about it, but at times I felt as though it could have been better. Perhaps if iFi released a cheaper “Pro iDAC” in the future, that might be the better buy, if you aren’t going to use the headphone amp and streaming features.

All in all, I’d recommend checking out the Pro iDSD if you are looking for an all in one unit, but if you are looking for a pure DAC, you might be better served by a different, more cost effective option. With that being said, there is nothing wrong sonically with the Pro iDSD, and it does perform well as a standalone DAC. I think it has a pleasing tonal balance and does all the technical stuff pretty darn well. Maybe this is a case of “try before you buy” if at all possible. I think iFi may not have hit this one out of the park like they did with the Pro iCAN, but it certainly has landed pretty close to the back fence. Well done iFi!
Last edited:
iFi audio
iFi audio
Thanks, lovely work!
Pros: Sound quality
Wide range of filters and headphone options
Wide range of playback resolutions including MQA
Very wide range of inputs and outputs
Cons: Control app is not one of the better ones
The user guide could benefit from a quick start section
This is going to be a series of evaluations of the Pro iDSD over a longer time than normal. It won’t involve a lot of technical information as that’s already out there not least of which from ifi Audio themselves. Here there are a bumper array of specifications, tech notes and video tutorials on set up to fill your head with.

https://ifi-audio.com/products/pro-idsd/



Speaking of ifi Audio my sincere thanks must go to them for entrusting such a relatively costly device to me for an extended period.

I am aiming to look at setting up and running in, then comparing the Pro iDSD with the 2 systems I have available which bookend the Pro iDSD in terms of price and to see if it is poor/good/great value or even a great performer regardless of price. I also want to take a look at the control app and compare it to others as I feel this is often glossed over in what you might term professional reviews. I will try out a couple of different headphones that I use routinely and possibly also some IEMs but I don’t use these routinely as I much prefer an over ear headphone for comfort.

On that ifi Audio link there are also a collection of reviews and so if you do want to check out a good quality review by a professional I would recommend the one by John Grandberg as it seems to cover most everything you need to know and in a helpful informative manner.

https://darko.audio/2018/10/off-the-dial-flexibility-and-value-with-ifis-pro-idsd-dac/

Well the Pro iDSD is quite the device and while it is principally a DAC with enough options and settings to decode even the most exotic PCM/DSD/DXD files. It also has a prodigious set of filters with which to massage the sound from those files. It is also a streamer and runs on both Wi-Fi and Ethernet of which I prefer and exclusively use the former. Finally it is a headphone amplifier offering single ended and balanced connection together with options on gain level to suit sensitivity of the headphones or IEMs that you have chosen. As if that were not enough you can run the headphone amplifier in solid state, or Tube or Tube plus (like Tube but with minimal negative feedback) .
Pro-iDSD-header-06-19.jpg







That’s just on the front panel (sorry there is a round window on the front to tell you the status of how you are connected and at what definition your music is being processed at).

The connectivity on the rear panel is mind boggling but in essence offers single ended/balanced/USB/SDHC/Coax/Optical/BNC/Power alongside aerial for Wi-Fi and output selection depending on if you are using the device in a HiFi or Pro audio setting. Going on past experience with ifi Audio products the set up “manual” has been quite Spartan but laid out in a logical progression. Now the manual is no longer Spartan but comprehensive, unfortunately however it is not the last word in logical layout. It took me a number of attempts to connect to Wi-Fi and then the other processes were fine but I just feel for the want of an easier layout or “fast start guide” it would have been much easier.



If I compare it to my 2 other systems from Lindemann (Limetree Network) and Auralic (Vega DAC and Aries G1 streamer) it was trickier to set up than either of those.

My main source of streamed music content is from Tidal as it is high quality and as it seems to provide all the music I want. I cannot comment on Qobuz as I have never used it at home.

The app which ifi Audio use for the Pro iDSD is Muzo and it was easy to access and download from the Apple app store. I believe it is equally available on Android.

I have to say that it connected to my Tidal account easily and was entirely stable. On the other hand it did not offer any flexibility in how it delivered “My Music” for example albums are listed by title alphabetically so you can’t change it to be by artist or date or anything else which is frustrating. I would have to put the Muzo app as third place against the Lindemann app as second and the Auralic LDS app as first. I’m told that MConnect or BubbleUPnP are other app control options but have not tried them as yet so will comment as and when I can.
Pro-iDSD-back-1024x501.jpg






I know it is often considered a small issue but I think it is of significant importance as it is fundamental in playing your music easily and smoothly and isn’t that why we are streaming and not playing a CD, LP or reel to reel tape?

Meantime I spent a few hours on deciding which settings I liked best with so many to choose from. This is not a definitive answer as you well prefer different settings depending on your taste and headphone choice. Given there are so many options I cannot conceive of a scenario where you could not find settings you liked best or at least better than the others.

