iFi Audio xDSD

Rating:
4.3/5,
  1. ngoshawk
    The little iFi that could
    Written by ngoshawk
    Published Jun 17, 2018 at 11:14 PM
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Portable.
    Made by iFi.
    Affordable.
    Feature-laden including BT.
    Sound-it is quite good.
    Cons - Some BT connectivity issues.
    Chrome=fingerprint monster.
    Some may need an adapter for 3.5bal.
    iFi xDSD ($399) https://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/x-xdsd/


    Pre-ramble:


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


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


    [​IMG]


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


    [​IMG]


    Intro cont’d:


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


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


    [​IMG]


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


    My first look:


    [​IMG]


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

    [​IMG]

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

    [​IMG]


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


    [​IMG]



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


    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]

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

    Specs/Simple Measurements:

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

    Output power:

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

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

    Battery:
    3.8V/2200mAh

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

    Weight: 127g (0.28 Ibs)

    Warranty period: 12 months


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

    [​IMG]

    Gear Used:

    MacBook Pro
    Opus #2
    Shanling M3S
    Cayin N5ii

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

    iFi micro iDSD Black Label
    iBasso PB3
    Ray Samuels Intruder


    Songs:

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



    Fit-N-Finish/buttons galore:


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


    [​IMG]


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


    [​IMG]


    Sound experience:


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


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


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


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


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


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


    Further comparative:


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


    [​IMG]


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

    [​IMG]

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


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


    [​IMG]


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


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


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


    [​IMG]


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


    [​IMG]


    Headphones:


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


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


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


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


    [​IMG]


    Finale:


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


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


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


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

    [​IMG]

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


    [​IMG]
      Bansaku likes this.
  2. rafaelo
    xDSD: The Davidoff Magnum of DACs.
    Written by rafaelo
    Published Jun 11, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - 1) Amazing sound period. Classic ifi orgasmic sound signature and ifi proprietary master clock technology
    2) Amazing Bluetooth sound
    3) Even more Amazing wired (asynchronous) sound.
    4) Another incarnation of iOne. Can be used as iOne when the battery dies.
    5) Very portable device
    6) Super portable capable headphone amp
    7) Power is not passed from the same USB where music data passes.
    8) super sexy beautiful DAC
    Cons - 1) No Aptx-hd or LDAC as of yet.
    2) No smartphone App as of yet.
    3) Fingerprint magnet phrone to scratches with no particular reason.
    IMG_20180603_172035279_HDR.jpg There are 3 main reasons for my review:
    1. I am posting to fulfil my obligations because it is required as part of the loan review process from Ifi audio.
    2. I will do the review in an informal way from the point of view of a simple consumer that offers an honest opinion in order to help other consumers at his level to choose a product and I hope some of you will find this review somewhat useful.
    3. More importantly, I hope I will provide useful consumer feedback to Ifiaudio to design new products that fulfil some additional requirements.
    In my past review for the Black nano I mentioned among others the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    IMG_20180603_172035279_HDR.jpg IMG_20180603_160119959.jpg IMG_20180602_113747368.jpg IMG_20180527_222918657.jpg IMG_20180527_125422577.jpg
      Bansaku and baseonmars like this.
  3. emptymt
    First of The X Series
    Written by emptymt
    Published Jun 5, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Excellent Bass, clear mid with solid body, smooth sounding enjoyable sound, form factor.
    Feature rich, generous accessories.
    Cons - Finger prints galore, Bluetooth pairing is not intuitive, volume pot feel is not as nice compared to the BL series.
    Disclaimer
    This review is made by myself based on my observation and listening pleasure of The item on gears that I have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Headphones Used
    - Meze 99 Classic
    - Focal Utopia

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

    Packaging
    Simple white box, nothing more, nothing less. Made from recycle-able material with pictures of the unit at the front and, tech specs at the back and features on the right sides.
    20180604_200554.jpg 20180604_200605.jpg 20180604_200616.jpg

    ACCESSORIES
    - Black carrying pouch
    - USB adaptor (USB to USB-A)
    - USB for digital input
    - Plastic strapping for stacking
    - Toslink to mini-optical adaptor

    20180604_194953.jpg

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

    Extra Features:
    - Filter for measuring and music listening (I didn't play around with this)
    - 3D sioundstage expansion (soundstage/treble boost)
    - XBass (bassboost)
    - MQA
    - DSD playback
    - Bluetooth Pairing
    20180604_195052.jpg 20180604_195013.jpg

    Battery Life
    8 -10 hours depending on loads, made it to the end of work day, good!

