iFi Audio xDSD - Reviews
Pros: Great Sound Quality
Great BT implementation
Cons: Horrible surface finish
Lacks an OTG cable out of the box.
Disclaimer: This unit as send to me by iFi UK however, all the thoughts shared in this review are my own and reflect my honest opinion about this product.



I am new to the head-fi world and I have only recently started to appreciate the intricacies of the high resolution audio, so don’t expected this to be a technical review It will be a review that will address the major features of the product from the consumer point of view specifying its usefulness or not.

Packaging and accessories

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xDSD-Oct-18-4.jpg


The product Is well package in a white box enclosed in a cardboard sheath, the device rests in a cut out and in front of it is a little white box containing the included accessories (iFi bag to carry the device, an 3m dual lock in order to create an stack, a USB-to-USB Type B dongle, a USB3.0 A Male to A Female cable as well as an optical-to-3.5mm adapter that fits into the rear combined coax/optical input.) Although the box contains all the necessary cables to connect it to the computer it lacks an OTG Cable to able to connect It to your android or an equivalent solution for an Apple device. Which it’s kind of a bummer since one of its use cases it’s the possibility to connect it to your smartphone and up your audio quality while on the go. Another minor annoyance is the fact that the unit itself doesn’t have any buttons, like next track or pause to use while connected to the phone over Bluetooth.


Build Quality

xdsd-DSC_3032-1024x565.jpg


The device feels robust and overall has a very nice build quality, unfortunately the surface finish doesn’t do this product justice, it smudges very easily and 5 minutes after you take it out of the box its already full of fingerprints and looking like you didn’t clean it for a whole year.

In the bottom it was four silicone feet that prevent it from sliding or scratching your smartphone when it's attached via the 3m dual lock in.

Features

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On one side you have the volume wheel which changes colors while you rise the volume, acts as the power on/off switch and is resposible for selecting the input type. The wheel does not sit flush with the chassis, which unfortunately led to scratches on my dap and the xDSD volume wheel when carrying then booth in the same pocket. On the right side of the volume wheel you have your settings/bluetooth button which configures the Bluetooth functionality (Bluetooth 4.0, AAC and aptx, lacking LDAC support) (Pairs up to 8 devices), activates the line out mode when long pressed changing the volume wheel light to white and changes between the 3d or xbass filters when pressed. On the left you have your 3.5mm TRSS output.

xDSD_iFi_Audio_1ll.jpg


On the back side from left to right you have your SPDIF socket to connect standard TS or TRS, the standard iFi usb input (full usb female), two filters measure and listen and the 5v power input via micro usb.

Sound

The iFi xDSD performs extremely well sound quality wise, it has very good detail retrieval and doesn't color the sound in any way, providing much better sound than your standard smartphone. It’s a league above the previously reviewed iFi Nano iDSD BL and its comparable to my Onkyo DP-X1 DAP in terms of general detail retrieval.

This unit gets compared with both Chord Mojo and Hugo 2, unfortunately I never listened to the Chord Mojo so I cannot make any commentaries in regards to that but in comparison to the Chord Hugo 2, the Hugo 2 its still on a league of its own in terms of general detail retrieval and micro detail.

The sound performance thought bluetooth is on par with the amazing quality via its wired outputs which is astonishing to say the least.

When using it with my Mr. Speakers AEON I found out the xbass filter to be quite useful to give the bass more life and punch and the amp power turned out to be quite enough ending up being a great match for this little device.

Conclusion

Completly feature packed and portable, the iFi xDSD is a great addition to your phone due to its bluetooth capabilities or as an standalone dac/amp on your desk due to it sounding so good.
iFi once again created a very flexible device with an amazing price to quality ratio.
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RockStar2005
RockStar2005
Nice review!! I agree with all of it as I've owned the xDSD for around 2 1/2 years now!
Pros: Compact and unique design, dark background, great BT implementation, multitude of connectivity options.
Cons: Lack of BT5.0 and LDAC support, no OTG cable out of the box.

It’s common knowledge to everyone that the “i” in iPhone stands for Internet which is perfect for its brand which allows its users to interact seamlessly with the Internet. I then found myself interacting and checking out iFi Audio, a UK-based electronics company launched in 2012 with a vision of improving sound quality and eradicating distortion, noise and hiss from different audio equipment.

iFi Audio has since been a staple in audio setups, thanks to their line of DACs, AMPs, AC and DC purifiers and a lot more, all designed to give an “improved” sound. I first got a taste of their tech when a friend of mine brought the iFi micro iDSD Black Label which made me a fan then and there of iFi Audio with how the micro iDSD Black Label tackled the trio of cans lying around that time, the Audeze EL-8, Hifiman 4xx and the ATH-M70x. Fast forward a year later and now, I finally get to be in bed with one of iFi Audio’s newer offerings, the iFi xDSD. iFi Audio via their exclusive Thailand distributor, ProPlugin, sent me the review unit. If you’re visiting Thailand, I highly recommend checking out ProPlugin since they not only carry iFi Audio’s products but also a vast collection of audio solutions.


The iFi xDSD is iFi Audio's ultimate portable DAC/AMP solution for audiophiles and music lovers that just can’t live without their tunes. The iFi xDSD is spec’d out with the Burr Brown multibit DSD1793 DAC chip, XMOS-based USB circuitry, W990VST and quad J-Fet OV4627A op amps, zero-jitter operation via AMR (Abbingdon Music Research, iFi Audio’s sister company) Global Master Timing clock, re-clocking and data management, aptX and AAC BT support, S-Balanced technology, Cyberdrive headphone amplifier stage and their trusted and upgraded 3D-Matrix+ and XBass+ technologies. That’s typically the most feature packed DAC/AMP featured in my young but growing realview journey. I was already a fan of the 3D-Holographic+ tech and hearing this Matrix iteration is keeping me a fan, this just acts as an appetizer of yet to come from the iFi team.
The iFi xDSD is priced currently at $399 and ฿15,900 over at ProPlugin’s website. The iFi xDSD presents itself as a premium solution for both wired and wireless use as well as a portable and desktop use audio solution. It is smacked right in the middle with its notable peers around such price bracket like the Oriolus BA300S, Cozoy REI, Shozy Magic and the Fanmusic BL-2. Each boasting and parading its own set of features. Given that the xDSD is made by iFI Audio. Could it be that not only does it X’s out its competition but also give credit to my assumption that the “i” in iFi Audio stands for “improve” thus resulting in improved Fidelity? Let’s stop the assumptions here on out and check the out the xDSD.

Specifications and Packaging

iFi xDSD Spec sheet:

  • USB Input:up to PCM768kHz & DSD51(24.6/22.6MHz)
  • S/PDIF Coaxial and Optical Input:up to 192kHz/24Bit
  • Dynamic Range:> 113dB (A)
  • Volume Control:-101dB…0dB in 1dB steps
  • Output power:> 2.82V/500 mW @ 16 Ohm
    • 3.7V/270mW @ 50 Ohm
    • 3.8V/48 mW @ 300 Ohm
    • 3.8V/24 mW @ 600 Ohm
  • Line out Level:> 2.1V @ 0dBFS (& 0dB Volume)
  • THD &N (1V/16R):< 0.005%
  • Output Impedance:< 1 Ohm
  • Battery:3.8V/2200mAh
  • Dimensions:95 (l) x66.5 (w) x19 (h) mm
  • Weight:127g (0.28 Ibs)


The iFi xDSD came enclosed in white rectangular box adorned with all the unique iFi Audio technologies that they have integrated into the xDSD. Opening the box will show the xDSD enclosed in a matte plastic sheet which I felt was treated as it doesn’t stick to the uber shiny chrome finish of the xDSD, my review unit was a demo one so it lacks some minor accessories notably the black velvet pouch and the USB data cable. The rest of the accessories included are as follows:
  • USB-A to USB-B adapter
  • USB-A to USB-B cable
  • 3.5mm Optical adapter
  • 2 sets of Velcro strips
  • Warranty and Manual card
This particular accessory set is great and hits all the necessary cables needed for a connection to any source you’d need to pair the xDSD with, an OTG cable as a bonus would have been great. I would have loved to get to try the storage pouch since the xDSD’s chrome finish is a fingerprint magnet and see if the pouch is velvet-lined in the interior as well for those nagging fingerprints.

Build quality, Interfaces and Handling
The 1st time that I held the xDSD was a joy, its zen inspired contours allows for a well-managed grip not to mention that the back panel is a matte black plastic which transitions well with the glossy chrome finish. The 4 built-in corner rubber feets on the underside was also great since I wouldn’t want myself to be the one to install such and have the adhesives coming loose in time and not to mention that it’s black, perfectly matching the back panel and all the other body connections which are all black. The 4 visible allen screws are tempting to open (care to suggest if this needs any internal upgrades or so?) as well.

Front Panel
The xDSD’s front panel houses its signature round volume control knob/button which also doubles as the power switch. A long press on the translucent round button which also shows the iFi logo will turn on the xDSD and can cycle between wired (green illumination) and wireless (blue illumination) connection, the cycle can last at around 20 seconds before it turns off again.

This same power switch which also acts as the volume knob which is pure analogue and would light up in various colors depending on the volume level. A mute function is also embedded on this same button once playback is present on the xDSD and is indicated by a blinking red and the current volume light indicator.

There is also an input indicator LED besides the volume/power knob. The usual red/blue cycle is indicating a wireless BT connection pairing is in progress which stays blue when wireless BT connection is established. This same indicator stays on green when wired connection is established, be it S/PDIF or USB input. An Audio Format LED is also present above the input indicator LED. The other 2 indicator LEDs are for the iFi Audio 3D-Matrix+ and XBass+ tech, basic operations here, a white LED appears when this 2 functions are used.

Also in the front panel is the trademark S-Balanced headphone 3.5mm/Line Output port which utilizes and maximizes 3.5mm TRRS/TRS connection while also being able to work with the standard non-balanced 3.5mm connection. The xCAN features the 2.5mm balanced out which is far more common as a balanced port, I guess the 4.4mm pentaconn balanced port will be saved for the xDSD’s upcoming big brother.

Back Panel
The xDSD’s back panel is as feature rich as its front panel, safe to say the xDSD could take you front or back and you’d have fun. The 1st port is the S/PDIF input followed by a USB-A input, this is where we will be missing the OTG cable which wasn’t supplied in the accessory set like what the Audirect Beam and Zorloo ZuperDAC-S did, I guess a missing OTG cable is the thing.

Another iFi Audio proprietary tech is its digital filter between “Measure” and “Listen”. By the naming scheme itself, the “Measure” filter is a frequency optimized filter for critical listening and for those graph-guys which I am not. I’m a “Listen” type of a guy and so are my realviews, I’d be leaving the measurements towards my fellow exceptional technical reviewer peers.

The final port on the xDSD’s back panel is the micro USB charging port which is purely made for charging and avoids further power draw by allowing their new Cyberdrive tech have full control over this port yet I would still prefer that they integrate and opt for a type C port because right now, only my main camera isn’t under type C so the xDSD isn’t thinking ahead in this aspect.

Connectivity and Stability

The xDSD’s S-Balanced/Lineout port is a versatile port which I would have personally liked how all balanced out ports should have been all along and not by going through the 2.5mm connection sysetm which although has its perks (sound-wise but not build-wise), I’m personally not a fan of. The 4.4mm pentaconn balanced connection is another story though. The S-Balanced/Lineout port works great and as advertised.
Speaking of DAPs and DACs, the xDSD ergonomically stacks well with most of my portable DAPs when the DAC/AMP function is used. The xDSD’s silhouette is great for this due to its almost phone-like width as well as its 4 installed rubber feets, this is where the included Velcro strips comes to play as well. The xDSD’s Burr-Brown PCM1793 Multibit DAC chip supports PCM768kHz & DSD512 at 24.6/22.6MHz, xDSD also got the TIDAL users back with its support for MQA tracks (88.2/96/176.4/192kHz). Its DAC function via my MSI GF62 8RE via Foobar2000 v1.4 performs great too with no hiccups as advertised.


Bluetooth connectivity is stuck at the almost ancient BT4.0, ancient in iFi Audio standards since basically, the tech that they have incorporated on the xDSD warrants that this should then and there support BT5.0. One thing is notable though about how iFi Audio implemented the BT4.0 output pathway for the xDSD, instead of the usual cookie cutter route used by the majority of BT output functionality, iFi Audio decided to route the forthcoming BT output signal towards the Burr-Brown DAC chip to ensure that you get that iFi Audio quality sound.

Sound Quality and Battery Life

The xDSD packs a 3.8V/2200mAh battery devoid of quick charge capability. I’ve used the xDSD mainly connected via USB off my laptop with a mix of 16/44 and 14/96 FLAC files and it easily lasts approximately 8-9 hours with a little noticeable warming on its aluminum body. BT use via my OnePlus3T device lasted roughly the same time (8-9 hours) as well with no dropouts of connection and with a great reliability and stability be it when inside my backpack or my jeans, stationary or mobile. The choice of having a dedicated charging port was also convenient especially in relation to my lifestyle which I have grouped my electronic devices which needs charging at a specific time and have them all charged unused as well as when used. I would however refrain from using the xDSD when charging as it gets way warmer than it should be which isn’t the best circumstances especially if you want to extend the xDSD’s lifespan. I would however doubt that since we audiophiles are mostly going to upgrade our stuff every once in a while.

That’s it, it’s the end of this realview. Oh yeah, almost forgot that we are here to talk about sound! It’s easy to be caught astray in checking all the cool stuff packed inside the xDSD that some would focus on the specifications more rather than giving this miniscule beast an actual listen. The iFI xDSD is damn dead silent and hiss absent on all my entry level IEMs (BGVP DM6, Magaosi K5 v2 and Whizzer Kylin) and some mid-tier IEMs (Custom Art FIBAE Black, Hisenior T4 and UFOEAR UFO-112) as well mid-tier full-sized cans (ATH AD900x and Sony MDR-CD900st)

The xDSD wired sound was tested with the Hisenior T4 which showcases an overall warm tonal ability along with MJ’s Thriller album in 16/44 FLAC(S/PDIF, xDuoo X10Tii) and via my MSI GF628RE laptop (USB, Foobar2000 v1.4). The xDSD gave out an overall engaging and lively tonal ability which rendered the Hisenior T4 more enjoyable with the low-end gaining a much controlled impact. The complimentary effect of the already dark sounding background of the T4 with the xDSD’s dead silent background allowed the midrange and upper midrange tones to transition with authority. The upper frequencies is where the xDSD likes to retain the IEM’s inherent ability while it cleans the low-end and enhances the midrange.

I’ve been pampered with LDAC use via my Sony CAS-1 and with the xDSD’s BT4.2 specification, my hopes weren’t high although the xDSD’s portability is taken into consideration. The BT sound of the xDSD sounded way better than what my other music players (xDuoo X3ii and xDuoo x10Tii) was able to offer, the better being defined as giving the overall sound more full-bodied and resolving with respective frequencies being right on timbre. The LDAC’s function on the Sony CAS-1 still trumps the iFi xDSD with how dark the background was yet it’s safe to say that the mid-level expectation I had with the xDSD’s BT sound was exceeded. The “Measure and Listen” filters exhibited miniscule sound signature changes with only a touch of micro detail clarity and retrieval as its main observable effects, I personally preferred the “Listen” filter.

Conclusion
With a name that already screams DSD in your face paired with a $399 price tag, iFi Audio’s xDSD needed to not only needs to meet high expectations but also surpass them at a high degree. Packed with a multitude of features which are completely absent in competing brands such as their 3D-Matrix+ and XBass+ tech as well as parading Cyberdrive power management platforms and S-Balanced tech made the xDSD's $199 in its price tag justifiable, the rest of the price tag can be attributed to the clean and balanced sound with ample power to make some headphones sing along with the premium aluminum aesthetic silhouette of the xDSD. The single key point of interest that tickles a potential xDSD buyer is the lack of LDAC and BT5.0/5.1 support which would have made the xDSD an almost complete portable DAC/AMP (2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced outputs says Hi).

Yet even with a lack of LDAC/ BT5.0/5.1 support, the xDSD was able to trounce my other portable BT devices and with great stability to boot which made that key point almost just a technical and numbers issue rather an actual real life complaint.

For the all the times that I used the iFi xDSD, it clearly made sense that the “i” in iFi Audio means improved. It’s safe to say that I love the iFi xDSD while only liking its price.
Pros: Lightweight
Easy connections (wired/Bluetooth)
Fast and clean Bluetooth connection
Amazing sound
HIgh quality and natural sounding DAC
Balanced
Powerful
Cons: Could have had USB-C (like XCan instead of Micro usb)
  • Let me start by saying this little gear has it all! It is BURR-fect! I am a teacher and am on the go all time whether it's a trip to the copy room, an hour of planning time, or moving from coffee shop to coffee shop to grade papers for my kiddos, I use this. It is extremely light, easy to velcro to the back of my iPhone SE and can connect wired (my traditionalist choice) or Bluetooth, it produces clean powerful sound.

I am not what you would call a bonafide audiophile, but I love listening to great music, with the best gear! I am going to compare this to my Centrance BlueDac, LH Labs V2+ Infinity, and Mojo. The comparison comes with my priority of using gear focused on portability, ease of use, sound quality, price, and weight.

Portability/Ease of Use:
This dac/amp is extremely portable, very much like a shrunk down Ifi IDSD BL in the palm of your hands minus the RCA output. I use the included velcro to attach my iPhone and it does not add much weight, size or bulk. I can stick it in my pocket, attach the apple cck and off I go. Using Bluetooth is a sinch as well. Once the Ifi xDSD is first connected via Bluetooth to your source, it will auto connect every time after this initial connection. With my Bluedac, connected to my phone via velcro and Bluetooth, it would produce the LTE phone signal buzz which basically made what Centrance called a wired or Bluetooth dac/amp, only a Bluetooth amp. This was frustrating so I was looking for its replacement soon after. This replacement came in the form of the Ifi xDSD which has zero hiss if you want to use its Bluetooth connection while being physically attached to a phone. This was a huge plus, as the chassis has a plastic bottom that allows for a clear signal path between Bluetooth components without sacrificing build quality (which the bluedac did with its 3D printed chassis that broke on me 3 times!). Overall, this kit is extremely portable and easy to use with its nice buttons, simple directions and multiple input/output options.

Sound Quality:
The Ifi xDSD sound is amazing. I love the BurrBrown Dac implementation as it provided all of my headphones (6xx, AudioQuest nighthawk, V-Moda M100, and Audeze iSine20) with enough power, depth, soundstage, and clarity. The sound is much like the mojo, but with a touch less warmth, but with more connection options and better battery life. I really enjoyed its sound. The Ifi xDSD provides the clear, punchy (x-bass) bass and wide soundstage (3D) options that are a nice addition for those wanting some extra options for their variety of cans. I truly enjoy its sound and have made it my everyday, go-to amp/dac for streaming tidal and playing hi-res files on my Hiby music player app.

Price/Weight:
The price for such a quality, usable and versatile amp/dac speaks for itself. I demoed the Fiio Q5 and while it has a nice option for changing of amps, I much prefer the Ifi xDSD for the price because of the sound, and it's super lightweight. This is a steal for such an advanced portable amp/dac of which I highly recommend for anyone who wants all the bells and whistles in a tiny form factor with Bluetooth.

Ifi XDSD + XCan:
Not only is the XDSD amazing on its own, if you are the person who needs just a bit more power for your Hifiman HE-6 or those high impedance cans that crave as much power as they can stomach, then ifi allows the monstrous, balanced, power of the XCan to suit your needs. I played around with using the 3.5 to 3.5 connector supplied in the XDSD accessories box to connect the XDSD and XCAN together to see what their capability was as a pair. The result was a booming, clean, simple set up that brings the best out of the Ifi xDSD's BurrBrown dac through to the addition of the XCAN's truly amazing power. The Ifi xCAN's pure power in addition to the Ifi xDSD's wonderfully implemented BurrBrown analog-like sounding dac is a tiny form factor desktop quality stack!

In conclusion, the Ifi xDSD is my portable amp/dac of choice of all on the market right now for the myriad of reasons stated in my review. All I can say now it go and enjoy it!
RockStar2005
RockStar2005
Great review ups!!
audiomonkey777
audiomonkey777
Contemplating the xDSD - already have iFi's nano BL. Nice review - thanks.
Pros: + Clear Sound
+ Good Dynamics
+ Wide Soundstage
+ Good Build Quality
+ Fairly Good Battery Life
+ Stylish and polished design
+ Works with everything, with no issues
+ Lots of Power
+ Very Portable
+ Fun overall device
Cons: - Fingerprint prone
- Battery Life could have been a bit longer
- Bluetooth SQ is not exactly the same as wired
iFi xDSD DAC/AMP Review - The Prodigy

iFi made a nifty little device, that can do a little of everything, and which doesn't fail in any way to satisfy the needs of the modern audiophile, including the need of a nice-looking device, making xDSD is easy to recommend to anyone looking for a simple-to-use, ergonomic and versatile device that can power almost anything that's portable, and which can sing any way your heart desires.




Introduction

iFi xDSD is the new DAC/AMP from iFi, coming to replace and redefine what iFi products are, with a much more stylish design, a much more smaller shape, and promising a sound that will make it worthy of being an iFi product. We'll see what it is capable of, and whether it deserves its place amongst other iFi products.

iFi Audio is a large audio company from UK, part of the respected AMR Group (Abbingdon Music Research). They are exemplary in every way possible, when it comes to customer satisfaction, finding answers to any issue a customer has, and to being generally very friendly. You can always rely on iFi for warranty, and you can expect the best experience by purchasing from and working with them.

It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with iFi, I am not receiving any incentive for this review or to sweeten things out. This review is not sponsored nor has been paid for by iFi or anyone else. I'd like to thank iFi for providing the sample for the review. The sample was provided along with iFi's request for an honest and unbiased review. This review reflects my personal experience with iFi xDSD. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in iFi xDSD find their next music companion.



About me

https://www.audiophile-heaven.com/p/about.html



Packaging

First things first, let's get the packaging out of the way:































iFi's package hasn't changed much since I first reviewed iDSD Black Label, which was years ago now, but still, that one is going strong. Fast forward to today, we're being introduced to a much smaller package, which still keeps the amazing attention to detail, and the large number of extras we're used to seeing from iFi. I am quite happy that iFi is keeping a tradition from including useful extras with their products, and there's hardly anything I can think off that would be further needed, compared to their package formula.

With xDSD, you get:

xDSD Unit
OTG Cable for MicroUSB (basic black one)
USB Adapters
Velcro Lock strips that you can glue to xDSD, as well as to your transport for it (No staps stacking!)
More USB Adapters
A carrying and protection pouch


In fact, now that I typed that list, there is something I think I'd want with this package, and that is a Type-C OTG Cable, but happily iFi designs and sells some high-quality ones on their site. Those iFi OTG accessory cables are much better than the original ones, they are harder, they keep memory of the shape you give them, so they stay bended (not pulling on the connectors after you connect them), and they feel quite nice, having just the right length for me.


For the record, I've been using the Type-C iFi OTG Adapter for xDSD and my smartphone for the past 2 months or so, and I can say with 100% certainty that it causes no damage to the smartphone's jack, even though I often throw them in my pocket, so you can totally get one if you want a better OTG cable, for ergonomics and overall quality. I can't say I noticed any significant sonic difference, but given the affordable nature of an OTG cable, I'd rather use a good one.



What to look in when purchasing a high-end DAC/AMP (new page)

https://www.audiophile-heaven.com/p/what-to-lookl.html



Technical Specifications

USB Input: up to PCM768kHz &amp; DSD512 (24.6/22.6MHz)
S/PDIF Coaxial and Optical Input: up to 192kHz/24Bit
Dynamic Range: &gt; 113dB (A)
Volume Control: -101dB…0dB in 1dB steps
Output power: &gt; 2.82V/500 mW @ 16 Ohm
&gt; 3.7V/270mW @ 50 Ohm
&gt; 3.8V/48 mW @ 300 Ohm
&gt; 3.8V/24 mW @ 600 Ohm
Line ot Level: &gt; 2.1V @ 0dBFS (&amp; 0dB Volume)
THD &amp;N (1V/16R): &lt; 0.005%
Output Impedance: &lt; 1 Ohm
Battery: 3.8V/2200mAh
Dimensions: 95 (l) x67 (w) x19 (h) mm
Weight: 127g (0.28 Ibs)
Warranty period: 12 months



Build Quality/Aesthetics/UI/Firmware

iFi xDSD is quite different from the typical industrial-looking device iFi created so far, this time their design being a very smooth and liquid one, xDSD feeling like a true high-end tech piece you're carrying with you. People will be pleased seeing you carrying one, and it really looks pretty.







The finish on it is fairly good, although if you want to avoid scratches, you should take care of it. Like, it is one of those mirror-style finishes, and although it seems fairly resistant to scratches, I wouldn't place it in my pocket right next to my keys.

This being said, the build quality, is exceptional, this is one tightly packed device that feels like a solid cut of metal, no loose connectors, no loose ends. The glossy, well polished finnish is stunning, but it is prone to fingerprints. The volume wheel is a digitally controlled analogue volume control unit, and this basically means that you don't have to deal with channel imbalance at lower volumes, but you don't get the reduced detail of a digital implementation, the best of both worlds. To explain what this does, basically, the volume acts on a digital control, which then acts on an analogue control unit.


The volume has a button that lights on a few colors, and that one is a really nice addition to xDSD. Since I now have Chord Mojo in for testing, I have to say both companies were nice to add colors to their products, I like it.

The buttons on xDSD nice and clicky, nothing loose. In the front, there is a single button, besides the one on the volume wheel. This acts as a cycle between the effects, and a combination of them. Generally, when xDSD starts, it starts with X-Bass turned on, but with 3D turned off. Pressing the button cycles you through the modes, X-Bass Only, 3D only, both active, and both turned off.


Long pressing the power button will turn on or off the device. Short pressing it, after the unit is already turned on, mutes the sound, and it strats blinking. Good trick to have on hand if you're walking, and you need to stop your music quickly.

Regardless of how long you press the button, if you first press the Effects Button, while the unit is turned on, then you press the power button, this cycles between the unit being in DAC Mode, where the Headphone Output acts as a line-out, and Headphone Output. If you want to feed an active speaker setup, or a Headphone AMP, you should take into account that using the DAC Mode means that all effects are turned off, as those are integrated in the amplification stage. The nice part about the iFi effects is that those are full analogue effects, so you don't have to deal with low quality digital effects, but you have some fine-class analogue well-implemented effects to work with.

And as to how well they work, the X-Bass, basically thickens the bass, adds a few dB down low, and a few dB in the whole bass, it is a nice effect for a headphone that needs a little push. It is not a very strong effect, somewhere around 6dB of bass or less are added in practice. The bass doesn't bleed in the midrange, so you can expect a clean, and nice-feeling impact added to your music. The 3D is a little more fiddly, it will work really well with some headphones, but it won't work quite that well with others. This is a slightly more complex approach and it basically enhances certain areas in the upper midrange, treble, and high-treble to get more width in the sound. I find it very useful for headphones where I'd naturally enhance the treble, like Audeze LCD-MX4, but I don't engage it when using Sennheiser IE800.



At the back of the device, you can find the main USB Input, which is Type-A, which is not that unusual in today's devices, but rather rare outside of audio applications nowadays. There is a microUSB port for charging, as xDSD does not charge from the main USB plug, or at least out-of-the box it doesn't. This means two things, one wonderful, and one slightly inconvenient. The wonderful part is that you can connect xDSD to virtually any smartphone, and it won't drain your smarty like crazy, so you can totally use it without any stress. The inconvenient part is that you need to connect two cables to it if you're using it as a Desktop USB DAC or Desktop DAC/AMP, and you occupy two USB ports, which, if you have a laptop with just few outputs, may mean that you require to consider an external hub.

Another important feature at the back is the Measure / Listen knob, which basically sets the Interpolation Filter to a measure mode (more natural sound, smoother, better suited for musicality and music), and listen (which basically reproduces perfect measurements, but sounds a bit too textured, has a tad too much detail in the midrange, which may be fatiguing). Nowadays I find myself using "Listen" more regardless of the headphones xDSD is connected to.

The software tends to be glitch-free, and I haven't ran into a single software glitch a single time, though I do consider that having the single LED power indicator at the back, just below the microUSB charging connector makes it hard to notice, and I ran out of power once or twice because of it.


I found it a major improvement on xDSD, compared to iDSD BL Micro, that the rubber legs are already set in place.



The unit gets warm in usage, but it never struck me as hot, and if it is cold outside, it doesn't even get warm, if you're pocketing it while walking.

