iFi Audio xDSD

Rating:
4.22222/5,
  1. Army-Firedawg
    The next logical step for the iDSD successor.
    Written by Army-Firedawg
    Published Aug 28, 2018
    4.0/5,
    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, B9Scrambler and volly like this.
    1. damart81
      Thanks for this review!
      damart81, Oct 4, 2018
      Army-Firedawg likes this.
    2. Army-Firedawg
      Glad it could be of help to you.
      Army-Firedawg, Oct 15, 2018
  2. gto88
    All around portable Dac/Amp
    Written by gto88
    Published Aug 28, 2018
    4.5/5,
    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.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    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.

    images

    1. Beninnzorjp
      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?
      Beninnzorjp, Oct 3, 2018
  3. Wiljen
    ifi Audio xDSD - tiny packages deliver big time!
    Written by Wiljen
    Published Aug 14, 2018
    4.0/5,
    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.

    contents1.jpg

    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.

    sizecompare.JPG

    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

    face.JPG

    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.

    rear.JPG

    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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  4. knorris908
    iFi Audio xDSD - An Updated And Truly Portable Amp
    Written by knorris908
    Published Aug 2, 2018
    5.0/5,
    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.
    DSC_2997-2.jpg
    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?"
    DSC_3006-2.jpg
    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?"
    DSC_3007-2.jpg
    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?
    DSC_3008-2.jpg

    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.
  5. Bansaku
    Versatility in a small, powerful package!
    Written by Bansaku
    Published Jul 29, 2018
    4.5/5,
    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

    main.jpg

    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:

    specifications.jpeg

    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?

    Asses.jpg

    boxF.jpg boxR.jpg

    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.

    stack.jpg

    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.

    front.jpg

    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.

    rear.jpg


    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!

    xDSD-PCB03.jpg xDSD-pcb08.jpg xSDd-PCB024.jpg xSDd-PCB025.jpg

    Cyberdrive

    cd.jpg

    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.

    side.jpg

    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.

    led.jpg

    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

    battery.jpeg

    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

    inut.jpeg

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

    kHz.jpeg

    Cyberdrive Rotary Control - located in the front centre

    volume.jpeg

    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!
    1. Koolpep
      Well done review! Thanks!
      Koolpep, Aug 6, 2018
      Light - Man likes this.
  6. Mightygrey
    A real ‘Swiss-army’ trans-portable DAC
    Written by Mightygrey
    Published Jul 24, 2018
    4.5/5,
    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.

    Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 7.02.29 pm.png

    [​IMG]
    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.
    [​IMG] Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 7.01.29 pm.png

    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
    Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 7.02.20 pm.png
    [​IMG]

    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.

    Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 7.03.14 pm.png

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

    Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 7.02.11 pm.png

    [​IMG]
    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.
    [​IMG]

    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.

    Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 7.02.48 pm.png

    [​IMG]
    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.

    Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 7.03.04 pm.png

    [​IMG]
    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.

    Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 7.02.56 pm.png

    [​IMG]
    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.

    Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 7.02.38 pm.png

    [​IMG]
    ‘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
    Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 7.02.02 pm.png
    Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 7.01.38 pm.png

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    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
    [​IMG]

    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.
    Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 7.03.34 pm.png
    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!

    images

    1. Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 7.01.51 pm.png
    1. Grimbles
      Grimbles, Jul 28, 2018
      Mightygrey likes this.
  7. faceestrella
    Excellent Delivery - ifi xDSD DAC Amp Review
    Written by faceestrella
    Published Jul 19, 2018
    4.5/5,
    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
    [​IMG]
    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,
    [​IMG]
    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
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    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.
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    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.
    [​IMG]

    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.
    [​IMG]
    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.

    [​IMG]

    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.

    [​IMG]
      Bansaku and blackyangell like this.
  8. Grimbles
    xDSD - the best source I have heard yet...
    Written by Grimbles
    Published Jul 18, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Excellent SQ, portable form factor, detail in abundance
    Cons - Fingerprint magnet, confusing controls, MQA difficulties
    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), 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.

    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

    images

    1. Bottom.jpg
      Bansaku likes this.
    1. M0N_
      Have you tried the xDSD using optical/coax? Kinda want to buy one now for my X5 II to use as a dac.
      M0N_, Jul 26, 2018
      Grimbles likes this.
    2. 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
      Grimbles, Jul 27, 2018
  9. ExpatinJapan
    iFi Audio xDSD - On the go Hifi -wired or BT.
    Written by ExpatinJapan
    Published Jul 18, 2018
    4.5/5,
    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

    [​IMG]]
    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.

    [​IMG]


    '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

    [​IMG]

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

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    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.

    [​IMG]

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

    [​IMG]

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

    [​IMG]

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

    [​IMG]

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

    [​IMG]

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

    [​IMG]

    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.

    [​IMG]

    Top view of this little finger print collector

    [​IMG]

    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).

    [​IMG]

    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.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

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

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    iFi Audio xDSD, Shanling M0 connected via bluetooth and Campfire Audio Atlas.

    Specifications

    [​IMG]

    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

    [​IMG]



    Price

    US$399 (Amazon price).





    [​IMG]

    “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.

    [​IMG]

    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..

    [​IMG]

    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.


    [​IMG]



    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.


    [​IMG]

    The iFi Audio xDSD and upcoming xCAN


    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]








    [​IMG]
    Thank you to iFi Audio for sending Head pie the xDSD for review
      Bansaku likes this.
  10. peterinvan
    Main Feature: Bluetooth input
    Written by peterinvan
    Published Jul 10, 2018
    4.0/5,
    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.


    xDSD table(1).jpg xDSD table(2).jpg xDSD interior graphic.jpg
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