iFi GO bar

Hooga

100+ Head-Fier
Feature packed
Pros: Very good power delivery on mid and high impedance drivers
Above average power delivery on low impedance drivers
Good balanced output sound quality
MQA full-decoding
Four selectable reconstruction filter options
Built-in IEMatch
XBass and XSpace features
Selectable High Gain
Cons: High host power demand, not USB2 compliant
Host Volume Sync buggy on Windows, not supported on Linux.
Unimpressive single-ended output sound quality
Expensive
“Yellow” LED light too easily confused with “White”
Uncommon IEMatch settings, limited benefits
GO Bar is iFi Audio’s first and long awaited take on a battery-less mobile dac-amp (a “dongle”).

As I will try to outline, from multiple standpoints GO Bar fully partakes into iFi’s overall general product philosophy both in terms of components and general application. It promises outstanding results, and surely comes with a price tag (€ 329 in EU) positioning it at the top market level. It can as always be purchased directly from iFi, on their Amazon space, or from one of their distributors around the world.

Features and description


Externals

GO Bar’s housing shape recalls that of their Nano / Micro iDSD line – just many times smaller. Within the “dongle” category, GO Bar falls more or less midway in terms of dimensions and weight: 65x22x13mm and most of all 28.5g are not certainly huge yet not entirely disregardable either when I have GO Bar connected to my transport. It’s more than twice the size and weight than an E1DA 9038S, yet much smaller and lighter compared to a Groove.

On one small ends we find two phone outs, on the opposite end a USB-C connector. On one of the long sides there are two + and – buttons, another multifunction button, and a microswitch dedicated to IEMatch.

Finally, on the bottom face there’s a raw of 9 little holes corresponding to as many LEDs, with engravings already hinting about those being dedicated to signaling which PCM sample rate is being played, or if DSD is being received, whether MQA is being detected and finally wheter XSpace and/or XBass+ are activated.

GO Bar is supplied in a small size carton box with adequate internal protections. The bundle is quite generous insofar as it includes a USBC-USBC short cable, a Lightning-USBC cable, a USBC-USBA adapter and a black leather pouch with enough room for the GO Bar itself plus at least one of such cables.


Internals

iFi traditionally offers quite some macroscopical information about the contents of their devices, but scarce or no fine details about them.

USB communication is taken care by a XMOS 16bit chip, which I would call an obviously good – for quality – and at the same time brave choice – when I think to the power that element alone requires to operate.

Unlike many other iFi DAC devices, “traditionally” equipped with Burr-Brown DAC chips, GO Bar is built around a 32bit Cirrus Logic DAC chip. The rest of the components are coming from the usual manufacturers normally enlisted by iFi: Murata and TDK capacitors, and Texas Instruments power supplies. I won’t go too much down through this as, in lack of better specifications coming from the manufacturers, I find this information to be useful essentially at the marketing level only.


Input

GO Bar offers a single input, being the USB-C port which is therefore supposed to carry in both digital data and power.

The range of accepted digital resolutions is nothing short of extended:
  • PCM up to 32bit / 384MHz (ASIO drivers required on Windows to exceed 24bit / 192KHz)
  • DSD direct up to 256 (DSD-direct requires ASIO drivers on Windows)
GO Bar is also an MQA full decoder. That means that it can both unfold non-authenticated MQA tracks, and (automatically) pre-authenticate with the MQA provider to guaranteer even higher quality and especially fidelity vs the digital content distributed by the publisher.

On the housing’s bottom face there’s a generous stripe of LEDs flanked by engraved markings.

One of the topmost 6 LEDs of the stripe will light up in white to indicate which digital resolution is being received by GO Bar: 44/48, 88/96, 172/192, 352/384, DSD64/128 or DSD256.

The 7th LED will light up of different colours depending on the situation:
  • when an MQA stream is being received : green for MQA, blue for MQA Studio and magenta for “MQB” (Original Sample Rate).
  • when a PCM stream is being received: cyan for BP filter, white for GTO, red for STD, yellow for MIN and off in case of DSD stream. (Read more down below about filters).

Output

GO Bar offers 2 distinct phone out ports: a 4.4mm Balanced and a 3.5mm Single Ended one.

iFi’s web site is quite stingy on information about GO Bar’s output power so I asked them directly. Here’s two tables giving a much more complete picture of the situation:

Balanced output

Load impedance (Ω)Output Power (mW)Output Voltage (V)Output Current (mA)
60086,47,212,0
32475,03,9121,8
16271,02,1130,1
14206,01,7121,3
10139,01,2117,9

Single ended output

Load impedance (Ω)Output Power (mW)Output Voltage (V)Output Current (mA)
60024,13,86,3
32300,03,196,8
16209,01,8114,3
14176,01,6112,1
10125,01,1111,8

So it’s quite clear that GO Bar offers very nice output power on high impedance loads, while it is severely limited in terms of current delivery which turns into not particularly enticing figures from 16Ω down.

Don’t take me wrong here: GO Bar is still more powerful on low impedance loads, and delivers more current on medium impedance loads than many other “dongles” out there. However, GO Bar’s marketing tag line (“World’s most powerful headphone amp of its size”) is, simply, not true when taken in the absolute terms used by its very wordage.

Looking at the figures, it comes out that the device has a hard max current cap around 130mA which it reaches on a 32Ω (or thereabout) load, and to stay at safe distance from that it’s tuned such that drawn current is progressively reduced as load impedance goes down.

Running some simple math it’s also quite clear that GO Bar issues its max power on Balanced Ended output vs circa 55Ω impedance, that being a bit less than 1W, and from there on down it rapidly starts winding down both voltage and current flow.

Neither of the two output connections is configurable as a pure Line Out.

Output impedance on both BE and SE ports are declared to be equal, both < 1Ω. A nicely low value, although not a superlow one.

I also find it interesting to note that SNR and THD+N promised values on BE and SE ports are dramatically different. On BE port iFi declares 132dB(A) SNR and <0.002% THD+N. The former value in particular is really outstanding.

On the SE port they instead declare SNR at 108dB(A) and <0.09% THD+N which I would both call “unimpressive” to be generous. And match unenticing subjective audition experience (more below).

Lastly, the 3.5mm phone out on GO Bar offers iFi’s proprietary “S-Balanced” connectivity – which is a sort of superset of the usual 3.5mm Single Ended standards, offering some more cleanness, and full backwards compatibility to all existing 3.5mm terminated drivers.

S-Balanced is the name of some iFi’s technology, short for “Single-ended compatible Balanced”. iFi also adopts it inside Pro iCAN, xCAN, xDSD and Nano iDSD Black Label. Refer to their own whitepaper for a nice technical description.

Also, if you are not familiar with what TRS / TRRS means, this drawing may help.

Simply put, the S-Balanced “special” cabling scheme behind GO Bar’s 3.5mm port works as follows:
  • When plugging TRS plugs – the port delivers “normal” single-ended output. All single ended drivers on the market will seemlessly work in here. In addition to that, thanks to how internal cabling is designed they will also get 50% reduced crosstalk compared to what they would get from an ordinary single-edend port – for free.
  • When plugging TRRS plugs – the port delivers full “balanced-ended” output to balanced-cabled drivers, resulting in quite apparently cleaner and more dynamic sound.

If we except the case of fixed-cables earphones carrying TRRS 3.5mm plugs from factory (I don’t personally know of one), exploiting GO Bar’s 3.5 TRRS option would require swapping cables, and as such pretty much anybody at that point would swap onto a 2.5mm or 4.4mm terminated one, and exploit the full-blown Balanced port (the 4.4mm one) on the GO Bar.

So in the case of GO Bar – much the same as in the case of Micro iDSD Signature or GO Blu – I guess that the practical value of the S-Balanced technology applied behind the 3.5mm port is limited to the xtalk improvement – which is nevertheless nothing to bin.


Host power requirements

I didn’t analythically measure GO Bar’s power requirements, yet there are quite a few things that can be said based on iFi’s published data, and subjective experience.

First: iFi declares a (maximum) host power draw of 4W. That’s huge. It corresponds to 800mA which is far beyoned USB 2.0 limits.

That’s a maximum absorbtion figure – GO Bar will work on usual smartphones and tablets, and even on iPhones, but if the host (the smartphone, the tablet, or the PC) is not capable of delivering up to 800mA current / 4W power then GO Bar’s effective powering capabilities will be limited by the host’s cap. Or oppositely stated: to get the full power “promised” by its specs, GO Bar must be hooked onto a USB3-capable host, or a smartphone compliant with USB PowerDelivery standard.

Second: GO Bar does drain the smartphone’s battery quite fast, even when not “pumped to the max” power by the way.

As my FifteenReaderstm know, the above is no big concern to me as I don’t use my general purpose smartphone as a transport, rather a separate dedicated device, paired to a dedicated small powerbank and wired with an appropriate custom cable. Nevertheless my personal use case is quite evidently not so common, so the average user looking into adopting GO Bar as a classic “dongle” to be paired to his main phone while commuting should keep its power absorbtion needs in due count.


Volume and gain control

GO Bar offers the user both the option to control volume by pressing the + and – buttons on its housing, and software syncing with the host’s OS.

When changing volume via +/- buttons the LEDs on GO Bar’s bottom faceplate briefly light up to give a visual representation of the volume level.

Host Volume Syncing is supposed to make such that when moving the system volume slider on the host (the machine onto which GO Bar is connected, be it on Windows, MacOS, Android…) then GO Bar’s internal volume changes, and viceversa changing Go Bar’s volume by pushing the +/- buttons will change the host’s volume.