I finally settled on Tube (who doesn’t love a triode or 2) and DSD 1024 with the GTO filter (also that seems to be the favourite filter of ifi Audio). The Limetree Network has far fewer options and so I went with DSD upsampling as Lindemann are big fans on the DSD format. The headphones used were Audio Technica ATH MSR7b (b for balanced) and Sennheiser HD800S. I started with the Audio Technica on single ended 3.5mm as both the Limetree and the Pro iDSD have this. Thereafter I moved onto the HD800S. I also tried the ATs balanced with the 4.4mm Pentaconn on the Pro iDSD to compare with its SE output. I don’t have a 4.4mm plug for the HD800S (yet) so will try that later.





In general terms and through both headphones there were several differences. The key differences between the LLN and Pro iDSD were speed, scale, sound balance and spatial reference.

On speed the LLN sounded lighter on its toes and gave the initial impression of greater speed. I will look into this more and see if it is true across more music genres as I think it might be due as much to the sound balance as anything.


photo22.jpg



Now scale on either headphone felt bigger on the Pro iDSD on the individual performers/instruments. It was more apparent on the HD800S but you could pick it up on the AT also.

I need to say that both headphones have in themselves a similar sound balance which is neutrality across the board and extended treble with a tight but lighter weight bass. This is the opposite of many traditional planar designs, but it is my preference.

In having said all this, the Limetree sounds lighter and brighter versus the Pro iDSD which has more warmth in its mids and extension at the bottom end. The Pro iDSD has a less sparkly treble which may be down to filter choice but I didn’t find a way to make it as sparkly as the Limetree. None of these traits are extreme or unpleasant but are only apparent on A/B comparison.

Finally on spatial cues both the DACs are strong. The Pro iDSD has the more focussed presentation of each of the instruments and vocals and it feels there is a bit more width and depth to the soundstage as well. In fact having tried the ATs with both single ended and balanced connection it is that kind of differential between the 2 DACs on spatial cues. The LLN sounds single ended and less 3D or hires in its stereo presentation than the Pro iDSD. If that makes sense?

As mentioned this is the first stage evaluation and I plan to try more music and options over the next days. Once I have got a better grip on the sound of the Pro iDSD I will compare it to my main system which has separate DAC, Streamer and Headphone amplifier.
D
dadracer2
Actually just yesterday the XLR to 4.4mm adapter plug I had ordered arrived. So I tried out the Pro iDSD with the AT MSR7b single ended and balanced and then finally the HD800S again both single ended and balanced.

The ATs sounded improved with a slightly stronger bass and a more focused stereo imaging in width.

The HD800S however soared. The top end became more sparkly and realistic, the bottom end more visceral although in both cases these were not extensions just better sounding versions of what had gone before. The stereo imaging now had real depth as well as width.

So now I finally feel as if I have begun to hear the value of the Pro iDSD over a less expensive device such as the Limetree.

I wonder if ifi Audio should bias the Pro iDSD more to people using the balanced operation more by adding an XLR socket and getting rid of one or other of the 3.5 or 6.35mm sockets instead.

Did anyone else experience this?
D
dadracer2
Lately I have been battling with the Pro iDSD to play with Tidal MQA (Masters) content. It seems that the Muzo app will not work with Tidal MQA at all and so it is necessary to use the M Connect app instead. I am trying to make it work but my iPhone wants to connect to M Connect via Airplay and I cant get it run on WiFi. Consequently still no Tidal MQA.

On the plus side of MQA I tried using an album I have on USB which was ripped from a UHQ CD MQA disc (also mine) and which has never played at MQA on anything I tried previously. On the Muzo app....surprise....24/178 wow. Actually it didn't provide a night and day difference but it did sound marginally better than the 16/44 stream from Tidal or indeed Qobuz.

None of that is the fault of the Pro iDSD as I am still undecided about the whole MQA thing. Anyway it has given me a boost to get to the bottom of the Tidal MQA conundrum.
Pros: Great dynamic sound, extremely versatile, feature rich
Cons: Remote feels cheap, your paying extra for some features you will never use
Introduction

When iFi audio announced it was working on a "Pro" line of audiophile products, two thoughts immediately came to mind: 1) it seemed like a natural progression for them since their micro line had pretty much rewrote the book on what entry- to mid-level audio can sound like almost overnight and 2) they needed to get this "right". By "right" I meant that the Pro line had to sound better than the micro one in every possible way, be just as if not more feature rich, and target a price range that was within striking distance of your average micro line customer looking to upgrade.

Believe it or not, the Pro line has been in development since 2014, with the original release date for its iDSD variant slated for the summer of 2016 (soon after its sister product the iCAN was given the green light). But several delays pushed back the Pro's release as iFi continued to refine and adjust its feature set. The culmination of this effort finally saw the light of day this past summer - almost two years late and a dramatically different product than when it was first conceived. The only question now is: Was it worth the wait?

