iFi Gold Bar Review and Measurements

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by purr1n, Dec 1, 2022.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    Lots of other impressions in following link. I have not read any of them because I did not want to be influenced by them and would prefer to trade notes afterward. https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...e-best-pocketable-hifi-system-bar-none.12320/

    I'll get to measurements this weekend or next week. It's not a priority. I would like to concentrate on subjective aspects, of which I have demonstrated time and time again that I can hear the difference via double-blind level matched (+/- 0.1db) tests even with similarity high >100db SINAD gear. Heck, I can even hear the difference between absolutely polarity (https://www.superbestaudiofriends.org/index.php?threads/absolute-polarity-test.10019/). FWIW, I actually enjoy doing blind tests. I think it's important that we don't fool ourselves, whether it's with less reliable observation of sound phenomena subject to moods or with simplistic measurements that don't capture the whole.

    I digress. Not really, because I feel iFi is one of those audio companies that designs gear by listening rather than designs gear for the highest SINAD to the tenth of a decibel. The former is harder because more experimentation is required and many projects eventually get aborted because they don't sound good. The latter is actually easier (and hardly state of the art) if you are willing to play with PCB layout and pick the best measuring opamps (who cares about how something sounds if you just care about SINAD).

    I took a chance and purchased the Gold Bar for myself because of my very positive experience with the Go Blu. The downsides with the Go Blu is that it only worked well with efficient headphones (Grados, Mini, etc.) and I kept losing it in a pants pocket because it was so small and lightweight. I figured the Gold Bar would give me something super portable that I can take with me for travel that will work with ZMFs, Sennheisers, etc. Now that the COVID scare is over, I'll be travelling more, so this is good timing. I'll be headed to the UK this coming January visiting London and Manchester. And again in March for a family vacation. The iFi Diablo would have been another considering, but I hate carrying weight with international travel.

    iFi makes two similar models: The standard Go Bar and the upscale Gold Bar. Both sound good and have a similar presentation to the Go Blu. (I believe they both use the same Cirrus / Wolfson D-A part). The difference this time around is that they are able to power fairly inefficient planars. Every now and then, I will pull up my modded Fostex T50RP (the OG formula). These when modded to sound neutral have low sensitivity (SPL per volt) and fairly low-med efficiency with 50-ohms impedance. The Go / Gold Bars easily passed this torture test. It can power modded T50RPs as well as the high impedance Sennheisers and super efficient IEMs like the CFA Ara.

    PXL_20221201_152017538.jpg
    I thought my Ara got swiped since I hadn't seen them for over a year. Turns out they were in the pocket of my vintage ski jacket.

    This review will focus on the Gold Bar. Unfortunately, I don't think there are any available anymore because it was a limited run of 1000 units. The Gold Bar isn't hugely better than the Go Bar. I'd say that the Gold Bar offers a more heft and precision / focus (as a result of that heft). The Gold Bar uses a heavier chassis and probably better parts and tweaks inside. I'll let those who know more say more about it. Think of it like the difference between a stock HD6xx and a JAR modded HD6XX. The difference is big enough for me that once I heard the Gold Bar, I couldn't have gone back to the Go Bar considering the price differential isn't that big. Maybe iFi Audio will consider a second run of x1000? :p

    To be continued...
     
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    Last edited: Dec 1, 2022
  2. sfoclt

    sfoclt Friend

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    I happen to have a Gold Bar out for delivery today so looking forward to getting it in to try. I haven’t had a dongle since GOv2. Will only be useful to me if it’ll work out of iPhone/iPad. I have no other use for it.
     
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  3. Ksaurav402

    Ksaurav402 Friend

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    would like to know the headphones and IEM that synergizes well with this cute little gold bar.
    I am using it with JVC FDX01 and I feel Zen Pro will work well with it.
     
  4. nishan99

    nishan99 Friend

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    I wonder how many Go Bar sales ifi have missed because of the many people who don't want to settle with the gimped version. Really odd marketing on their part.
     
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  5. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    I use it with an older iPad. The Gold Bar drains the battery like mad so I have one of those power / USB through adapter thingies.
    PXL_20221202_035134267.PORTRAIT.jpg

    I find the Gold Bar much like the Go Blu where tonally, it just works with a ton of IEMs and headphones, from mid-forward/brightish RS1X to laid-back Audezes to bloomy HD650s. I did pull out the FDX01 and Zen Pro in addition to the Ara. They all work well. It's hard to explain why this is. Whereas the Go Blu and the standard Go Bar are a mid-centric, the Gold Bar extends flat down into the bass. I wouldn't say that the Gold Bar is dark and laid-back like the Yggdrasil LIM, or lacks incisiveness. It's maybe a tiny bit soft. I think what it is is that the edges don't hurt despite the lively transients. Or that it's not bright, without saying it's dark. The Gold Bar reminds me of the AMB Gamma 2 DAC, except more resolving.