    Build quality
    Material of Choice is good, however the execution is a bit unrefined, this is just nitpicking here as we all buy this unit not for looks, but the aluminum glossy finish is super prone to finger print, you can see it in the pictures.
    20180604_195007.jpg 20180604_195019.jpg
    It would have been much better if they build the whole thing using the black aluminum material at the bottom of the unit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Hiby R6
    The R6 has stronger punch on the bass and better dynamics.
    It is also a little bit more neutral and the mids is more forward.
    Soundstage is wider and deeper, height is also a little bit better but not by much.
    Micro detail pops a bit more on the R6, although sounds very similar in thickness, the notes has good body but too much and pairs very well with thinny headphone.
    20180604_201623.jpg

    iFi Nano iDSD BL
    The Nano is still warmer and more v-shaped than the xDSD with less clarity and thicker notes.
    Macro detail is good and is actually quite close but micro detail is not as good.
    Soundstage is a little wider with similar depth and height.

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

    Headphone pairing
    Meze 99 Classic
    (Smaller Pads)
    Good pairing, Background noise is silent, Bass impact is string and vivid, very unoffensive sound but not boring either. Mids has good body and Guitars sounds sweet.
    Speed is good and can keep up very well on blast beats drum in Metal music.
    Decay is quite good too, you can hear the sound fading away in a quiet passage very well.
    Never get any fatigue with this combo, just keep on listening to music all day long.
    20180604_201750.jpg

    Focal Utopia
    OK Pairing, The Micro details that I usually hear in the same tracks on my usual desktop Gear (DAP -> V281) definitely is less apparent here.
    The tonality is a good match with some boost in the bass and good body can help in some tracks when listened with the Utopia.
    Clarity is also good but not as vivid and rich as my desktop gear as well.
    It did very well for a portable but this is absolutely not the optimal thing to do.
    20180604_201813.jpg

    Conclusions
    Bluetooth connection is not the best and still need more work, but it is there when you need it.

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

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

    I would recommend this product for Laptop and smartphone users, who wants more flexibility in their use case.
      Bansaku likes this.
    1. pacorrea
      I definitely agree that the build quality on this unit was really not up to standards. The plastic volume knob felt pretty cheap which is a shame because it's a part of the device that receives the most touch from the user.
      pacorrea, Jun 6, 2018
      bidn likes this.
  4. kangcore
    Great sounding, but bluetooth could be better.
    Written by kangcore
    Published Apr 28, 2018
    3.5/5,
    Pros - Tight sound, great clarity and farly flat response. Toggle-able 3D & Bass enhancements are subtle and musical. Plathora of wired & bluetooth connection options make it a versatile option for daily use on the go, at work or home.
    Cons - Bluetooth is finicky, drops out on occasion, doesn't do multipoint (although remembers multiple devices), have to re-pair sometimes, especially when switching from wired to bluetooth mode. Mode switching is clunky. Colourful LED indicators are pretty, but unintuitive.
    It's been over seven years since I gave up on portable amps and just decided to go straight to headphone jack. Of course, in those days, we still had headphone jacks. My semi-reluctant step back into the world of portable amplification was thus facilitated both by the apparent impending demise of the headphone jack from every-day audio devices (i.e. mobile phones), as well as an unexpectedly growing itch to just buy more stuff (in turn facilitated by following local purveyors of audio kit on social media and drooling over their updates). It's also been greatly aided by the amazing leaps and bounds that bluetooth technology has made over these years, both in terms of connection stability, ease of use, and sound quality. We've really gotten to a stage where bluetooth audio devices can rival that of hard-wired connections, at least for casual use.

