iFi Audio xDSD

emptymt

1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Excellent Bass, clear mid with solid body, smooth sounding enjoyable sound, form factor.
Feature rich, generous accessories.
Cons: Finger prints galore, Bluetooth pairing is not intuitive, volume pot feel is not as nice compared to the BL series.
Disclaimer
This review is made by myself based on my observation and listening pleasure of The item on gears that I have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Headphones Used
- Meze 99 Classic
- Focal Utopia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Head-Fier
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.

i-VekYhR-eI0Ksc8_oXCBjHGuw92T6yxtAINOu5IrI9A34IofWusKhiAmfAzzIGsJoIIPqVJ5Y3kBVBdZY3uIXIHINliYcp4vKJsV0S1KuJ_o3WFD_BpGHJkJo-9fNmhy2xXFWJ1usS6l-0wg1QOfmYjJ9zi1XOJHnShR23zWp3D2UfG7D6O1MlXpiorUL8AEbomSTNNOf5kTwg7qJ_ME6xTssVcxnKkxTnJfA5Y44GyBWUJ35HiQSBuusoFWJ2Aqpt6Dz12sxsKSfxIxOxaTG30VNHJoC1XZoD87ZYxLuUsYkoftPfW4jcfZG3a4260OwlW36_TS6MJat8Q9XvXb7Ph1yc7c3Pfm_1UjLRmPDe4CHlhKmNndnzLAXnBQT74JxD-3VbzxRrHnai70UFa69eBq-Na7a9-IvrPHh4SlqmfpTXtKCwF8uVtj6g6G5Rd3pRhl8oMBhAVHI_A2V6_bsG5kc4uLw6HqFIWYjpDpYlSksWhOESmKBR2eMMobLs1giojBOepJxijLHgSg7JksQ7oUbcFMpXWAWpSuGnqr1r0A8mufPxfLg1trneqEgiSYL7FN3FGmf-PBs1KcbYeq4sEpcfT69Eecf1PvSXM=w1170-h1560-no


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.
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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abm0
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).
Currawong
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.
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