iFi Pro iDSD

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by ufospls2, Jun 8, 2019.

  1. ufospls2

    ufospls2 Friend

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    Hi Guys,

    So iFi was kind enough to send me a Pro iDSD for a little while for review purposes. I’m not going to go into all the features as that would result in a 50 page thesis, so if you have any questions please just ask, and I will answer them to the best of my ability. The full review will dive deep into the workings of the unit.

    I asked myself originally, why does this device exist, as they have the Pro iCAN, they just needed to concentrate on a solid TOTL dedicated DAC. Having used it for a couple days, I sort of get it now. However, there are a few caveats

    -2.5mm Balanced out is dumb for this purpose. It should be 4.4mm. Supposedly this is in the works and will be available on future Pro iDSD’s.

    -the 1,500mw power being available through the SE output is dumb, the full 4000mw that is available through the 2.5mm balanced jack should be available. If it can be done on the Micro iDSD, it should exist here.

    -Thats it really.

    Especially once versions are available with 4.4mm pentaconn, I can see this being the one device many could need. There isn’t really much need for anything else. IF you have hard to drive headphones sure, add a suitable amp (like the Pro iCAN) but apart from that, this pretty much does it all.

    It sounds great, has all the features you could ever want, tubes, tube+, SS, headphone out, can be used as a standalone DAC in a system. It really is a very well thought through piece of gear, with the above caveats.

    [​IMG]
     
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  2. Bloom

    Bloom MOT: Bloom Audio

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    It's a great DAC with a ludicrous amount of features. The 4.4mm version actually just launched. It's $2749, has the 4.4mm balanced headphone output instead of the 2.5mm, is slightly more powerful with 4200mW @ 16ohms, and my contact at iFi says it has "a slightly improved circuit design for better sonics and stability."
     
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  3. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

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    the new iDSD revision is high on my list to hear at RMAF 2019.
    that being said, if iFi adherence to retail/distributor markup chain was ever broken, resulting in a price near $2000-
    the iDSD might make a good AIO for a work desk set up.
     
  4. Taverius

    Taverius Smells like sausages

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    I'm just thankful that whichever colleague of @iFi audio is responsible for naming things is laying off the sauce a little, I was afraid they'd call it the iPro.

    Now if only theY'd lAy ofF The caMel-CASiNG a LiTTLE. It's getting a little silly :p
     
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  5. Lyer25

    Lyer25 Too sensitive for SBAF

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    Since you bring it up, how's this compare to the Micro iDSD? ;)

    No but really, impressions of the amp relative to the iCAN Pro would be appreciated, especially comparisons of SS and Tube+ modes. I rather like what I've heard of the iCAN and it's been on my list of "stuff to save up for" the last couple years; having an AIO home desktop solution sounds tempting even considering that discrete components are gonna perform better.

    From what I can tell of the DAC section it seems like the Burr-Brown of their lower end stuff dressed to the nines. I actually like the iDSD still for when I'm being lazy in bed, tonality seems similar to the Bifrost MB only less atmospheric with cleaner bass, plus worse layering. If this is a plus in overall resolution it could work as a poor man's "high end" endgame.

    4.4mm Pentaconn FTW.
     
  6. Tachikoma

    Tachikoma Acquaintance

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    I’ve been waiting for impressions on the ifi idsd pro for a while now. Would something like the hd650 benefit from being driven by the balanced out instead of se out?
     
  7. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    It will be.

    Nope. Pro iDSD doesn't have a dedicated headphone amp inside. Instead it uses line driver to do all the headphone work.
     
  8. Baten

    Baten Almost "Made"

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    @ufospls2 any thoughts on its bitperfect mode?

    PS if you write detailed impressions would be nice to have comparison to older/cheaper iFi products like the micro BL :D the DAC stage in particular I mean :)
     
  9. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    That'd be unfair I'm affraid :eek:

    :D:D:D
     
  10. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    [​IMG]

    Big thanks to @iFi audio for making this unit available to us.


    I’ve heard some good things about iFi’s products and the Burr Brown DACs, but I’ve never actually heard one. So when the opportunity came up to have a Pro iDSD on loaner, I jumped on to get my ears on one, if nothing for the experience alone (still a huge, not-golden-eared noob here, and probably will be for life).


    Kind of like the Matrix X-Sabre Pro MQA (*note: when I say X-Sabre Pro in this post, I’m referring to the MQA version*), the Pro iDSD is a lot smaller than I originally thought it was. It’s kind of cute actually. Not quite as heavy (and presumably overbuilt/overengineered) as the X-Sabre Pro, but certainly still built solidly. And before anyone asks, no, I don’t plan on opening it up for pictures.