    Now if the sound at the default settings isn't enough, we have two more options to tweak the sound: the digital filter and the IE Match. The IE Match gives us an extra setting for output impedance at 3.6ohms. Those of us with certain BA type IEMs know that this can affect the tonal response. Heck, changing the output impedance slightly can also affect the transient response and bass slam of dynamic headphones. As for the digital filters, we get four of them: minimum phase for the sharpest transients, standard linear phase?, GTO, and of course the iFi Audio trademark BitPerfect. All filters are well implemented without any one particularly sounding like ass (well maybe except the GTO which I never use). I tend to use the standard and BitPerfect. The BitPerfect isn't overdone where it sounds like the goo-city of those specialist NOS DACs without reconstruction filters. Same thing with the minimum phase filter - which is subtle in effect and not the sonic equivalent of an oversharped photoshop filter.

    I've already received texts from three people telling me how they missed out on the Gold Bar. I guess a few were waiting for my review. I do wish I had gotten to this earlier, lined up at the beginning of the loaner rather than at the end (where I had already purchased my own), but life has been keeping me busy. SBAF takes last priority for reasons of my own sanity.

    Perhaps we can push @iFi audio for another run of 1000 units?
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2022
  6. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    Now not everything is perfect. There are a couple of downsides.
    • I really enjoyed the volume wheel on the Go Blu. The Gold Bar has no such wheel, but instead has two buttons in the middle of the stick for up and down volume. None of these buttons have indents or anything tactile (like on Sony ZX2) to indicate what they do. I find myself having to look at the stick to see what I'm trying to do.
    • Changing the IE Match is easy enough because that's on a physical switch, however changing other settings like gain and digital filter are a pain. I've have to pull up the manual online many times to recall how to change these settings. What's made worse is that that manual sucks balls in explaining how to change gain and filters and xbass/xspace. I like illustrative diagrams and dislike reading small print.
      • Gain
        • Turbo Mode (or +6db gain): press +/- volume buttons for >2 seconds to toggle. Two white LEDs increasing to six for 2 seconds.
        • Normal gain: press +/- volume buttons for >2 seconds to toggle. Six white LEDs increasing to two for 2 seconds.
      • Filters
        • Hold power button down for 2 seconds. Use +/- volume to change filters
        • Cyan LED: BP
        • White: GTFO
        • Red: STD
        • Yellow: Minimum
      • Xbass/Xspace:
        • Short click on power to toggle:
        • XSpace, XBass, both on, both off.
    • Only includes cable for Apple Lightning, but no cable to USB C (Android users will need to get their own short C to C cable). This is disappointing because I'm come to expect iFi to include every and any cable that I would need and more, especially for a premium product.
    I'm sure with prolonged use, I will get it. But I do find it frustrating at times especially if I don't use the Gold Bar for a week or two, and forget how to change the settings. An illustrative guide with funny pictures would be most helpful. Maybe I will draw one.

    Finally, the XBass and XSpace are actually useful. I did find that the XSpace thins out the sound a bit and works best with XBass on. Neither are over the top as from memory, older iterations of similar functions of other iFi producers were a bit overkill. I can see myself turning these on long airplane rides depending how close I am seated to the engines.
     
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  7. sfoclt

    sfoclt Friend

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    In swapping between the iPhone and iPad, the iPad resulted in a much fuller/bigger sound with better bass. I assume it’s able to deliver more power from the larger battery?
     
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  8. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    iFI Audio Gold Bar In A Nutshell:

    + The best bar / dongle type DAC/amp with respect to sonics, evar - best sonics per cm^3.
    + Impressive ability to power insensitive / inefficient headphone (T50RP modded is always a good/reasonable test)
    + Lots of adjustments, filter, gain, IE Match for synergies with broad choice of headphones and IEMs
    + Hefty chassis. Can use the end of the bar to crush someone's skull in Battle Royale scenario if needed.
    + I bought one for myself, no greater indicator

    - Physical UI sucks balls, much of this a limitation of its small footprint
    - Too many words in manual, needs moar pictures and drawings
    - Too limited a release at x1000 units, no longer available

    DSCF0302 (Medium).JPG
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2022
  9. Stuff Jones

    Stuff Jones Friend

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    Do you hear any noise out of the 4.4 output with sensitive IEMs? This is a complaint on HF, but I didn't hear any in a semi-loud store environment with my Zen Pros.
     