Pro-Features

One thing that is abundantly clear when you first approach the Pro is the sheer number of ways to integrate it into your own system. It's down-right mind boggling. Let's walk through it.




As you can see from the back, you have your standard balanced XLR outputs as well as their single-ended counterparts to feed an external amp. You also have your standard USB, digital coaxial SDPIF (derived from their extremely high-end AMR DP-777 unit), and AES/EBU digital inputs. I suspect for the overwhelming majority of you though, that's all she wrote.

However, in addition, the unit has its own dedicated Micro SDHC reader as well as a USB Type A Host connector to stick any FAT32 formatted drive in which is a very nice albeit fairly useless touch these days.

But what really sets the Pro apart from a lot of its contemporaries is its built-in network capabilities. Want to use the Pro as a network streamer? No problem. Plug an Ethernet cable in. Done. Think cables are quaint? Go wireless as the unit supports all the usual suspects including Spotify (via Connect), TIDAL, and QQ Music to name just a few. Note that both streaming and playing directly from a mass storage device requires you to download and install the MUZO player app which I found easy to do and it just worked.

Still not impressed? The Pro also supports a multi-function BNC input that allows you to connect an external reference clock or even a CD transport to the unit (just in case your audiophile Grandpa comes over!).

Because of all of these options, the Pro also has an output selector on the back which controls the line-level output voltage depending on whether or not the unit is connected to a home or studio environment. Again, for most of you (read: all of you) you won't ever move this switch.


Moving to the front is that lovely OLED display, which has a very intuitive menu system. The left knobs are used to select the input and the digital filter respectively while the single right one is used to control the analog volume when the unit is on amp detail. The rest of the headphone inputs are all the usual suspects, and if you can't find a way to connect your headphone of choice to the Pro then this hobby is probably not for you. Feature request: It would have been awesome if the OLED display could crank out a real-time graphic visualizer or custom image on playback.

In terms of amperage, the Pro iDSD basically incorporates a stripped down version of the Pro iCAN's "Tubestate" design. With the flip of a switch, you can choose between a fully-discrete Class A solid-state topology, a J-FET all-valve Class A output featuring two GE5670s, and a Tube+ which reduces negative feedback and as a result allows for greater even order harmonics (read: warm-fuzzies). For the record, all of my listening was done in solid-state mode and I didn't have to apply any extra gain to listen comfortably.

Pro-Design


The Pro is no less impressive on the inside as it is on the outside. iFi engineering takes a sort of first principles approach to DAC design by using discrete components for specific tasks instead of overloading a component for multiple ones. This unit features eight Burr Brown chips (four per channel) in a custom interleaved configuration which makes up the core of iFi's bit-perfect DSD & DXD system. All the digital-to-audio processing happens here. That's in addition to the Crysopeia FPGA engine which is used for all filtering duties. iFi strongly feels that the FPGA is more suited for filtering while the Burr Brown chips are better utilized for conversion. This is a much different philosophy than say Chord where a custom FPGA is the order of the day for everything.

In terms of filtering, the Pro has five different ones all at the touch of a button: BitPerfect, BitPerfect+, Gibbs Transient Optimized, Apodising, and Transient Aligned a la the micro line. All of these filters control how much digital filtering (if any) you want applied on the signal. Almost all of my listening was done using BitPerfect as I wanted to get a sense of what the DAC engine can do without any extra processing.

All input buffers are thrown into a large dynamic buffer that gets re-clocked to de-jitter data before being passed onto the data processing stages. The re-clocking is slaved to the Global Master Clock which also drives the X-Core 200 and FPGA engines. Speaking of which, the XMOS XU216 X-Core 200 Series 16-core processor is used to decode all inputs which is the 2nd generation XMOS chipset and extremely fast. On the USB side of things, the USB inputs have fully galvanic isolation and are self-powered without draining anything from the USB bus itself. Furthermore, the isolation barrier is actually placed between the inputs and the DAC/re-clocker so not only is the USB bus isolated but frankly all digital noise is isolated from the inputs. Put simply, there is zero need for any USB accessories to clean up the USB bus or to separate USB power from data. The Pro already does this for you.

Last but not least, the Pro features an extremely robust power supply that has all incoming DC converted to a high-frequency waveform and then rectified and filtered by a choke input capacitor. The digital section is powered by a bank of ELNA Dynacap DZ that have much lower internal impedance in comparison to similar products of regular grade and are used to avoid the typical drawback of the very high internal impedance of common 'super capacitors'. Even better, using the DC output loop on the back, a single power supply can power both the Pro iCan and iDSD which makes life extremely convenient.

Pro-Sound

At the end of the day though, despite the massive feature set and internal circuit wizardry, how does the Pro sound?

