iFi xDSD Impressions

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by Elnrik, Jul 13, 2018.

  1. Elnrik

    Elnrik Super Friendly

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    [​IMG]

    https://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/x-xdsd/

    I didn't see an existing thread, so I figured I'd start one.

    Full disclosure: This product was loaned to me by @jexby as part of the SBAF loaner tour. He paid me a lot of money, gave me booze, and provided prostitutes in exchange for me to shill this product my honest and unbiased opinions about the x-DSD. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Do not take x-DSD if you are allergic to it or any of it's ingredients. Side effects may include nausea, diarrhea, or death. *

    With that out of the way, here is my completely honest (yet unfair) review of the iFi x-DSD.** I'm reviewing the x-DSD in the following configurations:

    HP Z440 workstation -> USB -> x-DSD -> TRRS to 4 pin XLR adapter -> ZMF Eikon. x-DSD set to "Listen" filter. 3D+ and XBass+ disabled.
    Google Pixel 2 XL -> Bluetooth -> x-DSD -> TRRS to 4 pin XLR adapter -> ZMF Eikon. x-DSD set to "Listen" filter. 3D+ and XBass+ disabled.

    ERGONOMICS:

    Pros -
    1. It's much smaller than I imagined it would be, as it is roughly the size of a deck of cards.
    2. The volume dial is easily accessible.
    3. It feels sturdy.
    Cons -
    1. The black plastic volume dial doesn't seem to be recessed quite enough to protect it from stray pocket rotations or clicks. (The volume dial also serves as the power button.)
    2. The volume dial doesn't have a lot of resistance to it. It does have "clicky" rotation stops, which means that as you turn it it clicks into the next volume setting. (I hope that made sense.) Unfortunately, it doesn't click firmly into each of these locations, and feels kind of vague.
    3. The volume / power button setup just kind of feels cheap to me in an otherwise nicely built portable device. In fact, I would call it the single worst feature of this device from a design point of view.
    4. Blue USB data cable seems to have a proprietary sized end on the unit's side. It's more like an extension cable than a typical USB A to B cable. Not sure if finding replacements or spares would be easy.
    5. @jexby either forgot to send the USB micro-B cable (the charging cable) along with the unit, or it didn't come with one. I have plenty laying around, and tried a few. They all seemed to loosely fit into the connection, which doesn't inspire confidence.
    6. Pairing Bluetooth was a PITA the first time. The pairing instructions on the card go something like this: "Press and hold." Literally, that's all it says. Thanks? It took several attempts to figure out when to release the button, what to look for to indicate a pairing mode, and even then it wouldn't pair the first few times with my phone.
    Mehs -
    1. The USB signal cable won't charge the device. You have to use the separate micro-B connection to provide the 5V for charging. 2 doses of USB in one tiny device. (Yay?)
    2. The multi-color LED that serves as a volume indicator and on/off light is vague. I couldn't quite remember what color they said match to what volume setting, and I don't care to try anymore. Basically, it's a less fancy Chord Mojo color ball type indicator. I guess I'm picking nits, as it's better than nothing.

    SOUND:

    I am fully aware that I'm testing this tiny, battery powered, portable device with a full sized 300ohm closed dynamic headphone. That is why I said this review was unfair.

    It doesn't sound bad!

    It doesn't sound good, either.

    It vaguely reminds me of my old iDSD BL.

    The xDSD can drive the Eikons to pretty darn loud volumes - enough that you wouldn't want the headphones over your ears at max. Despite this, the quality of the sound suffered greatly trying to push the Eikons.

    The tone didn't sound completely neutral to me, but it wasn't unpleasant. Bass seems to have an emphasis to it, while upper mids seem to have a little bit of a recess.

    As far as dynamics, staging, and all the rest of it goes - it's really struggling to drive these Eikons. Bass isn't well defined and is very fuzzy, although it provides plenty of bass volume. The highs seem hazy, and imaging and detail isn't being rendered well. Plankton? Only if you drown this thing in the sea.

    3D+ was way more subtle than I remember the iDSD BL being. Perhaps iFi has learned - less is more? Either way, it didn't do the sound any favors on the Eikons, so I stopped using it. Staging was still pretty narrow, the timbre of the treble changed subtly, and the music just sounds better with it off. Oh well.

    XBass+ was also more subtle than I recall on other iFi devices. I'm good with that. It could also be that the xDSD just can't feed the Eikons what it needs to make these features sound good.

    Compared to my normal desk setup, it just can't keep up. (Duh.) I'd say this is to be expected with high impedance headphones and micro-portable devices though. I imagine it would perform very well with a good pair of IEMs. So, we learned the obvious in this exercise. IEM portable dac/amps shouldn't be used to drive full sized high impedance headphones, even if said headphones are fairly efficient.

    In short - everything I said above was 100% honest*** yet completely unfair.