Host Volume Sync is off by default. To turn it on one needs to keep the multifunction button pressed >5 seconds. The switch on is confirmed by an animation played on the upper 6 LEDs on the bottom faceplate. Same procedure to turn it off : keep button pressed >5 seconds, and a (different) animation gets played on the LEDs to confirm.

For my direct experience, Host Volume Sync works as intended on my Android devices, and on my proprietary-Linux small transport, the Tempotec V1. It works “erratically” on my Windows 10 laptop. It does not work at all on any of my different-distro Linux boxes.

After inquiring with iFi’s tech support I got no fix for the Windows problems, and I got confirmed that Linux is indeed not supported “by design”. This is bad, as this de facto prevents GO Bar to be used in pretty much any Linux Client-Server configuration e.g. in a Roon, or LMS, or similar infrastructure, unless by slamming its volume to 100% via its HW buttons, and then actionate on host’s Digital Volume which is of course far from ideal in terms of output quality.

GO Bar also has a +6dB High Gain mode. Unlike what happens e.g. on the GO Blu where gain selection follows an automatic system, on GO Bar it’s the user who has to manually set the device on High or Low Gain mode.

To toggle Gain H / L one needs to push both + and – volume buttons at the same time for >2 seconds. Similarly to the Host Volume Sync case, the “usual” uppermost 6 LEDs on the device’s bottom faceplate will play an animation to indicate the action has been carried out.


Other features


MQA Full Decoding

I won’t spend a word on what MQA itself is, of course. Google around if you wish and you’ll be overflooded with info.

What matters here is: GO Bar is a “MQA Full Decoder”. This means that GO Bar not only can (like any “MQA Renderer”) fully unfold MQA tracks on its own hardware, but that it can also:

  • Authenticate the provenance of MQA tracks.
  • Authenticate the Original Bit Rate of the MQA tracks.

I’ll try to vulgarise the rationales about such extra features.

Singers/players/bands/publishers record their tracks, and eventually release their albums. Prior to the digital music distribution era, there could be very little doubt about whether the music we were listening to was the “original” version of that album as its creator/publisher intended or not; if we had a legit copy of that LP or of that CD, that was it.

In the digital music distribution system, instead, the end user has no “solid” way to make absolutely sure that he’s receiving an unaltered version of those tracks. For what he knows, he might be getting a subsequently remastered, equalised, anyhow manipulated version of that album.

The MQA offers a way to “certify” this. An “MQA Studio” track is a file which containes some sort of “certification codes” that guarantee that track is indeed “the original” as released by the authors. A sort of digital signature, if you wish. Anyone might process, EQ, remaster, etc, that track, and re-encode it under MQA but the new file wouldn’t carry the original author signature anymore.

“MQA Original Sample Rate” (a.k.a. “MQB”) tracks are MQA Studio Tracks for which a further certification is given that not even the mere sample rate has been altered (in particular: oversampled) compared to the “original version” as released by the authors.

Any MQA-capable device can play back all MQA encoded tracks, but only MQA Full Decoders are able to identify such additional “digital signatures” and tell the user “hey, this is an original track” or not.

Ifi GO Bar, Gryphon, HipDac-2 are all Full Decoder devices. Ifi HipDac, Micro iDSD Signature, Nano iDSD Black Label are Renderers.

Between parentheses: HipDac and HipDac-2 being virtually identical in terms of sound capabilities, power, etc, with the sole major difference represented by their different MQA capabilities, offered me the interesting opportunity to check the differences on a quite similar if not virtually identical situation and I could tell a quite obvious SQ improvement when listening to a few particular tracks just Rendered (HipDac) or Full Decoded (HipDac-2).

That said, I don’t personally care about MQA, nor about any of the existing digital distribution catalogues for that matter, due to the fundamental lack of good editions of the music I prefer on there.


XBass+ and XSpace


“XBass+” behaves like what an EQ expert would call a low shelf positive filter. By ear I would say it pushes lows up by 2dB-ish from 100Hz down.

“XSpace” is a “crossfeed filter”, i.e. a function that puts “some” of the right channel output into the left one and viceversa, simulating on headphones what happens when listening to loudspeakers. Within its limits (it’s not parametric, configurable etc – just a mere on/off) and situationality (effects are totally evident on some tracks, minimal on others) the trick is really nice, and I use it quite often.

My main application for XSpace are those original jazz masters from the 60ies where mixing tended to be executed by hard panning each instrument on a single channel only: crossfeed is almost magical in those cases.

Both features are according to iFi’s documentation entirely implemented in the analog domain. No DSPs are involved which promises the minimal impact on sound quality.

To turn either or both features ON or OFF all is needed is short pressing the Multifunction button on GO Bar in sequence. The two bottom LEDs on the stripe on GO Bar’s bottom faceplate will light up or down accordingly.


Alternative reconstruction filters


Reconstruction filters are an extremely technical topic and some fundamental knowledge needs to be acquired to even start to understand what the heck are they about.

If you are technically inclined a good starting point for your homework about what are Reconstruction Filters is actually this Wikipedia page.

If you alternatively would love a more vulgarised approach, there’s my article about this (or many others on the web).

Assuming you are at least somewhat familiar with these concepts, let me say that GO Bar offers the user 4 options :
  • BP (“Bit Perfect”) – this actually corresponds to not applying any digital filtering. No pre nor post ringing is involved (of course).
  • STD (“Standard”) – a modestly fast filter with modest pre and post ringing
  • MIN (“Minimum Phase”) – a slow minimum phase filter, with minimum pre and post ringing
  • GTO (“Gibbs-transient optimised”) – iFi’s proprietary filter, very fast, with no pre ringing and little post ringing. When GTO filter is applied all digital input is automatically up sampled to 352 or 384KHz prior to decoding c/o GO Bar’s internal hw.
To set the preferred filter, hold the Multifunction button down >3 seconds. The MQA LED on GO Bar’s backplate will start flashing of a specific colour. Short pressing the Multifunction botton once will cycle through the 4 possible filters, and the LED will start flashing of a different colour. Long pressing the Multifunction button again >3 sec will “set” the filter and keep it selected until the procedure is done again.

LED color codes are as follows:
  • Cyan – BP filter
  • Red – STD filter
  • Yellow – MIN filter
  • White – GTO filter
The first 3 options really sound like 3 of the 5 standard options made available on stock Cirrus CS43131 chips (full spec sheet here)

The “BP” option (Cirrus’ “NOS” filter) – will of course avoid the slightest risk of introducing any ringing, at the cost, however, of leaving artifacts all there where they are. Conceptually not recommended for redbook (44.1/48KHz) tracks, becomes a viable alternative to assess for highres (>96KHz++) tracks. But that’s theory if you ask me: you *do* want to cut the high frequency crap out. Always. I am not using this option myself.

The “MIN” option is a minimum phase, slow filter. More recommended on high(er) res tracks than Redbook ones, it introduces very modest pre and post ringing.

The “STD” option is a step in the direction of a faster filter. More recommended on Redbook tracks, although not really “vertical” as other fast filters are. Ringing is a tad more important then MIN’s one.

Finally, “GTO” is ifi’s proprietary filter called “Gibbs-Transient Optimised. It’s a very fast, minimum phase filter. I strongly recommend you read iFi’s whitepaper about why and how this may be technically desireable, or not.

As mentioned above, selecting the GTO filter also adds a pre-reconstruction systematic up-sampling passage, executed by GO Bar’s internal hardware. All incoming PCM tracks get up sampled to GO Bar’s maximum sample rate of 384KHz (if the original track’s sample rate is 48, 96, or 192Khz) or 352.8 KHz (if the original track’s sample rate is 44.1, 88.2 or 176.4KHz).

In general on higher resolution tracks one tends to prefer slower filters as those don’t risk to cut out on treble air nor spatial cues, their slowness not being a problem thanks to the higher sampling rate. iFi’s GTO filter is a special implementation offering super-fast operation, zero pre ringing and minimal post ringing. This, in addition to the up sampling conducted on the incoming stream, results in very sharp transients and “sculpted” notes. Which – as everything in audio – will then be subject to personal preference!

For my personal experience with iFi devices, and for my tastes, I found the GTO filter viable on all iFi models I tried it onto, including GO Bar, with the sole exception of Micro iDSD Signature, where I found it “excessive”. You may want to read my take about that case here.


IEMatch

For a through description of what IEMatch is, there’s my article which I recommend you to read if you are unfamiliar with the concept or I guarantee you won’t understand what follows.

Much like it happens on many other iFi’s models, GO Bar carries built-in IEMatch circuitry. The implementation does not exactly follow the same specs as the standalone IEMatch devices though.

Firstly, next to the IEMatch switch on GO Bar we don’t find the usual “Ultra” / “High” engravings, but rather “3.5” and “4.4”. The GO Bar manual quite smokily says that “iEMatch reduces the output level, so that even the most sensitive In-Ear-Monitors (IEMs) can be matched to the GO bar”. Which is only a part of what a full-blown IEMatch does. And does not offer precise figures in terms of attenuations nor output impedances to help the user anticipate what he will get by plugging IEMs of specific impedance or sensitivity.