To find out, I actually did some A/B listening with my trusty micro iDSD to see if the Pro's $2499 price tag is really warranted. To give you a better idea of my setup, I used a pair of Focal Utopias and Audeze iLCD-4 headphones both connected to the Pro iCAN with the Pro iDSD driving it as well as just the Pro iDSD as a standalone DAC/amp combo. I would then swap out the Pro for the micro to see what's gained or lost in the process.

Fun fact: The HDTracks version of Omnium Gatherum's latest magnum opus, The Burning Cold, is DR14 and probably one of if not the best sounding metal record of the year (courtesy of Dan "the Man" Swanö). It's also a big step-up from their last one hearkening back to their Beyond and New World Shadows days. Epic win.

The biggest difference between the Pro and the micro is just how dynamic the sound is - particularly with the Utopias. Even though the micro does a fine job of keeping up with these feisty Finns, the Pro is in a different league altogether. Once again, I was shocked on just how good the attack and decay of the Utopias are when plugged into a suitable system. I also felt that the bass extension was particularly more meaty and had a weightier impact with the Pro over the micro.

On the other hand, I actually didn't think the Pro iCAN did much to improve the sound particularly with the iLCD-4's. The 4's are not that difficult to drive so it came as no shock to me at least that the Pro iDSD as a standalone system held its own just fine. I thought the Utopias benefited from the addition of the iCAN but only marginally so.

Batman: The Animated Series is one of the best TV shows to ever grace the screen (animated or otherwise). To this day, I consider it the defacto standard in which all other Batmans shall be judged. But what you probably didn't know was just how amazing the score is. Everyone knows the Danny Elfman theme above, but Shirley Walker's score is just as sublime and is available as a four volume set. Buy them. They are worth every penny.

Right off the bat (Dave: Groan!), the Pro imbues the Utopias with a magnificent soundstage. Again, the micro sounds great too but doesn't recreate the same sense of expansiveness the Pro can produce. Also, tonally, the Pro sounds more natural and less colored. Horns sounded fuller and richer. Strings are now plucked with a sense of urgency and their reverb sustains longer in the ear. In fact, this is the first time I've really felt my system was delivering a concert-like experience in the confines of my home; no small feat giving the number of components that have graced my desk.

Some black metal modus ponus: If Mgla has a side-project called Kriegsmaschine, it will be awesome. Mgla's has a side project called Kriegsmaschine. Kriegsmaschine is indeed awesome. It's really that simple. Only recently did I find out that Mgla has decided to grace us with a follow-up to 2014's Enemy of Man and luckily it is just as good and destined to make my year-end list (as well as many others I'm sure too).

Production wise, this is a very well done DR7 record. As a result, I thought the Pro as a stand alone system was all I really needed. I didn't think the iCAN added much to the story with either of my headphones. I also felt the micro was more in striking range of the Pro now since all the technical advantages the Pro has were mitigated by the record's production.

Conclusion


The Pro iDSD is as good as it gets at this price point. I know $2499 isn't exactly cheap, but honestly, the price is fair. Its vast array of inputs and outputs makes the Pro extremely versatile and easy to integrate into any serious playback chain. Moreover, despite suffering from a bit of feature creep, at its core is still an end-game DAC that took the basic architecture out of the micro line and put it on steroids. The net result is a dynamic and fluid sonic profile that can also be fine-tuned and tailored to your particular tastes through the use of advanced filtering technology and smart amperage design - an iFi staple.

But do I need the Pro iCAN or can I use the Pro iDSD exclusively as a standalone system? I would argue that if you don't already own the Pro iCAN, you don't really need it with the iDSD unless you have significantly hard to drive headphones. The output section of the Pro iDSD is definitely reference quality and more than adequate for most.

And finally: Is the Pro iDSD worth four times the price of the micro iDSD? Of course not. Audiophile components don't work that way, particularly when we are talking about DACs since the law of diminishing returns hits hard early and often when it comes bit management. But as I said above, the price is more than inline with other offerings of similar ilk, and the Pro is as good as it gets as a complete package.

But I will leave you with this final thought: I have no intention of giving this unit back. This is my end-game DAC. I've heard many DACs over the years at various price points and I believe you would have to spend a ludicrous amount of money to do better than the Pro iDSD (and probably loose a bit of versatility in the process too). And that's why I have no qualms giving it our highest honor.