    Before proceeding, I'd like to present the usual caveats that I'm no audiophile - just someone who likes the way certain types of audio gear sounds - and that I'm definitely not a deep-pocketed audiophile. I have very little frame of reference when it comes to audio gear, having a very modest selection of cans and IEMs, and - as stated earlier - not having used any sort of headphone amplification for many years.

    With that in mind, here's my always-subjective and ever-changing impressions of the iFi xDSD.

    First, my review kit.

    [​IMG]

    Sources: Google Pixel 2 XL, iPad Pro 10", Macbook Pro (pre touchbar)
    Headphones / IEMs: Aurisonics AS-2 Custom (pre-Fender, pre logo change), Sennheiser IE80s, Fiio F9, AIAIAI TMA-02 (#03 warm drivers/microfiber over-ears)

    I won't go into detail about accessories and physical appearance - other reviewers have done so, and more capably than I. I will note that it is a fairly small unit, almost 2/3 the length of my Pixel 2 XL. It's encased in a fairly shiny aluminium-alloy housing that is - predictably - a huge fingerprint magnet. Plenty of LEDs in many colours to indicate status and connection type, which is great - except I have to figure out what colour means what. Thankfully, bluetooth mode is indicated with a blue LED, and that's more or less the most important colour I reckon I need to know. Build quality is otherwise excellent, and I definitely feel I'm holding a premium product.

    Bluetooth pairing is a tad tricky - you'll first have to figure out how to get the device into bluetooth mode (press and hold the power/volume knob, then rotate while the switch is depressed until LED changes to blue. Green is wired mode). After that, it's a simple matter of depressing and holding the mode switch for a few seconds to enter pairing mode (device enters pairing mode when fresh out of the box). Mode switching seems a fairly decent option on paper, especially given that there's not a lot of real estate to add dedicated switches on the control panel - however, the power/volume knob has to be rotated quite a fair bit before the mode LED changes. I get that the number of turns should be increased to prevent accidental mode switching during power-on, but it's just enough turns to be annoying. I would have liked iFi to build in some auto source detection - switch to wired mode when connected to analog or digital source, perhaps.

    I'd like to just dwell a little longer on the Bluetooth capabilities of this device because others have done a marvellous job with describing the audio quality of this device, but not dwelt long on this aspect. Having used a good number of bluetooth devices over the years, ranging from bluetooth speakers (Cheap and premium) to bluetooth headphones and dongles, I reckon I'm fairly experienced when it comes to this. There's no question that this device sounds great on Bluetooth mode. Trouble is, when graded against other bluetooth devices, this comes up a little short on functionality.

    Compared to my dinky little Fiio BTR-1, connectivity on the xDSD is more finicky. I've experienced dropouts when the devices are barely centimetres apart. Range is alright, I can probably get to about 10 - 20m with clear line of sight. However, other devices like my aforementioned BTR-1 and my Sony WH-1000XM2 have far greater range.

    Switching between devices is fiddly - I initially had to manually disable and enable connections between devices, before figuring out I could just put the xDSD in pairing mode, and manually select the xDSD in the Bluetooth menu of the device I'm switching to. Still, very fiddly, especially when one considers that the Fiio BTR-1 is multipoint-capable, meaning it can connect to multiple devices simultaneously and stream audio from them seamlessly.

    My biggest beef, however, comes from switching between wired to bluetooth mode. When switching back to my Pixel 2 XL from wired connection, the devices pair as normal, but I totally lose all audio. I have to "forget" and re-pair the devices in order to regain audio. This is a huge black mark in my book, and at this price point I would have expected such issues to be detected and ironed out in development. The absence of auto mode-detection, and multipoint are all minus points for me. For that, I'm taking off 1.5 points from my rating.