Long story short, I asked iFi’s tech support and they provided me with the following table:

IEMatch switch position3.5 output port4.4 output port
OffOutput impedance : <1Ω
Attenuation @0dB: 0dB
Output impedance: <1Ω
Attenuation @0dB: 0dB
“3.5”Output impedance: 7.5Ω
Attenuation @0dB: -6dB
Output impedance: 7.5Ω
Attenuation @0dB: -2.5dB
“4.4”Output impedance: 3.6Ω
Attenuation @0dB: -5,7dB
(Phase inverted)
Output impedance: 3.6Ω
Attenuation @0dB: -12,5dB

In spite of my repeated requests, iFi didn’t supply me with the other relevant information which is the Input impedance value on all those cases. Or at least they didn’t yet at the time of this article’s publishing. Looking at the figures, and comparing them with those of the standalone IEMatch models, I can only “guess” that input impedances might be in the ballpark of those featured by IEMatch 4.4, so around 40-50Ω.

Such “guess” is also corroborated looking at the Single Ended output figures: there, the lower output impedance option does not feature a much higher attenuation as it usually is the case on IEMatch devices, but rather a slightly lower one, with a phase flip involved.

Going back to GO Bar manual’s recommendation to use the IEMatch switch to attenuate output in order to cope with extrasensitive drivers, looking at the figures it’s quite clear that the rec stands as stated only when the drivers also carry a not very low impedance (ideally, no lower than 30-ish ohm). Low or very low Z drivers (Dunu ZEN, Oriveti OH500…) will show some midbass bump due to reduced dampening, which shall have to be compensated by EQing – or just avoided by plugging a “regular” IEMAtch-2.5 onto GO Bar’s balanced output (via a 2.5-4.4 adapter of course).


Firmware

Like for most if not really all iFi devices, for GO Bar too iFi makes firmware package availables for the user to download and easily apply.

At the current time there’s only one package available, version 1.7 (in two sub-versions with just a minimal, almost “aesthetic” difference). I do recommend checking that is the version installed on the device when you get it, as the previous one (v1.48) which was installed on my review sample when I got it was quite buggy.

I won’t be surprised if iFi will make more alternative fw packages available going forward, e.g. offering different filtering options as it happens on other iFi models.


Package

GO Bar comes in a small box but with the right bundle accessories, and premium quality ones at that too.

Cables include:
  • USBC-USBC 10cm cable
  • USBC-Lightning 10cm cable
  • USBC-USBA passthrough adapter
Cable quality is apparently top notch.

Same can be said of the black leather travel case, offering enough space for the GO Bar device itself and one or actually both of its USB cables.


Sound and power

GO Bar sounds well, and I should actually remark “very well” indeed, from its balanced output port.

As for voicing GO Bar definitely marks a diversion from that warm and midbass-accented iFi’s “house sound” typical of many other models e.g. Hip Dac, Nano iDSD BL, etc.

GO Bar is much closer to neutrality (although still somewhat into warm-ish territory). Its sound is well bilaterally extended, with very good note body accross the board, good clarity and good detail, with very good but not over-accented bass presence and a good treble rendering.

About trebles it should definitely be noted that GO Bar delivers unoffensive high notes, and a nice, unfatiguing and nicely musical experience on one hand, while staying south of some competitor’s last mile in terms of treble energy and detail retrieval on the other. Pick your poison I guess, and as for all compromises appreciation for iFi’s choices on this will strongly depend on users’ preferences.

From the power delivery standapoint GO Bar is definitely a musclar device, although some notes are in order on this respect.

Regarding voltage swing into very high impedance drivers (600Ω) GO Bar easily promises (and delivers) the highest figure on the “dongles” market today, a whopping 7,2V. That’s significantly higher even compared to Apogee Groove’s 5V on 600Ω. Ifi does not declare (and I couldn’t measure) the swing on 300Ω (Groove’s stays just a bit below 5V there).

Truth be told, as most if not all high impedance cans are equipped with dynamic drivers, I’m not sure to understand what the purpose of a 7V+ swing really is (“stunning” spec sheet figure apart, I mean…).

GO Bar delivers circa 1W onto a 55Ω load (always talking about the Balanced Ended output), which is definitely a huge lot for a dongle, and why it drives the likes of Shure SRH1540 wonderfully well, and SRH1840 near perfectly, too.

It delivers circa half Watt into a 32Ω driver, which is really a lot in a sense, indeed overkill for most DD, BA or other technology IEMS out there, yet (!…) not enough for higher demanding planars, which require even more current and/or they require it at lower load impedance values.

Going further down with load impedance GO Bar’s power drops rapidly (as noted above the device has a sort of hard cap on output current at approx 115mA), thus delivering “only” circa 200mW on 14Ω and circa 140mW on 10Ω. Again, such figures are higher than those on most of the direct competition, yet not quite at dongle market’s top (E1DA’s 9038SG3 delivers something similar to 600mW onto 10ohm…).

Consistently to this, GO Bar drives the likes of Final A3000, Tanchjim Darling, and even Final E5000 waaaay better then most other dongles, but does not have enough power for RHA CL2, nor of course any demanding planar overear.

As I repeatedly mentioned, all the above refers to GO Bar’s Balanced Ended output. The Single Ended output is not at the same level, neither in terms of output power nor – most of all – in terms of sound quality. Even on easy to drive loads GO Bar Single Ended Out is perceivably duller, much scarcer in microdynamics and more closed-in on space reconstruction.

Simply put, if you ask me GO Bar’s Single Ended output is to be disregarded, in favour of its Balanced Ended sibling.


Comparisons


Cayin RU6 ($250)

GO Bar is by far better than RU6 on pretty much every single count, although this is much more due to RU6 being an overall disappointing device to be honest – which makes the comparison meaningful only due to RU6’s ungrounded hype than anything else really.

Won’t spend more time on this for now, stay tuned if you wish for my piece about RU6, due Soontm.

E1DA 9038SG3 (€126)

The first big difference that pops to the eyes comparing GO Bar with 9038SG3 is the price of course: GO Bar is almost 3 times as much.

Another thing is power. GO Bar is more powerful on high and medium impedance loads, 9038SG3 wins big on loads from 20Ω down. In more practical words, GO Bar’s edge on mid/high impedance drivers proves useless (9038SG3’s power is enough for most drivers, and for those where it is not, GO Bar’s higher power is not enough either), while 9038SG3’s higher power on low and superlow impedance drivers allows translates in E1DA’s dongle being much more agile in driving certain “difficult” IEMs then GO Bar is.

Probably due to its performances on higher impedances, or to lesser efficiency, or both, GO Bar, unlike 9038SG3 or 9038D, is a power w**re (it absorbs up to 4W while working, which is 800mA – so it is not USB2 compliant and by far so). Oppositely, 9038SG3 is modest in terms of power needs vs its output power capabilities, and fully USB2 compliant.

GO Bar misses the harmonic compensation and masterclock customisation infrastructure available on 9038SG3, and that’s not small stuff, and offers only 4 different FIR filters to choose from instead of 7. On the flip side GO Bar literally covers the user with features one nicer and/or sexyer than the other, all of which are totally missing on 9038SG3: XBass and XSpace analog-domain effects, selectable low/high gain, integrated IEMatch, high quality integrated power filtering, and (for Tidal’s aficionados) MQA full decoding.

Sound quality wise 9038SG3 out of the box is definitely cleaner and comes across as more analythical and more energetic compared to GO Bar, which sounds more musical and more relaxing. Actionating upon its multiple tweaks 9038SG3 can be made “sweeter/smoother” though.

In the end GO Bar does give more than 9038SG3 especially in terms of overall features package in return for that much higher purchase price and much higher host power need. On the flip side 9038SG3 can power some IEM drivers which GO Bar can’t trigger well enough.

Apogee Groove ($220)

As extensively reported on my piece about it, Apogee Groove is an oddball. A badass of an oddball if you wish, but still an uncommon device, with the pros and cons one may after all expect from oddity.

Groove’s output stage is based on proprietary technology and does not support crossover filters or similar circuitry, and all too often it also powers Balanced Architecture drivers (even single-driver models) very quirkily. To cut it short, Groove is mainly if not solely intended for Dynamic Drivers, which is of course an apriori fact to seriously consider when looking instead for a “universal application” DAC/AMP dongle.

Groove swings 5V into 600Ω impedance cans which is a lot. It is indeed way short of GO Bar’s huge 7,2V although it’s worth noting that per se there’s little need for those extra 2V when driving high impedance dynamic divers.

On the opposite end Groove is less powerful than GO Bar onto 32Ω loads, but its current cap is a bit higher than GO Bar’s so it ends up delivering more power vs very low impedances like 14Ω or even 10Ω. As a consequence, GO Bar is (power wise) more agile than Groove when paired to the likes of Shure SRH1840, but the coin flips when considering Final E5000.

Groove is quite demanding in terms of host power (340mA, circa 1.5W) but with that it still stays well within USB2 compliance limits, unlike GO Bar which requires almost 3 times as much at full power levels. Beyond these differences, at the end of the day for both sticking an external powerbank onto one’s own preferred transport, and using a suitable single-leg-powered Y-USB cable is the right way to go.

Power profiles aside, Groove and GO Bar are quite different in terms of sound presentation.

Groove is way superior in terms of micro-dynamics and even more so in terms of spatial drawing: I hardly can name a single mobile DAC device better than Groove on this. GO Bar is less colored and may deliver some more subtlety in terms of sheer detail retrieval. Groove is no doubt “more musical”, GO Bar is “more neutral” (just in comparison to Groove – it’s not a “dry neutral” device taken per se).