Now, compared to most other iFi products, this is probably where they made the most major improvement, xDSD is truly pocketable! In fact, it is so pocketable, that I never even brought my DAP / Stack bag with me to Bucharest, and I left it at my home, last time I visited that place. Of course, now it's Winter in Romania, and quite cold, so it fits easily into jacket pockets, but still, I love how little it adds to the size of my smartphone.

Connected to a PC, it simply works, the iFi USB drivers are pure love, simple and reliable, it works plug and play every time, and it kept working through all Windows Updates.


I found a minor inconvenience in the fact that you need to activate the USB BT by pressing the effects button after it has already been paired. Not a major thing, but it made the pairing process a bit more complicated than it needed to be. The sound out of BT is quite different from the sound straight from a USB Input, and not in a necessarily positive way. There are headphones that sound better with BT connection, like AIWA ARC-1, but here, xDSD sounds better, considerably better, using its USB input rather than Bluetooth.

On the right side, there is no delay in using it as a USB DAC, to watch movies and other content, and there is no delay when using it as a USB DAC from PC.


All in all, iFi xDSD is built like a champ, stands well to usage, and has all the bells and whistles you could wish for in a device at this price, but I'd consider using the wired more whenever possible.



Sound Quality

The signature of iFi xDSD is quite the one, rather neutral, clean, clear, well separated, and with a great amount of detail. If we're talking about devices in this price range, it needs to find with other 400 USD devices, so even the bigger iDSD Black Label Micro is among its enemies, as well as DAPs in this price range, like Cayin N5ii, and Opus #1s.



This being said, the bass of xDSD is natural in speed, working well with all types of music and all kinds of headphones. When engaging the X-Bass setting, you get a larger bass, with a better impact and overall presence, much more pleasing with headphones that don't have enough bass. It actually has a really positive impact on IEMs like Sennheiser IE800, which may be a tad bright and too thin at times, giving them just a bit more thickness to balance out their really sparkly top end. I can hear a lot of deep hits with xDSD, when connecting it to LCD-MX4, and engaging this X-Bass, and the overall bass of the device is solid enough to make a name for it.

The midrange is fairly neutral, without a strong coloration either way. If there is something, there is a fine tilting towards a very slight warm tonality, but this may be given also by the "Listen" setting I used predominantly when testing it. The overall revealing ability is fairly good, especially for this price range, and it is always fun to hear something more organic, as this is a good word to describe xDSD. It is a touch less organic and less smooth than its bigger brother, iDSD Micro BL, but this may be for the better, as it gives xDSD better versatility with metal and more aggressive music. Voices are natural, and ever so slightly forward, pointing to an ever-so-slightly intimate soundstage.

The treble is sparkle and extends very well, but doesn't lean towards being too smooth, nor towards being too grainy. It is just as textured as it should be, as present as it should be, really neutral, and well expressed. The good overall treble actually balances out the slightly forward soundstage to give xDSD a nicely-large soundstage, with air and space between instruments being good enough to mentally place things in the musical scene.




Soundstage

The soundstage of xDSD is actually not the widest out there, being on the verge of what I'd call slightly intimate, but then there's the good part with having the 3D effects employed by iFi. While they may not sound their best with absolutely every singe IEM and Headphone out there, those effects worked just fine with about 80% of the headphones I tried them with, bringing good results with Audeze LCD-MX4, Ultrasone Signature DXP, and FLC8N. On the other hand, the enhancement was a tad much with Sennheiser IE800 and HIFIMAN RE800Silver. In its natural shape, the soundstage is a bit wider than it is deep, presenting a few layers of music between the listener and the source, with the right earphones. The stereo separation is incredibly good though, and there's very little to no crosstalk, and the instrument separation, is excellent, as well, leading to a fun and enjoyable final presentation.



Textures

The ADSR / PRaT area is now renamed to Textures, as I always made the connection between the impulse response of a headphone with how the texture is rendered, since I composed music using synths before, and this made sense, but I realised that it may be more straight-forward to name this area Textures. With the filter engaged to "Listen", you get an organic and natural overall presentation with a natural to slightly slow response of the bass, a natural response of the midrange, and a natural response of the treble, textures are fairly natural all-around. Engaging the 3D soundstage doesn't change this, but engaging the X-Bass slows down the bass a little, resulting in a slower overall bass.


With the Filter engaged to "Measure", xDSD plays a quicker overall texture in the midrange, and quite considerably so, along with a slightly quicker texture in the bass and the treble. Again, engaging X-Bass will slow the bass a bit, but now by a large margin. This one setting will be awesome for those who are really into hearing more detail, and who want to give their IEMs and Headphones a bit of an "Etymotic" flavour, without getting a pair of ER4XR themselves.



Potable Usage

xDSD is a portable, and a desktop unit at the same time. It is mainly made to be portable, by having a small body design, being lightweight, and being easy to stack, but it can also play the role of a veritable DAC in a complex audio system, for those who want to have one device to take with them when traveling around.



As a portable device, it is light enough to make a good stack, and with the proper iFi USB OTG cables, it actually makes a neat and tidy setup. There are no downsides to using it in this mode, it has good controls, well-placed buttons and controls, the volume wheel is easy to access while in a pocket, and you can mute it easily while walking, so you don't have to worry about that, you don't set the Measure / Listen filter often, so that button is in the back, and the setting button in the front is actually welcome and well-placed, easy to access.

The battery life is good enough, but I'd prefer for future devices to be a bit thicker, but feature a slightly longer battery life, as with xDSD, it lasts about 8 hours when playing music almost at max volume, for the entire time. This is not bad by any means, it just happens that I sometimes take longer trips and realise that I need a backup or a charger of some sort.

It is good for hiking and exploring, if you're around your town though.



Bluetooth, while not sounding as good as wired with xDSD, has excellent performance, and you can throw it in a bad, and enjoy your music from your smartphone, but this usage makes less sense, since you'd have to adjust the volume using xDSD's wheel anyways, as that has a well-implemented volume control, while adjusting it from your smartphone will degrade sonic quality.

As a desktop unit, it looks nice, it looks fun, and sits well on a desk, its DAC is potent enough to make up for a great overall experience. Here, the only two complaints one can have, are the cable in the back, the blue one, for the USB DAC function being rather thick and more complicated to hide, if you want a really neat and tidy desk, and the charging cable, which adds to the cables you need to manage for using it (also the cables you need to connect / disconnect when using it).

All considered, xDSD has great portability, much better than the original iDSD Micro BL had, and it is worthy to be named a nice portable DAC/AMP. In fact, when compared to something like DH1000 from HIDIZS, which I liked quite a bit, it is more portable, because DH1000 has no rubber feet, and it kinda rubs together with the smartphone or DAP, while xDSD stays well separated from it.




Comparisons

There are lots of products that should be compared to xDSD in terms of ability, but for today, iDSD Black Label Micro (500 USD), Opus #1s (400 USD), and FiiO Q5 (350 USD) will be today's enemies for iFi xDSD



iFi xDSD vs FiiO Q5 (AM03A) - Of course, we should start with the more dangerous enemy. iDSD BL is just the bigger version, and #1s is a DAP, so the one devices that places xDSD in most danger is iFi's key card, Q5. The package they come with is all-inclusive for both, both have a good amount of accessories, both are well packaged, and both are nicely presented. The build quality is full metal for both, both are solid devices, and both have well-placed buttons for one handed control, being easily stackable. The one thing you start to notice as a difference is the fact that Q5 has a removable AMP bottom, which makes for a neat difference, when you consider that for 100USD you can upgrade Q5 to an entirely better sound (with AMP5). xDSD gains some points in terms of aesthetics, with its glass finish, but loses some when it comes to the Bluetooth abilities, as it has its sound changed quite a bit in BT mode, while Q5 sounds more similar between its bluetooth and wired mode. The battery life is similar, too similar to make up for a real difference, and the usage is flawless for both, when it comes to their software, neither has any bugs to talk about. The sound, though, is quite different. The first difference that comes in sight, is FiiO's versatility, with a modular design, you're not locked to AM03A, which is a very wide-sounding AMP, wider than xDSD in its default configuration, though xDSD is a bit deeper in its scene presentation. The detail levels are similar, with xDSD being more organic in the way it presents each musical note, and with Q5 with AM03A being more revealing, more precise. Here's a matter of musicality vs technical ability, and each does their job quite well. The signature is neutral for both, and both are good at driving full-sized headphones, but while xDSD is better than Q5 with its AM03A, if you add AM05 to Q5, it has better driving abilities, with better control, and more power in actual usage. Of course, then Q5 becomes 50$ more expensive than xDSD. Now, if you're wondering which you should get, the first question you have to ask, is whether you want a one-piece device, like xDSD, or a modular device, like Q5. Then, if you feel you'll upgrade Q5, or just want the modularity to be there, because if you're not taking advantage of adding AM05 to Q5, then xDSD makes a better overall deal. If you want to take the time to upgrade Q5, tweak it, and if you want to take advantage of its Bluetooth, then it may make a better overall device for you, but keep in mind the design and ergonomics of each when making your choice, as, as much as we want to deny it, we all like one better than the other aesthetically.

iFi xDSD vs Opus #1s - You may wonder who would ever place a DAC/AMP against a DAP, but you also have to wonder, if you have exactly 400USD, and you want to make a solution for music listening, wouldn't you consider both options? The truth is that most people don't always consider all the options they have, but sometimes, something that wasn't initially evident may actually have been a better overall ending. With Opus #1s, the build quality and package are not very relevant. What is relevant though, is the fact that Opus #1s has two microSD slots, and almost no DAP inexpensive enough, and absolutely no smartphone has two microSD slots, so here, if you have a huge music library, you'll probably want to go with #1s. Then, the ergonomics, are better for #1s compared to xDSD, because, as much as we'd want to deny, #1s is a single device, while xDSD will always be part of a stack, and that means a longer device, with cables hanging out, and all. Here's where the winning points for #1s end though, because xDSD has much better Bluetooth abilities, as it can connect to a wider array of devices. This being said, xDSD is more of a BT received, while #1s is more of a BT sender. The sound, though, is generally in favor of xDSD, and this explains why you may want to invest more in a DAP that has similar sonic abilities. xDSD has better driving power, and better overall control, better detail, and a more organic sound. #1 makes up for those a little, by having a slightly wider soundstage, but then xDSD wins in terms of dynamics as well. This being said, if you're looking for a DAP at this price, and if you have a huge collection, #1s makes a lot of sense, while if you're looking for a DAC/AMP, and if you like Streaming music (you can do that with a smartphone you'd use xDSD with), and if you value sonic performance above all, xDSD provides a better sound for virtually the same price, making the better choice, provided you already have a source (which reminds me that #1s makes an awesome source, and you could pair them together, if you already have one of them).

iFi xDSD vs iDSD BL Micro - The big boy enemy of xDSD was lefty at towards the ending of the comparisons area, mostly because it doesn't make much of a comparison, in terms of who'd use both. In short, BL Micro is a much much larger device, 5-6 times larger in volume when compared to xDSD. It is just as well put together, but it is much larger, with a much more industrial look to it. iDSD Micro has no Bluetooth, but it does have the X-Bass and the 3D sound effects built-in, which means you can still take advantage of iFi's excellent enhancement implementation (This is not a DSP, Digital Signal Processing, as xDSD has fully analogue circuits doing all the work for your ears). One big difference in desktop usage, is that iDSD BL Micro has a dedicated Line Out Output on the back, which xDSD does not. iDSD BL Micro also requires just one cable for both data and power, while xDSD requires two, making iDSD more suited for desktop usage, if you want a clean desk. Now the sound, is much much better on iDSD BL Micro. It has much better detail, a much better driving power, a lot more detail, an insanely larger soundstage, with a deeper presentation, with more layering and a better instrument separation. This being said, it is more laid-back, and more smooth, while xDSD is more energetic and has a more uplifting overall presentation. Now, if you might be wondering why would you go for xDSD while the same company makes a much better sounding product, the answer is that iDSD BL Micro is not really portable.



It is transportable at most. This being said, xDSD is fully portable, easily stack-able, and you can always enjoy your favorite metal piece in the bus, without having people staring at you both because you're a meatlhead and because you have a weird device, now their only reason to stare being the questionable music they can hear, because you are listening to aggressive metal at high volumes... Wait, no, this is usually me doing this. At any rate, if you're looking for a neat desktop device, you should totally consider iDSD BL, but be noted, that it isn't what I'd consider taking with me when meeting the parents-in-law and trying to make a good impression, while xDSD is something you can even take with you at a starbucks and enjoy a coffee, without raising any eyebrows. Also, of the two, xDSD is the only which has Bluetooth abilities.



Pairing

Now, xDSD pairs really well. So well, that I think it is universal. It would be possible to list my entire collection of headphones here, and it would still make great pairings, but I'll pick a few favorites that really pair well with xDSD, and which make a neat setup for both taking a fun walk through a busy city, traveling, or just discovering joy while at home.



iFi xDSD + Ultrasone Signature DXP - This is one pairing I've used quite a lot, not only because it sounds good, but also because it is portable, and looks stylish. The glass on the cups of Signature DXP pairs really well with the glossy surface of iFi xDSD. Now, the sound, is actually helped by those little features of xDSD, the 3D and the X-Bass, as, although Signature DXP does not require any of those to sound enjoyable, they give it a bit more sparkle, a bit more impact, making the whole headphone sound more dynamic, more explosive, more V-shaped, more vivid, more impressive. The textures with xDSD are rendered really nice and organic, and while some older Ultrasone Headphones were a tad too sparkly in the top end, with xDSD's organic nature, and with Ultrasone's new technology, you can always expect a natural experience with this pairing. This pairing is versatility at its finest, being a pairing that can play both your Led Zeppelin, Jill Tracy and even Rob Zombie without batting an eye. Furthermore, there wasn't a single music style that sounded bad on them, and I could open heartedly recommend the pairing regardless

iFi xDSD + FLC8N - While the review for FLC8N just went live, and I had a lot of fun writing about them and listening to them, pairing them with xDSD is something I haven't talked about in their review. Now, FLC8N is one of those IEMs that really doesn't require the X-Bass, nor the 3D effects of xDSD, both of those being potentially detrimental to the overall sound of FLC8N, giving them maybe a bit too much sparkle and maybe a bit too much bass. Even so, in its default configuration, xDSD is able to show excellent control and detail with FLC8N, and the soundstage is quite huge, which you can expect from FLC8N paired with most sources, while the midrange is rather organic and natural. The other big surprise with FLC8N is the treble, which is very sparkly, and very clear, but it is never too bright or grainy, making up for a really fun trip with both electronic, and metal music. Jazz and pop also sounds quite intriguing and blissful. The one type of music this pairing isn't really made for is vocal and voice-centric music, as FLC8N has a recessed midrange, and regardless of the fact that xDSD has a slightly forward midrange, there are other options for those who want the midrange to be the most forward element in their music.


iFi xDSD + iBasso IT04 - This is another pairing I am really a fan of, not only because the organic midrange of xDSD pairs really well with IT04's smoother character, but also because IT04 is one of the more neutral IEMs, and it really sounds better when you engage the X-Bass feature on xDSD, resulting in a much more fun and pleasant overall sound. Of course, there are lots of people who prefer the quick and tight experience of IT04 as it is, and don't feel the need to enhance it in any way, but if you ever wanted to make things a little balanced, one of the most naturally sounding solutions is at your fingertips, which is part of why xDSD is so convenient, because it can improve the sound without you having to know how to EQ something out, and without all the hassle of having to switch between EQ profiles between headphones. Makes a big difference for those who just want a simple device that works.



Value and Conclusion

We had a long nice talk about xDSD from iFi, and it is time to reach a conclusion. Let's begin by admitting that we've been talking about a 400 USD device, which is not cheap by any means, and this is quite up in the midrange for DAC/AMP devices, being quite close to what a full-blown desktop Tube Amplifier like Felix Echo costs. This being said, iFi xDSD makes itself remarked in a few ways that will surely allow it to survive in the market, even in this crazy-quickly changing world.



First off, the build quality is excellent, and FiiO thought about everything when they designed the package, so you don't have to worry about your favorite accessory missing. You can even add some of the best OTG cables for a little price, by also ordering one of iFi's own OTG cables when getting an xDSD.

The build quality is really solid, as it is quite literally make mostly from metal, with a glossy, high-end look, and with an accessible front dial for adjusting volume / muting the unit, with an effects button right next to that, and with the audio jack on the same side. The back further allows for more sonic customization, with a Listen / Measure Filter, which will change the way textures are reproduced.


The effects are implemented well, and they sound very good, not coloring the sound in a negative way, and I found myself using them more often than not. There's even a Bluetooth connection, which has some further effects sprinkled into it, but the unit will still sound a bit better when using it via a cable than when using it by BT.

The overall device operation is very easy, and intuitive, and it is hassle-free, like is the DAC operation, as its software has been written really well.

The sound performance is quite good, if you like a slightly intimate sound, with a natural and organic overall presentation, a fairly good depth, and a good resolution for the price. You get all the extension you can want both ways, and xDSD is easy to pair with virtually anything, plus you get the advantage of having the X-Bass and 3D effects at your fingertips, making xDSD quite a good overall options regardless of whether you have a bright headphone, and you'd like it to be a bit darker, or if you're having a dark headphone, and want to give it a little more sparkle.



In the end, iFi made a nifty little device, that can do a little of everything, and which doesn't fail in any way to satisfy the needs of the modern audiophile, including the need of a nice-looking device, making xDSD is easy to recommend to anyone looking for a simple-to-use, ergonomic and versatile device that can power almost anything that's portable, and which can sing any way your heart desires.


Audiophile-Heaven Link: https://www.audiophile-heaven.com/2018/12/ifi-xdsd-dac-amp-review-prodigy.html


Playlist used for this review

While we listened to considerably more songs than those named in this playlist, those are excellent for identifying certain aspects of the sound, like PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you're searching for new most, most of them being rather catchy.

Bats - Gamma Ray Burst: Second Date
Eskimo Callboy - Frances
Incubus - Summer Romance
Electric Six - Dager! High Voltage
Kishida Cult - High School Of The Dead
Dimmu Borgir - Dimmu Borgir

Breking Benjamin - I Will Not Bow
Thousand Foot Krutch - The Flame In All Of Us

Gorillaz - Feel Good Inc.
Infected Mushroom - Song Pong
Attack Attack - Kissed A Girl
Doctor P - Bulletproof
Maximum The Hormone - Rock n Roll Chainsaw
Rob Zombie - Werewolf, Baby!
Escape The Fate - Gorgeous Nightmare
SOAD - Chop Suey
Ken Ashcorp - Absolute Territory
Machinae Supremacy - Need For Steve
Ozzy Osbourne - I Don't Wanna Stop
Crow'sclaw - Loudness War
Eminem - Rap God
Stromae - Humain À L'eau
Sonata Arctica - My Selene
Justin Timberlake - Sexy Back
Metallica - Fuel
Veil Of Maya - Unbreakable
Masa Works - Golden Japang
REOL - Luvoratorrrrry

Korn - Word Up!
Papa Roach - ... To be Loved
Fever The Ghost - Source
Fall Out Boy - Immortals
Green Day - Know The Enemy
Mindless Self Indulgence - London Bridge
A staic Lullaby - Toxic
Royal Republic - Addictive
Astronautalis - The River, The Woods
We Came As Romans - My Love
Skillet - What I Believe
Man With A Mission - Smells Like Teen Spirit
Yasuda Rei - Mirror
Mojo Juju - Must Be Desire
Falling Up - Falling In Love
Manafest - Retro Love
Rodrigo Y Grabriela - Paris
Zomboy - Lights Out
Muse - Resistance
T.A.T.U &amp; Rammstein - Mosaku
Grey Daze - Anything, Anything
Katy Perry - Who Am I Living For
Maroon 5 - Lucky Strike
Machinae Supremacy - Killer Instinct


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I hope my review is helpful to you!

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audiomonkey777
audiomonkey777
Good thorough review - thanks. Great playlist and beautiful photos. I currently have the nano BL and thinking about an xDSD.
Dobrescu George
Dobrescu George
Pros: Incredible sound quality, strong build, very lightweight and slender, battery life, impressive feature *offerings*, good power. Intangible difference in sound quality from wireless or wired modes.
Cons: Price is a hard sell over the Micro iDSD BL. Instruction manual. Not a very noticeable difference having the main selling features on/off (3D+/XBass).
This review has been edited to correct my mistake I made in about the Features section of the combi. I was able to try the unit out again for a few days and correctly utilized the wireless mode I had such an issue with originally. The rest of the review was correct.



During my few years I’ve been reviewing audio products, there’s been a few brands that I’ve had the honor of coming to both learn about and listen to several of their products and consistently be impressed with. One of those such brands is iFi. It seems that every product that I’ve the honor of being able to listen to and/or review I’m always impressed with. Now enter another of their offerings into the mobile market, the xDSD. Coming in at twice the price of its iDSD BL older sibling that I really came to love, I’m quite interested to see what it brings to the table.


A little about me

I would like to say that first and foremost I am NOT an “audiophile” but rather an audio enthusiast. I listen to music to enjoy it. Do I prefer a lossless source? Yes, of course. But I can still be very happy streaming from Pandora or even my YouTube “My Mix” playlist. I also prefer equipment that sounds the best to me personally regardless of what frequency response it has or rather or not it's “sonically accurate” and I always have and shall continue to encourage others to do the same.

I'm a firefighter for both the civilian and military sector and the cliché of wanting to do this since I was born couldn't be more present with me. I've worked hard over the last several years to earn this position and now it's time for me to work even harder to keep it.

My interests/hobbies are powerlifting, fishing and relaxing to audio products and reviewing them to help other decide on what products would work for them. Few things make me as an audio enthusiast/review feel more accomplished than when someone tells me that I helped them find the type of sound they've always been looking for.

Now, the sound signature I personally favor is a relaxing, warm and sensual sound that just drifts me away in the emotional experience of the music being performed. Yes, accuracy is still important but I will happily sacrifice some of that if I'm presented with a clean, warm sound that can wisp me away into an experience that makes me yearn for more.

My ideal signature are that of respectably forward mids and upper bass range with the bass being controlled but with some slight decay. I like my treble to have nice extension and detail reveal with a smooth roll off up top as to not become harsh in the least. Examples of products that have given me chills and keep giving me the yearning for more feels are the (in no particular order) Bowers & Wilkins P7, Oppo PM-1/2, Empire Ears Hermes VI & Zeus XIV, Audeze LCD-XC, Meze Headphones 99 Classics.

Equipment used at least some point during the review

-Headphone(s)

-Empire Ears Hermes VI

-Meze 99 Classic

-Oppo PM-1

-Sennheiser HD650

-Sources

-LG V20/HP Pavilion

-Playing Pandora, YouTube, and various format personal music

Disclaimer

I am by no means sponsored by this company or any of its affiliates. They were kind enough to send me a product for an arranged amount of time in exchange for my honest opinion. I am making no monetary compensation for this review.

The following is my take on the product being reviewed. It is to be taken “with a grain of salt” per say and as I always tell people, it is YOUR opinion that matters. So regardless of my take or view on said product, I highly recommend you listen to it yourself and gauge your own opinion.



The Opening Experience

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Why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience

Please allow me to explain why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience with a product. Maybe it’s due to my southern roots in the hills of eastern Kentucky, but I’ve always been raised under the pretense of when you introduce yourself to someone for the first time you present yourself with confidence, class, character, pride, and competence. You greet the other person with a true warm smile, eye contact and a firm handshake. Anything less or short implies to other person that you either don’t care about them, are too full of yourself, too busy to be bothered by the likes of them, or worse, just generally disrespectful.

As a consumer, I take this same belief to when I open a new product. Why? Because think about it this way. How else can a company introduce themselves to their customers? How do they present their products? Are they packaged with pride and presented in such a way that makes the listener eager to listen to them? Or maybe they’re just wrapped up and placed in an available space. How about the box itself? Is it bogged down with jargon that says look at this, look what I can do. I’m better than anything on the market and here’s why read this and check out that. Or, is the package clean, simplistic and classy? As if saying to the customer ‘Good day, pleasure to meet your acquaintance. Please give me a listen and allow me to show you what I can do and allow my actions to speak louder than my words.’

This is why I feel so strongly about the initial presentation of a product, and I feel it’s truly a shame more people don’t. But with all that aside, let’s discuss how this products introduced itself shall we?



As with about all of iFi products the xDSD is delivered very professionally albeit in my opinion a bit cluttered. The outer packaging is iFi’s standard white box with the product pictured on the front and a bit of features the product has. The sides and back continue this with the back being in much greater degree with input/output power etc… listed. Though I can understand the specs being printed on the packaging somewhat I still personally believe the vast majority of it can be placed inside a pamphlet on the inside of the box.

As you open the exterior cover and the inner box, which is a solid white box with only the iFi logo printed on the top (which is what I like seeing), you’re greeted with the owners manual and startup guide, a cloth pouch that holds the xDSD inside, and a square box that holds A LOT of cables and adaptors and the like.

I feel like I’ve received a consistent handshake from iFi as I have with all the previous unboxings I’ve done from them. I was delivered a very nice product with the level of care and conscious thought that I personally appreciate seeing company’s take the time to put together, and I at least appreciate it.


Construction

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The construction of the xDSD is, as I’ve come to expect from iFi, very well made. The vast majority of the frame is of an aluminum like material with minimal plastic, that at least I could see. The front of the xDSD consists of a 3.5mm balanced OR unbalanced output port, the input source and sample rate lights, the volume knob/power button/mode switch (as I’ll discuss later), 3D+ and XBass+ identifier light and the settings/bluetooth button. The bottom has 4 rubber feet to keep it from scratching both itself as well as the product it’s paired with. Finally, the back has a 3.5mm line out port (yup, it can also be used in line out mode bypassing the amp completely), usb jack, listen/measure filter switch and lastly a micro USB charging port (which I wish would’ve been a type C but oh well).

I believe iFi did a great job in the build quality of their xDSD. It’s very lightweight yet feels structurally sound in my hands. It’s slim and only minimally adds to the size of my phone that I’ve tethered the xDSD to, so my pocket isn’t maxed out. So well done.


Specs (copied straight from the iFi website)

USB Input:

up to PCM768kHz & DSD512 (24.6/22.6MHz)

S/PDIF Coaxial and Optical Input:

up to 192kHz/24Bit

Dynamic Range:

> 113dB (A)

Volume Control:

-101dB…0dB in 1dB steps

Output power:

> 2.82V/500 mW @ 16 Ohm

> 3.7V/270mW @ 50 Ohm

> 3.8V/48 mW @ 300 Ohm

> 3.8V/24 mW @ 600 Ohm

Line out Level:

> 2.1V @ 0dBFS (& 0dB Volume)

THD &N (1V/16R):

< 0.005%

Output Impedance:

< 1 Ohm

Battery:

3.8V/2200mAh

Dimensions:

95 (l) x66.5 (w) x19 (h) mm

Weight:

127g (0.28 Ibs)

Warranty period:

12 months

Instruction manual (tells what the indicator lights etc… show)

Features *CORRECTED*

Like most iFi products, it’s not simply an insert here product. The xDSD is not only a portable amp and dac (or combi as I call them) but it also has a few, pretty darned neat, settings that I believe set it apart from others in the combi offering.

The first feature(s), that I noticed at least, is that the xDSD has 2 available modes that you can take advantage of, them being 3D+ and XBass+. Now, as unfortunate as it is, I personally could not hear any tangible difference in sound when switching between the modes. The XBass+ I completely heard nothing different and the 3D+ I kinda sorta heard a little bit different sound. This was really disappointing because I have SO much praise for it when I heard it on the iCAN Pro (granted it’s MUCH bigger and MUCH more expensive). Something I think would have made it better though is the ability to turn on/off each mode individually vs having to cycle through them like you currently do. I still don’t believe I would hear much but having the ability to turn it off and immediately back on would have really helped test if there’s a difference or not.

The next thing I noticed is that it’s Bluetooth capable. Admittedly, I only used the Bluetooth setting to test it for my review for I personally can foresee very few instances where I’ll not have my phone on me but will a pair of headphones and the xDSD. But during the time I was using the xDSD in wireless mode I will say, it’s, at least from my memory, the cleanest sounding bluetooth that I’ve ever heard. I went from wireless mode to wired mode and, at least personally, couldn’t tell any difference in sound quality. I can already hear the mobs lighting their torches at that sentence but I really couldn’t. Now, while it was in wireless mode I was able to hear a SLIGHTLY more noticeable difference between having the 3D+ and XBass features on or off, so that did give it some added feature but I must stress, to my ears, the difference was very slight.
To switch between wired and wireless mode is quite simple (though it's not listen under the wireless mode in the instruction manual [it's under the power section]), while the unit is off, hold the power button down until the light changes from green/blue to the other color and then once it changes, simply release the button. The xDSD should also automatically go into pairing mode at this point as well. However, if it doesn't all you need to do is, while it's on and in wireless mode, hold down the settings button for about 3 seconds and it will force pair to your device.