    Sound-wise, the amp performs excellently. Audio is tight, coherent across the spectrum. Bass has heft and weight, midrange is silky and treble sparkles without being spiky. Lots of clarity and headroom - this sucker gets loud! The 3D and bass enhancement modes are very subtle, adding just a little push to the low end and/or soundstage. Stereo separation is noticeably wider, and track placement is more clearly defined as compared to bluetooth dongles like the Fiio BTR-1, or stock headphone jacks. All this adds up to a very clear, engaging, and enveloping sound.

    Finally, the battery life is more than enough to get me through a workday, with a bit of charge to spare. That said, it doesn't hurt to give it a bit of juice midday to make sure it lasts through to the night, especially if there's any hiccups during your evening / night-time commute.

    Overall, this is a great-sounding amp that definitely sounds and feels premium. Alas, the bluetooth performance leaves a bit to be desired, and given that its pitched as a premium bluetooth audiophile amp, ought to not just sound great, but also meet the standards set by other more pedestrian-priced devices.
      Bansaku, gatucho and Gonzalez like this.
  5. Currawong
    The xDSD is a good-sounding, versatile DAC/amp
    Written by Currawong
    Published Apr 14, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Very good sound. Numerous connection options including wireless. Smaller than their other DAC/amps. Good volume control. X-Bass and 3D are handy.
    Cons - "Balanced" output requires the 3.5mm HiFiMan standard. Case is an unusual shape. Bluetooth a bit buggy.

    iFi have carved a name for themselves with affordable and powerful DACs and headphones amps, as well as noise-reducing USB and digital accessories. The new xDSD has been my first introduction to the work of their digital guru, Thorsten Loesch.

    Opening up the box, I was surprised at just how small the xDSD is. Most of their DAC/amps have been somewhat larger and not only has the size changed, but the form factor as well. Unusually-shaped designs are not something I’m new to, but the wavy case of the xDSD has had people wondering how it would be possible to attach to a smart phone.

    To that end strips of 3M Dual Lock are provided, pre-cut, to allow attachment to a DAP or phone. As with other iFi products, such as their Nano and Micro series, the xDSD has a USB-A plug as one of the inputs, allowing it to be easily using with an iPhone and the Camera Connection Kit. To connect to a computer a USB extension cable is included. That extension cable is a USB 3.0 cable for best results, even if the xDSD itself only uses USB 2.

    For charging, there is a separate micro USB port so that iPhone and smart phone users wont have to worry about power usage warnings.

    iFi_xDSD-D75_8339_.jpg

    For other inputs, a 3.5mm socket for both S/PDIF and optical is included. For the latter, a Toslink to mini-optical adaptor is included. Those of us who have collected mini-optical to Toslink cables for use with a DAP will be pleased that purchase of another cable isn’t necessary. Lastly, and most importantly, the xDSD has APTx and AAC Bluetooth audio built in.

    For the output, a carefully crafted balanced circuit is used, the output of which is through a 3.5mm TRRS socket. While under normal circumstances, connecting a non-balanced connector would result in damage, in the case of the xDSD there are no issues, as the signal returns are to the star ground of each mono amp in the circuit. According to iFi, setting it up this way reduces crosstalk.

    iFi_xDSD-D75_8350-Edit_.jpg

    To power the xDSD on one presses the volume control in for a few seconds. As soon as the lights come on, it will be in either wired or wireless (Bluetooth) mode. Holding the power button in for longer still will switch between these modes.

    Similarly, holding in the settings button during power on will switch on or off line-out mode which fixes the output to a standard 2V and sets the volume LED in the centre of the knob to white. In regular headphone-listening mode, the knob glows with different colours at different levels, much in the manner of Chord’s Hugo 2 and Mojo, though the highest volume in the case of the xDSD is red.

    In line-out mode the settings button, which cycles between 3D mode and X-Bass modes (on, off, or both on or off) doesn’t function as it is assumed that maximum fidelity is desired when connected to another amplifier.