  10. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    Did not try this. I have a 4.4, but to a Sennheiser cable. Let me order IEM cables from Amazon. There can be two solutions to this: 1) Turn on IEMatch, 2) Lower gain.

    Would be curious as to the specifics on what was said on HF.
     
  11. zerodeefex

    zerodeefex SBAF's Imelda Marcos

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    What a fucking tease for an unobtainium product.
     
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  12. Stuff Jones

    Stuff Jones Friend

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    See this post. Basically a high noise floor out of 4.4 but not 3.5: https://www.head-fi.org/threads/ifi...-system-bar-none.963466/page-47#post-17268589

    I haven't used IEM Match but I did have an Ifi Ear Buddy attenuator thing and I remember it tweaking the sound. Dampened dynamics as I recall.
     
  13. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    TBH, I may not bother with the 4.4mm output. The obsession with balanced drive with IEMs (where super short runs are used) needs to die. I like how it sounds from the 3.5mm.
     
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  14. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

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    if tiny size is not the primary feature one craves, buy a used iFi Gryphon.

    I too loved the iFi GOld bar during my loaner time as well, the sound via tiny form factor was excellent as mentioned here.
    honestly, I kept the iFi Gryphon instead because it has ALL the same sonic delivery qualities of GOld bar (plus a bit), but with a better interface, internal battery, moar power, etc.

    sure, Gryphon larger size / battery may not be what people want in smallest portability setups.
    but the great portable sonic delivery is available in another form factor at a similar price.
     
  15. gaspasser

    gaspasser Flatulence Maestro

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    I purchased a Gold Bar and it came with USB C to USB C, USB C to Lighting as well as USB A to C adapter. Maybe check your box, if you still have it.
     
  16. ductrung3993

    ductrung3993 Facebook Friend

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    I know they cant be found now, and LH labs did some real shady stuffs but just for reference how does the iFi compare to the GO2A SE or even Inf?

    edit: paging @jexby as well
     
  17. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

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    good gawd- sold my GO2A SE like what, 2 years ago?
    if i had to guess without re-reading history, would guess the iFi Gold and Gryphon are warmer, more natural sounding across the spectrum, with the Sabre micro detailing (despite LH Labs tuning) a bit less emphasized.

    with usb-c ports, more flexibility (IEMatch / gain switch) with sensitive IEMs, 4.4bal ports (power for planar IEMs!) I'd be selling my last LH products if I already didn't years ago.
     
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  18. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    Measurements

    iFi Gold BAR
    Volume adjusted to ~0.775Vrms (0dbU) into 300-ohms
    Typical high impedance headphone
    upload_2022-12-5_16-59-4.png

    This is very very good. All of the harmonics are 100db or more below the fundamental. The higher orders from are -120db below. Note that CD quality audio has a limit of 96db. If you believe in simplistic measurements, these results indicate that the distortion is inaudible.

    iFi Gold BAR
    Volume adjusted to ~0.245Vrms (-10dbU) into 32-ohms
    Typical low impedance headphone or DD IEM
    upload_2022-12-5_17-15-23.png

    Excellent!
     
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  19. Garns

    Garns Friend

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    GO V2+ infinity vs iFi Go Blu side by side. GO via crappy Mac USB, iFi via Bluetooth LDAC. Into HD25:

    Tuning is not dissimilar, slight warm tilt.

    GO treble is less smooth and has some phasiness.

    GO has more incisive transients but they are twangy and zingy and not very natural in timbre. On the iFi they sound normal and still pretty snappy.

    GO is a bit more aggressive and up front in presentation. Stages very flat like schiit stuff often does.

    GO is a bit dry compared to the iFi, and timbre not completely natural.

    Imaging and separation is WAY better on the iFi. The GO kind of sounds mushed together by comparison.

    Microdynamics, probably a wash but the GO has a slight grain that detracts from this.

    Overall the iFi is significantly more refined sound than the GO. It gets out of the way and delivers a very normal but engaging sound with few sins of commission. GO has more energy but falls behind in basically every other category. Also way less practical to use on the move.
     
  20. ufospls2

    ufospls2 Friend

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    Totally agree. I talked about this a little bit in my review of the regular GoBar. The sheer evolution and change in the micro portable/dongle market compared to even 2015/2016 is incredible. What was considered amazing in the GO2a/V2 at the time is entirely archaic nowadays, in terms reliability, usability, and sonically (not just limited to the iFi stuff, at cheaper price points some of the ChiFi stuff is awesome also in comparison.)
     
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