Lastly, GO Bar’s additional features (selectable reconstruction filters, high gain option, MQA decoding, Xbass, Xspace) are totally alien to Groove.


Conclusions

In terms of their product line, GO Bar covers an evident lack in iFi Audio’s range which never offered a battery-less device before. Now they do and quite expectably their first attempt is definitely a hit.

GO Bar is a very good device. It’s in facts very powerful. While nitpickingly maybe not the single most powerful dongle around (yet still one of the top… three?) I can hardly name a direct competitor offering half of the extra features GO Bar makes readily available under the users’ fingeritps.

GO Bar is superbly designed, solid, and – last in the list, but of course first for importance – sounds very well.

At the end of the day I guess its single relevant downside is the price – which is not low at all. A few other downsides are also there, but none of those seriously shadows its positives.

This article previously appared on www.audioreviews.org, here.
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ufospls2

Headphoneus Supremus
iFi GOBar - Full Review
Pros: Size/Portability
Sound/Size performance
Cons: More expensive than competition
lettering on back hard to read
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Hi Guy,

Today we are taking a look at what is probably the smallest piece of gear I have ever reviewed, the iFi Audio GObar. The GObar is what typically gets called a USB Dongle DAC/Amp nowadays. I’ve spent time with a few of these types of devices over the years, but it seems that in the last two years or so the availability of options on the market has absolutely exploded. It seems to be the case nowadays, especially from so called “Chi-Fi” companies, that they all have at least one product of this type in their line up. This type of product and its form factor does seem to have advanced rapidly in its capabilities, the GObar being one example of this. iFi is a fairly consistent example of pushing the amount of features available in a device in its given market space and form factor, and the GObar does seem to continue this trend.

I remember back in a 2015 I bought an LH Labs Geek Out V2, which was a disaster in terms of usability and design, but sounded great for its size and the market at that time. I never would have expected devices of this type to have come so far in such a short period of time, but compared to that GOV2, and the original AudioQuest Dragonfly, the GOBar is a revelation. However, it has very stiff competition from the vast array of similar devices on the market, so let’s check out how it sounds and performs.

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In terms of overall tonal balance, the GObar reminds me of the time I spent with the HipDacV2 from iFi. Its has that slight warmth to its mid range, but does seem slightly different from the traditional iFi “house sound” I have come to know very well. It’s a bit brighter and sharper than I am used to from iFi. This does work well with some headphones, but if you are perhaps using a bright pair of IEM’s for example, it may not be the best choice. The bass seems mostly neutral to me, not being bloated and sluggish in any way, but also not lean or cold. The mids, especially the lower mids, are again slightly warmer than neutral. The highs are slightly tipped up as I mentioned, but this does help things sound a bit lively and helps details in the top end come across easily.

In terms of things like detail and technical performance, it’s pretty remarkable compared to the dongle market in 2015. The GObar is genuinely an engaging device to listen with. Is it comparable to the Pro iDSD from iFi? No, not really, and yet, you have to keep in mind the size and MSRP of this little device whilst you are using it. I was listening with my T+A Solitaire P at one point, and really didn’t find myself wanting for much. I was just enjoying my tunes, and wasn’t thinking I was missing out on anything or being annoyed by something in particular. The overall detail levels for the price range are totally in line with what they should be, and the sound staging etc…are slightly wider than neutral.

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In terms of filter options, the GObar has 4. Bit perfect, Standard, Minimum Phase, and the same GTO filter that is featured on the Pro iDSD. I ended up preferring the GTO filter, similar to my time with the Pro iDSD. My second favourite was the “Standard” filter. Also in keeping with iFi’s other equipment, the GObar includes the XBass+ and XSpace options. I really enjoy the XBass+ with most headphones, but do find the Xspace works better with some recordings than others. Thankfully, both options are easily switched on and off with a single button on the side of the unit, so you can try them out and see what works best for you and your ears.

Also included is iFi’s “IEMatch” technology for use with sensitive IEM’s. This is a very handy option if you are experiencing a bit hiss with your easy to drive IEMs. I ended up not needing it personally (my IEMs are not sensitive at all,) but it is there should you have a sensitive pair.

There is only one input into the GObar and that is done via USB-C. I am so happy iFi went with USB-C and not with Micro-USB. USB-C is a better, more reliable, and overall better connector type with better longevity. In terms of output there is a 4.4mm Pentaconn fully balanced output, and right beside it iFi 3.5mm “S-Balanced” connector, which aims to bring the benefits of a balanced circuit to single ended devices. The GObar does a rock solid 475mw into 32 ohms from the balanced output, and 300mw from the SE output. This is somewhat higher than the power output of similar “Chi-Fi” devices on the market. One thing I would have liked to see on the GOBar is slightly easier to read lettering on its rear. I found myself having to hold it in the light at a certain angle to read what options I had on or off. It’s not a big thing, and I suppose it would spoil the “clean” look of the GObar, but it would make it slightly easier to use.

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Now, this is the difficult question. The GObar retails at $329USD. This is higher than the other aforementioned “Chi-Fi” dongle options on the market. If you are in the market for a USB Dongle DAC/Amp and it is simply going to be for totally casual listening, or maybe to serve as a backup for your backup of your desktop setup, then I would seek out one of the cheaper “Chi-Fi” options. A lot of those will do a decent enough job and have enough power for IEMs and easier to drive headphones etc….BUT, the GObar from iFi would 100% be my recommendation for other uses. Perhaps this is going to be your only DAC/Amp, if you are a beginner or need something small and transportable. Maybe you have decently difficult headphones to power as well as IEMs, for those people, I would unquestionably recommend the GOBar. The extra $100 or so USD is worth it in those cases. As with everything in this life, it all depends on you and your own personal use case.

The iFi GOBar, whilst being slightly more expensive than its competition, does bring some new features to the USB Dongle DAC/Amp market, as well as higher power output. It seems to have a lot of the features I have enjoyed about iFi Audio gear, yet it is this tiny little portable dongle. The amount of sound quality, and features in such a tiny package is pretty remarkable. If the GOBar fits your use case, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. If you happen to just need a back up of your backup gear, there are other cheaper options on the market that might suit you better, but if you need a USB Dongle that is more “all out” in its capabilities, then the GOBar is the way to go.

rafaelo

100+ Head-Fier
The Raw Oysters of the Dongle DACs
Pros: • The most cleanest DAC of all
• Super Black background
• Simply amazing for acoustic music
• Never Bright, Never Aggressive
• Buttons and functionality almost perfect
• Best cables ever
Cons: •Price.
•More bite for some genres would be great
First I feel the need to apologise to ifi audio for the delay of this review. The last 3 years I am awfully busy with one million things and this why I refused in the past to do any more reviews. I thought that I will have some time this summer when my family is away to do a review but nonetheless I was even more busy than ever. However, I asked to do one more review because I am in love with dongles and with the ifi audio sound and simply I could not resist to not listen their new dongle.

I believe that I am one among of the very first early adopters of using dongle dacs with mobile phones. Many years ago I had a google nexus 5 device (2013) and the audio was inferior to my previous iPhone 4s. The first time that google supported audio with an external dac through a software update I went and bought the dragonfly version 2 which was like the king of dongles at that time. Unfortunately, the sound quality was completely underwhelming (and the battery consumption over the roof) and no one was discussing the fine details of using this dongle with android or phones in general. No forums and discussion for that kind of things. I bought also the dacmagic Cambridge Audio small dongle dac with the same results. Later on, two new dragonfly dacs that were specifically made for mobiles and iPhones (black and red) appeared in the market but I was so undesisive choosing between the two that I ended up buying none.

Then, I spend my time with the Xdsd and my favourite Xcan that I forgot my passion with the usb dongles. Although, I truly loved my xCan I never been really in love with Bluetooth audio and it was always for me a compromised relationship which was accepted due to the convenience factor only. Thereafter, I was busy and I did not have time for this hobby anymore I stopped my tidal subscription which I did not use and stay with my Apple Music only for convenience. I experimented briefly with the BTR5 using it as a dongle dac (a mere justification to buy it in very good price) but I was underwhelmed once again (using it as a dongle dac because otherwise is a decent device).

Apple changed the game again with offering lossless with Apple Music and although I have and use an old iPhone 6s Plus (because it has a headphone jack) I wanted again what I really love: a simple good dongle dac for superior usb audio (until according to my wildest predictions Apple returns the headphone jack in one of their premium phones sometime …at the end of this decade…maybe). I did not want to spend a lot of cash since I have no much spare time at all and after the advise of my friend hxos I bought the FiiO KA3.

The KA3 is a very good dac and I believe very underestimated on these forums. It could be a giant killer but unfortunately for me it only could. For my taste it gets bright and very aggressive at some times. It lacks this organic smoothness that I was used from listening my ifi audio DACs especially the Burr brown based ones. It has a bite though that usually sabre DACs have and reminded me an experimental combination that I have used in the past: the dragonfly v1.2 with ipurifier3 (not practical for mobile use but interesting test, see more details in my ipurifier3 review). It suits a lot of music like AC/DC.

Therefore, when ifi audio announced at last a DAC dongle I was ecstatic and begged on my knees for a review sample. I have refused in the past to review even the Diablo due to my limited time but now I was requesting for the go bar review sample because it is a really special device for me. A usb dongle dac from my favourite company. I did not want to review the gold (too much for me, I can never afford to buy) but only the cheaper sibling.