    -----------------------------

    **
    I don't know where my IEMs went. I asked to borrow a friend's CA Orions (which I quite like and am familiar with how they sound), but that arrangement fell through... so... when life hands you lemons, write snarky reviews. =/

    *** Except the part where I said Jexby gave me cash and prostitutes. He didn't give me either, the stingy bastard.
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2018
  2. monacelli

    monacelli Friend

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    It sort of feels like you can have one or the other with these little DAC/amps. The Fulla 2 is surprisingly good with full-size cans, but sort of crummy with iems due to its volume pot (scratchy, imbalance at low volumes, very little usable range). Then, based on the above, you have devices like the xDSD that are clearly aimed at the iem market, and are only ok with full sized cans. So you're left to pick your poison based on your intended use case. Intend to listen mainly/exclusively to iems? => Go for one of the little iFi's. Intend to listen mainly/exclusively to full sized cans? => Go for the Fulla 2 (or maybe the Woo WA8 if you're really serious). This will be my rule of thumb until somebody comes out with something that shines in both applications.
     
  3. Jerry

    Jerry Almost "Made"

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    Not really feeling this new design with its wave-like body. I prefer their old micro lineup design.

    I have the iCan SE. Though I Iove the X-bass for my HD800, my Loki now replaces it and does a better job. Compared to my desktop amp, the iCan SE also sounds congested and warm. Bass was not as tight. Treble felt kinda rolled off. But considering its size, I'd say it does a mighty fine job as an amp.
     
  4. monacelli

    monacelli Friend

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  5. jexby

    jexby Loves propane and propane accessories

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    well that review has a lot of spec comparisons, details and use case scenarios.
    not having plugged anything into xDSD except Campfire Audio Andromeda and Polaris, can't comment on xDSD driving full sized cans "well", it all depends on sensitivity, impedance etc.
    and yes, xDSD has some bluetooth reconnecting, stability issues.

    that being said, want SBAFers to not fall for the BS statements: "bluetooth has come of age" and "bluetooth, ... even with AAC is on par with a high end system."
    which is completely wrong. either dude's ears are bad, or his source files are poor, never heard a high end system, or he has bad headphones.
    considering he owns a HD800, predict the first 2 or 3 reasons are more probable.

    with any decent lossless files, the lossy bluetooth degradation of quality is obvious on TOTL IEMs.
    less detailing, more tunnel-like, less expansive sounding, overall loss of imaging.
    completely obvious that bluetooth still sucks. could be the iPhones fault, Apple uses lame bluetooth audio specs.

    bluetooth for convenience, sure. going back to dedicated USB input is still superior, in this case.
    wasn't able to try the SPDIF input.
     
  6. taisserroots

    taisserroots Acquaintance

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    I was at Canjam London this year, they had one of these powering the JPS Diana.
    The diana was clipping the amp and causing it to distort.

    so while they output 500mw at low impedance, I think the gain might be a bit too low, personally, I felt like they were purposefully limiting the diana while the abyss was next to it. That's a feeling and not me claiming that's what they were doing.

    But I agree with the earlier impressions when I tried my emu teaks.
    I could tell straight away that the bass control was lacking, it was a bit warmer than what I am used to and it felt quite boomy. It did sound like it had an upper mid dip and made the diana and my teaks quite hollow in that region. and there was a presence dip which made it sound quite hazy. the imaging was pretty ok on it, but it had a really narrow stage.
    It wasn't very dynamic and everything felt like it was on the same plane. But it was definitely not the most resolving amp. However, there was pretty good texture, while spacial cues weren't the most pronounced they were there but had some separation issues which you don't get on better amps

    I couldn't directly compare it to the bigger mojo.
    But using my teaks on both, I felt like this was better, the bass control was better, the sense of clarity was better and it conveyed texture without smearing it as much.
    At first, the resolve of the diana was making it better than it was, but it isn't too bad.

    Tbh it's smaller than an old iphone 5s and pretty cheap. For what it is it's pretty ok. better than the full size chi-fi (smsl) probably similar tier to the matrix lehman clone with a better DAC.

    To be fair, I think that the best thing to compare it to would be something like lightning dongles or battery powered geekouts, they are the upgrade from on board, not your end game and the size is a massive advantage of this.

    EDIT: It could also be that they wanted to champion the fact that it was portable).
    I didn't know the pricing when I wrote this.
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2018
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  7. roscoeiii

    roscoeiii Acquaintance

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    I'd say the iDSD Micro BL shines in both applications. Great with sensitive IEMs like Andromedas and also able to nicely drive planars and high impedance HD650s.
     
  8. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    Nice impressions folks, thank you!
     
  9. Brooko

    Brooko Acquaintance

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    LOL - thanks.

    Dude's hearing is about normal for a 51 year old. Would be interested to see if you've actually performed any blind level matched tests making the sort of statements you did. I have. I've also been involved in a lot of tests earlier where we double blind abx tested aac against high res. Wasn't a single person able to statistically tell a difference (aac256 vs redbook or 24/96) - included at least one youngster with a high end Stax set-up - and who could pick out mp3 320 on a few tested tracks - we couldn't).