This review was originally featured on Metal-Fi.
Erfan Elahi
Erfan Elahi
hi any comparison between the Questyle CMA 12 Master and the Sony TA-ZH1ES ?
ngoshawk
ngoshawk
I will have a comparison in my upcoming review (I am backlogged). The two are different. The Questyle is more about purity of sound (and extraordinary in that regard), while the iFi is about adaptability. I really like both. My review should be posted within a few days. Cheers.
Pros: The DAC section is absolutely amazing. It's dynamic, punchy, detailed and natural.
Cons: Packed with features, but some are half-baked. Sometimes too many options becomes a distraction.
The Past & Present:

Ifi has always been a company that’s known to serve the audio world with great value. Their early products such as the Micro iDSD received high escalates in the audio community for their excellent sound but offered at a significant lower cost compared to competitors. In the past few years, iFi began to push the high-end audio market. Many consider the Pro iCan one of the best, non-exotic amplifiers on the market. For $1500, it can drive the high-demanding Abyss AB-1266 and Hifiman Susvara with ease. You shouldn’t be surprised because high-end has been in iFi’s blood. Many may not be aware iFi is actually a subsidiary of Abbingdon Music Research (AMR) who produces high-end consumer audio products. AMR’s flagship DAC DP-777 DAC was a $5000 DAC at release. When the Pro iDSD was announced, it was met with a lot of excitement, given the spectacular specification and myriad of features, but similarly many wondered if iFi is able to deliver the sound and performance at the now crowded $2000-$3000 market.

The In & Outs:

The iDSD is made of an aluminum chassis. There are fenestrations on the top and each sides of the unit to give you a glimpse of the internals. The top panel also houses a small, round viewing window which lights up in a Chordesque fashion when you are using the tubes. Speaking of tubes, the iDSD can operate in all-solid-state mode, an all-valve Class A section based on 2x GE5670 tubes, or a Tube+ mode which “reduces available negative feedback to a minimum.

upload_2018-8-7_15-52-52.jpeg


Other goodies under the hood include a quad stack of Bit-Perfect DSD and DXD DACs by Burr-Brown. Based on speculation, the actual Burr-Brown chip used is the PCM1793. All signals to the DACs are re-clocked with the low-jitter Global Master Timing® derived master clock from the AMR DP-777 DAC. The quad DAC chips together with the new XMOS XU216 X-Core 200 Series 16 Core processor allow PCM decoding up to 768 kHz as well as DSD upsampling to DSD1024. Pro iDSD also uses a custom FPGA and DSP chip to carry out its digital filter duties.

Moving to the front panel you will see the power button, input selector (press to adjust OLED brightness and hold to adjust polarity), filter selector, output mode (solid state, tube or tube+), a 3.5 mm SE headphone jack, 6.3mm headphone jack, and balanced 2.5mm TRRS headphone jack, headphone gain selection (0dB/9dB/18dB), and volume control. You can control the unit with the included remote. The remote only controls volume, but it can control both Pro iCan and Pro iDSD.

upload_2018-8-7_15-52-52.jpeg


If you are not impressed with its internals, the Pro iDSD also offers a plethora of inputs and outputs. On the back panel from left to right you have the following:

  1. XLR Balanced Out
  1. RCA SE Out
  1. Output selector (Hifi Fixed, HiFi Variable, Pro Fixed, and Pro Variable): The recommended setting is the Hifi Fixed as a pure dac or HiFi Variable if you want to use the iDSD as a DAC/Preamp. The HiFi Fixed mode puts out 4.6V vs 11.2V of the Pro Fixed mode.
  1. Ethernet to use iDSD as a network streamer.
  1. USB Type A Host: You can play USB drive, external HDD directly from it. Make sure you format your media as FAT32. You can only access the USB drive via the MUZO app (more in the network streamer section).
  1. USB 3.0 Type B to connect to PC or laptop USB port. It’s important to know that the Pro iDSD is galvanic isolated but has the technology behind the Micro iUSB3.0. Theoretically you should be getting a very clean USB signal.
  1. Digital Coaxial SPDIF
  1. Micro SD card slot
  1. AES/EBU digital input
  1. Wifi antenna: The easiest way to connect the Pro iDSD to the network is through an ethernet cable. Then you can find the ip address on the Muzo app. You type the ip address in the browser in your browser to setup wifi. Otherwise, you can hold the WPS button (filter button) to link with your wifi router.
  1. BNC digital input which acts both as SPDIF and AES3id to be used with high-end CD transport.
  1. Clock sync mode: I have not played with external clocks to make any meaningful comment about this.
  1. BNC Sync out
  1. DC Loop-out: This allows the iDSD to be used with Pro iCan amp.
  1. 15V/4A DC power
Please note all inputs other than USB are currently limited to maximum sample rates of 192kHz PCM and DSD(64) via DoP.

upload_2018-8-7_15-52-52.jpeg


Sound:

My setup: Alienware R7 with Paul Pang Audio V2 USB PCie card -> Pangea solid silver USB cable -> Pro iDSD -> McIntosh MHA100 -> Hifiman Susvara

upload_2018-8-7_15-52-52.jpeg


I purposely mentioned the dedicated USB PCie card because it took me a long time to understand how PC and USB noise can degrade audio quality. The few things I did to clean up the USB signal improved SQ dramatically in all my gears.