So overall I think that iFi did a really good job with making a well made wireless combi unit with some cool features. Though I personally didn't hear too much of a difference with the 3D+ and XBass, that's not to say others will not. They did do an amazing job with the no loss of sound quality (which I'll of course touch on next) when going from wireless to wired mode. My only real complain is that I wish the instructions would be organised a bit better.

Features

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Like most iFi products, it’s not simply an insert here product. The xDSD is not only a portable amp and dac (or combi as I call them) but it also has a few, pretty darned neat, settings that I believe set it apart from others in the combi offering.

The first feature(s), that I noticed at least, is that the xDSD has 2 available modes that you can take advantage of, them being 3D+ and XBass+. Now, as unfortunate as it is, I personally could not hear any tangible difference in sound when switching between the modes. The XBass+ I completely heard nothing different and the 3D+ I kinda sorta heard a little bit different sound. This was really disappointing because I have SO much praise for it when I heard it on the iCAN Pro (granted it’s MUCH bigger and MUCH more expensive). Something I think would have made it better though is the ability to turn on/off each mode individually vs having to cycle through them like you currently do. I still don’t believe I would hear much but having the ability to turn it off and immediately back on would have really helped test if there’s a difference or not.

The next thing I noticed is that it’s Bluetooth capable. Admittedly, I only used the Bluetooth setting to test it for my review for I personally can foresee very few instances where I’ll not have my phone on me but will a pair of headphones and the xDSD. But during the time I was using the xDSD in wireless mode I will say, it’s, at least from my memory, the cleanest sounding bluetooth that I’ve ever heard. I went from wireless mode to wired mode and, at least personally, couldn’t tell any difference in sound quality. I can already hear the mobs lighting their torches at that sentence but I really couldn’t.

There are a few drawback with the wireless mode though, 1 major (that actually branches off into a few of them), 1 minute and 1 that makes no sense to me. The one that makes no sense to me is that when in Bluetooth mode, you can no longer control the volume from the xDSD, it’s all from the Bluetooth connected device. Now, why this makes no sense to me is, why would I need to have my phone on my persons? If I’m going to have it on me I might as well just hard wire the thing, this leads me into the minute thing, which is that when in wireless mode, you no longer have access to the 3D and XBass + modes. This, to me, isn’t really a big deal because, as I said above, I personally couldn’t hear much of a difference that they made.

Now, onto the major issue I have with the Bluetooth. It’s absolutely infuriating. From my time with it, it took me way too long to figure out how to get it into pairing mode. The instructions say from power on, you can force it into pairing mode by holding down the settings button for three seconds. This is not entirely correct. Yes, you have to hold the settings down for 3 seconds, but it needs to be in power OFF AND you need to hold down the power button AND settings button at the same time. I figured this out by trying it on a whim, so if the instructions for pairing would be a bit more clear, that would be fantastic. To continue, when getting it out of wireless mode, you must turn the xDSD completely off and hold the power and settings button together until it comes on and the blue light turns green. This would be fantastic if it would do that first try. I had to do this 6 times before it would go back to its “normal” wired mode. The other 5 it would be like it was in wireless mode, i.e. the volume and 3D and XBass would not work, everything had to be controlled from the phone. During this time I had my phones Bluetooth off completely and I also went back and forth with having it plugged in via usb to see if that would help, it did not. Granted, I do see this being fixed in a, hopefully very soon, software update so later viewers of this review will likely not have any issues, but at the moment, the xDSD wireless mode was absolutely and ridiculously annoying.

So my final thoughts on the features of the xDSD is that, it’s cool that they offered some unique features, but, at least from my experience with the unit, there needs to be a lot of follow up with it because in its current form, I see the xDSD as being nothing more than a run of the mill combi and in fact, I liked the sound of the Nano iDSD Black Label much better.


Sound

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As with all iFi products I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing, this is one aspect that they consistently impress me with, and the xDSD is of no exception. Before I go into this section, I judged the sound off of NOT having the 3D+ OR the XBass+ setting turned on. Though, as said above, I personally heard no discernable difference with it turned on, I wanted to ensure I’m hearing the xDSD for its performance and not a setting that may swade the opinion one way or another. Also, I had it connected to my phone via USB. As I also said earlier, I personally didn’t hear any difference between the wired and wireless modes, my same reasoning applies (I also didn’t want to mess with the wireless mode and get frustrated again).

For the most part I find the xDSD to present its sourced music very accurately. The level of detail that this little device can push forth is quite impressive to say the least. A song I’m listening to as I’m writing this section is such a nice piece in general but it’s certainly catering to my current love for the Violin. But “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso” by Saint-Seans from the Your Lie In April anime is played amazingly clean from the xDSD. Yes, all I have to work with is the YouTube video (CD hasn’t came in yet) but just from that low quality playthrough it’s no amazingly impactful and the xDSD, in my complete surprise, didn’t miss a beat on the impact of the piano or violins duet. Now, I will say that I do believe the treble is very slightly toned back a little bit. There’s a few notes that, when played on my desktop setup, just come alive but the xDSD, though keeps a close level of detail, it doesn’t bring that realism to the degree my desktop rig does, as I wouldn’t expect it to, but the slight treble reduction I did notice.

One thing I would like to cover is the ability for the xDSD to drive a pretty impressive array of headphones. From the oh so infamous HD650 to my hypersensitive Hermes VI, the xDSD was able to play them without a skip. Now, the Hermes VI did still sadly have the hiss that a vast majority of products just can’t quite play a black enough background to get rid of but it was very subtle. So as long as you’re not wanting to power an absurdly hungry headphone, you’ll very likely be more than happy with the xDSD’s ability to power your product.



Conclusion

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My final thoughts on the iFi xDSD is that, for the most part, they’ve done a wonderful job, price no object. The build quality is to what I’ve come to expect from iFi as well as its liquid smooth sound. Though the instruction manual got the better of me, the functionality is quite solid and easy to use (for most :p). For those who, like me, will rarely use a wireless combi, it's a hard sell over their fantastic Micro iDSD BL.






Also, make sure to check out my unboxing and review videos. They’re pretty awesome AND you getta put a face to the Army-Firedawg name. If this review helped you out at all please hit that thumbs up button for it really helps me out a lot. Till next time my friends, stay safe.
damart81
damart81
Thanks for this review!
Army-Firedawg
Army-Firedawg
Glad it could be of help to you.
audiomonkey777
audiomonkey777
Interesting that you say you hear no difference between the wired and the wireless modes? I'd be interested in using the BT ALOT. Currently got their nano BL but feeling the need for Bluetooth and a step up.
Pros: Ultimate DAC : PCM768KHz/DSD512/MQA, bluetooth, driving power
Cons: cable can be better
Headphone - Sony Z1R
Comparison Gears:
FiiO Q5 (dual AK4490EN)
Pro-ject Pre Box S2 Digital (dual ESS9038Q2M)
iFi xDSD (Burr Brown chip)

Before I received this tour unit, iFi xDSD has received award from
EISA (the European Sound and Imaging Association)
as the Best Portable DAC/Headphone Amplifier for 2018-2019.

There are many reviews have been posted out, so I am not going through
all introductions of the products, but jump to my own experiences and
usage comments.

I own iFi iDSD nano, and had reviewed iFi Miacro iDSD BL before,
so the latest driver is already in my computer, I plug it to my laptop USB port
and the device shows in my PC and in Foobar2000 output list.
iFi has unified its driver for many products, which is an excellent consideration
on product support, which also has simplified life for users who own many iFi products.

first impression
when I have it in my hand.
It is small, surely more portable than iDSD nano that I own which I have never
thought to use it as portable but put it in my office as desk Dac/Amp.
The shell of xDSD is supposed to be shining but soon got finger print marks
on the body once you hanlde it in your hand starts to play with it.
Other than that, the build is rugged, size is easy to handle.
However, its small and shining body slip off my hand when I picked it up from desk.
One needs to be careful when handle it on the go, you don't want it to slip off
on ground.

Accessaries
cables can be better, most product in the market tend to come with
cables that look cheap, and they still are with xDSD.
Since iFi choose to use USB A on its body, the port is kind of big on it, and the
extension cable for computer connection look bulky on it.
The picture below shows how USB cable compare with xDSD body.
Choosing UAB A so it can be connecting to OTG/CCK cable directly, so it is supposed
to be good on mobility.




connection and function
To save space on such small body, many function and setting have to combine different
buttons, it feels like you are playing code cracking to get to certain function.
iFi xDSD has load of functions, so its usage takes a little more time to get use to.

Fortunately, its cheat sheet clearly explains everything steps by steps so one can
just look for needed function on it and follow the steps.

To use line out mode might be the most complicated one above all others, but it is
still manageable to follow, but it took me a few trys to switch it off though.


Sound Quality
Bass: xDSD can go low and with quantity, punch and quality is good,
I could not hear much difference between xDSD, Q5 and S2.
Both bass enhance switch on xDSD and Q5 don't make bass better on Z1R,
so I mostly listen with them off.

Mid: xDSD is sweeter with femal vocal, S2 is also good, Q5 might be a bit harsh, but my Q5
is still new, probably will change in the long run. While this xDSD has been opened up
by all members in the tour, I believe.

High: I use Kenny G's Soprano for this test, and I like xDSD over S2, Q5 is on par with xDSD.
Probably has something to do with amp power as S2 is not as powerful as the other 2.

Sound Stage
All 3 sound forward with vocal, has some depth, width better than depth, layer of instrucments
is just fine.
But note that I use closed back headphone, so I don't expect much about stage.
No clear winner in this department.

Build
Q5 is obvious robust with its material, and I like the weight on hand, which feel just right
to me. xDSD has better size for portable use.
I also found that all 3 units have separated power port, it seems a trend of small dac/amp design
as one USB port is hard to handle power and data at same time?
My S2 must have a USB power connected otherwise it will causes the data USB port shutdown on my laptop,
it is inconvenient since it has no power on/off switch on it.

Conclusion
My only complain for xDSD is its cables, as its body is small and its cable becomes like over size tail.
The goods on xDSD are its versality for different usage, and its extreme DAC capability
to support PCM768KHz/DSD512/MQA, bluetooth, plus powerful ampilifier output, these left
nothing to be wanted for a portable dac/amp in the marcket.
Overall, all 3 dac/amp in the comparison are very similar on sound performace.
Q5 has better feeling on hand for its material and construction.
S2 has similar DAC spec. but less driving power, its supports MQA decoding on it.
The xDSD supports MQA but it only does rendering, if you connect to Tidal you will have it.
As portable Dac/Amp, xDSD pretty much handle all your needs, a very good solid design one.

Attachments

Hinomotocho
Hinomotocho
Great review thanks - have you any further opinions between the Q5 and xDSD now they have settled in and you've maybe spent more time with them?
Pros: DAC Support for up to 768 PCM, 512 DSD, and MQA, power to spare for use with full sized headphones, excellent Bluetooth connectivity
Cons: no analog input, notable hiss with sensitive in-ears
The iFi xDSD was sent to me as part of the review tour so my impressions are limited to 10 days use and I cannot speak to the longevity of the device. Thank you to Lawrence and iFi Audio for giving me the opportunity to put the xDSD through its paces.

Unboxing
The xDSD arrived in its retail packaging which consists of white slip-cover box with the device, a cloth bag, and the accessories hiding inside. If you have seen pictures of the xDSD, you probably have the wrong impression of its size. I know I expected the device to be larger than it was and much closer to the size of the other ifi products. In ifi speak, you have the Micro, the Nano, and the xDSD can be thought of as the pico. It is about the same thickness as a smartphone in a protective case and roughly ½ the height. Other devices in the same size range are the Mojo and the Fiio Q1.

Accessories
The Accessory kit comes with a selection of cables including a USB-A male to female cable for attaching the xDSD to a computer. A USB-A male to micro USB male to attach to charging port, and two different styles of USB-A female to USB-B female adaptors. A cloth carry bag, and Velcro connectors to attach the xDSD to a phone along with a warrantee card and a quick start guide complete the kit. The only thing you really need to add to the kit is the Iphone connection kit or a USB OTG cable for use with android devices.

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Build
The bulk of the case is metal with a polished faceplate and shell in titanium grey. The rear faceplate is a matte black plastic and is about 3 times the thickness of the front plate. Ifi’s documentation says the plastic rear cap was to improve wireless performance and that it performs substantially better than the all metal cases tested. This helps explain a choice that might at first seem an odd aesthetic to some. The faceplates are held in place using two star-head screws mounted on the outer edges. The device has good heft for its small size and feels extremely solid with no wobble or play in any of the connectors. The metal surfaces are very prone to finger prints and smudges so if that bothers you, you might want to have the aluminum case duracoated.

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Features
The xDSD crams a lot of features into a small package for sure. At the core, it inherits the Burr Brown Dac of the Black label series and adds a custom op-amp (OV4627) for the output section. This gives the unit a very capable dac with PCM up to 768 and DSD up to 512 support. This alone puts it at the top end of the specs when compared to most portable dac/amps. In addition, the xDSD supports MQA so regardless of your file type choice, the xDSD pretty well has you covered.

In addition to USB or Spdif inputs, the xDSD supports AptX and Bluetooth connectivity both as source and as target so you can attach your cellphone to stream tidal or spotify and attach your Bluetooth headphones so you can listen completely wirelessly. The downside to this arrangement is that battery life on the xDSD gets commensurately shorter with each Bluetooth connection. With both the HTC m9 attached as the source and a set of Mixcder MS301 over-ear Bluetooth headphones attached as the target, battery life on the xDSD was decreased to roughly 5 hours before needing a charge. The xDSD does have a micro-USB charge port so it can be attached to a power bank to increase the usable life between charges, but this kind of defeats the purpose of being completely wireless only to have to have wires for additional batteries.

To adjust the sound, you have the options of 3D+ and Xbass+ as well as the measure or listen options provided by the digital filters. The measure/Listen function exposes the digital filters of the PCM1793a chip itself and lets the end user choose between minimum phase Bezier filter (Listen) or linear phase transient aligned filter (Measure).
In addition to the features you can see from the outside, the xDSD sports ipurifier, and iematch components internally as well as a battery management system that Ifi refers to as Cyberdrive. The xDSD sports an output impedance of less than one ohm (matching the earlier ifi nano BL) but uses the cyberdrive power management instead of its predecessors direct drive system.

Controls

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From left to right on the front panel, you have the 3.5 TRRS balanced connector. This connector works for both Single-ended TRS connections or 3.5mm TRRS Balanced connections. With 4.4 and 2.5mm connectors both more common than 3.5 balanced the addition of a 3.5 to 2.5 adaptor would be a welcome addition for those of us with lots of 2.5mm cables an no 3.5mm TRRS options. (I used a Trinity Icarus III to test the 3.5mm balanced since it was the only 3.5mm TRRS connected headphone in my inventory).

Next toward the center is a pair of LEDs The upper is the Khz LED and displays one of seven different colors to let the user know what type of input is being received by the xDSD. The LED immediately below the kHz LED shows the input type and displays a different color or pattern for USB, Spdif, and Bluetooth inputs.

The central volume knob actually serves several purposes. It is the on/off switch, the input mode selector, the volume adjustment, and the volume indicator LED which displays different colors for each decibel range and for Line out functionality.

To the right of the volume knob are two more LEDs that display the status of 3d+ and Xbass+ followed by a button to turn the two features on or off. In addition, pressing and holding the button in puts the xDSD in pairing mode for Bluetooth as well.

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On the rear face from left to right, you have the spdif input (note this is not an analog input), followed by a recessed USB-A male connector for USB input. I really like this connector as it is much less prone to damage from stress on the connector but it does limit the size cable that can be used and I did have one USB-Otg cable that I had to shave the hood down slightly to get to fit properly.

Next in line is the digital filter switch for measure/listen. Worth noting is that the function of this switch is slightly different with DSD input when compared with PCM input so a bit of study and A/B testing with your files may be needed to find the best setting for you. DXD and MQA both have fixed filters and you will see no difference based on which position the M/L switch is in.

Finally at the far right is a charging only micro-USB port. This can be used to charge the device while it is playing via spdif or can be used to charge the device when using the BT mode. I found that when both the main USB connection was attached to a device via USB-otg and the micro-USB were hooked up, the current draw was from the micro-usb circuit, but when the Main USB connection was attached directly to a computer or to a device without using an OTG cable, the main USB port became the power source for the device and the micro-USB port was essentially ignored. (This determined using a DRAK ammeter designed specifically for USB).



Bluetooth

Bluetooth on the xDSD is another mixed blessing. It supports AptX but not AptX HD so it may not be future proofed enough for some, but Ifi took the time to use their internal Burr Brown DAC instead of the Qualcomm’s dac which does improve the sound quality when compared to other Bluetooth devices. I found the range of the BT to be about average with 5 yards being a safe distance and the ability to stretch that distance to 10 yards as long as obstructions were kept to a minimum. Using both a phone and a headphone connected by Bluetooth does cause the battery to run down much more rapidly than wired mode and I found that if I wished to use the xDSD for an entire workday, I either had to run it wired or had to plan on recharging it at my lunch break.



Sound

First off, one would expect that the combination of a <1 ohm output impedance and ifi-match technology would lend itself to use with sensitive in-ears. I found that not to be the case. With the Magaosi k5 a hiss was present regardless of settings. With the Eartech Quint a hiss could be heard with the xDSD turned on but no music playing. I instead found that the Campfire Cascade was a good pairing for the xDSD and did most of my tests with either the Cascade or the Sennheiser HD700.

Compared to its predecessor the iDSD BL nano, the xDSD is a bit more aggressive with a bit sharper edges. The BL feels smoothed over and less dynamic by comparison. I didn’t find the xDSD overly bright but did find that the upper mids and lower treble are pushed a bit forward and this can be made even more so by using the 3D+. The 3D+, at times, helps vocals sound a bit more lifelike but comes at the cost of being a bit overly energetic at other times and I found I enjoyed the xDSD more with the 3D+ disabled.

The same held true for the XBass+ which targets enhancing from 100Hz down and had minimal impact with most of the iems and headphones tested. The exception was the Cascade due to its extremely well extended low bass, the difference of XBass on or off was extremely evident. For those of you who know the Cascade, you will also know the last thing it needs is additional bass so again, I left the Xbass+ off for the majority of my listening.

The filter options are more subtle than either the 3D+ or Xbass+ options but do have a detectable impact. I found the measure to be more to my liking as the listen pushed the upper mids and lower treble further forward than I preferred while the measure kept them inline with the lower mids and provided a more uniform signature.

Output Power

The xDSD had no issue driving the HD700 and Cascades but both of those are relatively sensitive and 150 ohm or lower impedance. In order to really push the xDSD, I used a pair of 600ohm Beyer 880s and found the xDSD had more than enough power to push them to levels above what I use for normal listening. The X also had no problem pushing a pair of Fostex T50rp mods so was equally well off with high impedance and low sensitivity cans. I did find that battery life suffered when using the 880s but that has been the case with every portable I have paired with them.

Comparisons

Fiio Q5 vs xDSD
384 PCM / 256 DSD 768 PCM / 512 DSD
More linear more potent
better when paired with IEMS better with power hungry over-ears
(assumes use of AM1 or AM3a) (AM5 comes closer to xDSD power)
No MQA Support

xDSD vs iDSD Nano BL
Has Bluetooth 1/2 the price of xDSD
includes 3D+ and Xbass+ more laidback and warmer presentation
Separate charge Port 384 PCM / 256 DSD with MQA support
Supports Spdif input better matched to sensitive IEMS

Conclusion
The xDSD has a ton of features, but it is its core function that is the real draw. The fact that the xDSD uses its internal dac instead of the Bluetooth chipset for Bluetooth processing means the sound quality comes much closer to parity with its wired counterpart and the sound quality from the wired version is about as good as can be had at its price point. I would put the xDSD on even footing with the Fiio Q5 or the Mojo/Poly combination when taken in total.

The XDSD form factor is more appealing than the Q5 and smaller and lighter than either the Q5 or the Mojo/Poly combination which will appeal to those who carry it full time. The ability to leave the xDSD in a pocket or backpack and control it from a cellphone and Bluetooth headset is also an advantage.

The disadvantages are it has no analog input or optical so if you intend to use it with an external DAP, it must support either USB out or SPDIF out. An analog input so it can be used as an amp alone would be a welcome addition as it would add even more flexibility to this already versatile device.

I found a particularly good synergy between the Cascade and the xDSD when using my laptop as the source. A 14 lbs workstation is a far cry from the envisioned portable devices the designers had in mind, but it works extremely well. For those looking for a DAC/Amp for their small office space (or dorm room) the xDSD offers performance several steps above what the Schiit fulla can offer in about the same footprint with the added benefit of being able to pick it up and take it with you when you travel.

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Pros: Portability
Sound quality
Cost to performance ratio
Amount of power and battery life in so small a footprint
Cons: I'm spoiled by menus, so it's off-putting at first to not have a screen list all the options.
Fingerprint magnet. I'd LOVE a brushed MATTE silver finish like the Micro & Mini lines have.
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My stint on the iFi xDSD tour:

It's been a while since I've been active, and just when I was lamenting my lost time here on Head-Fi, the lovely chaps over at iFi offered up spots on the iFi xDSD introduction tour. So naturally, I jumped in with both feet!

So many veterans have already spoken to the specs and features of the device that I thought I'd try something a bit different. When I saw that I was accepted, I decided to try and answer some basic questions that I had about gear when I was first starting out here: "What is it good for?", "What would I use it with?", "Why would I choose this over "x" device?", and as best I could, "Is it truly worth a spot in my kit bag?". So here we go!



"What is it good for?"
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In my view, the xDSD is a perfect travel companion. I fly often and have many hours of downtime at hospital between emergencies when I'm either on the phone or tapping-out e-mails and processing paperwork. Since I don't have a "static" office, I don't put down roots with more than I can carry. So my entertainment options are understandably limited. I have used the iDSD or iDSD/iCAN stack for a couple of years now, and have been very happy with the performance. (It's not like I would lug something as fragile as a Woo Audio WA6 into a ready-room and feel comfortable leaving it unattended.) It/they stay zipped in my GO bag and perhaps secured in a locker, (when it's an option) when I'm needed on floor. For this, the iDSD/iCAN is IDEAL.

But what about flights? True, the TSA staff usually chat me up about my iDSD when it shows up in X-rays, and we have a bit of a laugh, but it's certainly not what I would call "compact", and often, I find myself opting to leave something in favor of making room for it/them. (For which I'm RICHLY rewarded with blissful sounds when I finally get to collapse in my hotel room!) Now comes the xDSD. NO CABLES NEEDED. My phone or tablet can be fully-accessible on my tray, and I can leave xDSD in my bag at my feet with just the head/earphone cable running down into it. I can adjust my audio and select tracks simply on tabletop without the clutter of an audio rig piled-on, leaving plenty of room for my laptop, texts, or tablet without feeling cramped, or fearing something falling over the edge. Worth it for that alone!
And best of all, if you actually manage to exhaust the xDSDs considerable battery run-time, the xDSD will run full-power while it's charging from mains or a sufficient portable battery pack. No waiting!!!



"What would I use it with?"
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The answer to this is; "just about any gear short of power hungry cans for clinical examination of tracks or components".

I found the xDSD to be an excellent "all-rounder". It brings fun and excitement to tracks without giving-way to bloated or distorted processing effects on the source. For low-profile, simple listening I adore the old Ultimate Ears Super-Fi 3s and Shure CX300 IIs. The xDSD is dead-sexy with its inky-black noise floor and lively manners. It makes them both punch just slightly above their weight when compared to their sound straight out of my iPhones or Galaxy Note 8.

The 1 MORE Quad earphones are both spacious and emphasize instrumental pieces as a specialty. I often don't even need the 3D+ or Xbass enabled! And the JVC SZ2000 get driven to skull-rattling lows when I need to feed my basshead sweet tooth. (Low-profile be damned, and the 3D+ Usually turned back on for these sessions.) :wink:


"Why would I choose this over "x" device?
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In short, I find the xDSD to be an upper Mid-Fi "swiss army knife". It certainly brings out more detail and clarity than my similarly sized FIIO E17. It provides a wider soundstage and greater dynamic range (When used coaxially/SPDIF or USB) than my phones or favorite iBASSO DX90 DAP. Lastly, it is the absolute highest quality audio driver device that I have heard with a sub~$500+ price tag, and certainly, the only one that does all this so well while fitting in a trouser pocket. Silly as it sounds, there is REAL convenience and peace of mind in boarding a shuttle with phone in-hand, but your headphone cable tucked securely in your jacket pocket rather than flapping-about all willy-nilly just begging to get snagged on something or another commuter. Few things suck more than the moment you realize that your cherished headphones are mid-fall towards the "sticky" floor of transit you're on.



Conclusion: (Took long enough, right?)
"Is it truly worth a spot in my kit bag?"

YES! While the xDSD doesn't surpass or supplant my iFi Micro line kit or approach desktop performance, I don't believe that is its point. Would it be MAGICAL for a tiny palm-sized box to equal or best a class-A amp like a Ragnarok, WA7, or BHA-1? Yes! Realistic? Maybe one day, but NOT YET. Same for DACs. But to have MQA future-proofing, FUNCTIONAL AptX & AAC Bluetooth implementation, and near iDSD Micro level hi-res audio performance in a piece if kit about the size of a deck of playing cards... What's NOT to like?

(BONUS!!! I just learned that iFi is offering MQA support to their other devices going back as far as 2013! Woo-hoo!!) Details & link here at their Youtube announcement:


Gear used in evaluation:
SOURCES
Android - Lenovo Yoga A12 tablet, Samsung Galaxy Tab-A, & Galaxy Note 8
Apple - iPhone 4s, 5, 6, 7+, iPAD "O.G." & Air, All connections via Apple lightning to USB or 30-pin to USB
Dell - 5675 Desktop, XPS 8500 Desktop
FIIO - E17 DAC/Amp
iBASSO - DX90 DAP
iFi - iCAN Micro SE, iDSD/iDSD BL Micro

HEADPHONES
1MORE - Quad Driver in-ears
AKG - K545 "Mobile Fun cans", K550 "Home FUN cans"
Beyerdynamic - T1 Ver 2 "My go-to cans for critical listening"
Bose - QC 25 Noise Cancelling (Cabled & via Bluetooth adapter) "Awesome Noise Cancellation, "meh" sound."
Etymotic - ER4XR/SR in-ears "My go-to buds for critical listening"
JVC - (HA-M55X) "Meh bass", Esnsy (HA-SR85) "BOOMY bass", Live Beat (HA-SZ2000) "ULTIMATE BASS"
Koss - Porta Pros "Surprisingly-good knock arounds"
Sennheiser - HD650, HD800, HD800S "When the rest of the world needs to go away!"
Shure - CX300II in-ears
Ultimate Ears - Super-Fi 3 Studio "Old school fun, but a bit light in the bass department"


Last questions: "Ken, which of those did you not recommend with the xDSD?" and "Which were the best?"

No secret here. DON'T expect desktop performance out of a sub 1 pound portable. While the xDSD fully powered EVERY headphone above, The 4 I don't feel that it was able to fully/properly drive are:
  • T1 (Though it got them the loudest of the cans I wouldn't use, it just didn't bring out the depth and detail that I so love them for. Nothing would stop you from hearing music if that is all you wanted, but it defeats the T1's point. Just throw on the K545 in that case. It's infinitely less harrowing to travel with.)
  • Sennheisers - All 3 (Same as with the T1. You'll get sound, but you might as well bring a cheaper/more durable set of cans, or substitute them for the Etymotics or 1MORE Quad driver. You'll get much of the splendid and detailed performance you wanted from the Sennheisers with much less bulk.)
My favorites that I felt the xDSD brought the best out of:

  • 1MORE Quad Driver (All the sparkle, nuance, and depth that I love these for was there, and it felt like there was still room to go further.)
  • Etymotic ER4XR (Every bit of detail that I was looking for, and doesn't need iFi's XBass to fill out the low end. The sound feels "whole" and not like a jigsaw puzzle where elements are just fitted-in as they come.)
  • UE Super Fi 3 Studio (Breathed new life back into these! They don't sound like much out of my phones, and they don't stack up against the CX300IIs normally, but they wrap you in warm velvet on the xDSD. Also note that while these are still in excellent condition, they are almost 20 years old, so they've been WELL broken-in...)
  • JVC SZ2000 (While They won't make your skull itch like they can on the iDSD or stronger amps, they still make ridiculous levels of bass and sub-bass on the xDSD. So much so that people asked to see and listen to what I had multiple times throughout the week.)

A special and direct "Thank you" to the iFi tour people who sent out the xDSD for us to take a listen to, and special thank yous to ever-diligent Lawrance, the DELIGHTFUL Karina, and especially the awesome iFi engineers who answer all my hare-brained questions without a second thought.