My first impression is that this is a different dna from the burr brown dac. Many may disagree and I do not say this is day and night different but this sound signature is somewhat different from all other ifi audio DACs in the past. I used to use an ifi audio ione (the bargain of the century in audio according to me) with my living room set up so I have listened to the burr brown every day through music and movies. Thus, I can extravagantly say that I know burr brown so well that is running through my veins.

The go bar is not like that. Is still organic and very clean, never aggressive or bright: attributes of ifi audio signature but is not like burr brown exactly. It is even more clean than burr brown. It is the most clean audio I have even heard the most pure of all, the most black background ever. Pure silence. It suits well classical music but it’s suits perfect instrumental and acoustic music that needs a super clean background.

I offered a food analogy in the past characterising the burr brown tasting as grilled fish and the sabre of xcan as a steak. In the same spirit I can say that the go bar is the raw oysters of DACs. It is almost tasteless but the same time so finely delicious and gourmet.

On this context, this super clean background is not utilised when you listen for example live concerts of AC/DC. I mean there is so much noise in the recording by virtue so this blackness and pureness is not needed so much any more. Someone can prefer instead the bite of a more “dirty” DAC (including me). Is a matter of preference of course.

I would say battery consumption is acceptable given that the majority of testing happened with my beloved 58x cans. I am such a fan of sennheiser 6 series and given that it does not make sense for me to buy the 660s right now the 58x play the role of the best proxy. The go bar plays well and drives well both 58x and 6xx but it does not have that special combination with them as the xdsd and particularly xcan used to have. The go bar suits everything well and have no favourite kids.

Although, I was not impressed immediately when I used the go bar with the 58x as I was with the xcan, the fact is that is difficult to go back. Apple Music is nowadays cd quality and above and the limitations of the Bluetooth start to bite. An A to B comparison shows who is the new boss on the block.

I like the design a lot, reminds me the first ifi audio products design language, it hides the size and only by comparison with KA3 you realise the size, is as much as lightweight to be practical and only the lights in the back are tiny especially for someone with presbyopia is a nightmare to understand what is doing what. I would prefer something like dragonfly uses, a bigger light that change too many colours for indicating the bitrate in use. The buttons and the functionalities are superb. No app, no bs straight to the point. The cables are amazing unfortunately you cannot buy them separately.

So what are the disadvantages? For me mainly the price. This is subjective of course because for some people this is no serious money but for me currently is. And this is the reason I would not buy it at this time. I hope, wish and I propose to them to make a cheaper version, throw out the iematch function for people that do not use it. BTW I did not test imatch at all since I have no usage currently but I have reviewed it in the past so if you want my opinion you can see my relevant reviews here in headfi. I have no reason to believe that it will work differently here inside the go bar. I would also recommend ifi to do a dongle if possible with a different dac and experiment also with various op amps combinations. I would like to see not only a cheaper version but also a little more bite and soul for some genres.

In conclusion, I will cut half a star only for the price. It may seems cruel to such a stellar device and some say unfair because is connected to my budgetary limitations but I want to keep this little half star to differentiate somehow from some other ifi audio devices that they are not only stellar but an absolute bargain. As oysters cannot be afford easily from everyone similarly the go bar is NOT an absolute steal as other ifi audio devices at least not for me. Nevertheless, I will be so sad tomorrow when I pack it up and say goodbye, I will definitely miss it…



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OCC7N
OCC7N
“The most cleanest DAC of all”

Really?
gadgetgod
gadgetgod
Have you tried the Questyle M15? I want to know how this compares against that.
Fawzay
Fawzay
to me personally, i found the ifi go blu sounding wholesome than the btr7 however, i find it dry...

SenyorC

100+ Head-Fier
The king of portable devices?
Pros: Sound, build, power...
Cons: Price...
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The iFi Audio Go Bar has been loaned to me directly by iFi for me to be able to test it, share my opinions and publish this review. iFi have not requested anything specific and I will do my usual best to stay unbiased during this review but you should probably consider the fact that it hasn’t cost me anything to try out the Go Bar.

I will of course leave a non-affiliate link to the Go Bar official page, even though they have not requested it, as this is something that I feel is only fair.

Go Bar official page: https://ifi-audio.com/products/go-bar/

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Intro…

I should probably start off with a disclaimer that I am quite a fan of iFi. I have had the chance to test a number of their products and I own a couple. The Go Blu is my bluetooth and pocketable set up of choice, whereas the Gryphon is my main portable listening device, as well as being my usual test device for reviewing IEMs. Both of these units are items that I have liked enough to actually go out and spend my own money on them.

Saying that, I still do not feel that iFi makes perfect products, just that they make products that fit my needs and preferences much better than the competition. The negative side to this is usually the price and the Go Bar is no exception, in fact, although I expected the price to be on the high side, I wasn’t quite expecting the 329€ price tag (and that is for the regular version I have here, if you opt for the limited edition “Gold Bar”, you are closer to the 500€ mark).

That is a lot of money for a dongle style device, so it had better be not only good, it had better be amazing!

So, with that price in mind, let’s go through my usual categories and see if it really is something that would bring me to drop 60% more than on the Go Blu and almost 60% of the cost of the Gryphon.

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Presentation…

I have reviewed enough iFi products to not have to go into detail about their presentation, as all of them follow the same packaging layout.

A simple white box with an image of the product and specifications on the outside, simply but well done, inside of which we find…

The Go Bar itself, two cables (lightning to USB-C and USB-C to USB-C), a storage/carrying pouch that fits on a belt, a basic instruction card, an iFi sticker and the usual warranty cards etc.

Not a huge amount of content but what can we really ask for with a dongle DAC device?

The storage/transport pouch is a nice touch and is well made, reminiscent of something you would get with a Leatherman multitool or similar. You can’t actually use the Go Bar while it is in the case, as there are no holes for connectors or buttons, but it is large enough to hold the Bar and the necessary USB cable. I am not someone who would actually put this on my belt (my Leatherman lives in my bag) but it does protect the device when carrying it in a bag etc.

All in all, I will say basically the same as I always say about presentation from iFi, simple but effective with the needed contents included.

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Build and Aesthetics…

As we are talking about a dongle device, it would be normal to expect it to be very simple but at the same time well built, due to it being from iFi. It is actually not that simple, something that I will get to in a moment under “Functionality”, but it certainly is well built.

It is on the large side of the dongle world, being thinner but longer than the Go Blu, with approximately the same thickness. It is also quite a heavy little device, well, heavy in the dongle world, as it is completely made of metal. This does mean that it is also quite robust and gives me the impression of withstanding daily abuse without any real worries.

As far as aesthetics, it is a dark grey colour that is quite nondescript. It is not ugly by any means but it doesn’t really stand out either. I actually like the overall shape and finish of the Go Bar, it matches my laptop quite nicely (the device I have mostly been using to test it out) and I have absolutely no complaints.

While at a simple glance, it doesn’t look like a device with its price tag, comparing it to other models, such as something like the S9 Pro, does show that it is of a much higher build quality.

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Functionality…

Usually the functionality of a dongle DAC is pretty straightforward, you plug it in to your device, attach your headphones/IEMs, and away you go. With the Go Bar it is still that simple but in this case you have a lot more functions available, in fact, it has much more going on than one would think by looking at it.

Starting with the top of the device, there is a USB-C connector which is to connect to your source device. Using the included USB-C to USB-C cable, sorry but I don’t have an Apple device to try the lightning cable, I have had absolutely no issues connecting the Go Bar to multiple laptops, phones and my Shanling DAPs. All of these worked flawlessly with the Go Bar and the only issues I experienced were when trying to connect the Go Bar via a docking station I use in the office. For some reason this did not work (the Go Bar wasn’t recognized) but I did not do any further investigation on the subject.

Moving to the bottom of the device, here we find 3.5mm and 4.4mm outputs, the first being unbalanced but using the iFi “S-Balanced” technology, with the second being balanced. The little device (according to iFi spec), is capable of putting out 475mW@32Ω / 7.2V@600Ω in balanced mode and 300mW@32Ω / 3.8V@600Ω in unbalanced mode. These are quite impressive specs when compared to dongles that are already known for being powerful, such as the S9 Pro which “only” puts out 100mW@32Ω via unbalanced and 200mW@32Ω from its balanced output.

Along the right hand side of the device there is nothing but on the left side we get the controls that offer the additional functionality that I mentioned. Starting from the top to the bottom, we have:

Settings button

A short press of this button cycles through the usual XBass and XSpace options that are common on iFi devices. As always, these preset EQ functions are done in the analog realm, avoiding digital manipulation of the signal. Another thing that is common with iFi devices is that the XBass and XSpace are not always the same on all their products, with slight differences in how the FR is affected, in the case of the Go Bar, it is labelled as being XBass+.

I am going to mention a little more about the XSPace in a moment but let’s carry on with the functionality.

The same settings button, by means of a long press, will enter the filter selection menu, where the MQA light will flash to show (via means of colour) which filter is in use. To change the filter, once in the filter selection mode, use the + and - buttons to choose between Bit Perfect, Standard, Minimum Phase and GTO.

+ Button

Apart from the changing of filters that I just mentioned, the + button is also used to increase volume. The volume of the Go Bar is independent from the source volume, meaning that using these buttons has no effect on the output volume of your phone, tablet, etc.

As volume is changed, the LED lights on the back (which I will get to in a moment) show the current volume level, by means of illuminating more or less LEDs.

