1. gordec
    One of the Best Sounding DACs in the Class
    Written by gordec
    Published Aug 7, 2018
    5.0/5,
    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    Sound:

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

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    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:

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    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.

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    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.
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  2. applesnowleo
    Amazing sound of the iDSD Pro
    Written by applesnowleo
    Published Aug 6, 2018
    5.0/5,
    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.

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