Ken N.
Pros: Beautifully detailed and powerful, full-bodied sound!
Extremely versatile; I officially give the xDSD the moniker of "The Ultimate Portable Swiss Army knife of Audio".
Cons: Despite some of the best performance I have encountered, Bluetooth re-connectivity is flawed.
Into

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Between updating existing product lines, slapping on coats of anodized black awesomeness, and giving MQA playback across the board, iFi Audio has been busy as of late. So, when the xDSD and it’s tour was announced here at Head-Fi I was both surprised and intrigued. What was this sleek little device and it’s purpose, why the new the “X” branding, just what the heck is Cyberdrive (a buzzword?), and why do I absolutely need to try it? I couldn’t sign up fast enough to find out!

About iFi

iFi is a brand born from trickle-down technology licensed from AMR with one simple mission: To provide the absolute best quality ‘Bit-Perfect’ audio from computer generated sources. All iFi products proudly boast clean Class A analogue circuitry with absolutely no digital signal processing; The signal stays true to the source throughout! Since iFi broke into the scene in 2012 they have been making huge waves in the audiophile community, offering products who’s performance is on par with their beautiful, modular and Iconic design! Every product has been carefully engineered for perfect symmetry and synergy with one another, allowing the user to custom tailor their devices to their desired needs.

Disclaimer/Acknowledgement

I received the xDSD in order as part Canadian leg of the North American tour in exchange for my impressions and review. The words I write are my own and are honest, objective, and free of bias. I received no financial compensation for my effort, only the satisfaction of trying out a quality product for a week.

About Me

Born in 1978, I grew up in a family consisting of musicians, broadcaster/sound engineers, and amateur DJs. I always had a deep appreciation and understanding of both music and sound. I was further educated in this self interest after taking courses in both basic electronics and Sound: Electro-Acousto - The Path to Golden Ears. While I believe a listener’s preference in sound is subjective, the science behind it is not. I am not swayed by buzzwords, hype, trends, brand recognition, or big numbers on charts. Opinionated as I am, my words are not only objective but honest. I view all criticism as constructive, as long as it is sincere.

Specifications:

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Official xDSD discussion thread can be found here.
iFi Audio xDSD webpage can be found here.

Accessories

1x Soft velvet carry pouch
1x TOSLink to mini digital adaptor
4x 3M Dual Lock adhesive strips; 1 large, 3 thin
2x USB Type-A female to Type-B female adaptors; one stubby, the other cabled and is designed to fit neatly inside the xDSD’s rear USB port
1x USB Type-A male to Type-A female cable; used to connect the xDSD to a PC and is again, designed to fit neatly inside the xDSD’s rear USB port
2x USB Type-A male to Micro-B charging cables; one short, the other slightly shorter… why?

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Like all of iFi’s products, the xDSD comes with a plethora of accessories. Everything you need to get things up and running is included. While it would have been great to include a USB OTG cable, considering the fact that iFi recently released their own audiophile quality OTG dongle (and reasonably priced at that) I can understand why they chose to leave one out. As for an included iOS compatible USB Lightning cable, there really is no mystery why they’d leave one out; Why pay Apple for Mi-certification when at best, only 50% of the users would use such a cable. Honestly, a smart move on iFi’s part for both the OTG and Lightning cables.

Build/Design

If one is familiar with iFi’s products, the first thing they’d notice is how the xDSD’s design is a radical departure from the iconic look of their micro and nano lines. Gone is the iconic angled anodized aluminium body, the xDSD sports a compact and stylish 6063-T5 aluminium-magnesium alloy casing with the rear of the device capped off with a matte black plastic, taking on a size and form factor more similar to a standard portable DAC/amp.

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The front of the xDSD is a very minimalistic design. There is a single S-balanced 3.5mm jack and four small LED indicators, kHz/Input on one side, 3D+/XBass+ on the other, in the middle lays the Cyberdrive knob, illuminated with a multi-colour LED that indicates both function and volume level, while off to the side sits a multi-purpose Settings button. More on Cyberdrive and the front’s functionality below.

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The rear of the xDSD houses what you’d expect: a digital S/PDIF mini input, USB Type-A input with a large enough opening to fit dongles such as the Apple CCK or USB OTG, the Filter toggle, and a USB Type-B mini jack with LED indicator for charging the device.

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Gnerd-pr0n
(Bonus points if you know the reference)

One thing that always impresses me about iFi products is how much technology the cram into their micro and nano devices, and the xDSD is no exception! Take a look at the pictures below; Nicely done iFi!

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Cyberdrive

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Not merely a buzzword invented by iFi to sell a product, Cyberdrive is the brains of the xDSD and deserves it’s own section! The all new circuitry allows all analogue functions (volume, amplification/sensitivity, and the battery) to be digitally controlled! Incorporating the iFi exclusive OV4627 ultra low noise FET input Op-Amp and W990VST digitally controlled stepped attenuator (the analogue volume signal is broken up in 101 1dB steps), Cyberdrive technology allows for the xDSD to deliver eardrum splitting power to difficult to drive full sized over-ear headphones, while at the same time providing deadly noise free silence to sensitive IEMs! Cyberdrive detects the impedance of the headphones in use in and adjusts on-the-fly so the user simply has to plug and play without any hassle of switching or enabling anything!

Not content with keeping things to just the amplification, Cyberdrive technology extends to the battery operations as well. The xDSD draws power from a separate micro USB charging port, meaning that when connected to a smart device via USB no power will be drawn when in operation from it’s host! It doesn’t end there either. When connected to a PC, the xDSD will still draw power from either the battery or the 5V micro USB, thus eliminating the possibility of excess noise traveling through the USB cable from the power supply or motherboard! Even better is that when the battery is fully charged, the Cyberdrive circuitry will automatically disengage the 5V charging signal while still powering the xDSD! A lot of battery operated devices these days will continually do a damaging and potentially dangerous dance of charge/drain when connected to an external power source. They are (despite their moniker) not smart enough to simply disengage the battery charging when at a full charge and power the device straight via the 5V power signal. Instead the device will still draw it’s power from the battery while its being charged. This cycling will create excess and unnecessary heat which in turn will cause a slow degradation of the battery’s capacity to fully charge, not to mention a hazard of catching fire and exploding! Cyberdrive does battery charging right!

S-Balance

With the growing number of headphones incorporating a balanced connection, iFi included the option with the xDSD. What makes iFi’s implementation of a balanced connection so special is that they incorporated it into a single 3.5mm jack that is capable of accepting a non-balanced plug and not cause damage to the amplifier! I’d like to know what old gods the engineers over at iFi pray to as this is a seemingly impossible feat to accomplish! What’s more insanely impressive is the fact that S-Balance technology also benefits un-balanced headphones, giving them performance that approaches a true-balanced connection! Mind-blown!

Besides having a combined 3.5mm un-balanced/balanced jack, the xDSD one-ups the competition yet again and throws in a true line-out option. Most hi-end DAPs and portable DACs have a line out option, sure. However the line out always has it’s own separate jack (and more times than I can recall not at a fixed volume either), with a second for headphones. What makes the xDSD special and excel over it’s competition is the fact that iFi combined the 3.5mm out into a volume controlled un-balanced/balanced headphone with a true fixed level line-out jack; the xDSD can ether transport audio through it’s amplifier, or bypass it, the volume, and the XBass+/3D+ option and output the signal to a universal > 2.1V @ 0dBFS line out format, all from a single 3.5mm jack! One jack, three types of output!

Initial Thoughts/Impressions

Upon gazing upon and picking up the xDSD for the first time, to quote iFi, “ Its dark titanium vacuum ion plated metal enclosure is pleasingly tactile and compact. “ And shiny too… so very shiny… However despite being glossy, I never had any issues with the xDSD slipping in my fingers or losing my grip, thanks in part to the unique (and sexy) wavy form factor. On the other hand, after some manhandling finger prints will be left behind on the casing. I for one didn’t really care, but for others their OCD may be knocking at their door.

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The xDSD is, as one would expect being a portable device, very light weight. Similar sized DAC/amp with metal enclosures I have experience with feel a lot more hefty, and likewise add far too much weight when coupled to the back of smart device or DAP. I was actually a little surprised at how light the xDSD was in my hand. Despite it’s weight, I never got the sense of fragility. Between the aluminium-magnesium alloy casing and high quality plastic end cap, the xDSD feels solid and I am confident the materials will hold up to the test of time.

What surprised me the most was the centre control knob. I like it! Made of a strong and rugged plastic, the knob has a satisfying tactile feel to it, both in texture and operation. With a slight rise above the casing, the outside of the dial is akin to a gear thus giving excellent tactile grip for easy turning with minimal effort. I thought that this may hinder operation of the potentiometer when the xDSD lays flat on a surface (or on top of my iFi stack), but my fears were quickly eased as the 4 rubber feet on the bottom not only provides enough clearance but gives the light unit excellent (and much needed) grip. The potentiometer itself trades smooth turning found on iFi’s micro and nano lines for a radically different click-style turn. At first I was uneasy about this departure from iFi’s norm, but the more I used it the more I understood their decision to go this route. This not only reduces the risk of having the knob accidentally turned up causing unpleasant and potentially damaging effects to one’s ears, but gives the user tactile feedback. You feel the click, you know the volume has changed as intended.

Functionality

Functionality is full featured yet ingeniously minimalistic in implementation. All (manual) operations are controlled by using either the centre Cyberdrive knob, the setting button, or a combination of the two. This eliminated interface clutter as well as eliminating accidental toggling of the functions. Implementing each of the functions could not be easier either. Hold down the Cyberdrive button to power on/off. Volume is (obviously) controlled by rotating the centre knob. To activate XBass+ and 3D+ simply click the settings button to cycle through and engage one or both. To enable line-out mode hold the setting button while powering on the xDSD. To enable/disable Bluetooth mode, rotate the centre knob clockwise while holding down the button when powering on.

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The settings and volume indicators are streamlined and combined into colour coding LEDs. I love this and is simply brilliant! The good folks at iFi decided using colour coding visual cues for the functionality would be a more natural and effortless way for the user to quickly determine what’s what. In our every day lives we humans, above all else, use colour as visual cues. Not words, not symbols, colour. It’s simple, transcends language, and if properly illuminated highly noticeable. As the xDSD is not only a small portable device but dark in aesthetics, it would be cumbersome to try and read either a display or individually labeled switches, and can be a pain in both the time and effort it takes to take out the device and hold it in such a way as to see everything, as well as the physical aspect of straining to see what is set to what. iFi made this simple by combining all the indicators into six colour coded LEDs separated into four zones. They are as follows.

Battery status - located on the rear next to the USB charge port

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XBass+/3D+ - located on the front right side
Each of these settings have a white LED indicating on/off. Pretty simple.

Input - located on the front botton left

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Audio Format (kHz) - located on the front top right

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Cyberdrive Rotary Control - located in the front centre

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Performance

Unless specifically noted, all performance impressions have been averaged between the headphones used:

Circumaural
Sennheiser HD 600, Momentum (1st gen.)
PSB M4U 1
Meze 99 Classics
AKG K340, K240 Sextett/Monitors, Q701
HiFiMan HE 560

IEM
Polk Nue Voe
Meze 12 Classics


Bass - Neither accentuated nor underwhelming, the bass is response is relatively neutral and under control. Mid-bass is nimble and weighted enough to give transients an excellent slam while accurately rendering the lower frequency response as to provide nuanced detail without overwhelming the rest of the spectrum. Sub-bass ruble is decent, though not overwhelming in quantity. It is what it is and gets the job done, nothing more.

Midrange - I wouldn’t say the response is forward, but it certainly take centres stage compared to the rest of the frequency spectrum. Rich with good texture and body, vocals and instruments alike come across as organic, smooth, and natural. The midrange detail is impressive for such a small device. While I never had any trouble picking out the micro details of a recording, they were not very forward in their presentation. Not a negative in my opinion, however there are some who clammer for these details to pop.

Treble - Great extension and transparency, yet not bright nor aggressive. The treble is controlled and articulated enough provide excellent detail, however it’s presentation does lack a touch of air. Performance wise nothing is lacking or out of place, and much like the bass region it gets the job done.

Soundstage/Imaging - The xDSD’s soundstage is not the largest nor the smallest; I am sensing a trend here. Much like the frequency response, sound-space is pretty neutral though accurate in presentation. Regardless if I was listening to a live recording performed in an intimate closed in modern venue or a wide open 16th century gothic Church, the xDSD’s sounded natural and correct. Imaging was excellent, with superb separation. I never got the sense of clutter nor did I ever have a hard time picking out 3D cues.

XBass+/3D+ - It wouldn’t be an iFi product without XBass and 3D+. As their names imply, the former gives a bass boost while the latter increases the soundstage. What makes these features stand out above the competition is that they are not a DSP effect, rather they are 100% analogue filters, and the implementation of each of these features is fantastic. XBass+ give a gentle nudge in the lower frequency response, not enough to turn a pair of HD 600 into bass cannons, rather just enough to give something like the Q701 the boost needed to fill out the lower end. Likewise, 3D+ is not overwhelming nor does it sound cheap. The increase of the sound space is subtle, but is enough to give music a more airy and expanded sound without sounding un-natural. All in all, quality over quantity!

Amplification/Sensitivity - With regards to the full size headphones used, the xDSD had no trouble powering my most hard to drive cans to acceptable levels. For standard 32 Ohm headphones with moderate sensitivity such as the Meze 99 Classics or PSB M4U 1, the xDSD provides deafening amounts of power while maintaining coherency and control. Moving up the impedance chain to 300 Ohm, with excellent grip and control, the xDSD handled the legendary Sennheiser HD 600 with grace and ease while still having ample power in reserve. With more demanding (fussy) headphones such as the AKG Q701 and HiFiMan HE 560, the xDSD was able to drive both sets to acceptable levels though in some cases, while rare and mainly in regards to DSD files, volume did have to be nearly maxed out to achieve what I would consider moderate a volume level. Super high impedance headphones such as my AKG K240 600 Ohm Monitors and K340 400 Ohm x2 Electrostatik/Dynamic hybrids, well, lets just say it was an admirable attempt by the xDSD to try and power them big boys. 24mW @ 600 Ohm is not nearly enough juice for fussy high impedance AKGs, and alas the xDSD met it’s match.

As for sensitivity with IEMs, the xDSD absolutely destroyed the notion of hiss and distortion! While the only two IEMs I own are the Meze 12 Classics and the Polk New Vo, both are relatively sensitive with the former being 16 Ohm @ 101dB sensitivity, and the latter being a balanced armature driver. No matter what amount of volume was required for each IEM in respect to the source track, both IEMs displayed absolutely no hiss, no buzz, no breaking up of the sound, simply a smooth effortless rendering! It’s one thing to provide a black background while simultaneously supplying sufficient power for larger cans, but to do so for IEMs as well without the aid of a switch or dongle is impressive!

Speaking of a black background, my testing would not be complete without the playing a lossless “digital black” file, a track composed purely of nothing! Why play such a track you might ask? Simple really. When a powered on device is idle, it should (in theory) have a solid black background. For the most part the circuitry is inactive, hence the silence. To fully gauge how silent or black the background truly is the circuits must be active and the only way to accomplish this is to push music through the device. However, music is music and not silent. This is where a file containing nothing matters. It essentially activates the signal path without producing sound, thus enabling the user to precisely hear any potential hiss or hum. In regards to the xDSD, even at full volume, regardless of the headphone or connection type used, the background was completely silent. Nothing from the amp, nothing from an outside source, simply blackness!

Listen/Measure - This is a feature iFi recently started including in their product line-up, and like XBass+ and 3D+ is becoming a staple. I always found this filter toggle intriguing. What this switch does is change the latency from “minimum phase” (Listen) to “linear phase” (Measure). In short, with linear-phase filters the phase-shift is linear across frequencies however it will introduce “pre-ringing”, whereas minimum phase filters implement a lesser delay time but can introduce phase distortion artifacts. Basically, what this does to the sound is give you the option of either shaping the sound to become more neutral with Measure, or give the sound a little more excitement through an optimized transient response with Listen.

This was not my first time experiencing phase shift as I have messed around with software latency previous, so I did have somewhat of an idea as to what to expect. The effects of the toggle ranged from subtle to noticeable, depending on the track in play and the headphone used. There really is no right or wrong way to go, it is all up to the user and their preference and easy enough to toggle between the two settings. What I did find is that selecting Measure helps alleviate a headphone’s “house sound”, whereas selecting Listen helped breathe some fun into headphones of a more neutral nature. When I paired the xDSD with the 99 Classics I like to select Measure. This helps bring down and give greater control to the somewhat prominent bass response. When listening to the HE 560 I would choose Listen as this gave the ruler flat low end some much needed extra slam.

Summary - One might conclude from my description of the xDSD’s sonic characteristics that the sound might be somewhat lacklustre. This is not the case, rather that was me being objective. With respect to the xDSD sound it holds it’s own against it’s competitors in the same price bracket, and those costing many times more. I recently had the opportunity to test-drive the Sennheiser HDV 820 for a month, along with Sony’s flagship NW-WM1Z DAP (my brother has too much money) and in all honesty, the xDSD was not that far off in performance. Smooth, detailed, effortless, elegant, and powerful, no matter what track I threw at it, no matter what headphone used, the xDSD made short work of the sound and rendered it to near perfection! To my ears, the xDSD is pure sonic bliss!

Connectivity/Versatility

What makes the xDSD so great is it’s flexibility in connectivity to modern digital devices. With so many option available to the end user whether on-the-go or at home, the xDSD is quite possibly the most versatile audio transport device on the market! It’s time to put the xDSD through it’s paces! While I tried to cover a wide range of uses, it merely represents my personal experience. As always, your millage may vary.

DAC - Sporting the highly respected multi-bit DSD1793 Burr-Brown chipset, the xDSD makes an excellent option to use as a stand-alone DAC. Without a doubt, the Burr-Brown chip is leagues ahead of the ESS Sabre chip, effortlessly revealing the subtlest of detail while delivering excitement and emotion all while retaining a sense of liquidity throughout the frequency spectrum! With the aid of the micro iTube2 coupled with the micro iCAN SE, I replaced my micro iDAC in my stack with the xDSD and started down a journey of re-appreciation. Rotating between headphones, I spent hours sitting at my desk going through my favourite tracks. Needless to say, it was very difficult for me to unchain the xDSD and move the micro iDAC back in. 7 years of DAC evolution between the two chips was a real eye opener!

Bluetooth - AptX and AAC at it’s finest! Well, performance wise that is. Connectivity wise, well, I’ll get to that. First, the good. Quite honestly, I am a wire loyalist. In my experience nothing beats a hard wire connection. It’s solid and it’s reliable, and most importantly, it’s lossless. I haven’t made the move to Bluetooth because the audio quality just isn’t there. Much like USB was, Bluetooth audio still has a long way to go. The xDSD’s Bluetooth performance has changed my mind.

Absolutely, without a doubt, the xDSD’s Bluetooth audio quality is near perfect, and unbelievably so! Hard as I tried, when listening to both ACC and AIFF tracks I could not tell the difference between wired and Bluetooth! It got to the point where durning my testing downtime I stopped using the CCK with my iPod touch and went purely Bluetooth. Every nuance could be heard, and the tonality remained as neutral as if it was connected via USB or S/PDIF! iFi wizardry I tell you!

In regards to both the range and connection strength, I encountered zero issues. Absolutely none! Once connected, with my iPod touch stationary in the living room on the coffee table, I was able to move around freely between all 3 levels of my townhouse without any loss of the signal. Moving the iPod to my basement yielded similar results. I could be on the top level with two floors and bedroom walls in-between the myself and the source yet the xDSD did not skip a beat. I was even able to go outside and do work in the front and back yard, even go down to the dumpster (which from my living room is probably close to 40’ away) and the connection remained solid, no word of a lie! My cordless phone doesn’t even have half the range nor clarity at distance, and it uses DECT 6.0 technology!

The last bit of Bluetooth goodness comes in the form of pairing. If the xDSD is in Bluetooth mode it will search for a previously paired device and connect when found. If the Bluetooth device is new to the xDSD, it can be 'force paired' by pressing the 'Settings' button for 3 seconds. Easy breezy! Pairing really couldn’t be more simple. Once paired with my iPod the xDSD was remembered as a connected device, and would subsequently without any issues… almost. Now for the bad.

Before I go ahead I have to say that what you are about to read is the xDSD only issue/flaw I encountered, and in my opinion one that absolutely needs to be remedied. While pairing the xDSD with a Bluetooth enabled device is easy and straight forward, it is not without an annoying snag. Regardless of using the 3.5mm jack as headphone or line-out, when switching from wired mode to Bluetooth after pairing has already occurred and the device is has previously streamed audio flawlessly, the xDSD will not output ANY audio. Neutron and iOS recognized the xDSD and states that it is paired (and seemingly working fine), yet regardless of the output type no sound can be heard. To fix this I simply had to go into the Bluetooth settings in iOS and forget the device (iFi Audio), and then re-press the ‘Settings’ button for 3 seconds for the xDSD to be re-discovered. I had to do this literally every time I switched between line-in/Bluetooth when previous it had worked fine. Sure, it is only seconds of extra work consisting of a few swipes and a press of a button, but the fact remains that this should not be necessary.

Line Out - As pre-mentioned, the xDSD sports a true line-out. This adds ultimate versatility. So many possibilities, and I paired the xDSD to anything in my possession that had an input. While I won’t overwhelm you with the task of reading my mundane (yet fantastic sounding) results, below is just a small list of what one can do with the xDSD.

One can easily stream and control audio through their smart device to a bookshelf stereo or a home theatre system. Perhaps you need greater amplification, connect the xDSD to more powerful desktop headphone amplifier (such as a micro iCAN SE or iTube2). Even through most new vehicles having Bluetooth pairing, in many cases only for voice and not audio streaming. Solution: Connect the xDSD through the vehicle’s 3.5mm/RCA in! Heck, one can even forgo a fantastic sounding portable sound-brick’s sub-par or outdated Bluetooth and line in from the xDSD providing both superior sound quality and range, as well as saving on the speaker’s battery! The list of possibilities goes on and on!

USB - PC & OTG/CCK - What can I say, they just work! Connecting to a PC is a simple as connecting the included cable to a free USB port. What makes the xDSD a cut above the rest is the inclusion of USB 3.0 connectivity for a superior connection over the USB 2.0. The inclusion of iFi’s femto precision GMT Clock and intelligent memory buffer system derived from AMR Audio’s USD $5,500 flagship DAC products eliminates jitter, thus providing an exceptional listening experience! The majority of my listening experience was done using USB, and I can say the transport is solid! I experienced no hick-up that normally are associated with USB audio. On a plus, the xDSD is fully compatible with iFi’s recently announced iPurifier3; USB 2.0/iPurifier2 users need not worry, the xDSD will work just fine!

iPodconnect.jpg

Whether using my 6th gen. iPod touch, or my co-worker’s Galaxy S9, both devices worked flawlessly with an OTG/CCK. Using Neutron on both iOS and Android, the xDSD showed up under the Audio Hardware options menu, and I had full Hi-Rez and DSD transport! Thanks to the xDSD’s built in battery, there was absolutely no excess power drain on either smart device, at least none that I could detect. On a side note, my co-worker was blown away at how much better the xDSD sounded over his flagship phone! I love it when someone hears true quality audio for seemingly their first time.

iOS.jpg

S/PDIF - Having the ability to accept both optical and coaxial signals, this is a extremely useful feature to have, and I am glad iFi included this input. For most, I would assume the biggest use of this connection would be to pair the xDSD to a high end DAP. I however do no own such a device with that output. What I do own is a S/PDIF booster and 15’ of fibre optic cable running under my floor linking my PC via TOSLink to my home theatre receiver. Perfect! Here’s why.

One major problem I have making use of my micro iTube2 with my stereo is the fact that I have to do some pretty cumbersome USB and RCA cabling across my living room, bridging it halfway to my iDAC which in turn is linking off a USB hub extension, all just to reach! Needless to say, the micro iTube2/stereo combo doesn’t get much, if any use. Enter the xDSD! With little effort I was able to simply unchain the micro iTube2 from my desktop stack and hook it up by my stereo! By having a set of short RCA cables plugged into my receiver and an iPower near by, it was a simple process to connect the xDSD via S/PDIF and line-out to the micro iTube2, and in turn it to receiver’s discreet RCA input and presto, musical bliss without ANY excess mess! Everything is neat and tidy, and sounding fantastic! Booya!

MQA - My only experience with streaming audio is through Spotify, and that’s only while at work. I tend to stay away from streaming due to the fact that my audio gear reveals too many flaws associated with streaming. However, because I had to put the xDSD through it’s paces I did sign up for Tidal and hear for myself what all the fuss is about surrounding this new MQA streaming format. Using Audirvana as the transport, I proceeded to building a playlist of MQA tracks. From the moment I pushed play, I was blown away! The MQA tracks sounded remarkably similar to my AIFF copies, and the xDSD decoded them with sonic perfection without any hiccups along the way!

While personally I have no use for MQA streaming (yet), I can most certainly see a future ahead for codec! As more and more tracks are added, I can see how having truly lossless streaming audio of thousands of songs that are available at your whim would be appealing to the end user. Kudos to iFi for having forward thinking and not only having the xDSD natively handle MQA decoding, but updating your existing lines well!

Battery Life

iFi claims the xDSD’s 3.8V/2,200mAh Lithium Polymer battery provides 6-10 hours of playback, depending on the transport type; 10 hours for S/PDIF, 8 hours for Bluetooth and 6 hours for USB. While I only roughy eyeballed the time throughout my various testing, I can not call them on their claims. The only thing I can say is that the xDSD’s performance is in fact, as advertised. If anything, I got slightly greater battery life using USB and line out, achieving closer to 6 1/2 hours.

Firmware/Drivers

iFi gives the xDSD the option of two official firmware choices. The pre-installed version is v5.30, which has been optimized for MQA playback. This limits the user to a max sample rate of PCM384/DSD256, which for the vast majority of us would be more than sufficient for our libraries. Firmware v5.20 enables the xDSD to decode sample rates up to (an overkill of) PCM768/DSD512, however this will disable native MQA playback. While the choice is yours as to which firmware version best suits your needs (and is a great option to have), I have a feeling that most of us will simply not bother to mess around with changing the default install.

As for the drivers, things couldn’t be more simple, no matter what platform you are on. macOS/Linux need not do a thing; Connect the xDSD via USB and you are good to go. In Windows, a simple download of the USB drivers and install is required, followed by a restart. With today’s modern systems, we are talking about 1 minute time. Once installed an iFi menu tray icon will appear where you will be able to adjust ASIO settings, and of course full functionality from within the Sound Control Panel.

Value

In my review of the micro iTube2, I stated that it was the Swiss Army Knife of pre-amplifiers. Well, I think iFi has outdone themselves (yet again) and created a new contender for the moniker with the xDSD! With respect to audio transport, what can’t it do, and at $399, what’s not to love? The xDSD literally has all of your bases covered! Beautiful yet rugged design, a powerful headphone amplifier with analogue volume output that can be used on-the-go or at home, USB and digital inputs with a separate power connector for the cleanest sound, fantastic implementation of bass and soundstage enhancers that don’t sound gimicky and actually enhance, S-Balanced 3.5mm out with the option of true line level output, MQA and DSD decoding, and probably the cleanest the purest Bluetooth audio I have had the privilege of experiencing! Once again, iFi managed to deliver a plethora of cutting edge trickle-down flagship technology and performance in a compact device and offer it at a price that screams “ Shut up and take my money! “

Conclusion

My time with the xDSD was nothing but a joy, and I feel truly privileged to have be able to experience all that it had to offer. Whenever I get my hands on an iFi product they always blow my expectations, which is why I not only own several myself, but will continue to look to them for future upgrades. They have a bad habit of releasing a product I never knew I needed, and the xDSD is no exception. I was blow away with the performance and features offered by such a compact and extremely sexy device. My hat’s off to you again iFi, keep up the awesome work, our ears appreciate it greatly!
Koolpep
Koolpep
Well done review! Thanks!
Pros: Form-factor + build-quality
Range of connectivity + file compatibility options
Power and transparency
Excellent Bluetooth sound
Cons: Chrome-finish is a fingerprint/smudge-magnet
Controls not immediately intuitive
Some bluetooth pairing 'hiccups'
Cheaper little-brother Nano BL is curiously a better desktop prospect
iFi are on a veritable roll in the mobile DAC+amp stakes. Having cornered the market between the stupendously-powerful Micro Black Label, and recently landing a more budget-conscious win with the Mojo-challenging Nano Black Label, they’ve slotted the xDSD squarely between those two products, splitting the difference price-wise and performance-wise, while adding Bluetooth and an all-new form-factor in the equation.