- Button

Does exactly the same as the + Button but the other way around :)

IEMatch slider

This little slider is to activate the IEMatch functionality of the Go Bar. As with the Gryphon, iFi have included both 3.5mm and 4.4mm options, something that is appreciated, at least by me. I have found myself using the IEMatch more on the Go Bar than I do on the Gryphon, but I will mention that more in “Sound”.

Finally, on the back of the unit, we get a row of LED lights that show the current settings, volume level, format etc.

As I just said, these briefly show the level when volume is changed, however, after a few seconds these revert back to showing the settings which are labelled at the side of each LED.

The top 7 LEDs show the format while the bottom 2 show XBass+ and XSpace status.

I like the functionality of these, however, I must say that the dark grey text on a dark grey background is not the best option for legibility. In order to read the text, you need to tilt the device to reflect the light just right and show the text, otherwise it is impossible to read. Once you have got used to the device, then you will probably know what the LEDs mean without needing to read the text, but I can’t see why they couldn’t have used a different colour text (such as white) that would contrast better with the background and make it much easier to read. It is not as though they would damage the aesthetics of the device, as these are on the back of the unit.

As far as functionality, that is all but is far more than one would expect from a dongle style device. Yes, it is true that there are other devices that allow EQ presets to be loaded also but, as usual with iFi, they have kept away from digital sound enhancements and stuck to the usual analog realm that they are known for. The IEMatch is something that is exclusive to this device and while filter selection is also available on other dongle style devices, I don’t know of any that allow this to be done without the need for an app (I am not saying that they don’t exist, maybe they do, just that I don’t know of them).

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Sound…

Even if the functionality of the device is great, the sound needs to be just as good, or better, if we are going to drop this kind of cash on a dongle DAC. I find it very difficult to make claims about the sound of these kinds of devices, well DACs and Amps in general, as I am always struggling to decide what I am really hearing and what is just placebo based on my expectations from the device.

Well, placebo or not, I found that the iFi Go Bar really does sound great! In fact, it might just be the best sounding portable device I have heard with certain IEMs. Now, that is a big claim, seeing how much I like both the Go Blu and the Gryphon even more so, but the Go Bar just seems to bring these IEMs to life and make me forget that I am using such a (relatively) small portable device.

Paired with the Dunu Vulkan, I hit play on a random album, which just so happened to be Joe Bonamassa “Live from the Royal Albert Hall” and I just sat and enjoyed the whole album. The instruments, vocals and crowd just all sounded correct. I must say that it is the most I have enjoyed this album on anything that has not been over-ear headphones while connected to my main system.

Using just this combination for a few days, I can’t say that I came across any of my favourite music that I didn’t really enjoy. There is an overall smoothness to the sound, far away from the harshness I have found with certain other dongles, that just makes everything sound pleasurable. I already rated the Vulkan highly when I reviewed them, paired with the Go Bar I would have rated them even higher. I found that the treble just came across a little smoother, although I am sure this is placebo and not a measurable difference, but who cares when you are enjoying it!

I did find that I needed to use the IEMatch with the Vulkan while paired with the Go Bar, something that I didn’t find necessary when using the Gryphon. However, the IEMatch works, as has been proven in the past, and it is so easy to turn on and off that I have no issues in doing so.

Moving on to one of my favourite sets of IEMs for daily use, the Letshuoer S12, again I found that the Go Bar drove them wonderfully. The S12 are a set of IEMs that I really enjoy as a daily driver and paired with the Go Bar, I would happily use these all day. I mostly used them without any of the additional EQ but I did add XBass on occasions, finding that the XBass of the Go Bar isn’t quite as pronounced as the XBass on the other two iFi devices in my possession. It seems to be much more subtle and I did find myself using it now and again on certain tracks (whereas I usually keep it off with the S12 on the Go Blu and Gryphon).

However, now is probably a good time to mentione XSpace, or rather the lack of it, at least to my ears. WIth other iFi devices, I have always found the XSpace function to be quite pronounced and noticeable, working really well for certain genres ans certain IEMs (although I don’t use it all of the time). With the Go Bar, I really couldn’t tell the difference with it on or off, not noticing any changes. So, I decided to put it on the measurement rig and see how sublte the change is:

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Yes, on the above graph there are actually 2 lines, the Dunu Vulkan via the Go Bar with XSpace off and the same with XSpace on. As you can see, there is absolutely no change in frequency response. I repeated the measurements with various other sets of IEMs and always got the same results.

As on other iFi devices, there is a change in FR in the higher regions when XSpace is on or off, I reached out to iFi to enquire as to whether the above is normal for the Go Bar or if maybe I have a defective unit. I mean, I would expect at least a slight change in frequency response but maybe they are doing some other kind of iFi magic that does something else to the signal that I just can’t hear?

Unfortunately, iFi didn’t reply to my enquiry, even though I reached out a couple of times. Therefore, all I can do is share my own findings without any input from the brand themselves as to whether this is normal behaviour.

Moving on…

Another set of earphones I use almost daily are the Koss KPH40i, with Yaxi Pads. Usually I have these connected to a JDS Labs Atom fed by a Modi 3+, using them as my headphones for long conference calls and basic listening between calls (or sometimes even BGM while on a call). With the Go Bar I did actually find that I was missing a little sparkle with this combination. I am not saying they sounded bad, just that they reminded me more of the PortaPro than the KPH40i in this case. That smoothness to the treble that I mentioned with the Vulkan didn’t actually work in favour of these headphones, making them come across a little less “alive” than I am used to.

Although I didn’t actually spend a huge amount of time using the Go Bar to drive full size headphones, I think it deserves a quick mention at least. The reason I didn’t spend much time with over-ear options is because I really don’t use headphones outside of my home except in the office and now, due to the heat of the summer, I only really use IEMs and the Koss at the office.

I tried a few of the Hifiman planars with the Go Bar and although it does a good job, better than other dongles I have tried, they just seem to not quite have the performance that I have come to expect from them. They still sound good but do lack a little when things get a bit busy, but this is to be expected, especially as I am used to driving them from powerful desktop alternatives. With other dynamic driver headphones, the performance is better, driving things like the DT1990 (which is quite a high impedance load) well, even the HD6XX is very listenable from the Go Bar, even if it is not something I would suggest as a great pairing.

I did find that driving these over ear headphones made my battery consumption very high (I was using my phone for these tests), but again, this is to be expected when using something as powerful as the Go Bar from a phone.

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Conclusion…

There is no doubt that the Go Bar is yet another iFi product that I really like, giving plenty of functionality and great sound from a tiny package. There is also no doubt that it performs excellently and I have no complaints about the performance for a device of this size.

I have enjoyed using it with all the IEMs I have been trying out while I have had the device in my possession and found that it works excellently with my IEMs of choice for music listening while at the office (when I am not testing other things for review purposes).

Would I pay 329€ for the Go Bar? I am sorry but the answer to that question is no.

Notice that the question is “would I pay?” and not “is it worth?”. This is because I feel that a product is worth different amounts to different people, depending on their own use case. For example, I may feel that my roadster is worth every penny I paid for it, yet my brother wouldn’t buy if it was a quarter of the cost, due to him enjoying and needing different things.

In my case, my portable set up is (usually) the Go Blu paired with either a DAP or a phone, which I use when I want something small and pocketable. In these cases I am not looking for perfect sound, I am looking for enjoyable sound while I am doing other things. When I am looking for “perfect” sound away from home, then I am happy with a “trans”portable device, for which I have the Gryphon, a device that is capable of driving almost anything I would ever need to and does a very good job in those cases.

I am still someone who prefers cables over BT wherever possible, and yes I do feel that the Go Bar is a step up from the Go Blu via cable, but the difference is something that I do not feel is worth (to me) an extra 60% in price while losing the possibility of a wireless connection in those cases where I want it.

If I had tried the Go Bar before the Go Blu, and possibly even the Gryphon, then I would probably have purchased it and maybe wouldn’t have ended up with the other two devices, but that is something I guess I will never know.

Yes, it is by far the best dongle device I have tried and probably the best portable device I have tried (portable as in pocketable, not transportable, where the Diablo and Gryphon still reign supreme in my preferences) but I am not in a position where I need the quality it gives for an occasional use at the price it sits at.

Again, all this is my own personal preference and situation. I do the majority of my listening at a desk. If you are someone who does move around a lot and wants the portability of the Go Bar, then I do not think you will be disappointed with the performance you get. The same goes for someone who uses a DAP a lot while moving around (maybe to and from the office, class, etc.) and is looking to get better quality than their current DAP provides, add the Go Bar to it via USB and your set up with rival DAPs costing way more than the cost of this iFi product (although the battery duration will drop).

So, I guess my final wrap up is that the Go Bar is excellent and if it suits your needs, then it is a great buy. However, I do feel that the price is something that will make it a difficult purchase for many.

(as always, this review is available in Spanish both on www.achoreviews.com and on www.youtube.com/achoreviews)
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McCol

Headphoneus Supremus
The 'Gold' lives up to it name, leaving the others to fight for podium places!
Pros: - Excellent build quality on both versions of the Go
- Physical buttons
- High power output
- Features such as Xbass and Xspace
- MQA support if thats your thing
- IEM match built in
- Detailed but musical presentation that surpasses other dongles I've used.
- The Gold version is a step in sound presentation from the standard version.
- Leather case

Gold version
- All of the above plus a sound presntation that is even more resolving and seems to have more output power.
- Gorgeous finish
Cons: - None other than bigger than other dongles but not all.
I received the standard version of the Go bar from IfI-audio for the purpose of reviewing the product. This was not a gift and will be returned after the review is written. The Gold version I bought after a few days of listening to the standard version. This was bought full price from a UK retailer.