    The reason the Bluetooth quality is different is because (like the Q5) it isn't being passed through the low quality DAC on the SoC. It's being decoded and then passed through the higher quality DAC on the xDSD.

    So what you're hearing (wired or wireless) is the same DAC, same amp. Only difference is the format being fed into the DAC. When you're comparing, are you testing same source device (wired and wireless), same files (wired and wireless), same volume (how did you volume match BTW?), and have it done blind (you'll need help), multiple times, recorded and analysed.

    If you're one of the super-humans who can reliably tell aac256 from a high-res file (same master), then prove it. I'd prefer you did it in a controlled setting though - with at least one observer, and share the files so everyone can try it and make sure its not just artefacts.

    As far as disparaging my hearing, my gear, or anything else - you're welcome to. I'm equally welcome to ignore your comments as baseless - until proven otherwise. I get utterly sick of people making claims of how their hearing is superior to every one elses, and they can easily tell things apart - only to find later that any comparisons were done with different devices, different files, different volumes. Any fucking idiot can do that :)

    Cheers
     
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  10. Brooko

    Brooko Acquaintance

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    Oh and BTW "Jexby" there would be nothing wrong with your post if you'd mentioned your own tests (including methodology), source and headphones to make your comparisons, how you'd volume matched, and what your findings were. That would be perfectly valid - to have two different opinions. Both can co-exist and be opposing - this is after all a subjective hobby.

    You chose instead to submit a personal attack - with no factual backings, and seemed more interested in smearing me than giving the good folks here any real information.

    I personally regard that as pretty low, and pretty poor form.
     
  11. jexby

    jexby Loves propane and propane accessories

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    yawn.
    lossy bluetooth is not worth a master thesis wasting hours of typing on straw man topics of lossy files or volume matching supremacy.
     
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  12. Brooko

    Brooko Acquaintance

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    Translated to - I didn't test properly, I've been found out, and I'll add "condescension" to my lack of wit.

    Enjoy your wired - I'll enjoy my Bluetooth with my cloth ears :)
     
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  13. LetMeBeFrank

    LetMeBeFrank Won't tell anyone my name is actually Francis

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    I have no experience with the xDsD, but I will chime in on Bluetooth real quick just to say that yes it does suck, but only because it's so inconsistent. In my old car stereo (2014 pioneer x720bt) with my phone (GS7 Edge) and FLAC files, the treble on literally any music or podcast using bluetooth was unbearably digital sounding. With my wife's iPhone the Bluetooth sounded totally fine on the same stereo. Now with my new stereo (2018 pioneer s600bs) my GS7 Edge sounds totally fine with Bluetooth. I tested this back to back with flat EQ. Only took 30 seconds to swap stereos (same wiring harness, just set in the dash hole, and all the sound settings and Bluetooth settings saved in local memory.) It was legitimately super easy to tell the difference. My wife's iPhone sounded exactly the same on both stereos.

    All this is to say that yes Bluetooth can sound like complete garbage, but it can also sound ok. The problem is you don't know what you're going to get until you actually try it with your phone and that specific device.

    However, I wouldn't use Bluetooth for serious listening simply because it is lossy. Whether or not I can hear the difference (assuming it doesn't sound like digital vomit like my old car stereo) is debatable but, because I think I can, I just can't use it.
     
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  14. Brooko

    Brooko Acquaintance

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    And that's a totally reasonable view-point, although I'd suggest (if you get a chance) to try either an xDSD or the Q5, and see how good it has become when passing through the same DAC.

    I know most people won't, but its very easy to set up an abx (lossy vs lossless) at home - and I found it pretty enlightening. If you ever want to try (the software is free) - here's a link that will get you started - https://www.head-fi.org/threads/set...-guide-to-ripping-tagging-transcoding.655879/

     
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  15. Erikdayo

    Erikdayo Friend

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    I too have no experience with the xDSD although I’d love to hear one. I’ve been doing a bit of reading about alternatives to my current all in one choice and the xDSD and Pro iDSD are certainly on the list. That said I don’t see myself actually making a swap.

    I think Bluetooth can sound pretty good as well though I notice a definite decrease in fidelity when I swap from wired to wireless on my SE535 with my iPhone 7 Plus. To me it’s not a big deal when I’m on the go or at work. Reduction in clarity. More congested sound. Can the xDSD do better? I don’t doubt the possibility. I’d prefer to stick to wired on my home setup for now.

    I’ve experienced that very digital treble that Frank mentioned too but only on older devices.
     
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  16. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    Now we can say officially that our xDSD won EISA award in 'The Best Portable DAC / Headphone Amplifier for 2018/19' category. A reason for us to be proud, though we have no idea if EISA means anything on this forum. If not, apologies then, we'll be silent with our happiness from now on... :p
     
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