Now back to the Pro iDSD. The Pro iDSD sounds so good that I think just breaking down its SQ based on highs, lows, vocals doesn’t do it justice. Music is emotional, and how the Pro iDSD evokes your emotions is difficult to convey with words. Right off the gate without any burn-in, the Pro iDSD sounds very dynamic while maintaining excellent detail. Every track sounds more punchy with excellent layering. The most popular DACs have something special about them, and if you have to name one special trait about the iDSD is that it is one of the most dynamic sounding DACs on the market. Moreover, the Pro iDSD is still able to maintain a natural and analogue portrayal of music. It really pushes the Susvara to its full potentials in terms of speed and detail. Every track you own will sound better, but you quickly notice poorly recorded tracks vs well recorded ones.

The Pro iDSD’s sound signature is neutral, it doesn’t color the recording. Sound stage in terms of width and depth is one of the best I have heard. In well recorded jazz tracks, the instruments really pops with the Pro iDSD. It feels like the sound is coming out of the Susvara and filling all around my head space.

One disappointment at the writing of this review is lack of MQA function for Tidal streaming which was promised by iFi. The current speculation is the MQA update will come with a September firmware update.

Solid state mode: This is my favorite mode for pairing with MHA100 and Susvara. The is the best sound and most refined mode. My sound impressions above is based mostly on solid state mode.

Tube mode: This is my least favorite mode. I feel I lost detail and everything sounded too warm. There is also significant loss of transparency in the treble region.

Tube + mode: Probably a balance between solid state and tube mode. I keep going back between the Tube+ mode and solid state mode. There is something very analogue and laidback about the Tube+ mode. You don’t lose too much treble. I think most owners will find them flipping back and forth between the solid state and Tube+ mode. Again, the SQ of different modes may vary based on your amp and headpones/speakers, so YMMV.

Compared to other DACs:

upload_2018-8-7_15-52-52.jpeg


Chord Qutest: I really like my Qutest. The Qutest has a very detailed and natural presentation. The sound stage is excellent. However, the Qutest doesn’t come close to the iDSD in terms of the surreal dynamics. The iDSD hits so hard and in your face, you get a more visceral feeling with music particularly with live recordings.

Schiit Gungnir Multibit with Gen 5 USB: The Gumby sounds very natural and analogue with a very holographic rendering of music. That kind of sound signature can be very addicting. When you move to the Qutest or the iDSD, you don’t lose out on any of the analogue qualities of the Gumby but gain significant detail and dynamics. From my research, The Yggy Analogue 2 may be a good competitor for the iDSD, but I have never heard of it. One thing that really bothered me with the Schiit Multibit DACs is the constant clicks with bitrate change. This is the primary reason I sold my Gumby.

McIntosh MHA100: For a long time, I just used the MHA100 as an one box solution. There is something to be said about having single device that can perform both the DAC/Amp function. You don’t have to play around with interconnects, etc. Usually combo units are optimized by the manufacturer. Many feel that the DAC section of the MHA100 is its weakest link. I actually enjoy it very much for a long time. With both Gumby and Qutest, I notice an upgrade, but I never felt the upgrade was so substantial that I got a different emotional experience listening to music. This is where the iDSD really separates itself of the pack. Because the iDSD delivers layering and dynamics like no other.

iFi Micro iDSD Black Label: The Black Label is an excellent DAC/AMP for its size. However, it really isn’t a fair comparison to the Pro. The Pro is a different beast all together. The Pro wins in every category you can think off. Most noticeably is that when operating as an external DAC feeding MHA100, the Black Label has the smallest soundstage of all the DACs I have owned recently. It sounded digital and congested compared to the all of the above mentioned DACs. I actually preferred the integrated DAC of the MHA100 compared to the microiDSD. I’m mainly mentioning the Micro iDSD because it’s iFi’s previous flagship DAC.

Filters:

By pressing the filter knob, you go from non-DSD remastering to DSD512 remastering to DSD1024 remastering. If you play a nonDSD file in the nonDSD remastering mode, the following applies:

  1. Bitperfect: this is the same and non-oversampling mode.
  1. Bitperfect+: This applies an analogue filter and corrects SINC or very high frequency roll-off which happens in the Bitperfect mode.
  1. Gibbs Transient Optimised: This is a digital filter with pre-ringing, minimum post ringing, 32 taps of correction. It minimizes the Gibbs phenomenon causing time-domain distortion.
  1. Apodising: no pre-ringing, modest post ringing, 128 taps of correction.
  1. Transient Aligned: It has the largest tap count at 16,384 taps
If you upsample a nonDSD file to DSD512/1024, iDSD first oversamples to 705.4/768kHz. None of the filters mentioned above applies in those 2 modes. You can turn the knob, and may appears that you are switching digital filters, but they are not doing anything.

If you play a native DSD file, iDSD will only play it in bitperfect mode only. If you upsamples a native DSD file to DSD512/1024, there is no bitperfect mode because a digital filter has to be applied.