IfI-Go bar standard version

IfI-Audio are a company on a bit of a roll over the last few years, releasing some excellent products that appeal across the board, other than a DAP they seem to have most bases covered, even more so now that they have released this the Go Bar, their first USB DAC/AMP dongle. The market for these has exploded over the last couple of years. I've tried and owned a few different ones myself however they never seem to totally satisfy my need so I normally head back to a fully featured DAP or products like the IFI-Audio Gryphon or Fiio Q5s series.

I've tried and owned a few IfI-audio products, the Zen can/dac signature edition, Gryphon, Go Blu, the Hip DAC and idsd black label, these have all been in my possession at some point and some still are. I like the IFI sound, to my ears their products give a detailed sound but with just a wee bit of warmth that keeps them musical. So when I read about this dongle I was immediately interested.

I'd also read about the Gold limited edition, initially I wasn't that bothered and was keen to try the standard however after a few days of the Go Bar I found a UK retailer with the Gold in stock so ordered it, the Go standard had been so good that I needed to try the Gold.

I'm going to write about both together with some comparisons, I don't write in a very technical way, I just try and describe the sound in what I consider layman's terms.

Boxes and other pictures

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Sound and features


The Go Bar has a load of features and tech specs that I'm not going to list or go into too much other than the basics of their is a 3.5mm output along with a balanced 4.4mm connection. The 3.5mm uses IfI's s-balanced technology.

The balanced output has very impressive 475mw into 32ohms however I am going to link to all the tech details - https://ifi-audio.com/products/go-bar/

I've used both Go bar's with my Noble Audio Sultan Damascus Edition, Senn IE900 and Etymotic er4sr and while typing/editing this, I'm using the Custom Art Fibae7u custom earphones which arrived earlier today.
First thing to say is that the Go drives everything with total silence, no background noise on any earphones I've used. None of my IEM's are difficult to drive but the Ety's and the Senns do benefit form the extra power that this dongle provides, giving them a bit more depth and headroom in their sound compared to other dongles I've used.

I also used my Senn HD660s for some listening and over the last week have also been trying out the Grado RS1X, again the Go has no problem driving both these headphones. With the 660S I can't go much above 70% of the maximum volume, which speaks volumes for the power on tap from this dongle.

The only hardware used was my Samsung S22 Ultra Android smartphone. I do intend to use the Gold with both my tablet and laptop at some point but didn't for this write up. No issues when using with phone. Set phone volume to 100% and all volume is controlled by the side physical buttons on the Go Bar.

From a sound perspective the Go Bar retain what I consider to be the IfI-Audio house sound. I find their products to reproduce music with detail but a great musicality to the sound, deep and engaging with a texture especially from this device that other USB dongles to my ears just can't match. A little example would be the Bowie album Ziggy Stardust, this an album I use when testing new gear as it encompasses all aspects that I want from an album, by this I mean that there are slower soft passages but also faster more detailed segments that often tests my audio equipment. The tracks Five Years is a great example of this with its slow drum intro, the Go Bar is silent in the background, no noise just the build up of the snare and foot drums on the intro. the finale of Rock and Roll suicide with perfect reproduction form the Go Bar.

The musicality of this dongle is the element that impresses me the most, every other dongle I've tried or owned has had good aspects but none has matched the musicality of this, or the detail. The Go bar never gets fatiguing when listening for extended periods, I used to struggle with dongles like the cobalt which seemed to pierce my ears after a couple of hours, not so with the Go Bar. It's like velvet over long periods of use.

There is also no EMI interference either, some dongles pick up interference when streaming.

Then we have the Gold version which does all of the above but somehow takes it up a level, in part I guess due to the copper chassis but also I believe due 3 extra components in the amp section (according to pictures online)
The gold version is also heavier than the standard Go, quite a bit heavier. The Gold version has more texturing and layering to the bass, not steps ahead but subtle changes that you notice a little bit more each time you listen, there is also more detail in the highs, with maybe just a tad more depth to the music as well.

There is one drawback with all this power on tap is that it affects the battery life of your source, I've noticed my phone battery draining a lot quicker, I listened to a 40 minute album earlier and I think the battery depleted around 12% on my phone, not a 100 % accurate figure but certainly drains quicker than other dongles. However to me it is worth it, the sound quality alone sets both models aside from the others and makes this battery hit worthwhile.

A small word on the accessories. There is a really neat little leather case which holds the Go and the cable for carrying/storage purposes, useful for the finger print magnet the Gold Bar is. The included USB cables are very good quality as well.
The build and finish of both Go Bars is second to none.

The standard Go bar is made from a metal (not sure which) and feels sturdy, no rough or sharp edges, the Gold as mentioned earlier is made of copper and also has the same high quality finish.

Conclusion

I would easily highly recommend either of the Go Bars to anybody considering buying a USB DAC/AMP, the sound quality from both is nothing short of outstanding for the price, the standard Go bar is by far the best sounding USB DAC/AMP I have heard, the Gold Go bar with it's incremental improvements make it closer to the Gryphon, in some respects I prefer it to the gryphon, to my ears and others will disagree but I find it more engaging overall in it's sound presentation. Although obviously the Gryphon is packed with more features such as Bluetooth etc.
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M
McCol
@syazwaned

This is based purely on my own opinion and I know others will disagree but form a musical perspective I prefer the Gold Go.
The Gryphon has more power and more features and is on paper the technically better option however to my ears I prefer the music reproduction on the Go, detailed yet with a warmth that is never bloated or fuzzy, nice spacious sound as well.
ChrisOc
ChrisOc
Thanks for a very good and informative review. Tempted by the sound quality you describe on the Gold Go Bar but the freedom of Bluetooth and separate battery on the Gryphon is calling my name. I wonder if @iFi audio is planning an anniversary Gold Gryphon!
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MachinistNL
MachinistNL
I have tried some other Lightning to USB-C cables that work on other equipment, also the camera adapter for apple. All of them don't work. I contacted iFI about this, as when you lose that cable it's useless for iphones. They don't have an ETA of when this cable hits the market, but they are working on it.

Headphones and Coffee

Previously known as Wretched Stare
Love this Dongle
Pros: Excellent resolution and technicalities, tons of useful features, filters, Xbass ,Xspace, great power output and no noise, Physical buttons for volume and Xbass and Xspace made like tank and premium internals. Balanced output and iEMatch
Cons: Its a bit larger than most dongles, and its more expensive than most at $329 and the Limited Edition GO bar gold at $499.
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The ifi is anything but average. It comes in the standard ifi type box inside one finds cables for USB-C and Lightning and leather like pouch accessories are well made and adequate for daily use. While the device is larger than most dongles it's still light and super portable, Dongles have a alure because they are small, improve sound greatly and are easy to use mostly just plug and play. Thye do use the devices power and the more powerful headphones the more draw on your phone etc. I used a 250Ohm pair of full sized headphones and power draw was acceptable and was able to listen for hours on my Samsun phone.
Technical features are impressive there is a 16-core XMOS microcontroller, a 32-bit Cirrus Logic DAC chipset with support for resolutions up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM, native DSD256 with full MQA decoding. With 4 digital filers to choose including.. Bit Perfect, Standard, Minimum Phase, Gibbs Transient Optimized. Balanced output is an impressive 475mWPC@ 32 ohms or 7.5V @ 600 ohms and that puts it at one of the most powerful on the market.

Sound:
The device presents with excellent details and clarity, the tonality is natural with a an extremely well balanced signature form the well defined Bass with its punchy and detailed low end to the very well defined rich Mids , treble have sparkle and staging is open and accurate.

Conclusion: Simply put this is a great product it's not a budget product but is a great value in the facts that the little dongle sounds like a full-sized DAC/ Amp. I have used so many great devices and this one just is a great travel Companion.
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Ichos

Reviewer at hxosplus
Not your daily diet bar
Pros: + Natural timbre and very musical sounding
+ Minimal digital glare
+ Highly expressive and resolving
+ Transparent and clear
+ Great technicalities
+ Very powerful
+ Dead silent
+ No EMI interference
+ iEMatch, XSpace and XBass+
+ Four different digital filters
+ Gold version sounds even better
+ Physical buttons
+ Good quality cables and leather case
+ Excellent build quality
Cons: - Increased power consumption
- Bulkier than the competition
- Slightly expensive
- Gold version has increased weight
- Gold version is too expensive
The review samples were kindly loaned to me for reviewing and I didn't receive monetary or any other kind of compensation.
The price of the regular Go bar is $329 and that of the limited anniversary edition is $499.
You can buy them from all authorized dealers around the world.

iFi Go bar

USB DAC/amp dongles are becoming the new trend and not without a reason since they are portable, don't require charging and their sound performance is rapidly improving.
iFi is a little late to the party but as they say better late than never.

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The Go bar is an ultraportable USB DAC/headphone amp that connects to your laptop, MacBook, tablet or smartphone or any other digital device with a USB port.
At one end is an asynchronous USB-C input and at the other a pair of headphone outputs.
A 4.4mm fully balanced output – headphones with a balanced cable/connector can benefit from the fully balanced circuitry of the GO bar and 3.5mm with S-Balanced tech output which cuts crosstalk and noise by 50% with regular single-ended headphones.