    The 3D mode and X-Bass mode respectively provide a gentle widening of the soundstage and a gentle boost of the bass, handy with more bass-light headphones.

    An input light indicates the type of input being used, or blue for Bluetooth and a kHz light indicates the input resolution. The latter bugged me somewhat as it glows green for everything from 44.1k to 96k. There are often times I want to be sure that, for example, my iPhone is actually outputting the correct resolution with a 96k file, but there is no way to check this without playing a 176k or 192k first.

    iFi_xDSD-D75_8344-Edit_.jpg

    With multiple inputs and ways that the xDSD could be used, I tried it in a variety of set-ups. For sources I had:

    iMac via USB
    FiiO X7
    Soundaware M1 via S/PDIF
    iPhone X with Camera Connection Kit
    iPhone X via Bluetooth (AAC)
    Astell&Kern AK380 via optical.
    Astell&Kern AK380 via Bluetooth (APTx)

    S/PDIF wont accept DSD or anything above 192k. Nor will optical.

    Despite the many options I felt that performance was quite consistent between inputs. One might notice less realism in the sound of cymbals on good recordings via AAC Bluetooth vs. APTx, or other minor differences via using a high-quality transport versus direct from a computer, but they were small enough that I don’t consider them significant.

    As a DAC I compared it primarily with the Chord Mojo, it’s nearest competitor, and the Chord Hugo 2. The latter is resolving to a degree that just about any amp or headphones used with it will not be able to pass on its resolution capability and it was that way comparing it with the xDSD using iFi’s own Pro iCan.

    Against the Mojo it was a much closer match from my impressions and really it came down to the finer points such as the Mojo’s superior computing power and software delivering a better sense of soundstage depth and slightly more natural-sounding instruments. Where the xDSD has the advantage is with its X-Bass and 3D modes which, while artificial can make music more satisfying to listen, especially when the music isn’t acoustic to begin with.

    iFi_xDSD-D75_8341-Edit_.jpg
    Driving headphones the xDSD does a good job. Conveniently for me, its peak power is at 16 Ohms and I had the MrSpeakers Aeon Flow Open on hand for review. That combination worked very well at the moderate listening levels I enjoy. I switched in various amps during listening, such as iFi’s own Pro iCan, and the ALO Audio Continental V5. More robust amplification provided an improvement, though where the headphones (or IEMs) were sufficiently driven, such as with the Aeons, the improvement was not large.

    Of IEMs, I tested the xDSD for hiss with the Campfire Audio Andromedas. While with no music there was a small amount, it was hardly enough to be an issue with listening. HiFiMan’s RE2000s were also put into service, their strong treble employed to seek out harshness, none of which was apparent.

    Of the xDSD’s presentation itself, it is slightly on the warm side of things, something I can’t help wondering if it is the result of the custom opamps used. With “627” in their name, I can't help wondering if they are based on the classic (and slightly warm-sounding) OPA627.

    Overall the xDSD is very enjoyable to listen to music with. I have a slight fear when agreeing to review something that I wont like it. With digital gear that is usually because inexpensive components can sound flat, or harsh, but the xDSD had none of those issues. On the contrary, I found often that once I’d start listening with it, I continued, such was the degree of my enjoyment.

    iFi_xDSD-D75_8328_.jpg

    images

    1. iFi_xDSD-D75_8326-Edit_.jpg
    2. iFi_xDSD-D75_8348-Edit_.jpg
    1. abm0
      Could be that it's only slightly warm when you leave that filter switch on "listen". They do say in the manual that the other setting, "measure", is for strictly correct output (which I assume should not have any coloring whatsoever, and therefore should not sound warm or cold in the slightest).
      abm0, Apr 17, 2018
    2. Currawong
      From the graphs I've seen it only affects very high frequencies. In the information about the xDSD it mentions what appears to be an opamp which has a similar numbering to a known "warm"-sounding model, the OPA627, so I can't help wondering if it is that.
      Currawong, Apr 18, 2018