To be honest, I had to do a lot of research to figure this out. I reassure you that the difference between the different filters is small. If I tell you I hear a significant difference, I’ll be lying to you. The most noticeable difference with the filters I hear is that when you upsamples to DSD512/DSD1024, you lose a little dynamics but add a little sound stage and clarity. None of the filters is going to make or break the iDSD as a DAC. Perhaps, more sensitive ears can pick up greater differences.

All the above mentioned digital processing options apply to all sources, including the network audio bridge and AES/EBU & S/PDIF inputs.

Pro iDSD as a DAC/Amp Combo:

The Pro iDSD is outfitted with 3.5 mm single-ended, 6.3 mm and 2.5 mm TRRS balanced output. The output power is clearly weaker compared to Pro iCan. I need to put the gain at the highest level and turn the volume to 12 o'clock to achieve the same listening level with Susvara with the 6.3 mm plug. The vocals sounded good, but everything else sounded restrained. The soundstage shrunk considerably when compared to when driven from the MHA100. Most who buy Pro iDSD will likely be using it as DAC only, but I can see it as a good single box option for those who own more efficient headphones like HD800/HD800s or Utopia. I also tested the 2.5 mm output with Westone ES60 at the lower gain level. Now with the IEMs, the Pro iDSD sounds better than the AK380. I was amazed that the desktop DAC/Amp has a cleaner background compared to a dedicated endgame portable DAP. The sound stage is also excellent but not as grand as the AK380.

Network Streamer:

I tested iDSD’s network capabilities through the Muzo Android app. It utilizes Linkplay and has built-in Spotify and Tidal. For Tidal, it will only play back at 16/44. I was able to stream hi-res files on my phone to iDSD and get native resolution playback up to 32bit/192kHz. It sounds good but not as good as playing Tidal through USB.

upload_2018-8-7_15-52-52.jpeg
upload_2018-8-7_15-52-52.jpeg
upload_2018-8-7_15-52-52.jpeg


Next I set up DNLA server on Jriver Media Center 23. On the Muzo app, you can find the Jriver DNLA server as source. This allows you play all the way up to 32/192. When I tried to play DSD files, the app just froze. It may be due to the large file size. The audio quality was very good, but a tad worse than USB out. One factor to consider is that I was streaming through an ethernet cable. The ethernet was ran through a powerline passthrough. There is likely a lot of noise. I’m doing nothing to clean the noise out of the network signal. So the sound quality could be even better. In the future, I would like to iFi either develop their own streaming app or support more 3rd party apps.

Conclusion:

The Pro iDSD is, utmost, an impressive DAC. Even at its current price, the iDSD is completely justified as a DAC alone without all the bells and whistles. It is much more than just a DAC and could be much more if iFi develops a better application to control the network streamer aspect of the iDSD. Then the iDSD will position itself at a different echelon. However, to my ears, Pro iDSD’s ultimate trump card is its dynamics. Nothing I have heard rival that of the Pro iDSD.
gordec
gordec
audiocraze
audiocraze
The link you shared says it: "As upconversion to DSD uses first oversampling to 705.4/768kHz, all filter options APPLY unchanged to DSD upsampling." That means all filters apply still. It’s a bad wording by ifi to say all changes apply unchanged. But what they mean is it applies . The signal is changed, then converted to DSD. Also @iFi audio has confirmed this already in the official thread.
Erfan Elahi
Erfan Elahi
hi any comparison between the Questyle CMA 12 Master and the Sony TA-ZH1ES ?
The iFi iDSD Pro.

I came to discover ifi after a past of positive and negative experiences in the audio in the last 30 years, in the search for the holy grail of sound in my living room, I have had a lot of brands, Nad, Rotel, Mark Levinson, Linn, Sony, Cyrus, Audiolab, Pioneer, Marantz, Rega, Bowers & Wilkins, Castle Speakers, Vandersteen, Paragon Regent Speakers, monitor Audio, Kef, Mission Cyrus speakers, only to name a few.

Some of my old gear I sold until today I remember them as pieces I regret not having today, My Marantz CD10 and Marantz CD16, My Sony SCD1, my loving Levinson 383 had circuit board problem and was 14 months waiting an internal circuit board repair in the Portuguese representative of the brand, and because of that bad experience and some others in the audio world, I sold my Levinson at a low price and almost all audio gear I had, I loved that Levinson, and that warranty experience was something very negative for me as a user, I abandoned audio and that search that never ends, and for 8 years the computer and headphones was my way to interact with music, a big downgrade from what I was used to.

Six years ago I started looking for a DAC and some better speakers to my iMac, the speakers I found that in my opinion produced an acceptable sound was the Harman Kardon GLA-55, latter paired with a monitor audio subwoofer, and sound was ok, at least a better experience that the iMac speakers had, In a search for a good computer DAC I discovered the ifi brand and their range of products, a perfect match for what I was thinking.