The detailed technical specifications are available here.

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Technical highlights

The DAC section of the GO bar uses a powerful 16-core XMOS microcontroller to process the audio data received at the asynchronous USB input.
A 32-bit Cirrus Logic DAC chipset is used for D/A conversion supporting resolution up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM, native DSD256 and full MQA decoding.
A customised digital filter minimises pre-echo and ringing artefacts and a Global Master Timing precision clock system ensures ultra-low jitter.
Four digital filtering options are available:
Bit Perfect – no digital filtering, no pre or post ringing
Standard – modest filtering, modest pre and posting ringing
Minimum Phase – slow roll-off, minimum pre and post ringing
Gibbs Transient Optimised – minimum filtering, no pre-ringing and minimum post ringing.

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(Go bar PCB)

Then there is a discrete analogue circuitry that sports a balanced circuit design with a symmetrical twin-channel output stage.
This reduces noise and crosstalk in the signal path by fully separating the left and right channels.
This is something usually found in larger and more expensive amplifiers.
The circuitry is packed full of high quality components and special attention has been paid to power supply filtering too, dramatically reducing signal noise introduced through the USB input.

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(Anniversary edition PCB)

Power output and consumption

The amp is capable of 475mWPC into 32 ohms or 7.5V into 600 ohms from the balanced output making the Go bar one of the most powerful USB dongles in the market.
Alas, such high power output comes at cost, the power consumption of the Go bar is as high as 4W or 800mA when the FiiO KA3 is just 120mA.
In simple words this means that it is going to deplete the battery of the host device faster than you might think.

The GO bar also incorporates two power tuning technologies:
iEMatch – attenuates power to suit high-sensitivity headphones and IEMs, it removes background noise and increases usable volume range.
iEMatch is available for both balanced and single ended outputs and you can enable it by the means of a tiny switch located at one side of the unit.
Turbo – ramps up the gain by 6dB to satisfy more power-hungry headphones.
You can switch between regular and turbo modes by simultaneously pressing the volume up and down buttons.

Sound enhancements

The Go bar has implemented two analogue processing modes:
XBass+, which is an analogue bass boost to ‘add back’ lost bass response for more accurate reproduction of the original and
XSpace, a holographic sound field to open up your music to give you the spaciousness of a live concert.
They can be engaged separately and together.

Physical buttons

The GO bar’s smart alloy case sports physical buttons for precise volume adjustment plus controls to select between various sonic tuning options. A column of coloured LEDs provides a handy guide to the format and sample rate of the digital audio currently playing, and whether XBass+ and/or XSpace are engaged.

IMG_20220615_152218.jpg


10th Anniversary Limited Edition GO bar

iFi are celebrating their 10th anniversary and they have created a special edition of the GO bar.
Limited to 1000 pieces, the 10th Anniversary Limited Edition GO bar is smothered in show stopping gold-plate and boasts:
A copper chassis for enhanced build quality and shielding plus an enhanced power supply filtering.
The weight is 64g, a whole 40g more than the original.

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Accessories

Both Go bars come bundled with two high quality cables (USB OTG type C and Lightning to USB-C), USB-C to USB-A adapter and a very nice leather travel case.

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Build quality and appearance

The original Go bar is made from metal alloy with excellent build quality, it has a dark grey finish that is scratch resistant and a modern, minimalist appearance resembling, what else, a bar.
The gold plated anniversary edition is like a miniature gold bar and has a sturdier case in expense for the increased wait.
It looks luxurious and very beautiful but it is a fingerprint magnet and care should be taken as not to scratch it.
The notification LEDs are more easily discernible in the regular version than the gold one.

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Associated gear and performance

Both devices were tested with more sensitive IEMs, like the Unique Melody MEXT, FiiO FDX, Meze ADVAR and regular headphones like the Focal Clear Mg and the Sennheiser HD660S both balanced and unbalanced.
Power reserves are just great, as an example with the HD660S I got some great driving results without passing ¾ of the available volume setting.
The Go bar is dead silent with excellent shielding from EMI interference while the Anniversary edition has an even better performance with a blacker background.
Most of the listening was done with an Android tablet and a phone but I also used a couple of DAPs as dedicated transports.
And while there was a slight improvement, mostly in the clarity of the sound, I don't see why someone would buy the Go bar and use it with a DAP as a transport.

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Single ended vs balanced

Except for the obvious difference in power output and the ability to handle more difficult loads from the balanced output, the actual sound performance is almost the same without any loss in quality from the single ended output.
The single ended output is great and you can use it without having to worry about sacrificing anything except for the somewhat increased dynamics and the slightly more expanded and holographic soundstage of the balanced output.

Listening impressions - Go bar

The Go bar is one of the most naturally sounding audio DACs that came my way while it retains the highest level of transparency and accuracy.
Conversion is done without any tonal shifts generated by the DAC itself and the end result is characterized by the established iFi house sound that favors musicality, sentimental expression and deep level of engagement.
Sound is flowing like spring water, timbre is the star of the show here, the naturalness is awesome while the overall texture is very organic as all instruments and voices sound eerily close to reality.
Still at the same time, technical performance is up to the task and close to the best of the competition.
The bass is visceral and firm, layering is great, mid range presence and articulation are guaranteed while treble is vibrant, sparkling and extended yet smooth, controlled and absolutely not fatiguing.
Sound is crystal clear, refined and detailed yet not analytical or exposing nor aggressive as is the case with more technically versed competitors like the THX One.
You will also have to search hard in order to spot any digital artifacts especially in the bit perfect filter which became my favorite one.

The choice to include a discrete amplification stage paid off, the Go bar is amazingly impactful with great dynamic antithesis while it keeps a steady pacing and it sounds inherently rhythmic.
The Go bar presents a well extended soundstage with precise imaging and satisfying layering albeit not as holographic as some other competitors like the Cayin RU6.
The sound modes are not too intrusive and they can offer a welcomed fine tuning to the overall sound signature without altering the general characteristics.

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Listening impressions - Anniversary edition

The anniversary edition has the same overall tuning and performance but raised a notch above.
Differences are not night and day but it is not very difficult to tell the enhanced clarity, the more refined sound and the better instrumental separation while retaining the same musical character without becoming too technical.
The anniversary edition sounds more mature and sophisticated, it is a touch fuller and holographic with even better timbre naturalness and analogue like texture.
It just sounds more musical and engaging with greater harmonic diversity and richer tone colors.
This is the kind of audio device that you plug it in and just forget about everything that can distract you from actual music listening.
After a while you find yourself listening to your favorite tracks, one after the other and the time goes by without even noticing.
Like when listening to this early masterpiece written by Handel's youthful genius, where the Gold bar successfully communicated the instrumental timbre of the solo oboe, violin and recorded interplaying into the various arias with Natalie Dessay's unique voice.

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As good as the regular Go bar is, the anniversary edition has an enhanced performance that bridges the gap between USB powered audio dongles and larger DAC/amps with internal battery and much better electronics or good quality DAPs but at the cost of the increased weight.
Of course the price difference at $170 is quite substantial and a little hard to swallow when judging the actual sonic differences between the two models.
But then you have to consider that this is a collectors limited edition with a unique appearance so you have to pay a premium in order to be one of the lucky 1000 owners.

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Compared to the Cayin RU6

For a selected comparison I picked the Cayin RU6 which due to the R2R architecture has a similarly musical and natural sound signature as the Go bar.
The $249 Cayin RU6 is significantly cheaper than the regular Go bar but you have to pay $19.99 extra for the leather case and another $19.99 for the lightning cable which takes us to a total of $288, still slightly cheaper.
Size and weight are almost the same, only the RU6 is slightly thicker.
The RU6 has three physical buttons and a handy OLED screen while both share excellent build quality.
The Go bar has more advanced sound tuning options and filters whereas in the RU6 you can only select between two gain settings and NOS or OS modes.
The RU6 can pick up a bit of EMI from a phone and cause some faint hiss in the background when the Go bar is dead silent.
The Go bar has almost the double power output but it is going to drain the host device battery much faster.

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Both DACs share the same kind of musical presentation with the natural timbre and an analogue like character without too much of a digital glare.
The most noticeable difference is that the RU6 is fuller and more visceral sounding with a grander and more holographic soundstage presentation even when compared to the Gold bar.
Then the Go bar is slightly more refined and clear/clean sounding while it comes as a surprise that the RU6 is a touch metallic sounding in the upper mids/treble and can become just a bit edgy.
The RU6 is somewhat bolder and aggressive compared to the Go bar which is calmer and more polite.
Differences are less pronounced between the RU6 and the regular version but the anniversary edition has an edge in clarity and overall refinement while it sounds more sophisticated and natural.

In the end

The iFi Go bars, both regular and anniversary, are not your regular diet snacks.
They are rather a high nutritional value whole meal that will satisfy the appetite of the most hungry listener by filling his senses with top quality music while keeping him healthy as the only real side effect is the increased power consumption.
iFi was a little late to the USB dongle party but they made an explosive entrance with two excellent sounding products that might be a little more expensive than the competition however they counterweight with the higher power output and the various sound enhancements.
Both versions are great but if you don't mind the extra weight and you can handle the price then go grab the collectors edition while stock still lasts.

Test playlist

Copyright - Petros Laskis 2022
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Ichos
Ichos
Thank you very much for reading!
lengyeljani
lengyeljani
That GO(ld) bar FDX combo looks cool.
Ichos
Ichos
And it sounds too!!!
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