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iFi kindly arranged a head-fi tour for users to give feedback and reviews of their latest device, which happily included Australia and New Zealand - so I gladly took the opportunity to spend a week with the xDSD, and see how it performed in both desktop, and on-the-go duties.

What’s the pitch?
It’s a $589.95 (current Australian retail price) portable headphone DAC & amp, which includes some pretty impressive features. I won’t copy & paste the entire warts-and-all specs of the device (I’m more than confident you can manage to find these on their website if you’re interested), but the parts that interested me included:
  • Connectivity: USB; Optical (a step-up from the Nano Black Label and something I do genuinely try to use where possible); and proper aptX (great for me as an Android user) / AAC (great for you, if you’re an iOS user) Bluetooth
  • File-handling: up to 22.57MHz* DSD and 768kHz/32Bit* PCM (I can count the number of 192kHz albums I own on one finger, but this sounds impressive)
  • Power: 500mW @ 16 ohms, 48mW @ 300 ohms (a relevant figure for Sennheiser HD 580/600/650/800 users out there).
  • Line-out mode: for use a a stand-alone DAC (I do like to use portable DACs in conjunction with my two-channel set-up)
…and a few features that weren’t really of much interest to me, but of course, might be to you:
  • Full MQA compatibility: (I won’t really dwell on this, aside from saying that it’s a solution for a problem I don’t really think exists and creates proprietary hardware + software problems)
  • ‘Listen’ & ‘Measure’ filters: I certainly don’t plan on doing any ‘measuring’ for pleasure, nor do I plan on critically trying to split them apart (spoiler altert: I tried briefly, and couldn’t)
  • Balanced 3.5mm headphone out: I don’t own any balanced cables or gear, and can’t really say I need it.
  • ‘3D+ Matrix’ & ‘XBass+’: I figure that using hardware to change the signature of your headphones is a very expensive way of EQ-ing them. I don’t really tend to EQ, but have occasionally dabbled in Roon parametrically.
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What’s in the box?
The same paraphernalia as the Nano BL, actually:
  • A nice velour carrying-case (cosmetic, certainly not drop-proof)
  • A rather-long full-sized USB 2.0 cable for data transfer
  • A couple of obscure-looking and irrelevant USB adapters (which I suspect would be of far less use that including Lightning / USB-C OTG cables…)
  • A TOSLINK optical adapter
  • Some 3M ‘Command’ strips for connecting to phones/DAPs
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Mobile users might be left scratching their heads as to why some kind of on-the-go cable isn’t included, but given the likely audience split between Lightning/USB-C/USB-Micro connectivity, iFi leaves that up to you. So be warned, if you don’t have one of these you won’t be playing it straight away (wired, anyway).


How’s it put together?
Well for starters, if you tried walking into a sporting stadium carrying the xDSD a security guard might be forgiven for thinking you were trying to smuggle-in a hip-flask of booze! The polished chrome finish and shape certainly gives-off that impression, and the centrally-located round volume pot certainly adds to it. It looks super-cool and premium…but touch it once and it tarnishes immediately with fingerprint smudges. It needs a serious polish with a cloth to buff-out (making it a bitch to photograph!), so if you plan on using it in its intended use as a portable device, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

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Have you held a Chord Mojo before? Well it’s about the same size.

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It’s a nicely-built device, in keeping with it’s iFi stable-mates, and has a nice ‘heft’ to it that gives you the assurance of quality craftsmanship. It’s theoretically pocket-able, but when stacked with a smartphone it creates quite the ‘sandwich’ which does mean you’ll be forced to carry it in one hand.


On the desktop
I did use the xDSD for all my desktop listening-duties during my week spent with it, and did find it frankly a little tricky to use as a desktop device - the volume-pot is a ‘wheel’ rather than a ‘knob’. This is great for on-the-go use, as it prevents inadvertently wild (and potentially dangerous) fluctuations in volume; but it’s slightly less user friendly on a desktop. Not a deal-breaker, but I just found the Nano Black Label a little easier to use when stationary.


Also, being a pretty light-weight device the size, heft and tension of the supplied USB cord tended to make the xDSD slide around on my desk at work. It has four little rubberised ‘feet’ which keep the shiny finish from scraping on desktops, but doesn’t provide too much friction otherwise.


On-the-go: Stacking vs streaming
During my time with the xDSD I found I spent most time with it powering IEMs via aptX Bluetooth-mode (connected wirelessly to my Samsung Galaxy S9+), with the xDSD sitting in my jacket inside pocket. I did try stacking but found the convenience of Bluetooth easily outweighed the marginal loss in sound-quality. Add to that the ’surface noise’ of life that comes with commuting and general life outdoors, and Bluetooth easily came out on top in terms of pros and cons. I must add that I did find a couple of instances where I simply couldn't get the xDSD to pair to either of my Android devices - I had to 'forget' them and restart the device to get it to work.

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Actually, I found myself using Bluetooth at home more often that not with full-size cans - it’s just too damn convenient for non-critical listening.

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I also used it plugged straight into my two-channel system as a source via aptX Bluetooth, controlling via my Galaxy Tab A from the couch, to good effect. A quick A/B between the 44.1 FLAC via the xDSD and vinyl versions of Radiohead’s “A Moon Shaped Pool” did have some slight digital ‘glare’, but otherwise super-enjoyable.

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User interface & controls
Like any new ‘toy’, I took the xDSD straight out of the box and started to mash buttons to make it work. Without reading the instructions, naturally. I like to see how things perform intuitively, plus, instructions schminschtructions…right? Anyhow, I didn’t know that I received the xDSD in ‘line-out’ mode from the previous user, meaning that it was set to ‘LOUD’ immediately for headphone use (luckily, I wasn’t wearing the headphones at the time). Switching between regular-mode, line-out mode, and wired/bluetooth mode requires a slight learning-curve in order to figure-out which isn’t immediately intuitive, but easily learnt with practice.

The volume-pot gives a nice ‘glow’ to indicate volume-level + file-type. Like other devices (looking at you, Mojo), you do work out eventually what colour represents which volume-level…which does change volume-level depending on the impedance + sensitivity of your cans. So like all audio devices, practice caution and sensibility.

The ’Measure’ and ‘Listen’ filters proved to be indistinguishable to me. That’s all I can really add about that.

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‘Bass-boost’ switches were intoxicating to me as a kid. Flicking a switch to be rewarded with +10dB of instantly-audible, distorted flab was my idea of a “good time”. It took me a good decade or two to wean myself off that cat-nip, so I treated the ‘3D+ Matrix’ & ‘XBass+’ switches with caution. When I did tinker with them, I had to seriously concentrate to find any pronounced difference, if anything at all. I did find that it differed wildly depending on what music I was listening to. On Van Halen’s “Panama” (MQA via Tidal desktop app), the 3D+ switch made the cymbals noticeably ‘tizzier’ and wider in terms of spacial-perception, for example.


Power & headphone matching
It handled everything I through at it from IEMs to 300-ohm Sennheiser HD580/650’s with aplomb. There’s plenty of power in this little device to drive pretty much anything to deafening levels. It’s powerful.

More specifically, I spent my time listening with the xDSD paired to:

IEMs:
  • Grado GR10
  • Sennheiser IE800S
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Full-size cans:

  • Grado GH1
  • Meze 99 Classics
  • Sennheiser HD580/650
  • Campfire Cascade (briefly)
  • Focal Clear (briefly)
Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 7.03.27 pm.png



Listening & sound quality
I’m not going to give you a bass/mids/treble/soundstage run-down because I don’t think a good solid-state amplifier should impart any of those characteristics onto headphone transducers, (unless it’s either under powering them; or has dampening/impedance mismatches). Instead, I’ll give you every surety that this device decodes and plays music with absolute transparency and clarity. The Burr-Brown multibit DSD1793 DAC sounds predictably perfect (like a good DAC should), and has ample power for most headphones.

I will give you a few examples of some musical and gear pairings I tried-out and enjoyed with the iFI xDSD, because music’s there to be enjoyed, not analysed.

1. Ryan Adams “Prisoner” (MQA via Tidal desktop app) with Sennheiser HD580 Precisions

This album is one of the most heartfelt ‘breakup’ records ever written, it’s raw, personal, and incredibly powerful. It’s also incredibly well-produced and recorded, and it’s a great test for vocals and guitars, which the 580’s excel at. Amazing separation and “air”.

2. A Perfect Circle “Eat the Elephant” (aptX via Samsung S9+) with Sennheiser IE800s

APC’s first album in well over a decade, and if I’m honest a little disappointing on my first listen. The IE800s are so incredibly linear and transparent that it was if anything, a little too ‘smooth’ and didn’t really impart the dynamics I would have liked, but that’s hardly the fault of the xDSD. The bass and impact on my favourite track on the album, ‘Hourglass’ was pretty impressive and nicely textured. I had to play this album via loudspeakers to really enjoy it.

3. Snail Mail “Lush” (aptX via Samsung Galaxy Tab A) with Grado GH1

Easily one of my favourite records released in 2018 thus far, and being guitar/vocal-driven rock sounds incredible over the Grados. The Grados also happen to be less-than-forgiving on poor source material and can have a harsh/fatiguing top-end. I forgot that I was listening via Bluetooth to this record, which is full-praise for how the xDSD acquitted itself on the wireless-front.

4. Father John Misty “God’s Favourite Customer” (FLAC via Roon) with Sennheiser HD650’s

Ok, this one’s definitely my favourite record released this year. Mr Tillman has one of the clearest voices in the business, combined with a rapier-wit and brash turn-of-phrase. The 650’s have a pronounced ‘relaxed’ voicing, and the top-end can taper-off when underpowered especially. I couldn’t fault this listening session at all, just brilliant.


So who’s it for?
If you have 600 dollarydoos to spend on a DAC/amp, you’re pretty much looking at this or the Chord Mojo. The Mojo pips it for wired connectivity (USB, optical + coax), but loses-out on aptX Bluetooth. On the other-hand, it can have a ‘Poly’ grafted onto it which does do SD-card playback; DLNA; MLP; Bluetooth (albeit it non aptX/AAC), but at a significant premium.

So then, is it worth twice the price of entry over iFi’s Nano Black Label? If you seriously plan on using it for its Bluetooth capabilities, then it’s a genuinely exciting proposition for transparent, powerful and tether-less performance with IEMs and hard-to-drive full-size cans alike.
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iFi have managed to squeeze just about every plausible feature under the sun into this shiny little gadget - it was certainly an ambitious undertaking and to their credit they’ve executed it brilliantly. It’s a genuine Jack-of-all-trades, and at the end of the day will have you enjoying your music in more circumstances, in more places than any other device I can think of. Which is a ‘win’ in my books. Cheers!

Attachments

Grimbles
Grimbles
Pros: Form factor, Great smooth sound, Attractive build, Bluetooth connectivity
Cons: Fingerprint and scratch magnet, No included mobile USB cable, Male USB-A interface, No USB Type-C

Introduction: During my visit to Japan a few months ago, I went to the Fujiya Avic Spring Headphone Festival and heading into the ifi suite I was greeted by their welcoming reps and got to take a look at all their goodies, however the xDSD with its svelte and modern look caught my attention almost immediately; So when ifi reached out me and offered me a chance to review the xDSD I leapt at that chance.

The xDSD is the first foray of a new era of ifi products it seems, embracing a modern look and feel with the X series, seemingly with the xDSD leading the charge being dubbed “Generation X”, after a slew of popular and fantastic products like the iDSD BL Micro and Nano among the popular ones that have entered the market. Does ifi successfully make their transition? Or have they bitten off more than they can chew with some radical changes? Read the full review below to find out,

Specifications: USB Input: up to PCM768kHz & DSD512 (24.6/22.6MHz)

S/PDIF Coaxial and Optical Input: up to 192kHz/24Bit

Dynamic Range: > 113dB (A)

Volume Control: -101dB…0dB in 1dB steps

Output power:

> 2.82V/500 mW @ 16 Ohm

> 3.7V/270mW @ 50 Ohm

> 3.8V/48 mW @ 300 Ohm

> 3.8V/24 mW @ 600 Ohm

Line out Level: > 2.1V @ 0dBFS (& 0dB Volume)

THD &N (1V/16R): < 0.005%

Output Impedance: < 1 Ohm

Battery: 3.8V/2200mAh

Dimensions: 95 (l) x66.5 (w) x19 (h) mm

Weight: 127g (0.28 Ibs)

Warranty period: 12 months



Packaging and Accessories: The xDSD comes in about bog standard packaging with an attractive thick white box containing the name, composite image, and the specifications of the xDSD. Opening the box reveals a velour type string pouch for storing the xDSD, the unit itself, some pamphlets and instructions, and a box that contains all the cable connectors and accessories. What is noticeably missing is a connection interface for mobile devices, at the premium price point one might argue that there should be more accessories but in the end it has everything you need to plug the product in and almost everyone should have a micro USB cable handy.



Build and Interface: The outer shell of the xDSD is composed of two main parts the main part being magnesium alloy and matte plastic for the rear. The faceplate has the 3.5mm ifi proprietary jack that functions as both balanced and single ended outputs, a multifunction button that works as the volume know and volume level indicator and a extra button that controls the 3D+ and XBass+ features. There are also 4 indicator LEDs that detail the type of input, type of file and bitrate being played as well as lights for if either 3D+ and XBass+ are activiated. The rear is where all the inputs are located, with the male data USB port, 5v micro B power only USB port though hopefully type-c is embraced by ifi soon, an optical in and a switch that turns filtering from Measure to Listen. The rest of the physical build is 4 rubber and a Hi-Res sticker. The build quality is very good, the seams where the shell comes together has no gaps, the finishing and paint of the lettering is smooth, and while light, it feels very solid and sturdy. The only thing I can note is that the volume knob/multifunction button sometimes feels like its scratching the metal shell. Speaking of the metal shell, the xDSD has a unique scalloped design and it is polished to a near mirror like finish, this is very attractive in my opinion however this renders the xDSD both extremely fingerprint and smudge prone and quite scratch and ding prone. Because the reflective nature of the shell reveals imperfections readily.


Usability: For desktop use the xDSD was plug and play for me and did not require any sort of driver installation to properly interface with my Windows 10 machine. Set up was mostly simple, connecting the data cable to my computer and turning the unit on and plug and listen. However, it is important to note that the instruction manual for the xDSD is very important to correctly understand how it functions and how to change settings and the like. This is because while it has a simple 1 button interface this leads to it being unintuitive when trying to troubleshoot what is happening, like turning on or resetting line out mode, changing from Bluetooth to USB or optical and the like, as this takes a certain specific combination of holds and button presses to swap around from the different settings. ifi recommends to maximize the in computer volume and use the xDSD as the control, and it has an indicator that changes the main LED color to correspond to a volume level.

For Bluetooth the setup is generally pain free, most if not all devices I tried were able to detect and connect with the xDSD properly with minimal fuss. However, with some devices I did experience drops in the connection once or twice, that never seemed to be recurring, so they were probably one of events. Nonetheless for the most part the xDSD is a straightforward device to use daily and with a solid average of 7 to 9 hours of juice from it, it should serve you well. One thing to note however is that if you plan to use it wired with a phone, like a mentioned before you need to acquire an OTG cable for yourself. Volume changing in this mode is courtesy of the source device and not on the xDSD.

Sound: Sound impressions were taken with a variety of devices. And always a reminder that a while DACs and Amps can affect the sound of what you’re listening to, to a degree it won’t radically change the sound signature and qualities of your audio gear and can merely enhance or complement your gear.

The overall tonality of the xDSD is mostly smooth and flat, with maybe a bump in the bass region adding a certain warmth but not overtly so, this leads to a certain note thickness, especially on the listen filter, swapping over to measure evens it out more if that is something you would like to try. It seems to be very consistent device to device, this is probably partly due to the OI being below 1 ohm, and it has enough power to drive my HE400i at around 85% volume, though can struggle with super power-hungry cans, (though I think ifi may have something for those 600ohm can owners soon.) The analogue circuits that can enhance the listening experience, namely XBass+ provide a nice pleasant bass bump that is not overbearing nor does it sound artificial, perfect for those with more neutral gear that would like to increase the dose of fun and bass response when listening to music. 3D+ on the other hand is supposed to increase the spatial 3D imaging of the music and the effects of these in my experience were hit or miss, some gear and music combinations responded to it well while others it seemed unnatural or I wouldn't really be able to tell any changes. On the technicality side the staging is accurate, though there seems to not be a pronounced depth, just average, and for width we have a little bit wider than normal, and details are good, while not uber transparent, is not lagging in terms of clarity. Definitely pleasant as an overall daily device in sound, not dry and has an ample level of engagement.



Conclusion: ifi has stepped into their modern age confidently with the xDSD. Offering a futuristic design, good features, and specs in a relatively compact size and light weight chassis, that while it has blemishes(literally) in the design that might not make it for everyone, you can’t say it’s boring or generic. It provides great sound and a feature set that can rival the competition out there with Bluetooth and extensive file type support. It has good ease of use especially if firmware updates continue to improve stability, and while there is a learning curve to using all the features, keeping a copy of the manual close by, whether physical or digital, will help ease you in and most of what you’re going to do is simple enough to remember. It makes for a capable mini desk DAP that can easily double as a portable option especially in Bluetooth mode. If there was anything I could ask for only better mobile wired support and USB type-C, maybe for the next revision. But overall at $399 it’s a capable device that is highly recommended for those looking for a versatile and adaptable DAC/Amp that is at worst capable and even excellent at multiple use cases.

Pros: Excellent SQ, portable form factor, detail in abundance, MQA
Cons: Fingerprint magnet, confusing controls
Quick Read Conclusion

Musicality and detail abound in this remarkably flexible DAC/Amp from iFi. With Bluetooth (full fat aptX, not weedy standard bluetooth), optical and USB inputs available, most people's requirements are catered for in a single unit. Couple this with xbass+, 3d+, MQA (at least in theory, see below [updated 26/10/18]), portability and iFi's proprietary s-balanced output technology, this little jack of all trades proves itself the master of most. The few niggles I set out below, and the fact this is a £400 piece of kit, do just edge off half a star. But if you can afford it, and the niggles below don’t bother you, this fabulous sounding DAC/AMP will find detail in your music you have not heard before, putting a big smile on your face as you reach for another old record you want to hear for the first time again!

Introductions and General Bumf

I would like to thank Karina and the team at iFi for inviting me to take part in the tour for the iFi Audio xDSD ("xDSD"). For clarity, I am in no way associated with iFi and have received no inducement (other than the chance to use an xDSD for a week) to write my review.

Test Kit: I have tested the xDSD with Shure SE215, SE425, Sennheiser HD600, Ultimate Ears UE900s, Campfire Audio Polaris and KEF M500 headphones/IEMs. Sources have been a Samsung Note 8 and Galaxy S8 (using both USB audio player pro and Tidal), an 11" Macbook Air (2012 vintage, running Tidal) and an Astell and Kern AK70 mk 1. I also ran the line out through a Schiit Vali 2 to compare against the Modi 2 and into a Dali Katch to compare the Bluetooth implementations.

Preparation: I have given the xDSD around 50 hours of burn-in (as I've said before, I'm unsure if I believe in burn in, but figured this should help for people who do) and I did not start any critical listening without giving it at least an hour to warm up (I think warm up of DACs does help, and have read a couple of papers on this, but given this is a "mobile" DAC I don’t think real world use will involve having had this thing plugged in for 24 hours before listening).

Me as a listener: I am not a pro by any stretch of the imagination. I have always enjoyed my music, and my tastes are pretty broad. I go to live music ranging from rock and pop concerts to orchestra and opera. I would not describe myself as having a trained ear, but I am attentive and my ears are in pretty good nick for a 35 year old.

My tastes: neutral to warm, but I do like good punchy bass and I love to hear decent instrument separation.

Test tracks: I've tried to keep it broad and I have cited my music sources below, so (where possible) people can download the tracks themselves.

1) Wiz Kalifah – On My Level (320k MP3, Google Store)

2) Ed Sheeran and Lupe Fiasco – Old School (Tidal HiFi)

3) John Williams – Throne Room from Star Wars performed by Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (16/44.1 FLAC, Qobuz)

4) The Verve – The Drugs Don’t Work (16/44.1 self ripped FLAC)

5) Ed Sheeran – Castle on the Hill (320k MP3, Google Store)

6) Grieg – In the Hall of the Mountain King (from the Peer Gynt Suite) performed by the Zech National Symphony Orchestra (24/48, Musopen Kickstarter Project)

7) Otis Redding – Dock of the Bay (24/192, HD Tracks)

8) 30 Seconds to Mars – Stronger (Radio 1 Live Lounge Cover) (16/44.1, self-ripped FLAC)

9) Pearl Jam – Yellow Ledbetter (320k MP3, Google Store)

10) Rage Against the Machine – Wake Up (292k m4a, iTunes)

So, on to the main event. [/General Bumf]

Unboxing

iFi do an excellent job of packaging their products and with the unboxing experience. As my fourth iFi unboxing, I knew what to expect but enjoyed it nevertheless. In the box, you get the xDSD, a tactile "crushed velvet" (suspect not actually velvet) carry bag for it, some Velcro sticky back strips for attaching it to (presumably) a phone, some cables and adaptors (including a toslink to 3.5mm toslink adaptor for the optical input), a few (very basic) booklets and a little bag of silica gel. And iFi's "Thank You" smiley sticker under the xDSD of course! In the postage box the xDSD arrived in, there was also a usb-micro usb cable for the charging port. I presume this is included in the main packaging on the retail unit, and was out of the xDSD's box as this was a tour unit.

One notable absence, especially at this price point, is the lack of an OTG. I take the point that the user base for the xDSD is likely to be a mixture of Apple (lightning) and Android (usb-c or micro usb) so whatever they could include is not going to work for everyone, but at £400 it seems a little bit stingy not to include. I did not see this as an unforgivable omission, especially as I have a bunch of them.

UB1.jpg UB2.jpg UB3.jpg UB4.jpg UB5.jpg

Practicalities

I got my ruler out to check the measurements of the xDSD, and make it approximately 9.5cm long, 2 cm high and 6.5cm wide. This makes the xDSD reasonably portable in real world use – I give you that, bolted to the back of a phone, this is pretty deep unless you have big pockets, but if you want mobility you can just use Bluetooth; on its own, the xDSD is definitely pocket sized. It's reasonably light, and gets warm (but not hot) in operation, so ticks "portable" for me.

Sides.jpg

The body is ridged (a little like corrugated roofing) however, so the xDSD feels smaller than its dimensions belie. One criticism raised already, which I echo, is that the shiny surface is a fingerprint magnet. It doesn’t bother me, but it might you.

Back.jpg Top (2).jpg

On the front of the unit is the 3.5mm stereo (s-balanced so compatible with both SE and balanced 3.5mm set ups) output, input indicator and source type indicator, volume control with Chord MoJo-esque volume knob (more on that below), 3d+ and xbass indicator lights and function buttons. On the top, nothing but those ridges and on the bottom, are some more ridges and some silicon feet to stop it scratching your kit. On the back are the optical and USB inputs, filter switch and micro usb in charging port.

Onto that volume control – iFi are proud of the "pure analogue" volume control, and the bright light which indicates volume (from 100%, red->yellow->green->cyan->magenta->blue), but honestly I feel it looked a bit cheap and feels a little tacky. I also think "pure analogue" is slightly misleading, because the volume control only turn up or down at set steps/increments (although in iFi's defence there are enough steps to make the volume properly controllable). I don’t know why iFi decided to edge the volume control with cheap black ridged plastic, nor why they felt the light was necessary. I would have been very happy with a recessed milled metal control, both to avoid the slightly unnecessary light, but also because this volume control catches in my trouser pockets. If I walk around with the xDSD in my pocket, I am very quickly deafened.
Top.jpg
Battery life is claimed to be up to 6-8 hours using IEMs by iFi in the manual. My experience, with the volume at cyan (in reality c. 40%) I am seeing a shade over 7 hours. Also worth noting is that if the xDSD runs out of battery life, you can charge it on the fly through the micro usb port which is awesome. It is worth noting specifically though, that it does not recharge when a cable is plugged into the USB input port. Although this flummoxed me once (because I listened to it for a day or so over USB and couldn’t work out why the battery was still dead), overall I think this is a good thing, as it doesn’t periodically rinse my phone battery like the iFi iDSD Nano Black Label ("Nano BL") can, and it keeps the power and data inputs separate.

USB implementation matches that used on a number of other iFi devices. USB A male, means if you are using an OTG cable from a phone or android device (I suspect most people reading this review would do this) it simply plugs straight in (provided the OTG cable isn’t over chunky). The xDSD comes with a little rubber cover for its USB input, which I am certain I would lose very quickly if I owned one.

Rubebr stopper.jpg

Across my devices (listed above) I have had no problems with instant recognition of the xDSD, and the firmware seems very stable. I have not had any problems with disconnects, track pops or Bluetooth losing connectivity (even when my phone was in a breast pocket and the xDSD in the opposite trouser pocket). It also connects automatically using AptX where available (at least confirmed by my AK70, hard to know for sure on the Samsung phones).

The Sound

I have decided to split my review into the standard format of highs, mids, lows and soundstage. I am also going to focus a little on separation, as it is something I enjoy hearing and enthuse about detail retrieval, which I found to be a real highlight for the xDSD.

Highs, Mids and Lows

Highs, mids and lows are all well presented, and well balanced. The best description I can find for the sound is "full". The overall sound signature, to my ears, has a slight emphasis in the bass, delivering the extra hit on a rumbling bassline (like on My Level), but mids are smooth and clean, with no discernible weaknesses (or specific strengths). Vocals are clear and full, at both ends of the scale, and the top end of the spectrum is well represented – you can hear the triangles over the cacophony of the orchestra in the peaks of In the Hall of the Mountain King, along with the gentle ripple of the tide in On the Dock of the Bay.

Combines with the soundstage, separation and detail (which I describe below), the overall sound was simply pleasurable to listen to in every way, enabling long listening sessions (5-6 hours plus) with literally no fatigue.

Soundstage, Separation and Detail Retrieval

Soundstage and instrument separation was exemplary with the xDSD. It has one of the widest and deepest soundstages I have ever heard, without ever sounding artificial or unreal (a minor criticism I have of its little cousin, the Nano BL). Instrument separation is also fantastic, and combined with the detail retrieval (see below) I found myself revisiting track after track from my music collection, hearing new detail which was both well-defined and articulately placed.

This brings me to one of the most notable qualities of the xDSD over any source I have ever listened to, is its ability to find detail in tracks I simply did not know was there. If this thing had a motto it would be "in vero sunt vera" – even from my 320kb MP3 files, the xDSD was able to produce a degree of detail and placement I have not heard in the same tracks before. Orchestral pieces sounded fuller and more real, to the point where it almost felt like there are an orchestra in front of me. This meant that listening to music I had previously exhausted myself with became a new game, the xDSD willing me to hear nuances and sounds I had just not heard in the same recordings before. It's the small stuff… the sound of the finger slides on Yellow Ledbetter, the studio and movement noises on the Live Lounge performance by 30 Seconds to Mars, the constant lapping of the water on Sitting on the Dock of the Bay. The xDSD does this subtly, with the additional detail (subject to my one comment below) never detracting from the underlying track. In short, there is a new depth of detail which does not sacrifice musicality.

Generally, this detail retrieval was sympathetic to the tracks I was listening to, but there was one specific area which, although I was happy with the sound, may become tiresome. I have a decent selection of 48/16 FLACs which are self-recorded from vinyl. Decent (consumer) kit was used to make these recordings, but they are not perfect. There is crackle on older vinyl and other slight imperfections which the xDSD definitely picks out and emphasizes more than my AK70, XDP-30r and Nano BL do. This is part of the vinyl sound which I find endearing, but that I noticed the emphasis, makes me think that some people could find this a little too much.

The xDSD's ability to re-cast my existing music collection with depth, width and detail, was probably my favourite thing about it, and I even found myself digging out some of my old teenage angst tracks, just to hear the xDSD do them new justice!

Other thoughts

I fiddled with the "semi balanced" output, using a 3.5mm to 2.5mm adaptor cable I have. It worked, but other than the greater volume output, I couldn’t pick up a noticeable difference between the two with any of my equipment. Absent the electronic noise I describe below, the xDSD was silent, even with my CA Polaris, which seems to pick up noise more than my other kit.

Measure/Listen switch – all testing was done on listen.

xBass and 3d+ - I remember, back in the day, having a Walkman with a "bass boost" on it. The bass boost made everything flabby and fuzzy, and I have been deeply suspicious of these osrts of EQ enhancements since then. On the xDSD though, it is fabulously implemented. The xBass enhancement is subtle, creating extra kick but in no way overpowering music. Honestly, I found myself listening to it more and more as time went by. The 3d+ system is supposed to enhance width and soundstage. I found it just seemed to emphasize the treble a little, so didn’t use it too much. Again, it was a small, subtle addition as distinct from any totally artificial EQ. Well worth continuing to play with!