    Packaging feels good and it seems to be fairly safe through shipping. I kind of wish the included USB cord was longer, but not a dealbreaker by any means.


    Now, setting up the Pro iDSD from a PC source via USB concerns me because it doesn't strike me as something that the not-so-tech-savvy will be able to easily do. The manual and website are not clear about downloading the drivers/firmware for the unit, so I’ll include my instructions for Windows 10 here:


    1. Plug in the unit (duh)

    2. After Windows 10 finishes setting up the device, go to the iFi website and download the USB Audio Class 2.0 driver (https://ifi-audio.com/downloads/). Take a note of where you installed the software.

    3. After this is done installing, go to the tab on the same webpage called “Pro iDSD firmware” and click on it. Scroll to the bottom of the page and download the Windows version of the firmware. Make sure to select “save” when downloading AND keep note of where you saved the file!!!

    4. Find the file of the USB Audio Class 2.0 driver (should be iFi > USB_HD_Audio_Driver) and open the application via the executable file called “iFiHDUSBAudio_dfuapp”. Now, in the application, it should give you an option to load the firmware file you downloaded in the last step. Load the file.

    5. If everything goes well, the software will tell you that the firmware successfully. The Pro iDSD will appear to turn off and then restart. You should be good after this.

    6. Go back to USB_HD_Audio_Driver file in step 4 and launch the executable called “iFiHDUSBAudio_cpl”. Here, you’ll be able to select some settings for the Pro iDSD.

    It’s worth noting here that the XMOS XU216 USB rocks. It’s the same USB used in the X-Sabre Pro MQA.


    Switching inputs is a breeze with the knob on the left. Just select the right one and go.

    The small knob on the left side applies different filters. Personally, I used the Bit Perfect setting. I briefly tried the other filters, but didn’t really like them.


    It’s worth noting that the selector in the front to switch between solid state, tube, and what iFi calls tube+ determines whether the tube is present in the chain regardless of using the headphone-outs or the rear outputs. Personally, I liked the Tube+ mode the best overall regardless of using the Pro iDSD as a standalone or using the balanced-out to a Liquid Platinum, and thus when I talk about the sound I’ll be referring to the Tube+ mode unless explicitly stated otherwise (I’ll explain more later in this write-up). The tube circuit automatically turns off after a set time if you select the solid state output.


    Speaking of the output, if you use the rear outputs keep in mind that the default fixed setting is ~4.6 V and the pro fixed setting is ~11.2 V. Setting the output to variable means the volume knob can be used to control the level of output (like a preamp). Make sure your amp can handle the relative output.


    If it’s not obvious by now, there’s a ton of features on the Pro iDSD and not nearly enough time for me to explore every single one; however, I definitely plan on checking out the streaming function and will report back either by editing this post or a new post (I’m not sure which you all prefer).


    The Pro iDSD takes about a day for the DAC chips to warm up. Any perceived differences between 24 hours to 48+ hours seem to be placebo at best. When its cold, it sounds kind of flat and lifeless, and the stage just sucks. Just make sure you select the SS output to avoid wearing the tube out unnecessarily.


    Using the X-Sabre Pro MQA as my reference, the Pro iDSD sounds fuller and more tone-dense. This seemingly comes at the expense of a small amount of the X-Sabre Pro’s ability to separate and dissect sound, but really, it’s a difference in presentation. In particularly busy passages of music, the Pro iDSD can get a bit congested, whereas the X-Sabre Pro never seems to falter. This more dense timbre does extremely well with classical pieces where it’s mostly a quiet instrumental solo, like some violin or piano pieces; which is where the X-Sabre Pro almost runs the risk of sounding thin in comparison.


    The tonality is quite good. If the X-Sabre Pro is accepted as neutral, than the Pro iDSD seems to have a slightly warm tilt, although I could be misinterpreting this because of the more dense timbre. Slam seems similar between the two DACs. However, I can definitely say that it does seem to lack a little in the very last octave for air and space. This manifests itself in different ways; for example, in the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra’s rendition of “Now We Are Free,” with the Pro iDSD, the low strings and percussion sounds fuller and more present in the song, whereas the X-Sabre Pro brings more of the shaker and the metallic percussion hits forward. The Pro iDSD, however, has more body in vocals, giving it the edge in more vocal-centric tracks over the X-Sabre Pro unless the music passage is busy; then the X-Sabre Pro's ability to separate sounds comes to its own.


    The one area where I think the iDSD falls short of the X-Sabre Pro is dynamics and transients. Simply, it isn’t as speedy and doesn’t seem to hit the dynamics as much as the X-Sabre Pro; it’s a wee soft and a bit slower. However, the X-Sabre Pro is a bit overzealous in these areas, so perhaps the iDSD is more correct. I’m unfortunately too inexperienced to really say which one is better here, although my preferences lean strongly towards the X-Sabre Pro in this area.