The products made by ifi were good looking and they supported DSD and HD audio formats something I was willing to try as I own many SACD’s, DSD was very appealing format to me, I purchased the ifi iDSD, it came in a beautiful package and well built, I connected the iDSD to my iMac and clicked on play on the iTunes App, a glimpse of what I have had in the past for a fraction of the price, for me it was it, the holy grail in price paid and return that I was receiving, so I started a new journey, maybe a never ending one certainly full of new product discoveries, but at every step taken up is a more engaging and pleasant one.


So ifi brought me back to the audio experience, today my computer audio system is a little upgraded from the Harman Kardon GLA55 and Micro iDSD, I just acquired an ifi Pro iDSD that was launched in the end of May. It finely arrived and took the place of my ifi Micro iDSD Black, micro iTube 2 and micro iUSB 3.0, every person quantifies the upgraded differences obtained by each component change differently, for some is the same experience a little better and a justified investment or not, for others a small sonic achievement is a huge upgrade in the final result, for me and after some weeks of listening to the ifi Pro iDSD there is no way I could live anymore without it, so I acquired it.


The Pro iDSD has a lot of functionality that you could see on the ifi website https://ifi-audio.com/home/products/pro/ I will focus more on the sound and changes I have noticed from the micro iDSD Black.

The global sound grows in small big changes, the separation, fluidity, speed, soundstage of the tracks is so better defined that you can’t stop playing and thinking constantly “this one is really on another level of gear”. That’s not a subtle change, the global sound character is similar to the micro iDSD Black Label, but sounds are presented very fast, the sense of speed is really impressive, the impact, transients, instrument separation, identification of the elements on the soundstage, multiple voices are perfectly separated, it’s all there, every audio file you play on the Pro iDSD is a new experience. I do remember in the past of investing a lot more and get almost none.

If you own one of the other ifi product line like the nano, micro, or even other brand DAC of the same price level, when you connect the Pro iDSD you will have a constant audio discover on each track of your library, it’s noticeable right away if your system has the quality to show and reveal what the iDSD pro can archive you will be amazed.
The micro iDSD Black was a feat for the price, but the Pro iDSD takes every aspect from the micro iDSD BL and gives him super powers.

The iDSD Pro has almost all features you will ever need, there are two absent from the pro iDSD the XBass and 3D sound, you can have this feature in the Pro iCan, but having them in the Pro iDSD is a miss in my most minimalistic good sounding system I can have, and to add these features the pro iCan is a necessary add-on that comes with more cables and more accessories in the middle of the sound signal. The iDSD approach for me is more a puristic approach and first a DAC, all the other features come for me as a bonus, it’s a product that will reveal all elements of the sound presentation, and plays your music files from multiple formats, it’s very easy to setup and very well built, and the oled in the middle of the unit makes me in love by it


So the iDSD Pro for me it’s finesse, fireworks, emotion, love, an even better capacity of turning small detail perceptible in a way that appears natural to my ears, it’s adds macro to the texture detail in the mix, better quality bass, initially the bass appears to be less present, less present in this case of the Pro iDSD is not less bass, but a bass with musical scale and better defined, there is no 3D or XBass, but there is a lot more to take out from every track.

The iDSD Pro will not hide a bad recording, It will show without any guilt the quality of a bad studio engineer or a low quality mix, if the mix is bad it will sound very bad, but if you give the Pro iDSD a better quality track, you will make your speakers rock has they never think they would be capable of, after that you will not let the iDSD Pro go back to the store.

There are a lot of offers in this segment, some more expensive, some less, I have built my system from the beginning on the original ifi IDSD Sound Signature, so in my case it was a perfect match.

I didn’t focus on many aspects like streaming, digital filters, upsampling to DSD1024, playing directly from SD or SSD USB HD, and finely Airplay, the Airplay functionality is my favorite and there is a lot more the Pro iDSD can do, In the last weeks I tried some of this functionality for curiosity and they all shine in a way that describing it will take weeks or months, my main use will be in the desktop computer and I am loving it.

If you are serious about your audio, the ifi Pro iDSD should be one of the higher priorities on your list of a DAC acquisition. If the price is too hot, the micro iDSD Black Label could give you a lot from the Pro iDSD at a very affordable price, and is my favorite DAC in the price / sound return equation.

All devices where connect to an Audioquest Nigara, the power cables including computer and ifi IDSD Pro were with Audioquest Tornado, and Audioquest Thunder for each of the Speakers.

USB Cables in use are ifi Gemini 3.0 and Audioquest Diamond USB Cable, also used ifi iUSB 3.0 in between.

Speakers are Focal Solo 6BE.

Interconnect Linn Silver balanced.

Software used, Roon and Audirvana.

The related review is a personal opinion of the experience and use of the products acquired. All products were acquired at retail price, in normal stores that have them in stock, and I am not sponsored by any of the brands mentioned or any kind of brand.

Attachments

  • Like
Reactions: Dr. Udo Brömme
Top