Comparisons

v. Nano BL

For me, this was the big comparison. Do I think the xDSD is worth two Nano BLs? Simply put, yes I do… the sound quality was noticeably better. Both the xDSD and Nano BL have a warm sound, with a noticeable emphasis on the bass, but the clarity and micro-detail form the xDSD were noticeable when swapping between the two. The additional features (particularly Bluetooth and charging whilst using) also make the xDSD the better value proposition form my perspective.

side by side nano bl 2.jpg

Schiit Stack

The xDSD retrieves oodles more detail than my Schiit rig (Modi 2 Uber into Vali 2). It doesn’t have the output power that the Schiit Stack has, but makes up for this with an all-round better sound.

On Vali.jpg

AK70

The xDSD provides a little more detail and refinement than the AK70. It is a much more subtle difference, but ironically (given the AK70 is a portable player) I found the best solution was using the AK70 as a transport for the xDSD. The wider soundstage, slightly detail enhancement, and more musical expression, mean the xDSD (just) pips the AK70 in my ears.

with AK70.jpg

Niggles

In addition to the minor gripes about aesthetics noted above, I have three additional niggles to pick up one. One easily solved, one not a real problem but slightly strange and one I don’t really care about but may annoy some people. In that order then:

1) I pride myself on being a pretty gadget savvy guy. Out of the box though, I excitedly wired the xDSD into my Note 8, but all I could hear was some weird electrical noise (see point 2 below). It was clear that the phone and xDSD weren't talking to each other; did I have a brick? In short, switching between USB and wired input modes requires (from the device being off) the volume switch to be held down for about ten seconds. I actually had to read the manual, imagine the shame!

2) If you are not playing music to the device, there is a lot of electrical noise, especially when charging. As soon as you engage your source, this dies immediately and you have silky black silences. This is not therefore a real problem, but it seems that whatever isolates the power input from the audio output is only activated when a source is connected and engaged on the xDSD. I actually recorded this noise and sent it back to iFi who are going to send me out another unit to review. I will update on the new unit, and also on iFi's response re/the first xDSD; and

3) I simply could not get the device to confirm it was playing MQA. For all my tweaking in Tidal on my Mac, and (per the pictures below) the Mac saying Tidal was playing masters, that elusive iFi magenta LED never appeared. I played with all the setting the online forums offer help with (including exclusive mode). It didn’t actually bother me that much, but it does seem a bit annoying I can't get the device to confirm it is doing something the computer says it is doing, and is so conspicuously marketed on the packaging. [Updated 26/10/18: I had been using the standard windows USB class 2 driver. On installing iFi's driver in Windows 10, using Tidal's windows application and exclusive mode on, force volume on and passthrough MQA off, MQA now works perfectly. Conclusion: download iFi's drivers].

Screen shot tidal.jpg Screen shot tidal 2.jpg

Conclusion

I have still not heard a Chord Mojo, and so cannot comment on the xDSD's most obvious competitor. It is a big step up in cost from the Nano BL, but I don’t think anybody would be disappointed with the additional spend. Indeed, for me, the sound quality of the xDSD edges ahead of the AK70 (which is brilliant in its own right), and is the best DAC I have listened to yet. If you have the cash, and aren’t concerned about the niggles I raised above, I don’t think this fabulous, shiny box of tricks is going to disappoint.

Shiny.jpg

Attachments

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M0N_
M0N_
Have you tried the xDSD using optical/coax? Kinda want to buy one now for my X5 II to use as a dac.
Grimbles
Grimbles
Hey @M0N_ i plugged it in to an old cd player to see if it worked (which it did) but I didn't do any critical listening through the optical input
Pros: Portable, great sound, lots of functions and options
Cons: slightly warm rather than neutral sound, more cables would be good, learning curve for the many functions
IFi XDSD Review
- Expatinjapan

]
iFi Audio xDSD review
- expatinjapan

https://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/x-xdsd/

I first laid eyes on the xDSD at a Tokyo headphone Show held by Fujiya Avic in late 2017. I was entranced, its looks were certainly beguiling to the eye. I knew it would be a must to review in 2018.
The design was a shift away from the usual truncated pyramid shape that I had become accustomed to from iFI Audio. Whilst certainly different the cut off pyramid design did not lend itself easily to stacking.
The iFi Nano iDSD Black was released earlier this year at an entry level price, the xDSD being more mid tier priced.
Its sexy lines and futuristic casing makes this an intriguing piece of gear even prior to the actual experience of listening to it. It eventually becomes a totem, a fetish as many other audio gear favorites have been in the past.




'Luxury, style and quality.
The xDSD DAC is the latest iFi statement in advanced, affordable, portable audio. Its dark titanium vacuum ion plated metal enclosure is pleasingly tactile and compact. The radio-frequency transparent end cap allows full CD-wireless music transmission.
It delivers for music lovers and audiophiles alike.
First, it delivers CD-quality Bluetooth connectivity for Apple/Android to stream the latest music on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal and any other streaming platforms.
Second, it delivers the very highest quality PCM768/DSD512 and MQA formats for downloaded and Tidal streamed music in full studio-quality.
Third, with the iFi analogue signal processing circuitry and the original S-Balanced amplification stage, it delivers pure musical enjoyment to in-ear-monitors or headphones.
The xDSD, a new level of musical experience for your headphones, on-the-go.' - via the iFi Audio site

Unboxing



As usual the photos tell a thousand words,
or the specifications and details tell you all you really need to know.





The box within a box sleeve with a fold out users manual to get you on track from day one.
Read it carefully as this device has many options and uses.



Told you. Look at that! So many features. iFi has the best features.



Formats. So many formats. inputs and outputs to keep even the most jaded audiophile happy.



I nice little baggie to keep it clean on your Gulliver's travels



warranty, guide and tech stuff, register you iFi Audio purchase and how to attach those velcro strips to make a supaah rig.



Not vacuumed packed for freshness, but fresh as a prince, silica bags to keep it dry inside.



The usual esoteric bevy of cables provided by iFi Audio. Its also handy If you have a few others lying around to meet the specifications of connecting to a wide variety of sources.



Top view of this little finger print collector



Headphone out(Balanced 3.5mm/single ended 3.5mm) - the Headphone port also doubles as a Line out (best to read the manual), (kHz) colored leds, input lights (its ingenious, read the manual), iFi center button with a multiple of uses (on/off, volume, change from wired to bluetooth, mute), 3D+ and XBass+ options -none, one or all, settings:xf_eek:n/off/3D+, XBass+, Both, pairing bluetooth button (manual again, not the Fawlty Towers one).



Back view.
Spdif input, USB-A input (iOS, Android, PC, Mac etc, Digital filter (Listen/measure - quite subtle), Micro USB charge port and a handy battery status LED.







Little feet to keep the underside clean, prevent slippage etc.




iFi Audio xDSD, Shanling M0 connected via bluetooth and Campfire Audio Atlas.

Specifications



USB Input: up to PCM768kHz & DSD512 (24.6/22.6MHz)
S/PDIF Coaxial and Optical Input: up to 192kHz/24Bit
Dynamic Range: > 113dB (A)
Volume Control: -101dB…0dB in 1dB steps
Output power:
> 2.82V/500 mW @ 16 Ohm
> 3.7V/270mW @ 50 Ohm
> 3.8V/48 mW @ 300 Ohm
> 3.8V/24 mW @ 600 Ohm
Line out Level: > 2.1V @ 0dBFS (& 0dB Volume)
THD &N (1V/16R): < 0.005%
Output Impedance: < 1 Ohm
Battery: 3.8V/2200mAh
Dimensions: 95 (l) x66.5 (w) x19 (h) mm
Weight: 127g (0.28 Ibs)
Warranty period: 12 months





Price

US$399 (Amazon price).







“The good of a book lies in its being read. A book is made up of signs that speak of other signs, which in their turn speak of things. Without an eye to read them, a book contains signs that produce no concepts; therefore it is dumb.”
― Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose


Sound

The iFI xDSD follows in the footsteps of its predecessors.



The iFi xDSD is a nice bit of kit, it is above the oh so slightly V shaped iFi nano iDSD Black and below the iFI Black Micro.

The sound can be warm at times, not overly so but at the low end end can definitely be heard and not in the sense of `body`.

The signature doesn't differ much from earphone to earphone, which is a good sign as a good dap or dac/amp should really be fairly transparent in its presentation and give room for the earphones to demonstrate their signature in the manner for which they were designed.

But as I have written there is a warmth to be had in the low end, probably due to the choice of the amp, even so bearing in one mind that it is a whole, not just due to one part.

Whilst the iFi Audio xDSD sticks to the usual choice of Dac Chip, a BurrBrown that is one that occasionally I find to be on the bright side of things, maybe this overall concept was meant to tame that a bit towards a soft L shape

One can lessen the warmth ever so slightly by using the measure switch.

The xDSD is clear sounding, not overly analytical. Smooth in its presentation.
The sound stage is wide, more so than deep..



All in all it does its job as required, fits into its price point. I myself prefer a more neutral signature, but my personal sonic preferences do not detract from the xDSD itself.

Being its main aim is probably to pair up with iphones, cheap daps with Bluetooth, computers and android phones it it probably best that it is more built towards the smooth, slightly warm end of things, rather than the harsh, analytical unforgiving end of design.






Overall

The iFI Audio xDSD is a stunner: visually lavish, luminous in the right lighting, innovative in its feature set, meticulous and effortless in its sonic presentation, exhilarating when held in ones hand.
It is a captivating piece of audio gear with its extensive list of options and functions which could make some earlier dac/amps seem archaic. In short the xDSD is compelling in its basic yet exceptional form and functions.

The size is perfect for hand, pocket or carry bag. The ability to use it wired or Bluetooth adds to its versatility and renders some earlier dac/amps rather redundant.

Price at US$399 places it around mid tier.

Build as usual for iFi is excellent.

it offers several options for connections, volume control is precise.
Separate USB for power and input is a plus.

A slight hiss (with very sensitive IEMs like the Andromeda) is present, but is minimal and disappears when the music gets going. Using iFi IEMatch would solve this minor issue.
With regular ear and headphones its not an issue.

Volume seems to differ with different sources, so check volume first (Tested over bluetooth and wired).

iphone requires CCK for wired connection, or you can just go Bluetooth.

The xbass gives enough of hit to please, not an excessive jump. 3D+ was a bit metallic for my tastes.

I found I could get 6-9 hours usage between charges depending on what functions and connectivity I choose.

The xDSD is a fairly easy to use piece of gear, one needs to read the manual to learn to disable line out when not needed and also how to utilize the on/off volume pot and settings button to cycle through the various functions. then its easy.

Its slightly warm low end and smoothness may not be the signature everyone is looking for, but I have often found this in dac/amps their aim being to improve upon devices with lower audio quality. And although some may say the external dac/amp is separate and should not be affected I find that in my experience the source can have an impact in the chain whether wired or over Bluetooth.
So the warmth can soften the end result of a longer chain.

Its not an analytical beast, but is pleasing and musical.

If you are looking to improve upon your current source the iFi xDSD is one of a few legitimate choices within a vast sea of dac/amps and dap/dacs.




The iFi Audio xDSD and upcoming xCAN














Thank you to iFi Audio for sending Head pie the xDSD for review
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Pros: ·
Very good sound quality
· Charge while you listen
· Light weight and small form factor
· Large volume control knob with color indicator
· AptX Bluetooth input
Cons: ·
Bugs (see below)
· The multi-function knobs, buttons, and colors that require a steep learning curve and good recall
· The micro-USB charging socket (fragile)
· Because it’s smaller than a phone, attaching it to the back of a phone with Velcro makes it awkward to reach the xDSD controls
ABOUT ME:
I was fortunate to be selected to review the xDSD as part of the Head-fi tour, and will pass it along to the next reviewer at the end of my allotted week.

I am a retired IT geek, having spent 46 years trying to make computer systems do what I wanted. I have been tinkering with stereo systems since I was 14. My old ears can still hear up to 10 Khz before the treble drops off in volume. I listen to headphones when I need to keep the noise down at home. When at the gym, or on a walk, I use earphones.

When I have the house to myself I play my KEF LS50W speakers at life-like volumes . I like a system that allows me to enjoy the music and am easily distracted by poor imaging, sound-stage, separation, or by exaggerated coloration.

I like Jazz, Blues and Classical the most these days, but I will also listen to R&B, Pop, Rock, Reggae, and EDM when in the mood. I love a heavy bass line. I listen 95% of the time to Tidal streaming or Tidal Downloads.

WHO NEEDS THIS DEVICE?
Apple and Samsung appear to ignore the Hi-Res music audience by including a “good enough” DAC/Amp in their smart phones. Their research must indicate that the vast majority of their headphone/earphone listeners cannot tell the difference with music above 320 Kb/s sampling. I can, and never listen to MP3 or low bit rate recordings. Phone manufacturers have even dropped the headphone jack, so I think they expect customers to switch to Bluetooth (either to headphones or as input to a DAC/amp). I expect that most people that purchase the xDSD will do so for the wireless Bluetooth input as it eliminates the need to strap your DAC/amp to your phone when on the go.

I am a “wannabe” Audiophile, and I would need an external DAC/Amp like the ones in this review to meet my sound quality expectations. I see three main use cases for a portable DAC/Amp, first, to carry around the house to listen on the sofa or in bed for example, second, as a desktop DAC/Amp for my PC, and third for traveling.

On an airplane, it is impractical to carry my heavy and bulky M8 DAC/amp, so I currently keep it simple and listen to downloaded Tidal playlists on my iPhone, paired to a pair of Parrot noise cancelling phones. Now, while the xDSD Bluetooth with my Shure earphones would give me a better sounding experience, I will still go for the noise cancelling headphones, and they require Bluetooth pairing on output. I do not believe the sDSD can do Bluetooth input and output at the same time, although I didn’t actually try this.

There are many reviews of the xDSD on line now, so I thought I would skip the unboxing photos and just narrate my own experience. I like the quality (Apple like) packaging. The xDSD is literally the size of a pack of playing cards. I like the chrome finish and small form factor. I use other iFi products (iPurifier and iUSB power) and appreciate the quality of their products.

At the end below, I compiled a table showing the specs for the xDSD and similar DAC/Amps.

SETUP:
The first configuration I wanted was USB input from my Windows PC. I read the user guide (a small “cheat sheet” card) and discovered I have to switch off and on again while using the Settings button to toggle to the USB input (white light on LED(2)). Next I discovered that I need the xDSD USB drivers. I downloaded v5.2 (for MQA). Apparently the v5.1 is for DSD files… it appears you cannot have DSD input as well as MQA input. To find the Windows drivers scroll down the Download page at https://ifi-audio.com/downloads/

In Windows Speaker Properties set up, I disabled all enhancements and set the output format to 24/192.

I ran Tidal, which showed a dialogue box asking me to confirm that I want to use this new MQA device. I also checked the xDSD settings to ensure flat EQ.

First impressions: non-intuitive controls. It’s hard to find the right settings without studying the manual. The input setup is buggy… I had to re-try several times to get USB input or Bluetooth input. Twice it went to Line Out without my realizing it and I had my ears blasted.

TIDAL TEST TRACKS:

· Take a Walk on the Wild Side (Natalie Mateo) Hi-Fi
· Nothing but Flowers (Talking Heads) Hi-Fi
· Flight of the Cosmic Hippo (Bela Fleck) Hi-Fi
· Just a Little Lovin’ (Shelby Lynne) Hi-Fi
· Limehouse Blues (Jazz at the Pawnshop) Hi-Fi
· Mozart Clarinet Concerto in A, K622 (Wiener Philharmoniker, Karl Bohm) Hi-Fi
· Temptation (Diana Krall) MASTER
· You Can’t Control It (Jack Johnson) MASTER
· Mozart Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter” (Berliner Philharmoniker, Karl Bohm) MASTER

LISTENING TESTS

DAC/Amp: xDSD

Headphones: Oppo PM3 (Feb 2016 – stock cable)

First impressions… slightly wooly bass. A warm but pleasant presentation. The tambourine and drums are clearly placed and realistic. No sibilance on vocals. Handles the heavy bass and loud cymbals on Cosmic Hippo with ease. However on Limehouse Blues the high pitched clarinet was very piercing. This problem did not occur on the other phones. The PM3s are more comfortable than the Audeze and have closed backs (for sound isolation). I have a problem with the 3.5mm TRRS cable I bought… a loose socket on the headphones? Sorry, no review of the balanced functionality.

Headphones: Audeze LCD2-F (May 2014 – silver plated litz cable)
These phones have a slightly dark/warm coloration. I preferred listening with 3D on. I turned up the volume five notches to match the PM3 sound levels (just into the yellow zone, 75%). The xDSD has no problem driving these phones.
Bass is tight and fast. On Limehouse Blues the tambourine and drums are clearly placed and realistic. No sibilance on Diana Krall’s vocals. The xDSD handles the heavy bass on Cosmic Hippo with ease and the cymbals are crisper than with the PM3s. On the Jack Johnson MASTER track the sound-stage and imaging are significantly better. Listening to the Jupiter with the 3D setting, I enjoyed the imaging and isolation of all the instruments on stage. It was easy to focus on the various string instruments across the stage. On my Diana Krall test tracks, micro detail was good: I could hear her drawing a breath between her lines.
Overall an enjoyable musical experience… better than the PM3s. As these are my favorite headphones paired with the xDSD, and I used them for the most of my listening this week. I left the 3D switched on to brighten up the top end a little.

Headphones: Fostex T50RP (modded). These phones are notoriously hard to drive, and have a dark signature. On Cosmic Hippo, I obtained a nice tight bass by turning up the volume to yellow/red (about 80%). The mids are a bit recessed. The highs are there but not as bright as the other phones (even with the 3D setting. A workable pairing, but not really the best match.

Earphones: Shure SE215 (with long Comply tips)
These earphones pair nicely with the xDSD. Like the LCD-2Fs these phones have a slightly emphasized bass. The acoustic bass is taught, and the mids and highs are sibilance free. I listened to these (via Bluetooth input coming from an old iPhone 4s) for a few hours on a trip last weekend, and there were no distracting coloration or artifacts. A pleasant musical experience with clear bass, mids, and highs. Good imaging on USB and Tidal MASTER tracks. No hiss at all. Good for portable use.

Bluetooth: Once I had figured out how to get into Bluetooth (again multifunction switches, a two hand job), I paired successfully with my iPad. I had forgotten to turn up the volume on the iPad… easy fix. Sometimes when I turned the xDSD (and iPad) off and on again I had to go through the pairing exercise again. Once I could pair but no sound came across. I had to “forget” the device on the iPad and re-pair again. iFi Customer Service replied “With Apple products, you may need to force the 'forget' and repair”.
The xDSD Bluetooth has decent range (about 15m if no obstructions). I was pleasantly surprised with the sound quality of the Bluetooth input. The ability to have your xDSD in your pocket and your phone in your hand is a major feature of the xDSD. The Fiio Q5 also has this feature.

DAC/Amp: CEntrance HiFi M8
The M8 has a slightly better soundstage and imaging then the xDSD. However, on the Jack Johnson track the presentation is more musical and pleasant on the xDSD than on the M8, albeit I was listening to a MASTER track on the xDSD. The M8 does not decode MQA.
With the xDSD playing through Bluetooth and the M8 on USB input, playing Take a Walk on the Wild Side, the M8 was able to isolate the bongos and tambourine slightly better than the xDSD. Using the treble boost on the M8 it is noticeably clearer than the xDSD with 3D on. However, with both devices on USB input they sound much the same.
Although the xDSD plays loud with all headphones and earphones, I find the M8’s extra power (1000mW), gives a slightly better “grip” and taughtness. The M8 dedicated buttons for all functions are intuitive and easy to switch with one hand. The M8 is a good match for difficult to drive headphones. However, after four years of regular usage, the M8 now has poor battery life (about 4 hours). The M8 is too bulky for outside use, and does not have Bluetooth input.

MQA
On Tidal, I always select “MASTER” MQA albums if available, assuming they are produced from better mastered tapes. I am somewhat agnostic on the sound differences with full MQA decoding, but so far, I have not heard a MASTER track that sounds worse than the Hi-Fi track of the same piece. The xDSD detects MQA tracks and renders them nicely. Listening to the Tidal MASTER tracks was a pleasure, but I did not do a successful blind test comparison with the equivalent Hi-Fi racks (see bugs below).

BUGS
When constantly switching back and forth with MQA and the same track in Hi-Fi, the xDSD started to malfunction and finally died. Battery level was OK. After letting the device cool down for six hours it started up and played again. But when trying the comparison tests again in Roon and Tidal, I eventually got no sound at all even though all the LEDs looked normal. After several attempts at resetting the xDSD I still had a non-responsive device.

MEASURE/LISTEN, XBASS AND 3D SWITCHES
These EQ settings are subtle, not “in your face”. With my phones (and old ears) I preferred the slight treble boost that comes with the 3D setting. With both 3D and xBass on it’s like turning on a “loudness” switch.

KEF LS50W
I switched off the xDSD and switched on my reference system – KEF LS50W speakers. I have to say the LS50W beats any DAC/amp headphone combination I have tried. The imaging and soundstage are very accurate once I set them up for my room. The bass, drums, vocals, and cymbals are much crisper. I guess that good speakers in a compatible room should be able to out-perform headphones.

OTHER NOTES
  • I do not have any DSD files, so I can’t comment on the DSD capabilities.
  • I did not hear any EMI interference from my iMac 27 (running Windows 7) or from my iPad.
  • I found that the sound coloration varies a lot with my different headphones, so you may want to test your phones before purchasing.
CONCLUSION
The xDSD would make a good replacement for my CEntrance HiFi M8. The xDSD has an enjoyable sound, small form factor, good battery life and Bluetooth input. It is smaller and lighter. If I had a non-buggy unit, I could live with the more difficult ergonomics on the xDSD in exchange for better sound and Bluetooth input… I guess having to learn the awkward user interface is a reasonable compromise for a small form factor. My preferred match is the Audeze LCD2-F phones. The table below shows the DAC/Amps that are similar in features and price.
Note that only the Fiio Q5 and the xDSD have Bluetooth input. This avoids the need to strap (or Velcro) your phone to the back of the xDSD, which is actually smaller than most smart phones.

Would I buy the xDSD for myself? It’s priced between the iFi Nano Black, and the iFi Black Label. The Black Label produces 4000 mW of power – worth the price for hard to drive headphones from your desktop. If the Bluetooth input is an important feature – the xDSD is worth comparing with the Fiio Q5. If I were commuting by bus or train, I would prefer wireless noise cancelling headphones, i.e. no need for a DAC/amp.
And since I don’t really need Bluetooth input, or multiple inputs, the iFi Nano Black Label at half the price of the xDSD, or the Dragonfly Red may be better value for my money.

COMPARISON TABLE

These specs are what I gleaned on the Internet. Please double check your sources as I cannot guarantee accuracy.


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xDSD interior graphic.jpg
Pros: Good sound quality, powerful amp, classy looks, ergonomic size, lots of accessories,
Cons: Volume pot, glossy surface, battery life
Before starting this review, I would like to share technical aspects and package details. Also, I would like to thank ifi Audio and Lawrence for this great review tour.

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Specifications:

B Input:

up to PCM768kHz & DSD512 (24.6/22.6MHz)

S/PDIF Coaxial and Optical Input:

up to 192kHz/24Bit

Dynamic Range:

> 113dB (A)

Volume Control:

-101dB…0dB in 1dB steps

Output power:

> 2.82V/500 mW @ 16 Ohm
> 3.7V/270mW @ 50 Ohm
> 3.8V/48 mW @ 300 Ohm
> 3.8V/24 mW @ 600 Ohm

Line out Level:

> 2.1V @ 0dBFS (& 0dB Volume)

THD &N (1V/16R):

< 0.005%

Output Impedance:

< 1 Ohm

Battery:

3.8V/2200mAh

Dimensions:

95 (l) x66.5 (w) x19 (h) mm

Weight:

127g (0.28 Ibs)


Package Details:

xDSD USB DAC


USB-A female to male


USB-B female to USB A female


USB-A male to USB B female


Toslink optical adapter to 3.5 mm mini jack


Velcro patches for attaching to phone or music player


Velvet Pouch

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Package & Design;

As you can see to the package details, Ifi xDSD comes with lots of accessories. USB cables, toslink adapter, pouch and patches. I am quite impressed by the package contents. ifi Audio put lots of accessories for their customer.

When I first touch xDSD, I was surprised because it is smaller than I thought. Body material is the combination of aluminium and plastic, it is not heavy because of plastic components. Plastic material is not cheap looking, it looks and feels premium. Also, it feels solid and durable, but it definitely feels like the kind of a thing that you never would like to drop. Ergonomically it is wonderful to use it. I used it with my AK120 DAP and they matched quite well in terms of size. Size is similar with Mojo, maybe a bit taller and thinner. Overall, I liked the shape of body, it easily fit any device and you can carry with your portable gear outside without worrying. Also, I like volume knob lights. It is like Mojo and its colors change in every level of sound.

One thing that I don’t like about the design is the glossy surface. I have to admit, it looks good, but it is like fingerprint collector. You have to clean every time when you touch it if you do not like that view. I wish iFi was made of matte surface. Also, another disadvantage of the glossy surface is, it can be scratched easily. It has some hairline scratches on the body if you look closely. Another thing about the design is the volume-knob. It is sensitive enough and feels good when you turn on, but when you turn down or up little bit hard, knob stretches little bit and rubs to the edges. This is not a big issue but it is really bothered me when I use. These are minor complaints of course but I couldn’t ignore it.

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Battery Life:

Battery life of xDSD is neither good nor bad. I had approximately 6 hours listening with my earphones, but if you use with power hungry headphones this result will change, probably you will get 3-4 hours battery life. I think it could be better if it runs like 8-9 hours. This is not the main reason of the battery life but there are too many lights on the body. When you turn on the unit, all input lights, battery light, 3D+ or xBass lights and volume lights are turning on. It could be better that if iFi turns off some lights after selected. For example, when we choose xBass feature, the light could be turned off after 15 seconds. I believe this will affect battery life very positively. Of course, I am not an engineer and these are some amateur consumer thoughts.

By the way, you can follow the battery status at battery indicate led. White (more than %75) – Green (middle of somewhere) Red – (hold the charge cable ready) Blinking Red – (Fire in the hole)

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Power:

This thing is really powerful. Piece of cake for xDSD to drive any earphones, and it drove my all earphones without any issue. Also, I tried with my HD6XX headphone and it drives effortless. I believe it is enough to drive most of the headphones with authority. In addition, I tried hiss sensitivity with my Andromeda earphone and I heard just a small amount of hiss but it is absolutely not significant. If I speak more clearly, it is better than my Lotoo Paw Gold Diana, Astell Kern AK120 and Opus#1 in terms of hiss performance.

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Sound:

The first thing that I realized when I heard of xDSD was its musical presentation. It sounds effortless and musical. No harshness, aggression or sharpness. It is not mellow like Mojo, but somewhat similar with it. I would call the sound signature of xDSD the neutral, but it leans towards the slightly warmer side. Instrument separation, resolution and details are also pretty good. It is not performing from technical side, it shows its musical side. I don’t know how many hours burned this review unit but I found trebles are tamed and relaxed. I never heard any sibilance and it is not rolled off. Details and separation level are good but not perfect. Sometimes in fast passages it loses its details, especially with prominent trebles earphones like Andromeda. Stringed instruments like violin, guitar and oud sound are also natural feeling. It is not coloured, thick or thin. No roll off at upper frequencies. Trebles are pretty extended. I did not come up with sibilance or harshness, but you may need to be careful when using with bright earphones. Overall, upper frequencies are clear and detailed. Mid frequencies are a bit recessed but it is not like deep V-shape form, it is natural and relaxed. Vocals are natural and is slightly forward. Bass is tight and controlled and the sub-bass provides good rumble and impact, but it is not reaching too deep. When you activate xBass effect it adds some quantity but still it is not the bass-head level performance. It has an average performance as a soundstage. When I compare with Mojo, XDSD has wider soundstage than Mojo but Mojo is better at depth.

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Verdict:

I always like iFi Audio products. They produced many good gears like ieMatch which I have one and great p/p product like iDSD. And now like other iFi products, xDSD is also a great little device. It is not perfect, it has some weakness but when I consider the whole cons and pros it is a great product in overall. It is very capable device and it is loaded with some good features. If you are looking to get a small but powerful, also musical and detailed DAC/AMP, iFi xDSD must be in your list.
Pros: Apt-X, battery life
Cons: Poor desktop performance, no USB-C, no Apt-X HD or LDAC, overpriced


Introduction:
I was selected to take part in the iFi xDSD review tour. I had the unit for 7 days before shipping it to the next reviewer. This review represents my honest and unfiltered opinion. I am not being compensated in any way for writing this review.
This review can also be read on my blog here.