    In terms of detail and resolution, the two don’t seem to be far apart, with the X-Sabre Pro just edging out the Pro iDSD. However, my transport is…..utterly garbage, so someone who has better transports that make these DACs scale will be able to give better insight. The presentation of the details differs greatly between the two DACs; the X-Sabre Pro tends to bring the details more forward, more in-your-face if you will. It is worth noting that the Pro iDSD did not make me feel like I was missing anything.


    Staging and imaging is alright. It’s smaller than the X-Sabre Pro in all directions and is also more laid-back, and can’t really pull that “holographic” thing. On top of this, I don’t feel the center is quite as stable and focused as the X-Sabre Pro. However, the images of the various instruments have more substance, rather than being “thin” like the X-Sabre Pro.


    Now, all the above was done with the Pro iDSD hooked up to my Liquid Platinum. However, since it’s relevant here I did some listening with the built-in headphone-out. Overall, it’s certainly not bad and has decent synergy with the DAC section. Compared to having the Liquid Platinum take care of amplification needs, the Pro iDSD loses in almost all sonic areas: stage becomes flatter, the top octave becomes more rolled-off, and it becomes slightly veiled (I do mean slightly). Using the tube or solid state mode seems to make it less veiled, but at the cost of making the sound not-involving and kind of boring (this seems true regardless of using an external amp or not, which makes sense since the headphone-out and line-out use the same line driver, thus the tube/SS is always going to be utilized). Tube+ does seem to be the way to go. The headphone-out is certainly not bad and even has great synergy with my LCD-3; just know that it’s probably only going to give about 85-90% of the performance.


    Overall, I’m quite impressed with the iFi Pro iDSD and can comfortably recommend it. It has a ton of features and also is sonically very capable.
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2019 at 7:36 PM
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  11. Baten

    Baten Almost "Made"

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    Great write-up ChaCha. Since you liked its BitPerfect, could you maybe test out the BitPerfect+ and see if it helps any in the top octave, in terms of air and space? :)

    Cheers
     
  12. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    For some reason the option to use the Bit Perfect+ filter doesn't pop up with the USB input from my PC. Perhaps my source is so shitty the Pro iDSD is just like "heck no!!!!"

    Just quickly experimented with it by streaming from my phone (it pops up then, wtf?). It sucks.
     
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  13. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    Just a quick note on the Pro iDSD's streaming function. It works and is noticeably easier to setup properly than on the PC, but it's still a bit confusing.

    Steps:
    1. Download MUZO Player app onto device. Don't open the app quite yet
    2. Connect device to the "wifi" from the Pro iDSD (I forget the exact name, but it's called something like iFi_Pro_iDSD_somethingoranother)
    3. Open MUZO. It should automatically connect.
    4. Afterwards, connect back to your regular wifi. You should now be able to directly stream to the Pro iDSD using the MUZO app.
    Overall, it works without hiccups. It sucks that you can't change the sampling rate or anything, but perhaps that's just being greedy and asking for way too much.

    You can stream from a decent number of services, including Tidal and Spotify, but personally I use Amazon Music for those needs, which isn't supported. Luckily, you can play music that's downloaded onto your phone, so I quick grabbed some files off Amazon to play. No, they're not FLAC and are probably compressed to hell and back, but hey, it's something.

    Sonically, it sounds more....mid-fi. Not sure how to explain it. Somewhat veiled, less dynamic, less "clear." It works in a pinch when I don't want to turn the PC on, but the problem is that I usually have no problems turning the PC on. I'm definitely not the target user for this function. Unsure of how much this would scale with a better file format, but gut instinct tells me that it would only squeeze out a couple more percent. This is because I did do some listening by streaming Amazon Music from my PC, and it sounds way better through this medium.
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2019 at 9:15 PM
  14. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    Naah, you're not greedy. Muzo is in constant development so one feature at a time we'll get there.

    Oh, and btw. A FABULOUS WORK YOU DID, THANK YOU!
     
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  15. Tachikoma

    Tachikoma Acquaintance

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    Were these differences consistent across both of your primary headphones? (HD6XX and LCD-3)
     
  16. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    This isn't going to change based on headphone used because it's a characteristic of the Pro iDSD, not the headphones. But to answer your question yes. Also was consistent among other headphones used but not mentioned. Some headphones brought out one difference more than others (AKG K7XX comes to mind).

    Edit: I think I did AKG a disservice here by not mentioning the K7XX + Pro iDSD headphone-out. It actually has really good synergy. Thoroughly enjoying the pairing. By extension, I surmise that headphones with a very open, airy presentation might benefit from the Pro iDSD's thick sound.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2019 at 1:57 PM
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