About me:

I listen mostly to heavy metal, hip hop, and electronic music, as well as movie and video game soundtracks. I value detail, clarity, and soundstage above other acoustic qualities.

Headphones I own or have owned in the past include the Campfire Audio Polaris, Meze 99 Neo, E-MU Teak, Mee Audio P1 Pinnacle, Mee Audio P2 Pinnacle, Yersen FEN-2000, UiiSii CM5, Rose North Forest, KZ ES4, Fostex TH-X00, V-Moda M-80, V-Moda LP2 Crossfade, Beyerdynamic DT-770 (250 ohm), KZ ATE, Mixcder X5, Mee Audio M6, Hifiman HE-400S, and Phillips Fidelio X2.

Equipment used:

I mostly used the xDSD as a DAC/AMP for a Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 Android smartphone using aptX Bluetooth. I listened to either Spotify Premium HQ streaming or 16 bit 44.1Hz FLAC files. I did most of my listening with the Mee Audio Pinnacle P1 and the E-MU Teak. I also used the xDSD with my Windows 10 desktop and laptop.

Accessories/Build quality

The packaging for the xDSD is sleek and attractive. The box contains the xDSD, a soft black fabric carry bag, one USB 2.0 male type-A to male micro-USB cable, one female USB 2.0 type-A to female type-B adapter, one USB 2.0 female type-B to female type-A dongle, and one USB 3.0 female type-A to male type-A cable.

The majority of the xDSD’s surface area has a glossy finish that is quite fingerprint prone. iFi would have done better to use the matte black material at the rear end of the device for the whole surface. The device feels substantial in the hand. However, one major area of concern is the thinness of the plastic around the rear USB connection at the bottom of the device. In less than a week of gentle use cracks appeared below the bottom corners of the USB port. I suspect that problems of this nature may become widespread, and could easily have been avoided if the USB port had been moved up a few millimeters.


Design/Functionality

The xDSD is surprisingly pocketable, though I did notice that it would heat up if used in the pocket for too long. I was not a fan of the choice of a recessed male USB type-A connection. This is fairly non-standard and makes finding appropriate replacement/alternate cables more difficult than it ought to be. I was also disappointed to see a micro-USB port used for charging. While I appreciate the inclusion of a dedicated charging port and internal battery, no device should be shipping with a micro-USB connection in 2018. Furthermore, the xDSD only supports regular aptX, not aptX-HD or LDAC. Remarkably, this puts the xDSD ahead of many of its competitors in the portable Bluetooth DAC/AMP space, which I find frankly appalling. Audiophile manufacturers are unacceptably behind the curve when it comes to adopting modern standards, and audiophiles need to stop making excuses for this behavior.

Another point against the xDSD was its shocking susceptibility to EMI noise. When used with my desktop PC I could not go more than a handful of seconds without pops and sputters of distortion, as well as crackling whenever the volume was adjusted. This occurred regardless of whether the device was being charged through the micro-USB port or not. A $400 device should perform better than this. My JDS Labs Element, a much older device that retails for $50 less than the xDSD connects to the same USB ports without any issues with EMI interference. I did not experience these issues with my laptop or with my phone using Bluetooth, but the fact that they occurred at all is damning.

As for the sound itself, I will simply describe it as adequate, EMI notwithstanding. I wasn’t blown away by the sound quality or the amount of power on tap. Listenable volume with the Pinnacle P1 and E-MU Teak could be achieved at about 50% gain. In general I felt like the sales points for the xDSD were mostly gimmick based. The 3D+ and XBass functions are so subtle that I could barely notice them. DSD functionality is useless for the overwhelming majority of music available to consume. MQA is an anti-consumer scam and should not be indulged by manufacturers or consumers. Battery life when using the xDSD as a Bluetooth DAC was respectable at around 8–10 hours of use.

Final words

Some who may read this will think that I’m being unfairly hard on the xDSD. Maybe. However, I recently read a post on the r/headphones subreddit that really made me re-evaluate my attitude towards audiophile products. https://www.reddit.com/r/headphones...q1_mk_ii_review_not_for_android_also_a_short/

We as consumers deserve better than what we are currently getting from major manufacturers in the portable audio space. It is possible to create portable audio devices that are audibly transparent to human ears at reasonable prices. It is possible to use modern standards like USB-C on entry-level devices. But it is up to us as consumers to drag portable audio device manufacturers into the present by refusing to buy sub-standard products.
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Tenashus1
I respect your commentary, but my xDSD sounds great.. I use it solely as a desktop DAC/amp on my Mac Book Pro. I don't have any issues with distortion, clicks or pops when listening. Also, I haven't had any troubles with the plastic degrading around the USB port. 3D and X-bass work better on some tracks than on others, but when they work, they do make a positive difference. More affordable would always be nice.
deepwatrcreatur
deepwatrcreatur
I used this for awhile as a desktop DAC, but there was an occasional low-level whine that came from the speakers - slightly audible but annoying. Apparently this has been mentioned in at least one review (https://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/ifi-audio-xdsd-dac/?page=3)

I also heard plenty of squealing when turning up the volume on a headphone amp connected to the line out. I didn't realize it then but it's probably the EMI that was mentioned in the above review.
Pros: truly portable size (thanks iFi finally!), light weight, great sound for the price, good wireless sound
Cons: some initial software glitches, pricey compared to wired DAC/amps with the same sound quality
Introduction

First of all I would like to say thank you to iFi for lending me the xDSD for a week in exchange of this review.

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The way iFi (AMR) as a company keeps contact with us customers should be an example for any other company. They are active on the forums, always responding to emails promptly.

This is my third review of an iFi product; previously I reviewed the Nano BL and the Micro BL. I owned the Micro iCAN and the Micro BL, so I can say I am pretty familiar with their products and house sound.

I recently reviewed the Fiio Q5 which I think is the main competitor of the xDSD. I also owned the Chord Mojo for a long time, so in this review I will reflect on basically all the competition of the xDSD: the in-house DACs like the Nano and the Micro BL and portable DAC/amps from other companies like Fiio and Chord.

Since in this price range only the Fiio Q5 has Bluetooth functionality, the rest of the above mentioned DACs form a secondary group as in my opinion people who buy the xDSD (or Q5) want to go wireless most of all. Perhaps they are also willing to make a very small compromise on sound quality for the comfort of ditching the wires.

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Packaging, build quality

The xDSD comes in a similar box to the Nano BL and Micro BL just much smaller. iFi has included plenty of accessories as usual. Big plus for this.

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One of the main criticisms in reviews towards the Micro BL (and even the Nano BL) was their size for portable use. The Nano is hardly bigger than the xDSD but still feels much bulkier in comparison. With the xDSD iFi has finally reached the sweet spot regarding a portable size. The xDSD is light, small, absolutely portable and as a bonus looks gorgeous.

The aluminum-magnesium alloy of the xDSD’s housing is light and strong. The unit is much lighter than the Chord Mojo while they are about the same size.

Build quality is great as it always is with iFi products. The xDSD is a more refined design; we do not have the slightly industrial look of the Nano or Micro BL anymore.

While the housing of this DAC looks absolutely gorgeous, it is a fingerprint magnet. We are kind of used to this from all the glass finished smart phones these days; however people with OCD avoid buying the xDSD. You will be constantly clearing off fingerprints.

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Lack of straps

iFi has come up with a brilliant idea of how to strap the xDSD to smart phones, which I am happy to give a separate paragraph to. They have ditched the rubber straps that come with their other portable DAC/amps and included this Velcro-like thing in the box. It looks like Velcro but the tiny hooks are bigger and stronger.

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What a comfortable and easy way it is to attach the unit to your smart phone. I really like this idea.

Sound quality

Sound quality is pretty great. The xDSD has no reason to feel ashamed when it comes to comparing to other similarly priced devices.

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The sound is well-balanced, clear, but slightly warm and soft so it is never piercing or harsh. It is like a slightly simpler version of the Micro BL’s sound.
I have to say now; I personally prefer the Micro BL and the Nano BL’s sound to the xDSD. The BL versions of the iFi DACs to my ears have more body, a thicker and a fuller sound. The xDSD is really not far behind, but in comparison the sound does feel a little bit leaner. The other iFi DACs however don’t have wireless functionality. This is the ace of the xDSD. For going wireless and having a truly portable size I would be happy to make this tiny compromise in sound quality compared to the Nano/Micro BL.

iFi xDSD vs. Fiio Q5

As I said before, the main buying drive for customers of the xDSD is having the best wireless sound. Therefore in my opinion the only real competition to the xDSD is the Fiio Q5.

The Q5 is bigger and heavier. So if you need the smallest and most portable external DAC/amp then there you have it, it is the xDSD.

Sound-wise they are quite different. Equally good but different. Both are very well balanced. The Q5 is more analytical, sounds crisper, perhaps more detailed and very accurate. The Q5 is brighter and tighter. The xDSD on the other hand is still very clear sounding but generally smoother and slightly warmer. Sounds a bit easier, airier.

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The Mojo and the other iFi DACs do sound a bit better to my ears. But the wireless DACs are really not that far behind and the comfort of not having wires is well worth the small compromise on sound quality.

The xDSD connected to a PC via USB does sound ever so slightly better than the Bluetooth connection; however the difference is surprisingly small, almost indistinguishable.

If you are on the market for a smoother sounding portable, wireless DAC/amp then look no further.

User experience

I did experience some smaller glitches with the xDSD. First my phone could not find the iFi device via Bluetooth. Once it has found it, it remembered and connected automatically next time.
Once the volume knob and the xBass/3D enhancement button stopped working until I restarted the unit.

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Other than this the user experience was pretty much flawless. The xDSD communicates with the user in a similar way to the Mojo. It lets you know about the volume level, input source, battery charge level with the colours of the different led lights. I really like this method.

USB connection has priority above all other connections, but sometimes you do have to choose bluetooth connection manually. This is not obvious unless you read the manual. Holding the switch-on/volume button for a few seconds lets you choose between the input sources by changing the colour of the input led.

Connections

iFi keeps using the pretty unusual female USB A port as data input. This favours Apple users with their CCK cables. There is a separate micro USB B port but this is only for charging the battery. There is a SPDIF in as well, and in case you are using this input, iFi gives you a very useful little rubber cover for the USB A port to protect the device from dust. Just another nice touch.

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The 3.5mm SE headphone output is 3.5mm balanced as well. On the one hand this is great, on the other hand however many portable devices use 2.5mm balanced these days. It would be nice to come to an agreement which balanced output to use in general.

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Other thoughts

The xBass and 3D functions of this iFi DAC/amp are the most subtle in their range. This is the first iFi DAC where I actually like the 3D enhancement (which is in fact a treble boost). The xBass has the smallest effect on sound compared to the xBass function on the Nano or Micro BL. It is worth to mention, these functions are completely analogue even in the xDSD therefore there is no messing around with any sorts of digital filters whatsoever.

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I cannot not mention the Bluetooth range I have experienced with the xDSD. Even when I left my phone playing in my bedroom on the top floor and walked down not just to the first floor but to the ground floor, through two massive walls and quite a distance I have not experienced any drop outs. I think this is quite exceptional to have this freedom and range.

Conclusion

If you want to improve the sound quality of your smartphone on the go and you want to do this without wires and prefer a smoother sound, than the new xDSD is your portable DAC/amp.

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The Q5 is bigger, heavier and sounds brighter/tighter. The Nano and the Micro BL have better overall sound to my ears but sacrifice quite a lot when it comes to form and portability, not to mention wires. The case is pretty much the same with the Mojo.
The xDSD is an excellent, light weight, small sized, wireless portable DAC/amp to your smart phone. For this purpose I can wholeheartedly recommended it.
Pros: Portable.
Made by iFi.
Affordable.
Feature-laden including BT.
Sound-it is quite good.
Cons: Some BT connectivity issues.
Chrome=fingerprint monster.
Some may need an adapter for 3.5bal.
iFi xDSD ($399) https://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/x-xdsd/


Pre-ramble:


There has been some talk lately about “fluff” reviews, or “story-based” reviews and how some think A) they are not “right,” B) less worthy of a read, C) too long and drawn out, or D) do not have enough solid information in them…Well, I’m going to tell you dear reader, that those sentiments are a load of crap. While I do thoroughly enjoy the more analytical-based reviews (and do strive to get there), I do believe it is that experiential review, which can hold as much or more credence than those “cookie-cutter” company-pleasing reviews. While continuity is relevant, warranted and appreciated; to me what is lost is that passion for the “tools” we love so much…the listening tools of our trade. The ones we want to plunk our hard-earned money on…the equipment of which we would save that extra bit of time, so we can justify the purchase. That equipment, which warrants our hard-earned dollars, and make us, well GLAD, ENJOYABLE and EXPERIENTIAL.


It is of this vein, which I write…not often enough; but thoroughly enjoy. It is in this vein that the xDSD speaks to me. Why? Because each experience is different. Each setting is different. Each listening session can be different. And here is where the xDSD shines. I was stuck…majorly stuck on how to write this, let alone begin…that is until I took to words what had been swirling around up in the gray cranial matter. That adaptability, or versatility of use and experience. The iFi xDSD does in fact fit many of those bills, by what is included within. You want portability? I am using it as I sit at our daughter’s high school soccer practice.





Utilizing the iFi through the Opus #2, iPhone X, or Shanling M3S and Bluetooth, it is a thoroughly pleasing sound. A bit thin compared to cabled, but still as good of a Bluetooth sound as I have heard. And that is good. You want more? I am hooked to my MacBook Pro again, at soccer practice enveloping myself in Ziggy’s Lighthouse, as the words reign down to me using the USB connection. This is a very good sound. Deep reaching thorough bass, even without the XBass+ or 3D+ on through the loaner 64Audio tia Trio, I have as good a sound as I could ask for in this instance. And I am glad. Notice, I did not say best…I said as good as I could ask for. And that, dear reader is all on can ask from their equipment.





Intro cont’d:


It seems as if a “new” fangled critter comes along quite often. Many times, those critters espouse to solve problems in our audio chain, sometimes ones we did not even know existed…thankfully the iFi xDSD is not one of those. Taking portable amplifiers to the “next level” is often the case, too. Well, this isn’t really taking the headphone amp to the next level but providing the user with enough options in listening so that one can enjoy many different listening situations at once. And with the ability to remember up to eight (yes 8!) devices through BT, one need not worry about connectivity. And that connectivity is painlessly simple, once one reads the enclosed small pamphlet. Even I could do it after a short read, so that tells you something.


I want to thank @cotineyejoe, and @iFiaudio for the critter in this Chautauqua. The unit was graciously provided, only allowing an honest review, and an open line of communication should I have questions (and I have in the past due to my end; not theirs…). I will admit up front, that I am a big fan of iFi, having a stack of theirs, which when time allows (in short supply due to review deadlines…) I thoroughly enjoy. The stack consists of the iTubes2, iDAC2 and Micro iDSD Black Label. An excellent “home” portable set up, which is quite affordable, too.





Reading the xDSD thread, anticipation was high…very high. With features such as MQA audio (across most of the whole iFi line now), S-balanced performance (a single 3.5mm plug, which can handle both balanced and SE headphone jacks) and a new Femto GMT clock, to reduce jitter, the critter does espouse some new features. But with a bit more reading, some of this is simply raising the quality of existing technology; something I have come to appreciate with iFi (read the excellent 3-part history of the iTube, by iFi with a wonderful history of the GE tubes used…well worth a read: https://ifi-audio.com/wp-content/uploads/data/iTUBE2%20-%20Tech%20Note%20One%20Why%20GE%205670.pdf). As a company, to me they still fly under the radar of other such companies, but I would respectfully place them right up there with the more well-known companies. iFi has a well-wrought reputation of filling a niche, which we may not have known or understood needed filling. Think the original Micro-line and that would be a perfect example. Also, they seem to be willing to risk something for our better listening habit. Think how they took the (unwarranted) review criticism of the original Micro iDSD and developed the Black Label version. Kind of an “OK, in your face here’s a better version,” type of response was had in my opinion. My first audition of iFi Audio was on the BL tour, and essentially amongst my very first set of reviews. I knew home systems (to a degree) but didn’t quite fathom how far the portable market had come. The BL was very much an eye opener for me, and I still use it today. There is a reason it is compared to products such as the Mojo, which cost significantly more…I like to think the BL set a bar of which competitors strive to leap over. And with the xDSD, iFi seems to be trying that again.


My first look:





The box is typical of iFi in their portable products in my mind. Simple, rectangular and white. And, I do not mind, as the box is laden with information to keep one reading well into the first dedicated listening session to be had. In my humble opinion, the contents labeled on the box are amongst the most thorough in the market. A wealth of specification material, but nothing overly bloatious, to me. Much appreciated.



Inside, the white theme continues, and you are presented with a plastic-sleeved device, in this case the xDSD itself. Again, typical iFi. On the “south end” of the box is a small cubic-box in which the accessories lie. Included would be the blue (typical again) USB interconnect cable, a USB adaptor, an optical adaptor, and Velcro-laden “strips,” which one can use to connect a device and the xDSD. Nothing fancy, nothing of which one would consider superfluous. Some on the thread balked at either the use of the strips, or the shape of the xDSD, stating the shape itself made using the strips “difficult.” My take? Use them or don’t but quit complaining.




Pulling the polished shell out of the plastic, one immediately recognizes that this color is a fingerprint “museum.” If that bothers you (to some degree, me too), order the black. Even the front panel is that polished color and holds said prints. Just something to think about.






Looking at the front, one is presented with a neat, functional set up. One I greatly appreciate, as my BL is quite tight on the front and functionally a bit narrower than the xDSD. With only two “buttons” on which to push, the cleanliness of operation is easy, once one acquaints themselves with the manual and how each button works. On the left, you have the "dual" input jack which uses either 3.5 single ended OR 3.5 BALANCED. Yep, it can do both, with some iFi magic. Pretty cool, but some may need an adapter for use with their existing 2.5bal cables. Next you have dual lights, one over the other, which help denote what "system" you are using. The top denotes frequency of input, and the bottom Bluetooth (blue) or cable (green). Then the fun begins, with the volume/mute/on/off/function button. A multi-use featured button will denote blue initially for BT usage, green for cabled, and varying colors of the rainbow for loudness of volume (think color spectrum from "cool" to "hot" and that gives you the gist of soft/loud. To the right of that are the indicator lights for XBass+ and 3D+. Clicking on the far right button toggles through whether you have either or both on/off. Useful, and I kept both on for the majority of time. Holding down that far right button, will also aid in connectivity of nearby BT devices.







On the back we have (L-R) the optical/SPDIF connectivity, USB cable connectivity, a useful frequency "adjustment" toggle, and the charging port. When using the "filter" toggle one can go from a flat response (measure) to a somewhat warmer "listen" sound. While there is a slight difference to me, I preferred the listen setting through.

Specs/Simple Measurements:

USB Input: up to PCM768kHz & DSD512 (24.6/22.6MHz)
S/PDIF Coaxial and Optical Input: up to 192kHz/24Bit
Dynamic Range: > 113dB (A)
Volume Control: -101dB…0dB in 1dB steps

Output power:

> 2.82V/500 mW @ 16 Ohm
> 3.7V/270mW @ 50 Ohm
> 3.8V/48 mW @ 300 Ohm
> 3.8V/24 mW @ 600 Ohm

Line out Level: > 2.1V @ 0dBFS (& 0dB Volume)
THD &N (1V/16R): < 0.005%
Output Impedance: < 1 Ohm

Battery:
3.8V/2200mAh

Dimensions:
95 (l) x66.5 (w) x19 (h) mm

Weight: 127g (0.28 Ibs)

Warranty period: 12 months


With a run time of between 6 and 10 hours (output dependent, verified through my testing), one can enjoy the xDSD for a good long period of time. Plus, a pleasant chime comes on when the critter is about to shut down. Almost a “begging your pardon, please but seatbelts are required due to turbulence”-type of chime.



Gear Used:

MacBook Pro
Opus #2
Shanling M3S
Cayin N5ii

64Audio U8
64Audio U12t
64Audio tia Trio
Unique Melody Maestro V2
Unique Melody Mason V3
Campfire Audio Jupiter
Kinera SEED

iFi micro iDSD Black Label
iBasso PB3
Ray Samuels Intruder


Songs:

Corazon Espinado-Santana, Maná
Oye Como Va- Santana
Oye 2014-Santana w/Pitbull
Evil Ways-Santana
Love of my Life-Santana w/ Dave Matthews
Guns For Hands-Twenty One Pilots
Heathens-Twenty One Pilots
Candy Everybody Wants-10,000 Maniacs
These Are Days-10,000 Maniacs
Life in Technicolor ii-Coldplay
Lighthouse-Ziggy Marley



Fit-N-Finish/buttons galore:


Chrome, chrome, CHROME! The underlying theme is one of well…chrome. While the chrome looks good, it is a fingerprint collector of the highest order. If one likes to polish, get this color. If not, get the black. Personally, I do not mind, and the chrome does accent the borrowed U12t’s quite nicely.





As with all other iFi products, the construction is top notch. No mismatched seams, or halves. All is put together with the Teutonic/Asian fashion I have come to expect. While the shape can be a separating factor, what with the ribs and curves, I do not mind it that much as I will probably not stack the piece. And for me the shape can aid in gripping the critter. The light also plays well off of it from an aesthetic point.





Sound experience:


I would estimate that my time was about 50/50 BT/blue cable. BT sound is good, but through the USB, the sound is much fuller. More bass push, better quantity of bass, a bit crisper sound, and a more open sound is had. Using the USB set-up, it is easier for me to discern small differences in the XBass+ and 3D+ switches. My ears are not good enough for most situations on the BT setting. There is a small push, but I am less able to discern some effects. And, as per the xDSD thread, the push of either is less pronounced than the Black Label. And I would expect it to be so. This less-so does not bother me in the least.


Measure-Listen switch: I can discern a SMALL increase in lower treble sound with the switch set to Listen. This was determined when using the USB into MBP and iTunes. Again, using BT I cannot discern much difference. And according to iFi, they recommend you use the Listensetting but mention exploring the differences. I mainly kept the switch in the Listensetting.


Using the USB blue cable and Tidal I was met with a message asking me if I wanted to use MQA, or the previous source…pretty polite of them to do. I did appreciate it, and the sound is right up there at the top using the U8/fill-in headphone/xDSD/MBP combo.


It seemed that the xDSD took all of the options in stride and produced very good sound. As a portable option, this is to be lauded as one can simply leave the iFi in your pocket, freeing up your phone for use. A nice feature is the mute option on the device. Simply press the “iFi” logoed light and it will mute. While it will not pause the song, it is a useful feature when one needs to talk to someone, or whatever.


No matter what device I hooked to the xDSD using BT, it was painless and quick. I did notice on the Cayin N5ii that when a song was paused, it would disconnect completely rather quickly, but would come back. I also noticed that the Cayin would shut off sometimes and I would have to restart it. The Shanling was used through both USB and BT. The Opus through Coax and BT, the iPhone X through USB/lightning and BT, and the MBP through BT and USB. All were quick and easy to use and set up. This is one fast critter when it comes to hooking up.


To change hook ups, one powers the device off, then reboots holding the on/off lit switch until the desired mode pops up. Blue for BT, and green for USB/Coax, it took about 7 seconds to power up and switch. If in BT mode, a light will flash red when searching for the appropriate connecting device. Quick and easy on all four of my tested devices.


Further comparative:


As luck would have it, the Cayin n5ii did in fact arrive for a visit and I was able to hook the xDSD in to the flow. I also ordered an LQi 3.5 TRRS Balanced cable to be used with both the U8 and Maestro V2. First impressions there are of the oh…my…goodness variety. Running the xDSD through those various sources listed above gave me a cornucopia of cacophony sounds of which to digest and disseminate. I will try not to garble too much “word salad,” as some posit…





Opus #2/xDSD:My first pairing, and probably the “best,” overall. I did find that the xDSD could not add much to the Opus save the added bass and extended 3D effect, albeit not much. By nature, the Opus is a fairly neutral sounding DAP (among my herd, anyway) so any additional touch bass-wise or soundstage can be put to the additional device allied. Hence the additional bass I heard. That said, I did not really hear that jump of bass such as one would (and DOES!) on the Black Label…that is just massive. No, this bass is a subtler additive effect. An “enhancement,” if you will. While I did hear the additional thump of bass, it was not enough for me to justify keeping on, so when hooked to the Opus, I kept only the 3D+ effect tabbed. An already wonderful soundstage was aided as a slightly more holographic sound. Again, subtle but appreciated. When push comes to shove, I would only add the xDSD to the #2 for that additional power requirement, as to me the Opus can be a bit short on some of my headphones.



Shanling M3S/xDSD:This pairing was a real treat. As stated previously (NUMEROUS times…apologies…) I do really like the Shanling and use it as my go to portable DAP. With sufficient power to drive what I take along, the M3S provides me with a wonderfully warm thick sound. One I enjoy on my outdoor excursions. Adding the xDSD into the equation enhanced that experience to the point I will now take it along for the run/ride/enjoyment. Using either the USB or BT connectivity, I was impressed by the additional bass, and a fundamentally “thicker” sound as a result. Thicker was in parenthesis, because the Shanling is already a bit thick, but the iFi aided that by filling in the missing gaps. Wonderfully rich, a sound worthy of dance music ensued, and heightened my exercise workouts. Putting any Joe Satriani song on, I found myself having to rein in the exuberance of workout…It was a very nice addition, indeed.


Cayin N5ii/xDSD:Late to the game, but much appreciated, the Cayin fell between the other two mentioned so far; as one might expect. Alone, the Cayin is a fine sounding device, with more detail than the Shanling, but behind the Opus. A solid sound going for it, with wonderful layering and detail up with the best at its price, the Cayin was indeed much appreciated. What the xDSD provided was a push of bass closer to the Opus. Less noticeable, but present it was almost a polite push. But it served about right. Think just the right amount of Sherbet brought for dessert after a fine meal, and that would be how the two came together…just right. While the Cayin is not short on bass, that little extra oomph could be heard and felt more than the Shanling. It was a very good compliment to the already stellar sound capabilities.





Bluetooth sound of those listed:I added a separate category, because the experience was all the same. The three DAPs listed above all hooked seamlessly with the xDSD. The only negative was with the Cayin. Several times as stated above, the n5ii would not connect quickly, or it would disconnect when a song was paused. While it did not happen often, it was numerous enough to warrant a bit of disgruntlement on my part. Sometimes it took 3-4 tries to re-engage the xDSD/N5ii combo.


As for the sound, take everything I wrote above and decrease it by about 10-15%. While the BT is good, it simply cannot compare to wired. And, we all knew that going in. The major draw here is the ability to have the xDSD portably in one’s pocket, run BT and allow us to still be glued to our smartphone screen. Something we do too much of… But, the sound provided is quite good, and one I could certainly be satisfied with as a tradeoff for the separation of parts. I like the fact that we could use the device separately and still have access to the source or another device. A nice feature (and no, not mutually exclusive), implemented well.


MacBook Pro/xDSD:I did indeed save my favorite combination for last (save the Shanling…). The fusing of MBP to the xDSD was an extremely satisfying experience. One, I used for a good bit of the time, probably 35% of the time. Streaming Tidal, the polite MQA message appeared, and I had to smile. Well…of course I would like to use MQA, please!





We all know as good as computers are, that generally speaking the DAC section costs about $0.50. In mostcomputers it isn’t a priority. So, any enhancement is appreciated. Giving more depth to the sound, better layering and a wider deeper sound stage are but a few of the highlights. Reaching low, the Xbass+ was very much appreciated here, and short of the Black Label about as good as I have heard (and the Ray Samuels Intruder…). Whether I streamed Tidal, watched YouTube vids or played native iTunes music, I was thoroughly impressed with the sound, and the added-ness of that sound. A very nice clarity was heard through Tidal, with enough detail to satisfy my listening taste buds and sufficient bass to keep me interested. The versatility of the little critter reared its head, yet again.





Headphones:


My main go-to’s are the 64Audio U8 and the UM Maestro V2. I love the sound signature of each, and they vary enough to be complimentary in my arsenal. I did end up purchasing an LQi 3.5 TRRS balanced cable, which allows me to utilize the “dual-function” jack for the first time (I have an adaptor on the way for use with 2.5mm TRRS balance cables). I can concur with what other have found…there isn’t a whole lot of difference between SE and Bal. I do appreciate the slight added detail of sound when using the Bal cable, but it is less noticeable than other Bal cables I own and use on various sources. This really isn’t a knock on the iFi, just not as much of a difference as the other sources.


I write this enjoying Pentatonix’s version of a Daft Punk menagerie of songs as well as Despacito. Each voice is separated as it should be, and complimentary to each other. A sound experience and enjoyed over and over. The ability to place each voice and “instrument” (voice) is very good for a mid-fi DAC/Amp and iFi should be applauded for bringing this portability into a setting where we mainly talk about our home/desktop DAC/Amps. Operating slightly warm, you get the sense that the xDSD is working up a dance inside to keep up with the music.


Utilizing my Elear or GH-2 elicited the same general responses as above. The Elear/xDSD/MBP was a treat of which can be said about some of the finer devices I am lucky enough to own when the Elear gets involved. The sound was a bit fuller without losing that detail of which the Elear is known. Overall, this was my favorite set up, and one I will use often, as time passes.


The GH-2 (Grado) was definitely OK, but a step behind the Elear. I did find myself turning the volume up more using the GH-2. And not because it was harder to drive, but simply because it was a raucous good sound! This would be the more “jamming-out” type of sound and that was OK with me.





Finale:


So…there you have it. A long lengthy diatribe about yet another portable amp, which just so happens to have BT…big deal you say. Well, it IS a big deal. Why? Well, because with the xDSD you have multiple options on which to build and listen. And for the most part, they all functioned flawlessly, save the aforementioned Cayin issue. Based upon the other device connectivities, I do believe this was a Cayin-based issue. So, no fault to the XDSD here. I happen to be writing this finale whilst listening to the 64Audio U8 on a balanced cable through the xDSD and MBP to Damian Marley’s Everybody Wants to be Somebody, and it is good. Yes, the XBass+ and 3D+ are on too, and it is good. A rowdy good time worthy of the louder volume, even though my ears do not appreciate it much. They will recover…hopefully…But, I do not think I will.


As technology persists to move further forward, we have portable amps, which utilize switchable op-amps, BT, optical connectivity, USB connectivity, shimmering colors, and ever-increasing prices to match those “technological advances.” Well, here is a case where that little bit extra in costto us is in my narrator position humbly acceptable. Heck, I spent almosttwice this for the Black Label and marveled at what it gives my “home” desktop set up. A true addition to any system, the Black Label set the bar for me in regard to what an iFi product could and can bring to pretty much any system. I do know of some who utilize the BL in their home system, with good results. Me? Ummm, no. I have a pretty decent home stereo that does not need the BL. But for my desk top, the triple-threat of BL/iTubes2/iDAC2 makes for a level with which I gauge all comers.


And that is where the xDSD falls…I purchased another amp just before receiving the call from Lawrance. And that amp was purchased specifically for its balanced options. It does not have BT, so it may not get much usage except when I really want somethingmoreportable than the xDSD. But this begs the questions as to why? The xDSD has all of that (even with the 3.5mm bal/SE jack) andBT, and XBass+, and3D+ to boot. It is also more powerful. But, I will keep the other around for one reason, and one only…it has a bit better balanced set up than the xDSD. But for everything else, the xDSD will be used, and used MUCH more often. The xDSD balanced is good, just not as good as my other.


This is the one to beat at this level in my humble opinion. Yes, I do not have that much experience with others in this range, but perusing the reviews of other offerings, most concur with my statement; and it is of that where I draw my conclusion. The xDSD is a VERY fine amp, and for the price could very well be the only portable amp you would need. And one in which it would not be ashamed to show itself. Why? Well, because it is so versatile and well-rounded in its sound qualities that there would be no need of another. If you could only spring for one amp at this price, the xDSD should be heavily considered.



With that I want to thoroughly thank iFi and Lawrance for showing faith in this tired old slow reviewer. It was indeed my honor to review the xDSD, and it will be used often. I finish by listening the Damian Marley’s So a Child May Follow, and it is good.


Pros: 1) Amazing sound period. Classic ifi orgasmic sound signature and ifi proprietary master clock technology
2) Amazing Bluetooth sound
3) Even more Amazing wired (asynchronous) sound.
4) Another incarnation of iOne. Can be used as iOne when the battery dies.
5) Very portable device
6) Super portable capable headphone amp
7) Power is not passed from the same USB where music data passes.
8) super sexy beautiful DAC
Cons: 1) No Aptx-hd or LDAC as of yet.
2) No smartphone App as of yet.
3) Fingerprint magnet phrone to scratches with no particular reason.
IMG_20180603_172035279_HDR.jpg
There are 3 main reasons for my review:
  1. I am posting to fulfil my obligations because it is required as part of the loan review process from Ifi audio.
  2. I will do the review in an informal way from the point of view of a simple consumer that offers an honest opinion in order to help other consumers at his level to choose a product and I hope some of you will find this review somewhat useful.
  3. More importantly, I hope I will provide useful consumer feedback to Ifiaudio to design new products that fulfil some additional requirements.
In my past review for the Black nano I mentioned among others the following:

  1. Not very transportable. I prefer/need so much more the small factor of dragonfly. Alternatively, it needs the Bluetooth functionality to be truly convenient. If IFI manages to do that can make a budget Poly/Mojo killer with the nano form factor.
  2. For home set up I definitely prefer ione. It has the same sound quality and offers so much more functionality. The spdif implementation is from another planet and elevates the TV system to extraordinary levels.
  3. The battery for me is the big question. Nobody complained so far so maybe is my unit or I was doing something wrong. But 2 hours is two little this is an issue for me
  4. It would be nice to have MQA Decoding functionality as well. With UAPP you can have tidal with mobile devices and with Kodi/tidal 2 add on in home without a PC.
  5. The sound signature of IFI I believe is one of the best in the market and the one I clearly prefer. Please package this in more devices of different forms.
  6. The volume knob is a big plus for me and the strongest advantage against dacs like the mojo. For me it feels like the throttle in a bike. You give more when you need or want and the feeling is amazing. Maybe this is why I had two hours of battery only in my listening sessions. Ifi please NEVER remove the knob from your devices when needed.
So before I discuss how ifi addressed all these issues let me give you more background about me not because this is important but because it provides the context of my review and connects with all the points mentioned above.

At some point, I was looking various reclockers for my TV which was hooked in my amp through spdif. My apple TV, amazon firestick, blueray everything is hooked on my TV. I was looking for the w4s remedy that had raving reviews but it cost 400$ for one spdif input only. It would be nice to have one reclocker for my usb also I thought. I bought the ipurifier instead on 150£ as many people found this better than even remedy.

I was for a big shock. Every input from my TV sounded so much better. A real game changer for me. But before I felt happy for my deal of the century as I thought, just One week later iOne came to the market. SPDIF purifier, ifi asynchronous USB input and ifi DAC at 200£. So remedy + recovery + a version of an ifi DSD DAC in 200£…I could not resist to that deal... no way.

Long story short, I built an excellent speakers system in my living room based on the ifi ione (which for me is the most excellent value for money dac/reclock device in this galaxy and maybe the next one) and using the ifi ipower that comes bundled with my ipurifier. I improved later on with a USBridge dedicated streamer and a tube preamplifier and I could not be happier until I realise that I cannot listen to this system anymore due to the most happy event in my life, my daughters arrival, and that is more than fine with me, however I really craved for some really great sound quality on the go to substitute. I was never a headphone guy and 6 months ago all my headphones were less than 50£. It might sound like a sacrilege to you maybe even an insult but did know what an HD650 was…Could have been a bike from Honda or Kawasaki… I remember I was reading Darko extensively at that time except the headphones reviews. I was skipping those entirely.

I hate the desktop environment for listening music because is not healthy for my back. And in my work the IT is so strict, I was allowed to use a dragonfly some time in the past but not anymore. So if it was not for iOne that I could place in a living room set up I would not know anything for any ifi DAC/amp combo either.

So I requested to be a reviewer for the nano black but I had in the back of my mind that the portability of nano was a deal braker for me. It sounded really good as all ifi devices do with a tempting price but iit had no real use for me and then my nano battery experience was underwhelming at least. Few weeks after my review, one Friday night after work I read the first headphone article from Darko. The B&W PX review where it was implied or my desire made me to think that it was implied that the PX are the KEF LS50 Wireless of the headphone world.

130£ more than nano for better headphones with superb drivers, upsampling DAC, active tailored amplification plus 25 hours of battery it finally made me interested in headphone reviews. The active noise cancelling part was just an extra bonus. I ordered immediately but If these are the LS50W of the headphone world I do not want to have the KEFs at all.

Do not get me wrong, the PX is probably the best headphone for its category and I am thinking seriously to get it as present to my best friend (although I do not know what kind of friend this does makes me) and sounds very well in lower frequencies particularly with EDM. But sorry this treble is not for me…

One esteemed (audiophile) colleague listen in my office my complaints and kindly provided me his PM3 and HD650 to compare. PM3 is a highly technical headphone but my God the iOne and the tubes made these HD650 to sing…after this PX went straight back.

Nevertheless, as ignorant as I am and not knowing at the time that Maxxdrop exist in this world and because I still needed one good closed back phone in a typical head-fi fashion I ended up with 2!...and one IEM from Meze. Those sound great even from a phone but then again IFI came with their new generation of DACs with the new great portable form addressing all the points that were mentioned above and I ask for a review unit.
  1. Super portable. Not Radsone ES100 portable but ifi is a different product. Provides this sweet spot combination to be more portable than poly/mojo combo and also solid enough to be competitive to a poly/mojo combo soundwise.
  2. For the home set up has the same functionality more or less with iOne. It has also an interesting twist. Although, I thought not having a switch to alternate sources between spdif (TV in my case) and USB (streamer in my case) it is a serious mistake it turn up to work even better in my set up. If you find a way to turn the USB signal off (volumio turn off with my phone) you alternate sources in a second. While I watching TV I could turn Volumio on and listen music from usb between the ads brakes or vise versa. While Listening music if I saw something in TV I could switch sources with my phone and listen something interesting in the TV like having a remote control. This is so cumbersome with the iOne where you need to get up from the sofa every time.
  3. Battery life is decent. Not great but decent. 6-8 hours maybe max 9. Nowhere near 25-30 of PX. However, I believe this is not happening because PX has a better bigger battery but because IFI uses some other kind of amplification that needs more power for sound quality reasons. So there is a trade off between sound quality and battery life and I encourage ifi to put priority to sound quality rather than battery life. 6-8 is not great if they can improve on that would be great but without sacrificing any sound quality. Otherwise it is what it is.
  4. MQA they explained their choice and for home use, as audirvana comes to windows rendering is enough for me. The MQA stuff is great from ifi like it was in black nano.
  5. This already has been adressed. Not only xDSD has Bluetooth functionality but a far better form factor than Nano. As already well spotted by another review is like a package of cigarettes.
  6. This is a delicate point. The new rotary has a different feeling for sure. It is not better not worse. It is different. I like both. The old is more analogue, smooth and has a faster response to increase or to decrease volume. The new knob is recessed so not to protrude and more suitable for pocketable use and this is what ifi had in mind I believe. It has also a very nice granular approach. Since I have a little bear tube portable amp I have the old feeling so I like the new one in xDSD for a change and because is suitable for a portable use.
In addition, xDSD improves in the following points:
  • Separate usd input for power. That’s a big plus for me and what I always wanted for ione. No electrical pollution in the main USB port which is used for music. Clean power supply from the other port when is used in the “Living Room” mode. Ifi says this is not recommended because of some noice. I am confused as the opposite should be true or at least to be designed like that. In my brief testing I used one ipower supply to my usbridge in order not to pollute the signal, one usb connection from sparky to charge, the other usbridge connection for music. At least as good as battery of xDSD if not even better. But I had the unit for a week, and a week for this sophisticated unit is not enough, as I discovered, for a thorough testing.
  • The Bluetooth is miles better than the first version of ione as far range or connection is concerned. Also, in ione when I have the other inputs I can still connect to the Bluetooth of ione. This is undesirable behaviour because why to have a bt signal active inside the dac when I am not using that. As I remember in xDSD this is not happening. In small details like this is where I appreciate the delicacy in the engineering of xDSD even if some of these details might happened by accident…:)
  • This same usb main port exists in black nano but I could not realize the full potential at the moment. The usb port type in xDSD and Nano are brilliant. Now I realized it fully by using my apple and android adapters. Never change that Ifi.
  • xBass and 3d. This reminds me the loudness button in my Marantz. Can be a game changer sometimes e.g. late at night with my Dali Zensor 1 speakers or never used like now with my current floorstanders. I did not use them much and actually definitely my Meze does not need the xBass...
Oh yes the sound quality….general impressions:
  • Orgasmic sound but depends on the synergy very much. Strangely enough with my chord RCA sounded a bit bright but I was the first in line and this unit was not burned at all since it was new. From memory of my ione the sound I think changed with time but a lot of time around a month playing with my TV many hours.
  • This brightness might also be due when battery power is used. My ione is using ipower and this maybe the reason for the difference. If the battery is in sleep mode and the xDSD powered from a clean power supply then this sound signature might be slightly different. Not enough time to check all these details sorry. But with a different RCA (QED) cable I had and used bypassing my tube preamplifier this brightness was gone paradoxically enough. Without tubes more warm sound than with tubes…I know this does not make sense but it did happened…
  • As I said in my black nano review the ifi sound signature can be manipulated according to tastes, and this is a big plus in my books.
  • Bluetooth sounds amazing enough. No is not like the other 2 inputs but who cares when it sounds so good and in mobile use. I am an USB asynchronous die hard fan but this is the point, xDSD is not xCAN it has both… Or 3… so use whatever you prefer and is convenient to you. But I can say that with my ipad using the usb port the combination is amazing. In addition, There is a lot of marketing by many other companies which I find sometimes misleading. "...our DAC bypass the Bluetooth DAC...blah blah blah" come on guys my bluedac receiver 4 years ago did that. They were shelling Bluetooth receivers with DAC. What the DAC was doing there? At least with ifi things seem more clear and honest. I have an intuitive understanding that the signal is treated mostly at the end of the chain and before conversion utilising existing proprietary technology.
Headphones used:
  1. xDSD + Meze NEO: That was the first combination I used with my xDSD in Bluetooth mode in my pocket and I was dancing 3 hours straight over all my living room. This is why xDSD factor form is so amazing. Now this is an extremely good synergy because xDSD extracts every drop from NEO which surprisingly in my case does not cooperate well with my tubes. It seems crazy but my NEO is not in good terms with the little bear and my main system. Maybe the warm character of NEO gets burned by the tubes maybe my combinations who knows but positively surprised. Comparing with the PX, 330£ vs 400£ + 169£ price wise, the latter combination is miles ahead even in EDM music. Somewhere Meze hide a little subwoofer in these headphones but I still trying to find it.
  2. xDSD + Meze classics 12 (IEM): Amazing combination again. Tested with Bluetooth only. The weak point of classics 12 is the treble, the exact opposite of the 99 series. From poor quality sources I am getting fatigue from my phone. Little Bear manages to improve that so does xDSD. Tidal plus xDSD plus classics 12 do an amazing sweet combination I can hear for hours. It gives a tube character to classics so xDSD it does the opposite of what it does to NEO. Is like identifying weakness and corrects them. 400£ + 69£ and sounds better than the PX to me. xDSD makes 12 classics sound good like a proper headphone.
  3. xDSD + Meze Classics 99 with USB input directly or in line mode in my system: The 99 classics is on different league for me in comparison to NEO. I do not know why exactly, it is a mystery to me such a difference. It sounds great from my phone, from my main system, goes well with my tubes and of course sound even better with xDSD. It scales well with xDSD uniformly, there is no big weakness that xDSD should cover here just a wonderful combination.
  4. xDSD + HE4XX: Bluetooth plus asynchronous mode: Yes it can drive the 4xx maybe not as good as a good desktop system but the headphone amp of my Marantz (which otherwise is a fantastic amp) is not anything particular great so it was very close to that although the power was close to the limit for xDSD. xDSD seemed adequate enough and a great sounding combination. Maybe did not extract the full potential of 4XX planars but really I do not know the full potential of 4XX yet.
  5. xDSD + HD6XX: I do not know my 6XX coming in 2 week supposedly. That would have been interesting test.
Negatives:
  1. LDAC codec. I do not needed at the moment but this can change in any time. Given the Bluetooth sound quality of xDSD and the capabilities of the master clock I am really curious how the sound will be with the more bandwidth of LDAC. A potential game changer and I do not want next year to buy another 400£ portable amp. I think this should be offered as a firmware update even if I have personally to pay for the licence. Ifi says that there were not ready for this cycle but my understanding is if the chip is supporting that codec the rest is taken care from the master clock at the end of the chain but I am not an expert and this is a wild guess.
  2. A similar app like the ES100 app. I am not sure how much an effect on sound quality has the app by using some Bluetooth bandwidth. But if not then it is super convenient. To use my phone and control the volume of xDSD remotely (this is where the new rotary knob comes handy). Also to be able to see the codex used on my phone for every device that using Bluetooth at the very moment. This functionality really astonished me in ES100. Battery indication, everything observable from the phone. If a company like radsone would not do it I would say that I am asking too much. But now that I have experienced it I think is doable and reasonable customer demand. I would also be willing to pay for the app.
Future directions:
  1. Bluetooth transmitter: Because xDSD is so good and versatile actually we need 2. One can work as an ione where the other as the portable device. If ifi includes a bluetooth transmitter to the device one can act as a transmitter from the TV / streamer to the other on the sofa. An app on the phone can work as remote control. 2 xDSD with LDAC can be a wonderful combination. Ifi audio you can make more money with this.
  2. Matte black version. The unit is a kind of black after all but as everyone already notice a shiny collecting device of fingerprints for the police department. The lights are a bit bright for night except the main where the ifi logo is a bit blair and I do not see the reason for that. The clean logo of ifi from ione is so much desirable. Some of the colours can change on ifi logo as the background of the logo to indicate different functions. (This is very minor and maybe not worth the trouble but I am just saying)
  3. It needs repair every time you change from Bluetooth to wired mode. It needs a firmware update at some point to iron the Bluetooth bags. But is not so bad the other devices from other brands have bags as well.
Comparisons:
  1. vs Little Bear : my little bear has the original opamp is not burned in yet properly as a tube amp and does not have a DAC. I do not want to make any definite conclusion yet and did not compare properly but xDSD sounded better. In any case, they can work together as shown in the picture.
  2. vs ES100. I bought ES100 on an impulse because of a lighting amazon deal. It has an astonishingly shockingly good app and is extremely portable and convenient device. It is only 2 days that I got this devise I am not familiar with it and I am not using in balance mode but IMHO no comparison with the xDSD alone. I will try to use it in combination with little bear but at this point I am not sure even if I keep it. This does not mean that ES100 is not great device but after xDSD I cannot really enjoy ES100. On similar spirit, after I tried Lagavulin I cannot really enjoy the taste even of Johnny Black. Or putting in differently...
xDSD is like a package of cigarettes only far more addicting. But it is not like any other brand of cigarettes but only the very special kind as the title of this review clearly suggests. And contrary to smoking, xDSD is good for health since it will offer you countless hours of dancing in and out of the gym…

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Pros: Excellent Bass, clear mid with solid body, smooth sounding enjoyable sound, form factor.
Feature rich, generous accessories.
Cons: Finger prints galore, Bluetooth pairing is not intuitive, volume pot feel is not as nice compared to the BL series.
Disclaimer
This review is made by myself based on my observation and listening pleasure of The item on gears that I have.

I have no affiliation to Ifi in any way and everything said here is based on my experience over a week.

The Official pricing is 399.00 USD at launch.
The pricing in Australia is 589.95 AUD, so the review will be made using that as the value as I'm in Australia.

INTRODUCTION (If you read my other review, you can skip this)
I'm an Indonesian working as a Web Developer in Melbourne, Australia.
Other than programming/coding, listening to music is another one of my hobby.

I've been a metalhead since 5 years ago, I also listen to other genres occasionally, but metal music is my focus.

I don't actually listen to all kinds of music, it is important to understand that this review is based on my observation on the kinds of musics I like which I have tried with the Unit, and those are mainly:
- Metal (many kinds, mainly the extreme kind, like 80% off the time)
- Rock (mostly Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, Riverside(rock/metal), Radiohead or something like it)
- etc

Genre's that I don't listen to, not even one bit.
- Rap
- Classical
- Bollywood stuff
- Country

Headphones Used
- Meze 99 Classic
- Focal Utopia

Gear Used for Comparisons/Testing
- Fiio X7 II
- Hiby R6
- iFi Nano iDSD BL
- iFi Micro iDSD BL
- Violectric HPA V281
- Samsung Galaxy S8+

Packaging
Simple white box, nothing more, nothing less. Made from recycle-able material with pictures of the unit at the front and, tech specs at the back and features on the right sides.
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ACCESSORIES
- Black carrying pouch
- USB adaptor (USB to USB-A)
- USB for digital input
- Plastic strapping for stacking
- Toslink to mini-optical adaptor

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Output Jack
- 3.5mm headphone out (TRRS Balanced, can be used as single ended as well)
- 3.5mm S/PDIF and optical

Extra Features:
- Filter for measuring and music listening (I didn't play around with this)
- 3D sioundstage expansion (soundstage/treble boost)
- XBass (bassboost)
- MQA
- DSD playback
- Bluetooth Pairing
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Battery Life
8 -10 hours depending on loads, made it to the end of work day, good!

Build quality
Material of Choice is good, however the execution is a bit unrefined, this is just nitpicking here as we all buy this unit not for looks, but the aluminum glossy finish is super prone to finger print, you can see it in the pictures.
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It would have been much better if they build the whole thing using the black aluminum material at the bottom of the unit.

The assembly could be a bit more tidy, I'm totally nitpicking here but due to the wavy shape, the components don't fit together nicely, you can see some unrefined bits here and there, all smoothed out though so you can't cut or injure yourself, so no worries there.

iFi usually make great volume control with excellent feel and weight to it, this one feels a bit more flimsy and will now increase the volume by steps instead of the usual analog style ones, I think this is a wrong move.
Rubber feet at the bottom is a nice touch and is quite grippy.

Form Factor
Excellent, The device is small and fit in the hand very easily, It is the smallest DAC/AMP product iFi makes, most of the complaint with the nano is the height as it is quite a thick unit, while micro is really not pocket-able, so iFi definitely listened to the customer complains.

Bluetooth Connectivity
When you turn it on it will default to pairing mode for 15 seconds, where you should be able to find and pair the xDSD with the device of your own choosing, after that hold the setting button for 3 seconds to force pair the devices.

My Goto DAP right now is the R6 and for some reason my R6 weren't able to find the xDSD but found many other device, even when both is sitting very closely.
On my Samsung Galaxy S8+, it does find the xDSD along with many other device, i don't know why this is, it seems like the Bluetooth is not discover able on every device, I hope that this is not the problem with the xDSD.

I gave it some listen in wireless mode, but not for long as I want to get how it sounds in full capability.
From my brief listen, it sounds very good and similar to the wired mode, i didn't spend some time to AB test this as the process is difficult and cumbersome, by the time I switch I would have forgotten the sound between wired and wireless.

Sound Signature
I wouldn't call this V-shaped, but more on L-Shaped. Moderate amount of emphasis in the bass, while mids and treble has very similar emphasis.
The mids is slightly forward, with some hefty bass that hits with good power, treble is smooth and not the analytical type.

Bass
The Bass is quite tight with good dynamic and attack. Bass sounds meaty but maintains good speed.
As a listener of Extreme Metal, Blast Beats is bread and butter, it keeps up quite well although it can sound a little diffuse at times.

Bass extension is quite good and hits deep without being rumbly, It is presented in a clear way, if many of your tracks are mastered with weaker bass, this will defintely help as it will receive helpful boost but keeps them clean.
The bass will surely grab your attention in the music, as the ratio of emphasis, thickness and attack is pretty much spot on for people who likes bass.

With XBass on, you can defintely feel that it hits harder and sound louder, the boost is definitely not a small one, and as far as I can tell there is only one level of boost.
I mostly leave this features off as I found that the bass amount is quite good already, but bass lovers will absolutly love this as the implementation is flawless.
with the XBass, I hear no sound degradation to the bass, it never creep into other frequencies and stays clean on the presentation.

Mids
The mids are very natural in presentation, macro detail is good but micro details like drawing breath, lip smacking and minor crackles in growling death metal vocals is missing a little bit.

Clarity is excellent and does not sounds veiled at all even when I was using the XBass.
I find that female vocals sounds a little bit more forward than the male ones, while the male vocals has more body.

Listening to the new album by Amorphis on track Amongst Stars, you can definitely hear how both the male and female vocals shine in the tracks, both are represented with eamotion due to the excellent dynamic range.
The vocals feels really strong in the climax of the track and sounds very distinct and euphonic.

Treble
The treble is tuned in a musical way, the sound is sweet and un-offensive, exposure of details, sizzles and sparkles is not the main priority, It is not rolled off in any way, the treble still have good presence in tracks, but if you want to dig into the tiny details you have to look for it.

Cymbals sounds quite good but you can feel that it is losing it a bit at the end, like tiny little bit of details and sizzles are missing at the end.

Guitar Solos is charming on this, it just catch your attention and takes the highlight of the tracks very nicely. It is smooth and musical, it lose some of the bites that I usually hear in higher end gears but this could be beneficial for some tracks as well.
Many of my Black Metal Tracks has some sharpniss in the guitars, cymbals and hi-hits that can sound very fatigueing, even from my Meze 99 Classic, but here it is absolutly listenable.

Violin is also sweet sounding and melodic, one of the metal bands I like Ne Obliviscaris, employs violin in their music, it sounds nice and solid, it is quite natural with a little bit of added body to make it even more emotional in the tracks.

Overall The treble is very forgiving and sweet sounding.
If you like more Treble, you can also turn on the 3D soundstage feature, which actually adds more treble as well and makes the sound more airy.

Soundstage
It has more width than depth and height, left/right channel separation is good with instruments taking its own place without being congested.
It is not the enveloping type, instruments takes position in its own place and the sound is coming from that direction exactly from that point.

Overall in standard mode the soundstage is not very big, but well proportioned so you don't have instruments sounding super far left and right, everything is at a good distance and does not overlap each other.

With 3D soundstage on, the soundstage becomes more expansive and the difference is very apparent, due to that it is quite often that I might prefer to leave it on in some tracks, it usually fits very nicely with Progressive Rock Tracks.

The problem with this is it also increase the treble response, that means some tracks can be a bit too bright and will not sounds as natural, this feature is definitely usefull but you need to play around with the tracks.

Comparisons (all comparison are done in standard mode)
Fiio X7 II
The X7 II is more sparkly up top, soundstage is very similar in size, bass is tighter and faster and overall the notes has less body.
Micro details are a little more apparent while macro detail is very similar.
X7 II is more neutral overall but more unforgiving to bad recordings.

Hiby R6
The R6 has stronger punch on the bass and better dynamics.
It is also a little bit more neutral and the mids is more forward.
Soundstage is wider and deeper, height is also a little bit better but not by much.
Micro detail pops a bit more on the R6, although sounds very similar in thickness, the notes has good body but too much and pairs very well with thinny headphone.
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iFi Nano iDSD BL
The Nano is still warmer and more v-shaped than the xDSD with less clarity and thicker notes.
Macro detail is good and is actually quite close but micro detail is not as good.
Soundstage is a little wider with similar depth and height.

iFi Micro iDSD BL
The Micro is brighter with thinner and more to the point notes, it has slighly better clarity, more detailed and is closer to neutral.
Instrument separation is a lot better and is more airy.
Soundstage is wider and deeper, height is just slightly better.

Headphone pairing
Meze 99 Classic
(Smaller Pads)
Good pairing, Background noise is silent, Bass impact is string and vivid, very unoffensive sound but not boring either. Mids has good body and Guitars sounds sweet.
Speed is good and can keep up very well on blast beats drum in Metal music.
Decay is quite good too, you can hear the sound fading away in a quiet passage very well.
Never get any fatigue with this combo, just keep on listening to music all day long.
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Focal Utopia
OK Pairing, The Micro details that I usually hear in the same tracks on my usual desktop Gear (DAP -> V281) definitely is less apparent here.
The tonality is a good match with some boost in the bass and good body can help in some tracks when listened with the Utopia.
Clarity is also good but not as vivid and rich as my desktop gear as well.
It did very well for a portable but this is absolutely not the optimal thing to do.
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Conclusions
Bluetooth connection is not the best and still need more work, but it is there when you need it.

The sound upgrade from the Nano is there, not 2 times better but still a sizable improvements.
The Micro gives more upgrade but portability is the worst in the line up, I would actually get the xDSD instead.

At its retail price of 589.95 AUD, it packs a good amount of features and in a typical iFi fashion, they pack very generous amount of accessories to come with it.

I would recommend this product for Laptop and smartphone users, who wants more flexibility in their use case.
pacorrea
pacorrea
I definitely agree that the build quality on this unit was really not up to standards. The plastic volume knob felt pretty cheap which is a shame because it's a part of the device that receives the most touch from the user.
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